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Eliza Wheeler

Eliza Wheeler

Eliza Wheel­er

Eliza Wheel­er is the fas­ci­nat­ing illus­tra­tor of many books, includ­ing John Ronald’s Drag­ons: The Sto­ry of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Pome­gran­ate Witch, and Tell Me a Tat­too Sto­ry. You can read about her work on her Wheel­er Stu­dio blog. For this inter­view, we are focus­ing on a series she has illus­trat­ed for Can­dlewick Press, the Cody books by Tri­cia Springstubb.

Your atten­tion to detail is astound­ing. Do you work on an illus­tra­tion from start to fin­ish before begin­ning the next one?

Thank you! I don’t work on illus­tra­tions from start to fin­ish, but rather devel­op sev­er­al at a time. For the Cody books, I worked on all the sketch­es at once, then inked all the linework, then fin­ished with all the water­col­or wash­es. This helps when I’m try­ing to meet a dead­line, because each stage has its own unique set-up.

Do you decide where an illus­tra­tion is appro­pri­ate with­in the text?

Decid­ing on where illus­tra­tions will be is usu­al­ly a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the art direc­tor. I read through the book for the first time and make notes about scenes that stand out as ones I’d have fun draw­ing, but also we’re hav­ing to think about spac­ing illus­tra­tions out even­ly in each chap­ter. In the Cody book series, we tried to make an illus­tra­tion land once every 2–3 spreads.

illus­tra­tion © Eliza Wheel­er, text © Tri­cia Springstubb, Cody and the Heart of a Cham­pi­on

Do you fig­ure out if it will be a spot illus­tra­tion or if it will spread across two pages? Do you decide where an illus­tra­tion will be on the pages?

When I sign the book con­tract, it’s stip­u­lat­ed how many spots, half page, full page, and spread illus­tra­tions there will be. So when I begin get­ting ideas for the illus­tra­tions, I’m decid­ing which for­mat would work best for that par­tic­u­lar one (with the help of the art direc­tor). For the Cody books, I was encour­aged to find var­ied place­ments for the illus­tra­tions on the page, and as long as it worked with the text space, I tried to have fun with the posi­tion of the illus­tra­tion.

revised sketch for Cody and the Heart of a Champion

illus­tra­tion © Eliza Wheel­er, text © Tri­cia Springstubb, Cody and the Heart of a Cham­pi­on, revised sketch

Do you work with an art direc­tor? What kind of direc­tion does that per­son give you? Do you have to edit your illus­tra­tions?

For chap­ter books I work with the art direc­tor, but for pic­ture books I’m often work­ing with both an art direc­tor and the book’s edi­tor. The art direc­tor helps me decide if an illus­tra­tion is work­ing, how the illus­tra­tions are flow­ing from page to page, whether I might be miss­ing details from the text, if a char­ac­ter isn’t look­ing quite right, or if I’m being con­sis­tent with scene details. There’s a lot of team­work involved in mak­ing books, and there are always many steps of edits and revi­sions along the way to get things work­ing well.

an example of Wyatt's t-shirts from Cody and the Heart of a Champion

illus­tra­tion © Eliza Wheel­er, Cody and the Heart of a Cham­pi­on Wyatt’s t-shirts

I love Wyatt’s t-shirts. Why do you take such care with design­ing them?

Wyatt’s shirts are fea­tured in a few places in book 1 and 2, and Cody is often “bor­row­ing” them from Wyatt’s bed­room.  This is Tri­cia Springstubb’s clever way of show­ing us more about Wyatt as a char­ac­ter, as well as Cody’s rela­tion­ship with him. Key advice that writ­ers hear is “show, don’t tell”, and I think Tri­cia is a mas­ter of this with this book series—she makes it look effort­less. Because Tricia’s tak­en the care of incor­po­rat­ing these visu­al ele­ments in the text, it’s become a part of who Wyatt is—he wears him­self on his sleeves! I like to infuse all of his clothes with his per­son­al­i­ty when I can.

Heart of a Champion illustration

illus­tra­tion © Eliza Wheel­er, text © Tri­cia Springstubb, Cody and the Heart of a Cham­pi­on, pages 54–55

On pages 54–55 (hard­cov­er), all of the feet and the shoes are unique to each per­son. There is no sense that you’re draw­ing the same per­son over and over. How do you man­age this?

It takes a lit­tle extra time, but even when there are side char­ac­ters that don’t come into the sto­ry, I like to try to give them their own iden­ti­ty. One way that I do this is by look­ing up pho­tos of kids in groups, on sports teams, or class pho­tos. Ref­er­enc­ing real kids makes it fun and easy to design groups of char­ac­ters.

illus­tra­tion © Eliza Wheel­er, text © Tri­cia Springstubb, Cody and the Heart of a Cham­pi­on, pages 88–89

On page 88, when you draw a bird on a branch, it has some­thing in its mouth. Why do you weave these details into your draw­ings?

Adding lit­tle scene details are always impor­tant to me, whether they’ve been described in the text or not, because I feel that they add valid­i­ty and inter­est to the sto­ry world. If we have a scene in Cody’s room, I try to add objects around that reflect her per­son­al­i­ty. Also, I think kids have a much bet­ter eye for details than adults do, and it’s some­thing I remem­ber car­ing about a lot as a kid (and still do as an adult).

