Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and an interview with Zack Rock

Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

by Zack Rock (Creative Editions, 2014)

Zack Rock and I haunt some of the same circles on the internet. I have a tshirt with his work on it thanks to Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves (how cool is that header?), and I have long admired his work thanks to some tea time at Seven Impossible Things here and here. And once upon a time in 2012, Zack wrote a hilarious joke for a Hallowtweet contest run by Adam Rex and Steven Malk.

I remember that well, cause in fun-facts-here-at-Design-of-the-Picture-Book both Julie Falatko and I were runners-up in that contest, and the real prize was getting her friendship. Start of an era, for sure. (Although Zack did get an original piece of Adam Rex art, and we’d both admit to coveting that a little. See below!)

So. I’ve had my eye out for this book for years. Years! And I was so happy that Zack spent some time chatting with me about this smorgasbord of stuff and story. He also said he “answered the living daylights” out of these questions, so I sure hope you enjoy the living daylights out of them like I did.

Welcome, Zack! (That jovial picture is from his blog, where he has killer posts like this one on bad drawings and perspective. Check it out!)

IMG_9253breakerHomer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

One thing I know that’s true of kids is that they love a billion teensy and scrutinize-able details in books. Your book starts out with such cool stuff on the endpapers, that I almost (only almost) don’t want to keep going! Do you have any kind of catalog for these curiosities, or did you just create anything and everything that felt right? Is there a backstory for each of these elements?!

I drew whatever felt right, “right” being subject to how exhausted my imagination was at the time. And though I’d like to leave the history of the curios up to the readers’ interpretation, I carry a backstory for each in my mind—some more convoluted than others.

For instance, in the museum there’s an antique, penny arcade cabinet inspired by the Musée Mécanique, which houses scores of these old contraptions in San Francisco. So to honor them, I fitted my museum’s machine with a tiny, top-hatted automaton of one of SF’s most curious citizens: Norton I, self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States of America (a real guy). So plenty of thought went into that curio.

On the other hand, another curio is an apple with a faucet sticking out of it because I was thirsty when I drew it.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

(I love the way this whole book starts. I feel like I’m in really good hands.)

Thanks! I like to consider myself the Allstate of illustrators.

What’s your studio like? Do you have trinkets and tschotskes or a cool window view?

Believe it or not, I’m allergic to collecting stuff, so my studio is bare as a monk’s cell. My mother, however, has a fondness/compulsion for antiquing in bulk; almost none of her massive collection of furniture and doodads got past the door of my childhood home without having first seen several generations of use. It lent the crowded house an air of the same well-worn nostalgia that permeates the pages of my book.studio

Surely you’ve hidden some easter eggs in these pages. Any hints? Any behind-the-scenes stories?

Now I regret not hiding an actual Easter Egg in the museum. Honestly, nearly everything in the book is an Easter Egg, since there’s a secret story encased in each curio. But instead of cracking those open, I’ll share a behind-the-scenes tour of the book’s present day setting.

I created the book while living in Seattle, and Pacific Northwest references are littered throughout it. The license plate on the VW Bug in the first scene reads “FRMTTRL,” an allusion to the massive concrete Fremont Troll lurking beneath the Seattle’s Aurora Bridge. The museum exterior is based on the old town hall in Bellingham, WA, and the fictional island it crashed on is named for Washington State’s notorious children’s writer, Sherman Alexie. A Washington State ferry, the Olympic Mountains, a totem pole from Pike Place Market, and a handful of other Puget Sound souvenirs also make an appearance in the book.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

This book has a real undercurrent of ignored things being a treasure with a story. Are you a treasure hunter or a treasure-leaver-for-somebody-else? (I think that’s what making books is, so you are that one for sure. I guess what I’m asking is why do you think HHH was such a collector of stories, and do you see any parallels in your own life of creative curating?)

Ooo, books as treasures to be discovered, I like that! Makes me sound like a pirate.

Homer is an underdog; nobody would look at him and assume his adventures extend beyond an expedition to the local sushi restaurant. He identifies himself with the object’s he curates, so he surrounds himself with the lost and neglected, and by exhibiting their rich history to the world he literally shares his own biography.

And I’ll leave the parallels with my own life to the armchair psychoanalysts.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

What came first to you in this story: words or pictures? Can you talk to being a picture book creator who deals with both parts? (And in case anyone’s wondering, my favorite line is this one: My luggage may be dusty. But my hat still fits.)

