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Curiouser and Curiouser with Paul O. Zelinsky

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah

Read­ing and admir­ing the books of Paul O. Zelin­sky rais­es my curios­i­ty. How does he work on the illus­tra­tions for his own books and those of oth­er authors? What is he think­ing about when he evolves his unfor­get­table char­ac­ters?

Of his newest book, All-of-a-Kind Fam­i­ly Hanukkah (writ­ten by Emi­ly Jenk­ins), Mr. Zelin­sky says, “Now that I’m done, when I con­sid­er how I worked on these pic­tures, try­ing to rough them up when they got too smooth, to flat­ten them out when they got too round, to main­tain a sense of tex­ture through­out, I think that per­haps what I was real­ly try­ing do was rep­re­sent the qual­i­ties of a good pota­to latke! Take a look at one, very close up, and see if you agree.”

A pota­to latke? This makes me curi­ous …

Paul O. Zelinsky

Paul O. Zelin­sky

What is the first thing you do when you get to work in the morn­ing?

I pull off a sheet from my note pad and write down a list of the things I want to get done that day. I then prompt­ly lose that note under oth­er pieces of paper on my draw­ing table.

How long do you think about a new book before you start work­ing with it on paper?

It’s hard to define when I start work­ing on some­thing on paper. At any point after I’ve got­ten a man­u­script, on the edges of oth­er pages: meet­ing notes, or shop­ping lists, or any­thing else, lit­tle sketch­es may appear that relate to it. The ear­li­est stages aren’t work, any­way; they’re play, or it just won’t work.

Also, I may be sort-of think­ing about a next book before I’m done with a cur­rent one, in which case I won’t do much beyond this casu­al, unplanned sketch­ing (and stuff­ing the sketch­es into a fold­er if they seem worth sav­ing); and the amount of time I spend at this depends on how soon I fin­ish the cur­rent book.

But if the ques­tion is how quick­ly does a book progress from just-read man­u­script to seri­ous sketch­es to fin­ished art, the answer is: I don’t think there’s any way to know.

Paul O. Zelinsky's studio

Paul O. Zelinsky’s stu­dio

What is the qual­i­ty of the light in your stu­dio? Where does the light come from?

My stu­dio faces as close to north as pos­si­ble, as stu­dios are sup­posed to do. That’s so sun doesn’t move across the room as the day goes by, rad­i­cal­ly chang­ing the light con­di­tions. The win­dow light includes some light from the sky, and the rest reflect­ed off the grass and walls of a beau­ti­ful church­yard across the street. So the over­all light com­ing in my win­dows usu­al­ly has a green­ish cast. I also have some flu­o­res­cent light fix­tures, thin bright tubes that emit a sur­pris­ing­ly decent col­or of light com­pared to the flu­o­res­cents of the past. Clipped to a book­case I have two bright LED lamps that I bought to match the light­ing used in the Amer­i­can Writ­ers Muse­um in Chicago—I was work­ing on a mur­al for them, and it was impor­tant to know how things would look in their real home. (The mur­al was fin­ished just in time for the museum’s open­ing, in May of 2017).

Paul O. Zelinsky art display system

Here’s an art-hang­ing exam­ple with a spread from Toys Meet Snow fea­tured.

How do you orga­nize your tasks? Does that dif­fer from book to book?

I try to orga­nize my tasks, but I would not call them, in the end, orga­nized. Some pro­ce­dures have evolved that I do use reg­u­lar­ly, such as my sys­tem for hang­ing fin­ished art on my wall (if the art isn’t dig­i­tal). I have sticks of square wood­en mold­ing hang­ing from the pic­ture mold­ing on my walls, with pegs stick­ing for­ward at inter­vals of about 15 inch­es. I can vary the space between sticks to match the width of the art (which I attach to card­board with holes for the pegs), and it’s all quite flex­i­ble and reusable.

What does your work day look like?

No pat­tern that I can see. The clos­er to the dead­line, the more effi­cient­ly I work, except for some­times. On Thurs­day morn­ings if at all pos­si­ble I go to the Minerva’s Draw­ing Stu­dio—that’s the name of a fig­ure draw­ing workshop/studio on New York’s Low­er East Side, not far from me, where on Thurs­days its founder Min­er­va Durham talks about draw­ing, art, his­to­ry, phi­los­o­phy, and more, in a won­der­ful­ly idio­syn­crat­ic way, dur­ing the model’s breaks. I think that draw­ing the fig­ure keeps my hand-eye coör­di­na­tion from falling away—the human body is prob­a­bly the most demand­ing thing you can draw. And I’m fas­ci­nat­ed by anato­my.

What’s your favorite paper to use for cre­at­ing art?

It’s been a while since I used it, but for water­col­or I have been most com­fort­able with Arch­es cold press paper. For a com­bi­na­tion of water­col­or and dig­i­tal print­ing, a tech­nique I’ve used on a few books, I have a stash of What­man 90 lb. hot press, an amaz­ing paper that, nat­u­ral­ly, went out of pro­duc­tion over ten years ago. For dig­i­tal print­ing I like Moab Entra­da Rag Bright, but you real­ly can’t touch it up man­u­al­ly, which is too bad.

What is the most reli­able of the tools you use to cre­ate art?

My com­put­er is most reli­able in the sense that mis­takes are infi­nite­ly for­giv­able. Oth­er­wise, I don’t real­ly know. Oils work well for me; water­col­or is riski­er, and oth­er medi­ums have their own dif­fi­cul­ties.

The Horn Book asked me to write about this once, and what I wrote still applies except for the part about the com­put­er, which has changed one hun­dred per­cent.

How do you save the thoughts you don’t have time to exe­cute that day?

I write them down on lit­tle pieces of paper that I prompt­ly lose. I also write them in my phone’s Notes app and lose them there. When the time comes to exe­cute these ideas, I do find that most of them (as far as I know) come back to me; I actu­al­ly don’t mind this process.

Do you work on more than one book at a time?

Every time I’ve tried to work on more than one book at a time, I find myself work­ing on one book at a time. At most.

Paul O. Zelin­sky will receive a 2018 Eric Car­le Hon­ors Artist award for life­long inno­va­tion in the field. The Hon­ors will be bestowed on Thurs­day, Sep­tem­ber 27, 2018, at Gaustavino’s in New York City. 

Do spend some time on Paul O. Zelinsky’s web­site. There are many oppor­tu­ni­ties to be fas­ci­nat­ed tucked here and there.

Paul O. Zelinsky's website

Paul O. Zelinsky’s web­site

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Summoning Spring

Jack­ie: Spring is a lit­tle late com­ing to the Mid­west this year. But we can remem­ber sun­ny days with vio­lets and tril­li­um bloom­ing and rainy days that turn the grass green (instead of the snow we con­tin­ue to get in mid-April). Rainy days make us think of ducks and we are going to beck­on reluc­tant spring with sto­ries of ducks.

In the Rain with Baby Duck I want to start with an old favorite In the Rain with Baby Duck by Amy Hest, with illus­tra­tions by Jill Bar­ton. This is one of those books I wish I had writ­ten. The sto­ry sets up the prob­lem imme­di­ate­ly. Baby Duck has to go out in the rain. She hates the rain. But at the end of the walk are pancakes—and Grand­pa. Baby Duck loves both pan­cakes and Grand­pa as much as she hates the rain.

And the lan­guage is so much fun! First there’s the sound of rain, “Pit pat. Pit-a-pat. Pit-a-pit-a-pat.” And then there are the verbs: Mama Duck and Papa Duck love the rain. They wad­dled, and shim­mied, and hopped. Baby Duck hates the rain that brings wet feet, wet face, mud. She daw­dled and dal­lied and pout­ed.

Leave it to Grand­pa to solve the prob­lem with a trip to the attic. Once she’s equipped Baby Duck and Grand­pa go out in the rain. And Baby Duck and Grand­pa wad­dled and shim­mied, and hopped in all the pud­dles.

I need new boots.

Phyl­lis: Jack­ie, if Amy hadn’t writ­ten this book, and if you hadn’t writ­ten it either, I would have want­ed to have writ­ten it. I, too, love this book for its lan­guage, its won­der­ful rhythms and verbs, and its under­stand­ing Grand­pa who remem­bers what Mama Duck has for­got­ten, that she, too, once didn’t like rain.  And of course, I love pan­cake Sun­day. My red rub­ber boots are still going strong, and once the rain comes down (rain, not snow), I plan to go splash in some pud­dles.

