~Hosted by Amanda Smith
The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA is a community dedicated to helping writers achieve greatness. They have a quiet, drop-in writing space and a community room for special events or just hanging out. They are also on the cusp of releasing their third anthology, FRIENDS AND ANEMONES: OCEAN POEMS FOR CHILDREN featuring writers and illustrators from the Loft. Many of these Lofters also worked on the first poetry anthology AN ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS. 24 Carrot Writing asked the illustrators about the experience of working on a joint project.
This anthology is a collaborative project involving 30+ creative souls. What did you enjoy about working alongside other creatives? What was easy? What was challenging? In which ways did it stretch you? What aspects did you have to take in consideration as you created and edited your artwork?
Priscilla Alpaugh: Working on the Anthologies was a rare chance to work with such a large group of artists. It was wonderful to see each other’s work and be able to share constructive criticism with one another. It’s a treat to read the poems that the Lofters wrote. So many talented writers! It’s energizing to know that everyone is working towards the same goal.
It is always a challenge to combine different poems on one page or spread. I was lucky and got one of the easier combinations. In each case I went in with a pretty clear idea of what I wanted in the image. Starting with thumbnails for composition and then sketches for content led to a final sketch where I could also consider value. I typically combine watercolor and pencil digitally, but this time it was mostly all digital.
To learn more about Priscilla, visit http://priscillaalpaugh.com/
Leanne Leutkemeyer: I enjoyed the feeling of community. I love the energy and excitement of being in a room with creative people. I enjoyed being part of the team. This project introduced me to so many wonderful and talented writers and illustrators. The timing of this project was perfect for me. It took my mind off the world and let me escape into oceans, play with whales and stingrays, and make art. The Zoom meetings helped fight feelings of isolation.
However, getting art direction from a group can be a challenge. It can be intimidating to sit shoulder to shoulder with artists you admire. In a meeting full of voices, it’s hard to catch and absorb all of the suggestions as they fly by. I scribbled many notes. It’s more challenging to have group input, but also exciting and inspiring to see the incredible work everyone was putting out.
In which ways did it stretch me? I developed new painting techniques to work large and discovered different scanning techniques. I’m excited about the new photoshop skills I’ve picked up through this project. In the past I’ve always fixed mistakes on the illustration as I painted or started over till I got it right. It’s pretty mind-blowing to be able to add an extra tail on a stingray while painting and know that I’ll be able to take the earlier one out that wasn’t working, and not have to repaint the whole illustration.
To learn more about Leanne, visit https://www.leanneluetkemeyer.com/
Deb O’Brien: The artists had several challenges in this anthology. We received a lot more poems this year, which meant several poems per spread. Not only did our illustrations have to support each poem, we had to make sure that the art and the poem fit on the page.
Another challenge was the Corona virus. Normally, the artists and designers would get together several times to discuss color palettes, design, and layout. This time, we had to do it all via Zoom. We made it work, but it wasn’t easy.
Some artists couldn’t even think about art. I was grateful I had this assignment; it gave me focus, direction and deadlines. I was able to block out the world and dive into my work. I’m very proud to be a part of the anthology and can’t wait to see the published piece.
To learn more about Deb, visist https://deb-obrien.com/
What did you learn about yourself, your creative process, book-making, and/or marketing while working on the anthology?
Amanda Davis: I was honored to have the opportunity to illustrate several poems in this year’s anthology. It’s the first time my illustrations are appearing in a published children’s book alongside many other talented creators to boot! For this particular anthology, illustrators brought to life the fun and crazy creatures of the sea. I knew I wanted to garner a likeness to the creatures in the poems while also putting my own original spin on them. Typically, my process involves drawing from my imagination or from real-life models or scenes. Since I didn’t have access to real-life models of vampire squids or narwhals, I knew this part of my process was going to be a challenge. With the help of the Loft team, I learned more about properly using reference images, avoiding copyright issues, and finding creative ways to craft original models using materials such as clay. Because I was illustrating for publication, I also felt an added pressure to get it right. This meant practice, practice, practice and revise, revise, revise! I enjoyed working collaboratively with the other artists and design team who provided me with valuable feedback that helped polish my work. The whole experience was a learning process, and I’m grateful for the knowledge and patience of the Loft community. I can’t wait to share our beautiful, seaworthy collection with the world!
