Grandmother Thorn + an interview with illustrator Rebecca Hahn

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by Katey Howes and Rebecca Hahn (Ripple Grove Press, 2017)

One of the best parts of the book world is its people, and the joy of celebrating their books’ entrance to the world. The author of this book, Katey Howes, has been a friend for a long while, and we’ve both been fans of Rebecca’s work. I had some questions for them both.

Meet Rebecca!

When, how, or why did you get into picture books?

As an artist, I have always had a few lofty goals – as most artists do. The ultimate achievements so to say. One of those has been to illustrate a children’s book, I just didn’t know when or how this would ever happen.

A few years after working as a Character Artist with Disney, I got the opportunity to freelance with Random House Publishing illustrating a few of the Pooh Adorable’s board books. It wasn’t using my own style but I still jumped at the chance. I had to match the Pooh Adorable’s books already published and of course be on model with the Pooh Characters, but it was still a really fun experience. It was nice to work on a job that didn’t have a super quick turn around and longer lasting power than magazine illustrations. The Pooh Adorable’s books ran through their ideas after 5 books with me and the project was completed.

After working on the Pooh books, I continued to freelance, dipped my toe into making merchandise and moved on to showing my personal artwork in galleries. (Another of my lofty goals.) It wasn’t until a few years after my son was born that I was introduced to Ripple Grove Press and given the chance to illustrate a book with my own imagery and style.

How did Grandmother Thorn come to you as a manuscript, and what were your first thoughts about the text?

My husband works for Laika and had heard that RPG was looking for an illustrator through the grapevine and the rest is history. Lucky for me, It was the right time and the right fit.

I thought Grandmother Thorn was a mature story, but that younger kids could still connect to the struggles of perfectionism and control. These issue seem to be important lessons through all of life’s phases! I could also relate to those struggles personally and I felt a deep connection to Grandmother Thorn in this way.

Can you tell us about your process?

People tend to think that my illustrations are done on a computer. They are actually all done by hand. Hand sewn, painted, and pieced together.

First, I do a lot of research. I can not really draw something repeatedly and from different angles until I really know it. So I make a Pinterest board and do lots of sketching to just get a feel for the subject.

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Next, I get to know my characters. This was a collaboration between the publisher, Rob Broder and myself. We went back and forth several times to get Grandmother Thorn and Ojiisan just right.

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After finishing the page thumbnails, I work with layers and layers of tracing paper over my rough drawings to clean up the final drawings.

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After the final drawings, I transfer the characters onto paper to paint and then cut out.

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Then I pick out papers, colors, and textures that might go well with each page and start the process of piecing together.

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The parts for each layout are sometimes cut out like pattern pieces for a quilt.

I plan out the stitches and pre-poke the holes for any sewing that will need to be done. The paper would tear and I would never be able to get a needle through the layers if I didn’t.

From here, it’s all just a trial and error process of creating my “puzzle pieces” as I go. I mostly use Yes Paste to combine the parts of my illustrations. It works the best with all of the different materials and thicknesses of papers.

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For this final spread when we see Grandmother Thorn enjoying the beauty of her “imperfect” garden, I ended up having to color code the leaves so that I could keep track of all of the pieces when they were cut out! I thought that I might be truly crazy as I cut out each berry for that layout.

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Sometimes all of this detailed work and late nights will make me a little crazy, but luckily I have a little studio buddy (and very vocal art director) to keep me connected to the here and now. :)

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Who are some of your story heroes?

Johnny Boo books by James Kochalka, Hug Machine, XO, Ox, East Dragon West Dragon illustrated by Scott Cambell, The Sea Serpent and Me illustrator Catia Chien, comic book artist Chris Ware, Mouk, the Mr. Bud series by Carter Goodrich, and artist Souther Salazar.

What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

I have an unframed print of James Jean’s called Chang’e. The arrows make me think about how changes can be painful but the figure looks so strong, that she can handle them. I also love the little gallery that has formed under my desk. My son and husband are the artists.

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What’s next for you?

My next project is still top secret. I can tell you that I’m working with the wonderful writer Kelly Thompson to create a picture book series. We have known each other for a long time and are very excited to get a chance to work on a project together.

