Eleni Tsaldiri was born on the island of Evia, in Greece. She has received her MA in Children's Book Illustration from the Anglia Ruskin University of the Cambridge School of Arts working with Professor Martin Sulsburry. Her studies cover a wide range of fields including painting at the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice with Prof. Emilio Vedova and printmaking at the School of Fine Arts of Athens with Prof. Michael Arfaras.
She has been writing and illustrating picture books since 2007, publishing a series of books on the Greek contemporary artists and a series of children’s books.
Eleni has participated in group exhibitions in Greece and abroad. Her images are experiments in etching, woodcuts, colors, and mixed techniques and they have been exhibited in many places around Greece. What makes her technique exceptional is its diversity, from the figurative pictorial concept to the sewn finish abstract prints.
The National Herald: How did you start writing and illustrating Children’s books?
ET: My books are strongly influenced by my childhood. The effect of the growing up in the countryside and the figure of my grandpa (a natural story-teller) have created the heightened awareness of colors, shapes and imagination found in my artistic/poetical stories. From my early years in the School of Fine Arts, I created stories ‘behind’ my paintings. After some time, it was so natural to use these stories in my teaching process as an art teacher in the primary schools.
TNH: Which book is the one that influenced you in starting writing?
ET: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol and the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint- Exupery, books that are not ‘Children’s only’!
These two-fairy tales provided me with my first memories and still accompany me as I grow up into an artist. Since then, many of my art works, which ‘play’ with children’s stories prolong them towards other landscapes and even evoke their own words, not only the well-known dwelling places of Alice and the Mad Hatter or the Little Prince and his Rose. They are stimulants for the imagination of those of us who still read them over and over again.
TNH: How long does it take you to write a book?
ET: Writing and illustrating a children book is like an amazing ‘flight’. It needs ‘wings’ = imagination; ‘air’ =beautiful pictures; ‘courage’ = smart/interesting text. Sometimes it takes a few weeks for a book to be completed whilst others take even a couple of years for a demanding project to arrive at its final ‘destination’. In my own process, writing and illustrating have been always simultaneous.
TNH: Which is the source of your inspiration when writing a book?
ET: We have been raised in a world full of talking frogs, extremely beautiful ladies who can fly and transform pumpkins into lordly carriages, fearless children, witches who live in little houses made of chocolate and marzipan, giants who devour curious children, pussycats wearing boots, poisonous apples, golden eggs, and magic roses. For the most part, these scenes have been handed down to us from time immemorial and repeated in all cultures with only slight changes. Above all these, the sources of my inspiration when I create a picture book are my little readers. The pupils I’ve been teaching as an art teacher for over than 20 years in primary schools and studios of art. The joy, the freedom, and the creativity they can experience through the masterpieces of the arts inspire me.
TNH: Do your heroes lead your way through the story or do you decide about their fate?
ET: Until a certain point, in my picture books, I lead their fates. But after that, my heroes are free to follow their path. I am the one who follows their traces on my paper and in the exotic world of my imagination.
TNH: How do you connect with your little readers and the writing community in general?
ET: I prefer to connect with my little readers through the open way of emotions and sentiments. As we can all understand, the youngest readers are difficult to communicate with but we can do that through the honesty, love, truth, and loyalty they demand from an author and that are conveyed through his stories.
TNH: Children’s books often get messages across regarding social issues. Which is your goal in writing your stories?
ET: In all the tales (the magical stories across the universe) there is a process of transformation from child to adult. The ways the problems are solved depend on the personalities and perseverance of the characters. In a children’s book there is always a message regarding social issues, about us, and our problems.
My goal in writing my stories is, ideally, to solve the little readers’ problems or to comfort them (regarding social issues). My materials (my medium) in my artistic process are the shapes, the colors, the secrets in the masterpieces of arts. With these supplies in my hands, my main goal is to create picture books that use joyful experimentations that bring children close to a moment in the History of Art.
TNH: Which are the Greek Children’s Books you wish you had written?
ET: The Greek folklore tales are amazingly unique. The path starting from Aesop's myths and moving on through all the stories behind the Greek folklore music is fascinating and has greatly affected me as an author and illustrator. In fact, I'm delighted to participate, as an illustrator, in a new project which will collect and promote folklore tales from the four corners of Greece, from Thrace to Crete and from Epirus to the Dodecanese.
TNH: Which are the most recent books you have published?
ET: The most recent book, I’ve published, in 2017, was The Big Victory of Zoi by Saitis Publications. It is a picture book with a powerful message to deliver. It’s all about the struggle and the victory against the child’s bout with cancer. And for that reason, the book is an offering to Elpida Association of Mariana Vardinogianni. Zoi, the hero of my book, is a little sugar cube who lives in a beautiful place, called Sugarland. But someday, a nasty nightmare begins and changes Sugarland into an ugly desert land and turns Zoi to a formless figure. Zoi is hiding a secret, however, a powerful side of herself. In the end Zoi defeats the nasty witch and sends the most precious message to all of us: Life is a game to play with all our strength and win!
TNH: What’s coming up next for you?
ET: I am working on three projects right now. They are all written and illustrated by me.
The first is about The Wildflowers of Greece – a very demanding and difficult project – but it’s a challenge for me.
The second is a project about The colors and the five senses – book, I was looking forward to so many years to create. There is a lot of art – colors, arts and crafts – and … surprises in it.
Third, is a book with a philosophical and poetical character. It presents God through the eyes of Art and Kindness.
I am so excited working on all these projects.
TNH: Do you have any advice for aspiring Picture-Book Authors?
ET: It’s a very demanding process to create a picture book.
As an Author-Illustrator I would like to give some advice to those who intend to get involved in this kind of project.
a) Get to know children’s behavior as well as you can.
b) Observe children’s worlds. Draw upon their habits and try to have feedback from them.
c) Live the Children’s issues. Try to understand and give solutions to their problems through your writing.
d) Do not try to be famous from the day one when you create a picture book. It’s wisest to take your time and figure out if your readers can get into the meanings of what you write, what you illustrate – and try to identify and develop your unique style.