To learn more about Amanda Davis, visit https://www.amandadavisart.com
Joy Nelkin Wieder: Working as a team was the most exciting and educational process in working on an anthology with other Lofters. I learned so much about marketing a children’s book from others on the team that I was able to apply everything I learned when my own book launched in January. Everything from writing up a press release, to making contacts at local bookstores and media outlets, to participating in book signings and presentations, to creating marketing materials such as flyers and posters. During the marketing of An Assortment of Animals, I took the lead in putting together art exhibitions of our original artwork from the anthology. Our framed illustrations were displayed at the Art and Frame Emporium in Westborough and the Hopkinton Art Center in Hopkinton. We currently have an online exhibit of illustrations with the Acton Memorial Library – check it out here: https://www.actonmemoriallibrary.org/events-programs/art-exhibition/
Visit Joy's website at http://jnwieder.com/ to learn more.
Doreen Buchinski: I was honored to design An Assortment of Animals. It was a wonderful opportunity and a chance to challenge myself. As a graphic designer, I’ve created brochures, logos, promotional materials, etc., but hadn’t explored designing picture books. I was excited and terrified of the herculean project ahead. Applying principals of good design to the book layout—like alignment, balance, repetition, contrast, type, and space—was priority. Tasks included: researching fonts, colors, and on-demand printing, managing art files, emails, edits, and file prep, while also completing my own anthology illustrations. Yes, there were days when the project felt overwhelming—but I stayed focused on each day’s priorities. With superb anthology editors, Kristen Wixted and Heather Kelly, the Writers' Loft founder, at the helm, the development and completion of the book was successful. Collaborating with talented illustrators and authors, and displaying their beautiful art and poetry on the pages of the book were experiences I will always treasure.
Visit Doreen's website at https://www.doreenbuchinski.com/
What was your approach when you first received the poem(s) you were to illustrate? Walk us through your process.
Sarah Brannen: For me, the first step was picking the creatures I was going to illustrate. I went back and forth with the editors as they sorted out who would make art for which poem. I specifically requested jellyfish and they were kind enough to make that work. I also thought I’d like to do sea glass. I was an avid collector as a child and I still have a jar of my very best pieces, which include even rare colors like yellow and pink.
Kristen Wixted and I talked a lot about how to group the poems. It was her idea to do a spread of things found on the beach, so that I could do a trompe-l’oeil image of everything spread out on the sand. At the last minute Kristen asked me to illustrate the very last poem in the book, Sea Serenity. My most recent book, A Perfect Day, is set on the ocean and it opens with a very calm image of the ocean at dawn. We both felt that something similar would be perfect to close the anthology as well. I sketched a very old wooden lobster pot buoy that I’ve had since I was little, although I changed the colors to white, blue and green. It’s meant to evoke, in some way, the earth itself. Old buoys have numbers carved into them so I put “2020” on the one in the illustration.
My web site is www.sarahbrannen.com.
Jodie Apeseche: When illustration assignments were divvied out, I was super excited. I felt that everything was in my wheelhouse-lobsters, cuttlefish, crabs, sea otters, seahorse and sea dragon-yup those would be fun.
The tricky part was how to make my illustrations connect to the poems while keeping in my style of painting. For example, after reading Lobster Rainbow more carefully, I was faced with a predicament. I had not realized that I would have to paint 6 different colored lobsters. I couldn’t figure out how to do that without making a very cluttered illustration.
Solution, I created a lobster grid a la Andy Warhol. Problem solving is such a big part of illustration and I owe gratitude to author, Jean Taft, for pushing me to that end.
