Archive for Haiku

The Creative Process: A Conversation with Mary GrandPre, Illustrator of Harry Potter

“I love making art. It’s what I’ve always done

since I was a little girl.

Whether it was realistic in style, or abstract, it didn’t matter,

as long as I had my art supplies,

I was a happy camper.”

— Mary GrandPre

My apologies for the Potter-grabbing headline. But, true story: Sometime after Feiwel & Friends accepted my manuscript for All Welcome Here, I received a phone call from my editor, Liz Szabla. She was very excited. Guess who we just signed to illustrate your book? Tell me, I said. Mary GrandPre! A pause. Who’s that? Then she told me who that was, the Harry Potter connection, and I said: Oh, wow. Now here we are more than three years later. The book is finished, ready to venture out into an uncertain world, and Mary GrandPre has become my friend. We exchange occasional emails and share tribulations. She’s lovely and wise. Come, you’ll like her . . . 

 


Welcome, Mary, to my cozy little blog. You can sit on the floor or pull up one of those orange milk crates. I hoped we could talk a little bit about your creative process today. But first, yeah, could you please leave the hippogriff outside. No offense, but they make such a mess.

Hello Jimmy! It’s so nice to be here!… I would love to share my experience of creating the pictures for your lovely haiku in All Welcome Here. And, yes! The hippogriff is tied up outside… I’m sure he’ll be fine out there, as long as you don’t mind if he nibbles on your herb garden. … He loves fresh basil!

I trust you had a safe flight. Where do you live? 

My home is in Florida. I live there with my husband and daughter, and our 3 dogs. We moved to Florida, from Minnesota, 15 years ago, when my husband was offered a job at Ringling College of Art and Design. Boy! What a difference in climate! Talk about going from freezing to smoldering temperatures! It was quite an adjustment, but we have come to appreciate all the great things in Florida, like the beaches, the palm trees and tropical flowers, year round water activities, and of course all of the wonderful friends we have made since we moved there.

 

Mary and her artist husband Tom Casmer (that’s Tom in beard, left).

I absolutely love your paintings. It’s fascinating that you still do both, picture books and “fine art,” as they say.

Thank you, Jimmy. I love making art. It’s what I’ve always done since I was a little girl. Whether it was realistic in style, or abstract, it didn’t matter, as long as I had my art supplies, I was a happy camper. By the time I was in art college, I still wasn’t really sure about what kind of artist I wanted to be. Eventually I focused on illustration. Once I was out of college, I worked as a freelancer for a variety of companies, but illustrating picture books became one of my favorite kinds of illustration. Telling stories through pictures was so much fun. I could create characters and environments, and bring a whole range of emotions to my pictures through color, light and composition. After several years of working on picture books, I realized that painting abstractly, was also a lot of fun. It gave me a new kind of challenge in my exploration of color, light and composition, and in an interesting way, it still at times, told a story!

 

Illustration from Caldecott Honor Winning Book, THE NOISY PAINT BOX, written by Barb Rosenstock.

I imagine that a manuscript comes to you and then you decide if it’s something you’d like to illustrate. How do you reach that decision: this is the one.

You are correct, Jimmy, it starts with the manuscript. I like to take some very focused, quiet time to read the manuscript so that I can clearly envision the pictures in my head as I read through it. I like to see how the story flows, and how it makes me feel, what emotions am I feeling as I read this, and how I can relate to the story on a personal level. When I read All Welcome Here, I felt such a variety of emotions… excitement, joyfulness, warmth, and playfulness, as well as some feelings of shyness and awkwardness, as I remembered what it felt like to be in a new group of kids on that first day of school. I also loved the rhythm of the haiku, and the way it moved so smoothly from page to page, like a day unfolding from morning to afternoon. I enjoyed meeting all the various characters in the story, as I imagined a whole world of children, each uniquely interesting, becoming school mates and friends. Honestly, I just had to read All Welcome Here once, to know that I definitely wanted to illustrate it.

Illustration from ALL WELCOME HERE.

