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Philip Giordano on I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast

In this time of strange uncertainty and worry, so many of you have been loving the bright and beautiful illustrations from I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast, so to tell you a bit more about them, we had a (socially distant) chat with their creator, Philip Giordano.

Born in a small coastal town in Liguria, Italy, to a Filipina mother and Swiss father, Philip Giordano is a tireless globetrotter, who now lives and works in Tokyo. After studying at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts and at the European Institute of Design, he earned a Master in Animation in Turin. He works for a number of magazines and publishing houses around the world, illustrating book covers, designing toys, and creating children’s books and animations.
The simple and colorful shapes of his illustrations, his iconic characters, and his graphic landscapes render his unique style immediately recognizable and transform his stories into breathtaking visual journeys. 

Flying Eye Books: The illustrations of I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast are absolutely stunning and brimming with life from all kinds of habitats. Where did you get your inspiration for the book?

Philip Giordano: When I was young, I grew up surrounded by plants. I was lucky because my home in Italy is located between the sea and the green Ligurian countryside. My mother taught me her love for gardening. I remember that inside the house we had large trunks where she planted the orchids she brought from the Philippines (her native country) and other exotic plants that she grew to feel connected to her Asian roots. It felt like being in a jungle.

As a child, I was struck by a photo of Margaret Mee (a British botanical artist specialized in plants from the rainforest and ecological activist) in one of my mum’s gardening magazines. She was suspended over the forest intent on painting the flower of a species that blooms only at night (I think it was called Moonflower).

So I started collecting plants and became a plant nerd at an early age, hoping one day to become like her: a sort of brave 19th-century explorer and discoverer of new species. And I knew for sure that I wanted to draw them!

FEB: Illustrating text written by expert ecologist and educator Michael Holland, did you learn a lot of things about the wildlife you never knew before?

PG: I already had some knowledge of the plant world, but working on “I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast” I discovered a lot of facts, especially from chapter three where Michael explains how much plants are present in and connected to our daily life. For example, when he talks about a fern from New Zealand that Māori hunters would use to find their way back home after hunting at night because the undersides of these plants’ fronds are visible. I was amazed to learn this! 

FEB: Working with educational and factual text on nature did you find it difficult to accurately illustrate plant and animal anatomy whilst making sure the children understand the processes of nature visually?

PG: The main challenge was to create scientific illustrations while maintaining my geometric, abstract, colourful and surreal style. I hope I stuck a good balance amongst all these elements.

To introduce the world of plants to children, I created a group of humanised quirky insect characters led by “Little Square”, a square-shaped fly, that appear throughout the book.

FEB: What is your creative process when working on a children’s book? How does this differ to other work you’ve been commissioned for?

PG: It’s my first non-fiction book and there is a lot of illustrated page: 114! As I’ve never done a book before dedicated exclusively to plants, it was something completely new, regarding both the non-fiction aspect as well as the amount of work to be managed in a limited time. It was a bit overwhelming, but also very exciting.

Fortunately, I got to work with an excellent team. I’d like to thank the remarkable designers for their outstanding direction as well as my dear agent for her reassurance in difficult moments.

FEB: And was there a most challenging part you found working on I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast?

PG: One of the difficult parts was managing the work in different locations. During the making of the book, I was travelling a lot for work. The storyboard part started in the Japanese countryside and ended around Taiwan and Honk Kong. Most of the final illustrations were made in my hometown in Italy.

I was fortunate in that I got ideas by directly observing the flora in the different countries I visited. Like some strange fruits eaten in Hong Kong, or tropical ferns spotted in Taiwan, or ancient pine trees in Japan. I tried to put these things into the book. (You can spot them ;) )

FEB: Your artwork is SO vibrant and bursting with energy, where do you get your colour inspiration from? And how do you create your textures?

PG: From my childhood, from all the time I spent alone in the fields watching insects and other small creatures all day long. From a book, found in Tokyo before starting the project, about fabrics and wallpapers from the fifteenth century to the present day. There are beautiful and unusual palettes. I create my textures by scanning patterns made using monotype techniques, ink brush strokes, collage out of old paper.

FEB: The animals and plants illustrated in geometric, dramatic art style have such beautiful quality. How did you develop this visual style?

