The Exclusive Full Interview with Annie Vallotton by Graham Kennedy
Generations of children have grown up with the illustrations in this Bible. In this interview, the artist, Annie Vallotton, explains how she came to create these simple, yet enduringly popular line drawings.
Photo courtesy of the American Bible Society
How did you come to illustrate the Good News Bible, and how many illustrations did you complete for it?
In the early 60s, a man from the American Bible Society, Eugene Nida (currently living in Brussels), contacted me from Germany to ask me if I could come to Stuttgart – he had only ten minutes available, during which he wanted to see me. Was I willing? Yes, I was willing. I met him at the airport and he had one of my very first books with him.
He wanted me to make illustrations for the Good News Bible (GNB), an edition for children, and he wanted the same kinds of illustrations that I had done in this book. He said “I want very much to have your illustrations because your illustrations are very simple, and we love them! Are you ready to do this?” I replied, “Yes, I am quite ready!” I was very excited.
Then I started doing the Bible illustrations and I’ve been doing them all of my life! (laughs). I believe I did around 510 drawings.
Can you remember how long it took you to illustrate the Good News Bible?
I can’t remember. It took me a long, long time, I must say. I didn’t want to have illustrations with many lines. My desire was to have just the main lines. This is why I did some of the drawings between eighty and ninety times before I achieved the one I wanted. I wanted to simplify them as much as I could. I wanted to get to the truth …the most important thing!
Did you have an interest in the Bible before you were asked to illustrate the GNB?
Yes, I became a Christian at one month of age (laughs), so I’ve always been interested in the Bible. My younger brother, Pierre Vallotton, is a minister, (now retired). He was at the Reformed Church of Saint- Dié, in the Vosges. He built the organ there and asked me to design six stained-glass windows depicting the Creation. It was a fascinating job to do!
Can you remember having any difficulty depicting any biblical characters, or a particular Bible story?
No particular difficulties – I wanted to illustrate everything, even if it was very difficult. My desire made it easy. I wanted to reach the youngsters.
Your style has a timelessness about it due to its simplicity, and yet at the same time, you manage to get so much expression into each picture. Did you illustrate the GNB in your own style, or did you simplify your own style?
Yes, yes. Exactly so! I wanted to be as simple as I could, especially for the youngsters, but also for the adults too.
Many people have commented that your pictures never distract from the text, and never try to interpret the story. Was this difficult to accomplish?
I did not find this difficult to accomplish, because I tried to find total simplicity.
Did you find yourself having to do much research into Bible clothing, buildings, customs etc?
I had no need to research clothing or buildings – you see, I wanted drawings that were “out of time”.
What did you use to illustrate the pictures with? Also, did you add colour to any of the pictures yourself?
I used a pencil to do the roughs and a pen to ink them. I never added colour – someone else did that.
Bible artists rarely get recognized for their work, but this month saw the opening of a library at the American Church in Paris in dedicated to you. Was this a big surprise to you?
Nothing coming from the Americans surprises me! (laughs). I was very, very touched. I love the American people.
I read on the internet recently that, according to the publisher Collins, you are the “bestselling artist of all time”. Do you have any comments on that?
(Laughs) Laughter is the king, and saves one’s life. You especially need humour! Too many people read the Bible with a severe face, but I say no, the Bible is not that. The Bible is life, and it is wonderful!
(From an interview by Paula Taquet-Woolfolk at bibleillustration.blogspot.co.uk; used with kind permission of Graham Kennedy.)