With our book, you faced an interesting design challenge, since it is written in connected haiku. I didn’t include any art direction in my manuscript (which authors often provide), other than this general note: “The poems offer the illustrator opportunities to show a rich variety of children –- wild and brave, silly and earnest, friendly and a little frightened. Through the artwork, illustrations should highlight recurring characters and allow readers to see happy interactions and first steps toward friendship. We are witnesses to the beginning of a new, diverse, and open-hearted community.

There definitely were some design challenges, but I like a good challenge! Finding a way to connect all the poems was key, and I used the fact that it progressed literally, on a timeline, from the morning at the bus stop, to meeting Principal K, to finding the classroom, and witnessing all the various classroom happenings, then lunch and recess, and back to classroom for a quiet afternoon rain, and finally back home to reflect on all that we experienced on our first day of school.

Yes, we had some weather consistencies to iron out, among other details. I was glad we were able to zing emails back and forth. That doesn’t often happen in the picture book world. We kind of opened a back channel. 

The structure of how the poems were ordered was largely based on how the day would unfold. In that way, it became a story, as well as a collection of wonderful haiku. Bringing characters back into view here and there also helped bring some cohesiveness… and allowed the reader to recognize a familiar face in the crowd… just like what would happen in real life. Also I tried to incorporate more than one poem into a scene whenever I could, because it allowed us to experience more than one fun thing within a setting, offering more visual connectedness from poem to poem.

Sketch from ALL WELCOME HERE.

 

The artwork is spectacular. I particularly admire your thought process –- the decisions that went into each spread. There’s a lot of thinking that goes into a children’s book before you ever set brush to canvas.

Thank you so much, Jimmy. I was so taken with your poems, the sensitivity, the humor, as well as relevance of what we need today in this diverse world we live in. You gave me so much to work with… and I felt a strong connection to your writing. It was important for me to take the time to make the illustrations reflect what you were so beautifully writing about.

That’s kind of you to say, Mary.

But you are right. There is a lot of time spent laying it all out with pencil on tracing paper, where several changes are made throughout the sketching process. Diverse characters are developed, environments are planned out, compositions that combine poems on each spread within a single setting, all the while, figuring out how and where the text should go, and making sure color and light is balanced from spread to spread.

I find that’s true in my writing, by the way. There’s a long, necessary gestation period that looks suspiciously like doing nothing at all.

Yes. I get that. A lot of work behind the scenes.

Let’s talk about your process. This might be easier if we examine one specific illustration. Let’s take the library, for instance. How do you do that??!! I mean, ha, you use all these patterns. The sweaters, the rug, the wallpaper. This is an illustration that rewards a deeper look. Would this be called mixed-medium or collage or . . . um . . . ?

Ah yes, The Library! I loved making that piece! After I get all the pencil sketches done, and approved by the art director, I move onto the actual color art. I choose a very thick illustration board to work on, because it’s going to hold many layers of collage paper and paint. So you are correct, it is collage,.. also referred to as mixed medium. I carefully transfer the drawing on to the board using a transfer paper, and tracing the sketch onto the board. I then begin with color by using large brushes and acrylic paint to lay in the main colors I will be working on. It’s very loose and messy at this point.. no color details yet.

At what point do your introduce the textures and patterns?

I just keep in working in paint for a while until I feel like it’s time to add some intersect patterns and texture. I have an assortment of printed papers that look like fabric, or tree bark, leaves, and all kinds of flat geometric patterns. I trace out what the shape of the pattern should be, and cut it out, and carefully glue it into place with acrylic gel medium, and then blend it back in with paint. It’s a back and forth process.

I could ask you questions forever, and I apologize if I’ve already gone on too long. Any last thoughts on this book, and what you tried to express in the illustrations?

I really just wanted to bring your amazing haiku to visual life. We really need to celebrate our diversities, and help our children feel like they belong. We need to open our hearts to accept others in our community and around the world, and our children need to know this is how we live together, successfully. It’s such a relevant book, now more than ever.

Thank you so much. And thank you, of course, for your brilliant work as the illustrator for the definitive American editions of the Harry Potter books. It’s incredible to think of how many of us have looked at your work and been moved by it. I’m truly honored that we now have our own book, something we made together, Mary and me. I’m so grateful for that.

