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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | illustration

Pinkerton & Friends

I had a “Why in the world….?” moment the other day. It was unexpected and a little strange and it was this: When I imagine picture books that I am writing and/or thinking about writing, I imagine very specific illustrations. From a very specific illustrator. Even though I admire the work of many illustrators. (I admire this one, too, of course.) But always, always, in my first imagining, I “picture” the illustrations by Steven Kellogg.

I love Mr. Kellogg’s work. But I love the work of a lot of illustrators and would aspire and hope for many (very different) illustrators to make art to help tell my stories. I can switch my imagination to other illustrators if I think about it, but without thinking about it…it’s Steven Kellogg’s art. When this realization came to me I pulled some of his books off the shelves in my office with the question: Why is Kellogg my default, the first one whose work I imagine?

All I can think is that the years 1999-2002 were what I think of as The Pinkerton Years. You might think it strange that I can pinpoint the years, but I know we were less involved with Pinkerton (and by that I mean not reading Pinkerton stories on a daily basis) by the time Darling Daughter came along late in 2002. Prior to that, we could hardly leave the house without a Pinkerton story with us.

These were also the first of the allergy/asthma years—#1 Son was critically ill too much of the time, and with his doctors we were struggling to figure out what was causing such severe reactions. The only clear allergens were pets, and he came to understand first that he could not be around puppies or kitties, or anything else furry and cuddly and fun. A terrible sentence, of course, when you are three and wheezy.

So we read a lot of books about pets, and before we read Ribsy and Because of Winn-Dixie we read Pinkerton stories. A lot of Pinkerton stories. #1 Son adored Pinkerton. Pinkerton, a Great Dane, is possibly the most hilarious dog to ever be featured in a book—he is huge and ungainly and always getting himself in a fix. His expressions, his “knees and elbows,” his giant floppiness, and his curiosity and giant heart make him quite a character.

Very quickly we learned to spot Kellogg illustrations from across the library/bookstore, and pretty much wherever there are Kellogg pictures, there are animals. Not just great danes, but boa constrictors, mice, cats, pigs, ducks in a row, horses, spaniels….. And wherever there are animals, there’s a fair amount of chaos—at least in a Kellogg book. (Articles and interviews suggest he has lived the fun and chaos in a home we could not have entered and lived to breathe—lots of pets!)

The detail in Kellogg’s illustrations is tremendous, the hilarity aptly conveyed, and the sweetness and rollercoaster high emotions of kids and Great Danes alike comes alive on the page. I could read stacks of the books in one sitting to my wheezing boy. We used them to get through nebulizer treatments, and to “push fluids,” and to encourage rest for a kid all amped up on steroids. They were magical and we poured over the illustrations long after the reading of the story was done. The medicine could go down without much fuss as long as Pinkerton was along.

Those were exhausting, worried years, and all I can think is that I somehow absorbed Steven Kellogg’s art in my sleep-deprived anxious state…and it’s now in my bones. Thank you, Mr. Kellogg, for your stories, your art, and your presence in our family’s life. You are the default in my imagination and I’m grateful.

 

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Katherine Tillotson

Katherine Tillotson

Katherine Tillotson

For this interview, we turn to the illustrator of a new book, all ears, all eyes, whose work I’ve long admired. This is a very special book. Open it and you’ll be captivated by the forest at night. Such unusual art! But, then, her prior books have also been distinctive, each in their own way. I hope you enjoy this visit with Katherine as much as I did.

In each of your recent books, Katherine, you’ve used a different illustration style. All the Water in the World is whooshes and swooshes, whirls and swirls, liquid on paper.

All the Water in the World

interior spread from All the Water in the World, by George Ella Lyon, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

For Shoe Dog, your pages were light-hearted, full of chaotic energy that portrayed Megan McDonald’s dog who finds shoes irresistible.

Shoe Dog

interior spread from Shoe Dog, by Megan McDonald, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

For It’s Picture Day Today!, you assembled familiar home and schoolroom crafting supplies into adorable creatures preparing for picture day. I like to imagine you folding paper and sorting through buttons and peeling glue off your fingers during the making of this book.

It's Picture Day Today!

interior spread from It’s Picture Day Today!, by Megan McDonald, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

In your newest book, all ears, all eyes, you’ve accomplished yet another completely different look. Your portrayal of the forest in the dark brings the night to life. The reader is deep inside the forest, seeing it, feeling it, while Richard Jackson’s poetry provides the sound track.

all ears, all eyes

interior spread from all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jackson, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

I find myself with lots of questions!

When an editor sends you a manuscript, what happens in your mind as you’re reading it?

 I always hope to have my imagination awakened. I usually do not have an idea where I might take a new story with the illustrations but I can perceive an opening for my part of the storytelling. If it is the right manuscript for me, there is a feeling of excited anticipation.

What moves you to agree to a project, knowing it will take you (how long?) to create the illustrations?

I am slow and it is a long time from beginning to end. I can easily slip into being hopelessly overwhelmed or impossibly anxious. It is always best if I think of the process in small steps instead of a distant destination. Collaborators are also invaluable. Many a time, my editor or art director has helped me through a bumpy bit along the way. And I belong to a most wonderful critique group. Together we cheer and help each other move the books forward.

