Interview with Chrudoš Valoušek

After The most beautiful book of the year award ceremony, I caught up with Chrudoš Valoušek and talked about how his life changed after the award, his work and relationship with graphic designer and publisher Juraj Horváth.

Panáček, Pecka, švestka, poleno a zase Panáček (in dutch De pittige pruim die een pop werd) has just received the award ‘The most beautiful book of the year 2017’. How do you feel about it?

Only now I actually realize that it really happened that the book I illustrated won such a prestigious award. But if I look at what it did for me as an illustrator, it didn’t really change much. I still have the same job that has nothing to do with illustration and when they invite me to do TV interviews I have to do them in my lunch break. That’s also why I rarely give interviews. I am almost 60 years old and I still bring my own lunch to work where I do my 8,5 hours a day for very little money. I should have got The best hockey player of the year award instead. A few years ago, when I won the Most beautiful book in the world for my Mix Přísloví in Leipzig, I at least got to sleep in Blexbolex’s bed. I don’t think the book awards and nominations have any practical value other than bringing more money to the publisher. Nonetheless, it’s great to be recognised like that. Even a nomination is a victory given the huge number of books considered for the award each year.

De pittige pruim die een pop werd is available in both Belgium and Netherlands. Left: Book cover Right: Official poster

What do you think about the new generation of illustrators that also got awarded this year?

Well, it would be great if the old generation somehow ‘reincarnated’ into the new one. When I was in the kindergarten I was drawing all day long. So much that the head teacher ordered me to come to the office and talk to her about it. I went there but told her not to interrupt me ever again and that she was an ugly, fat hag. She hit me with a dirty wet towel so I ran away but kept on drawing. When my kindergarten drawings won a competition I got a book from the legendary children’s book illustrator Daisy Mrázková. I would never imagine that one day my books will be published by the same publisher as hers. On one side you have the young ones and on the other side the dead ones and I feel they must unite. Who else should be getting awards than the young ones? But it’s also important that the dead ones get some too from time to time because it keeps things in balance. I will never win an award as a young man again but as a dead man, I will always have a chance.

I know you hand coloured the black & white linocuts for the book together with graphic designer Juraj Horváth. It must take a lot of trust to let someone else into your fantasy. How exactly did it work? When I look at his work I feel he prefers different colours than you do. He is more of a ‘design’ guy and you are more of a ‘jungle’ guy.

I’ve known Juraj for 15 years and the trust I have in him is immense. I know that whatever color combination he chooses it’s carefully thought through and the result is always interesting and unique. Juraj is a great DJ of colors and a true visual artist. He knows how is everything going to look like on the given paper when it’s printed and he always has a vision of the finished book. His color DJing is feverish, radical and expressive which is something I like myself. We agreed that my linocuts should have certain color structures that we put ‘under’ or ‘on top’ of them. Initially, I wanted to imitate certain printing techniques from the 20s and 30s that had that type of structures and rasters. I also carved my own font for the book called SWALLO. However, Juraj decided to layer different materials like bras, towels or plastic nets of different colours. Through them, he created movement and tension that my b&w linocuts don’t have. I was really delighted to see the result because I remember where exactly every ‘structure’ came from, where I found it and what it was. You can really see a lot of him in the book but I think we really complemented each other well and the book is spectacular.

Left: Original linocut illustration Right: Coloured book version

I saw Juraj Horváth at the award ceremony and he was basically behind every other nominated and awarded book either as a graphic designer, publisher or a teacher. Is he a genius or what?

Well, he is a guy that does things the way he wants to. But he also helped to realize dozens of great projects of other authors and his students that I personally think are the best in the illustration business. Too bad the art academies don’t pay their professors as much as oil companies their executives. He would be a millionaire.

Have you considered not making linocuts and just draw, paint or use other techniques to make illustrations? Would that interest you?

I actually never had a problem with that. In my book ‘Zvěřinec’ are a lot of illustrations composted of real-world objects like coins, glasses or breadcrumbs. Not to mention, all my linocuts are first drawn by hand. I first draw the ideas on a paper with color markers. The process of carving is actually not as authentic. I believe that the ideas can get out of the head only through drawing which is something I have been doing my whole life.

Valoušek’s drawings for the book’s linocut illustrations

Is there any book or text you would like to make illustrations for?

I can imagine making illustrations for the collection of ballads ‘Kytice’ from the great Czech poet Karel Erben. They made a really strong impression on me when I was a child. The images of water goblins, noonday witches and animated skeletons raising from their graves still haunt me till this day. I would just have to put them on paper and find a publisher I guess.

Renata Bellingerová interviewed Chrudoš Valoušek in the Czech language on 24th of April 2017.