PG: approached illustration because I wanted to reproduce the beauty of natural creatures, their colour and their complexity. My course in naturalistic painting (20 years ago!) gave me the basis to faithfully reproduce things with pictorial mediums. I still have the hobby of painting realistically on wooden boards.

At a certain point, however, I was fed up with representing reality, with all its shadows, shades, perfect proportions and boring rules on perspective. I needed to simplify, tidy up, see things from another point of views. This coincided with my arrival in Japan where I’ve been living for the last 9 years. In particular, I immediately fell in love with a certain essential and geometric Japanese graphic style from the 1950s (Takashi Kono) and started to observe and study them. It was a natural process. And, I was in Japan where the abstraction of forms is the basis of their aesthetics.

FEB: If forced to pick just one plant, which is your favourite of all?

PG: From the plants I draw, one of my favourites is the tulip with its bulb and roots. One of my favourite plants (a Plant that I want at home with me) is the big fern tree! I think I miss the jungle house of my childhood.

FEB: And what was your most favourite part of the book to illustrate?

PG: I had fun creating the compositions of the 4 chapters. One of my favourite pages is “Watery World”.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions Philip!

You can order a copy of I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast here and find downloadable activities to do at home here.


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Eleanor Hardiman on The Sleepy Pebble

A beautiful treasure trove of tales perfect for bedtime, The Sleepy Pebble and Other Stories is co-written by sleep specialist Professor Alice Gregory and children’s author Christy Kirkpatrick, who’ve incorporated mindfulness and other techniques into every chapter.

The book is fully illustrated throughout by Eleanor Hardiman, whose elegant watercolours truly bring this book to life. We sat down with Eleanor to get a closer look at her working process, and to get a behind-the-scenes look at her studio.

We’ll pass you over to Eleanor to tell you more…

Using analogue media is really important to me and my process, and that starts right from the sketch stage. My roughs always start with pencil sketches, I have one retractable super chubby pencil that I love drawing with, it means I can create more flowy shapes and spreads without getting caught up in detail. 

The Sleepy Pebble and Other Bedtime stories took inspiration from old fairytale books in it’s layout and contains a huge mix of different elements, this was the biggest challenge for me! The book includes a set of patterns, spots, character’s, drop caps and single and double page spreads for each story.  All my sketches start as little thumbnails and are then redrawn and finalised at book size to keep everything consistent. There were so many elements on the go I made tick-charts for each story to keep on top of all the artwork in its various stages. Seeing the rough sketches in the book layout for the first time was really exciting, it went from pages of various sketches into something book-like!

Each of the stories were so different and I paid attention to creating different environments with different plants and details for each one. I based the tree story on french lilly filled lakes, and the pig story took inspiration from the Vietnamese mountainous countryside. 

Each of the 5 bedtime stories has a different limited colour palette, so my next step was to make detailed colour plans for each story and element, so that all the decisions are made before the final artwork stage. Watercolour is a very unforgiving medium so it’s saves so much time by planning everything out! I transfer the pencil sketches over to procreate for the iPad pro and plan the colours digitally. The iPad means I can try lots of different colour ways out quickly without painting each option. This process saves lots of time and makes me more adventurous with colour, although I had to be mindful about including colours that are as effective in paint as they are screen. 

With a new book layout full of coloured roughs I was ready to start final artwork, my favourite part! I like to get really settled at my desk before painting, as I’ll be there for a while. I usually have a cup of tea and a good podcast on the go. On my desk I have the sketch, colour plan for reference, a mix of brushes, tissue paper, clean and dirty paint water, masking fluid and a scrap of paper for testing the colour and consistency of the paint. I work traditionally with watercolour, meaning I start by painting the lightest colours, and work my way to the darkest using a combination of washes and thicker paint for the darker details. Simple elements like the drop caps or characters are painted as one final image, however more complex spreads with lots of elements are painted in layers and compiled together on photoshop. This means there is less pressure to paint everything perfectly first time (phew!) and also means elements can be moved or changed individually if they need to. I worked on each story one at a time, this was to make sure they all looked consistent as mixing paint again is tricky, but this also meant I really got to delve into each one, I love each story for different reasons and having this variety was a great part of the project. 