How do you begin a new book?

I love to sit down in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee, the manuscript, and a big pile of books. The books are often on artists but I also have a large collection of Bologna Annuals. I keep a sketchbook nearby and let my mind and my pencil wander.

all ears, all eyesFor all ears, all eyes, the title page reveals that you combined watercolor and digital techniques. Could you tell us more about this process?

I struggled a lot with technique for this book. Early on, I experimented with acrylic and oil. Neither worked. I really wanted to use watercolor and I even had a few lessons from my friend, Julie Downing, a very accomplished watercolor illustrator, I longed to lay down the paint with the confidence of a master, yet I did not have time to master the technique. Watercolor involves a lot of layering (Julie tells me she can have fifty to eighty layers on a painting). Yet I found the more layers I added to a painting, the more I was afraid I would mess up. With each new layer, my rendering became stiffer and stiffer. In mulling over the problem, I thought I might paint more expressively if I knew I could layer in Photoshop, thus discarding any layers I did not like and keeping only those I did. This technique gave me the freedom I craved.

Do you make a conscious effort to make each book quite different? Why?

No, it really isn’t a conscious or intellectual choice. There are so many ways to make marks. Shoe Dog was originally going to be rendered in oil. When he developed into a scribble, it just felt right.

Well and then there is the fact that I love art supplies so much. I could spend almost as many hours in an art supply store as in a bookstore.

Do you study other illustrators’ work? What do you see when you do?

Oh, yes! Definitely! There are wonderful illustrators—from all over the world. I have so many favorites. My shelves are overflowing with their picture books. I try to use the library or my book buying habit could easily spin out of control.

Most of all, I love how illustrators extend and enhance the storytelling, stretching beyond the words. An example would be Migrant, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Well, and then there is Chris Raschka. I love the expressive power of his work. Something I am always aspiring to. I could keep going and going… I find so much to admire and inspire in my fellow illustrators’ work.

For all ears, all eyes, you illustrated a Richard Jackson manuscript. He has been your editor for 15 years. Now he’s the author. It is typical in the publishing process that author and illustrator don’t communicate directly, but rather indirectly through their editor. How did that work for this book?

When we began, Dick was very involved in both authoring and editing the book. As the process continued, he began to focus more on his writing life. My communication continued with my new editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, and my art director, Ann Bobco.

I miss Dick as my editor. He is really the one who taught me how to think about picture books, but I was losing my vision of the book and trying to please everyone. My process was becoming scattered and disconnected. When we returned to a conventional communication model, the book resumed taking shape.

all ears, all eyes

interior spread from all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jackson, copyright Katherine Tilltson

There is nothing about the illustrations in this book that whispers “digital” to me and yet the copyright page says “a combination of watercolor and digital techniques.” Would you share with us how your digital skills have evolved?

Thank you! I use very few of the functions available in Photoshop. Most of my computer time has to do with scanning and placing the layers (and there are lots of layers). I am constantly trying to find ways to minimize my time on the computer and spend most of my time sketching and painting. I believe that the drawing board is where I can find the looseness and emotion I want.

When you went to art school, what was your vision of your artistic future?

I graduated from the University of Colorado with an art major with an education minor. I have always loved making art, but I did not have a clear vision of how to find a career that incorporated art making. I took night classes to develop new art-related skills and through happy coincidence met a fellow student who introduced me to Harcourt in San Francisco. For many years, I designed educational books during the day and worked on illustration samples at night and weekends. It wasn’t until I painted this little guy (an early version of what evolved into Shoe Dog) that doors began to open. Dick Jackson saw the piece and took a chance on me.

"If

What is your vision of that future now?

I would love to write and illustrate a story. I have a couple ideas that I am thinking about and a few characters rattling around in my head. Now if I could just get them to come out and play….

Don’t miss Bookology‘s interview with the author of all ears, all eyes, Richard Jackson.

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Thank you, Katherine, for letting us peek inside your process, your work, and your passion as an illustrator. We always look forward to the next book you’re creating.

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Creekfinding with illustrator Claudia McGehee

Claudia McGehee

Claudia McGehee (photo: Thomas Langdon)

While taking a closer look at Creekfinding: A True Story, it is impossible to separate the narrative and the illustrations because together they make the book whole. And yet two different artists created the words and the illustrations that guide the reader toward an understanding of the Brook Creek restoration project. Claudia McGehee notices the details, the encompassing emotions and the nuances of the landscape that encourage to walk alongside Team Brook Creek while they explore this restored ecosystem. Do add this book to your bookshelves. You’ll want to read it and soak in the art whenever you need reassurance that we can be good stewards of this Earth..

When you begin work on a new book, what is the first thing that you do?

I find a quiet place to read the manuscript several times, close my eyes, and imagine the “scenes” the words bring forth to me, keeping a sketchbook handy to get these “first blinks” of inspiration. This goes for when I have authored the book as well; I don’t start illustrating until the manuscript is complete.