Ha, that’s the one line written entirely by my editor Aaron! He suggested it while editing the book, and I thought it was great too, so we kept it in.

Being an author/illustrator isn’t terribly different than being solely a writer, the main distinction is that you have a visual language to express the story as well. So I can employ the duel butterfly nets of text and images to capture the picture book ideas that flutter into view, jotting notes alongside small thumbnail sketches as I try to pin down plot/character/theme details. It becomes a balancing act of seeing which of the two, words or images, best conveys what needs to be communicated.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s your creative process like? Any weird routines? What’s your medium of choice?

My only real habit—creative or otherwise—are the nightly walks I take after work, allowing my legs and mind to wander. In fact, I got the original idea for Homer Henry Hudson during one of these constitutionals.

And for picture books I work almost exclusively in watercolor, though for other projects I work in pen and ink, digitally, or with accidental food stains.

Who are your literary and artistic heroes?

They’re all in the book! Along with Shaun Tan, Maurice Sendak and Lisbeth Zwerger—who I painted into a restaurant scene—there’s references to Søren Kierkegaard, Jorges Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Renee Magritte, Herman Melville, JD Salinger, George Orwell, Ingmar Bergman, Charles Schulz, and of course, Homer. Even my favorite comedian, Paul F Tompkins, whose podcasts kept me company during the long hours of illustrating the book, has a cameo as a pipe-smoking painting.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

Do you have a favorite piece of artwork hanging in your house? Or a favorite tune that feels like art?

A few years ago, Adam Rex held a contest to see who could fit the best Halloween haiku into the constraints of a tweet. To my surprise he picked mine, and to my utter flabbergastination he went on to illustrate it and sent me the original art! It’s incredible. I framed it above my art desk as a reminder that, with hard work and dedication to my craft, I may one day hope to be the poor man’s Adam Rex.

Why books for kids?

One of the most valuable skills to possess is the ability to approach the world and its inhabitants with wonder, curiosity and interest. What’s great about kids is that they do this naturally and without being self-conscious. My hope is that Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and future books will be something readers carry with them as they grow older and are tempted to lose that wonder, reminders there’s so much more to the world, the things in it, and yourself to discover if you approach life with an open heart.

Plus, I have nothing to say that couldn’t be said by a talking dog.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s next for you?

Another book for Creative Editions about the power of stories, this time from the perspective of an acrobatic pig.

How can we buy your book?

Through your local struggling independent bookseller. Or Powells.com. Or, sigh, Amazon.com.

What did I miss?

There are humanoid pears hanging in the first illustration of the museum interior, bottom of the page. Look past the table leg and Grecian urn. See that? It’s a butt!Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockbreakerI’m pretty sure that’s the first butt mention on this blog. Have any treasure-hunters? Or fans of hidden picture art? Since we all love talking dogs, this book is a great choice for all readers everywhere.

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The Wonderful Egg and an interview with Flying Eye Books

The Wonderful Egg by Dahlov Ipcar(image here.)

by Dahlov Ipcar (Flying Eye Books, 2014; originally published 1958.)

The great folks at Flying Eye sent me this book a while back, and I’ve been staring at it for weeks. Months. It’s enchanting. And simple. And complex. And a huge restoration effort, which was a bit mind-blowing to understand. That’s why I consulted the experts.

But if you don’t know Dahlov Ipcar and her bright body of work, check this out first:

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Because her original plates were lost long ago, Flying Eye figured out a way to bring this story to many new readers. It’s remarkable. Here’s my conversation with Sam Arthur, Flying Eye’s Managing Director. And of course, some really beautiful art. (Click any of the images to enlarge.)

The Wonderful Egg by Dahlov Ipcar

Can you describe the original way the art was created? I understand it to be color separated plates, but is that the best way to describe it? Sort of like a silkscreen process?

The original separations would have been created on drafting film or trace paper. In this way the process is very similar to preparing artwork for a silkscreen process. The main difference being that offset lithography allows for subtler more detailed textures than most screen printing processes as the ‘screen’ (meaning dots that make up the image – also known as half tone) is made up with smaller dots. I think Dahlov made her original artwork using mixed media, collage, pastel brush and wash.The Wonderful Egg by Dahlov Ipcar

So the original art was unavailable, I assume? Can you describe the steps in the process to remaster the work?