For more about Jodie, visit jodieapeseche.weebly.com or http://art-jam.net/
Liz Goulet Dubois: When I first received my poem from Lynda, I was surprised! I was expecting perhaps a short, pithy poem. What I received was an epic tale of a seal, underwater dentistry and a duplicitous shark! I approached illustrating this the same way I would approach a picture book. I distilled the text down to what I thought were the key scenes, and created individual sketched vignettes in pencil that could wrap around and enhance the text. The drawing was challenging also because of the scale differences in the characters depicted: everything from a blue whale down to a jumbo shrimp! After the sketches were settled and approved, I scanned them and colored them digitally, which is my usual method. Hopefully readers will be amused by the sight of a shark brandishing dental tools, and wearing a bib!
To learn more about Liz, visit https://www.lizgouletdubois.com/
FRIENDS AND ANEMONES: OCEAN POEMS FOR CHILDREN is set to launch in November and is chock-full of whimsy, fun, and freaky animal facts that will delight children and adults. To learn more about the Writers' Loft visit www.thewritersloft.org/ and www.thewritersloft.org/anthology for information regarding previous anthologies.
By Ashley Benham Yazdani
In most picture books the characters that we write about are humans, or animals, or at least some kind of organism. But what if you want to tell the story of a place? When writing my nonfiction book, A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park, I sought to tell the story of one of America’s beloved landscapes and its two designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
My own interest in Central Park began long ago, and was initially driven by curiosity about its creators. When I learned that there was truly nothing natural about the seemingly nature-made landscape of the park, I absolutely had to learn who had made it, how, and why. Olmsted and Vaux’s environmental and social motives were deeply inspiring to me, and I desperately wanted to tell their story. But as I researched and wrote, I discovered new questions. How did the land get to the state where it needed such healing? Who was there before it was a park? How did the land transform into a park, and (I still wonder) how does it compare to how it was before it was occupied by white people? After researching the answers to these and other questions, I found the land emerging as a third character in my writing.
Giving a voice to the land is something that has long interested me, and the need to do so now feels more urgent than ever. Our planet has existed long before us, and will continue to go on long after we are gone, but what state do we want to leave it in, really? The Earth is at a tipping point because of our lifestyles, and every word, every action, every book we make on its behalf matters in the fight for a healthier planet. So when I approached my work on Central Park, I felt a real sense of urgency. Olmsted and Vaux sought to preserve the land, bringing it closer to its natural state and healing decades of harm through careful engineering. The end result of their work is a landscape that has flourished, drawing in both wild creatures and humans alike with the magnetic serenity of a natural landscape in perfect alignment with the qualities of its native climate. Theirs is a story that could be recreated almost anywhere today with a bit of work.
Unfortunately, we humans seem to have a hard time empathizing with things that don’t look like us, especially landscapes, which have no apparent consciousness. So how do we craft a written portrait of a landscape that makes the reader care? In the case of my book, the success of the landscape was tied with the success of my two other main characters, and I reasoned that if the reader was invested in them, then they would care about the fate of the land as well. Painting a picture of the land through the eyes of humans is just one way to go about it, but you could do the same thing with animals or other organisms, or you could directly give the land a voice and have it speak for itself. These are only a handful of the possible approaches to this, and connecting with the land you are writing for will provide deeper inspiration.
You might want to do some character development exploration work when writing for the land. Here are a few of the questions I asked myself when writing for Central Park:
•What is the current state of the land?
•What is the land’s history? Especially consider its history before vs. after white people were there, or even before indigenous people arrived.
•Has the landscape experienced any major changes, or were they gradual?
•Who directly made it the way it is today? What can you learn about them? What was their motivation?
•Who were the land’s first caretakers? Present caretakers? How do the two differ in ideals or goals?
•Was there ever any controversy regarding the land? Did anybody ever damage or exploit it? If so, has the land healed, or does it still need help?
•What effect, if any, can you have on the land today? Is there a localized cause that needs attention there?
The Earth does speak to us, if we listen carefully enough. It may be slow and quiet, with a pulse that beats at a seasonal pace rather than a human one, but all land does have stories to tell. These are discovered by geologists, archaeologists, historians, and regular unscientific people who simply pay attention to the patterns of nature. Children are particularly wonderful observers in this way. By telling these stories to children (and to the adults that read to them), we can help others to cultivate empathy for the most essential character in all of our lives: the Earth.
