Big World



I would like to propose to you a special journey around the world with the talented Norwegian illustrator and picture book writer Signe Torp.

Her book Make Yourself at Home! (published by Thames & Hudson) will take you from Cambodia to Mongolia, from Great Britain to Canada, through an artistic, creative, and cultural journey through 10 countries.

Have you – or your children- ever dreamed of living in an igloo, castle, stilt house, skyscraper, treehouse, windmill, siheyuan, narrowboat, cave houses, or a ger? Then you are all going to love this book that takes us on a global tour and discovers some of the most unusual homes that children still live in today.

A house is filled with walls, bricks, and furniture, but so much of what a house represents is intangible. Signe Torp’s imaginative illustrations capture the intimacy of these houses brilliantly. Her magical and detailed illustrations show us homes packed with laughter, books, stories, smells, music, children’s artwork, and family traditions.

Please, join me in this special conversation with Signe Torp. I think you will love her creative world, her passion for reading, the joy she experienced expecting Christmas, and her beautiful childhood in Oslo.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello! My name is Signe, and I illustrate and write picture books. I also read a lot of picture books. I love and am obsessed with them; there are so many talented creators out there!   

How was your childhood in Norway? 

I was lucky; my childhood was safe and fun. I grew up in Oslo with my little sister, my parents, and a very cute but naughty dog called Tassen. We were outdoors a lot, playing in nature in the summer and making snow caves and snowmen in the winter. The snow removed from our street was deposited right outside our kitchen window, so during good winters, my sister and I made the most magical snow houses that we covered in water that froze to strengthen them and candlelit from the inside. Except for this, I was always drawing. Fantasy houses, and people from past centuries, sometimes daydreaming I’d been born in a previous age. And always counting down the days to the next coming Christmas!   

When did you first realize that you wanted to be an illustrator? 

When I was a child, I think I wanted to be an ‘artist.’ But more like an old fashioned one that could draw more or less naturalistic images from their surroundings. When I got older, I realised artists were no longer doing this, but illustrators were, so that seemed much more tempting! I also went to a Waldorf school, where we didn’t use any printed books, but these special books with tissue paper between all the pages, that we wrote everything in ourselves and also illustrated with wax crayons and coloured pencils. So for the nine years I went there, I was basically illustrating every day for every subject. I’m surprised there are not more illustrators coming from these schools!

I am fascinated by your use of the collage technique in your illustrations. Why did you choose this form of expression? 

That is a difficult question, because it kind of just happened, it just suits my way of working, I think. I cut out the shapes quite quickly, so that is a nice contrast to how slowly and precisely I draw on top of them; maybe that contrast is why I like so much working like this. There is also something about being able to include traces of other times and cultures. In a previous book, I used little parts of letters and drawings made by my foremothers; for instance, bringing little pieces from the past back to life like this is very interesting, I think. Or maybe it quite simply just is  an excuse for me to buy endless amounts of old books, postcards, maps, musical scores, and magazines?

What do you do when you are not drawing? 

When I don’t work, I love drawing from life. The people I’m with, my cat, my flat and my neighbourhood. But that doesn’t really answer the question. I also spent a lot of time meeting friends; it is very interesting to get glimpses into other people’s lives. And I do love the forest surrounding Oslo, so whenever I have time I spend it there, which of course is not nearly as often as I’d wish! But I do need a lot of walking to function, so on busy days, I stroll around in Oslo instead, preferably after dark so I can look into windows and see how people live! A bit creepy, I know. 

What are you working on now?  Can you tell us a little bit about your next project? 

I’m working on a few different projects, but they’re unfortunately all a bit too early to be talked about yet. 

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring illustrators?

Yes! Don’t give up! Receiving rejections is just a part of the process; get used to it, and try not to take it too personally. If this is your true passion, just keep at it even if it can feel hopeless at times.Also, draw! As much as possible and preferably from life. Keep a sketchbook in your pocket and draw whenever the opportunity arises, you will never again be bored, and your drawing skills will improve immensely. And as a bonus, you also get much better at noticing the world around you. 

What books are you currently reading?

I’m reading a collection of short stories by Norwegian writer Ida Hegazi Høyer; it is really good. Not sure if it is translated, but I will recommend it anyway!  (Editors note. We were not able to find the English translations of these stories, but we found some works of Ida Hegazi published in German and Spanish).

 Are there any particular artists or illustrators that influenced you growing up?

Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren had a big impact; her stories are still with me in many ways. Many of them are set in the past and might explain why I tended to draw people from the 19th and early 20th century when I was growing up. In her books, there’s also plenty of beautiful illustrations by Ilon Wikland of cozy rural houses that I think fed many of my daydreams. I also loved Swedish artist Cars Larsson’s interiors and family images. I wanted to live in his home, and I definitely wanted his career. No wonder I was/still am romanticising the past! 

Did you have a favorite book in your childhood?

In addition to this, my absolute favourites were the Little House on The Prairie books. There were 7 that were translated into Norwegian, I think, and I read them all every year. First, my parents had to read them for me, and when I got older, I read them myself. When I moved to England to study and realised there were more of them available in English, I got terribly excited and continued reading them even if I didn’t speak very loudly about it at university.

Dear Signe, Thank you (Takk skal du ha!) very much for sharing your creative world with World Kids!

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  • Reply Signe Torp 11/15/2020 at 15:35

    Dear Anne,
    What a wonderful surprise to hear from you! Of course I remember you and your family:-) Your girls were sooo big! (probably maybe even 10) and I think you had a cabin we went to? My earliest memories are from Granville, but they’re not all all that clear. I hope you are all doing well, despite everything, and that Granville is still as charming as I remember it. Thank you so much for your kind words and for getting in touch, you really made my day! Please send my love to your family and I hope you all will enjoy the book and have a great Christmas! Love Signe

  • Reply Anne Aubourg 11/14/2020 at 22:03

    Dear Signe,

    I am a friend of your parents during their time in Granville,Ohio, and since then we have continued to get together when we can. You were 3 and Ina was only 1 when you moved to Granville as your father took a job at the Owens Corning research center in our little town. You were already artistic then! I remember a Christmas dinner at your house when you decorated the paper tablecloth. It was fabulous!
    For my entire career , I was a reading teacher with little children at first and then with high schoolers who had reading problems. I have always adored children’s books, and next week I will order your book to surprise each of our girls (We have 2)
    for Christmas with your wonderful creation.
    I am thrilled that Ina sent us this interview about you and your work. I wish you much success , and I hope that you continue to give and get so much joy from children’s literature.

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