Pink is for Blobfish

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by Jess Keating, illustrated by David Degrand (Knopf, 2016)

I mean, just look at that guy. How could you not love him? I do. I do, I do.

Making picture books means collaborating with the whispers of someone else’s art. And now that this particular book is off the printer and into the hands of readers, I got to eavesdrop on this conversation between Blobfish’s author and illustrator.

To Jess! And David!

JK: Hey guys! Hey Carter!

I’ve been really blown away by all of the love for my new book, Pink is for Blobfish! Working on this book was an incredible experience, and it’s so wonderful to see it reach the hands of young readers—thank you so much!

Today, I wanted you to meet one of the shining stars behind Blobfish! When I was writing this book, I couldn’t stop picturing what sort of illustration would accompany my (often bizarre) text. When my editor sent me David DeGrand’s take on our creatures, I was so thrilled! His work is hilarious, quirky, and a perfect match for the series. I’m jealous of his talent!

To celebrate David and his awesome work on this book, we got together for a virtual chat! I hope you enjoy it, and check him out online too! Without any adieu whatsoever, here we go!

Starting with a trip down memory lane, what inspired you to get into art and illustration?

DD: I started drawing cartoony illustrations and comic strips after my fifth grade art teacher assigned us to write and draw our own comic strip. I instantly fell in love with the process and so I kept writing and drawing my own comic strip that I would show my family and friends. It became on obsession and eventually a career, which I’m very fortunate for!

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JK: As a writer who is completely jealous of illustrators, I’d love to know more about your process. Can you take me through it? What happens after a manuscript like Pink is for Blobfish is sent your way?

DD: All illustration projects are a little bit different, so the process varies according to what the project entails. When I got the manuscript for Pink is for Blobfish, the first thing I did was look up as many reference photos as I could find for the different animals. I then started sketching different designs for each animal to try and find the funniest and silliest way to represent that animal in the book. It was a ton of fun!

JK: You get to pick one artist in history (alive or dead!) and have coffee with them. Who would you choose?

DD: This is really tough, but if I had to pick just one artist I would love to sit down and talk with Ed Emberley. His simple art instruction books were a big part of my childhood, so his influence has been with me as long as I can remember. But more importantly, I really admire and respect his point of view that drawing and creating should be accessible to everyone and that it shouldn’t be intimidating. He made it easy and fun for anyone to pick up a pencil and create a picture, regardless of your artistic background, and that’s something I have always admired and learned from.

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JK: A must-ask for all the kidlit writers reading this: what was your favorite children’s book growing up?

DD: Hands down it was Where the Wild Things Are, I must have read it every night for years. It started my obsession with monsters and all things strange and bizarre!

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JK: Killer journalism time: do you have any favorite snacks to munch on while you’re working? (I’m partial to popcorn.)

DD: I almost always have a bag of either almonds or pistachios on my drawing desk to munch on. I like to try and snack guilt free!

JK: Okay, time to share some DeGrand wisdom. Say a budding illustrator is reading this. What are the one or two best pieces of illustration advice that you would give them?

DD: The best advice I can give to someone wanting to be an illustrator is to simply draw what makes you happy. Sometimes I think artists can get caught up in trying to keep up with a popular artistic trend thinking that will help them in the business, but that’s not really being true to yourself. I think all artists should simply have fun with the creative process and by doing that your unique voice will always come through. When you’re enjoying what you’re creating, that joy will shine through and your art will find an audience.

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JK: You’re stranded on a deserted island. Which three books do you bring with you?

DD: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey, and Robert Ebert’s Book of Film by Roger Ebert (I’m a huge movie geek!).

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JK: Lastly, when I was researching you online, I came across this photo. Readers need to know: what exactly is going on here and did you win the Showcase Showdown or what?

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DD: Oh yes, the moment I was almost famous! Here’s the story: I occasionally contribute cartoons and comics to the one and only MAD Magazine. One of the cartoons I did was a parody of The Price is Right. Drew Carey saw the cartoon and enjoyed it enough that he bought the original art from me! If that wasn’t enough, the producer for The Price is Right invited my wife and I out to LA and gave us a backstage tour and let us sit in the audience for a taping of the show. Right after the show I was able to meet Drew Carey very briefly and get the picture taken with him. It was all very surreal and amazing, to say the least!

Thank you so much, David! And a huge hug to you, Carter, for hosting us! We love ya!

(Anytime, pals. Blobfish friends are forever!)

