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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Little Bit More About How I Made Blue

Recently my editor asked me to answer a few questions about the process of writing and illustrating When Blue Met Egg for the Penguin website.  She also requested a few shots of my studio, which you will notice is unique for one obvious reason.  I don't think the questions are up on the website yet, so I thought I would share my answers with you for this week's post to finish up on the making of When Blue Met Egg.  A couple of them may seem familiar from my last two posts on Blue, so I apologize in advance for any repeats:

What inspired you to write When Blue Met Egg?
Between my junior and senior year of college I moved to New York City for the summer working as an intern at an art gallery.  Although I grew up in the Bay Area, I had never been to a city that felt as big as New York. I was so small compared to all the skyscrapers that surrounded me.  I lived on the Upper Westside so I spent a lot of time near Central Park.  I think the combination of the setting and the way I felt that summer led me to write When Blue Met Egg.  I loved the idea of a small character navigating a large city confidentlyBy the time I left New York I was so proud of the fact that I knew my way around and wasn’t afraid to explore new places. That is how I wanted Blue to be – brave, confident, and always willing to make new friends.
Since you work primarily in collage, can you tell us a little bit about your process?  Do you sketch first, and when do you glue down your paper?
I work in cut paper and mixed media.  Every shape is cut out of a different piece of paper and then glued down to a two-dimensional surface.  I begin by doing a lot of sketching.  After I have an idea of what I want the composition to look like I transfer the sketches onto tracing paper. This is what I draw the final sketches on before going to the finished artwork.  Once the sketches have been approved, I begin the process of transferring the drawings to illustration board.  I individually transfer each shape in the drawing to the corresponding paper I have chosen to be used in the final artwork.  Then begins the cutting…lots and lots of cutting.  Thankfully I have my trusty blue scissors, which have been with me for every book I have worked on (I’m just a wee bit superstitious about them).  I arrange each shape until I’m happy with its position, taping them down to the board, so I can move them around if need be.  After approval, I glue everything down.  Then…TA DA!  It’s a book!  Well almost.  But you get the idea.
You must have a pretty amazing paper collection!  What kinds of paper did you use in the book, and where did you find it?   
I spend a lot of my time collecting paper, looking for just the right scraps.  I have a bunch of color-coded bins in my studio that I use to organize all my paper. Most of the paper I use is vintage or antique, some of which is as old as the 1800s.  I go to garage and estate sales, paper boutiques, library sales, and used bookstores to find materials.  All the paper I use relates to the story or theme in the book in some way or another.  In When Blue Met Egg, I used old school test sheets from the 1950s, crossword puzzles, maps of New York from the 1930s, and vintage graph paper. I gradually add what I find as I see fit while I’m working on each illustration.  I love that at first glance readers see just my illustrations.  But upon closer inspection they find treasures, hidden in the papers I use.  Beneath the paint and pencil marks exists links from the past, brought back to life and recycled in a new way.  For me, that’s what the paper is when I find it, tiny hidden treasures left behind looking to be found.
You have some incredibly detailed pieces in your book, especially the spread of the carousel in Central Park and the gatefold of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Which spread was the most challenging for you to complete, and how long did it take you to make? 
Both the carousel and the Brooklyn Bride were equally challenging, but for very different reasons.  Originally the carousel in Central Park wasn’t in the book.  During sketch revisions, my editor suggested using a location in Central Park instead of the Natural History Museum (the original setting for that spread) for pacing reasonsNow let me preface this by saying that every artist has their thing that is just impossible to draw so they avoid it at all costs.  Mine was horses.  So you can imagine my reaction when my editor asked me to draw a whole carousel full of them.  But after lots of sketching, I realized she was right and it made the book better.  I couldn’t be happier with the way that spread turned out.  Also, after drawing horses repeatedly for this spread, I’m proud to say I’m no longer intimidated by drawing the anatomy of a horse.
As for the Brooklyn Bridge, I have no one to blame for the difficulty of that spread, except for myself.  I was the one who though it would be brilliant to cut out a bridge with lots of cables.  I fell in love with the idea of this spread before I thought about it logistically.  It is to date the most masochistic piece I have ever taken on.  Lets just say I had some very sore fingers covered in band-aids after the spread was completed.  It is also by far my favorite spread in the book. 
Each spread took me about three to four days to complete.
Have you been to all of the places Blue and Egg visit? 
Yes, with the exception of the boathouse, which I would love to have lunch at one day.  However, there are things Blue does that I haven’t.  Here are few I’d like to try: make a snow bird in Central Park, watch snow fall on the Brooklyn Bridge, and make a wish in the Bethesda Fountain.
Since Egg is really a snowball, were you worried about how you’d end the story?  How did you come up with such a great solution? 
The ending of When Blue Met Egg came after writing many, many bad endings.  When I was revising the manuscript I realized I had created this huge problem for myself by using a snowball as one of my characters.  Obviously the snowball has to melt, which the reader knows from the start, anticipating a sad ending.  I needed to think of a way that wasn’t sad, but uplifting and promising.  One thing I remember when I was working on Blue, was sitting on my couch one night thinking about how friends change, grow up, sometimes apart, and that’s life.  Accepting change is one of the hardest things we do as human beings.  I was drawn to the idea of a character that automatically looked past that, accepting her friend no matter what.  I love that about Blue.  After the story ends, I picture Blue and Flower experiencing all the best things about springtime in New York.
Did you always want to be a children’s book author/illustrator? 
Yes and no.  Both my parents are artists so art was always around me growing up.  But it wasn’t until I got my first job at Hicklebee’s Children’s Bookstore, that I figured out what type of art I wanted to do.  I fell madly in love with children’s book illustration.  The idea of visual storytelling captivated me.  I decided to apply to illustration programs for college, later graduating from Syracuse University.  Illustrating children’s books has been my dream since I was fifteen.  But writing, no way!  I never thought I would write.  Honestly, I never considered it.  Even when I first came up with the idea of Blue, I never really thought about the story in terms of text. I just knew what I wanted it to look like visually.  My agent was the first person to tell me she thought I was a writer too.  I thought she was crazy.  But she was right.  I’m now working on my third book as an author/illustrator.
Can you tell us a little bit about your next book?

This is a bit funny after what I said about the carousel spread, but it’s about a carousel that comes to life.  No horses though.  Its title is still up in the air at the moment.  One day Emma finds a note attached to the saddle of her favorite animal on the Grand Carousel, the polar bear.  Soon Emma finds that some things are not as they appear.  And sometimes magic can happen when you least expect it.  There will be lots of high flying adventure, magic, and maybe even a dancing polar bear or two.  I’m very excited for the release of this book, which will be in 2013 by Dial Books for Young Readers.

I love seeing different artist's studios, so I thought I would share a few photos of mine...

My design desk.  I only do computer work here, usually designing illustration mailers or wedding invitations.

My picture book collection, which I love dearly and is constantly growing.

Some of the paper hanging in my studio.

Sometimes I get really fabulous surprises in the mail, like this one, which end up on my walls.

The view out my window.  This is my backyard which drops off into a creek.  It's quite lovely.

I'm a bit large for my studio.  But I CAN stand up in it!  As long as I only stand where the roof peaks.  See:

Told you I could.  I'm not sure you believed me.

My drawing table.

Lots of paper bins.  All color coded.

Well, that's it folks.  I hope you enjoyed the sneak peek :)

Want to know more about Blue??  Or have any illustration questions in general, type them as a comment below and I will make sure to post answers in next weeks blog post.

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