Claudia McGehee at workIn the Illustrator’s Note, you state, “I made the ripply, sturdy lines of earth, water, and sky in scratchboard and painted the prairie greens, creek blues, and everything in between with watercolors and dyes.” Can you tell us a bit about the tools you use for scratchboard?

I use a sharp skinny X-acto blade (a number 16, with a beveled end) to carve into the scratchboard surface, revealing the white chalky layer below. I scratch out what I want to be white or colored, and leave an outline and detail in black. When all the line-work is complete, I scan the image into my Mac and print it onto watercolor paper. From here I use watercolor and dyes and paint traditionally at my board.

Claudia McGehee scratchboard artFor readers who would like to work with scratchboard, what type of paper do you use? What do you mean by dyes? How do you apply them to the paper? And why do you use them?

I use Essdee brand scratchboard. It is robust enough to be scratched, inked again if I want to make a correction and reworked. There is also a thinner grade of scratchboard (the company Melissa and Doug makes this kind) that younger people can scratch with wooden stylus, much less sharp than an X-acto blade.

Claudia McGehee applying the dyesThe dyes go by the brand name Dr. Ph. Martin’s. They’ve been around forever. They are essentially watercolor, known for their vivid, almost fluorescent quality. I apply them just as I do watercolors, with a brush. They work very well for prairie and creekside flowers and critters.  I am very partial to the Doc Martin chartreuse (frog green!). The dyes do tend to fade in the sunlight, so I keep my originals in dark file drawers to preserve the color.

How do you preserve and store scratchboard artwork?

I have a large, older, flat file where a lot of work goes. I also archive in big plastic bins, separating the artwork by each individual book project.

Claudia McGehee painting with dyesAt what point in the making of the book do you create the endpapers?

A highlight for me is to behold a picture book’s end-sheets. Good ones will give an indication of the book’s overall message or spirit. Sometimes they tell a story as well. I savor making my own end-sheets, usually treating myself to making them at the very last of a book project. The Creekfinding end-sheets are something I’ve wanted to try for a while, using them to suggest a passage of time. The opening of the book is a sunrise on the creek, complete with red-winged black bird, and the back sheet is a sunset.

Claudia McGehee using crayonsYou visited Prairie Song Farm, which is where the creek in this book was restored. As an artist, how do you look at a new location that you will make the focus of a new book?

I simply try to observe and be in the moment when I visit a book setting’s location. I want the place to speak to me and I have to be quiet to hear it. My work relies on small details that make the setting unique. Hopefully, my impressions will pass on successfully to my illustrations later in the studio.

You have a degree in archaeology. What does the knowledge you studied bring to the work you do now?

In a practical sense, my archaeology background helped me hone my research skills, as important to an illustrator as they are to a writer. There is also a level of basic curiosity in the archaeologist, a love for the “what comes next?” that is similar in the process of making a nonfiction-based picture book.

Illustrations from Creekfinding: A True Story, copyright Claudia McGehee

The humans, birds, fish, and insects in this book all look joyful. Was that a conscious decision on your part?

I may never work for National Geographic, but I believe that all animals are capable of “smiling” and showing happiness like humans do and I naturally want to show this. After all, I would be happy if I were a brook trout in Mike’s creek! I don’t want them to look too sweet or whimsical however, but I do hope my birds and fish et al express a sense of joy in living that all creatures feel.

CreekfindingThe art in this book is gorgeous, sumptuous, an invitation to revel in our natural landscapes. What do you feel while you’re working on a book like this? And once it’s printed and in your hands?

Thank you! I really am taken by our natural world’s beauty. It sustains me. My personal art mission is for my work to entice readers outdoors after a good read to experience nature themselves.

Actually making book art is not as magical a time as some imagine! It is hard physical and mental work. Publishing deadlines are critical to make, so at times I feel I am a marathon runner, pacing herself through a long race. There are certainly points of joy, like the completion of thumbnails or sketches. I will laugh out loud if I feel I have really nailed a spread. But there are also frustrations when I just can’t get a page to come together.

The best part of making Creekfinding is that Jackie and I live quite close and are friends and we regularly connected to share the progress of the book. I looked at early versions of her manuscript and she looked at the artwork in progress.  It was nice to have this camaraderie, and what we later called “Team Brook Creek,” which includes Mike Osterholm, the book’s subject. It was truly a unique project to be part of.

Thank you, Claudia for sharing with us an inside look at the incredible work you do.

Don’t miss the companion interview with author Jacqueline Briggs Martin or the Bookstorm for Creekfinding: A True Story offering companion books and websites for further exploration or incorporation into lesson plans.

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One North Star, Three Creative Artists

One North Star

Betsy Bowen’s book, Antler Bear Canoe: a Northwoods Alphabet, has been a favorite alphabet book for the last 25 years, reminding every reader about the things they love in their unique environment.

Now, a counting book will sit alluringly on the bookshelf next to that title. One North Star: a Counting Book (University of Minnesota Press) has been written by Phyllis Root, and illustrated with woodcuts by Betsy Bowen and Beckie Prange. We’re so taken with the book that we asked to interview the inspiring team who created it.

