What would Alice in Wonderland look like if it happened in your iPad? Probably terrifying to the juvenile heroine of the story. Luckily, The Alice App is a program designed to get children interested in literature and art, and not an exploration of the darkest recesses of your browsing habits.
The app features the full text of the novel, plus the option to have the text read out loud. Where the program really shines, however, is in its interactive illustrations based on Dutch and Flemish Renaissance art. Users can explore each painting by touching, rotating, or tapping their screen to find surprises hidden inside.
How did you choose which art pieces would be included in the app? What is the significance of using Renaissance-era paintings to illustrate the story, versus art that was current when Alice in Wonderland was released in 1865?
The illustration of the story started as a book and took me about 4 years to develop because publishing a book is very expensive; I decided to create an app with all the benefits that go with it.
First I decided to illustrate the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because it is the most complicated and clever grown-up and children’s book that I know of. It is a mind-blowing book that a lot of politicians quote phrases from.
Secondly, in my opinion, the world doesn’t need another illustration of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. You have 150 years of the most talented illustrators who did art work for this book, so if you are going to do something new do it in the most innovative and original way that you can. By saying so, I did research before starting to illustrate the book.
I found that some of Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for the book’s characters came from English history, and some of the current painters were the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance artists from that time from whom Lewis Carroll got his inspiration.
For example, John Tenniel actually copied an extract from Flemish master Quentin Matsys’ painting The Ugly Duchess for his 1869 illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
I really love the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance paintings. For me it is like traveling in time, so at this point we made a connection. Some of the reasons I decided to go specifically to the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance artists to illustrate this book include artistic and historic value, and to provide a real, historic basis to enhance the story.
Alice in Wonderland has been a favorite among children in movie and television formats for a long time. Why did you feel it was important to frame the story as an illustrated book/app?
First I did the illustration of the story as a book (as I mentioned before) and an app is the closest thing to engage, play and react to as opposed to TV and books where you are just a passive viewer.
Price wise it is a lot cheaper and more effective than all other media and everyone can afford to produce it.
Lastly, an app is the only tool that I know of that you can go in a second time and grab more information by clicking a link, and my app is an educational book too so for me it was the perfect platform to develop in.
What do you hope children will gain from The Alice App?
Because I have used the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance artists, I hope that I am opening the door for children and adults to appreciate art and history. At the end of my app, I created “unlock me”, where I reveal my artist inspirations and what paintings I used in my art collages, so I hope it will help children to develop a curiosity for art.
Your previous book releases have been based around food and design. In your opinion, how are the two connected? And when did you become interested in designing an experience for children, as in The Alice App?
For me it was the same approach I used both for books and collage art, and the same concept of “political comment”. I tried to solve riddles once they’re in the form of food, like “what you can do with a carrot that will give a new meaning once it is through a children’s book?” But it is the same.
The Museum of Modern Art has sold two of your books, Art and Cook and The Spirits of Cocktail. How did you get involved with them?
Once I got an article published in the New York Times magazine about my book Art and Cook, they called us and from there it was easy for the second book, The Spirits of Cocktail, to be sold in the store.
How did you get started as an illustrator? Did digital and interactive art always interest you, or were you initially more interested in pencil or pen and ink?
The thing is I don’t see myself as an illustrator. First, I’m an artist who comes from the world of oil paint; I studied art for three years for my BA and second, I’m a designer who studied BFA in design for four years at a very prestigious academy of art and design. My studying taught me to connect things together to create new meanings.
So before I started to study, and during my art studies for my BA, I painted in oil color more in abstract layouts than figures. Once I started to go into the world of design, my “commercial art” became 100% digital collage art, and from time to time I return to my first love of painting.
Many art directors support themselves by working in advertising or similar industries. Has this been as issue for you?
I would like to do my art 100% but working gives me a grip on the real world and gives me rocket fuel for the next artistic project, so I can’t really tell you how my art would look without the tension of my professional work. So I think the bottom line is that the professional work gives me the inspiration and motivation to do my art.
What advice can you offer an artist who is looking to focus more on fine art as a career?
This is the hardest question that you’ve asked me so far!
These are my rules for myself:
- Be truthful to yourself.
- Try to hear what others have to say, just to prove them wrong, and you will know whether their advice makes sense or not.
- The most dangerous thing is if you become famous, it can kill your art because you start to produce things that others like but are not necessarily what you like, but they are your employers so that can be a dilemma and a problem.
What advice can you offer to people studying design in college? What can they expect after graduating?
Try to do artwork, and by doing so it will strengthen your portfolio. For me now, the big ad agencies hire me more because of my art projects than because of the work that I did for the big brands.
What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I need to complete the second book of Alice Through the Looking Glass. I’ve already completed all the illustrations but now I need to start the production part and it will be a nightmare!
And otherwise, god knows, you never know where you will get the next big idea.