The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duckJack­ie: Beat­rix Pot­ter can help us sum­mon spring. Jemi­ma Pud­dle-duck wants to hatch her own eggs, instead of let­ting one of the farm hens sit on them. “I will sit on them all by myself,” she says. And she leaves the farm to make a nest in the wood. “Jemi­ma Pud­dle-duck was not much in the habit of fly­ing,” but she man­ages to get up over the tree­tops and flies to an open place in the woods. She encoun­ters an “ele­gant, well-dressed gen­tle­man” with two black ears and a long full tail. We are told “Jemi­ma Pud­dle-duck was a sim­ple­ton.” And we see that in action as she agrees that the gen­tle­man has a won­der­ful spot for a nest in a wood­shed full of feath­ers. Nor does Jemi­ma sus­pect any­thing after the eggs are laid, when the “gen­tle­man” sug­gests they share a meal. He asks Jemi­ma to pro­vide from the farm two onions and var­i­ous herbs. While gath­er­ing these sup­plies she runs into the farm dog Kep, who is not a sim­ple­ton. And Jemi­ma is saved from her impend­ing doom by Kep and two fox­hound pup­pies. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the pup­pies eat the eggs before Kep can stop them. Jemi­ma goes back to the farm and even­tu­al­ly hatch­es four duck­lings. I love this sto­ry. There’s such fun in know­ing more than the char­ac­ters in the sto­ry.  And we can sym­pa­thize with Jemima’s wish to do it her­self, even if she’s not quite up to it on her own. Per­haps the best part of the sto­ry for me is Kep, whose nature seems to be to watch over the sim­ple­tons.  We need more of Keps in our world.

Phyl­lis: Along with the accu­rate and beau­ti­ful water­col­ors, Beat­rix Potter’s won­der­ful lan­guage evokes the coun­try­side of her time so vivid­ly:  the two bro­ken buck­ets on top of each oth­er for the “gentleman’s” chim­ney, the “tum­ble­down shed make of old soap box­es.” I sym­pa­thize with Jemi­ma, who wants to hatch her eggs her­self and who, although we are told she is a sim­ple­ton, seems guilty main­ly of igno­rance and inno­cent trust. Our fam­i­ly once fos­tered a duck­ling for a month that had hatched lat­er than its fel­low egglings, and it was indeed a sweet and trust­ing duck­ling who fol­lowed us every­where, peep­ing wild­ly if left alone.  Pot­ter is also unsen­ti­men­tal in her assess­ment of farm life:  when Jemi­ma final­ly does get to sit her own eggs, we learn that she is not real­ly much of a sit­ter after all, but she looks con­tent with her own four duck­lings, hatched by her­self in the safe­ty of the farm­yard, under the pro­tec­tion of Kep.

Duck! Rabbit!Jack­ie: Last April we cel­e­brat­ed the work of Amy Krouse Rosen­thal, who had recent­ly died. We want to hon­or her again with a look at Duck, Rab­bit. This book is such a fun exer­cise in per­spec­tive, thanks to illus­tra­tor Tom Licht­en­held. “Hey, look! A duck!” And we see long bill, slight­ly open, oval head and eye.

That’s not a duck./ That’s a rab­bit.” And what had been the duck bill becomes the rabbit’s ears, the rab­bit is look­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion. Turn the page and the illus­tra­tion is the same, but the con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues. “Are you kid­ding me?/It’s total­ly a duck.”

It’s for sure a rab­bit.”

The two con­tin­ue. Is the ani­mal cool­ing its long ears or get­ting a drink in the pond? Is it fly­ing or hop­ping? Then the argu­ment caus­es the crea­ture to leave. And the two reverse (what could be more fun?) “You know, maybe you were right./Maybe it was a rab­bit.”

Thing is, now I’m actually/thinking it was a duck.”

This sto­ry is so much fun. I can imag­ine that it would spark many dis­cus­sions and exper­i­ments about objects or crea­tures that could be eas­i­ly tak­en for oth­er objects or crea­tures.

Phyl­lis:  The book itself is its own exer­cise in tricks of per­cep­tion and point of view:  it’s all in how you inter­pret what you see and where you see it from.  And the book ends with a won­der­ful twist:  each voice hav­ing con­ced­ed that per­haps the oth­er is right after all, one says,

Well, anyway…now what do you want to do?”

I don’t know.  What do you want to do?”

Hey, look! An anteater!”

Thant’s not an anteater. That’s a bra­chiosaurus!”

This bold and clever book makes me smile. All win­ter I’ve been watch­ing the city bun­nies in my back yard (who have eat­en my rasp­ber­ry canes down to the top of the snow).  Now maybe I’ll look out and find they have turned into ducks.

Jack­ie: There are so many duck sto­ries. Of course, Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Duck­lings is the clas­sic.

The Ugly DucklingAnd if it’s not a clas­sic already, Jer­ry Pinkney’s The Ugly Duck­ling soon will be. His inter­pre­ta­tion of the Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­son fairy tale takes us so close to the Mama duck’s nest and the new duck­lings, it’s as if we are stand­ing in the barn­yard. We know the story—the biggest duck­ling is so ugly that even­tu­al­ly even his broth­ers and sis­ters chase him and taunt him. He leaves, only to encounter hunters, and dogs with huge mouths. Even­tu­al­ly he finds tem­po­rary shel­ter in the bro­ken-down cab­in of an old woman who has a cat and a hen. The ani­mals can’t under­stand anoth­er who nei­ther lays eggs or purrs but they don’t chase after him. After three weeks the duck­ling leaves to find water to swim in. When icy win­ter freezes him into the ice he is res­cued by a kind man who takes him home to his warm cab­in and chil­dren. The chil­dren want to play, but the duck­ling, hav­ing seen most­ly taunts and cru­el­ty, does not rec­og­nize play and runs away. Pinkney does not dwell on the rest of the win­ter, except to say it was mis­er­able. Relief comes in the spring when the “duck­ling” finds a home with his own kind, the swans. There are many ver­sions of this sto­ry but this is my favorite. Pinkney takes the sto­ry so seri­ous­ly. His ducks are real ducks and he wants us to notice them and the cat and the hen.  He grabs our atten­tion with his own atten­tion to the details of these crea­tures’ lives. He makes them real while also imbu­ing them with the human char­ac­ter­is­tics of judg­ment, cru­el­ty, curios­i­ty, and even kind­ness.

Phyl­lis: And who doesn’t want to find fel­low crea­tures and be rec­og­nized just for being their own self?

The ugly duckling’s moth­er loves him so much she gives up her bath to sit on his egg after her oth­er eggs have hatched, and she fierce­ly tries to pro­tect him from the oth­er barn­yard ani­mals. But even a mother’s love can’t always con­quer prej­u­dice and nei­ther is the world kind. Our hearts hurt for the “duckling’s” suf­fer­ings and are immense­ly sat­is­fied when he finds his own place in the world.

DuckA few oth­er duck books among a flock of them, Duck by author and illus­tra­tor Randy Cecil, about a carousel duck who longs to fly and who  ends up fos­ter­ing a lit­tle lost duck­ling. Duck real­izes it’s up to him to teach the lit­tle duck­ling how to fly, but his lessons are only part­ly suc­cess­ful, so she straps Duck­ling to her back with her scarf and walks off to find the ones “who could teach Duck­ling what she could not.” When they do find a flock of ducks, the ducks take off, and the lit­tle duck­ling flies up to join them. But Duck, still strapped to Duck­ling, weighs Duck­ling down and real­izes she must lit­er­al­ly let duck­ling go.  She frees her­self from the scarf, duck­ling goes up, duck does down down down. The ducks fly away, a scarf­less duck limps home, and the long win­ter com­mences, with so much snow duck that almost dis­ap­pears in the drifts. Come spring, a grown-up duck wear­ing a scarf returns with his flock and takes duck on his back. 

The book ends with the immense­ly sat­is­fy­ing last line: “And final­ly Duck knew what it was to fly.”