After scanning and combining the different layers of each image I start to edit the artwork digitally. This usually includes small tweaks like adding saturation or contrast to the paintings, cleaning up any marks and neatening any edges. Illustrating the cover of the book was so special as we got to include spot gloss and gold foiling (my favourite!), it also meant I got to revisit the underwater artwork and use all the squiggly coral patterns and speckled pebbles. 

The Sleepy Pebble is out now in the UK, available on our website and in all best bookshops. The release date for the US and Canada is October 15th, and available from Penguin Random House.


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Luke Healy on Americana

Americana by Luke Healyis a unique book: part travelogue and part memoir it’s a work that effortlessly stitches together multiple narratives across time and place. The main story is more than compelling enough- Luke recounts his 147 day journey across the 2660 mile long Pacific Crest Trail (a staggeringly long hiking path that winds up from America’s desert border with Mexico to Canada’s mountainous one). However this journey is more than just a hike, it is the culmination of a lifelong obsession with the USA that Luke has never quite managed to shake. As he puts it himself:

“I’m driven by my hunger for the American experience. But also by the hope that if I gorge myself on it, I’ll become sick of the taste.”

We sat down with Luke to get a deeper insight into why he took on the PCT, and how the book’s concept has developed since he started planning for the trail.

How did you first hear about the PCT, and how long did it take you to prepare for it?

I first heard about the PCT in 2014, when I saw a trailer for the film adaptation of Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I saw it right before I had to move back to Ireland from the USA. I didn’t want to leave, and was in a huge funk. The first thing I did when I returned to Ireland was buy and read Wild. I was immediately obsessed, and decided that I would hike the PCT in 2016, leaving myself enough time to prepare, since I had never hiked, backpacked, or camped before. All told, I prepped for about 18 months.

This is a massive understatement, but the PCT looks really, really hard. You very honestly document the amount of times during the trip that you almost quit the trail. How do you feel not finishing the PCT would have affected you, if at all?

I don’t think I’d have the same kind of closure that I have now about my relationship with the USA. Every time I’d lived there before, I was forced to leave against my will, and it definitely left me feeling as though I had left things unfulfilled. Although my journey wasn’t without compromise (in the form of a few skipped sections), I feel as though when I walked out of the USA, I’d reached the end of something. Though at the time, all I wanted was to sleep indoors again.

What were the most difficult moments along the trail?

The hardest moment by far, was around mile 340 at Cajon Pass. I’d had a horrible few days, and was suffering from a depressive period. I was so unhappy, and exhausted, and was just plodding along. And I kept running out of water, multiple days in a row; which is obviously very dangerous when you’re isolated and tramping across a blisteringly hot desert. I had a realization, then, that I was engaging in “risky behaviour”, by not taking enough caution with my water supplies. A classic symptom of depression. I decided that if I wasn’t able to take care of myself, I shouldn’t be on the trail, and a few days later I got a ride to L.A. with the intention of quitting for good.

Also, the day I broke my leg along in the mountains was pretty bad. But I just kept taking ibuprofen and hiking on it, so the depression thing was probably worse, haha.

Do you also have any stand out good memories of your time there?

A lot! As hard as the trip was, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Oddly, a moment to really sticks out to me, which actually doesn’t feature in the book because I found it too difficult to communicate, happened right after I’d crossed the state border form California to Oregon, months into the journey. I was in Callaghan’s Lodge, who offered cheap food for hikers –and when you’re hiking the PCT, you are always starving– I was walking through their dining room, and made eye contact with another thruhiker, who was taking the first bite of a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs. We both started laughing because we both knew how much joy she was getting from that bite, and in that moment we saw how absurd we both were. It felt amazing to be so connected to a complete stranger.

Despite that there seems to be a great deal of community feeling amongst the hikers you met and walked with, a unique kind of hiking culture. Have you kept in touch with any of the people you met along the way?

Yes, I’m still in touch with lots of them, via facebook. But I mostly still talk to the hikers from the group “Mile 55”, who I hiked about 400 miles of trail with. They’re some of the best people I’ve ever met, and I’m extremely grateful to call them my friends. I’m going to be seeing them for the first time since trail in October, and I can’t wait (please attend my US events while I’m there!).

I also have seen Justin and Jenny a few times, the hikers whose wedding I attended on trail. We’ve crossed paths in London, and I am very happy any time I get to see them.