Bio: Ashley Yazdani is a picture book author/illustrator, reader, and nature lover. She received her MFA from the Illustration Practice Program at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and her BFA in Illustration from California College of the Arts. She has taught illustration courses at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and Towson University. Her debut book, A Green Place to Be, is currently available from Candlewick Press and can be found at your local bookstore. Her tools of the trade are watercolors, colored pencils, and Photoshop, but she also enjoys embroidery, block printing, and screen printing. When not pushing pigment or pixels around, Ashley can be found reading, sewing, or running around in the great outdoors. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and son.
Illustrators from The Soaring 20's PB debut group have joined us to celebrate The 24 Carrot Writing Illustrator Bonanza! This tenacious and talented group has spent 2020 launching debut books in the midst of a pandemic!
They share how the use art to capture just the right mood and tone in a story, how they hone their craft, and what keeps their skills fresh.
Welcome to the Illustrators of The Soaring 20's!
Let's start at the beginning of the illustration process. When you first receive a manuscript to illustrate or you complete your own manuscript, what is the first thing you do?
When the sketch dummy was approved. It was time to once again panic paint. I painted digitally mainly because it allowed for many, many, many, more mistakes.
And there were many.
I started first by painting page one, then two, then three (do you notice the pattern). For me, this was a mistake. I had to back up and think stylistically how I wanted this to look with color, I needed to define my color palettes, and I had to pick (and stick) with a set of digital brushes for the book prior to painting the book.
I ended up creating four digital palettes. One each for Goat Girl and Merle, one for the backgrounds, and another for supporting characters. My Photoshop document was set-up as spreads (20”x10" + bleed) in folders with sub-folders for individual pages/panels/spots. While my document was actual size, I worked at a higher than needed resolution for layout flexibility/adjustments. I also had a template layer showing my text placement for each page as I painted.
Instead of painting a complete single page, I jumped through the pages by blocking in color first for Merle, then Goat Girl, then backgrounds/other characters. This allowed me to stay focused especially early one with character finishes - Ideally I would have done full character/environment studies prior to painting
- Greg Barrington is the author/illustrator of COW BOY IS NOT A COWBOY (HarperCollins, October 20, 2020)
Is it easier or harder to illustrate someone else’s story, versus a story you’ve written yourself?
story is that you care so much about this story you’ll want everything to be perfect, thinking that everything in this story os a reflection of your taste and ability - but the problem is perfectionism kills creativity. Small breaks and critique groups can help during those moments of self-doubt. Though the reward of publishing my very own story makes it all worth it!
- Isabella Kung is the author/illustrator of No Fuzzball! (Orchard Books, August 4, 2020)
What does the revision process look like for an illustrator?
When you are not working on an assignment, what do you do to grow your craft/art?
I have probably learned the most about the craft of writing/illustrating picture books from webinars—particularly the ones offered by StorytellerAcademy.com and from regional SCBWI chapters. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from top-notch authors/illustrators, art directors, editors, and agents all from the comfort of my own home and for a relatively low cost. I find they often give me the confidence and/or inspiration to go just a little bit outside my comfort zone and try out new story structures, formats or techniques.
- Abi Cushman is the author/illustrator of SOAKED (Viking Books for Young Readers, July 14, 2020)
To learn more about The Soaring 20's Picture Book group please visit them here.
Korrie Leer is an author illustrator whose debut, BIG SIBLING GETAWAY (Albert Whitman & Co.), launches on September 1, 2020.
We are thrilled to have Korrie join us as we continue to celebrate 24 Carrot Writing's Illustrator Bonanza!
Korrie talks about her early rookie missteps, the revision process, how her artist eye informs her writing, and best of all how fan girl art keeps her motivated.
Tell us about your journey to becoming an author/illustrator. Which came first – the words or the pictures?
My journey to becoming an author/illustrator was a long one! I studied elementary education in college and while I loved teaching (especially reading and literature), I found myself daydreaming about creating my own books.