Cold Little Duck, Duck, DuckCold Lit­tle Duck Duck Duck by Lisa West­berg Peters, with illus­tra­tions by Sam Williams, tells a rhyth­mic and rhyming sto­ry of a duck who comes a lit­tle too ear­ly in a mis­er­able and frozen spring,  and her feet freeze to the ice. She warms her­self with thoughts of spring:  bub­bly streams, glassy pud­dles, wig­gly worms, shiny bee­tles, cro­cus­es and apples buds and blades of grass and squishy mud.  By the time a vee of ducks fly in to join her, the ice is melt­ing, and the lit­tle duck dives into spring. With many won­der­ful rep­e­ti­tions of con­so­nant sounds—quick quick quick, blink blink blink, creak creak creak—the book is a delight to read aloud.

And, like the cold lit­tle duck duck duck, we might be find­ing spring right now as well. The snow out­side my win­dow has almost melt­ed, the first wild­flow­ers are bloom­ing, and our hearts are hap­py in the sun­shine. Good work, ducks. Thanks, thanks, thanks!

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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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Dearie Darling Cuddle Hug: A Tribute to Wendy Watson

Father Fox's PennyrhymesWhen our chil­dren were young we both spent many hours with them pour­ing over Wendy Wat­son’s illus­tra­tions for her sis­ter Clyde’s rhymes in Father Fox’s Pen­nyrhymes and delight­ing in the sounds and the silli­ness of the rhymes them­selves. We felt as though we had lost a per­son­al friend when Wendy Wat­son died, even though we had nev­er met her.

Here’s just one pen­nyrhyme:

Mis­ter Lis­ter sassed his sis­ter
Mar­ried his wife ‘cause he couldn’t resist her,
Three plus four times two he kissed her:
How many times is that, dear sis­ter?

The illus­tra­tions wel­comed us into Father Fox’s fam­i­ly, a large rol­lick­ing cre­ative crew in a house filled with writ­ing, art, music, and chil­dren, much like the Wat­son fam­i­ly. Clyde has said that their father was the orig­i­nal Father Fox, and Wendy wrote of the art, “Many fox­es wear favorite gar­ments that still hang in clos­ets in Put­ney; and spe­cial fam­i­ly occu­pa­tions and times of the year and occa­sions are in almost every poem and pic­ture.” In the pic­tures (and per­haps in the clos­ets) the clothes are patched show­ing both wear and care.

Small sto­ries unfold in the illus­tra­tions.

You might read,

Som­er­sault & Pep­per-upper
Sim­mer down and eat your sup­per,
Arti­chokes & Mus­tard Pick­le
Two for a dime or six for a nick­el.

Mean­while in four pan­els on a dou­ble-page spread, a horse gal­lops by draw­ing a coach piled high with bun­dles, a fid­dle case, and a young fox rid­ing on top. The coach hits a bump, the salt shak­er falls out the win­dow, a bowl of sup­per falls on the coach dri­ver, and, leav­ing bits and pieces behind, the coach dri­ves on.

Wendy WatsonWhen Wendy had chil­dren of her own she often hid famil­iar things in her art that only they would know, “like dish­es that we owned or fur­ni­ture.”

Our friend Liza Ketchum, who knew Wendy very well, said that the time she spent on each draw­ing was incred­i­ble. In a draw­ing of a coun­try store you can find boots, slip­pers, pots, pans, paint­brush­es, pen­ny can­dy, even bolts of fab­ric and a horse col­lar.

 “Wendy had a throaty laugh that was just won­der­ful,” Liza told us, “and she cared so much about every­thing. When she could not take her cat on an air­plane, she drove cross-coun­try with her cat instead.”

Bedtime BunniesWendy wrote and illus­trat­ed twen­ty-one books for chil­dren and illus­trat­ed over six­ty books by oth­er authors. We could say so much more about so many of her books that we love, (you can read a list and descrip­tions of her pub­lished books), but we have to share one more of our favorites, Bed­time Bun­nies. The bun­ny par­ents call to five lit­tle bun­nies, “Bed­time, bun­nies.” The heart of this spar­e­ly writ­ten book is verbs, four to a spread—skip, scam­per, scur­ry, hop—while the art shows the bun­nies com­ing in for the night, hav­ing sup­per, brush­ing their teeth—Squirt Scrub Splut­ter Spit—taking a bath, get­ting into their paja­mas, hear­ing a sto­ry, get­ting into bed—climb bounce jump thump, and get­ting tucked in—Dearie Dar­ling Cud­dle Hug. The book ends with “Good­night, Bun­nies.”

The illus­tra­tions are spare but full of expres­sion and love, and the col­or palette is soft and warm, with yel­lows, ros­es, green, blues. In each of the live­ly pic­tures the lit­tlest bun­ny does things in their unique style. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this bun­ny fam­i­ly, or Father Fox’s fam­i­ly? It’s as if Wendy Wat­son is call­ing to us—Dearie Dar­ling Cud­dle Hug. Each time we open one of her books, we are invit­ed in to her warm cir­cle of fam­i­ly. And that will nev­er change.

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The Kindness of Teachers

Miss Rosemary Follett and David LaRochelle

Miss Rose­mary Fol­lett and David LaRochelle

I loved first grade.

Fifty-one years lat­er, I still have vivid mem­o­ries of my teacher, Miss Fol­lett. She played the piano every day. She read to us from her giant book of poet­ry. She showed us pho­tos of her trips to exot­ic places, like Alas­ka and Hawaii.

At Hal­loween we screamed in ter­ror and delight when she hob­bled into our class­room dressed as a witch. At East­er we fol­lowed “bun­ny tracks” through­out the school till they led us to a chest filled with panora­ma sug­ar eggs that Miss Fol­lett had hand­made, one for each of us. On our birth­days we sat at the spe­cial birth­day desk that was dec­o­rat­ed with crêpe paper stream­ers and bal­loons. Miss Fol­lett would light the can­dles on the plas­ter of Paris birth­day cake and the entire class would sing.

Miss Fol­lett was also seri­ous about learn­ing. That was fine with me. One of the rea­sons I want­ed to start first grade was because I des­per­ate­ly want­ed to read. Words were all around me; I want­ed to know their secrets.

Humpty Dumpty

Hump­ty Dump­ty

I also remem­ber Hump­ty Dump­ty, Miss Follett’s form of behav­ior man­age­ment. The Hump­ty Dump­ty cook­ie jar sat on the cor­ner of Miss Follett’s desk. If our class was very, very good, Hump­ty Dump­ty might (mind you, might) be mag­i­cal­ly filled with cook­ies for us. No one ever want­ed to do any­thing that would dis­please Hump­ty.

When I became a children’s author, Miss Fol­lett attend­ed one of my pub­li­ca­tion par­ties. It was a proud moment for both of us. When I auto­graphed her book, I includ­ed doo­dles of my favorite first grade mem­o­ries.

Years passed.

This last spring I came home from run­ning errands to find a large box wait­ing in front of my door. When I removed the lay­ers of bub­ble wrap, I dis­cov­ered Miss Follett’s Hump­ty Dump­ty cook­ie jar inside, along with this note:

Dear David,

Now that I am mov­ing to senior hous­ing and need to down­size,
it’s time for Hump­ty to find a new home. I thought
he might enjoy liv­ing in your stu­dio.

Your First Grade Teacher
Rose­mary Fol­lett

Miss Fol­lett did indeed teach me to read. But she taught me a lot of oth­er things as well. She taught me that adults can be both seri­ous and play­ful. She taught me that art and music and poet­ry make life more beau­ti­ful. She taught me that the world is full of fas­ci­nat­ing places, and that I can go vis­it them. She taught me that you are nev­er too old to use your imag­i­na­tion.

And she taught me that teach­ers nev­er stop car­ing about their stu­dents.

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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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Trailblazing Illustrator, Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elizabeth Shippen Green

Eliz­a­beth Ship­pen Green

Younger read­ers may not ful­ly appre­ci­ate how dif­fi­cult it was for women to break into the high­ly com­pet­i­tive field of illus­tra­tion. For many years, men were rou­tine­ly hired for adver­tis­ing art, news­pa­per and mag­a­zine illus­tra­tion, and children’s book illus­tra­tion. 

