Julie Morstad launches The Wayside

Illustrator Julie Morstad talks to Cult about her new book, The Wayside, and the enduring appeal of kids’ books.

Page from Julie Morstad’s The Wayside.

Vancouver artist Julie Morstad is in town this weekend launching her latest book, The Wayside, put out by Drawn & Quarterly. As in her last art book, Milk Teeth, there is no story connecting the images, although many of them have strong narrative qualities. The book itself is gorgeous, made up of about half sketchy drawings and half more detailed illustrations executed in ink, guache and collage, with plenty of white space framing each image and fold-out pages for larger pictures.

Morstad has also illustrated numerous children’s books, and even a glance at her work reveals the influence of children’s illustrators on her oeuvre: her line style instantly calls to mind classic kids’ artists like Edward Gorey or Maurice Sendak, executed in Marcel Dzama’s chromatic palette with just a pinch of Henry Darger creepiness thrown in for good measure.

Image from Julie Morstad’s ‘The Wayside.’
“I guess I’ve always been interested in children’s illustration,” Morstad told me over the phone. “The first book that I illustrated was the Child’s Garden of Verses when I was 12 for my cousin. It’s always really inspired me. When I had my first son, we spent tons of time at the library, so in that way I was exposed to a lot of illustrators that I didn’t necessarily connect with when I was a kid myself. I think that’s when I actually started to get really interested in illustration. I was still in art school at the time, so I think that really did affect my drawing. But I think that I would still be doing this, even if I hadn’t had kids young.”

While the artist has collaborated on storybooks for kids in the past, in her own art practice — in which kids make up the majority of those depicted — she lets the images themselves tell the tale. “I am storytelling,” she says, “but in a slightly more linear, maybe slightly more literal way. It’s something that I’m growing more interested in in my practice. I don’t write, but I sometimes think, ‘oh, I’d really like to write.’ So maybe the writing comes through in me drawing in a more narrative way.” ■

Julie Morstad will be present at the Montreal launch party for The Wayside, Nov. 24, Librairie D&Q (211 Bernard W.), 7 p.m., free

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