I hope to find time to continue making my personal artwork and I plan on embellishing prints of my personal work with embroidery and other fun additions to make them unique and more accessible to a larger audience. I can never just work on one thing.

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Isn’t that incredible?

Grandmother Thorn is such a lovely book, and seeing how the art was made is so fascinating. I asked the author, a debut, what it was like to see text she’d written illustrated in this way, and what it felt like to see for the first time. Here’s what Katey had to say:

Making picture books is such a collaborative journey, and it takes a lot of trust. Once your words are acquired by a publishing house, you have to have faith that your editor and publishing team have a vision that brings out the best in your story. I was blessed and lucky that Rob and Amanda Broder, at Ripple Grove Press, not only had a vision for Grandmother Thorn, but also that their vision was open enough to allow Rebecca’s talent and creativity to really flow. Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 1.17.36 PM

I had been inspired to write Grandmother Thornby the nature in my own backyard, and by the woodblock art (or ukiyo-e) of the Japanese artist Hiroshige. Looking back, I think I hoped that the illustrations would somehow do justice to those influences. And I hoped for an illustrator who could make the garden appear as if it, too, was a character in the story. From the moment my editor sent me the first glimpses of Rebecca’s work on the book, I knew she was capable of doing all these things and more. I was a little surprised by the style. But it was such a good surprise! If I had thought at all about the actual medium in which the book would be illustrated, I suppose I imagined watercolors. (I’m not sure why.) What Rebecca created with multimedia was so much better than the vague images in my mind – so layered, and detailed, and original. Her art elevated my words to a new level. I continue to be awed by how meticulous and beautiful her work is.

Picture books, you guys. They are something special.

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A Different Pond

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by Bao Phi and Thi Bui (Capstone Young Readers)

Here’s an intimate look at a family’s traditions in a new place. It’s familiar, but not. Home, but not.

A young boy and his father head out on an early morning adventure full of streetlights and stories and minnows.

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They park by a pond. Under the stars. In the dark.

For fish.

For food.

For America is expensive.

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Around a fire, the boy eats bologna. The dad remembers Vietnam. The pair. The pond.

The book is full of cool, dark blues. Warm, bright light. Calm and comfort. Home and home.

Both Phi and Bui came to America as small children, escaping Vietnam and heading toward hopeful futures. Their experience reflected here is a reminder for all of us—one of our ability to welcome and to love. A reminder of our humanity.

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Thanks to Capstone Young Readers for the images in this post. 

Ada’s Ideas + an interview with Fiona Robinson

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by Fiona Robinson (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016)

Here is a look at a stunning new book about Ada Lovelace, from a stunning illustrator whose work I have completely fallen for. I got to talk to Fiona about her new book, and I’m excited to introduce you to both of these leading ladies! And so:

How did you come to know and love Ada Lovelace’s story?

I first came across Ada Lovelace in a slightly circuitous manner. I had seen the play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, and was enthralled by a lead character, Thomasina. Thomasina is a Regency era child genius – a girl brilliant at maths, physics and engineering. Though she seemed an impossible character, I fell in love with her and the idea of a girl like her existing in that era.

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Later I read that Stoppard may have based his character on one Ada Lovelace, little known in the mainstream world, but deeply respected in the world of computer science as the world’s first computer programmer. Thomasina existed!

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The more I read about Ada the more I fell for her…

I’m so happy that Ada’s Ideas is in our gallery of Undies. Is there a story behind how the case cover evolved for your book?

I’m so excited that the case cover for Ada’s Ideas is in The Undies Gallery! Initially we were thinking of stretching the horse image around the book, but the proportions didn’t fit the format. I’d already made the endpapers, based on Jacquard loom hole-punched cards, which were what Ada’s program was based on. The endpapers seem to me very abstract and elegant. I first saw such cards when visiting the Silk Museums in Macclesfield, UK, and adored them then.

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Abrams designer Alyssa Nassner suggested we take the endpapers to wrap around the entire case cover, and I loved it! The contrast between the cover and case cover really encompasses the spirit of the book to me – imaginative young Ada on her flying horse, then the cool but beautiful math of the hole punched cards.