Oh, Jimmy. I am honored to have created artwork for your thoughtful and beautiful poetry. I count this book as one of my favorites. I am so pleased that we were able to connect through this project. It has touched me personally, and creatively. I have to say also, that it was great getting to know you Jimmy, and I look forward to seeing what you do next.

Readers can learn more about Mary — and see many more of her abstract and figurative paintings — by stomping on this link.  In addition to the Harry Potter books, Mary has illustrated many picture books, including The Noisy Paint Box; Through the Window; How the Leopard Got His Claws; Cleonardo, the Little Inventor; and more. Speaking for myself, I’m not often awed by the writers and illustrators I met. But Mary strikes me as a special person. Not just her talent, but the warmth and sensitivity and kindness she beams into the world. I’m fortunate that the universe brought us together, however fleetingly, to collaborate on All Welcome Here

 

 

 

 

Sneak Peak: Final Art & Sketch from ALL WELCOME HERE, Coming in June!

Sneak peak at a spread from our upcoming picture book, ALL WELCOME HERE, illustrated by the great Mary GrandPre. Coming in June (we think!), from Macmillan. It’s a first day of school story, told in connected haiku. Do yourself a favor, click on the image to see it larger and appreciate the colors and details in Mary’s artwork. She is best known, of course, for doing the art in the U.S. editions of the Harry Potter books. So talented — and kind, too!

 

Just for comparison, here’s the rough sketch Mary submitted to the publisher. Here’s where much of the most important work takes place: the thinking, the plotting, the visual organization. Here Mary takes two separate haiku and unifies them in one “moment” that captures several distinct realities, if you will. As much as I admire Mary’s palette and technique, I might most respect her intellectual rigor. The way she thinks about her work before dipping a single brush into paint.

Sometimes in this business you just get lucky. That’s how I feel about Mary doing the artwork for this book. Lucky me.

INSPIRATION: When Trees and Haiku Meet — Robert Bly, A Pine Tree, and Basho

 

I try to spend some time each day thinking in haiku. Often I find that space while walking the dog in the woods or by the river or an open field. It’s a quiet, interior time without earbuds or podcasts. My haiku is almost always written in the traditional three-line, 5-7-5 form, with a focus on nature. I usually try to include a kigo word (a reference to the season of the year) and a division, breath, or caesura (often in the form of a colon or a dash that both separates and connects). There are endless variations, and that’s the beauty of haiku. Sometimes a lighthearted one might come, more senryu than serious haiku, and that’s what gets written. It’s something I started doing with more intention a few years ago. I’m not saying that I’m great at this. My focus is on process, not product. Basho’s great line, “The journey itself is home.” I accept that most of the ones that come to me aren’t going to be exemplary.

Thinking in haiku has given me an outlet for calm reflection, a brief time for thinking outside myself and the endless, grim news feed of our troubled world. This morning I wrote this one:

 

This pine has a life             

Of its own: there is nothing

It requires of me.

 

However, I’m not posting today to show one haiku. Mostly I was eager to share one of the sources of my inspiration, taken from the introduction to Robert Bly’s book of prose poems, The Morning Glory

I love this passage so much, as if it were written precisely for me, bringing together in one page my growing enthusiasms for trees and haiku and poetry and, importantly, this essential idea of getting “the self” out of the way. I hope you like it. Maybe Bly’s passage here, along with Basho’s haiku, will inspire thoughts and feelings in you, too. Embrace the process. Forget thoughts of “good” or “bad.” And see what happens. 

 

While we’re gathered here, I might as well tack on a few others . . . I’ve got hundreds of them.

I have failed to learn

The name of the bird that calls

From the high poplar.

Three twisted sisters

Beneath the great canopy,

Roots and arms entwined.

The soft grasp of dusk

Upon the winter shore: black-

Hooded plover waits.

Steel-gray buckets tapped

Into maples; the crows watch

From snow-covered limbs.

January rain –-

The old cat stretches, circles,

Eyes slant shut again.

The beech holds its leaves

Shimmering like winter moons

Papery and light.