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Blog Tour: The Water and the Wild

The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee

by K.E. Ormsbee, illustrated by Elsa Mora (Chronicle Books, 2015)

From the publisher:

A green apple tree grows in the heart of Thirsby Square, and tangled up in its magical roots is the story of Lottie Fiske. For as long as Lottie can remember, the only people who seem to care about her are her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things are happening on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless—until a door opens in the apple tree. Follow Lottie down through the roots to another world in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.

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I’m so excited to be a stop on the blog tour celebrating the release of The Water and the Wild, which includes a chance for you to win a copy of this beautiful (literally and figuratively!) book.

First, let’s hear from K.E. herself. Welcome, K.E.!

K. E. Ormsbee

Visualizing Limn: The Real-World Inspirations Behind Lottie Fiske’s World.

In The Water and the Wild, twelve-year-old Lottie Fiske travels through the roots of an apple tree into the magic-soaked world of Limn—a land filled with bustling cities, dense woods, magical yew trees, and giant spider webs. World building Limn was one of the most fun and challenging aspects of writing The Water and the Wild, and my inspiration for the look and feel of the fantasy landscape came from very real places.

Today, I’d like to share some of those inspirations and take a moment to gush about just how perfectly artist Elsa Mora captured the magic of Limn in her cover art and illustrations.

New Kemble – York, England

I’m a huge anglophile, and one of my favorite places in all of England is York. The city is rich with layer upon layer of history, as evidenced in its walls, its giant cathedral, and its winding streets. I remember first setting foot in The Shambles and feeling certain that something ancient and magical was at work there.

When I first drafted The Water and the Wild, the story actually took place in York. Over time and a number of subsequent revisions, York became New Kemble, a fictional island town off the coast of Massachusetts. But the inspiration for New Kemble remained thoroughly English. I still envision The Barmy Badger—home of Lottie’s best friend Eliot—on a street similar to The Shambles. And Lottie’s home in the boardinghouse on Thirsby Square is based on the real St. Paul’s Square in York.

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Iris Gate – The Biltmore Estate

When Lottie first arrives in Limn, she stays at the home of the Wilfers—an old money family with royal connections and a fair share of secrets. The Wilfer family home is called Iris Gate, and Lottie is overwhelmed by the size and grandeur of the place. When describing Iris Gate, I tried to capture the intimidation I felt upon first walking into the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

The Biltmore is an imposing mansion even to full-grown adults, and I was ten when my family visited. I remember gaping at the soaring ceilings, ornate decorations, and sprawling gardens. Though Iris Gate is nowhere near as extensive as the Biltmore, its architecture and landscaping were written to resemble that of the Biltmore Estate.

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Wisp Territory – Springtime in my childhood neighborhood

I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. The city is surrounded by rolling green hills, black fences, and horse farms. It experiences four distinct seasons, and the springtimes there are lovely. In my neighborhood, there were many dogwoods, magnolias, and Bradford pear trees. When all of those trees were in bloom, white petals would blow loose into the wind, and everywhere I turned the world seemed awash in white. I called it my Warm Winter.

I never shook those springtime images, and when I was creating Wisp Territory—home to the mysterious will o’ the wisps—I wanted to convey a similar aesthetic. The world of the wisps is, by and large, colorless. The grass, the trees, and the leaves are all white. The royal home is made entirely of glass. This wintry appearance does not vary with the seasons, and it’s my homage to the Warm Winters I experienced as a kid.

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Clearly, I have some very distinct ideas about how the world of Limn looks. What I was most nervous and excited about during the publication process was seeing how an artist would render a world that had for so long existed only in my imagination. As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. When Melissa Manlove, my fabulous editor at Chronicle Books, first gave me Elsa Mora’s name, I of course went straight to Google to do some major image stalking. After only a minute, I knew I was in the best of hands.

Elsa’s papercuts are pure magic. There is so much detail, care, and whimsy in each of her creations. The cover of The Water and the Wild conveys not only the fantasticalness, but also the danger of Lottie’s journey. The way in which the characters and their natural surroundings blend so effortlessly captures my own attempt to make the world around Lottie as much a character as she is.

Inside the book, you’ll find a papercut plant accompanying each chapter heading. These illustrations reinforce the importance of the natural world throughout the book. And, you know, they just so happen to be GORGEOUS.