Eliz­a­beth Ship­pen Green, born in 1871 and dying in 1954, was one of the ear­li­est female illus­tra­tors to win high regard, help­ing to open the door a lit­tle wider for the women who fol­lowed her,

Her father was an artist-cor­re­spon­dent dur­ing the Civ­il War. He encour­aged her to study art, sup­port­ing her as she attend­ed var­i­ous art schools.

Elizabeth Shippen GreenShe stud­ied with Thomas Anshutz, Robert Von­noh, Thomas Eakins, and Howard Pyle. “She cred­it­ed Pyle with teach­ing her the impor­tance of visu­al­iz­ing, then real­iz­ing, the dra­mat­ic moment key to illus­trat­ing a nar­ra­tive text.” (Library of Con­gress)

While study­ing with Pyle at the Brandy­wine School, Eliz­a­beth met Jessie Will­cox Smith and Vio­let Oak­ley. The three of them became fast friends, sup­port­ive of each other’s careers in illus­tra­tion. They moved into The Red Rose Inn in Vil­lano­va, Penn­syl­va­nia, with Hen­ri­et­ta Coz­ens as their house­keep­er.

The Five Little PigsLat­er, they moved to Cogslea in the Mount Airy neigh­bor­hood of Philadel­phia. Because of their res­i­dence togeth­er, they were referred to ever after as The Red Rose Girls. These three and sev­er­al oth­er women formed The Plas­tic Club, meant to encour­age one anoth­er pro­fes­sion­al­ly. 

Eliz­a­beth was one of the most rec­og­nized illus­tra­tors in the coun­try because of her assign­ments for St. Nicholas Mag­a­zine, Woman’s Home Com­pan­ion, The Sat­ur­day Evening Post, and a 23-year exclu­sive con­tract with Harper’s Mag­a­zine. In 1922, she illus­trat­ed a beau­ti­ful edi­tion of Tales from Shake­speare by Charles and Mary Lamb.

gr_green_mother_daughter

Read more about Eliz­a­beth Ship­pen Green:

The Red Rose Girls: an Uncom­mon Sto­ry of Art and Love, by Alice A. Carter

By a Woman’s Hand: Illus­tra­tors of the Gold­en Age, ed. by Mary Car­olyn Wal­drep, Dover Fine Art

Nation­al Muse­um of Amer­i­can Illus­tra­tion

Library of Con­gress, “A Petal from the Rose” exhib­it

Some of her work in the Library of Con­gress’ col­lec­tion

Amer­i­can Art Archives, show­ing some of her adver­tis­ing art

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Marsha Wilson Chall and Jill Davis

I recent­ly had the hon­or of inter­view­ing Mar­sha Wil­son Chall, the author of the new pic­ture book, The Secret Life of Fig­gy Mus­tar­do, and her edi­tor, Jill Davis.

Marsha Wilson ChallMar­sha Wil­son Chall grew up an only child in Min­neso­ta, where her father told her the best sto­ries. The author of many pic­ture books, includ­ing Up North at the Cab­in, One Pup’s Up, and Pick a Pup, Mar­sha teach­es writ­ing at Ham­line University’s MFAC pro­gram in St. Paul, Min­neso­ta. She lives on a small farm west of Min­neapo­lis with her hus­band, dog, barn cats, and books.

Jill DavisJill Davis has been an exec­u­tive edi­tor in children’s books at Harper­Collins since 2013. A vet­er­an of children’s books, she began her career at Ran­dom House in 1992, and worked there at Crown and Knopf Books For Young Read­ers until 1996, after which she worked at Viking until 2005. After that, she held posi­tions at both Blooms­bury and Far­rar, Straus & Giroux. She is the author of three pic­ture books, edi­tor of one col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, and has an MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren and Young Adults from Ham­line Uni­ver­si­ty

Secret Life of Fiiggy MustardoMark: The Secret Life of Fig­gy Mus­tar­do came about in a dif­fer­ent way than most pic­ture books. You were asked to write a sto­ry based on illus­tra­tions of a char­ac­ter. Could you tell us about this process and a lit­tle about the sto­ry?

Mar­sha: You’re right that this sto­ry evolved dif­fer­ent­ly than my oth­ers. My amaz­ing edi­tor, Jill Davis, sent me Ali­son Friend’s thumb­nails of an adorable canine char­ac­ter she had named Fig­gy Mus­tar­do in a vari­ety of human-like pos­es and cos­tumes. For me, it was love at first sight! So I set about the process of cre­at­ing Figgy’s sto­ry based on my impres­sions of him through Alison’s art and then, via Jill, Alison’s writ­ten notions of his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and sto­ry ideas.

Alison FriendAn imag­i­na­tive, spir­it­ed fel­low, Ali­son visu­al­ized Fig­gy zip­ping through many adven­tures on his scoot­er. In the book, I took the lib­er­ty of chang­ing the scoot­er to a race car and also cast Fig­gy as a rock star and a piz­za chef who orga­nizes and stars in a neigh­bor­hood rock con­cert, pizze­ria, and stock car race with his ani­mal friends. Lots of Fig­gy fun, but this did not a sto­ry make. I need­ed to know why these activ­i­ties mat­tered to Fig­gy and how he grew as a char­ac­ter.

Secret Life of Figgy MustardoI also had to think about the nuts and bolts of how Fig­gy might trans­form from dog to dilet­tante. I was fair­ly cer­tain of my own dog’s bore­dom and lone­li­ness while our fam­i­ly is away, so I start­ed my sto­ry explo­ration there. We all know that dogs, as social crea­tures, dis­like being left alone and are often fraught with anx­i­ety lead­ing to cer­tain not-so-flat­ter­ing behav­iors and/or the escape of sleep. A sto­ry with a sleep­ing dog would not be too inter­est­ing, so I chose the much more excit­ing, destruc­tive route. What if Fig­gy ate things–any things–in his frus­tra­tion, fell asleep, and dreamed about him­self as a man­i­fes­ta­tion of what he ate? We all know “you are what you eat,” so in Figgy’s case, for exam­ple, he eats Mrs. Mustardo’s Bone Appetit mag­a­zine, falls asleep, and dreams of being Ital­ian Piz­za Chef Mus­tar­do serv­ing Muttsarel­lo and Figaro piz­zas to ador­ing gour­mands. When he wakes, he knows his dream is a sign, so he makes a real one of his own, “Free Piz­za,” and serves his entire ani­mal neigh­bor­hood at Figgy’s Pizze­ria.

Most impor­tant­ly, I need­ed to devel­op a moti­va­tion for Figgy’s adven­tures; how were these events con­nect­ed to him? What did they mean? How would they affect Figgy’s world out­side and inside? The answer arrived in the form of loss; every ani­mal neigh­bor came to Figgy’s con­cert and pizze­ria and car race except Figgy’s fam­i­ly, the Mus­tar­dos, espe­cial­ly George (his boy). In des­per­a­tion, Fig­gy cre­ates the sign “Free Dog” to find a fam­i­ly who will talk and walk and play with him like all the oth­er fam­i­lies he sees through his win­dow. Where are the Mus­tar­dos? The fam­i­ly Mus­tar­do arrives in time to show Fig­gy how much they care with a promise to take him wher­ev­er they can and to pro­vide him com­pan­ion­ship when they can’t in the form of new pup named Dot. Fig­gy and Dot go on to enliv­en the neigh­bor­hood with Free Shows night­ly.

Mark: What kind of revising/editing process did you and Jill go through?

Mar­sha: Once I knew my char­ac­ter and his prob­lem, I dashed off the sto­ry, sent it to Jill who loved it at first sight, then sat back sat­is­fied with a good day’s work.

Ha! Not the way it hap­pened, but I did write a first draft with­in a few days that Jill found promis­ing. So many drafts lat­er that I can’t even recall the orig­i­nal, Jill exer­cised plen­ty of patience wait­ing for the sto­ry she and Ali­son hoped I could write. I know she’ll protest my trib­ute, but I have nev­er worked with an edi­tor so open to my tri­al and error. Her abun­dant humor car­ried us through the process that I think would have oth­er­wise over­whelmed me.

Mark: Will there be any more books with Fig­gy and his fur­ther adven­tures?

Mar­sha: Fig­gy hopes so and so do Jill, Ali­son, and I. For now, I hope Fig­gy wags his way into the hands and hearts of many human friends where he belongs.

