“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