I’ve been coordinating with Joanna, the owner of Bookbug in Kalamazoo for the past month or so, and when I walked into the store the other day and saw my photo on the event-flyer, everything just got a little more real. I’m a published author. And now I’m doing an event. (!) So if you’re in or around the west side of Michigan, feel free to stop by on May 7th at 2:00pm!!
We’ve got lots of things planned:
A Read-Aloud, Drawing Lesson (draw URSA with me : A quick tutorial), Refreshments: Shooting star cookies, Connect the stars take-home worksheet, Door prizes (win a signed copy of Ursa’s Light), Book signing AND MORE!!!
You can find more information on Bookbug’s Website HERE and on FACEBOOK!
Hoping to see you there!
SO. Ursa has been popping up. In my texts, emails, Twitter and Facebook feeds, and just this week, in stores. Like a kid who couldn’t wait for the big release day, she took a short-cut and somehow wiggled her way into the world a little ahead of schedule.
After seeing a picture of her cover – face out on shelves in a Barnes & Noble in California – my heart raced a little, walking into my local Michigan B&N. Would Ursa peek out at me, here, too?
Sure enough, in Barnes & Noble yesterday, as the escalator rose and took me up to the second floor, I immediately saw her little face along the top shelf.
It was a little surreal. And wonderful. I can tell you this feeling will never get old. Ever.
As for Ursa, even though she’s sneaked out into the world a little early, my publisher, Peter Pauper Press and I will still be celebrating her launch in mid April. After all, April is the best time of year for viewing Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. There is also the forecast of a meteor shower to view – – – a lovely tie-in and show of celestial fireworks to cheer Ursa on (more details on this to come!).
So there are more things to share on Ursa’s Light, her making and her journey, but for today, on a lovely sunny, snowy Friday in early March, I’m just going to leave it here. Basking in the simple moment of finding my work, my idea, my story, a piece of myself, looking out at the world from a shelf.
“Ursa’s Light” is my first picture book. In anticipation of her release with Peter Pauper Press on APRIL 15, 2016, I wanted to lead up to the pub date with a series of posts documenting my journey from IDEA to BOOK.
While I was still a teacher in Chicago Public Schools, long before I had an agent or a book deal, I wrote a story. On the surface it’s a story about a spunky urban bear who wants to fly – but at the heart of it, this book is about failure. It’s about how doing things “wrong” is crucial to finding success…. a success you couldn’t have imagined in the first place. Failure has lead me to my most profound discoveries. And I’m still falling, still learning. Making the art for this book was full of failures and wrong turns. Failing over and over helps me find my voice as children’s book writer and illustrator.
I made the very first illustrations for this book with woodblock lino-cuts, cut-paper and paint:
I loved many things about the end product, but it also took me a week of waking hours to make one piece. With anticipated countless revisions in front of me, I was exhausted at the prospect of making many books this way. So I tried something else: ink lines in a style inspired by Edward Gorey.
But I wanted to use color in my work, so I tried gouache and watercolor with ink lines, but that wasn’t quite right either.
Finally, finally, I found my groove, my perfect storm. I had to go back to where I began.
I have always loved making lines. Line work is the place where my intuition and creativity meet and immediately trust each other. When the pen or pencil is in my hand and a blank piece of paper is in front of me, it’s like I’m standing at the edge of a mountain I’m about to ski…
…And then I push off. Drawing is skill and work and control, but it is also letting go. I finally learned to use my lines as an anchor and trust them. When the pencil is done (because there is a lot of re-drawing!), I ink the lines in and add color with all the media I had used all along : woodblock cuts, watercolor, gouache, ink wash, etc. But instead of meshing everything together on paper with scissors and glue, I taught myself how to collage them in Photoshop. Ursa’s face is that same woodblock cut as my very first piece above, and all the textures and colors I integrate are things that I come up with using brushes and inks and watercolors on my drawing table.
With that, I’ll leave you with a photograph of the cover for Ursa’s Light. I just received an advanced copy from my wonderful editor Mara Conlon at Peter Pauper Press. Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned in the coming weeks for topics like color palette, my self-portrait as a bear, thinking like a book designer, star-gazing, my book launch, a common-core Teacher’s Guide, and more. Happy exploring and creating!
AVAILABLE TODAY FOR Pre-Order on Amazon HERE
Thanks to Lauren Eldridge for tagging me in this blog tour. Her seamless blend of cinematography, 3-D sculpture, photography and drawing is so fresh and original that you cannot help but be drawn into the worlds she literally shapes, presses and pinches together with her fingers. Check out her amazing portfolio and you’ll see what I mean.
So, let’s get to it. Four Questions.