The original artwork had been lost over the years, so our challenge was to recreate the new book using artwork from finished books that were from the original print runs (printed in the early 60s). All of the information we required was in these books. Most publishers would have simply scanned the images and printed them using standard CMYK reproduction (a composite image made up of dots using cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Our intentions were different, we wanted to produce the book in the same way as the original, which used 4 different special spot colours (or Pantone colours as they are now called).

In order to reproduce the book using the original printing technique, we had to recreate the original separations from the flattened, printed artwork. That was the tricky bit, we had to scan the artwork at very high resolution and then using photoshop un-pick the colours and put them into separate layers. The difficult thing is where the colours overlap each other, sometimes it’s difficult to see and it helps to have the original book to hand. So in the end the process uses photoshop selection tools, but also hand retouching. It’s a skilled job. The Wonderful Egg by Dahlov IpcarThe Wonderful Egg by Dahlov Ipcar

How many people worked on this? How long did it take and how long was it in the works?

The first book we did was The Wonderful Egg and it took 5 weeks to complete all of the images. There were two of us working on it, but we had a tight schedule and when it came to working on I Like Animals we had to call on three others to help us meet our deadline.

Was the way color was printed in the 1950s and 1960s drastically different from today? How?

In the 50s and 60s most of children’s books that were illustrated were printed using separations created by the illustrator. As time went on and technology improved illustrator’s artwork would be photographed and translated into CMYK separations using a photographic process. In the early days presumably this process was more expensive than simply asking illustrators to provide their own separations. Many children’s books also had a 4/2 colour scheme – meaning half of the book would include 4 colour images and the other half would have 2 colour images. This would save money in the printing process and also give the illustrator slightly less work to do on the 2 colour images. It does give these books a nice rhythm as you turn the pages. It was a practical consideration that has fed into the aesthetic, that’s quite interesting in itself.I Like Animals by Dahlov Ipcar

(image here.)

I’m curious if you got any backlash for republishing something with incorrect factual information? As a reader (and a librarian!) I love the choice, and see such value in preserving a particularly lovely era in picture books, but I wonder if you received any negative feedback. (Hope not.)

We have had a few comments, not really negative ones, more observations of the change in thought on the origin of dinosaurs etc. I think most people realise quickly that it’s an old title, so there is different kind of appeal when reading it. Also as I stated above the key story behind the egg, is still relevant in today’s thinking.I Like Animals by Dahlov Ipcar I Like Animals by Dahlov Ipcar

Why did you all decide to remaster this book, and are there plans for others as well? (We are thankful and we are hopeful, too!)

We decided to remaster this book as it felt quite contemporary in its treatment of the subject matter even though knowledge of the subject has changed, but the key message is still widely accepted in palaeontology. The illustrations are beautiful and we wanted to Dahlov’s this work to a new generation. This year we also released her book I Like Animals, next year we will be re-publishing Black & White and Wild & Tame Animals also by Dahlov Ipcar.I Like Animals by Dahlov Ipcarbreaker

Cool, right? What a legacy! Big thanks to Flying Eye for gathering us all around the campfire in celebration of great stories.

And speaking of color separations, check out this post at Seven Impossible Things for a look at how Jonathan Bean is doing the same thing in a contemporary picture book. Unreal. But very real, which is the great news.

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Thanks to the folks at Flying Eye (Tucker, Sam, and Emily!) for the images in this post. I received a copy of The Wonderful Egg, but all thoughts are my own.

Flashlight and an interview with Lizi Boyd

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

by Lizi Boyd (Chronicle Books, 2014.)

I really love Lizi Boyd’s work. It’s this perfect mix of oh, of course and oh, I never. Once upon a time I wrote about Inside Outside over on Design Mom, and I’ve been looking forward to this new book for a good while. It’s a great thing to have room for more.

And can you stop looking at that cover? I can’t. It’s beckoning, it’s comforting, it’s hurry-up-and-get-adventuring.

So I was lucky enough to have a chat with Lizi Boyd about creating books, the sound of picture books, her process, and her dogs. Thanks for welcoming your book to the world with us this way, Lizi.

(Click any of the images to enlarge.)breakerCan you talk about where this book came from? Was it always in the pipeline along with Inside Outside, or did working in that form spark the idea for Flashlight?