In the beginning, I did everything a new writer is NOT supposed to do. I wrote in rhyme (without any real effort in getting it right). I wrote stories using over 1000 words. I rarely sought feedback and when I did, I was reluctant to make changes. At this point in my writing career, the words came first. I wrote pages and pages in a lot of detail and then drew very obvious illustrations to go with it. The illustrations were showing the same thing the text was telling. (Another big no no.)
After a few rejections from agents, I knew I had to make a change. I put a pause on the actual writing and illustrating, and put all of my energy into researching and learning. I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12x12, SCBWI, and basically read, watched, and listened to everything I could on writing for children. The best thing I did was attended a SCBWI conference. Not only did I learn A LOT from people already in the industry, but I made friends with new writer’s in the same position as myself – people trying to break into the industry.
Now, with a little more knowledge under my belt (I still have a lot of learning to do), the words and the pictures seem to come in whatever order they want, filling in in places where the other is lacking. Sometimes, a scene or a character that deserves a story will pop into my mind and I fill the words around it, other times I think of a concept that seems like a good idea and then have to think of the illustrations that can bring it to life. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that an illustration should give information that the text doesn’t.
While at first I approached picture books as a simple, straightforward way to tell a story to a child, I’ve come to realize that they’re actually very complex. Layers and layers of hints, and Easter eggs, and meanings are hidden inside each word, each picture. And while it’s much harder to execute, it’s definitely been more fun this way!
What was the most surprising but rewarding revision that happened along BIG SIBLING GETAWAY’s path to final art and/or words?
My art was MAJORLY revised on the road to publication and the first big critique came from my agent, Samantha Wekstein. The sample illustrations I queried her with had muted colors and characters with huge eyes, and I mean HUGE. They were messy and now looking back at them, probably not ready to be submitted. Luckily, Samantha liked the story enough and, I guess, saw enough potential in my art, to give me a revise and resubmit. (For those who don’t know, agents will sometimes respond to a query with a critique and ask for the author to send their updated materials.) I was so excited when I got that email, but I was also very nervous. I didn’t want to mess up the opportunity.
When I started revising my art for BIG SIBLING GETAWAY, my husband and I were making a cross country move (in our tiny car with 2 cats) from New Jersey to California. I wanted to get back to Samantha as soon as possible. I wanted her to know that I could handle critiques and that I could be a client that would get back quickly. I drew in the car, in hotels in pretty much every state from east to west, and then finally finished an resubmitted when we reached San Francisco. It’s kind of crazy now that I think of it, but it was totally worth it. It’s still so surprising to see how far my art has come from those first few pages.
Oh yeah! Another giant change was the title. My book was originally titled THE GETAWAY BOX. The title change came from my publisher, Albert Whitman & Co. While I liked my original title, it had been done before and didn’t give potential readers a clear idea about what the book was about. As a writer, I never expected to change the name of my books, but I love that THE BIG SIBLING GETAWAY addresses older siblings upfront. I wrote the book for them – they should know that!
Below is an example of one of the first illustrations I queried and an example of one of the illustrations that is in the published book.
Did your creative process stay the same for both your debut BIG SIBLING GETAWAY and ZOO-MATE WANTED – or did experience bring changes?
Funny enough, ZOO-MATE WANTED was technically my first book. I originally titled it I Belong in the Zoo. It rhymed (badly) and it’s illustrations were halfheartedly drawn in a sketchbook (also badly). It was… not good. I shelved it almost immediately after I was done writing it and referred to it as my “zoo book.”
Shortly after, I began working on BIG SIBLING GETAWAY. It was only after I went through the major revisions on BSG that I realized that my zoo book might be salvageable. When I was finally ready to show ZOO-MATE WANTED to my agent, it was absolutely nothing like it was originally.
To be completely honest, when the idea to change I BELONG IN THE ZOO to ZOO-MATE WANTED came to me, I wasn’t immediately excited about the idea… I was bummed. I knew how much work it was going to be. Everything needed to change: the characters, the plot, the illustrations, the title. Luckily, because I had just done a similar revision (though not as intense) to BSG, I felt confident enough to give it a shot. And thankfully, after a few major revisions, it paid off!