Phyllis RootPHYLLIS ROOT, writer

Which came first, the idea for the illustrations or the idea for the text? They’re both filled with so much wonder and imagination.

The text came first.  The book began when an editor at University of Minnesota Press was interested in a counting book, and we decided on one about the flora and fauna and habitats in Minnesota.  Ever since I moved to Minnesota years ago I’ve been fascinated with the variety of places, plants, and animals in the state along with all the still-wild places, so the book was great fun (and, as it turned out, a great challenge). When in my research I learned that the Minnesota motto is l’Etoile du nord, the star of the north, the structure of the book took shape.

This is a cumulative tale in that we count numbers, beginning at one, “one north star,” and add other north woods creatures or geology or flora until we’re counting backwards from ten. Unlike many cumulative tales (think A Partridge in a Pear Tree), the words aren’t repeated each time, except for “under one north star.” How were you able to include such a variety?

Lots and lots and lots of research and lots and lots and lots of writing and rewriting. One of the challenges was figuring out what lived where at what time of year and what number you might see. You probably wouldn’t see ten moose together, for example, and even if you did, I couldn’t imagine them all squeezing them into a picture along with nine of something, eight of something, etc.

Bog, One North Star

How did you go about organizing this book? Choosing which flora and fauna you would include?

First was the research. I learned so much reading about all the habitats and what you might see there and visiting places to see for myself. (I’d never been to the bog, for example, and fell in love with the Big Bog when I did visit—enough to write a book just about the bog.) Once I had an abundance of information, I began fitting the plants and animals into numbers and also into seasons so that the book followed through the year. So it made sense that in winter you’d have fewer plants and animals available, while later in summer you’d have many different ones to choose from. Also, I tried to include fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals along with flowers, trees, and fungi. I wanted the book to be as inclusive as possible. The whole book became a puzzle to figure out. And when I had a draft I checked with a naturalist friend and found out just how much I had gotten wrong (a lot) and had to reorganize again—and again.

How did you work on your active verbs and your adjectives to get them to be so evocative of the sights, sounds, and smells of the North Woods?

I decided that, just to make the book a little more challenging (what was I thinking?) that I would try to never use a verb more than once, and I wanted each verb to be as strong and evocative as possible, to work as hard as it could so that the book would be fun to read as well.

When you were doing your research, did you discover that any of the animals or plants would not be grouped in the numbers you wrote?

Plenty of times. More times than I can count.

Were there any descriptions that the illustrators asked you to change because they would be too hard to depict?

There were descriptions I was asked to change because they were incorrect, for which I’m very grateful. I learned a lot about phenology from Beckie, what you might see at the same time in the same place, and I learned even more from my naturalist friends. I’m awestruck and delighted at how the artists solved the problem of fitting so many images on the later pages of the book. I counted up roughly 220 images depicting 55 different species in the book itself. The artwork and the artists are beyond amazing.

You have extensive back matter, divided by the type of ecosystem, such as Aspen Prairie Parkland and Bog, with descriptions of each living creature or plant you’ve included in the text of One North Star. Did you have a set of criteria so you could be  succinct with those short paragraphs?

Just trying to write sparely, something picture book writers are always struggling to do. I also tried to focus on what was the essential or most interesting feature about a place or a species, such as northern prairie skinks being able to break off their tails to escape capture.

What do you find most satisfying about adding One North Star to your deep list of books?

I love how beautiful the artists have made the book, and I’m very glad to have a book that celebrates Minnesota’s rich natural diversity. I hope the book will make folks want to go out and see these places for themselves.

Beckie PrangeBECKIE PRANGE, illustrator and woodcut artist

How were you asked to work on One North Star? Why did you agree?

I was approached by a former UMN Press editor and was excited about Phyllis’ concept for One North Star, and its scope.

When you work on a book like this, how much planning goes into the illustrations before you begin to make your woodcuts?

The amount of planning and research is massive. The former editor wanted the illustrations to be realistic scenes, which meant finding a way to fit all of the species into an image of what you could possibly see from a particular viewpoint in nature.

For this book, there were two of you contributing woodcut illustrations. I know that you have been teacher and student in the past. Did that help when you worked on this book together?

Due to the quirks and timing of life events I was unable to finish the illustration work on One North Star. There was a gap in the progress on the book after I had completed most of the work on the draft illustrations. By the time we could get started again, I had a full time position in a field I’m excited about and found that I was unable to continue as illustrator. I’m very thankful that Betsy was able to pick up so skillfully where I left off.

How did you work together to make the illustrations a cohesive whole?

All I can say here is that Betsy is totally awesome, and did a beautiful job with the final illustrations without any help from me.

Was it challenging to compose the chock-full, two-page spreads that included many critters? How did you make decisions about where to place everything in the illustration?

Creating single scenes from one viewpoint which included all of the organisms Phyllis wrote about, while being faithful to those organisms’ habits and habitats was incredibly challenging. It was especially tough with the higher numbers, but there were challenges with lower numbers too. For example, how do you put a nocturnal creature and a diurnal creature in the same scene and have it look at least marginally believable? Little brown bats and rough-legged hawks just don’t hang out in the same space and time. I just had to play with it, and let it go until something came to me.

