Briana Corr Scott is a painter, illustrator, and an author who lives in Nova Scotia. Her oil paintings, paper doll kits, and children’s books are inspired by a deep love of the natural world.
In this Q&A, Briana talks about how her love of art and children's books came together. Her books include I Dream of Sable Island and The Book of Selkie, both published by Nimbus. (See the book trailer for The Book of Selkie here.)
(Photo by Nicola Davison)
I’ve always loved your artwork and known you to be a painter. When did you decide you’d like to write a book and be an author too?
I have always loved writing. From a very young age I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator and author. I had a very influential creative writing teacher in high school and during that time I fell in love with poetry. Poetry and painting are the same activity to me; there is a method and an expectation, they both have restraints and a tradition that together form a creative box. I am more inventive with parameters. While I was attending art school I put aside the dream of being an illustrator and author because the illustration department had just switched from analog to digital, and I wanted to learn how to paint. I continued to study poetry in my electives, and I took on fine art as a major. Consequently, I have had to learn a lot of the computer programs for illustration later in life but I don’t regret the path I took to get here. I didn’t pick up my childhood dream again until recently, around 2016. I was just about to burst with all the stories I was keeping inside. I sometimes have imposter syndrome about being an author, but hey, it is way too fun for that to get in the way for very long.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
My words and paintings are inspired by drawing from life, mostly objects from nature. Drawing is the thinking part of my process, and the creative thing I love most out of anything I do. I start by drawing objects that I am curious about. While I am drawing, pieces of stories or lines of poems come to me and I jot them down next to the sketch. I have piles of these scribbles and sketches in my studio. At some point a whole story or a whole series of paintings forms from this jumble. I usually work around a theme. For example, in 2017, I was obsessed with Sable Island. I made a series of 20 fine art oil paintings at the same time I wrote my first picture book, She Dreams of Sable Island. I feel like whatever am currently curious about gets pushed out through writing, illustrating and painting.
From the illustration exhibition 1,000 Words held at Teichert Gallery last year, I know you actually created your first book much earlier, when you were a little girl. Can you tell me about that?
My first grade teacher saw how much I loved to draw. She encouraged my mother to help me enter a book making contest. She helped me put together the illustrations and story into a book. Specifically, my mother had to build a book from scratch , using a pattern and a typewriter , she even had to hand bind it. The title of the book is called The Flower Horse, and I find it funny that this is very "on brand" for what I create today. The book is a beautiful object and I treasure it. Making a book is like creating a universe that someone else can hold in their hands. I became hooked on that process at a young age, and it is every bit as thrilling to me now as it was back then.
What were the books you enjoyed as a girl?
I have a whole slew of picture books that I loved and I still love to look at, they include some Gyo Fujikawa among others. For novels I loved the Anne of Green Gables series and Little Women. I loved and re-read Little Women so much that I named two of my children after the main characters. (I have a Josephine and a Teddy. Jo thinks her middle name is March but it is really Margaret. ) I also loved anything by James Herriot. In high school I lived in the poetry section of the library, Charles Simic was and is still a favourite.
I Dream of Sable Island contains paper dolls … I remember loving paper dolls when I was a kid but they seem so retro now … why did you want to create paper dolls in your first book and what has been the reaction been from kids?
I loved making paper dolls and figuring out all the details of the wardrobes when I was younger. I started an illustration business self publishing paper doll kits in 2011, after making a series of kits for my own children. It sparked something inside me and I have been making them ever since. I was thrilled when Nimbus wanted to include a kit with my first picture book, I think it adds another layer of interaction with the stories I write.
Congratulations on your new book, The Book of Selkie. What’s it like releasing a new book during a pandemic?
Thank you! This story has been inside me for 30 years at least, I am happy to have it in the world. Books and stories are so important right now because they offer a chance to leave your house, even if it is just in your imagination. I am determined to give The Book of Selkie a proper release despite the pandemic. I have created lots of digital content to help get this story into the world. I am excited to share some stop-motion videos featuring my selkie paper doll, as well as colouring pages, bookmarks and projects for families to make at home. My version of the selkie is so relevant right now; she is a creative person who loves to be alone, loves to make things with her hands, and loves to eat simple, good food. That is what a lot of us are doing in isolation if we are lucky :)
Your website is so good. I love the short videos and the gallery is lovely. You’ve also got a section called Fun Free Things. What’s your hope for this section?
"Fun Free Things" is a section I created to share colouring pages and other resources to accompany my picture books. During the pandemic I decided to add to it weekly. I wanted to help people in some way, and I used my skills to create activities with kids and families in mind. It is place where I post stop motion stories that I make with my paper dolls, drawing tutorials, and free printable projects. It is important to me that as many people as possible can see and interact with my art. I have a degree in Museum Education, and some part of me is linking back to that skill set by creating these themed activities. The free projects are another layer of interaction with what I make.
What are some things you’ve been doing to cope with the stay-home order? What are you missing the most?
I have been pretty busy despite the stay home order. My husband and I both work at home so that hasn't changed, but my three kids are home from school. I love having them home but I have less focused time in the studio. The kids enjoy helping me or watching me make the stop motion videos so we sometimes do that as a group. I have made lots of sketches in the 20 minutes here and there when I am not cooking or homeschooling or entertaining kids. I am not putting pressure on myself to work because nothing good comes of that, but if some time materializes I do something that makes me happy. I using time in the evenings for a personal project in which I am documenting and dissecting all the themes of my work by creating a "visual vocabulary". Each day I draw a different item that I always return to, and then I write about it and what it might symbolize. This project is for my own benefit but people have enjoyed learning about this "behind the scenes" investigation on social media. I also taught a drawing class via Zoom which was fun and crazy!
What will be one of the first things you do when we’re allowed to go out again?
I will put on real pants, hug some people I haven't seen, and then I will go eat a delicious sandwich at the Bird's Nest Cafe in Halifax which is one of my favourite treats. I will then walk down to Argyle Fine Art and look at beautiful art and then I will poke around Desseres.
What are you working on now?
I am extremely excited about my next book project with Nimbus. The new book is a retelling of the classic story of Thumbelina. It is called Wildflower. The ideas for it started this past summer while I was on a painting residency at the Burren College of Art in Ireland. I was observing and sketching the rare wildflowers that grow in the Burren.There is a strict code about not picking these wildflowers, and that honour code inspired me and became one of the themes of the book in an interesting way. The other theme is about the bond between a mother and a child. I am so excited to escape into this new universe, it is very different from the two other books I have published.
- questions by Marilyn Smulders