Cat Rabbit on ‘How to Make Friends: A Bear’s Guide’
Cat Rabbit is a textile artist and designer based in Melbourne. In her latest picture book, How to Make Friends: A Bear’s Guide (Berbay, October), Rabbit explores the struggles of making friends as an introvert. Reviewer Ellen Cregan calls Rabbit’s signature soft sculptures ‘a refreshing change from the many similarly illustrated picture books we see all year’; she speaks to the author.
Can you explain the process of setting each scene in the picture book before photographing it?
For this book I sketched out all the scenes first, so I knew the narrative that each photo had to convey in order to tell the story. The sketch also acts as a sort of pictorial checklist for all the things I need to stitch! Once I have everything made for a certain scene, I carefully set it up and hold everything in place with pins so nothing moves or falls while I’m taking the picture (my characters do have a tendency to topple).
What was your favourite prop that you made for the book? (I loved the three-person bicycle.)
I love that bicycle too! It’s based on the bike from the Goodies (one of my favourite TV shows as a kid). I remember being very tickled when making Bear’s stickers—I think they’re my favourite. Closely followed by the cake, because I do love making felt cake (as well as the real kind).
Did you create the story for Bear, or did you create Bear after you had the idea for the book?
My lovely editor Nancy came to me with an idea for three of my characters, in a scenario where one was feeling left out. She also helped me to go through my cast of plush characters and see who might fit the bill for this trio of friends. Once we had cast the book with Bear, Koala and Lamb, we sent story lines back and forth until the final story arrived.
In the end, Bear, Koala and Lamb become friends over a drawing party. What is your favourite way to make new friends?
I’m a bit like Bear—actually I think her story is basically my autobiography. I have made some of my best friends by drawing and sewing alongside them and I also know that karaoke will make or break a friendship!
Who are the picture book authors/illustrators who most inspire your work?
Some of my favourite philosophies are written in the stories of Frog & Toad by Arnold Lobel. I am also a huge fan of Tove Jansson, Richard Scarry, Anna Walker and of course Beatrix Potter.
What was the last book you read and loved?
It was early last year and I’ve read and loved many books since, but Elif Batuman’s The Idiot still has me besotted. It was just so funny and (like Bear) I would very much like to be friends with the main character, Selin.