Good morning everyone. Today I am going to be 'talking' to the authors and illustrator who created the wonderful book Willow. Willow is a picture book about a little girl who does not let someone else tell her how to express her creativity. Instead she sees and paints the world in her own way. You can read my review of this book on the Through the Looking Glass Book Review website.
I'll begin with Cyd Moore who has created, among other things, the Stinky Face books.
1) As an artist did this book strike a special cord with you because it is about a little girl who is artistic?
I was actually working on a story about a creative little artist who didn't see the world like every one else. I had a lot of doodles and bits of story ideas, when I received the manuscript for WILLOW from Sleeping Bear. I loved Denise and Rosemarie's story so much that I decided to jump right in. I'm glad I did! I'm very happy with the book.
2) Do you think this book has an important message to impart to children?
Definitely. I know that art is better when you're feeling happy and confident and FREE. Everyone chooses how they move around in the world. You could choose to remain in a tiny comfort zone drawing round green trees like everyone else. You could be angry and sad and lonely. Or, you can be determined to experience a big world every day: draw funny drawings of your neighborhood, read a book about something new, surprise someone with a gift they never expected, and maybe even munch on blue apples one morning and sweet mangoes the next. You'll have a great life and you'll make others happy along the way.
3) How do you create your illustrations?
I read the manuscript and doodle small thumbnails of ideas on a large piece of paper. Any idea that looks promising gets a full size sketch after that. When the entire book is sketched, I make a dummy book for the art director and editor to see. When they approve the sketches, I paint with watercolor and use Prismacolor pencils on soft french watercolor paper that is very unforgiving!
4) How long does it take you to create a full page piece of art?
If the ideas are coming easily, I can sketch a page per day. My style is very loose, so I paint quickly. If I obsess over a piece, I overwork it. So, I've learned to keep moving—usually, only a day or two per page for final art.
5) Do you decide how the art should be laid out on the pages?
Yes. Art directors have been generous over the years giving me a lot of freedom. I am a graphic designer as well as illustrator, so I am always thinking about design when I'm illustrating books. I always lay out the page with sample text in place. Doing this allows me to create spaces within the illustration for the text to flow freely. I personally like books where the text and the art work together as opposed to a more formal layout like the image on top, text in a block underneath.
6) Do you work on a piece for many hours at a time or do you take many breaks and work on several projects simultaneously?
Sometimes I'll have smaller jobs like magazine illustrations here and there while I'm working on a book. But I like to work on one story at a time. No matter how much I plan, though, my calendar doesn't always work out this way. After working for several months on a book, I finally send off the big package of artwork to the publisher. It's such a relief...like a new baby. It's finally in the world! The next day, my studio feels so empty. The day after that, I usually start a new project and the cycle begins again!
7) Do you find that your travels to foreign countries affects your creative style at all?
It most certainly does. The larger you make your world, the more inspiration you have at your disposal. Travel stretches you, challenges you, informs you, changes you. I believe it's as important as organized education. I really do. Maybe going to veg out on the beach with your head buried in a good trashy novel is not AS informative as touring the temples of India, but I suppose even those lazy uncomplicated vacations can affect you in positive ways.
8) Do you have lots of ideas for books swirling around your head or do ideas just pop up suddenly?
Ideas pop up suddenly, and I have probably hundreds of scraps of ideas stuffed inside notebooks. I'm working on several stories of my own, so in the future, maybe I'll be publishing books that I've illustrated and written.
9) Do you listen to music while you work or do you need peace and quiet?
It depends on where I am in the process. If I'm working on ideas and sketches, I need absolute quiet. But, if I'm painting the finished artwork, the music will definitely be going. I like many kinds of music, so my iPod play list moves from folk to rock to classical and jazz and even a few Buddhist and Gregorian chants!
10)What kinds of books did you like to read when you were little?
I grew up on a farm in Georgia and we didn't have a lot of money to buy books. The library was far away, yet I read thousands of books as a kid. We were so lucky to have the bookmobile lady show up at our front door every week during the summer. My favorite was THE SECRET GARDEN. I also read a lot of mysteries...and Dr. Seuss books—GO DOG GO and HORTON HEARS A WHO!
When my boys were little, we loved Roald Dahl books. I still read them now and again, and my kids are in the twenties! His stories are fantastic and silly and adorable. We gave the BFG as birthday presents to their friends—every kid should have the Big Friendly Giant in his library!