I don’t think experience has necessarily changed my creative process, but it’s definitely given me the confidence and the courage to take something that’s not great and make the changes and put in the work to make it something I’m proud of. I really believe that that is the one thing I would tell someone who wants to publish a book – any story you want to tell can be reworked and rewritten until it’s great, you just have to be willing to put in the work and make the changes.
Are you leaning into your illustration skills to create swag for your launch? What are you creating?
I am! And I’m super excited about it. Right now I’m working on a few hand painted canvas bags that I want to use in a preorder giveaway campaign. I love the idea of swag and I’m hoping that people will appreciate something handmade. Plus, I’m having a great time making them.
I’m also fully stocked up on bookmarks and bookplates! Right now, I’m still waiting on my local bookstores and libraries to decided how they’re going to handle their fall events with the current situation, but I’m confident I’ll find a way to get these goodies out into the world.
I’ll definitely be sending some out from my twitter page - @korrieleer
You are an aspiring novelist. How do your illustration skills benefit your ability to craft a story with words?
I’m very passionate about my novel. I’ve been working on it for about 2 years now. (Writing is so hard! Lol) It’s been strange to go back and forth, working on picture books and the novel, mainly because in picture books I’m so used to limiting the text and letting the pictures give the majority of the information. While this habit of limiting text can be a challenge, I do think my illustration skills benefit my ability to craft a story with words in other ways. For example, because I do see these elements of my story so vividly in my mind, as if they were illustrations in a book, I know exactly what I want out of my writing – it just takes a little longer to pull the right words together. But I will say, I feel pretty accomplished when I feel that I’ve crafted the character or setting I see in my head successfully.
I also have a less relevant way my illustration skills benefit my novel writing – creating my own fan art. (Embarrassing but true!) If I’m feeling weighed down or stuck in a rut on my book, I find it really motivating if I have visuals. For example, in the middle of writing my first draft I didn’t think I would ever finish. I couldn’t imagine actually writing the entire book – I had major writer’s block. I took a break. During the break, I fantasized about the book being done and being real. I envisioned the cover, and it made me so excited, I drew it! I printed out my imaginary book cover and pinned it on the bulletin board over my desk. Having the “finished product” in sight gave me the motivation to keep going. Now, during my revision process, I’ll occasionally take a break and doodle a character or two. I found that having this related, but external outlet to the actual book has allowed me to see the book in different ways – plus it’s super fun!
Do you still draw just for fun? What do you draw?
Besides this novel doodling hobby, I do draw for fun – often! The main reason for that though, is not for myself. I actually babysit three kids (Hunter, Wiley, and LJ – hi, guys!) and they ALWAYS ask me to draw for them. For LJ – usually adorable animals, Wiley – army men and ships, and Hunter – athletes and sports scenes. The three of them have been my biggest fans and are usually the first people to see a new picture book idea. (I’m sure they’ll be super pumped when I show them their names in this.) So yes, I do draw often and when it’s not for a book it’s usually something I’m working on for one of them – and I absolutely love doing it! Plus, I usually get a special drawing back from them as well (:
To learn more about Korrie visit her at https://www.korrieleer.com/. Click here to pre-order a copy of a BIG SIBLING GETAWAY.
Guest interview of illustrator Qing Zhuang
Often there is a cloak of mystery surrounding the relationship between an author and an illustrator. When illustrator Qing Zhuang signed on to illustrate How Long Is Forever?, I did what every good author is instructed to do. I sat down and zipped my lip. The idea, and it is a smart one, is to allow the illustrator freedom within their creative process without being hampered or interrupted by the pesky author.
It was hard. And I was grateful when the editor sent me sketches and asked for my feedback. But I wonder, what did that process feel like from Qing’s perspective? Let’s ask.
Qing, I’m so happy that you are joining us at 24 Carrot Writing as we celebrate our Annual Illustrator’s Month. Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming an illustrator?