It’s been almost seven years since I first wrote down the image of a magical green apple tree. Now, as Lottie Fiske’s story officially hits bookshelves, I couldn’t be happier with the way that image and others came to be realized in the art and text of The Water and the Wild.

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If you’re anything like me, you’re dying to read more about Lottie and Limn. So! Tweet this post anyway you’d like on Twitter, and include the hashtag #dpb for a chance to win a copy! I’ll be in touch with a winner in a week.

Check out The Water and the Wild’s teacher guide here, and a sneak peek at its beginning here.

And be sure to check out tomorrow’s stop on the tour at Green Bean Teen Queen, where K.E. talks libraries!

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The Picturebooking Podcast

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 11.24.42 AM Have you met Nick Patton? He’s the brain behind The Picturebooking Podcast, and he’s super awesome. And not only because he interviewed me. Take a look at his site, and take a listen to his interviews. This is a voice to the kidlit community that will be around for a while. Good stuff.

But it’s true, he did interview me recently. And it’s true, I did talk so much that he split our chat into two parts.

Here’s Part One.

And here’s Part Two.

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It’s a bunch of snippets about a day in the life of a library, loud creativity, my debut picture book, and a slew of artists I adore. And of course, there’s lots of love for The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. Always.

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Behind the Scenes with Tom Lichtenheld

ThisIsAMooseRemember Moose and his motley crew? He’s hard to forget with that superhuman (supermoosian?) determination and antlers tuned toward mischief. Let me turn the reigns over to Tom Lichtenheld himself, so he can give you a look at his process, sketches, and creative problem solving. It’s a fascinating look at how an illustrator responds to an author’s manuscript, and a glimpse at the evolution of a picture book.

Welcome back, Tom! breaker This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldWhen I receive a manuscript and like it, the first thing I do is start doodling. That initial moment of inspiration only comes once, so I try to capture the first images that pop into my head. When I receive a manuscript and like it, the first thing I do is start doodling. That initial moment of inspiration only comes once, so I try to capture the first images that pop into my head. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThen I start refining and exploring options. Then I start refining and exploring options. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThe director was initially a raccoon, but a duck felt more manic. The director was initially a raccoon, but a duck felt more manic. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldI spent a lot of time on film sets during my career in advertising, so I know it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. I spent a lot of time on film sets during my career in advertising, so I know it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldNo, giraffe don’t live in the woods, but I like to draw them, so a giraffe it is. No, giraffe don’t live in the woods, but I like to draw them, so a giraffe it is. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldLots of gags get left on the cutting-room floor, but it’s all part of the process. Lots of gags get left on the cutting-room floor, but it’s all part of the process. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldBoom! Boom! This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldAn idea revealing that the movie was actually made, which makes no sense. An idea revealing that the movie was actually made, which makes no sense. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldFirst crack at a title page.  First crack at a title page.  This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld (click to enlarge)

First version of the opening scene. The narrator was a monkey, and part of the scene. We quickly realized that the director had to be “off-camera” until the end. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldFirst version of the spread where Director Duck realizes none of the animals are playing by the rules. I liked the simplicity of having only his eyes move, but it was a bit too subtle, so I changed it to his entire head looking from side to side. First version of the spread where Director Duck realizes none of the animals are playing by the rules. I liked the simplicity of having only his eyes move, but it was a bit too subtle, so I changed it to his entire head looking from side to side. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld (click to enlarge)

The Moosenest 

Turning this marvelously manic manuscript into a logical sequence of pictures required complete immersion, so I made a foamcore enclosure around my desk, with only Moose material within my sight lines, and dubbed it The Moosenest. It sounds like a joke, but there’s a point in sketching out a book where you need to have the entire book suspended in your mind at once, so you can mentally move the pieces around without losing sight of any elements. It’s challenging, but one of my favorite parts of the process and I don’t think I could have done it for This Is A Moose without The Moosenest.

breaker A marvelously manic manuscript with mayhem in the pictures. Thanks for letting us in to The Moosenest, Tom!

(I love that moose-like alien. I’m glad he got his day here.)

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Frog & Friends, Owl & Friends

 by Joyce Wan

{published 2013, by Penguin Young Readers Group}

Here’s the thing. I adore Joyce Wan! I wrote about her here! And here.

She’s a brilliant artist and a fun friend and I hope to be raising a glass with her at the SCBWI conference in LA in August! (Are you going?!)

 And just look at her newest delightful duo of board books! They are on shelves TOMORROW, June 27th!