Have you worked on projects before with this many different objects included?

No! Nowhere close.

Number Three, One North Star

Which two-page spread in the book gives you the most satisfaction?

I love all of them, but the one that makes me happiest right now is number three, with the black bears, grouse and lynx. When I was drawing that one, I struggled with it. I could not get it to feel right. The perspective was bothering me. I never did solve it to my satisfaction. Betsy translated what is basically the same layout into an image that really works. It looks perfect.

A big thanks to all three of you for sharing the way you worked on this book that all who are fond of the north woods will cherish.

Betsy BowenBETSY BOWEN, illustrator and woodcut artist

How were you asked to work on One North Star? Why did you agree?

This is my third book with Phyllis, and I really enjoy her lyrical and informative language.  I also like working with University of Minnesota Press.

When you work on a book like this, how much planning goes into the illustrations before you begin to make your woodcuts?

In this case, Beckie had made the layouts in pencil and watercolor for the number pages.  I joined the project later on, and so I used her designs. I added ideas for the parts before and after the number section. And then I made the final version of the art.  Planning and sketching is a big part of the work (and the fun!).

Was it challenging to compose the chock-full, two-page spreads that included many critters? How did you make decisions about where to place everything in the illustration?

This was Beckie’s doing, I think it must have been tricky.

Illustrators often use photographs to plan their composition or get the details right. Is it the same when you’re carving wood?

I like to look at photos to help inform the drawing, and study the way animals and plants really look.  That is if I can’t get the moose to stand still long enough …

Betsy Bowen woodcut for One North Star coverHow long does it take to create a woodcut for one two-page spread?

The carving took me a few days for each spread.

Do you make mistakes? Do you have to start over with a fresh block of wood?

Most mistakes I can fix with either Elmer’s Glue® or a Band-aid®. Rarely I do start over with a new carving. I try to shake out the questions in the drawing/design phase before starting the longer process of carving and printing. It’s not very easy to just move something over  ”just a little” once the whole picture is made.

Have you worked on projects before with this many different objects included?

These were detailed pages! I think all more intricate than I have done before.

Number Seven, One North Star

Which two-page spread in the book gives you the most satisfaction?

The Seven page, viewing from underwater, was tricky for me.  I would try to see how the light came through water while I was swimming at the local pool.  I really liked the result more than I expected.

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Eileen Ryan Ewen

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to share with you our interview with Eileen Ryan Ewen, the illustrator of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Bookstorm™ this month. This book is a perfect example of the text and illustrations enhancing each other to make a picture book biography that is more than the sum of its parts. Have the book open near you when you read Eileen’s responses. With our interview, we hope to help you look more deeply at the illustrations.

In the first few pages of the book, when Harriet is walking through the door, why did you decide to draw her with one foot poised on the threshold? And was this picture always like this?

Yes, as I look back through my early sketches, Harriet’s foot is always on the threshold. Little is known about Harriet’s personality (though a bit comes through in her logs), and I was trying to imagine what it must have been like for her on that, her first day at the lighthouse. I tried to think about what it must have been like to be a woman in the 1860’s. How many women would have stepped away from a job as demanding as a lighthouse keeper? How many women (and men, for that matter) would have voluntarily stayed on for as long as Harriet did, as well as completed the job so thoroughly each day? I have to imagine that most women of that era never would have entertained such a livelihood. Yet Harriet, a former music teacher and typesetter, didn’t step away. She stepped up.

Miss Colfax's Light

You have many period details in your artwork, from a five-panel door to a log holder to changes in clothing styles. How do you do your research?

I love history! My father was a historian, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the subject. As far as research, I had the good fortune to visit the actual Michigan City Lighthouse, where wonderful docents gave me a tour, and provided great information about what the lighthouse looked like back in Harriet’s day (it wasn’t as large!), clothing from her era, and the tools she used. Combined with that information, I used the good old internet to make sure the fashions I was using were appropriate. For instance, if you search women’s clothing from the mid-nineteenth century, very formal ball gowns will be the most likely results. Harriet would have worn no such thing. So then a more refined search is needed, often with trips to the library to scour books that might fit the time period I’m trying to capture. I know some illustrators who look to period movies, and will study the costumes and sets for inspiration. In the end, I usually have loads of information about the time period, and only end up using a small fraction of it in my illustrations—just enough to hopefully give the piece an authentic feel, and accurately capture the era. The research side can be tedious and time consuming, but because I find it so interesting, it’s a lot of fun as well!

Are you in charge of deciding where you have two facing pages with different scenes and where you’ll have a two-page spread? What determines this for you?

It’s probably different for each Art Director and publisher. I have great appreciation for the trust that my Art Director at Sleeping Bear Press showed me. She gave me the manuscript with the text somewhat arranged on each page, and let me loose. I was allowed to move text if I wanted to, in order to fit my illustration ideas, and I had free rein to chose vignettes, full-page illustrations, or two-page spread illustrations. Now, all that said, I had to run all of my ideas and sketches by the Art Director, Editor, and Publisher, as well as a few other people, before I could start the final art. Sometimes they approved my decisions, and sometimes I had to tweak something small, and other times I had to do an entire illustration over. The cover of Miss Colfax’s Light was done twice.

