Rilla Alexander discusses the inspiration behind The Best Book in the World and her alter-ego, Sozi.
Rilla Alexander is an Australian illustrator and designer whose energetic and instantly likeable characters animate walls, prints, ceramics, fabrics, stationery, posters and books. Visualising concepts through storytelling and characterisation, Alexander has the ability to convey deeper meaning in an immediate and highly stylised manner. In this short interview, Rilla Alexander discusses The Best Book in the World, a celebration of books that sweeps readers along with its dynamic artwork, perfectly paced structure and infectious enthusiasm for reading.
L/B ‘The Best Book in the World’ is a fantastic title – what inspired the concept for the book?
R/A Amongst the hustle and bustle of an international airport I noticed a little boy engrossed in a book – perched on top of a pile of luggage on a trolley being pushed by his dad. And I thought “Now, that must be a really good book!”. This book is my loving tribute to the power of great books – those you don’t want to put down and you never want to end.
L/B Who is the character in red who is so absorbed in her reading?
R/A That’s Sozi. I’ve been drawing her for so long that the line between us is indistinguishable. It’s not surprising, then, that she loves books, thinking up ideas and making things. She also tends to procrastinate and exaggerate. I named her when I was two – but it was only recently that I discovered ‘Sosie’ means doppelgänger in French.
L/B Red is your favourite colour, blue following a close second. How did you find the process of expanding your colour palette to an almost full spectrum?
R/A I was colour coded red from birth so I am nothing if not consistent. My younger sisters were blue and yellow and I’d happily live in the bold simplicity of a three colour world forever. It’s true to to say integrating so many more colours into this book was a challenge. I originally conceived it to be wordless and, in fact, mapped out the colour ‘story’ early on in the process. I thought of the flow of colour as crucial to emphasising Sozi’s journey through the world. Ultimately, I added words which took the pressure off the colour a little, but I am still proud you can read it without the words.
L/B Your artwork is incredibly dynamic. In the context of a book, how do you conceive of your compositions and are you considering them page by page or as one long, continuous image?
When I was little I would dictate my stories to my mother as she typed them onto my drawings – she’d then bind them together into books (complete with an author’s biography). So I think I was brainwashed into drawing sequentially from the very beginning! Every character and story I think up I imagine is alive so it’s probably closer to conceiving of an animation with strong freeze frame moments. Funnily enough, I initially imagined this as a concertina book. But in order to have her traverse enough distance, it worked out better that the drawings didn’t actually connect. Otherwise it would have had to be ‘The Biggest and Most Unwieldy Book in the World’.
L/B Who are some of the people who you’ve learnt from and been inspired by in your own work?
R/A My mother and father and their constant flurry of making and doing is, without a doubt, the biggest influence on me. Combine that with a 70s childhood full of Sesame Street, Dr Seuss and Scandinavian textiles – and add years of inspiration from the world of Graphic Design (specifically a stash of Graphis magazines from the 40s to 60s that I have been carting around the world since I found them in Zurich). And top it all off with my everlasting affection for Tove Jansson and her Moomins. Now, SHE made the best books in the world!