Next I will be asking Rosemarie Brennan about her writing:
1) Was the idea for Willow something that you and your sister came up with together or did one of you think it up and then share the idea with the other?
On July 22, 2006, while sipping caramel lattes in a coffeehouse, I mentioned to Denise a story idea I had, she said she had a similar idea, and she generously agreed to co-create a book with me. I was experiencing great personal loss at the time, and Denise threw me a life preserver.
The ideas Denise and I discussed on that July afternoon never took off. But the opportunity to collaborate with Denise, who already had her foot well inside the publishing door, was enough to light a fire under me. In the weeks to follow, I conceived of and wrote most of WILLOW. During the process, Denise was an important sounding board. I wrote independently and then telephoned or emailed my words and ideas to Denise. Her enthusiastic and encouraging responses -- "You're onto something!" or "Awesome!!!!!!!" or "You're a genius!" -- helped me believe in WILLOW and keep going.
2) Did you find it hard to work with someone whom you know so well?
No partnership is without its challenges. I can be so perfectionistic that nothing is ever good enough. Denise can be bossy. Both of us are a bit too fond of talking and sometimes we have to interrupt each other to get a word in edgewise. But our different personalities and gifts make Denise and me a good team. We're middle children of a big family, and pretty good at bending and give-and-take. We laugh 'til our sides hurt on a regular basis. We know, as Denise's book Grady the Goose illustrates, that we can fly farther together than we can apart.
3) In Willow the little girl has a special almost magical quality in the way that she communes with her art. Did you base her character on someone specific?
No, Willow isn't based on anyone I know (although I do have a friend who is an art teacher and who has a daughter named Willow). Willow represents the best in all of us. She doesn't follow the crowd. She trusts her instincts. She is unselfconscious, unafraid, generous, and open-hearted and loving to everyone. She looks at the world through the rose-colored glasses of LOVE. I want to be more like Willow. All too often I slip into my Miss Hawthorn nature.
4) You and your sister give writing workshops around the country. Do you find that you learn a lot from the people you talk to?
Absolutely. As we give author presentations and lead writing workshops, the roles of student and teacher blur (as was the case with Miss Hawthorn and Willow). We are teachers and students at the same time. We teach and transform and uplift each other.
5) What do the children in your library think of the book?
My local library, Brighton District Library, owns three copies of WILLOW and they are almost always checked out. I take that as a good sign.
And last, but by no means least, here is what Denise had to say:
1. How did you and your sister write this book together?
It began as a conversation at a coffee house and grew with many brainstorming sessions. After tweaking it through numerous emails back and forth, Willow was completed with the help and support of an exceptional staff at Sleeping Bear Press.
2. What do your daughters think of Willow?
All of my stories/characters are like a new member of the family. Everyone is excited about its arrival but the novelty quickly wears off.
My daughters are always excited to see the final results; the end product. They live with me throughout the process, read every draft, are asked to give their opinion more times than they want to and see the sketches and the galleys, etc. I wish I could tell you they don’t go anywhere without the book, I wish I could tell you they tell all their friends about it, and I wish I could say they can’t wait to see what Willow will do next, but truthfully, I think they’re thrilled when it’s finally over.
Children often ask me of the eight books I’ve written, which is my favorite. I use my parents to explain the answer; I tell them there were eight children in my family and if you asked my parents which was their favorite, they would probably say “We loved them all equally.” I feel the same way about my books. Each one has a special place in my heart and my children appreciate the time and effort it takes to create each one.
3. Was this book harder to write than your previous books?
It was actually easier in many ways because I was working with my brilliant and creative sister, Rosemarie! Writing Willow with Rosemarie was a unique experience; an unexpected gift.
4. You must be pleased with the artwork that Cyd Moore created for this book. Does Willow look the way you imagined she would?
It is exciting to see what an illustrator will do with your story and how they will they bring it alive. I’ve always been a fan of Cyd’s work so I was thrilled when Sleeping Bear Press told me she would be illustrating Willow.
Rosemarie and I were together when we got our first glimpse of the book and squealed with delight when we saw what Cyd had created! Cyd really “got” Willow and it shows in the details. Check out the end pages!
5. Have you considered writing another book about this wonderful character?
Absolutely! It is our hope that Willow will continue to inspire others through her unique and creative outlook on life.
If you would like to find out more about this wonderful book, its authors, and its illustrators please visit the Willow website. In addition there are are art projects to try, activites, bios, and more.
I have THREE SIGNED copies of Willow to give away. Drop me a line if you want one!