One night when I was working on Inside Outside I realized the dogs had been out for a long time. It was very dark and I took a flashlight to look for them. I heard noises in the field and when I flashed the light suddenly there was color; their eyes, collars, the apples and grasses. It was so cool! And then I thought, oh, a book. I couldn’t wait to get inside and google around to see if it had been done. It seemed so utterly simple and wonderful. I began the sketches for it the next day. So, yes, Inside Outside influenced the idea because in working on that book it was utterly quiet and still in my studio and that encouraged the idea for Flashlight.Flashlight by Lizi BoydHow do you know when something is working, and how do you know when something is overworked?

When it’s a wordless book I need to just go along with a very quiet head and allow the idea to tell itself. I actually have to ‘see’, by making the drawings, where it’s going to take me. And I need a completely empty house because my studio is in our house.

Mostly I know when to pause and wait it out or take the dogs for a good long walk and think about what I’m working on. That being said I just filled up a box with sketches for other projects that are little beginnings and seem not to be ready to tell me what they’re about and where  they’d like to go.

Why do you think your stories are best suited to the form of the picture book? And specifically in Flashlight, I feel like a sensibility exists with the excitement and adventure of something so seemingly dangerous: the night, the dark, the strange creatures. Can you talk to that a bit?

It hadn’t occurred to me until I was making Inside Outside that a book and its story could belong to the readers ‘telling of the story’ not just the one the author is writing and illustrating. Picture books are all about this but I want to see how far I can stretch this idea. So I’ll surprise you by saying that the nighttime element; the dark, the strange creatures, a sense of danger was never part of my thinking. My sons weren’t afraid of the dark. The notebook I kept while working on Flashlight has these words; story + imagination + silence. Sound/elemental. A book one can ear if one really listens. (One does ‘hear’ books!)Flashlight by Lizi BoydCan you talk about the physical design of the book? The paper, the ink, how you got such lush blacks (which I think is difficult!) and how you engineered the peeks and surprises of the die cuts? Did the design of the book drive what had to happen in the story or vice versa?

I tried out several shades of gray / black papers and settled on the blackest one. I loved the way the beam of the light popped and the colors too, all of which needed to be painted over several times to get their finished strength. The die cuts were made with templates so on the finished illustrations there weren’t any holes just a tracing of where the cuts would be made. This part was difficult and there were quite a few changes done by Sarah Gillingham, art director, with her brilliant eye and computer skills! Many of the die cuts surprised us.

What are some of your favorite books and/or art from childhood? What is your favorite piece of art hanging in your home or studio?

I grew up in an artistic, visually inspired house. Our mother was a mid-century potter who moved her studio from NYC to VT. There were lots of books every kind; art, nature, children’s books and interesting objects of design all around us.

I love primitive masks and have a few real beauties. (A man recently came with his five-year-old son and said, “Do these masks frighten you?” – something that hadn’t occurred to me. His son was so busy with his iPad that I don’t think he noticed them. Maybe they could have frightened him away from his iPad for a moment?)Flashlight by Lizi BoydWhat modern picture books do you look to for inspiration and encouragement?

I have a stack of picture books in the studio. My friends, far and wide, send me books from everywhere; France, Italy, Germany. And I have some new ones from Chronicle, all exquisite; the printing, the paper and the design. Flashlight became the book it is because of Chronicle’s eye, care and hand in the myriad production details.breakerAnd take a look at this lovely trailer for more of a sense of Flashlight’s magic.

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To all of our boxes of little beginnings!

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Thanks to Chronicle Books for the images, a review copy of the book, and connecting me to Lizi Boyd. Thoughts and opinions my own. 

How to Hide a Lion

How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens

How to Hide a Lion (Henry Holt, 2013. Originally published 2012 in the UK.)

by Helen StephensLion5

 

One hot day, a lion strolled into town to buy a hat.

Of course he did. That frilly blue thing in the window is pretty fancy after all. This beast only has eyes for that bonnet, and bypassed the bakery without even a side eye. But while the beast has eyes for the bonnet, the townspeople have eyes for safety and decorum. They chase him out. 

And like any smart wild animal, he finds refuge in a kid. A kid who was not scared of him in the least. A kid who saw a problem that needed solving. A kid who saw her world differently. She knows he needs hiding, and I think that’s such a beautiful example of what it must be like to be a kid. You have this vague awareness of things that are problems for grownups, and yet you attack them as if those grownups are absurd. 

That’s kid truth. That’s a great thing for this lion.

There’s smushing behind the shower curtain, there’s lounging on the limb of a tree, and there’s plenty of bed-jumping. And still, when he overhears Iris’s parents saying there’s no such thing as a kind lion, there’s sadness.