Can you tell us about your process?

With the art for Ada’s Ideas I wanted to try something new – 3 dimensional images, which I hoped would capture a little of the Victorian era, and the drama and theatricality of Ada’s life.

This involved drawing out the images, then painting them with my favorite Japanese watercolors.

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I then cut out the images very carefully with an X-Acto blade. I used over 500 blades to produce all the cut images for the book!

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Once cut, I layered all the images for each spread to different heights using my son’s Lego bricks and glued them in place.

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Then each spread was photographed.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

Hmmmm, story heroes…

My all time favorite children’s book has to be Humbert by John Burningham. It’s about a carthorse who dreams of pulling the Lord Mayor’s golden coach in a parade. It’s truly wonderful.

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One of my favorite pages has Humbert’s owner, Mr Firkin, drinking a pint in the pub (that’s not a scene we’d see nowadays in kid’s books!). But I loved the book as a child because Humbert is a working class hero. And John Burningham’s illustrations are still captivating to me.

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I’m also a huge fan of Edward Lear, especially his Nonsense Botany!

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What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

I have a few pieces of art at home I treasure, but at the moment my favorite is this cyanotype (or sun print). I created it with my boyfriend Jay. We coated paper with two mixed chemicals, then placed the paper out on a fiercely sunny day with some anemones I’d just bought from Chelsea Flower Market laid on top. We left them in the sun for 4 minutes, then washed the paper in cold water. And we got this. It was quick, simple and I love the end result!

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What’s next for you?

My next book concerns cyanotypes too!

Again I’m researching a Victorian woman for a non-fiction picture book… and I’m really excited about it!
This time the story is that of Anna Atkins, who created the world’s first photographic book. In 1843 she put together a book of cyanotypes of British seaweed. It is stunning. There’s only about 13 left in the world, but I got to hold and look through one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this year.

Here is an image from my research (note my gloved hands!):

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I’m still in the early stages of doodling and sketching for the art. Here’s a few samples.

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I may even do the illustrations as cyanotypes, hand tinting them, as below.

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Thank you, Fiona! Such an honor to have your work here today.

 

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Thanks to Fiona Robinson and Abrams Books for Young Readers for the images used in this post.

 

House Held Up By Trees

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by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klaassen (Candlewick, 2012)

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Above, the endpapers. A subtle hint at the both the hope and the loss inside: the green, the growth, the time.

House Held Up By Trees is one of my most treasured books. It was published around the time that Jon Klassen was racking up accolades (well-deserved!) for I Want My Hat Back and Extra Yarn, and it was written by a Ted Kooser, a Poet Laureate from about a decade ago.

That is a powerful team. And they captured a quietly powerful story.

There’s a house. It doesn’t look like much. But a dad lives there. Two kids. The dad is particular about his lawn and the kids run off to play in the trees and scraggly underbrush on either side of the house. Their yard, after all, has no secret spots or shade.

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These opening spreads are beautifully cinematic. Sweeping and grand. We are spinning around this house, this focal point, seeing it from the perspective of a homecoming, a hiding spot, and a thing with fur.

If you are a picture book author of text only, you’ve probably heard the advice to make sure you have x number of illustratable settings. Well. This book has a house. And a lawn. And characters that come and go. It breaks some of the ‘rules,’ but to heck with those things. Write something beautiful. 

Something important. Something that has to be told and illustrated or else it will be scattered away with those twirly-whirly seeds.

The words are not spare in this text. In fact, there are many. But because of Kooser’s text, lyrically floating around a solid foundation, Klassen gets to explore all angles of this environment.

Page after page after page. It’s a case study in composition. And it is beautiful and important and elusive.

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The children leave. The father leaves. The house stays.

It is bittersweet. Time goes on, but trees do too.

What once was vast and open and contained is now crowded by branches and forceful new life. And again, Klassen’s compositions tell the story of an unbridled wildness.

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First there was a crack of light beneath it, and then . . . 

