Sabina Hahn is a Brooklyn based illustrator, animator, and sculptor who loves stories and tall tales. Sabina has been drawing from before she was born; she is a master of capturing subtle fleeting expressions and the most elusive of gestures. She is a co-founder of Interval Studios. Pineapple Princess is her debut picture book.
I had the opportunity to interview Sabina, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Sabina Hahn. I love words and pictures and clay. And cats. I moved to New York from Riga, Latvia when I was 17 and I have been here ever since.
What can you tell us about your most recent project, Pineapple Princess? What was the inspiration for this story?
Pineapple Princess first appeared as a drawing of a surly kid; then the title “Pineapple Princess” dropped into my head like a gift. They kind of melted into one and soon I started to idly think of her and where she came from and what she liked to do. I kept drawing her and writing small snippets. Soon I felt curious enough about her to sit down and write her story. I wanted to know more about this kid who knows she is a princess and is also sticky and surly and sure of herself.
How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly picture books? What drew you to the medium?
I fell in love with books when I was 4 or 5, the first time I read “Alice in Wonderland”. The combination of earnestness and absurdity really spoke to me. For me, the best children’s books have that quality because kids tend to think in leaps and sometimes those leaps happen sideways or upside down. I like to stay in touch with my inner child and children’s books are the easiest way to do so.
I personally started to write kid’s books when I decided to change my career from animation to something else. Books seemed like a logical place to go to. It appealed to me that I can make key frames and then the reader does all the in-between work inside their mind.
How would you describe your creative process?
Meandering. Very very meandering. I have a small notebook where I jot all of my ideas for stories, no matter how small or vague it might be. Generally, one or two stories are particularly interesting to me or close to my heart. And so I will start writing a little, sketching a bit and also – very important – “researching”. ‘Researching’ is what I call all the rabbit holes I jump into. It is a great joy to me. One of the best things about being a New Yorker is our library. I love working in the libraries – this year, my favorite has been the Main library with the lions. I go there and write, and when I need a break I pick up a random book to be inspired.
I tend to alternate between drawing and writing. Then, when I have the bones of the story, I start doing both at once. Afterwards, I make a book dummy. It is a great way to see the flow of the story and to tighten it up where it is needed. I might have anywhere from 3 to about 7 book dummies of various degrees of sketchiness by the time I am finished with a story.
As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?
Anything that makes me stop and wonder is the source of inspiration. It is people sometimes, overheard conversations, misheard words, books, art – anything and everything.
What are some of your favorite elements of writing/illustrating? What are some of the most challenging?
I find writing challenging. I want to use all words and no words at once and have a hard time balancing that dichotomy in my books. When I get discouraged, I remind myself of these words by Felicity Beedles from “Thud” by Terry Pratchett : “‘… how hard can writing be? After all, most of the words are going to be and, the and I and it, and so on, and there’s a huge number to choose from, so a lot of the work has already been done for you.’ ”
My favorite things about creating (be it words or images) are the moments of wonder. Every once in a while I am surprised by what I create. It is as if it has a life of its own and I am the lucky one who gets to spend time with it..
Besides your work as an author/illustrator, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?
I love working with clay. It brings me joy and equilibrium. You should try it too.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?
‘What is your favorite animal’ is a question people over a certain age (11 maybe) don’t get asked enough. At the moment my favorite animal is a hog nose snake who very dramatically pretends to be dead when it is scared. So much drama!
Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?
A lot of my stories I am working now are in their caterpillar cocoon form. I am afraid to disturb them while their existence is so precarious. But one of the characters that keeps showing up lately when I am daydreaming is a cat in a cat suit. What it is doing or what it wants is unclear, but it’s pretty persistent.
What advice might you have to give to aspiring creatives, to both those interested in making their own picture book?
Read, read, read! When you get tired of reading, make, make, make. When you get tired of that, connect with other similarly minded people. And then show your work; be present in the world you want to inhabit.
Finally, what books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
I tend to read pretty widely, so here are some of my favorites from the last few years.
Paradise Sands by Levi Pinfold (picture book)
Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch (picture book)
Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascot (graphic novel)
Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto (graphic novel)
And all of Terry Pratchett too.
Nature of Oaks by Douglas Tallamy (non-fiction, one of the books I read for my research, so interesting!)
Header Photo Credit Anna Campanelli