But.

Lion1

The way Helen Stephens is using color in this book is both sweet and striking to me. This lion, large and yellow, takes up a lot of space on pages of close ups. And his girl, Iris, matches him a bit with her yellow arms and brown mane. That’s sweet. That’s friends who can see themselves in each other.

But the blues. Loose complements to the wild yellow of the beast, the wild brown of Iris’s hair. Ever notice when a book is cracked open, the edges of the cover frame it a bit? This one is blue, a lovely turquoise. The endpapers are a shade of sky and a deep navy. Those pages and that cover peek around the story itself.

A little touch of blue, giving this lion a hug.

Just like Iris. Lion3Lion2

These vignettes! The gag is a an unhide-able lion, right? It’s an impossibility that’s highlighted with the use of these orange-yellows and blues. 

After the lion escapes his Iris-refuge, he blends in to his surroundings. A camouflaged cat, if you will. He holds his breath between two marble-sculpted friends. I don’t want to show you the spread, cause Big Things Happen, but take a look at the colors of that page. His hiding is a success. No need for blues to offset his presence. 

Also, I love how this book is pretty big. That’s obviously not a very technical or artistic term to to reference trim size, but it’s true. A lion is tricky to hide, and the physical space this book takes up is the gentlest nod to the absurdity of that task. Besides, a lion wouldn’t fit in a smaller book, right? 

He’d be much harder to hide that way.Lion4ch

PS: Be sure to visit this post from Danielle at This Picture Book Life. There’s some secret-spoiler-y-easter-egg things on the pages of this book, and her post is the coolest.

The Queen of Colors

Queen of Colorsby Jutta Bauer (NorthSouth, 2014; originally published in Germany, 1998, as Die Königen der Farben.)

I love the work NorthSouth is doing, and this book in particular has stuck with me for a while.Queen of ColorsSo it’s a funny little book, but it’s also literally little, and there’s a lot of mayhem happening in such a small package. I think that’s smart.Queen of ColorsColor’s been on the brain a lot this week because I’m in the thick of teaching an Intro to Photoshop and Graphic Design class to kids. This has been a fun one to show them, because the colors in this book take on such a clear identity.Queen of ColorsBlue is soft and gentle. I love how the Queen is giving it a hug and kiss.Queen of Colors Queen of Colors Queen of ColorsRed barrels in and nearly knocks her over. It’s wild and dangerous.Queen of ColorsAnd then there’s Yellow. Warm and bright and sunshiny on her toes.

These colors have purpose, but when Matilda can’t control them, the whole mess turns Gray.Queen of Colors Queen of Colors It’s the same in art. Too many colors competing leaves you a whole lot of buzz and confusion. It doesn’t work.ThisDoesntWork(image source.)

This Gray sticks around for a while. It doesn’t work. Queen of ColorsQueen of ColorsBut it does make the Queen of Colors sad. Not gentle, not wild, not warm. Not colorful. 

So she cries. You’ll have to see for yourself what her tears do to the gray. Here’s a hint: it’s scribbles and stars and swirls. It’s a happy ending.

Color has a story, and it’s a story that matters.

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P.S.—Does Queen Matilda remind you a little bit of Queen Ursula from the Little Mermaid? I think it’s part her bossiness, and part her curves. I’m awful at remembering lines from films, but this is one that has stayed with me a long, long time. I think it’s thanks to the bubbles that shimmy out of her hind parts!

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Martin Pebble

Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble (Phaidon, 2006; first published in French, 1969)

by Jean-Jacques Sempé

I love this book.

I love the type on the cover.

I love the yellow.

I love the shape and the size and the story.

I love Martin Pebble.

He’s loveable.

(I picked this up on a recent trip to Once Upon a Time in Montrose, CA, which is exactly why shopping in stores is the greatest thing. I had to touch this thing to believe it, and I might not have seen this thing if it weren’t for the bookseller. Bookstores are like story petting zoos and museums that don’t give you the stinkeye if you get too close to the art.)

(Something like that.)

But poor Martin Pebble.

Martin Pebble could have been a happy little boy, like many other children. But, sad to say . . . he had something that was rather unusual the matter with him:

he kept blushing.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble blushes for all the usual reasons and for no reason at all. The brilliance of Sempé’s color here is hard to miss. Black and white line work contains the red of Martin’s face, and that red occasionally extends to the text as well.