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PS: Do you know this blog, 32 Pages? Here’s a look at House Held Up By Trees that is beyond beautiful, and in a funny twist of small-world-ness, I worked on the television show she mentions in her post. 

Jill & Dragon

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by Lesley Barnes (Tate, 2015)

You’ve got to see this book. And you’ve got to stick around for some extras from Lesley Barnes, its author and illustrator.

It begins on the endpapers.

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Once upon a time there lived a terrible dragon.

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And then on the title page, we can guess that we’ve just seen a snippet of this girl’s book. You can tell she’s a book lover by that throne of books she’s sitting atop. (Keep an eye on Dog throughout the pages. He’s not too sure about all of this.)

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By the time the story starts, we’re already in the middle of it.

We’re already sympathetic to this big, pink, dragon who’s dripping with knights and the letters from his story. But Jill, sweet Jill, with patterned pants equally as eye-catching as Dragon’s, ropes him up and invites him out of his story and into hers.

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It’s the tea party that changes everything.

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It’s that tea party that makes room for an exquisite gatefold and a happy ending.

It’s a meta tale that’s dazzling and dreamy and unexpected and just plain wonderful. What Lesley Barnes accomplishes with this color palette and style is nothing short of design time travel.

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(The previous three pictures provided by Lesley. Many thanks!)

I asked Lesley about her inspirations for this story, and she’s graciously given us this sneak peek behind the scenes.

As for what inspired her style for this book? These.

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Even better, these guys.

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That’s Frank and Pumpkin, Lesley’s dogs. On the left is Frank, who inspired Dragon’s look, and Pumpkin, who inspired Dog’s. Jill & Dragon is even dedicated to this duo!

One of my favorite things about books is when other art is inspired by its own. Like this fabulous Dog brooch, exquisitely crafted by Lesley’s friend, Jennifer Loiselle. 

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And how about this creation by the Felt Mistress herself, Louise Evans? Incredible.

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Untame your inspiration along with this trio. Use your talents wisely.

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Be Glad Your Dad…(Is Not an Octopus!) + An Interview with Sara Jensen

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by Matthew Logelin and Sara Jensen; illustrated by Jared Chapman (Little, Brown, 2016)

Once upon a time, I started this blog. It worked fine and looked nice until it didn’t anymore, and that’s when a superhero named Sara Jensen came to the rescue of this damsel in distress. She’s the genius behind the Book Party (seriously, click it), has the most heart-able Instagram feed out there, and is an extraordinary human with a huge, huge heart.

And then she told me she also wrote a book for kids.

I’ve been looking forward to it ever since.

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Dads. Endearing and embarrassing. Equal parts hilarious and heartfelt, which is exactly what this book is all about.

So while most of the time you’re glad your dad is your dad, let’s not forget there are times when he is a grouch and a grump and a total groaner. But even then, at least he’s not a dog who’d lick your face to say hello.

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The text is sharp and funny and allows for scene after outlandish scene to unfold. Each spread is an entire act by itself–vignettes set with understated props that balance the highly expressive characters. All of this action is wham-bammed in front of a brightly lit backdrop, perfectly setting the scene.

This kid’s hopes for a cool dad, melted away with the drips of that cone itself. Can’t you see it in both of their eyes?

Like we said. Dads.

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And at the end, a closer look at these oddball animals and the facts that make them everything you’re glad your dad is not. Pick up this one along with Pink is for Blobfish, and you’re set for a storytime celebrating all of your favorite wonderful, weirdo animals.

Fun, right?

I asked Sara a little more about this book, and I’m so happy to welcome her out from behind the scenes of this blog. Meet Sara Jensen, friends!

CH: How did this book happen?

SJ: It’s funny, I have never ever thought of myself as a writer and I am not sure I even do now. This book was written with my good friend Matt Logelin, who had previously published a memoir called Two Kisses For Maddy. From the moment Matt and I met, we realized that we for sure had the same style of parenting/talking to our children. We also for sure had some cocktails involved.