Miss Colfax's LightIn the scene where Harriet is filling the lantern with whale oil, the light is shining up from her lantern on the floor. How do you determine where the light will originate, and where it falls, in your illustrations?

If I have to be honest, this is something I’m still working on—lights and darks. For the illustration mentioned above, I guessed. I reverted back to my figure drawing days in college, remembering studies of the planes of the face and folds of fabric, how subtle angles can be thrust into complete darkness, while a slight curve can create a sharp, bright contrast. Looking at illustrators and artists who’ve mastered lights and darks also helps (and intimidates!). I know of several illustrators who actually make models of their characters, and then place lights to mimic the lighting of their piece, and draw from that. This is something I hope to try in the future.

Miss Colfax's Light

In the double-page spread filled with small vignettes of Harriet working, how did you think how to lay out that page?

This was a challenging one for me! A lot of important information is being revealed, and all deserving of a visual component. One illustration per page just wouldn’t cut it. Add the fact that Aimée is describing the typical work Harriet would do in any one day, made me want to capture the feeling of what it was like for Harriet from sun up to sun down. For this reason, I chose to arch the vignettes around the words, starting with Harriet tending the light at the first crack of dawn, to Harriet lighting it again at dusk. But until I came up with that solution, I struggled with this spread quite a bit. I’m not sure why the solution came to me when it did, but it sort of popped up as I was walking my daughters home from preschool. I immediately had the image of clock hands, the passing of time, how the hands (and sun) arch and rotate from Point A, to Point B. It dawned on me to try to use this movement in the piece. Just goes to show that sometimes ideas pop up at the strangest moments. I wasn’t thinking about the problem that fall morning, or so I thought, but apparently some little part of my art brain was still churning, unbeknownst to me.

I love how woeful the postmaster looks when Harriet is reading the letter telling her she’s being replaced. When you begin an illustration, do you have in mind what the expressions will be on various characters’ faces?

Yes and no. Sometimes, I feel like I know the character right away, and other times I really have to sit back and let the scene marinate in my mind, create a few really awful sketches before I start to feel the true spirit of a character, even a minor one, like the postmaster. I remember reading Harriet’s obituary, which described the people of Michigan City as absolutely loving her, and holding her in high regard. So while there were some naysayers at the beginning of Harriet’s career, it seems as if almost everyone felt she was a beloved, stalwart fixture by the end of her career. The latter feeling is what I was trying to capture in the postmaster’s face.

You begin and end the book with that doorway. When did this idea for framing the story come to you in your process?

I think it came fairly naturally, and the framing is largely in Aimée’s writing, which made my job easy! And of course, doors make such nice analogies, don’t they? Comings and goings, beginnings and endings. I almost feel like this aspect of the storyline was a gift. It just made sense to me to start and finish the book with that door.

What did you want readers to know from the pages of illustrations you created for this book?

History can be such a dry subject. Until we realize that it’s all just a series of stories, made up of real people doing extraordinary things. So I hope that when people read Miss Colfax’s Light, they see a person who was courageous, and tired, and determined, with calloused hands and a smile for a friend or a cat who’s chasing the chickens again. I hope that I helped to make Harriet’s world a real, tangible place for readers, especially children. I hope to inspire someone to try something that might be out of their comfort zone, or to not back away from something they want to try just because someone says it’s not meant for them. There is so much to be learned from Harriet and her life. In some ways, her story is a small one, historically speaking. In other ways, it’s huge, and absolutely deserves to be told. It has been such an honor to be entrusted in helping bring her story to life!

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John Burningham

John BurninghamYou probably know John Burningham best for Mr. Gumpy’s Outing but illustrators, book creators, are so much more than what we see between the covers of their books. Their lives are often illustrated. They record things on paper visually. They put what they’ve observed into drawers and portfolios and notebooks so they have that once-seen image to call upon for their work.

In this eponymously titled book, John Burningham (Candlewick Press), both Maurice Sendak and Brian Alderson write forewords for the book, particularly about the early 1960s which saw the publication of Borka (Burningham) and Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak). Those books “were the direct result of those fast and furiously freshly designed picture book days. Down with the simpering 19th century goody-goody books that deprived children of their animal nature, wild imagination, and lust for living.” (Sendak)

The majority of the book is Burningham’s remembrances of childhood, living in a caravan with his family during World War II, his early jobs, attending the Central School of Arts, and each of his books. This Literary Madeleine is replete with sketches, drawings, and finished work, photos, inspiration, and observances.

