Tag Archive for Liz Szabla

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

 

 

 

 

Interview Highlights: About BLOOD MOUNTAIN, and Introducing Ranger McCone

I was recently interviewed by Caroline Starr Rose over at her outstanding website, brimming with fascinating resources. Caroline is a gifted author and a generous spirit. A kind person, you know? She’s all about books and classroom connections and finding ways to make a difference. Please check out her space over there. And her books. Meanwhile, let’s please get back to me, please!

          

Here’s a sampling of my interview with Caroline, who blogged it a couple of weeks back. For the full interview, and a shortcut to Caroline’s world, just jump up and down on this link here.

 

 

What inspired you to write this story?

I published my first book in 1986. Over that period, more than half my life, I’ve discovered that what first inspires a story often gets left in the dust as the research and the writing begins in earnest. New inspirations take hold. Unimagined pathways open up, as long as the writer is still open to the unexpected.

Early on I had the basic setup of siblings lost in the wilderness, along with a vague idea of a hermit, possibly a veteran with PTSD, lurking nearby. At the time, I wasn’t sure what his story would be. I wanted the book to be tense, scary in parts, tightly plotted, riveting, and beautifully written. I held onto the idea that the person who saves you, might turn out to be your worst nightmare. Somewhere along the line my editor suggested a dog. Um, okay! And around this point it dawned on me that I had an awful lot to learn in order to do justice to this story. So I read books. About trees. About survival. About the psychology of getting lost. About veterans with PTSD. About dogs and how they think (I was determined to avoid the Disney-dog cliché; I wanted my dog, Sitka, to be authentic as a dog.) I learned about mountain lions.

Along the way, I told my editor, Liz Szabla, that I might maybe miss the deadline. And I did miss it — by a full year. Liz was cool with it. When it comes to publishing, I believe that all anyone cares about in the end is the finished book. No one reads a disappointing book and thinks, “Well, at least she hit her deadlines!” It just happened that Blood Mountain required extra time for me to think and learn and daydream. I filled a journal with notes, became overwhelmed with ideas and strategies, lost my way, fumbled in thickets. Along the way, I contacted a Forest Ranger, Megan McCone, who proved enormously helpful in terms of making the actions and thoughts of the ranger appropriate and accurate. All of those inspirations fed directly into the final book. Best writing experience ever.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

I simply had so much learn. Because “kind of knowing” isn’t good enough. For example, I wanted to introduce the hermit, John, in a powerful and unsettling way. So readers first encounter him with a large knife in his hand, field dressing a squirrel. I had to learn about slingshots and hypothermia and

 

New York Ranger Megan McCone served both as inspiration and valuable source of information. I owe her so much.

aviation extractions. And about how people who get lost behave –- the mistakes they make, the thought processes they typically go through, and the things they do that determine whether they live or die.

Most interesting, for me, was when I reached out to Eric Lahr at the Department of Environmental Conservation, who put me in contact with Forest Ranger Megan McCone. Megan was enormously helpful across several long phone conversations. She graciously volunteered to read the first draft of the book, making comments throughout. To me, this was not only a great pleasure, Megan helped me bring truth, the verisimilitude of small details, to this made-up story.

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #258: Hamsters & 2nd Graders

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I’m feeling incredibly blessed lately. Every day something good comes my way. I don’t know what to make of it, frankly, or how long it can last, but I’m not taking any of it for granted. Check out this sweet little email I received the other day.

 

Hello,

Attached are some pictures of our hamsters and hamster cages inspired by your book, The Case of Hermie, The Missing Hamster.
My class loved this book and are now enjoying many of your other books.

Rose S____

Second Grade Teacher
IMG_5462 2
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IMG_5468IMG_5471IMG_5469
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See what I mean?
This particular title is currently out of print, but it’s nice to see that it’s still loved. Maybe Macmillan will bring it back? What do you think, Liz Szabla? After all, it’s the book that started the series. 
– 

PINCH ME SOMEBODY: Look Who Is Illustrating My New Picture Book!

I have good news to share.

Great news, in fact.

I have a new picture book coming out, titled All Welcome Here.

It was announced yesterday in a write-up in Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf:

Liz Szabla at Feiwel and Friends has bought North American rights to All Welcome Here by James Preller, illustrated by ____________, celebrating the first day of school and the beginning of a child’s new, diverse, and open-hearted community in a narrative composed of interconnected haiku. The book is set for spring 2019; Rosemary Stimola at Stimola Literary Studio negotiated the deal for both author and illustrator.

I deleted the illustrator’s name because I want you to guess.

I’ll wait.

Hum-dee-dum, dee-dum-dum.

Give up?

It’s possible that you know her work, but not her name.

And yes, that was a clue: she’s a she.

Here’s a hint:

 

hogwarts

Got it?

Really, not yet?

Surely I would have thought that . . .

Okay, here’s another:

 

c02--the-vanishing-glass

And one more:

 

gof_chp11

 

That’s right. I’m feeling blessed.

The great Mary GrandPre.

 

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My book is now our book.

Pinch me somebody.

More details, like the book itself, to come.

All Welcome Here, Macmillan, Spring 2019.

 

 

COVER REVEAL — Jigsaw Jones: The Case from Outer Space!

I just opened a package that gave me shivers. Even, yes, a little warm pressure behind the eyes. For the brown padded envelope contained Advance Reader’s Copies of the Jigsaw Jones book, The Case from Outer Space, published by Macmillan. I have a few things to say, but let me start here:

Look at the new cover design, look at the terrific illustration by R.W. Alley, look at . . . Joey and Mila and Jigsaw.

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I wrote the first Jigsaw Jones mystery back in 1997 for Scholastic. To date, there are 40 titles in all, and more than 10 million copies have been sold, mostly through Scholastic Book Clubs. I’ve visited many schools as a guest author, and I’ve met a lot of young readers and teachers who know and enjoy those books. However, there’s really been nothing new for about ten years; Scholastic made a business decision to allow the series to die on the vine, with book after book slowly, painfully going out of print.

I put my heart into those characters. It’s the work for which I’m best recognized. I can’t easily convey how it felt to see those books fade into oblivion. I still receive letters from parents asking where they could get them. The note would explain that it was the first chapter book their a child had read by himself. I’d have to reply, “Try Craig’s List or eBay,” and a small dagger would slice into my soul. It was more than the disappointment of watching 40 books go out of print. It felt like a huge part of my career was being erased. All that work, the time and love, the accomplishment: poof, vaporized.

Oh well, right? That’s the deal. Writers go through this all the time. Publishing is a tough racket. Write something new.

But guess what? Jigsaw refused to go gentle into that good night. The books hung around in classrooms. There’s even a touring musical that still comes around, created by ArtsPower. Thanks to the efforts of three fierce women in publishing — my agent, Rosemary Stimola, along with Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel at Macmillan — Jigsaw has found a new home, and new life. Jigsaw Jones is back. The immediate plan is to bring out this new title in the summer of 2017 (20 years after the first one), along with four newly updated classroom classics. In 2018, there will be at least four more, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to write another new one. These are books that have not been available in stores for a long, long while.

Illustration by R. W. Alley, pages 12-13 from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. Available this summer from Macmillan.

Illustration by R. W. Alley, pages 12-13 from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. Available this summer from Macmillan.

I hope that Jigsaw and his friends are discovered by a next generation of young readers. I hope that maybe a little cheer will go up in various classrooms around the country. But today I won’t worry about that. Today I’ll just hold this beautiful Advance Reader’s Copy in my hands, grateful for everything, and just smile, proudly.