BARBARA REID has a catchy image to clarify the distinction between fine artists and illustrators like herself. "Illustrators are like performing dogs. Maybe the fine artist is like a cat; they do their own thing, and if you don't like it, too bad. But an illustrator has an urge to please. They throw you a manuscript and you say," here she speaks breathlessly," 'I'll do it, I'll do it,"' then run back with it in your mouth, hoping they like it."
Reid seems to have mastered the fine art of pleasing. Her original and striking children's book illustrations in the unusual medium of the children's modelling clay called Plasticine have won her raves from readers and critics, with the runaway success in 1984 of her work for Edith Newlin Chase's book, The New Baby Calf (North Winds Press) followed by a bundle of major illustration awards last year. She is the first Canadian to win the highly respected Ezra Jack Keats Award, an international prize for a promising new illustrator. And for her fanciful winged images in Joanne Oppenheim's Have You Seen Birds? (North Winds Press, 1986), she won the 1986 Canada Council Children's Literature Prize for Illustration, the Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award, the IODE Book Award (Toronto chapter), and the Elizabeth Mrazik?Cleaver Award.
The long?legged birds and budgies in Have You Seen Birds? were done in the colourful, lively Plasticine?relief illustrations that have become her trademark. "It's hard not to like a picture made out of Plasticine, because it's so funny and silly," said Reid.
With all the ceremonies and attendant publicity last year, and the brisk trade in books and appearances in schools and libraries, Reid has jumped to the front ranks of Canadian children's book illustration. She even has a brand?new agent. 'Me recognition has been a little overwhelming. In an interview in the downtown Toronto apartment she shares with her husband, a freelance photographer, Reid said: "It's been almost too much." At the moment, she is taking time off to await the birth of her first child.
Fans and modelling?clay aficionados can busy themselves in her absence by getting hold of Reid's new how?to book, Playing With Plasticine (Kids Can Press). In this, her first attempt at writing as well as illustrating a book, Reid leads children from the basics of classic snakes and sausages to "painting" with Plasticine. Along with her clear and light?hearted suggestions, she provides a history of Plasticine since its invention by an English art teacher in 1887 (the secret ingredient is not divulged). 'Me book has black?and?white illustrations rather than the elaborate and colourful extravaganzas for which Reid has become famous. She explains that she wanted to get kids started on their own, not turn them into smallersized Barbara Reids. "I didn't want to say, 'You do this, this and this, and this is a duck.' I never liked colouring books when I was a kid. I don't like anything restrictive," said Reid. "Besides, kids often have only two colours and they're stuck together anyway."
Fond as she is of modelling clay, Reid is wary of being typed as a onemedium illustrator. Admittedly, the books may have been first noticed because of their novel approach ?? "When a hundred books come out for Christmas, the one in watermelon seeds gets noticed," says Reid, but adds, "I'm an illustrator first. My design of the page is the same whether I do it in black and white or watercolour or Plasticine. I've seen other people work in Plasticine and it looks like that other person doing Plasticine. Mine looks like the way I draw."
In her work, whether in Plasticine or more traditional media Reid always aims at finding the funny side of things. "I think I'm still really immature. I like reading children's books," she said, looking very youthful sitting on a small stool in her blue overalls with her hair drawn into a pony? tail. "Even when I was a kid, I used to make very complicated pictures of all kinds of stuff happening and just hope people would get all the jokes. I guess it's like being a cartoonist. Basically, I spend most of my time stereotyping people. Friendly stereotyping. just by looking at the picture you should know right away, this person's very tense or this one's a goof ?? I especially like making fun of pompous people."