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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Everyone + an interview with Christopher Silas Neal

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by Christopher Silas Neal (Candlewick, 2016)

I’m happy to introduce you today to Christopher Silas Neal, a picture book creator I am a big fan of. He’s got quite the illustration portfolio, but this spring’s Everyone was his debut as both picture book author and illustrator. Here’s hoping he makes many more. Enjoy!

How did you get into picture books?

Over and Under the Snow was my first experience making a picture book. I had been an illustrator for about seven years, making art for magazines, posters, and book covers before Chronicle Books called with Kate Messner’s manuscript. Kate’s approach to writing about nature was more lyrical and unexpected than a typical science based picture book and Chronicle was looking for a non-traditional artist. Even though many of my biggest influences were classic picture book makers, I hadn’t thought I would be one myself.

Narrative illustration felt overwhelming and daunting—character building wasn’t something I had ever tried and building scenes was certainly not my strong suit. I had previously worked as a graphic designer and my approach to image making is more flat and simple than what I thought readers expected from picture book art. The industry wasn’t as visually diverse as it is now and at the time, most books about nature would have featured fairly detailed and rendered paintings. I just didn’t see me having a place in that world. But, I loved Kate’s writing and the folks at Chronicle Books are so nice and very design oriented, so I thought if there was ever a chance, this is it.

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My pictures are often quiet and still with a lot of space—the fact that this book was set in wintery woods was reassuring.  A big challenge was figuring out how to add depth without using the things that traditional painters rely on like lighting and perspective—visual tools I typically don’t use. I like to think the personality in the art comes from me trying to fit a painterly peg into a graphically flat and naively drawn hole.

Where did the beginnings of Everyone originate?

When I first met my agent Stephen Barr at Writer’s House I had a few book ideas floating around, but Stephen was more interested in an animated gif I had made. It was based off a drawing I did for the New York Times about a boy whose parents were deported to Mexico. It’s a simple image of a boy crying and his tears turning into two birds. Stephen thought the idea had promise as a book and I spent the next year turning it into a manuscript and book dummy. In the end I think I had made fifty versions before sending it to publishers. Eventually, we sold the idea to Liz Bicknell at Candlewick.

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Can you tell us about your process?

The writing process happened organically. I started with that original New York Times image and tried to think of other visual metaphors that involved nature bending and morphing to reflect our emotions. After a bit of sketching, writing and playing with ideas, a theme developed—when we feel something, the world feels it too and reflects those feelings back at us—and I illustrated three emotional expressions: crying, laughter, singing.

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It took a lot of patience for the words to develop. I had one version where I spelled everything out in the text i.e.”…the boy’s tear turned into a bird and flew into the sky. The bird whispered to the clouds and soon the clouds were crying, too,” but my editor, my agent, and I all agreed that the story was better left simple and open ended. After many, many revisions I pared it down to the few words that appear in the book.

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I was listening to a lot of John Lennon—he uses these wonderfully simple, repetitive phrases—and I tried to put some of that influence to the words of this book. I can almost hear a John Lennon melody when I read from Everyone, “When you cry you are not alone. When you laugh happiness grows. When you sing everyone listens.”

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9780763676834.int.2 I wanted the art to match the simplicity of the text so the illustrations are made using just three colors. My process starts with pencil sketches and then digital mockups where I think about color and composition. The final art is created in layers or separations very similar to print making. Each color is drawn and/or painted separately and then scanned as a black and white image. Then I add color to each separation—one is colored black, one blue, one tan—and they are layered on top of each other to make a complete image.

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What does a picture book text need in order for you to feel excited about illustrating it?

The words should be poetic or simple or surprising and there needs to be room for me to add to the narrative. If the text is too descriptive, there isn’t really much for me to add.

Who are some of your story heroes?

One of my favorite books is Frederick by Leo Lionni. It’s a simple, emotional book about four field mice storing food for winter. Except one mouse who gathers sun rays, colors, and words. I love how you can see the process within the final images. The reader can mentally pick apart the textures and scraps of paper like a puzzle.

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

Leanne Shapton paints wooden blocks to look like re-imagined book covers. The art is all typography and shapes. I have one of her blocks painted as Jaws by Peter Benchley.

What’s next for you?

I have a third book with Kate Messner coming out in Spring 2017 called Over and Under the Pond. In Fall 2017 I have another book with Candlewick about a hungry cat. In Spring 2018 I have a series of board books about shapes and colors and animals. Beyond that are books with authors Jennifer Adams and Barb Rosenstock.

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Thank you, Christopher! Your readers have lots to look forward to, and I am so very glad you are a part of the world of picture books.

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EVERYONE. Copyright © 2016 by Christopher Silas Neal. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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.