I’m just giddy over this sneak peek. And giddy is exactly how I am, too, over the design of these books.   I had a few questions for her about their striking look, and am thrilled to introduce her to you! {You’ll love her.}  I had a few questions for her about their striking look, and am thrilled to introduce her to you! {You’ll love her.}  {ME}

Joyce! I’m mostly curious about how you used texture in these, because that natural, wood grain feel is different for you, right? (Apart from the sleek, glistening, rub-me graphics of YOU ARE MY CUPCAKE and WE BELONG TOGETHER.) I feel like there’s a story there, either artist-wise or art-wise. Is that true?

{JOYCE}

Although I do love sparkly and shiny (what girl doesn’t?), there is something about wood that I’ve always found to be warm and inviting. I’ve always loved wood textures and even offer a line of cards printed on actual birch wood veneer from sustainably harvested trees. My business card is also printed on wood too.

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I wanted to incorporate wood textures into illustrations for my next book which naturally led to the idea of some sort of tree book. The original manuscript was written as a picture book about a tree (very close to what Owl & Friends is like) which the publisher broke down into two board books when it was acquired. The textures were created by scanning actual wood and then incorporated into the art using Photoshop.

 {ME}

And the form – the foldout! It’s so clever. How did you dream up that novelty?!

{JOYCE}

I love surprise endings in books (and movies for that matter). Ones that beg a another reading or watching and make sense when you go back over the entire book/movie. These books offers a surprise ending and done in such a way for the wee’est of readers. I wanted the ending to be BIG (size-wise) and I wanted readers to smile when they see the ending! So an ending that opened up somehow seemed liked the way to go and it makes it more interactive and fun!

Isn’t she spectacular?! I didn’t show you that big surprise ending, because some things are extra magical on a first read, and this is one of them. I can’t wait to give these to some teeny twinsies that I know!

Thanks, Joyce! Big fan!

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Joyce Wan designed her first greeting card when she was in first grade for a city-wide greeting card design contest. The design won first place and was subsequently sold through a major department store chain. Twenty years later that design would inspire a design studio called Wanart whose products featuring Joyce’s designs are now sold world wide. Joyce also teaches courses on greeting card design and art licensing at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Joyce is inspired by Japanese pop culture, modern architecture, and things that make her smile. Joyce is the author and illustrator of Greetings from Kiwi and Pear (Blue Apple Books, 2009), You Are My Cupcake (Cartwheel, 2011), and We Belong Together (Cartwheel, 2011), Frog & Friends (PSS!, 2013), Owl & Friends (PSS!, 2013) and several forthcoming titles including: Hug You, Kiss You, Love You (Cartwheel, 2013), Mama, Mama (Cartwheel, 2014), My Lucky Little Dragon (Cartwheel, 2014), Whale in My Swimming Pool(FSG, 2015) and will be illustrating Sleepyheads by Sandra Howatt (Beach Lane, 2014). Joyce hails from Boston, Massachusetts and currently lives in New York City. Through all her work, Joyce hopes to inspire people to embrace the spirit of childhood and follow their dreams. Visit her online at www.wanart.com.

The Watermelon Seed and an interview with Greg Pizzoli

TheWatermelonSeed

by Greg Pizzoli

{published 2013, by Disney Hyperion}

I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time, mostly because that cover is SPECTAZZLING. But also cause I follow Greg Pizzoli on Twitter, where he is clever and quippy and shares things like THE ENDPAPERS. And then this is what the publisher teased us with, so I was pretty much in love with this book right away:

With perfect comic pacing, Greg Pizzoli introduces us to one funny crocodile who has one big fear: swallowing a watermelon seed. What will he do when his greatest fear is realized? Will vines sprout out his ears? Will his skin turn pink? This crocodile has a wild imagination that kids will love.

Yeah. SO INTO THAT. The Watermelon Seed hits stores TOMORROW, May 14th, so you might want to go ahead and get in line. After you meet Greg, of course.

So I’ve also been looking forward to this post for almost as long. I’m thrilled to have Greg Pizzoli in for a visit. Welcome, Greg!

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I call him “Kroc”. Sometimes my editor calls him “K-Roc” or “The Krocster”. Boy, does he hate that. Greg2 My background is in printmaking, and I built a silkscreen shop in my studio, which is how I generate a lot of my work. I think my preference towards limited and deliberate colors comes from the printmaking. It could be laziness, but I’m going to say printmaking.

