Pax and Blue and an Interview with Lori Richmond

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by Lori Richmond (Simon and Schuster, 2017)

I’ve been so fortunate to get to know this fabulous author, illustrator, and human this year, and I’m so pleased to introduce you to her today. Unless you also know her, and aren’t we lucky?*

Meet Lori!

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

I came to love picture books through art. Ever since I was a kid, I loved to draw. My professional career has always been related to art or design — for 20+ years I was Creative Director at various corporate media companies. But the nature of my industry shifted, and design, especially digital product design, became very data-driven and technical. While there were some things I liked about it, I found that my daily tasks at work were no longer aligning with my personal goals. This was a tough thing to go through, because so many of us conflate our own identity with what we do for work.

Out of frustration and fatigue, I went shopping for art supplies. Oh man, is there nothing better than the smell of new art supplies?! I began drawing and painting again late at night after my kids went to bed, and I felt so refreshed and joyful. I took some continuing education classes at School of Visual Arts (SVA), where my husband teaches as an adjunct professor, and one of those was a picture book class. Thinking about making a picture book was so magical to me. To have something you made, and can hold in your hand and share with children — it was the piece I was missing in my professional work. I fell in love with the process and knew I had to pursue it.

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How did PAX AND BLUE originate?

We live in Brooklyn, so my kids are used to taking the subway everywhere. My then 3-year-old told me a story about when he was out with our babysitter, and that there was a pigeon stuck in the station. My son was so worried about the bird and talking about how frightened it must have been. Pigeons are certainly not the most revered urban animal, so it struck me how the child’s perspective was so sweet and innocent. My son was little, just like the bird, and could empathize with it. I knew it was a good seedling for a story, so I went from there and started on it while I was at SVA, and also workshopped it at Pat Cummings’ Bootcamp at Highlights. Originally, the title of the book was PAX AND THE PIGEON. In my mind, it kind of still is!

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What was it like to be both the author and illustrator for the first time?

I had no idea what I was doing, and still feel like I don’t. But I LOVE being the author and the illustrator, because you have the power to have the art do so much of the talking. I find that as I draw, more and more words go away. My editor, Paula Wiseman, and I edited a lot of text out of the book. The drawings were doing all the talking and left more room for the reader to discover the story and emotion on their own.

Can you tell us about your process? (And if you have any pictures of your studio or PAX-in- progress, that would be excellent!)

I usually begin with the words first. I may not have the entire narrative or all the character nuances laid out, but I need to have some kind of foundation for the story before I start thumbnailing. I admire artists who draw characters for years and get to know them, and their story comes out. That has never happened to me. (Maybe one day!!)  I do love the thumbnailing part of the process — the loose scribbles and the thinking part. Everything feels so malleable at that stage, and it is very free flowing. I like to challenge myself to come up with multiple solutions to the same problem. Sometimes I think of something way better, and other times it helps me validate my first thought as the strongest.

PAX AND BLUE looked really different in the initial submission to Simon & Schuster. It always had a limited color palette, but it wasn’t until about a year after the submission and we began to work on it, that I revisited the art. I created new character studies for Pax and expanded the palette while still staying true to the original feel. I wanted to be like a modern version of LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE (by Bernard Waber) where the backgrounds and environments recede and the characters really stand out on the page. I love books of that era! This also led to me asking (ahem, begging?) my editor for a 3-piece binding. That was a really special touch that helped give the book a vintage feel.

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What’s your studio like?

I am part of a co-working studio in Brooklyn called Friends Work Here. We are an eclectic mix of all types of creatives, including writers, photographers, designers, and video artists. And we even have an indoor swing, people!! I like having a separate workspace and the community that comes along with it. The studio is very conveniently located to my home, too, which is helpful when I have to be home for my boys.

Who are some of your story heroes?

I absolutely love THE CARROT SEED by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson, and SNOW by Uri Shulevitz. Both are such simple stories about a child’s belief in themselves, and persistence in those thoughts no matter what everyone else says. I love these kind of universal messages that stand the test of time.  As for modern books, my current favorite is LIFE ON MARS by Jon Agee. It’s one of those books I wish I had thought of! So well done, and the pictures say so much. And it’s so funny!

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

This is a classic case of the shoemaker’s children having no shoes. I make books, and my husband is a photographer, and we have no art on our walls. We also don’t have too many walls, because we live in a city apartment! I do always let my children hang up their work, though. I never get angry about tape or adhesives on the walls. It’s really fun to see them feel pride in their creations. My younger son has completely covered the wall surrounding my bed with love notes. So, those are definitely my favorite right now.

What’s next for you?

2018 is going to be a crazy year. In March 2018, my next author-illustrated title, BUNNY’S STAYCATION (Scholastic), will hop into the world. This is an incredibly special book about a parent who travels for work. I can’t wait to share! Then in Spring 2018 comes a super-cute book I illustrated called OOPSIE-DO (HarperCollins), written by Tim Kubart. And, finally, in Summer 2018 comes SKELLY’S HALLOWEEN (Henry Holt), written by David Martin. Whew!

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*This is a recurring line in my novel, A Rambler Steals Home, and it pops into my head so many times I just use it as much as I can. Cool, right?

Thanks to Lori for the fantastic pictures in this post!