If Found…Please Return to Elise Gravel by children’s author and illustrator Elise Gravel, published by Drawn & Quarterly, is a glimpse into raw creativity, as fascinating as peeling back the rind of a fruit to find all kinds of good things inside. Gravel explains the notebook with simple words, “At night, when my daughters are asleep…I draw complete nonsense. Whatever comes to my mind. With markers, gouache, watercolour, lead pencils, or just ordinary pens. Even with my kids’ pencils.” It does not matter what one uses to create, as long as one creates.
As If Found shows, the product of creativity is wild. Gravel writes, “I let out all the ideas that are bouncing around in my head. Ridiculous ideas, crazy ideas. Bizarre ideas.” These ideas can be relatively mundane, such as drawing hedgehogs with various hilarious facial expressions, and they can be far out there, even to the planet Flon, where grass is actually hair growing out of the ground, creatures with feet-shaped antennae road saying “Gup!”, and Elvis Presley still sings among the trumpet plants that smell like bacon.
Flipping through If Found is an exciting journey, never knowing what to expect with the next page turned. It could be a large illustration of a big-nosed mimpus followed by a page-long description of its attitudes, noises, and musical tastes (Michael Jackson, of course). Or it could be a swath of imaginary friends, all bubble-shaped with various appendages and funny faces, named Joe, Milo, Emma, or Andy. Or it could even be a list of imaginary strong men and women, such as Smurta Funzx, who can throw an oil tanker over another oil tanker. Anything goes from the realm of imagination.
While listed as Juvenile Fiction, If Found can be as inspirational to adults as it is to kids. Reading descriptions and taking in the bold, cartoony images of critters real and unreal is great fodder for creative juices. It shows that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to making things up. Gravel writes, “I never critique the drawings in my black notebook. I give myself the right to fail, to mess up, to create ugly drawings… In my notebook, I do what I want.” To illustrate this, she includes a page of “such ugly drawings that I feel like breaking my pencil.” Even so, they are beautiful in their squiggly way.
Gravel includes some advice to aspiring illustrators, tucked amid the pages of wonders in If Found. “Draw all the time! Draw anything and everything!… Don’t be afraid of making mistakes!… Don’t get discouraged… There’s no magic to this work. The secret is practice.” As Gravel shows throughout the book, even collections of toots can be a great workout for a creative hand. Again and again, she reiterates that mistakes are all part of the creative process, and not the end of the world. She notes, “If you think your drawing is ugly, just take a deep breath and start again.” There is always a new chance to create something more.