Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


A unique visual challenge

Yesterday was the publication date for my second author/illustrator project, DREAMING UP: A CELEBRATION OF BUILDING. The book combines illustration, concrete poetry, and photographs of architecture. I attempted to juggle these three different elements and achieve some kind of balance on a spread.
     My goal was to make a strong connection between children's building play and specific examples of modern architecture. Photo selection proceeded illustrations, and I did all the research. Some of the structures included in the book are not widely known. I was able to find web images, but I needed permissions and high-resolution files for print. Tracking photographers and architects was often like a treasure hunt.

      This idea began in Barcelona in 1993 when I first saw Gaudi's magnificent cathedral, La Sagrada Familia. There was something about the fluid, organic forms that evoked a sand castle in my mind. Gaudi adorned his spires with recycled shards of colorful pottery, the way a child might add sea glass and shells to a sand castle.
      While in Barcelona I participated in a summer painting program through the NYC School of Visual Arts. Our group of painters included people from different parts of the world, including Iván, a graphic designer from Bogotá, Colombia. Years later I reconnected with Iván through Facebook. In DREAMING UP I included an illustration of kids building with nature, making fairy houses. To inspire young builders I hoped to include a photo of a bamboo church by the Colombian architect, Simón Vélez. I had trouble finding contact information for Vélez so I sent a Facebook message to Iván and asked if he could help. It turned out that Iván's friend lived next door to Vélez and was able to send me his phone number! I called and spoke in Spanish directly to the architect. Simón Vélez is as generous and kind as he is talented.

      I also wanted to showcase construction from recycled materials. After earthquake destruction in China, architect Shigeru Ban quickly erected a temporary school using industrial paper tubes. I found wonderful photos of Ban's Paper Tube School on a blog written in Cantonese. My sister-in-law is from Hong Kong, so she translated my interest and posted on the blog and thereby managed to get me in touch with the photographer. It turns out the photographer taught architecture in Hong Kong, but he had graduated from Columbia School of Architecture, so he spoke English, too. The father of a young son, he was excited about a building and architecture book for children. He was another generous contributor.
      All together now, everyone, "It's a small world, after all..."

      Once I had procured photo permissions for the fifteen different buildings, I sketched compositions to parallel the photos. There is always an evolution that happens in the creation of a book. My art is nothing like I originally imagined. I planned graphic mixed media collage vignettes against a white background. I thought my drawings would have black outlines. As I experimented it became evident that heavily textured, stylized art with dark outlines drew too much attention away from the photographs.
      My editor suggested that I surround my vignettes with colored backgrounds. This threw me for a loop. I tried to unify the spread with illustration colors drawn from the photos. I worked with softer values in the outlines, and a less textured approach. The paintings are done in gouache.
      Here are a few spreads If these tantalize you, then order a book to explore the inventive creations of these diverse architects.


Edie Hemingway said...

Your process is fascinating! I can't wait to receive my copy of your book. It's on order, so now that it's been released I should receive mine soon. Thanks for sharing!

Lauren said...

Wow Christy! I love the story behind this book! And the illustrations are perfect. You juggled those three elements of concrete poetry, painting and photos beautifully. And what an international effort! I am so impressed and in constant awe at how much the world of bookmaking, though done often in isolation, brings us into intimate contact with the world.

Stephanie said...

Christy, that is amazing. And congrats on the new book!!

betsy woods said...

Christie, I'm in awe. I love this ties with life and history, and how you interpreted them in your own creations.

David LaRochelle said...


I thought this was a brilliant idea when you described it before, but now I'm even more impressed. Your brilliant idea was beautifully executed. I hope the book continues to get the wide recognition it deserves. Certainly every school library should have a copy.

john said...

Congratulations Christy on such a terrific project. I love the connections you make and you will provide ways of looking at architecture that will appeal to many kids (and adults). Brava!