WOOF!

Mark: How was this project dif­fer­ent hav­ing a char­ac­ter first and then hav­ing to find a writer to tell his sto­ry?

The Secret Life of Figgy MustardoJill: It was kind of hard. The illus­tra­tor had invent­ed this lit­tle dog who she want­ed to be an adventurer—yet she wasn’t sure how to make the sto­ry hap­pen. When I saw the dog, I thought of Marsha’s One Pup’s Up—and I knew how tal­ent­ed she was. Seemed like a slam dunk! But all of us—Marsha, myself, and the illus­tra­tor, Ali­son Friend, had  to share plen­ty of feed­back, edit, and revise a bit before Mar­sha was able to tell both the sto­ry she envi­sioned as well as the sto­ry Ali­son had in mind. Mar­sha pic­tured Fig­gy at home, and real­ly loved the idea of using signs. Ali­son seemed to feel Fig­gy was some kind of James Bond. So how were those two visions going to meet? They final­ly did when Mar­sha real­ized that Fig­gy would go to sleep and dream about his excit­ing alter-ego. And we all loved the idea. The book may seem a lit­tle bit sad because Fig­gy is always being left at home, but Mar­sha told it in such a great way that Fig­gy showed his grit! If he’s hun­gry, he eats what’s there—but then the mag­ic hap­pens and he goes to sleep and dreams of some­thing relat­ed to what he ate. It’s so fun and so imag­i­na­tive. I love what Mar­sha did with Figgy’s sto­ry, and Ali­son did, too.

Mark: What was it like to work with Mar­sha in this new role as edi­tor after being her stu­dent in the MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren pro­gram at Ham­line Uni­ver­si­ty?

Jill: It felt very won­der­ful and nat­ur­al. Mar­sha does not use intim­i­da­tion as a tac­tic in gen­er­al. She’s the rare com­bi­na­tion of bril­liant and super sil­ly. That’s one rea­son she’s so loved at Ham­line and in the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing.

There were times when she should have been frus­trat­ed or want­ed to spit at me, but she was cool as a cucum­ber in the freez­er in the North Pole. So pro­fes­sion­al and what I loved also about work­ing with her is how much I learned. I learned how she makes use of rep­e­ti­tion, allit­er­a­tion, and very care­ful edit­ing. I can be slop­py, but Mar­sha walked straight out of Strunk and White. She’s exact and won­der­ful­ly detail-ori­ent­ed. She was also involved at the sketch stage. Actu­al­ly at sev­er­al sketch stages. We worked on the phone, we worked at Ham­line, and we worked until we thought it felt per­fect. And she loved it because she could use it in her teach­ing! And I just loved work­ing with Mar­sha!

Mark:  Thank you Mar­sha and Jill for tak­ing the time to tell us about your col­lab­o­ra­tion on The Secret Life of Fig­gy Mus­tar­do. The book is now avail­able at everyone’s local inde­pen­dent book store.

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Francis Vallejo

Francis VallejoWe are pleased to share with you our inter­view with Fran­cis Valle­jo, the illus­tra­tor of Jazz Day: the Mak­ing of a Famous Pho­to­graph, our Book­storm™ this month. This book is so rich with visu­al images that stir read­ers’ imag­i­na­tions. You’ll feel like you’re stand­ing on the street with the oth­er onlook­ers!

The title page says that you used acrylics and pas­tels to cre­ate this art. Are those famil­iar media to you? Did you use any oth­er media or dig­i­tal manip­u­la­tion?

I devel­oped this tech­nique for Jazz Day. Before this book I had exten­sive­ly used acrylics, but had not used pas­tels very much. As I was work­ing on the ear­ly sketch­es and think­ing about how I would paint the final images, I dis­cov­ered the illus­trat­ed books of John Col­lier. He used acrylic and pas­tel (although some­times gouache instead of acrylic). Also, my friend and incred­i­ble artist Jane Rad­strom has been cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful pas­tel works for a while. Her work kept exper­i­men­ta­tion with pas­tel fresh in my mind. So com­bin­ing a wet medi­um (acrylic) and dry draw­ing medi­um (pas­tel) seemed like the best of both worlds. I could cre­ate large wash­es and make big deci­sions, and then detailed mark mak­ing using draw­ing.

I also gen­er­al­ly like to devel­op a new fin­ish­ing process for every project I work on, so the next book will assured­ly have a rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent look. I think it keeps me fresh. Final­ly, yes, I used a lit­tle dig­i­tal manip­u­la­tion in post to add a few details I may have missed in the phys­i­cal stage.

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copy­right Fran­cis Valle­jo

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copy­right Fran­cis Valle­jo

Before you begin cre­at­ing art, do you make sketch­es? Do you keep those sketch­es to refer to through­out your illus­tra­tion process?

My process before cre­at­ing the final image is bor­der­line obsessive—scratch that—it IS rad­i­cal­ly obses­sive! My process is based on that of Nor­man Rock­well. I spent 3 years work­ing on the art for this book. 2.5 was spent on the sketch­ing and research and stud­ies and pho­tog­ra­phy to pre­pare for the final paint­ing. My pub­lish­er filmed this video of me going over my process:

Grays and blacks are pre­dom­i­nant in this book. There are some allur­ing uses of bright col­or, such as the yel­low taxi, the gold cor­net, and the hot pink on the cov­er. Can you share with us some of the deci­sion-mak­ing you did while you thought through your illus­tra­tions? Or is try­ing a bit of this and a bit of that?

An impor­tant part of design­ing the pages was to look at them as a whole, in one big group, on one sheet (or screen). Since books are sequen­tial projects, the images have to work in sequence and not just by them­selves. The col­ors, val­ues, and mood, has to flow with the emo­tions of the sto­ry. I ref­er­enced col­or keys from movies, par­tic­u­lar­ly Pixar movies, in how I designed the over­all col­or keys for indi­vid­ual paint­ings, and made a strong effort to group togeth­er pic­tures that took place in front of town­homes and sep­a­rate­ly images of the musi­cians at their venues.

Your “per­spec­tive” changes through­out the book. You look at scenes from dif­fer­ent angles, some­times from above, some­times from street lev­el, some­times from far away, some­times close up. When do these per­spec­tives enter into your plan­ning process?

Right at the very begin­ning I knew that that idea was going to be chal­leng­ing. Most of the pic­tures were going to be set in front of the same set of stairs. I had to cre­ate 15 illus­tra­tions all set in the same place and not make it repet­i­tive! So using unique and var­ied per­spec­tives was one of my very first pri­or­i­ties. Believe me, I was very excit­ed when I was able to take a break from the street scene and move into the jazz clubs for a few pic­tures.

Do you choose the fonts that will be used in the book? Why did you choose a sans serif font?

I didn’t choose the font out­right, but I was involved in the dis­cus­sion. We thought sans serif was appro­pri­ate­ly mod­ern and avant garde – just as jazz is.

Did you know from the begin­ning that there would be a fold-out of the orig­i­nal pho­to? Did you make the deci­sion to include the word “click” as a direc­tion to open the fold-out?

That was an edi­to­r­i­al deci­sion that was planned out before I was even involved with the project. It is everyone’s favorite part and I do think it was a smart design and pac­ing deci­sion!

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copy­right Fran­cis Valle­jo

When you plan an illus­tra­tion, do you con­scious­ly leave room for the poem that will go with it?

Absolute­ly. The text is just anoth­er shape on the page, so it is inte­gral to plan for it from the very begin­ning. It is among my favorite things to do actu­al­ly. I am a nerd like that. I love the puz­zle of fig­ur­ing out how I can design a scene to organ­i­cal­ly allow text to fit so that it seems like the neg­a­tive shape the text is placed in is actu­al­ly a shape that fits into the pic­ture. Many of the most for­ward-think­ing illus­tra­tors from the 1960’s would real­ly explore this idea (Al Park­er is king at this) and they were a big influ­ence.

Did you always know the order in which the poems would be includ­ed in the book? Did that change how you thought about these illus­tra­tions?

I did. The order was giv­en to me at the begin­ning and is incred­i­bly impor­tant to con­sid­er. As I men­tioned pri­or, the images have to work sequen­tial­ly. There were numer­ous indi­vid­ual images that I was very fond of that I had to scrap as they did not fit the over­all flow.

