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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | watercolor

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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Apples, Well-Being, and Family

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieBring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Sto­ry about Edna Lewis is a mem­o­rable book about grow­ing food through­out the sea­sons and liv­ing off the land in Vir­ginia. Wild straw­ber­ry, purslane, dan­de­lions, sas­safras, hon­ey. As spring rides the breeze into sum­mer, this extend­ed fam­i­ly tends to their larder, tak­ing full advan­tage of the fruits, nuts, and veg­eta­bles grow­ing around them. Sum­mer sub­dues itself into fall. Time to bring in the corn and beans, take a last har­vest of pecans before win­ter sets in.

This way of life may be unfa­mil­iar to a large per­cent­age of chil­dren, but even though the book is set in the 1920s, every­thing about the sto­ry feels con­tem­po­rary. Per­haps it is a way of life that with­stands time.

Food is the focus because this is a glimpse of the ear­ly life of Edna Lewis, renowned chef and South­ern cook­book author. As the author and water­col­or illus­tra­tor Rob­bin Gour­ley writes, “But her most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion was to make peo­ple aware of the impor­tance of pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of grow­ing and prepar­ing food and of bring­ing ingre­di­ents direct­ly from the field to the table.” With our cur­rent resur­gence of inter­est in a farm-to-table lifestyle, this book is a good way to talk about food and nutri­tion with your chil­dren.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Bake You a Pie

Quite a few tra­di­tion­al say­ings are includ­ed in the book:

Rac­coon up the pecan tree.
Pos­sum on the ground.
Rac­coon shake the pecans down.
Pos­sum pass ‘em round.”

Your mouth will water so much while you’re read­ing this book that you’ll be glad there are five recipes in the back of the book, from Straw­ber­ry Short­cake to Pecan Drops.

The water­col­or illus­tra­tions through­out are charm­ing and infor­ma­tive, warm and lov­ing. The col­or palette of clear, bright tones adds to the feel­ing of health and well-being.

It’s a worth­while addi­tion to your home, school, or pub­lic library.

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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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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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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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