Subtle. Striking.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéThe contrast Sempé crafts between Martin’s red face and all that black and white makes that blushing even worse.

Martin is in a pickle. He’s tiny and nearly lost on the page save for his giveaway condition.

He dreamed of fitting in.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéBut he always stood out.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéThen comes a series of sneezes, some very loud A T I S H O O s, and there he is.

Roddy Rackett, the new neighbor.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéWhen the story changes, and the hardships knock at the door, Sempé doesn’t just use the suspense of a page turn. He stops the story cold.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéRoddy Rackett’s family moves away.

When you are a boy, and when you are made normal in the quirks of another, you never really forget about it. You think about A T I S H O O s while you are doing grownup things like riding taxis and elevators.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéSometimes things get back to normal.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéI won’t spoil past that pink-lettered page.

But I love it.IMG_1250 copy

And!

Sempé himself sounds like a storybook character. He sold tooth powder door-to-door salesman! Delivered wine by bicycle! (More here.)

Click here for some of Sempé’s covers for The New Yorker. Lovely.

And this Pinterest board is a feast for the eyes, too. Enjoy!

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Number One Sam and an interview with Greg Pizzoli

Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoliby Greg Pizzoli

published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion

I’m honored and thrilled to have Greg Pizzoli back to the blog this week. About a year ago we talked about Kroc and The Watermelon Seed, and in the many weeks since, that thing (and Greg!) won the Geisel Award! My kindergarteners call him ‘the BURRRRPPP man’ which I’m pretty sure is the highest praise any mere mortal can achieve.

But today! Today is the birthday of Greg’s latest and greatest, Number One Sam. This is my favorite tweet about it:Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 3.47.57 PM(And side note, you should follow Matt Roeser at Candlewick cause he has impeccable taste and eyeballs.)

And this (!) is the trailer:

breakerGreg chatted with me about process and art and picture books, and I’ve read these answers about a billion times and am still learning. Enjoy!

Your spot color. Wow! Can you talk about why such a stripped-down design with a limited color palette is such a powerful visual device?

Great question!

To be honest, I’m not sure. But, I think it comes down
to working from an intention, and just having a plan, or restrictions
set in place from the beginning. You can’t just grab another color
from somewhere – when it comes time to make final art, we’ve done
rounds of pantone tests and paper tests, and the limitations and
possibilities are in place, so nothing is casual. Maybe it makes you
consider things in a way that is unique to working in that way?

I know for me, if I’m doing a book that is printed in a limited color
palette, it can feel restrictive in one sense, but there is a real
freedom within the limitations, if you know what I mean. There’s not
endless guessing the way there might be with a CMYK book. Obviously we
do lots of tests and make sure we get the base colors right for the
book, but once that is done, I can start carving out the drawings and
not worry too much about the colors, because we’ve done so much work
on the front end. It’s a challenge I enjoy.

Here’s a photo of a spot color test proof.Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

Why do you think your stories are best suited to the form of the picture
book. What can you do in this form that you might not be able to in another?

This is a tough one, Carter. Boy, I come to your blog looking to have
a good time, maybe show a video or something, and you slam me with
this “why picture books” stuff. Sheesh. “Gotcha blogging” right here.
But that’s fine, I’ll play along.

I’m kidding, of course. But, it is a tough one. I guess it’s not all
that complicated for me. I’ve always loved picture books and I think
it’s because there are so many possible ways to solve the problem of
telling a story with text and images. It’s a cliche I think, but you
really can do anything in a picture book. But here again, I like the
restrictions. As much as I might complain to my editor that I “just
need one more spread” to tell the story, it’s actually nice to have a
structure where you have to fit a complete world, with a character, a
problem, and (maybe?) a solution to that problem in only 40 (or so)
pages.

There’s something about how deliberate every decision has to be
that is super appealing to me. I’ve been working on writing a longer
thing recently, a series, and it’s not as though I’m not deliberate
when working on it, but I’ll admit that it feels as though not as much
is hinging on each line or picture in the same way. With picture
books, you don’t have room for anything to feel arbitrary. I like
that.

Also, I thought you might want to see these. Sam started out as a
print of a weird dog (top) and then I made a print of another
(cuter) dog, and he kept coming up in my sketchbooks until he became
Number One Sam (bottom).Number One Sam by Greg PizzoliNumber One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

What do you think are the most important considerations when creating a book trailer?
How do you think through compressing an already spare narrative into a short
animation? Are there aspects to animation you wish you had access to in
picture book art or vice versa? (I guess mostly I’m curious about how book
trailers share storytelling space with picture books and what they can do
differently. Does that make sense?!)