Late at night at a bar in my small island town we talked about how our kids didn’t think that we were very cool. I am the QUEEN of the “would you rather game”, where you force somebody to make a choice between two awful things. We started thinking about a G-rated version of it, where we’d ask our kids if they’d rather have us as parents or some kind of obnoxious animal. The ideas came fast and furious after that until we’d filled up dozens of notecards.

It helped that Matt had written a grownup book before too. We also had amazing editors at Little, Brown who helped us every step of the way.

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CH: Do you have plans to write more books for kids?

SJ: I’d love to write another children’s book with Matt. Matt and I have such an easy time bouncing ideas off of each other. We think in the same way enough to make it pleasurable but are also different enough to give each other a hard time. We both love our kids so much and are so inspired by them.

I’m just now realizing that all three of our kids have lived through very intense early lives: Maddy with the loss of her mother the day after she was born, Rose being adopted from foster care, and Henry with an early diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. Despite all of this they have tremendous hearts, are super sharp, and are so insanely hilarious. Way cooler than Matt and I will ever be and they are only 8 years old.

CH: What did you and Matthew think when you first saw Jared’s illustrations?

SJ: Oh, it took a while to find the right illustrator. We saw a lot of work by so many talented people. The moment we saw Jared’s work we both got so excited. I think that we tried to be kind of cool about it, but Im pretty sure my reply had several exclamation marks and that Matt’s voice cracked he was so happy. Jared is so funny and had a big beard, which Matt and I both value a lot. I’m working on my beard right now, I feel a little left out. Illustration is SO critical to making or breaking a book. We are so thankful for Jared. Jared has been sharing his concept sketches of BGYD on his Instagram, its so amazing to see the process.

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CH: What books are your kids loving right now? And related: what book do you remember the best from growing up? And is it still something you think about now?

SJ: Currently Henry is reading the Edible Selby, Serengeti (a book about Africa), some fish guide about reef fish that a professor of Marine Biology lent him when we went to their house for dinner. His favorite baby books were New Socks (he would CRY to make read that book over and over) and The Little Island.

Rose is currently reading Wonder, Sisters Grimm, and Harriet the Spy. Her favorite younger book (we met Rose when she was 3) is Rosie Revere, Engineer.

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CH: What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

SJ: We have a lot of old artwork in our house. Lots of photographs, old French cartoons that had been my grandfather’s. I also love American and Mexican retablos. I love buying weird little paintings off of people on the street. We have a tiny nude that is in our bathroom, I can’t really explain why I love it, I just do.

I also have this piece that Rosie made of Henry sitting on the toilet. She had worked on a “kindness quilt” at school, each child had to illustrate an act of kindness they had showed another person.

When I walked by it in the hallway at school I laughed so hard. It was her brother sitting on the toilet, and it said “I Pote trand my brother when i was littl.” I potty trained my brother when I was little. It’s so funny to me still, and totally true. They are two months apart and she got him out of diapers within a week of moving in with us. She is amazing.

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CH: What else should we know about you?

SJ: I am a very involved in the Type 1 diabetes community as a result of my son’s diagnosis at age 5. I am the creative director and a council member of Beyond Type 1, a nonprofit that works to raise awareness and fund an eventual cure.

I am also the creative director for interior designer and TV host Genevieve Gorder. She is so great to work with and so supportive of my outside interests, I’m so lucky to know her.

I am working on a side project in honor of Rose too, it will have to do with foster care and she and I are still working on the specifics.

CH: What sort of story influences do you have as a designer?

SJ: Even thought I insist I am not a writer I have always been a storyteller. Both of my parents were. I also love the idea of being able to tell a story with only pictures, letting the reader realize the words, and the idea of having a story just written and having the reader think of the imagery.

I have a major problem with seeing movies based on books. I’m always worried that they won’t honor the parts of the book that were so important to me.

Because my husband is a graphic novelist I have grown to really like some of them, I wouldn’t say that I am a fan but I loved the Buddha series by Osamu Tezuka and recently a heartbreaking book called Rosalie Lightning written by our friend Tom Hart about the loss of his child.