 

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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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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Cloud Country + an interview with Noah Klocek

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by Noah Klocek and Bonny Becker (Disney Press, 2015)

It was hard to not to picture these sweet characters on my holiday flights recently, peeking out the window at clouds that were beautiful but not quite as vibrant as the ones in Cloud Country. I chatted with Noah Klocek about it, and welcome him here today!

Where did this story come from?

The original idea for Cloud Country came out of daydreams of my own. For a time, my day job was located right on the edge of the San Fransisco Bay. This unobstructed view allowed me to watch giant thunderheads forming on distant hillsides and I would often wonder what it would be like to be one of those clouds going through the process of formation. Eventually, I began to write and draw around the edges of Cloud Country, attempted to wrangle my loose concepts into a compelling story. While this lead to lots of great ideas, a few dummies and tons of learning, Bonny Becker’s ability to distill and write remarkably compelling characters allowed all these unresolved ideas to finally coalesce. With a bit of writing back and forth, all of this became the story that is Cloud Country.

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What are some of your picture book memories from childhood?

My childhood was all books. I was raised by parents who were teachers by day and artist all the rest of the time. This meant that there was no TV or video games in our house, but the shelves were packed with books of every kind. When other kids watched Gremlins, I was reading Where the Wild Things Are and when other children where watching Stars Wars, I was reading Saint George and the Dragon. A working knowledge of pop culture in the eighties was replaced with an unquenchable passion for picture books. Almost every story I remember as a child came in the form of a picture book. While I was not a great reader as a child (due to a good dose of Dyslexia) I would spend hours and hours looking at picture books. I must have spent a cumulative year looking at Barbara Cooney’s wonderful illustrations in Ox-Cart Man. All these years later I can still remember almost every page.

What surprised you about the picture book process as compared to making movies?

For me the difference between making movies and making books lies in the process of collaboration. Filmmaking is an aggressively collaborative creative process. There are directors who make filmmaking as personal as possible, but making animated films at Pixar is all about collaboration. Picture book making on the other hand, I find a very solitary, personal, creative process. The process is so solitary at times that I have found myself looking for ways to show my work to other people, just to have a conversation about it.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

I’m not a fan of putting people on pedestals, but I have always gravitated toward people who tell stories visually, even in writing alone. There is a saying that I’m fond of that is used an awful lot at Pixar, “Show Don’t Tell.” For me this means show your characters suffering or experiencing joy, don’t tell your reader that they are suffering or filled with joy. So I would have to say, I really respect the gifts and craft of these visual storytellers: Maura Stanton (Poetry), Garrison Keillor (Spoken Word), Hayao Miyazaki (film), David Wiesner (Picture books).

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

I have a lot of great art, but honestly my favorite piece right now would have to be the painting my daughter did when she was 6, of our house on a rainy day. It’s really inspiring.

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How do you balance a creative professional life that exists in both the day job hours and the nighttime ones?

My Mom was a kindergarten teacher for twenty-five years and she always told me that “rhythm replaces strength for children,” and adults are just big kids. So I spend a lot of time trying to build a rhythm in my life that attempts to find a balance between my daytime work, my nighttime work and my family. Honestly, it comes down to a bunch of rules and structures. If I don’t do personal work at night, I’m not as effective or productive at my day job, but my day job allows me to work with and learn from some of the most talented creative people on earth, along with paying the bills. On top of that I have two kids and a wife who come before my nighttime picture book work, so I have a steadfast rule that I don’t work on picture books while my kids are awake, but I work almost every night after they go to sleep. All this rhythm and structure allows me to be very diligent. So I work from 8am to 6pm for Pixar, then five nights a week I work from 8 to midnight on picture books and the other two I spend with my wife. Now that I’m writing all this out, I feel like I’m going to come off like a bit of a crazy person, but I must say, I could’t be happier.

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What’s next for you?

I’m continuing to Art Direct for Pixar and I have a bunch of picture books in the pipeline. Some of them I will collaborate as an illustrator only and the others I’m writing and illustrating. Right now I’m focused on trying to grow as a writer and illustrator. I think I have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but hopefully, I will be able to make picture book that move and inspire kids the way picture books inspired me.

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Thank you, Noah! This is such a timely chat as we move into the new rhythms of 2016. And no, you don’t sound at all like a crazy person, or we are all in trouble.

You can find Noah around the internet here and here, and make sure to listen to Noah chat with Nick Patton on the Picturebooking podcast (now hosted at All the Wonders!)

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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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How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don’t Have a Clue + an interview with Jess Keating

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by Jess Keating (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 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!

Sometimes you meet people on the internet who are instantly your kind of people. And all of a sudden they aren’t a tiny square avatar, but a real friend who sends you ketchup chips from Canada and the best gifs to your email. They support you on this whirling road of publishing, and they make you laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and you wish that Canada and California weren’t so far away.

Let me introduce you to my friend Jess Keating. She’s got great books and she’s a better friend, and I’m so happy to have her here today to celebrate her newest story in the My Life is a Zooseries, How to O

And also, it’s not just me. These guys liked her too . . .