John Burningham Books

Here are some highlights:

“There is a misconception that picture books for children should be packed with colour and decoration on every page. This is rather like saying a successful piece of music should be crammed full of loud noise. It’s the juxtaposition and build-up of sound that makes music interesting.” (pg 127) 

 “When I look at some of my childhood drawings, I realize I have reproduced them again years later. The plumbing picture I drew as a child is very similar to the picture in Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley.” (pg 130)

John Burningham

He offers comments on many of his books, insightful, producing much flipping back and forth to look at other drawings, to examine how Burningham has done this elsewhere, to absorb his scope and style. For Oi! Get Off Our Train (called Hey, Get Off Our Train in the US … oi!) he explains that the West Japan Railway Company hired him to make a book about the Yoshitsune, Japan’s first steam locomotive, for Expo 90, a world’s fair held in Osaka in 1990. The painting below is from this book …

Oi Get Off Our Train!

It’s very revealing about this author/illustrator that he writes, “Oi! Get Off Our Train was first published in Japan in 1989. It is an environmental tale, now dedicated to Chico Mendes, who did so much trying to protect the rainforests. He was murdered for his work. Oi! Get Off Our Train is about endangered species, but more than that it’s about the social hierarchy of young children and the need to ease themselves into a group.” (pg 167)

Harvey SlumfenbergerHarvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present relates the story of a young boy who is quite poor. The only present he will get for Christmas is the one that Father Christmas will bring him. “Father Christmas was very tired. The reindeer were asleep and one of them was not very well. But Father Christmas knew he had to get the present to Harvey Slumfenburger.” (pg 179)

It is a book to be read carefully, savored, and cherished. Pull it down from your shelf every few months and you’ll quickly be pulled into his artwork once again. You’ll find yourself filled with effervescence, the type that carries you on to do great things.

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Interview with Julie Downing: Illustrating The Firekeeper’s Son

interview by Vicki Palmquist and Marsha Qualey

Firekeeper's SonThe illustrations in The Firekeeper’s Son are all double-page spreads. How did that design decision affect your choices and work?

I decided on the format because the landscape is an important part of the story. The original dummy I made had fewer pages so I split many spreads into smaller images. Fortunately, my wonderful editor recognized the problem and allowed me to make the book 40 pages instead of 32, so I could spread the story over 20 spreads. We both felt the expansive double-page spreads helped make the story feel bigger.

My favorite spreads are on pp. 24-25 and pp. 30-31. Similar in palate and subject, one (pp. 30-31) is effectively a close-up of the other (pp. 24-25), and that helps so much to heighten suspense at a critical moment. Did this image come quickly or was it reached slowly?

My favorite sequence of spreads is between pp. 24-25 and pp. 30-31. This is the climactic moment in the text, and Linda Sue expertly builds the climax to Sang-hee’s moment of decision. The sequence of images took a long time to get just right (most of my ideas come V E R Y slowly) I drew and redrew these 4 spreads many times so I could find just the right way to show how Sang-hee decides to put aside his desire to see soldiers (as shown in the shadow on pp. 24-25) to the moment where he lights the fire.

FirekeeperIllustrationThe toy figures Sang-hee plays with are a crucial element in the narrative, yet they’re not mentioned in the text. When and how did they become part of the story?

As an illustrator, my job is to bring something new to the text. The text says that Sang-hee loves soldiers and I wanted to show his interest in a way that young readers could understand. I watched my own son, who was Sang-hee’s age, when I was illustrating this book. He spent a lot of his time making Lego® figures and playing with them, so I started wondering what the 17th century equivalent was to Lego® and came up with the idea of clay soldiers.

Sang-hee plays with clay (or mud) soldiers. Did you find examples of these in your research? How do you go about making sure those toys were in use during the time period in which the book is set?

Children didn’t have toys in the small Korean villages and any that they made would not have survived, however I spoke to a curator at the Asian Art Museum and he suggested that children might have fashioned simple figures out of mud or clay. The actual soldiers were made by my 6-year-old-son so they looked like something a young boy would make.

Where did you do your research to find the uniforms Korean soldiers would have worn during this time period? They seem to have reflective rivets on their jackets. Is this something you could detect from your research?

I love the research part of the process. San Francisco has a wonderful Asian Art Museum and I was able to go behind the scenes and look at some of the soldiers’ actual uniforms. The museum also provided me with tons of visual reference for all the costumes in the book. The reflection in the rivets actually represents sparks from the 2nd coal. I wanted to visually blend reality and fantasy.

Did you use models for the people in your paintings?

I do use models. My son’s best friend posed for Sang-hee, and his mother posed as well. I find one of the hardest parts of painting the illustrations for a book is making the characters look consistent. It helps me if I find a real person to pose.

Do you remember making a decision to paint Sang-hee’s imagined soldiers within the fire?

The text does say he saw a huge battle in the flames, so I was inspired by the text. One of the things I loved about the story are the levels of complexity, and yet the writing is spare. Linda Sue touches on so many themes—family, duty, desire—within a simple text that I had lots of opportunities to expand the story with the art.

firekeeper_2

You achieve a wonderful luminescence with your fire. How did you accomplish this?

I worked with a combination of watercolor and liquid acrylics. The acrylics are incredibly intense colors so I watered them down and painted in dozens of layers. My studio now has a big blue-green stain right near the door, because I pinned the painting to the door, wet them with a spray bottle and literally poured paint over them. All the excess dripped onto the floor. It created a nice welcome mat!