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Thank you, Sara! (She’s pretty great, right?)
Be sure to pick up Be Glad Your Dad…(Is Not an Octopus!) which is out today!
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A Morning With Grandpa

by Sylvia Liu and Christina Forshay (Lee & Low, 2016)

Here’s a book I have been looking forward to for a long time, thanks to the close knit and dear friendships the book community creates online. It has been such fun to sneak peeks behind the scenes of both Sylvia and Christina’s work, and I am so happy to have them both on the blog today.

Christina’s color palette of dreamy pastels in the ground and sky meets the brightly hued flowers in the same way that Sylvia’s calm and serene Grandpa meets the bouncy energy of Mei Mei herself. The text and the art is gently and joyously matched, and it’s a beautiful story that spans generations and their peaceful mornings.

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First up, some questions for Sylvia:

Tell us a little about the story behind A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. Where did the idea come from and how did it evolve?

I got the idea when I was in Vermont on a family vacation watching my dad do qi gong and tai chi and teaching my daughters breathing techniques.

In my first draft, Gong Gong taught Mei Mei qi gong and tai chi, and she taught him how to make lemonade. My critique group gave me some great suggestions. Elaine Kiely Kearns suggested that Mei Mei teach him yoga instead. Reneé LaTulippe encouraged me to develop the lyrical language. I also got a professional critique from an agent through a Writer’s Digest course, and she suggested omitting the qi gong part to streamline the story.

After the story was accepted by Lee & Low, my editor Jessica Echeverría and I polished the manuscript for several months. We swapped out different poses, word-smithed every line, and went through about eleven drafts.

How does it feel to see your words gain another life with pictures?

I am humbled that Christina spent so much time bringing the story to life so beautifully. Before I saw her illustrations, I imagined the story could be illustrated in any number of ways, from a soft watercolor look to a bright, lively style. I’m so glad Lee & Low picked Christina, who really captured the essence of the story. Now I can’t imagine the story any other way. I am thrilled and in love with the pictures.

Who are some of your story heroes?

Those who do that magical thing with words and images that transport me to a different place like Shaun Tan (THE LOST THING, RULES OF SUMMER, and THE ARRIVAL are favorites), Neil Gaiman (SANDMAN series), and Diana Wynne Jones (HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE). Those who teach me something I didn’t know in a surprising visual way like Gene Luen Yang (BOXERS & SAINTS) and Max Brooks/Canaan White (THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS).

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And next up, Christina:

One thing that’s so interesting about your illustrations is their dynamic compositions. Can you talk a little about that and if you have any influences in film or TV? 

Yes, film and tv have a huge influence on me and my work! I’ve always been interested in how lighting, camera angle and staging creates drama and intrigue in a composition. As I got into high school, I took a film class and learned about how the composition of a scene can be symbolic and help evoke emotion in the viewer. I actually wrote a super long 15 page paper on the symbolism and drama Steven Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski created in Schindler’s List. I was super into it!

Then in college while studying illustration, I took more film classes and a few storyboarding classes where I really learned about and practiced the art of composing dramatic scenes for television and film. I try to infuse what I learned in those classes in my illustrations as well.

What were your initial ideas for the art after you read the text, and how much did they evolve over the course of making the book?

When I read the manuscript for the first time, I remember being excited about Mei Mei’s spunky character. I knew she was going to be the driving force for keeping the compositions active. I had to figure out a way to balance her energetic spirit with Gong Gong’s calm and tranquil personality. I think one of the main themes of the story is how opposing energies can be symbiotic, so I knew I had to create scenes that showed the strengths of each of their personalities and how they mesh together.

When I was in the final stages of the art, I noticed most spreads actually stayed pretty similar to the initial sketches I turned in. There was a lot of refining of the look of characters over the course of the book, but in terms of staging and composition, the final art stayed very close to my original ideas. You can compare these images to see how the original small-scale thumbnail sketch evolved into the final art.

The very first thumbnail sketch (about 1″x 2″)  I turned in for one of the spreads along with the final image.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

My story heroes come from all forms of art: from music to art to writing. Bruce Springsteen is one of my favorite storytellers. All of his songs are stories and always contain a cast of characters. Also Brad Bird is an amazing storyteller. He wrote a short animation called “The Family Dog” which blew my mind when I was 10. It still blows my mind actually! From the kidlit world, there are so many storytellers whose work I admire: Jon Klassen, Adam Rex, Lizbeth Zwerger, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Jon Scieszka are a few from my long list of heroes. I am constantly looking for inspiration in new places!