Sure! I studied illustration in college and spent many years afterwards trying to improve my work. I went to SCWBI conferences making incremental progress. I had a lot of growing to do, personally, practically and artistically. So even though I had some good foundational skills and recognition from teachers in my school years, my work was all over the place. It took a long time to figure things out when I graduated. Meanwhile, all my talented friends were getting cool art jobs, awards, reasonable income, name recognition and not horrible dates! Dang! Sometimes I’d cry on the bus after getting yelled at by some grumpy and condescending customer at my retail job. This is not what I’d imagined when I won the children’s version of the Ezra Jack Keats bookmaking contest in 6th grade and decided I was going to become a great writer-illustrator! Alas, I marched on in my tortoise pace.
Eventually my work improved and I tightened up my portfolio by taking out work that didn’t fit and focusing on a singular style as best as I could. The road here was not super glamorous and not without doubters so it takes a lot of conviction within myself that this is what I must accomplish in this lifetime. I took my portfolio to the NJ SCBWI conference and met Karen Boss our Charlesbridge editor there. The rest is history!
A few months after Charlesbridge bought How Long Is Forever?, I received an email from editor Karen Boss letting me know the Art Department had identified three potential illustrators for the book. I went into major cyber stalk mode. All three were fantastic, but the drawings on your website had me convinced that you were the best pick. Did you know I wrote a four page email back with pics from your website as proof? How did you first hear of the project? And what made you sign on?
I wish I could read why you liked my work best out of the three! The competition is SO fierce! I signed on because of how simple but deep it is. This is a story that can be as sweet or thought provoking as you want it to be. I just remember gazing up at the sky as a child getting lost pondering the nature of time and forever-ness.
“How Long is Forever?” Can spur such a philosophical discussion with young ones but it can also be about the down to earth experiences of familial love and the creature comforts we share with the people we love.
It can be about losing a grandparent. When I showed the manuscript to my now husband, he started tearing up. He said it reminded him of his own grandfather who used to make him Chinese pancakes and that was his favorite memory that he will keep forever of this person whom he loved so much. I knew that this story can potentially mean something special to each reader so I was excited to be a part of it!
Qing, I'll send you that email. But for the readers here, I'll share a few of the illustrations Qing had on her web site that made me fall in love with her talent! Here is a reason number one on why illustrates should set up a website, make it easy to find, and populate it with your work!
What was the first thing you did when you received the manuscript to illustrate? What was your process?
I made many thumbnail sketches, researched reference photos and did character designs. I based the farm on the Queens County Farm as well as the farm at Manhattan Country School, where I teach. They have a fantastic farm program and children make wonderful memories at its farm in the Catskills every year.
One of the exciting things about working on this project is the opportunity to try to honor the joy of spending time in the farm and in nature. In this age where many children spend hours doing virtual farming and building in a video game I think it’s really special to have a book that explores just running free and asking questions and investigating out in the world.
But as a city girl who also spends too much time online, I needed to do a lot of research on things like tree species and tractors and which way a weathervane blows (the arrow points against the source of the wind). It took many tries to get it right. This could be said about every stage from beginning to end. Sometimes the illustrations didn’t fit the layout or just something was off with the pacing and I had to scrap it and do it over! I am so grateful to have the patience of the editors because the book really improved from every version.
My manuscript did not have illustration notes and aside from the editor asking me for “minimal” feedback on your illustrations, we didn’t connect until after the book was sent to print. I might have sent you a quick “you’re doing great, keep it up” pep talk email but I wonder what direction you got from Karen Boss and/or the Charlesbridge Art Department.
There were many discussions about the layout of the story because ultimately the words and their legibility are paramount. So depending on where they decided to put the text the whole composition and even perspective of the scene had to change. There were also discussions about the type of tree that would be in the book.
The character designs also took a couple of tries. I made many different potential Masons and the editors picked the one we know and love pretty easily. But I had to redo all my designs of grandma and grandpa because they looked too old fashioned. Somewhere in me I am still pouting that I wasn’t able to do the sweet and chubby grandparents in my initial sketches because it’s kind of my nature to be sappy and nostalgic. However, I’m also glad I was challenged to make more contemporary looking grandparents, especially with our very hip and artsy grandma design who I based off of my college art professor. I also tried to make grandpa kind of cool looking so I ditched the overalls and gave him a jean jacket and nice shoes. Someone said he looks like Ernest Hemingway. My friends make up stories about how they met as young artsy hippies and decided to retire at a farm where the grandma makes pottery and takes photos of pastoral landscapes.