The color palette for the paintings is blue, green, and purple, with a beautiful light suffusing the landscape. What led you to decide on that group of colors?

I chose the colors to contrast with the warmth of the fire. I usually do extensive color studies so I can work out not only the colors in the individual spreads, but also how the colors affect the story arc.

Lotus and the Feather, illus by Julie Downing Disney Hyperion, 2016

Lotus and Feather, written and illustrated by Julie Downing, pp. 18-19. forthcoming from Disney Hyperion, 2016

Many illustrators paint in watercolor, but you’ve added pastel crayons. What do you feel this adds to a painting?

I love painting with watercolor. The transparency you can achieve with the medium was perfect for the book. However, sometimes I wanted a better dark, a lighter highlight, or a different texture, so adding pastel and colored pencil allowed me to do this.

The cover is not taken from pages already existing in the book. It stands separately. What did you feel needed to be on the cover in order to draw people into the book?

I find covers to be challenging. I want to convey a sense of the story without giving anything away. The editor and I went back and forth on showing soldiers in the flames because we were worried it might reveal the ending. Finally, we decided that if they were subtle, it just adds to the mystery of the story.

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Beyond the Page

 

by Vicki Palmquist

Quentin Blake: Beyond the PageI’ve been savoring Quentin Blake: Beyond the Page (Tate Publishing, 2012), a book that is replete with photos, illustrative art, and all the many ways Mr. Blake’s art has adorned many aspects of life “beyond the page.”

In his own voice, we hear of the places illustration has taken him. With something near a state of wonder, Mr. Blake reflects on all the ways illustrative art can be transformed. He talks about the manner in which illustrations are often dismissed by fine art connoisseurs because they merely serve the story. Yet his own art puts the lie to that pejorative thinking.

His art is everywhere: greeting cards, mugs, scarves, t-shirts, wallpaper, fabric (his art has become toile!), linens, and even a book bus.

Quentin Blake wallpaperMr. Blake talks about his thought process for creating wall-sized murals for hospitals, something he has done often. Reminiscing about his work at the Kershaw Ward for elderly residential patients, “they [trees] also indicated that we were in a not quite parallel real world where a certain vivacity of movement reflects, I hope, the mental enthusiasm of my spectators.” His older people engage in youthful activities, something every older person understands immediately.

Widely read, trained originally to be a professor of literature, Mr. Blake has traveled widely, accepted challenges that have broadened his life and art, and he shares his enthusiasm for living.

This is not a book to be relished by children, but rather adults. The selected art illustrates Mr. Blake’s musings, enriching our understanding of what it takes to be a world-famous illustrator.

When you see the art for Roald Dahl’s books, you most certainly know Quentin Blake’s work. I found it enlightening to read, “I have at one time or another illustrated all of Roald’s books, with one exception, and the canon is effectively closed. We know who the characters are, we are acquainted with the accepted image of each character—this is one of the advantages which was no doubt foreseen in Penguin Books’ initiative to get all the books illustrated by the same person.” (page 136)

Quentin Blake: Beyond the Page

There are many styles of art in these pages beyond those fine and sketchy line drawings, brightly colored, that we associate with the Dahl books. It is the depth of his work and his willingness to share his perception of what he creates that make this a Literary Madeleine. I will pull this off the shelf whenever I want to take a journey with a master. Lucky me! When you read this, lucky you! (My copy was a gift, but you can find this book in both hardcover and paperback.)

Quentin Blake: Beyond the Page

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I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!

I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!

There has been a lot written about the bravery of cows (no, there hasn’t). Some of it has startled us with the sheer audacity of amazing feats of derring-do of which cows are capable (News at 10!). Young children everywhere are pinning up cow posters on their bedroom walls, hoping to one day be as […]

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Gifted: Under the North Light

Under the North Light The Life and Times of Maud and Miska Petersham written by Lawrence Webster foreword by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead Woodstock Arts, 2012 info@woodstockarts.com ISBN 978-0-9679268-6-5 My husband, Steve, and I have worked together for the last 25 years. We have been married for 32 years, so it took […]

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Gifted: Walk This World

Walk This World: a Celebration of Life in a Day Lotta Nieminen, a Finnish-born graphic designer and art director Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, November 2013 As you consider gifts for this holiday season, we suggest … (book #2 in our Gifted recommendations) … Visit 10 countries in one book! This stylish […]

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Gifted: Spike, Ugliest Dog in the Universe

Spike, Ugliest Dog in the Universe Debra Frasier, author and illustrator Beach Lane Books, October 2013 Ever since I saw my 10-year-old niece pose in front of the television, trying to imitate the supermodels at the end of the runway, my awareness of the beauty culture in this country has been acute. We took her […]

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Musings of a lifelong reader, part two

Why do we have books without illustrations? Only in the last few years has the concept of a “visual learner” become familiar to me. By all definitions, and pedagogical controversy aside, this describes the way I absorb knowledge. I wasn’t aware of a name or theory when I was learning to read, or actively engaged […]

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