A big thank you to Sylvia and Christina!

For more about this beautiful book and its creators, be sure to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour. You can find all of the celebration here. cs

Sylvia Liu is an environmental lawyer turned children’s author and illustrator. A MORNING WITH GRANDPA is her debut picture book as an author. She is inspired by oceans, aliens, cephalopods, and more. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and their two daughters. Visit her online at enjoyingplanetearth.com.

Christina Forshay was born and raised in sunny California, where she lives with her amazing husband and the two cutest kids in the world! Of course, as a child she could be found drawing, coloring, and admiring her grand collection of crayons. Christina graduated from California State University Long Beach with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration in 2002. Since then, she has been proudly working as an illustrator for the children’s market. Seriously, what could be more fun?!?

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Waiting

waiting by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 2015)

Usually towards the end of the year I have trouble picking a favorite picture book from that year. It’s this one! No, this one. Oh wait, that one too. That might sound familiar if you are a picture book person. It happens. But this year, without a twitch or a doubt or a no, but wait, it’s this one. It’s so perfect it hurts.

Waiting.

It’s one of those things that happens this time of year, which is why this book’s fall release feels like such a good decision. Tis the season, after all.

The cover, a window to the world beyond the sill where these five sit. It takes a real genius to smoosh so much emotion into one small dot of an eye and a pink dab for a cheek, but do you see that bunny? So much hope and wonder while he waits, right? Only Kevin Henkes.

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The colors here are beautiful. A muted pastel palette brought together by the richest brown endpapers, a brown that’s the color of his line throughout. It all feels both lush and spare and inviting.

Each one had their thing, and each one was happy.

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Their faces, looking on these gifts with such curiosity and tenderness. So much so that it feels like these figurines are entirely real. That’s what the lack of art in context does. The rest of the room falls away so that all of our eyes look out. Nothing else matters but the waiting and the friends.

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The pacing is swift but sweet, and this moment is the height of some hushed anticipation. The owl’s reverence, the rabbit’s concern.

They were happy while they waited. They saw the things they loved.

And then.

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This is the first time we’ve seen this rose dawn color through the window. A sign of something new.

And what was this dear cat waiting on? Something wonderful. Something surprising, spectacular, and incredible.

All of us are waiting on something. Here’s hoping you’ve got some room on your windowsill for friends.

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PS: If you have a few minutes to spare, listen to this NPR piece about Waiting. It’s so nicely done and such a treat.

Tough Guys + an interview with Keith Negley

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by Keith Negley (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

Heads up, email subscribers: my blog took a bit of a tumble so I’m reposting what was lost in the shuffle. Apologies, and thank you for reading!

The kind folks at Flying Eye sent over a preview of this book, thinking it was right up my alley.

It’s right up my alley.

The theme: yes. The design: yes. The snappy, bold, in-your-face look at tough guys plus the snappy, bold, in-your-face look at feelings: yes.

I chatted with Keith Negley, and learned a lot about this debut effort. I hope there’s more from him, and I hope you enjoy this peek into the brain of a picture book creator.

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Hi Keith! Can you talk about where this story came from? And what the process was like for its creation?

It all started when my son Parker who was 6 at the time stole a soccer ball from a friend during soccer practice and his friend got upset and they fought over it. Parker was angry at first, but then felt embarrassed and ashamed because he knew he did something wrong. I could tell he was struggling with how to handle all these new emotions that were happening to him at the same time. He walked away from the group and sat down to be by himself because he didn’t want anyone to see him cry. Later that night, I explained to him that it was totally natural to cry and that everybody does it. I told him sometimes even I cried, and he looked up at me and asked, “grown ups cry too?

It blew his mind that even adults cried because he thought it was something only kids did. I wished I had a book I could read to him that let him know that frustration and crying is a natural thing not to be ashamed of. The next day the idea for the book popped into my head.

