Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Caldecott Award Winner: David Diaz

I have been extremely impressed all along with David Diaz's art, including his illustrations for my César: ¡Sí, se puede! Yes, We Can! and Diego: Bigger Than Life. But I am even more impressed with his art for my Picasso: I the King, Yo el rey.

The illustration are in acrylic, charcoal, and varnish on masonite board. Here is a favorite:

I can feel the texture of Dora Maar' s glove.

The day Surrealist photographer Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso met she was throwing a sharp knife between her fingers. That of course fascinated Picasso, but he was never in love with Dora. He tells her this in front of  the love of his life, Marie-Thérèse Walter.   


A Favorite Illustrator

One of my favorite illustrators (and also dear friend) is Susan Detwiler.  I like all of her work, but the book I turn to most often when my grandchildren are clamoring for a bedtime story is One Wolf Howls (Sylvan Dell, 2009), written by Scotti Cohn and illustrated by Susan.  It's a wonderful concept book for learning the months and seasons of the year, for counting, for learning about wolves and their habitat, and, simply, for a good read.

And here's my favorite spread in the book:

"Eight wolves dance in the August twilight--
splash feet, paddle feet, prance by the lake.
Eight wolves dance in the August twilight
deep in the woods as the owls awake."

Here's what Susan had to say about her creative process:

"I study the manuscript and keep notes on my visual impressions. I gather research material including clippings I have on file, books at home and from the library, and photos from the internet. This part can be time-consuming but I try not to rush it because as I read and search I am learning about my subject in depth. I keep notes on all the photo references (i.e., sleeping, eating, seen from above) so that I can find them again easily. 
The thumbnail sketches come next. I reduce the size of the rough layout to fit all the spreads on one page and print it; I sketch right on that print and compose the book in storyboard fashion. From my tiny thumbnail sketches I make more detailed sketches at about one third the finished size and these are scanned and sent to the editor for approval. I make revisions and submit a new sketch if necessary, then proceed to final art.

Using an overhead projector, I transfer the sketch to the illustration board in pencil at finished size and then apply the color. One Wolf Howls was done in watercolor and so it took many layers of paint, from light to dark. I add highlights last with white gouache (the glints of sunlight on the water in this piece) and always scan my artwork when it is finished. The whole picture book illustration process takes me eight to nine months. When I read "Eight wolves dance..." in the manuscript, I immediately pictured this scene in my mind; then it was just a matter of finding the references to help me depict it accurately."

Just in case you're wondering if the children like it as much as I do, here's a picture of my 9-year-old granddaughter, Mairin, reading to her two younger siblings, Annabel (5) and Gareth (3) before bedtime at Grammy's house.  Thank you, Susan Detwiler!



We're blogging about illustrations this time around.

Marla Frazee is one of my favorite illustrators (along with Trina Schart Hyman, Don Wood, Leo and Diane Dillon, and many others). I love the way she is able to capture characters' emotions with just the right facial expression or body position. I also love her attention to detail. Her book Roller Coaster is a seemingly simple story about a young girl's first ride on a coaster, but in reality the book is many different stories about all the different occupants of the ride and their very different experiences. These characters never say anything, but their facial expressions tell it all. It's a book I never tire of looking at.

In her Caldecott Honor book, All the World, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, she depicts the wonderful diversity that makes up the world. One of my favorite illustrations shows the inside of a restaurant. Two men are sitting at one of the tables. When I saw this illustration, I almost cried.

Male couples are never shown in children's books, unless it is a book specifically about gay families. The two men in the picture might very well be brothers or friends, but just the possibility that they could be a gay couple made my heart swell. As the last line of the book says, "All the world is all of us." Thank you, Marla, for including people like me in the world.


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.