Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Maxwell Newhouse

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On Writing, with Maxwell Newhouse

Maxwell Newhouse talks to Open Book about snow, inspiration, writing and illustrating for children and his new book, Counting on Snow (Tundra Books, 2010).

Counting on Snow has been recommended by Open Book readers.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Counting on Snow.

Maxwell Newhouse:

The inspiration for Counting on Snow came from the fact that I have three little grandsons, who are all learning to count and getting ready for either pre-school or kindergarten. I thought, what a great way to learn to count while exploring animals that are so much a part of the Canadian arctic experience! I like to do things a little differently, so I started with ten caribou on the Tundra getting the last bit of grass before the snow flies.

The illustrations show each group of animals coming and going as the harsh Canadian winter begins to take its grip on their environment. Six playful slipper seals, a family of three polar bears, then ending with one lonely moose are some of the animals you will encounter in this book. As you count each grouping, the snow will become increasing denser until the last page where it may be hard to see anything at all!


What was your first publication?


The first publication I was able to author/illustrate was The RCMP Musical Ride. At the time, my daughter was about 12 and, like most girls of that age, she was crazy about horses. She read that the musical ride was coming to a town very close to where we lived, and we had to go! “Dad, there are two shows and we have to stay for both,” and “Dad, let’s take lots of pictures,” she informed me.

So we did. It was the first time I saw the Musical Ride as well. When the music started and the mounted police marched into the arena wearing their Red Scarlet jackets on top of their magnificent black horses, I was overcome with enormous Canadian pride, and it stuck with me for a very long time.

Between shows we were allowed to visit the barns and talk to the members and view the horses. I told my daughter at the end of the day how pleased I was that we spent a great day together and how I felt a need to share our experience with others.

The illustration for the book was my interpretation of how the RCMP Musical Ride might look in different parts of North America. The text explains in detail how the RCMP trained and prepared to bring the ride to these various communities.


What first inspired you to paint? To write?


Painting is just part of who I am. I started as a child and found it a wonderful escape. My mother encouraged me and we often went out in the community on drawing trips. There are also art classes — learning through watching and experimenting are all part of the process of learning to paint. I know there are a lot more techniques I could learn, but I have developed a style that is comfortable for me and allows me complete freedom to paint the way I see it. If I wanted perfection I guess I could take a photograph, but that would be cheating.

I enjoy painting my environment and things that have an impact on me. I always put my interpretation on it, either with colour or interesting shapes and textures. I feel this freedom of expression gives the work an identity of its own.


Do you write with illustrations in mind or illustrate to cater to the story?


I quite often have an illustration in mind when I write. With any of the books I have written, there is a story in my mind regarding the visuals. When I’m deciding on the story I would like to write, I envision how the illustration will look in my thought process. This is usually where I get my inspiration for the picture. Then I set out to tell the story of the pictures.

It’s probably is a little backwards for most people, but what can I say? I’m left handed.


Are there any Canadian authors or artist you particularly admire? Why?


The first artist who comes to mind is Emily Carr. Emily painted what she saw. The forests of British Columbia are dark and gloomy, especially in the winter. When people say her work is depressing, I have to wonder if they have ever experienced winter in the forests of BC.

The Group of Seven influenced me as a child. I was introduced to them by my mother. Landscape is a favorite of mine, although I like to paint people doing activities, much like William Kurelek.


Do you have any upcoming project in mind?


At present I am working on a group show for one of my galleries. Images from the 50s have a special place in my heart. I like the old cars, their shapes, style and colors. My grandsons play with match box cars and I can’t help but add to their collections, with 50s cars of course. I am working on a series of drive-in movies, depicting the cars, fashion and movie stars of that era. I’m really enjoying it.

Maxwell Newhouse is a highly accomplished folk artist whose work has been widely exhibited in galleries across Canada. He has illustrated the critically acclaimed The RCMP Musical Ride, written by the artist himself, as well as Laura Secord: A Story of Courage; Emily Carr: At the Edge of the World; Let’s Go for a Ride — a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in Children’s Illustration — and The House That Max Built. Visit him at his website:

For more information about Counting on Snow, please visit the Tundra Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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