You’ve done a lot of editorial illustration, but this is your first children’s book. Can you tell us the how and why you got into books?

I always liked the idea of making picture books for children, but it wasn’t until I became a parent and started reading a ton of picture books to my son did I realize there was a lack of the kind of books we enjoyed. Honestly the books I’ve been working on were born out of necessity because I wanted to read them and no one else had made them yet.

Your tumblr tag line is spectacular: part man, part negative space. Can you explain where that came from and why it represents you so well?

Ha, I find tragedy to be the greatest muse. The subjects I enjoy working with the most are the ones that break my heart. It’s cathartic somehow, and I feel like I really get to put a piece of me into the work. What ends up happening is I have a portfolio of rather depressing subject matter. But I’m always striving to create beautiful images with it. That juxtaposition is challenging and rewarding for me.

Add to that I tend to utilize negative space as a compositional tool fairly often and so I thought it tied the content in with the image making nature of the blog.

toughguys-9 Who are some of your story heroes?

I’ve been a huge fan of Lane Smith for years and years. Jon Scieszka is another one. Ezra Jack Keats. Jack Kent’s Socks For Supper is one of my all time favorites as a kid and it still holds up today.

What do you remember about picture books from your childhood?

I remember my mom reading them to me and how she would make different voices for all the characters. I try to do that for Parker but he’s not into it at all unfortunately.

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What is your favorite piece of art hanging in your home or studio?

Not sure if this counts, but I like to make music in my spare time and I’m a huge nerd for vintage synthesizers. I currently have a 1979 Korg 770 sitting in my studio and just looking at it makes me very happy. I consider them works of art.

What’s next for you?

Trying to schedule some reading events for the fall/winter and I’m in the middle of working on my second book for Flying Eye which should be out in time for Father’s Day next year!

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Thank you, Keith! And vintage synthesizers totally count as works of art.

PS: Congratulations to the winner of the The Story of Diva and Flea giveaway, Ashley! And thanks to Flying Eye for the images used in this post.

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Rabbit Seeds

Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord

by Bijou Le Tord (Four Winds Press, 1984)

Did you know I am a school librarian? I’m in my third year, at my second school, and have done it for about a decade with a break for graphics in between. Hashtag old.

And speaking of old, that’s what my current school is. That’s great for things like traditions and history, but it’s really great for things like stories. I’ve had a bit of a triage situation on my hands, and the thing that has taken the biggest chunk of time is massive weeding and collection development. (And undoing the work of the packiest rat that ever packed.)

I’ve been brutal in nonfiction and biographies because poor old Pluto has had better days and a 1970 biography of Peggy Fleming isn’t triple-lutz-ing off the shelves. But then there are picture books. And I haven’t tossed a single one. I need to, for reasons of both space and sanity. But when your library is old, there’s a lot that sparkles under all that dust. And I want to be careful because of things like early, early editions of the Nutshell Library.

Here’s one I found that I’d never heard of before, and wow. If you can get your hands on a copy, it would be a great pair with The Little Gardener.

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This is the story of a rabbit, a gentle, shaky, line of a thing.

And it’s the story of his garden. He bids adieu to the snow and ice, and welcomes the warming sun.

These beginning spreads are so simple, so uncluttered, so spare. Those black lines on white, framed by spring’s pastels.

And the words! So unfussy. So beautiful.

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When the day cools, he waters his seeds. The sun and the earth begin their work.

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He patiently waits, and watches for a first ripple or a crack on the ground.

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He patiently sits, until the first seedlings shoot up.

That last spread has a surprising detail, one that fits perfectly into the rabbit’s world but one that is unusual for this particular sequence of images: that star. The sun has been a small circle, hovering over the garden, doing its work. But while the rabbit waits, a star. It must be night. He’s taken his picnic basket and he’s patiently sat, and when the sun dropped, the star showed up.

The seasons take over, as they do, and soon it’s time to welcome back winter. The last time we see the rabbit, he is happy. His work is done.

This rabbit and his work are both sweet and slow and dear, and this book is a quiet little wonder.

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