Was there an illus­tra­tion that chal­lenged you the most?

Yes! There is an image of a girl look­ing out of a win­dow (appro­pri­ate­ly titled “At the Win­dow”) that took maybe 60 hours to sketch out then maybe 10 more to paint. In order to cap­ture the poem I had to cap­ture a pro­file shot of the girl from the side, as well as the top of the people’s heads. To do this I had to use a fish­eye warped per­spec­tive. Fig­ur­ing that out involved a lot of head scratching…and eras­ing!

Which of the illus­tra­tions in the book gives you the most plea­sure when you look at it now?

The one I just men­tioned. I bat­tled that pic­ture to get it right. I don’t always win those fights, but this one turned out well and the paint­ing of the girl might be one of my very best!

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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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Aimée Bissonette

Aimée BissonetteIn this inter­view with Aimée Bis­sonette, author of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Book­storm™ this monthwe asked about writ­ing and research­ing this non­fic­tion pic­ture book biog­ra­phy. 

Aimée, thank you for shar­ing your expe­ri­ences and dis­cov­er­ies with our read­ers. We’re excit­ed about this book that show­cas­es an Every­day Hero, one of America’s female light­house keep­ers.

Miss Colfax's LightWhen you were writ­ing this book, do you remem­ber edit­ing to include few­er details so the illus­tra­tor could do her work?

Yes, indeed! In fact, that’s half the joy of writ­ing pic­ture books — know­ing the illus­tra­tor will fill in so many details. Eileen Ryan Ewen’s  illus­tra­tions in this book pro­vide won­der­ful fac­tu­al mate­r­i­al. Harriet’s cloth­ing and house­hold items in the book are just like the things Har­ri­et would have worn and owned in the late 1800’s. I did not need to include descrip­tions in the text. Eileen includ­ed so much his­tor­i­cal detail in her illus­tra­tions.

How did you learn that some peo­ple in the city felt Har­ri­et “got her job only because her cousin was a U.S. Con­gress­man”?

In writ­ing the book, I did a lot of research. There were sev­er­al writ­ten accounts of Harriet’s life and the docents at the Light­house Muse­um had a trea­sure trove of infor­ma­tion about Har­ri­et. My favorite source of infor­ma­tion was Har­ri­et her­self. She kept a dai­ly jour­nal, called a log, start­ing in the 1870’s. The idea that Harriet’s cousin, Schuyler Col­fax, a U.S. Con­gress­man who lat­er became Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, helped Har­ri­et get her job was men­tioned fre­quent­ly in my sources. Specif­i­cal­ly, it is men­tioned in a 1904 Chica­go Tri­bune news­pa­per arti­cle by a reporter who inter­viewed Har­ri­et right before she retired.

Miss Colfax's Light log book

The author and illus­tra­tor chose to include depic­tions of Miss Colfax’s log book through­out the book.

There are short seg­ments of entries from Harriet’s jour­nal includ­ed through­out the book. Did you have to get per­mis­sion to use those? How did you know who to ask?

Those short seg­ments are entries from the “log” I men­tioned above. Har­ri­et main­tained that log as part of her offi­cial light­house keep­er duties so the log tech­ni­cal­ly is “owned” by the U.S. Gov­ern­ment. Her log is kept in the Nation­al Archives. I did not need to get per­mis­sion to use it because it is not pro­tect­ed by copy­right. Keep in mind, though, much of the mate­r­i­al a writer uncov­ers while doing research for a non­fic­tion book is pro­tect­ed by copy­right. Writ­ers need to be aware of this and ask per­mis­sion when they use oth­er people’s copy­right­ed work in the books they write.

Did you have to research the Light­house Board and the Light­house Inspec­tor before you could write this book?

The ref­er­ences in the book to the Light­house Board and Light­house Inspec­tor are based on Harriet’s log entries. There are many more log entries than are includ­ed in the book — 30 years’ worth, in fact! Read­ing them was tremen­dous­ly eye-open­ing. Har­ri­et referred often to the Board and the Inspec­tor in her entries. I did addi­tion­al read­ing about the Light­house Board and how light­hous­es were man­aged in the 1800’s, but most­ly relied on Harriet’s own words when writ­ing about the Board and Inspec­tor.

Oth­er than “I can do this,” there is no dia­logue in the book. Why did you choose to leave out dia­logue?

That’s a good ques­tion! I think the main rea­son is that, although I had Harriet’s log entries and her let­ters and I had a sense of what she might say and how she might say it, I didn’t know exact­ly what she would have said in a con­ver­sa­tion. I felt if I made up dia­logue, it would take away from the fac­tu­al accu­ra­cy of the book. We can’t even be 100% cer­tain that Har­ri­et would have thought or said “I can do this.” But giv­en all I learned about Har­ri­et — her dri­ve, her intel­li­gence, the hard­ships she faced — I felt it fit and I allowed that one excep­tion.

Miss Colfax's Light

What do you want read­ers to know that they didn’t know before from the text you wrote?

I want read­ers to think about Har­ri­et and oth­ers like her — the every­day heroes whose work makes life bet­ter for all of us. We don’t often think of light­house keep­ers as “heroes,” but the work Har­ri­et did was crit­i­cal to sea cap­tains and sailors and the peo­ple of Indi­ana who depend­ed on the goods brought in by ship. I also want read­ers to think about how Har­ri­et and many oth­er women of that time defied the restric­tions placed on women and did incred­i­ble things — all with­out the cool tech­nol­o­gy we have today.

Would you have cho­sen to do Harriet’s job if you were alive then?

I like to think that I would have, yes. I think there is a lit­tle bit of me in Har­ri­et. Like Har­ri­et, I love a good chal­lenge!

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Skinny Dip with Eric Rohmann

 

Today we wel­come author, illus­tra­tor, and Calde­cott medal­ist Eric Rohmann to Bookol­o­gy. He agreed to give us the skin­ny on sev­er­al top­ics of vital impor­tance.

Which celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

Dar­win, New­ton, William Blake … and so many oth­ers I’ll need a big cof­fee shop.

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

The Lost CarvingLate­ly, The Lost Carv­ing by David Ester­ly.

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

Pop­corn.

Favorite city to vis­it?

Vien­na, New York, Paris, Madrid, Sin­ga­pore … still gonna need a big cof­fee house in each one.

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

Trav­el­ing in the Amer­i­can west.

First date?

Some­time in the fog of High School.

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

Like a per­son could name just one!

red mug of coffeeTea? Cof­fee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Cof­fee.

Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

Autumn. Clear, cool, and col­or­ful.

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

The next one I have planned … so many places to see!

What gives you shiv­ers?

Good shiv­ers: watch­ing dogs run, Bad shiv­ers: con­ser­v­a­tive talk radio.

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

Morn­ing.

Paint­ing you could look at again and again.

Bosch’s Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights; any Rem­brandt self-por­trait; Cezanne’s apples; Delacroix’s The Death of Sar­danopo­lus … lots of wall space in the cof­fee shop!

gr_garden_of_earthly_delights

Hierony­mus Bosch, The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I can cook well, a lit­tle.

Milk DudsYour favorite can­dy as a kid …

Milk Duds.

Is Plu­to a plan­et?

Is Bron­tosaurus real­ly just a big Apatosaurus?

What’s the strangest tourist attrac­tion you’ve vis­it­ed?

Haw Par Vil­la in Sin­ga­pore.

Har Paw Villa

Har Paw Vil­la

Broth­er and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

Broth­er and sis­ter. Good: I was nev­er alone. Bad: I was nev­er alone.

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

Be curi­ous.

Your hope for the world?

Wish­ing for any­thing but peace would just be self­ish.

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Skinny Dip with Michael Hall

Red: a Crayon's StoryWhat is your proud­est career moment?

Sev­er­al months before the pub­li­ca­tion of my book, Red: A Crayon’s Sto­ry, The Wall Street Jour­nal pub­lished an edi­to­r­i­al bemoan­ing the “gen­der indus­tri­al com­plex,” “cul­tur­al war­riors,” and books—including mine—“that seek to engage the sym­pa­thies of young read­ers … and nudge the nee­dle of cul­ture.” I had writ­ten some­thing good enough to pro­voke the wrath of the WJS edi­to­r­i­al page. It was a proud moment, indeed.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

The first thing that comes to my mind is base­ball. But there are prob­lems.

