It's nearly here! My new book, The Orchestra Pit, will be released into the wild on August 19th! If you're in the Portland, Oregon area, come celebrate with us on the 19th at Green Bean Books at 11am. It's a free event and everyone is welcome!
The lovely Susan Boase asked me to participate in the author/illustrator Writing Process Blog tour , a series of blog posts where folks answer the same questions about process and projects. It's a fun way to peek into the brains and studios of illustrators and authors.
Susan is a gifted author and illustrator living here in Portland. Her moving picture book Lucky Boy, was a 2004 KIND Picture Book Recipient. The Three Robbers is a well worn favorite around our house. My three year old requests it often!
Alrighty, onward. The questions!
What are you currently working on?
I'm in a fun creative place right now...no major deadlines. My brain is free to roam wherever it would like. On my desk right this minute I have two picture book ideas that I've been tinkering with, and a middle grade novel. I'm also getting ready for the release of The Orchestra Pit (Neal Porter, Roaring Brook) on August 19th, and excited for a new book I've illustrated, Book 1, Friendship Over, The Top Secret Diary of Celie Valentine (written by Julie Sternberg, Boyds Mills Press) to come out in the fall.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I love to illustrate and write stories that incorporate coziness, family, and nature. They're themes that I seek out in life and in books. I use warm colors, paint on canvas, and add a lot of layers of paint to create different textures.
Why do you write what you write?
You know the part in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when ordinary people start obsessing over that mountain, and they can't stop making art about it? That's how I feel when I have a new story idea. I tend to fixate on different topics, until I hash out a story about them. It happened with circuses. It happened with orchestras. It happened with bunnies. In fact, the main character in the Bunnies on Ice is obsessed with ice skating. She can't stop thinking about it! I can relate.
How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?
With The Orchestra Pit, I knew that I wanted to make a book that highlighted every instrument in an orchestra, but I was wrestling with how to make it work. And then one day I was watching the Portland Cello Project perform, and it kind of came at me with a whoosh. What if a snake accidentally slithered into an orchestra pit, rather than a snake pit?
When a story idea starts to take form like that, I'll go straight to painting, and hash out a few ideas. I love to paint so this is the best method for me to get to the heart of an idea. When I have a few paintings done, and the general feeling in place, I'll work on the text.
With a picture book, I try to keep the text as simple as possible. I will write and re-write until the text is as minimal as I can bear.
When I've worked out the text and nailed down the rhythm and pacing of the story, then I'll move forward to the dreaded thumbnail and dummy making stage. I say dreaded, because I loathe sketching. I just love paint and color so much, that sketching has always felt limiting and constrictive. Until now...
This year I started doing some dummy and thumbnail sketching in a new way, using an app and a stylus from Paper 53. It's changing everything for me, and most importantly, making drawing fun again! It's ridiculously intuitive, even for someone like me who has never drawn digitally.
Here's a jacket sketch for a dummy I'm working on this week, done with Paper 53. I'm able to play with colors and layers in a really easy way, so that when I get to painting, I know exactly the feeling that I'm going for, and a rough map of how to get there.
Once the dummy is done, I move on to working on canvas. I transfer my sketches using transfer paper and add layers of acrylic paint. You can watch a little video of my painting process, right here.
Who am I tagging?
I'm tagging the fantastico Leda Schubert, a talented author living in Vermont that I hope to meet in person one day. Leda has authored many books, including The Princess of Borscht and Monsieur Marceau, which won the Orbis Pictus Award for outstanding non-fiction. Leda has a new book coming out with Neal Porter about Pete Seeger. Can't wait for that!
I first met Aileen years ago, when we were both living in Brooklyn, NY. She's illustrated Bella and Bean and City Hall, The Heart of Los Angeles and written and illustrated The Hugging Hour. I remember pouring over Bella and Bean when it first came out. Gorgeous stuff. Her illustrations and storytelling appeal to the young and old, warm and full of quiet humor. I also swoon over her three dimensional creations on etsy. Can't wait to hear more about Aileen's upcoming book project. Check in with Aileen and Leda next week!
I had a dream last night that I was in jail. It was a fine jail, barely even recognizable as a jail. Kind of like a little apartment or a dorm room.
But after awhile I was feeling angry and lonely in there. I wandered around, touching the walls until I realized the door was open. How long had it been open? Could I just walk out?
When I woke up I thought for a long while about what that jail could be.
The answer wasn’t even subtle...write that book. Write that book!
Since I was about 8 or 9, I’ve been obsessed with reading and writing middle grade books. I’ve had a couple of story ideas bumping around in my head for years and years.
In the past, my best attempts at writing have happened in wheezy spurts, when I felt inspired or had the time. But over the years of going to SCBWI conferences, chatting with writers and reading books about writing, I’ve heard one thing over and over.
Make a routine, put your butt in a chair and write. That’s how you finish a book.
“Hurumph,” says the me that’s just fine with sitting in my tiny apartment jail. “I don’t have time for that.”
Which is entirely true. And not true.
I want to make time. I want to walk right out of my little cell, even though what’s beyond it is mysterious and daunting and hard. The door is open, after all....
I'm working on a Loving Kindness series this month, (may you be happy, may you peaceful, may you be free). I hope to have these available as prints at the end of the month, so feel free to check my webby-site or FB page for updates.
Big love to all this May!
There's an amazing craft tutorial based on The Secret Circus, featured this week on Princeton University's Pop Goes the Page. So sweet! Can't wait to try it out with some wee ones. You can check it out right here.
(photo courtesy of Pop Goes the Page.)