Anyway, many changes were made at all stages of the book. Anytime anything changes it affects the whole book. For example, there were these cute bird feeders hanging on the house porch but they were blocking the text, so I had to edit them out of all the pages. Another example is the editors wanted me to depict teeth. Stylistically, I rarely drew teeth so at the last minute I had to photoshop in the teeth of all the characters. Haha! Now you know how the sausage is made.
It is important for all children to be able to recognize themselves in the books they read. The manuscript never offered a physical description of the character and you smartly took the opportunity to present Mason with darker skin and his grandparents with light skin. Can you talk about that decision?
I just want different types of families to be portrayed because whatever we see in the media gets legitimized and embraced. It’s wonderful now to see so many books and other kinds of media beginning to embrace a diversity of experiences. In the school I work at, there are so many students who are adopted, from a mixed or blended family, or simply don’t look like their caretakers for some other reason. I also have friends and professors and colleagues who are in such families. I am excited that a sweet book about love and timelessness can reflect them too. I mean why not? Teachers and parents now are so good at discussing questions about different families if they do come up. For my character designs of Mason, I featured many different looks, actually referencing some children I know. It’s just how I work, I don’t like to just make stuff up, I tend to care about it more if it is based on things and people I know in real life.
You recently signed with an agent! Congratulations! How did that happen? And how is it changing how you are working? What are you working on now?
Thank you! For the past couple of years different literary agents have reached out to me even before I had a real dummy ready to present to them. I knew that getting an agent is a long term commitment and didn’t want to rush and find someone I don’t feel right with. So I worked on How Long is Forever? and didn’t think too much about representation because I wanted to focus on my debut book!
After the book was sent off to the printers, I started to read some interviews of the different agents I had been acquainted with but they didn’t seem to fit. At a portfolio review, the reviewer suggested that I query Wendi Gu of Sanford Greenburger Associates, so I wrote her name down and read her online interviews. Those interviews resonated with me. Then I saw her speak at a virtual panel and found her to be very professional and warm. I still felt like I wasn’t ready to reach out because I am a chicken. Then an editor at Holiday House who I had met a year ago emailed me asking me if I have finally written a story for them. I had a dummy in progress about grocery shopping with my mom which I sent anyway to see if there would be any feedback. To my surprise they enjoyed it and offered a deal! I really wanted an agent to help me negotiate this time so I reached out to Wendi and fortunately she replied right away! We had a few Zoom meetings and now I can feel very glamorous and tell people to contact my agent if they want to work with me!
Qing Zhuang is an illustrator and elementary educator based in New York City. She holds a BFA in Illustration from Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, and a MA in teaching from School of Visual Arts, New York. How Long Is Forever? is her debut as an illustrator. She is represented by Wendi Gu of Sanford Greenburger Associates. Qing's debut as both author and illustrator, Rainbow Shopping will launch from Holiday House in the summer of 2022. To learn more about Qing, visit her website at www.qingthings.com.
To purchase a copy of How Long Is Forever? click here.
Many of us are reaching for adult coloring books to find peace and de-stress. But for our illustrator friends, their drawing and coloring, while joyful, is filled with deadlines, technology, and an individual process for creating book art.
Join 24 Carrot Writing for our Fourth Annual Illustrator Bonanza and meet some talented illustrators as they share their advice, work methods, and those wonderful paths from early sketch to final product.
On the drawing board for our event you'll find Qing Zhuang, Rob Justus, Isabella Kung, Abi Cushman, a wonderful group of illustrators from the Writer's Loft in Sherborn, MA, and many more!
In the past, some of our guest illustrators have gone on to win a Caldecott! Wonder which one of our guests will take the prize this year?
Stay tuned for their posts and welcome to 24 Carrot Writing's Illustrator Bonanza!
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