The great illustrator Bernadette Watts celebrates her 80th birthday on May 13th. We congratulate her warmly and celebrate many years of creating books together with new editions of their classics.
Where is all began…
At the end of the 1960s, Bernadette traveled to the Frankfurt Book Fair with her illustrations of Little Red Riding Hood. She hoped to find a publisher there and, ideally, to get a small advance for a return ticket. Since that first meeting with our parent company, NordSüd, around a hundred picture books by Bernadette have been published in the US and worldwide. Many of these classics have been loved by children for generations: Varenka, Hansel and Gretel, The Little Gardener and The Snow Queen, to name just a few. One of her favorite books is Hans Millerman, her first short story, which also pays homage to Vincent van Gogh. Bernadette gave herself this book, which was out of print for decades, for her birthday and re-illustrated it. “Because I know that I can do even better today,” as she admitted in an interview. Happy birthday, dear Bernadette!
About Bernadette Watts
Bernadette Watts, known throughout Europe simply as Bernadette, has illustrated many dozens of folk- and fairy tales. Born in England, she loved to draw from childhood. She studied at the Maidstone Art School in Kent, UK for a time under the tutelage of Brian Wildsmith. Bernadette’s many beautiful books include The Snow Queen and The Bremen Town Musicians. Bernadette finds her inspiration in nature. Today she lives and works in Kent. She has been illustrating for NorthSouth Books and NordSüd Verlag since the beginning of her career 50 years ago.
We’ve never met, but I’ve admired Bernadette Watts’ art for a long time.Eric Carle
How did you do that, Bernadette?
Your first story, Hans Millerman, was reprinted for your 80th birthday. You’ve completely re-illustrated the 1969 story. What made you do it?
I’ve often wanted to improve some of the illustrations in the book. Some pictures were too dark for me and others too sketchy. But I never found time for it – I was still very satisfied with the text. Then the pandemic came and I was classified as a vulnerable person. I had nothing to do and was also isolated. I worked on new pictures every morning, in the afternoon I went for a walk or was in the garden. I think my soul would have been broken without this work. After three months there were less restrictions, and by then I was done with the new pictures.
Varenka (1971, 2022) is one of your best-known books. The subtitle used to be: “According to a Russian legend.” Both the pictures and the story are yours. How did that happen?
I wrote Varenka shortly after Hans Millerman. It’s been so long, but I remember how much I loved writing back then. I also read a lot, especially travelogues, for example about Russia and Siberia. Reading about the 1917 Russian Revolution inspired me to create Varenka. I was wondering what a Russian landscape might look like. Varenka and Hans Millerman are the two books that readers still write to me about today.
There are little hints and quotes hidden in many of your books. In Snowflake, for example, you see a young woman illustrating Little Red Riding Hood. are you the young woman?
It’s really very autobiographical. I lived for a time in Snowdonia, North Wales, in a small cottage as shown in the book. Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel were created there. The chimney in Hansel and Gretel was my chimney. I often included small personal things in the pictures: a jug, a plate or a piece of furniture. There are also portraits of people I know. Yes, the woman in the picture is me.
Why did you illustrate a new cover for the new edition of Snow White?
I’m a very observant person, but for 40 years I didn’t realize that there was a serious mistake on Snow White‘s cover: there are only 6 dwarfs! The same picture contains all seven dwarfs in the inner part. My publisher suspects that the image had to be lengthened to make room for the title. As a result, the dwarf at the bottom of the picture was lost. So I suggested that we redo the picture. At the end of the day I counted exactly whether all the figures were there: 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 … 5 … 6 … 7 ! I think I got to know them a lot better this time and they all have their own personalities now.