I Am a Cat is Galia’s debut picture book as both author and illustrator. It’s a story about Simon, an average house cat. He tries to tell Lion, Cheetah, Puma, Panther and Tiger that he is just like them. The big cats look shocked and then start laughing hysterically. It takes some convincing but the big cats have no choice but to recognize that Simon is just like them, just smaller. I love the illustrations and all the cats. Their expressions carry the story so much further.
MARMALADE BOOKS (MB): You were born in Israel and went to New York for art school. What was it like making a big move like that?
GALIA BERNSTEIN (GB): It was amazing! There was so much to do and see and so much art! On my first drawing class in art school, we went to sketch in the museum of modern art. Paintings I only knew from books were everywhere!
I walked to school everyday on 5th Avenue, it felt like I’m in a movie.
I did think the winters were too cold at first. I wore a giant parka in October! I’m sure that’s very funny to Canadians... I love the New York winters now.
MB: You are such a creative person. From magazine work, textile print, ceramic art and sculpture to drawing and painting with watercolours, acrylics and digital art. Do you have a favourite or do you love it all?
GB: I love them all! I love working with my hands and building things, if I’ve been working digitally for a long time, my fingers will start itching to make something, to get dirty. Most of my work these days is digital, so once in a while I have to take a break and do something fun and messy.
MB: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be an artist?
GB: Art was a huge part of my life for as long as I remember. It was so much of who I was, that for a time I resented it. Everyone I knew expected me to be an artist, which made me rebellious as a teenager. That ended when I got my first illustration job. I immediately knew it’s what I want to do. I was 18.
MB: I Am a Cat is your first book as both author and illustrator. I understand this was an idea you have worked on for many years. How did the story progress through the years?
GB: In my early teens I had an idea for a cartoon about a little cat, who was laughed at by big cats because he wasn’t cat enough. In art school, I developed it into a story and wrote the monologue for each big cat. The ending was different initially and I was never happy with it. Originally, the big cats sent Simon on a quest to prove he was worthy of being a cat. When I read the story again, two years ago, it suddenly hit me, why does Simon need to prove anything? He knows he’s a cat, we know he’s a cat, if the big cats don’t think so, let them prove it! And so, a new Simon was born, strong and confident. The book was finally finished.
MB: I’m partial to tigers and perhaps that’s why I love marmalade cats. Of all the cats you created for this book, which was your favourite?
GB: Well, Tiger does get the funniest lines in the book...
I love big cats! I always have. I’ve done very little research when I drew the cats in the books, because I’ve been researching them all my life. The first big cat I started drawing, when I was four or five, was a lion, so I have a soft spot for lions. The way Lion sits in the book, with his front legs crossed, is also a homage to my regal (but tiny) dog Oliver who always sits like that. I also always loved Bagheera from The Jungle Book, so panthers are a personal favorite as well.
MB: Can you tell us a bit about your next project? Will you continue to write as well as illustrate?
GB: I am currently working on my second book as writer-illustrator and it will be published in early 2019! It’s about a little baboon girl with a very large, loud and loving family. Perhaps too loving sometimes...
I am super excited about this book, and can’t wait for you guys to see it!
My thanks to Galia for this interview. We can’t wait to see your new book too! Pat Oldroyd