The Writing Artist | The Inspiration Behind Cybèle Young

By Joy Tanner

Wander through the Wychwood Art Barns and you’ll find artist Cybèle Young creating in her studio. There is a grounded whimsy about her and she is aptly named—Cybèle; Anatolian for mother goddess. She is internationally renowned with a permanent public work installed at the Toronto Transit Commission, and her intricately elegant paper sculptures can be found in private collections worldwide. She is also a best selling author, with six books on the shelves. Her first garnered her the Governor General’s Award. Her two newest books, The Queen’s Shadow and Some Things I’ve Lost come out in March and August, respectively. In June, she will have her first solo show at her home gallery, Forum, in New York City. We chatted about her process and what inspires her.

Her children motivate her work in just about every way. She wrote and illustrated her first book, Ten Birds, just after the birth of her daughter. ‘Luckily, I was fresh out of art school, so all of this lexicon of visual imagery I knew, I was about, was part of my identity. There was no question about how I wanted to move my practice because I already had the creative habits in place. Being a new mother with strong work habits served her well. ‘There was no hesitation in thought and no questioning myself because I had no time to. Even though it’s freaking hard because you’re not sleeping, I had this total cognizance of love.’ Inspiration came from unlikely places, ‘garbage on the street looked like gems I could do something with.’ Five more books followed. Queen’s Shadow is a creative non-fiction which Cybèle calls a surreal piece. Having never written a non-fiction work before, she found the process more laborious. It entailed a large amount of research and corroboration with scientists. ‘No scientist would even answer an email from an artist,’ she laughs. She didn’t want to rely on the internet alone, the information there wouldn’t cut it. ‘There was all of this scientific collaboration we had to get from each specialist for each animal.’ Because data fluctuates, many scientists were hesitant to even associate their names with the project. A children’s mystery set at a turn of the century ball, the Queen’s shadow is stolen by one of her animal subjects. By interrogating each creature, we find out what happened to her shadow. Before publishing, Cybèle read the book to her nine-year-old son, who is the perfect age for the scientific material and the fantastical storyline. As challenging as this book was to write and illustrate, Cybèle comments that it was a really amazing process. Checkout the New York Times Review


“The biggest discipline is suspending disbelief every morning. If I bring my rational mind into my day, why would I make anything?”


cybelesomethingsivelostSome Things I’ve Lost, the latest book, was a reaction ‘to break the linear world of books that I’d got my head locked into, meaning my approach to books had become too logical.’

‘Nothing about being an artist makes logical sense.’ She sighs, ‘the biggest discipline is suspending disbelief every morning. If I bring my rational mind into my day, why would I make anything? It’s absurd. You’ve no idea when you’re going to be paid; you’ve no idea who’s going to pay you. You’ve no idea what you’re going to make or if it will be in fashion.’ She continues, “but there is a feeling I get when I’m listening to my right voice…’ and that is when the magic happens.

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Joy Tanner

Joy Tanner hails from Pittsford, New York. Graduating with honours with a double major in English and Theatre from SUNY Potsdam, she also holds a diploma from the British American Drama Academy (London/Oxford). She moved to Canada in the early 90′s, and has been acting professionally on both the big and small screens for over 20 years. She is best know for her roles in Cold Squad, Life With Derek and DeGrassi The Next Generation. Recent film credits include The Phantoms, The House At The End Of The Street and Neverlake.

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