1. What am I currently working on?
First and foremost, I just signed a three book deal with Greenwillow HarperCollins to illustrate a new early middle grade series, called Backyard Witch, by Christine Heppermann and Ron Koertge. This includes a full color cover for each book (hardbound) and 60-70 black and white interior drawings per book. The first one is set to come out June 2015 and is full of things I LOVE to draw: nature, birds, girls, friendship, cats and magic (among other things).
I do like to work on multiple things at once. I am almost always generating ideas for new stories/images/series/etc, while working on something else. I have several projects that I have written and illustrated including picture books and a middle grade series, all of which are at various stages of creation and submission. See a selection above of various work in a variety of stages to give you a visual snapshot of what I’m working on right now… from more rough character designs to more finished pieces.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I write and illustrate quiet stories. I want my writing and illustration (and the combination there-in) to feel large and small all at once. I love line work and using white space with minimal color palettes. I also love to work exclusively in black and white. Using figurative language and lyric and subtle word play in minimal and imaginative ways I try to create context or a generate feeling. For stories that I write, I shape a world between my words and images that has room for whimsy and humor but also sometimes darknesses and being scared. I want the reader to feel enveloped in a space that they can see smell touch hear and taste in the sound and meaning of one word or the enjambment between one line and the next. Because small things like that are important to me.
3. Why do I write what I write?
I’ve loved working with words and images since I was six or seven. I am helplessly in love with both. I have a BFA in drawing, and an MFA in poetry. A whole story is told in the writing alone, and there is a whole story told in the images, and THEN… there is this whole other wilderness of a story told in the space between them both, that wouldn’t exist, one without the other. I want to live in that wilderness. I want to explore it every moment of the day, whether I’m writing, drawing, or picking out grapefruits at the grocery. There is mystery and inspiration and an insatiable desire in me to seek, discover and unfold this third layer of storytelling.
4. How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?
As an illustrator and writer, I approach both from many angles of entry, but often the heart of my work begins in an idea or a drawing. I incorporate time to daydream into my process. It’s where my most serious work is done. It is where I give myself a chance to wander and bump into things I don’t expect.
Technically, my illustration process starts on paper. I like to sketch loose drawings with Prismacolor markers onto newsprint. This helps me find an energy or essence I’m looking for and keeps me from being too detail oriented at first (which I have to fight because it often can strangle my process too early when trying to develop a character or concept).
I then hang the newsprint drawings up on the wall around my drawing table. I take my mechanical pencil with very thin 0.3mm H lead and render a character or scene onto 11″ x 14″ paper. From there I ink everything in with a dip ink pen and Black Cat india ink. After the literal ink dries (this takes about 10-15 minutes), I scan those drawings into Photoshop and clean them up. I then work in layers to build color and texture with my own scanned images of watercolors, gouache, wood block cuts, ink washes, lines and dots, etc.
My process as a writer starts with an idea or an image, and then I move to finding a story’s structure and pacing. First: I create broad strokes, main movements, and then I break those down into page turns (especially for picture books). I also naturally think and write in art notes, especially since many of the picture books I write have 250 words or less. Since I’m the illustrator and can imagine what I want to draw as I write, I like to let the images do a lot of heavy lifting.
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Thank you so much for tuning in! My little fork in this road of the blog tour ends here.
Thanks again, Lauren Eldridge!
And also big thanks to Fred Koehler who started it all.
Well, 70 jars to be exact. About a year ago, I made a doodle, titled: “Things I wish I could put in a bottle… (to have when I want — like pickles, only better) (or put away when I want).” At first the things I put into jars were tangible things, like a crescent moon, a geranium seedling, etc…. and then I thought, What if I could bottle intangible things… like a crush, or a hug from a best friend…. and I realized, that in fact, what I wanted to do, was to put memories into jars. Consequently, when I take a “jar” off of the shelf, open it, and take it out… I can remember everything about that moment. I go to that place in time where I felt, saw, touched, smelled and heard what I experienced there and then, and am able to re-construct it in the present. The kernel of this idea sprouted into the story, For Keeps, that I wrote last summer where I portrayed my protagonist, Nathaniel, as a collector. In that story Nathaniel collects jars full of abstract things like, “worry that I’m not doing enough”, and things too big to ever fit in a jar, like “a murmuration of starlings” … but somehow, some way, he did.
So… when I went to New York last week, I challenged myself to journal this way. I collected small moments of my time in NYC into jars. Being in New York gave me an itch to explore… to get lost in big beautiful cities…. to give me an opportunity, not only to stumble upon the perfect cafe just as it was about to pour, but to stumble upon parts of myself that I didn’t even know were there. See below my jars: the memories from exploring New York and attending the national SCBWI conference. Here’s to collecting small moments, holding them in our hands, and paying attention to what moves us.