A Growling Place: Interview with Thomas Aquinas Maguire
Trained as an industrial designer, author and illustrator Thomas Aquinas Maguire understands the nature of good design and designs beautifully surreal scenes of nature in his books. Maguire’s quiet narrative, A Growling Place, follows the adventure of a young girl who looses her teddy bear and finds her voice against a snarling bunch of bullies. A Growling Place is haunted by an atmosphere of dreams where foes become friends and sparrows are silent guides. Each creature breathes beneath tangible textures and tea stained accents. Maguire’s characters are a gentler evolution of Bosch’s fierce species that leap off the page and vibrantly speak with little text. Maquire continues to dream in his upcoming book, Three Little Dreams.
1) Is there a story behind your middle name, “Aquinas”?
I was born to Catholic parents and inherited this unique historical name from my father. Thomas Aquinas was a 13th century catholic philosopher. He defined God in logical terms and in doing so attempted to prove God’s existence. In the following centuries countless philosophers issued both arguments and agreements to his “Summa Theologica”. It was admirable as an attempt to reconcile mystical ideas with logical thought, but it’s kind of exhausting to read.
2) Many of your illustrations are very textural. You mention that you’ve even used tea as a medium. What are some other mediums that you would like to experiment with? Also, do you have a favorite tea?
It’s tough to break away from a workflow that I enjoy and find successful – watercolor and graphite are my two favorite media. They have supported my range of expression perfectly for a while now. My newest work is 100% graphite, and I’m using it in an less refined way with messier strokes and fills. I have a few more ideas that I’d like to approach with the watercolor and graphite techniques. It’s a bit of a tragedy when the ideas come more quickly than the time it takes to produce them. Since A Growling Place, I’ve taken the media for granted – considering new media has been a low priority.
Building a style from scratch again actually sounds tempting. In the future I’d like to experiment with a style of glowing and transparency – microscopic or astronomic glow. It would probably be digital.
Irish Breakfast is my favorite tea. I like to work late at night and it helps me along. It also has a nice “bear-like” color. There are tea stains all over my studio – which is kind of gross, but also kind of cool (to me). I wonder if I painted my room with tea…
3) Your stories involve animals. What else in nature inspires you?
Right now, my favorite thing about nature is mystery. After several years of simply enjoying the aesthetics of nature I’ve had a few brushes with boredom and apathy that were completely terrible. They were really the result of my own laziness – expecting to be “inspired” exclusively by something visual – asking nature to do the inspiring for me. That “something for nothing” attitude was a result of a lack of experience and I’m glad to have matured. Currently I know that “not knowing” and “finding out” keep my spirit young and if I’m not always looking for a new mystery then I get restless, crabby and upset! Reading about solved mysteries is almost as exciting. Nature holds all of the best mysteries because they’re real. Imagine that there’s something out there that we don’t know about – that’s the best! Someday I want to be a scientist.
4) When did your first start writing and drawing? Do you remember your first drawing or story?
Nice! That’s a question we should all try to answer as it requires you to close your eyes and pull up the memories. I honestly can’t remember my very first drawing but I had a lot of fun trying. Most of my favorite childhood memories involve the night-time, looking out of the window and things that glow. I wish I could remember the very first drawing. I bet it was an incomprehensible scribble. I was probably just happy to move a stick around on paper and make a mark. I probably felt like a genius… or similar.
5) What inspired your story, A Growling Place?
The book was created while I was living and working in Denmark. Those two years provided a wide range of feelings and experiences that compelled the creation of A Growling Place. The time was characterized by loneliness, confusion, peacefulness, playfulness and imagination. I had a chance to re-connect with a lot of the emotions of childhood and naturally did so by creating that story. For me the book symbolizes the mishmash of influences affecting my life during my years in Denmark. When I first finished the book I felt like I hadn’t expressed my intention clearly enough but looking back I can see all of the reasons why it is what it is. Musically, I’d say that the influences ranged from Randy Newman to Sigur Ros – does that seem like a strange mix? Try “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear” by Randy Newman.
6) Please tell me a bit about your upcoming book release, Three Little Dreams.
With Three Little Dreams I wanted to experiment with a different story telling format. Each story is circular – the ending is the beginning is the ending. You can read them over and over seamlessly (like counting sheep).
When the books are released you’ll notice that they aren’t bound traditionally, but are very long strips of paper that fold and unfold. The images are polyptych. They can be read traditionally as an image progression or the reader can step back and look at the story as one image – like a singular representation of a memory. I’d like to continue to explore stories as memories and to portray the passage of time in different ways. A traditional story book format reinforces the concepts of past, present, and future naturally and for good reason. Three Little Dreams is my first attempt to break out of those conventions in order to present different expressions of time and sequence to children. I think it’s really important for humans to understand time in different ways, however subtly. I am creating the follow up to Three Little Dreams in a similar way – but it is much much longer.
7) What advice do you offer upcoming illustrators and authors?