Even the first sketches of this book were in just a few colors. It just made sense to make the whole book feel like a watermelon. Plus, he’s a crocodile, so the green is already there.
Everyone at Disney*Hyperion was very supportive of my trying out different inks and paper choices to get the feel just right. We did CMYK v. Spot color tests and there was just no comparison. I think it would be tough to get that pink, and that green with CMYK. At least for me. We tried a few different paper stocks, too. I’m super picky.

Greg3 Basically you make a drawing in black and use that to make a stencil on a screen. Doesn’t matter how you make that drawing – by hand on tracing paper, with construction paper, in Photoshop – whatever you can use to get a drawing in black. Your screen, which is a frame of aluminum with a fine mesh stretched across it, is covered in photographic emulsion, and you expose the screen to light. Wherever the light hits the emulsion, it hardens and becomes water resistant.

BUT if you put your black drawing between the screen and the light source, the emulsion that is blocked by your drawing (which remember, is black, thus very light blocking-y), that emulsion stays soft. And you can wash it out with water. So everything that wasn’t blocked by your drawing is water resistant, and your drawing washes out of the screen, making a water resistant stencil in the shape of your drawing. You make one of those for each layer, or usually, color. WATERMELON was offset printed obviously, but I did a lot of screenprinting textures, etc to make it feel very printy. The spot colors definitely help there, too.

I’ve been teaching screenprinting for about 4 years at The University of the Arts in Philly. It’s where I met Brian Biggs. He took a continuing ed class I was teaching in 2009. He introduced me to my agent. I dedicated a book to him, but it hasn’t come out yet. I still owe him big time. I still teach! I love it.

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Humor usually keeps me interested in whatever I’m doing.

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I like to work with texture for sure, too. And shapes. Shapes, yeah, shapes are good. I know this is great interview material here. Breaking news, Greg Pizzoli “like shapes”. Today on Buzzfeed, 23 shapes Greg Pizzoli likes most.

Anyway . . . I was really into shapes and texture with THE WATERMELON SEED, and the next book I’m doing with Hyperion (NUMBER ONE SAM, Summer 2014) comes from a similar place. We’re doing spot colors for that one, too. But four this time, which opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of overlapping layers and colors.
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Like most people, I like lots of stuff. I never get tired of looking at Eduardo Munoz Bachs posters. He obviously had a lot of fun making his work. A lot of people you’d suspect probably, Sendak, Ed Emberly, Tove Jansson, Charles Schultz, etc.

Carter_007 text007 I’m really lucky to have so many talented buddies in the Philly area, too. I host occasional drink ‘n’ draws at my studio and Zach Ohora, Matt Phelan, Bob Shea, Tim Gough, Amy Ignatow, Brian Biggs, Lee Harper, Gene Baretta, Eric Wight, and several others have come by. It’s a good time. Sometimes we do this thing where we each draw for five minutes and then pass the paper to the right and draw on top of that drawing for five minutes, until we get all the way around the circle or run out of beer. You can imagine just how bad these things look. Joe Strummer, Iggy Pop, David Bowie. They’re my heroes.

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No way! I love coffee. I think I quit for a while last year and it just floated around my online profile for a bit. I did stop drinking as much. I am down to like 2-3 cups a day which feels great for me. I was drinking like 8-10. Oh yeah. I’m nicer now.

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Greg Pizzoli, people. Is he awesome or what?

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So yeah. That’s pretty much my favorite thing on the internet right now. Did you catch the part where the period at the end of the sentence becomes a spotlight for good old K-Roc?! I love that detail.

The Watermelon Seed! Greg Pizzoli! Thanks for hanging out here! We love your book. And you are top notch, too.

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I’m PiBoIdMo-ing

Not only is it Picture Book Month, but it’s also PiBoIdMo!

Would you believe Tara Lazar let me loose to post on her blog?

Come on over and gobblefunk with me!

Jennifer Young’s Let’s Ask Series {guest post}

Here’s something fun for the weekend:

I’m guest blogging over at my friend Jennifer Young‘s home on the internet!

Come by and hear about my clunky pirouette skills and why I am so obsessed with The Stinky Cheese Man. 

Happy weekending!

Emily’s Runaway Imagination {guest post}

Speaking of sentimental favorites, check out this other gem I found at my parents’ house recently:

Once upon a time, I was seven, and was already obsessed with books.

The lovely ladies at Lost in A Book invited me to post a nostalgia review, and this is the book I chose. Happy reading!