Cody and the Heart of a Champion cover

cov­er art © Eliza Wheel­er,
Cody and the Heart of a Cham­pi­on

How do you decide the sub­ject of the cov­er … and the col­or palette for that cov­er?

I try to come up with an image that I feel cap­tures the gen­er­al spir­it of the book—it should give a sense of the char­ac­ters, the set­ting, and any promi­nent themes in the book. When I start­ed the Cody book series with book #1, I gave the art direc­tor and edi­tor sev­er­al ideas for dif­fer­ent lay­outs to choose from, and we revised those ideas until we land­ed on what the book cov­ers are now. For the books that fol­lowed, it was a mat­ter of keep­ing the same gen­er­al cov­er lay­out, but try­ing to give it a unique theme and col­or scheme, so that the books look like they belong to each oth­er while also stand­ing on their own. One thing that helped was that each book hap­pens over a dif­fer­ent sea­son dur­ing one year, so I was able to be inspired by the col­ors of each sea­son.

Do you work on the illus­tra­tions for one book at a time?

For books in a series, yes, I work on one book at a time in sequence. Often the author is writ­ing the next book while I’m illus­trat­ing their pre­vi­ous book. In gen­er­al, I’m often jug­gling book projects; illus­trat­ing for chap­ter books, mid­dle grade, and pic­ture books at the same time, and jump­ing between book worlds can be chal­leng­ing!

Do you have any tips for draw­ing char­ac­ters con­sis­tent­ly?

Yes! That is a par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing task. I start the series by doing Char­ac­ter Stud­ies of the book’s char­ac­ters, and for each book add sketch­es of new side char­ac­ters as they’re intro­duced. After each book is fin­ished, I col­lage togeth­er a doc­u­ment with images of the char­ac­ters through­out the series, so that I can com­pare char­ac­ter draw­ings in the new book to make sure they look right.

Cody and the Heart of a Champion character studies

illus­tra­tion © Eliza Wheel­er, Cody and the Heart of a Cham­pi­on, char­ac­ter stud­ies

Cody and the Heart of a Champion character collage

illus­tra­tion © Eliza Wheel­er, Cody and the Heart of a Cham­pi­on, char­ac­ter col­lage

___________________

Thank you, Eliza, for help­ing us bet­ter under­stand how you infuse enchant­ment into the books you illus­trate. The care you and Tri­cia take makes Cody an unfor­get­table char­ac­ter.

Learn more about Eliza Wheel­er.

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With My Hands

Some­times, a book comes across my desk that sparkles like a gem, attract­ing my atten­tion, insist­ing that I stop what I’m doing and read it. This hap­pened when With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things arrived last week. I thought I’d take a peek. Next thing you know, I was clos­ing the last page of the book, sigh­ing with con­tent­ment. And then I knew I had to read the book all over again.

I’ve been inter­est­ed in mak­ing things since I can first remem­ber. Whether I was cre­at­ing a peg­board town with my Playskool set or help­ing my grand­moth­er make pie crust or giv­ing my grand­fa­ther a hand in his shop, or sewing small items to dec­o­rate my Bar­bie doll house … I still feel best when my hands, mind, and heart are busy. When cre­ativ­i­ty is awake and sat­is­fied.

This book will serve as inspi­ra­tion, recog­ni­tion, and encour­age­ment. It will awak­en a dor­mant mak­er and help a per­sis­tent mak­er sit up and feel good about what they do.

VanDerwater’s poet­ry is under­stand­able. It reads out loud well. It is often brief. Her word choice is pal­pa­ble … I find myself cheer­ing her selec­tions.

The illus­tra­tions by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er are bril­liant. From the first spread, “Mak­er,” with the art based on fin­ger­prints (I can do that!) and a hill­side of clover, to the last spread “Shad­ow Show,” with its exam­ple of a shad­ow pup­pet that echoes spi­rals, the inspi­ra­tion for art-mak­ing is full of detail and sub­tle ideas to launch your own work. I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy those spreads where two dis­parate poems are unit­ed by the illus­tra­tions. That pro­vides inspi­ra­tion, too!

My excite­ment lev­el after read­ing this book was high. Much like the Olympics cre­ate pos­si­bil­i­ties in young minds, this book encour­ages the can-do spir­it.

Poet­ry? Give the dif­fer­ent forms a try. Craft with words. Origa­mi? Leaf pic­tures? Mak­ing a piña­ta? Tie-dying? Soap carv­ing? The sub­tle humor in VanDerwater’s poet­ry and the John­son Fanch­ers’ art keeps read­ers’ spir­its high.

Para­chute

I cut a para­chute from plas­tic
tied my guy on with elas­tic
threw him from a win­dow (dras­tic)
watched him drift to earth—fantastic!”

The Army Guy tied to the plas­tic para­chute, drift­ing down to the boat fea­tured in the next poem … this is the kind of poet­ry every­one can enjoy, the inspi­ra­tion every­one needs.

With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things
writ­ten by Amy Lud­wig Van­Der­wa­ter
illus­trat­ed by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er
Clar­i­on Books, March 27, 2018
978–0544313408

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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.

______________________

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!

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Gifted: Under the North Light

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Gifted: Walk This World

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Gifted: Spike, Ugliest Dog in the Universe

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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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