There also seemed to be an impressive amount of support along the way for hikers, people who would offer up their outhouses etc for walkers to sleep in, and leave water caches in the desert near Mexico for them. Do you know anything more about these “trail angels”, or how many of them help maintain the trail?

No official numbers, but my guess would be hundreds. There are pillars of the community who open up their houses every year, but also the dozens of people any hiker meets at road crossings or trail junctions, with cold cans of soda, or hot fresh food ( a rare luxury on trail). Or just the trail angels who don’t even know that’s what they are, who pick you up hitchhiking, and invite you to shower or sleep at their place.

They keep the trail alive, and they’re some of the most generous, incredible people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. And that’s not even mentioning all of the volunteers who head out and do work on the trail itself, clearing fallen trees, maintaining this massive engineering project that can sometimes look like a simple dirt path, but is unfathomably complicated to maintain over such an enormous distance.

If my walk across America jaded me to certain aspects of US culture, these people, were what reminded me of the other side of that coin.

The amount of detail and small recorded moments that you‘ve captured in Americana is incredible, it almost feels like watching a documentary at times rather than reading a comic. How did you keep a record along the way? Was it all notes, or did you have time to draw occasionally whilst there?

I took no notes, and made no drawings. While hiking, I never intended to write a book about the experience. I just wanted to do something for my own self. When I got home and decided that I did want to put something together, the memories were so visceral that I had no trouble recalling them, I think just because every day was so unusual and unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Three years later, things have definitely faded a little, so for that reason, I’m very glad I took the time to write the most interesting parts down.

Could you also expand a little more about the process of making the book itself? Did you start it immediately after returning from the US? And are there many extra stories from the trail you ended up editing out?

I started working on it pretty much as soon as I got home to Ireland. I sat down and wrote an outline, as well as a detailed draft of the first hundred or so pages before pitching it to Nobrow. Then over the next 18 months I wrote a bunch of rough drafts of the book.

A lot of stuff got cut. It’s hard to condense five months into something digestible. In the end, I mostly cut stuff that felt like it was detouring too much from the momentum of the overall book. Even though the final book has something of a meandering quality, I still wanted everything to seem purposeful, and some stories were just too unrelated to fit in.

One of my favourite little anecdotes that got cut took place in the town of Mt. Shasta, a very hippy spiritualist kind of spot (it has more than ten crystal shops). While I was there, my bankcard got blocked for a suspicious transaction, and I had no way of contacting my bank because I couldn’t pay for an international call. In the end, I had to borrow $20 from another hiker, and look for a payphone and phone card. I searched all over town. In the end, I found a phone card, buried amongst “bigfoot is real” bumper stickers and “UFO Drivers licences” at a gas station. The gas station owner was surprised when I brought it up to check out and said “that’s probably been there since the ‘90s”. It still worked.

As you describe reaching the end of the PCT during Americana’s last few pages you say you “don’t feel changed. Not yet”. Now time has passed, do you feel the trail has changed you?

We’re all changing constantly, I think. Everything we experience, and every choice we make just influences the trajectory of that change. Without hiking the PCT, I wouldn’t be somehow preserved as the person I was before I hiked it. But I certainly wouldn’t be the same person I am now. Everything in my life is different because of hiking the PCT, and I’m very thankful for that.

The book is of course equally as much about your relationship with America as it is about the hike itself. Do you still feel as such a strong pull to it as you once did? 

I don’t. I have many fond memories of my times living in the USA, but I have no desire to live there now. I love my American friends, and any time I can see them is an incredible privilege, but for now, I’ve lost interest in just about everything else the USA has to offer.

And lastly, have you continued hiking as a hobby, or would you take on a similarly large hike again?

I haven’t hiked at all since finishing the PCT, but I’d love to start up again. I spent a lot of this summer in Scotland, and the landscapes here have really reignited my interest in hiking and backpacking. 

If funds ever allow, I’d also love to do another large thruhike. Maybe the Via Francigena, a foot path from Canterbury to Rome. Or the Te Araroa, a trial that runs the length of New Zealand. I have my eye on those.

Luke Healy is an Irish cartoonist currently based in London, England.

Americana (And The Act of Getting Over It.) can be purchased from FlyingEyeBooks.com in the UK, and PenguinRandomHouse.com in the US. It is also available in all best bookstores.