“With her trademark kid-oriented wit and lighthearted touch, Keating leads readers through the daily emotional ups and downs of the typical just-turned-teenager who is trying to juggle hormones, parents, schoolwork, and, most importantly, her friends…A sweet reminder that being middle school girl is about far more than boys and makeup.” –Kirkus, starred review

So: here she is!

Hi Jess!

Hello, my dear Carter! Thank you for having me!

Can you give us some backstory on Ana? Is there any young-Jess-Keating wrapped up in her?

There is definitely a lot of young-me in Ana. I’ve always been an animal nut, and I was raised on Kratt’s Creatures, Crocodile Hunter, and Jane Goodall. Savvy readers might notice that Ana’s middle name is Jane—both she and her mother share this name to honor Dr. Goodall!

As a kid, it was my dream to live in a zoo, surrounded by strange animals. Obviously, my parents thought this would be rather hazardous, so instead they let me decorate my room to look like the rainforest. I even stuck plastic lizards and poison arrow frogs to my walls. Sometimes I even pretended I was David Attenborough, narrating my way through the day with a bad British accent.

Ana is also a giant nerd, who struggles with feeling like an outsider a lot. I think that’s something a lot of us share (particularly as teens and tweens), and I was no exception. It takes guts to share your passions, you know? I think Ana is also a very lucky kid, in that she’s surrounded by intelligent people who challenge her to pursue her dreams. We have that in common too.

Which do you most identify with: having untied shoelaces, missing a snorkel, or not having a clue?

Untied shoelaces!

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What’s your ideal writing scenario? Snacks? Tunes?

Yes to snacks! I’m a big fan of popcorn and chocolate chips. Together or separately, really. My awesome agent Kathleen Rushall introduced me to Songza, which I’ve found to be perfect for playing background music while I write. I listen to mainly movie scores and video game soundtracks.

I like to move around a lot as I work, so I have a standing desk that’s really just a wooden crate that props up my laptop. That’s about it! Oh, and Post-It notes. Millions and millions of Post-It notes.

Which came first, these characters or their scenarios?

The characters came first, for sure. I think once you’ve got characters you know well, especially their flaws, it’s really a matter of plunking them down with some challenges and letting them find their way. I’ve always had such a clear picture of Ana, Daz, and Shep, so they seem to run the show. With each book, I have a general idea of a setting I’d like to explore, but I like to give them some freedom in getting there.

But sometimes writing can surprise you! Characters like Sugar and Bella were much quieter in my mind, and getting to know them better as the series continues has been extra fun.

What has been your most favorite scene to write and edit? Just don’t spoil us too much!

I love writing funny scenes, embarrassing scenes, and downright awful ‘fight’ scenes between friends. There’s just so much juicy emotion in these!

My favorite scene to write in OUTFOX revolves around Ana doing a Superman impression. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a scene I’ve wanted to write since the beginning of the series!

Describe Canada in one word.

Home!

What gif best describes your feelings for this book’s birthday week?

Ahh, you know how much I love gifs! I have so many feelings, I have to give you two! Publishing a book is a funny thing—it never stops being exciting. With every new book, I feel like Bilbo going on an adventure:

And this week especially, I’m so thankful and humbled that we get to continue Ana’s story in a third book. It takes so many people to get the story in your head on a shelf, and the readers who pick it up are really the reason we do this. So, I have a lot of love for everyone who works so hard to make these books, and those who have been with Ana from the start. Hence, hobbit hugs:

What’s coming next for you?

I like working on several projects at once, so I’ve got lots to keep me busy! My first nonfiction picture book is coming out in February, called PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH. It’s all about challenging the notion that “pink is for girls”, showcasing bizarre, dangerous, and unique pink animals. I’m tickled pink for this one! (Sorry.) This book is part of a new series called “The World of Weird Creatures”, so I’m also working on the next one! I can’t share the title yet, but I’ve definitely never seen anything like it before. Hee!

I’m also deliriously happy to report that we’ve just sold my first picture book biography!SHARK LADY is all about the life of Eugenie Clark, an incredible female scientist who studied—you guessed it—sharks. She is one of the coolest ladies I’ve ever come across, and I’m so excited to share her story!

Thanks again for having me!

And!

The wonderful folks at Sourcebooks Jabberwocky are going to give away a complete set of Jess’s My Life is a Zoo series to a lucky reader! Head here to enter! (https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/54ca7af7194/)

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Good luck!

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About the Author:

Jess Keating is a zoologist and the author of the critically acclaimed How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied. Jess is also the author of the playful nonfiction picture book Pink is for Blobfish (Knopf Children’s, 2016). She lives in Ontario, Canada, where she loves writing books for adventurous and funny kids. Visit Jess at jesskeating.com.

You can also find her at these places:

Website

Twitter

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Instagram

(And you’ll be so glad you did.)

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