First of all, base­ball isn’t an Olympic sport. (It became an offi­cial Olympic sport in 1992, but was oust­ed after the 2008 sum­mer Olympics.) Nev­er­the­less, since we’re talk­ing about fantasy—and since I have a rich fan­ta­sy life—this is rel­a­tive­ly easy to over­come. Let’s face it, if I can imag­ine the bald­ing, pot-bel­lied, six­ty-some­thing me grace­ful­ly climb­ing the wall in left field to rob a bat­ter of an extra-base hit (to the thun­der­ing approval of the crowd), I can cer­tain­ly imag­ine that base­ball has been rein­sti­tut­ed as an Olympic sport just in time for the sum­mer of 2016.

Michael Hall sports fantasyBut there’s a more dif­fi­cult prob­lem: Hav­ing spent much of my life imag­in­ing myself as a star left field­er for the Min­neso­ta Twins, my sta­tus as an ama­teur is clear­ly in doubt. If it came down to it, I wouldn’t sac­ri­fice my imag­i­nary Twins base­ball star sta­tus in order to imag­ine win­ning an Olympic gold medal for the Unit­ed States Olympic team.

So I’m going with table ten­nis.

What is your favorite line from a book?

In an old house in Paris that was cov­ered with vines lived twelve lit­tle girls in two straight lines.”

What keeps you up at night?

These pesky crea­tures called should’ves. I don’t know how they get into the house, but at night, they crawl into my bed and whis­per in my ear.

You should have done this, Michael.”

And frankly, you should have done that as well, Michael.”

This makes sleep­ing dif­fi­cult.

It’s well known that should’ves tire eas­i­ly. If you ignore them, they’ll fall asleep. So I thought I could just wait them out. But it’s less well known that they snore loud­ly. So, even while sleep­ing, they keep me awake.

One night, after the should’ves fell asleep—and were snor­ing horribly—I picked them up, put them in a shoe box, and took them out the back door. I went back to bed and was doz­ing off, when I was vis­it­ed by five angry shouldn’t’ves.

Michael, you should not have done that!”

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

It's an Orange AardvarkThe book with the most crisply drawn char­ac­ters is prob­a­bly It’s An Orange Aard­vark, a book about five car­pen­ter ants who awake to a noise out­side their dark nest in a tree stump. One ant tries to get clues as to what it is by drilling holes in the stump. As each new hole reveals a dif­fer­ent col­or, a sec­ond ant, who is con­vinced that it’s a hun­gry aard­vark, twists the infor­ma­tion to fit his pre­con­ceived belief, even as his ver­sion of the truth becomes more and more absurd.

For me, this was always a book about sci­en­tif­ic method. The hole-drilling ant is a wide-eyed, ded­i­cat­ed, ide­al­is­tic sci­en­tist. I think some­one like Toby Maguire would be per­fect for the role. (There is no love inter­est here. It’s a pic­ture book after all. But I’m sure a tal­ent­ed screen­writer could fix that.)

The sec­ond ant, the one who’s con­vinced an aard­vark awaits, is sort of a cross between Dick Cheney and Cliff Clavin from Cheers. I could sug­gest some­one like Willem Defoe, but I don’t want to play up the sin­is­ter part too much (it’s a pic­ture book, after all), so I’ll go with John Ratzen­berg­er from the Cheers cast. 

 

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Stephanie Roth Sisson

Stephanie Roth SissonThe first Princess Posey book was pub­lished in 2010. How long before that were you asked to illus­trate the book? And were the plans to have it be a sin­gle book at that time or were there already inten­tions to pub­lish more than one book about Posey?

Susan Kochan and Cecil­ia Yung at Pen­guin con­tact­ed me in Novem­ber of 2008 about the Princess Posey series. If I am remem­ber­ing this right, there were two books planned ini­tial­ly. The first book was well received, so I think that’s what expand­ed the series out.

Know­ing how impor­tant it is to have char­ac­ters in books look the same no mat­ter how they are stand­ing or sit­ting or mov­ing, how did you begin to cre­ate Posey’s look?

Princess Poeey and the Tiny TreasureStephanie Greene’s text cre­at­ed Princess Posey through her approach­able and clever text. After read­ing the first man­u­script, I thought that this is a real and relat­able kid- some­one we all know. As an aside, I loved that Posey’s fam­i­ly sit­u­a­tion is not explained. We don’t know why her father isn’t in the pic­ture. This isn’t a divorce book or a book about why dad isn’t there—her world is not about the absence of some­one. Posey has her fam­i­ly, her neigh­bors, friends, and a teacher who are lov­ing and nur­tur­ing and that’s enough.  

What type of draw­ing mate­ri­als and papers do you use when you’re illus­trat­ing the Posey sto­ries?

The Princess Posey illus­tra­tions are done tra­di­tion­al­ly with water­col­ors and paper. I do a lit­tle clean­ing up dig­i­tal­ly, but 90% or bet­ter is tra­di­tion­al media.

What do you think of dif­fer­ent­ly when cre­at­ing the black-and-white draw­ings and spot illus­tra­tions for Posey as opposed to cre­at­ing the illus­tra­tions for your newest book: Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mys­ter­ies of the Cos­mos?

Star StuffWhen I was work­ing on the illus­tra­tions for Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mys­ter­ies of the Cos­mos, I was prepar­ing for a life out­side of the U.S. on this lit­tle island called Mau­ri­tius. On Mau­ri­tius the air is humid (paper buck­les and molds) and qual­i­ty art mate­ri­als are dif­fi­cult to find,  plus ship­ping orig­i­nal art­work is an act of faith in an incred­i­bly unre­li­able ser­vice at best. I can’t even count on a let­ter mailed with­in Mau­ri­tius with clear­ly print­ed address­es to make it to its des­ti­na­tion. For Star Stuff, I used most­ly dig­i­tal media work­ing on a Wacom™ tablet with some scanned art—mostly for back­grounds. I need­ed to teach myself a method that I could use that could be uploaded to an FTP serv­er. I uploaded the book short­ly before we moved to Mau­ri­tius and it worked!

Do you keep a file of images, either on paper or dig­i­tal­ly, that helps you with ideas?

Yes, I have files for all of my books. I am also a big fan of Pin­ter­est. When­ev­er I find images that I think I can use I col­lect them. This is a great way to cre­ate a book.

Posey has three friends, a teacher, Miss Lee, and her moth­er and grand­fa­ther as main char­ac­ters. Do you orga­nize your infor­ma­tion about each of them in a par­tic­u­lar way? What form does those records take?

Princess PoseyI keep a file with images of Posey’s world. It con­tains maps of her neigh­bor­hood, draw­ings of her house, a floor­plan of her house and draw­ings of each room. I do a bit of the same for the oth­er char­ac­ters, not­ing what sort of cloth­ing they wear. For exam­ple, Nik­ki wears a lot of tunics and wears a head­band, Posey likes her bling.  I have scans of the char­ac­ters in var­i­ous posi­tions and have a “line up” draw­ing with their heights rel­a­tive to one anoth­er.

Do you feel that you know Posey and her world quite well now? Does it feel like a real place to you?

Yes, def­i­nite­ly. Her world sits as a com­plete place in my mind.

On your web­site, you wrote that Tomie dePao­la was the first illus­tra­tor who made you real­ize that you could have a job writ­ing and illus­trat­ing children’s books. What kind of train­ing did you go through to make you con­fi­dent in your work?

Tomie dePaolaYes, I was lucky to have met Tomie dePao­la when I was in ele­men­tary school. I haven’t received any for­mal art train­ing. My col­lec­tion of books for chil­dren grows by the year and includes most of my favorites from child­hood. I study those books. I love every­thing about them from the feel of the paper,  how the sto­ry is laid out, the the­ater of this thing we call a book. I began draw­ing (like most of us) as soon as I could hold a pen­cil, I’ve just nev­er stopped.

What books would you rec­om­mend to bud­ding illus­tra­tors?