Ya know, it’s a complicated thing this book trailer business. I am
really happy with the two we’ve done so far, but I definitely can’t
take all the credit. Jimmy Simpson, directed and animated both the
trailer for The Watermelon Seed and for Number One Sam, and he is
pretty incredible to work with. Both times we started working, I had
already finished the book, and I had a very basic sense of what I
wanted the trailer to be, but he figures out all of the transitions
and added all of the touches that make them work as well as I think
they do. For example, the “wink” shot from the Number One Sam trailer –
that’s all Jimmy. And of course, he does all of the animation.

I draw the stuff, which is somewhat complicated because you have to
keep everything separated, meaning draw the arm on a different layer
from the body, and the hand on a different layer than the arm, and the
ear on it’s own layer, etc. Basically everything needs to move
independently of everything else, but my characters are pretty simple,
so it’s not too big a deal.

And the music is key. My buddy Christopher Sean Powell composed the
music special for both trailers. What a talent, right? He plays in the
band Man Man, and has his solo music project called Spaceship Aloha,
and was a part of a pretty seminal band from these parts called Need
New Body. I’m thrilled we get to work together on this stuff.

But, to your actual question, I see the trailer and the book as
completely separate things. They have their own pacing, and their own
objectives. With the book, you want everything to feel complete, and
have an emotional pay off of some kind. And you have the narrative arc
to keep things together. With the trailer, it’s more of a tease. You
don’t want to give it all away. And I guess our objective is to just
make them fun and unique.

Book trailers have become more popular, and there is a sort of
template for how they are done that we have tried to stay away from.
We just want them to feel different enough to maybe stand out. It’s a
super small community in some ways, and my book trailers certainly
aren’t racking up millions of views or anything, but we enjoy making
them for their own sake, partly I think because we all just like
working together. If other people dig them, and check out the book on
top of that, that’s icing.

What types of trophies do you have lining your shelves? What kind do you
wish you had? Side note: What would a book called Number One Greg be about?

Beyond my published books, which I kind of think of as trophies in a
way, there are a couple. Last year when I finished the art for Number
One Sam, my editor Rotem sent me a trophy that I keep on my bookcase.
And recently I was looking through some old family photos and found a
first place ribbon that I had won for a school wide art contest in
the 1st grade. My family moved around a ton when I was little, so the
actual winning piece was lost. I remember it though! It was a big
piece of yellow poster board with a marker drawing of outer space.

Maybe it’s time to do a space book?Number One Sam by Greg PizzoliNumber One Sam by Greg PizzolibreakerAnd now for some art from Number One Sam. Thank you, Greg! (Click to make any of them larger.)Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

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Collect Raindrops: The Seasons Gathered

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure

by Nikki McClure

published 2014 by Abrams Books (reissue)

Every soul who has seen Nikki McClure’s art has loved it. I’m sure there are studies and statistics on that, trust me. It looks as elegant on an iPhone case as it does on a gift tag or greeting card.

But then there are books, and thank goodness she makes them.Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureThis edition of Collect Raindrops has been reissued in an expanded form and a new format. It’s based on her ongoing calendar series, and begs to take up permanent residence on your coffee or bedside table. Don’t just stick it on the shelf. You’ll want this one at easy reach. It’s gorgeous to touch, to see, and to behold.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureHere, her pictures are gathered by their season, each introduced with love letters to their very time and place.

“Some people just need help to see the obvious. And that’s what artists are for.”

That sentiment comes from this short film that demystifies her process but reveals a lot of magic. She calls it corny, but I call it lovely:

breakerShe says her paper cuts are like lace, and everything is connected. Before it’s in a book, can’t you picture what that art looks like held up against a light? Physically, the paper that remains envelops the paper that is gone. Like knots, or filaments, or branches. How beautiful then, that her subject is often community. Shared memories and experiences.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureThe contrast is what connects us. As much story lives in what’s been carved away as what sticks behind. But by simple definition, contrast means difference, and in design, your brain is searching for dominant elements. This art contrasts light and dark, filled and white space, and in those separations paints a portrait of community.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureAnd then there’s the case cover itself. A web, a symbol itself of creativity and connection, binds the pages together.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureIsn’t that remarkable?