Show Me a StoryStudy the books you love  and ask your­self why you like them. Study how the sto­ry unfolds, how we meet the char­ac­ters in the book, and what we can tell about the char­ac­ters from the pic­tures. I’ve noticed that many suc­cess­ful illus­tra­tors come from a film back­ground. Watch movies and see what kind of light­ing is used to set a mood, how scenes are framed and how things are paced to height­en the emo­tion of the sto­ry. As a sto­ry­teller, my num­ber one focus is always the emo­tion­al con­nec­tion between the read­er and the char­ac­ters and the sto­ry. As far as books go, there are so many! Leonard Mar­cus has writ­ten some gems about chil­drens’ lit­er­a­ture, I love read­ing biogra­phies of illus­tra­tors and writ­ers for inspi­ra­tion, too. My first stop though in this process of becom­ing a cre­ator of con­tent for chil­dren is the SCBWI (Soci­ety of Children’s Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors).    

Stephanie, it has been a joy to come to know Posey through the visu­als you cre­ate. Many of them show ten­der­ness, humor, and joy … all of which young read­ers appre­ci­ate. Thank you for shar­ing your tal­ents with us.

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The Classics, Galdone-Style

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Folk Tale Classics Treasury GaldoneAre you look­ing for a show­er or baby gift that will be appre­ci­at­ed for a long time? A good birth­day present for a young child?

The Folk Tale Clas­sics Trea­sury, inter­pret­ed and illus­trat­ed by Paul Gal­done (HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2013), is a good place for par­ents to start with retellings of west­ern Euro­pean folk tales. The sto­ries includ­ed here are impor­tant for cul­tur­al aware­ness. Through­out their lives, chil­dren will hear ref­er­ences to the Three Lit­tle Kit­tens (“and you shall have no pie”) and Goldilocks and the Three Bears (“that por­ridge was just right”) so it’s good to intro­duce them to these sto­ries ear­ly.

The Three Little Kittens

In his Lit­tle Red Hen, won­der­ful depic­tions of the cat, dog, mouse, and an alarmed and frus­trat­ed hen add insou­ciance to the sto­ry that both chil­dren and adults will enjoy. Deli­cious details in each draw­ing make it fun to read with some­one by your side.

Little Red Hen

In his ver­sion of The Three Lit­tle Pigs, the big, bad wolf is wily but Pig No. 3 is even smarter, in a sat­is­fy­ing way that will have you cheer­ing.

The bears in his Goldilocks tale are hand­some and smart. We see their tale from the point of view of a fam­i­ly who is wronged by a mis­chie­vous lit­tle girl with gold­en locks who is both unthink­ing and care­less. Where are her man­ners?!

The Three Bil­ly Goats Gruff and The Gin­ger­bread Boy round out the sto­ries includ­ed in this vol­ume. These are tales that have been passed down for gen­er­a­tions, remem­bered fond­ly, but also under­stood.

Pig No. 3 was cau­tious and clever, the lit­tle Red Hen indus­tri­ous and just, and the biggest Bil­ly Goat Gruff proves that you should be care­ful who you chal­lenge.

Paul Gal­done was born in Budapest, Hun­gary, in 1907, but after 1928 lived in New York and Ver­mont where he illus­trat­ed more than 300 books. His first illus­trat­ed book was Miss Pick­erell Goes to Mars in 1951. In the sec­ond half of the last cen­tu­ry, his work was ubiq­ui­tous, and much loved. Reis­su­ing this vol­ume will cre­ate a new gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren who pic­ture these sto­ries with his illus­tra­tions. Mr. Gal­done died in 1986. You can find more infor­ma­tion about him at the Ker­lan Col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, where a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of his orig­i­nal art and work­ing mate­ri­als is pre­served. You’ll also find a good deal of infor­ma­tion on his memo­r­i­al web­site.

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I’m not ready for school!”

Dad's First DayI minored in the­atre in col­lege, where I crossed the street from Augs­burg to attend Arthur Bal­let’s leg­endary his­to­ry of the­atre class at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta.

Lessons learned in that class came rush­ing back as I savored Mike Wohnout­ka’s Dad’s First Day because it struck me how well this book would play as the­atre of the absurd.

Mike is a keen observ­er of behav­ior, know­ing what will delight kids … and their par­ents. Turn­ing that first day of school on its ear, show­ing that, truth­ful­ly, par­ents are just as wor­ried as the child is, pro­vides good fun, dis­cuss­able emo­tions, and a nat­ur­al lead-in to con­ver­sa­tions.

The dad’s behav­ior is drawn in friend­ly, real­is­ti­cal­ly com­ic style with a var­ied palette of gouache paint. His reac­tions are absurd. Kids will rec­og­nize that and whoop with acknowl­edg­ment. Dad is endear­ing and so is the lit­tle boy who non­cha­lant­ly, even dis­play­ing con­fi­dence, can’t wait to expe­ri­ence his first day at school. 

Word choic­es make this a good read-aloud while the illus­tra­tions make this a good side-by-side book. And you must find the ref­er­ences to three of Mike’s pre­vi­ous books in the illus­tra­tions. I found six … can you find more?

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for par­ents, grand­par­ents, care­givers, and preschool edu­ca­tors.

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Chris Van Dusen: Illustrating Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

 

Chris Van Dusen

Chris Van Dusen

Leroy Ninker first appeared in Mer­cy Wat­son Fights Crime as the crim­i­nal. Did you con­scious­ly change his appear­ance for Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up to make him a more sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter?

I’m not sure that I con­scious­ly changed his appear­ance. I tried to make him look like the same char­ac­ter. In the orig­i­nal series he was wear­ing a robber’s mask which gave him a slight­ly sin­is­ter look. Since he’s now a “reformed thief” I removed the mask which made him a warmer and more like­able char­ac­ter which is more fit­ting for the sto­ry.

Your palette for the Deck­a­woo Dri­ve books has a retro feel­ing. What do you think decid­ed you on work­ing with the col­ors you use in those books and now Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up?

The orig­i­nal Mer­cy Wat­son Series def­i­nite­ly did have a retro feel. The col­ors I used were sim­i­lar to those that appeared in the pic­ture books I grew up with – col­ors that were pop­u­lar in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. The new series has BW inte­ri­or art but I end­ed up paint­ing the pic­tures in the same method using gouache.

Cover Sketch

Sketch of a reject­ed cov­er idea for Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up

When Leroy runs through the neigh­bor­hood to res­cue May­belline, you use a flu­id line to indi­cate his rapid motion. For young read­ers who’d love to draw their own sto­ries, how did you learn to con­vey action in this way?

Motion lines are a clas­sic car­toon way of show­ing move­ment. I prob­a­bly picked this up from my ear­ly inter­est in com­ic strips and ani­ma­tion.

How is illus­trat­ing a chap­ter book dif­fer­ent from illus­trat­ing a pic­ture book?

In a pic­ture book there are few­er words, so the illus­tra­tions have to tell more of the sto­ry. Also, pic­ture book illus­tra­tions are usu­al­ly larg­er, often a full spread. In a chap­ter book, the illus­tra­tions sup­port the text rather than tell the sto­ry.

What words of advice would you share to encour­age young illus­tra­tors who’d like to fol­low in your foot­steps?

 You can do it. But you have to keep draw­ing. Good draw­ing skills are the basis for any career as an illus­tra­tor, ani­ma­tor, car­toon­ist, painter, etc. 

interior sketch

A pre­lim­i­nary sketch
for the spread on pages 86 and 87.

 

 

 

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The Scraps Book

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life

Some­times I want to walk right into the pages of a book, know every­thing the author knows, share their life­time of expe­ri­ences, and be able to emu­late their cre­ativ­i­ty. Scraps: Notes from a Col­or­ful Life makes me feel that way. I’ve even enjoyed the feel­ing and tex­ture of the paper because I want in! For […]

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Gifted: Arlo’s ARTrageous Adventure!

Arlo’s ARTra­geous Adven­tures! writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by David LaRochelle Ster­ling Children’s Pub­lish­ing, 2013 If you’re con­sid­er­ing gifts for the hol­i­day sea­son … (book #1 in our series of Gift­ed rec­om­men­da­tions) … No mat­ter how unin­ter­est­ing Arlo’s elder­ly rel­a­tive insists on mak­ing their trip to the muse­um with her warn­ings to be seri­ous and qui­et and […]

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