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Oliver’s Tree

Olivers Tree by Kit Chasewritten and illustrated by Kit Chase

published 2014, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of PenguinOliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’ve always had a soft spot for elephants, ever since I had a sweet stuffed one as a kid. He played ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ so of course, Sunshine was his name. And I don’t know who I’m kidding with the kid thing, cause Sunshine still lives with me. He’s a dear.

And lately, I’ve had a tender thing towards trees and how much they give us. Some are big enough to hug, and some snap at the landing of a songbird. All are homes.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseAdd a little Beatrix Potter-esque art, and a story that stays endearing without dipping into the saccharine side, and I’m completely charmed. The dust jacket says it best: ‘there’s a reason we don’t see elephants in trees.’

I love this elephant, Oliver. I love that when all he sees is despair, he takes a nap. Spectacular coping skill, Oliver! Thank goodness that his friends aren’t defeated, and they get to work searching and gathering.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’m adding the spread below to my inner rolodex of perfect picture book spreads. The words and the illustrations balance each other and don’t compete for attention. It slows down the action, builds suspense, and gives the reader a chance to predict what happens on the other side of the page turn. And the twig frames are just plain lovely. So: pretty perfect.Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI hope this isn’t the only story Kit Chase is brewing with Oliver, Charlie, and Lulu. I feel like they have a lot to say and share.

Want to see more of her art? A dash of dear and a pinch of perfect? All of the pieces below are in her Etsy shop, trafalgar’s square. Huge thanks to Kit for sharing these with us!https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare

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Review copy provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Mathilda and the Orange Balloon

Mathilda and the Orange Balloonby Randall de Sève, illustrated by Jen Corace

(published 2010, by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins)

(You might remember one of my other Jen Corace faves, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, over at Design Mom!)

Oh, Mathilda. You are a determined sheep. A sweet sheep. A sheep with a story.Mathilda and the Orange BalloonMathilda and the Orange BalloonMathilda and the Orange BalloonMathilda and the Orange BalloonSee, in Mathilda’s world, everything is small. And green. And gray. A fluffy sea of same. Which is only a shame for a page or two, because then . . . an orange balloon.Mathilda and the Orange BalloonIt’s just the thing to buoy the heart of a sheep weary of the same. She calls it magnificent, and something inside her wakes up. I love that, don’t you? The hope of a floating balloon, and the hint that the world is bigger and more colorful than you know.

While this magnificent thing sparks a joy in Mathilda, the other sheep are unimpressed. Heads down, mouths chomping on clumps of clover, they are uninterested. Blind to the magic. Especially when Mathilda says she is an orange balloon. When you’re blind to the magic, that friend filled with joy is just a gray sheep. And will always be a gray sheep.Mathilda and the Orange BalloonMathilda and the Orange BalloonMathilda and the Orange BalloonBut when you are Mathilda, you are round and warm. You fly. You are fierce and big, and you are happy. Of course, because you are an orange balloon. You are.

I adore this story. I love that it’s utterly ridiculous but full of hope. I’d like to give Mathilda a fist bump and say, “you go, girl.” And I’d like to be an orange balloon, too.

So the color here is masterful. Its contrast to the herd of gray sheep is a delight. It’s also restrained, and that’s why it soars. Mathilda and the Orange BalloonLast week I woke up in the middle of the night for the ALA Youth Media Awards. What a celebration of art and story, and man, aren’t our readers the real winners? Thinking about the Caldecott awards, this struck me:Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 1.48.25 PM(Come on, that Mr. Wuffles bit about nine-tenths is funny, right? Still searching for validation on that one.)

(Also, here’s where I’ll put a little I-told-you-so about Flora and the Flamingo‘s win. Remember this post from July?! I told Molly Idle that I immediately felt guilty for publishing those words so early in the year, so what a relief that I didn’t actually jinx the process.

I know. That’s not how it works. Still.)

So.

Mathilda and the Orange Balloon is a stunning example of the balance between words and pictures. Type out Randall de Sève‘s words. Her text doesn’t dictate how Mathilda became the orange balloon. It didn’t have to. The pictures solve that puzzle. The pictures jump into the playground of your imagination and fill in the gaps. Her words are beautiful, but spare, and leave breathing room for the illustrations. This form is visual. Isn’t that the best part? Breathtaking mini-museums, and a rich storytelling experience. We have to leave them room, writers!

Enjoy this one. And check out this Mathilda birthday party! How fun!

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