Tag Archives: kidlit

The Story Behind “The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book”

9 Oct

obama cover w white dress

Finding the Format

The Essential Backstory

100 Pablo Picassos.

In 2014 I had the pleasure of illustrating 100 Pablo Picassos. Author Mauricio Velázquez de León cooked up the delicious idea for this interactive biography which invites kids to find one hundred instances of Picasso peppered throughout a fanciful 32-page book, resplendent with Picasso-inspired art.

cubism spread

Since then I have moved to New Zealand, voted for Hillary (from abroad! yes!), and have illustrated many other books, but One Hundred Pablo Picassos has always stayed with me. It helps that it’s been translated into several languages and was included in an exhibit at Korea’s Museum of Kids’ Books and Art.

The Lightning Bolt Moment

One quiet morning in April 2018, after listening to month after month of depressing political shenanigans from the US, I was remembering the hope and pride I used to feel when watching the news during the Obama years.

President Obama was a role model, admired and respected globally. The current holder of the office? Not so much. Nostalgia washed over me and I thought, we should make a book. We should make 100 Barack Obamas.

Mauricio loved the idea of an Obama book for kids, but didn’t think the “100” concept would work. We had included self-portraits in 100 Pablo Picassos‘ overall count, which was very clever and added spice to the “find this guy one hundred times” concept.

100pp_self portraits

The self-portraits were an essential ingredient that could only be included for a visual artist. Mauricio also pointed out that Picasso’s entire life was perhaps a bit more colorful than that that of anyone who gives speeches for a living.

Yep. Fair enough.

More importantly, we wanted to include Michelle as an equal partner, and the girls.

tiny ObamasWe considered the title 100 Obamas (instead of 100 Barack Obamas) but I was the only one who could visualize the resulting book. In my imagination it looked incredible, but sketching the whole thing in an attempt to sell the idea would have been such a giant time commitment that I wimped out immediately. Time to switch gears.

After researching popular kidlit biographies and the Obamas, I wrote three or four manuscripts (okay, six) of varying lengths, targeting different audiences with different types of books. Don’t be fooled: this took some quality time.

first Obama sketch

one of the first sketches made for The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book

Ultimately we settled on the most concise manuscript, which utilized the device of flaps to make the book interactive.

Finding the Look

The Technique

Next decision: How should the art look?

After getting a concept approved for The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book, I tried out several techniques and presented them to the publisher. Simple flat color? Or my usual use of textures and patterns with minimal rendering? Or… how about adding paint texture? Using, like, real paint?

paints

We liked all of the choices but—of course—settled on the paint option, which was by far the most challenging. And time-consuming.

In case you’re wondering, writing and illustrating a book about Barack and Michelle Obama was, for me, incredibly intimidating. My artistic desires for this book outweighed my abilities. Thankfully, art director Tyler Garrison was there. Tyler’s guidance was invaluable. Never underestimate the value of good art direction. Can I get an Amen?

The Design

Speaking of trying out options, I also submitted a buffet of flap designs for every single spread. So. Many. Sketches. I will be forever grateful to duopress for their patience with my monkey brain.

early Obamas sketch_HOPE

one of the unused layout options for “The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book”

Finding the Book!

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.The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book was released on Oct. 1, 2019 by duopress and is available everywhere books are sold, thanks to distribution by Workman Publishing.

Click here to see more samples from The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book on my website.

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Click here to order your copy today!

Artists and Their Pets

18 Aug

Artists-and-Their-Pets

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I’m excited to announce the imminent release of a wonderful new book, Artists and Their Pets—written by Susie Hodge, with illustrations by Yours Truly, Violet Lemay. The book is full of fascinating stories. In light of recent world events, I thought I’d share one in particular.

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Matisse, Picasso, and The Dove of Peace

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Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, two of the twenty artists featured in Artists and Their Pets, had a lot in common. Friends and rivals, they both loved animals and kept pigeons and doves. Toward the end of his life when Matisse was ill, he entrusted Picasso to look after his fancy pet pigeons. Here is a snippet of the story from Artists and Their Pets:

Matisse-sample

There wasn’t room in Artists and Their Pets for this part of the story:

peace dove*

Picasso’s lithograph “La Colombe” (The Dove)—which was actually a rendering of a pigeon—was used on a poster commemorating the Peace Conference in Paris in 1949. The poster was plastered everywhere, making Picasso’s dove famous, and linking his art with the cause of peace.

Picasso continued drawing doves, stylizing and simplifying the form of the bird as he went.

 

I originally had the pleasure of illustrating Picasso and his doves for Mauricio Velázquez de León’s 2014 picture book 100 Pablo Picassos—a lovely and creative biography of Picasso for small children. Here is a sketch…hands y dove… and a peek at how the whole thing came together.

peace

In response to the recent terror attack in Barcelona, duopress—publisher of Artists and Their Pets and 100 Pablo Picassos—posted a snapshot of these pages on Instagram today, along with these words: Picasso’s simple drawing of a dove became a symbol of peace in 1945. #picasso would be shocked by the attacks in #barcelona, a city he loved. This image from our book #100pablopicassos is our message of #peace to all the victims of yesterday coward attack and all the citizens of #spain  #love  #noviolence #stopterrorism #nomoreviolence

Well said.

Wishing you all peace, joy, love… and art. ❤

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Click here to pre-order Artists and Their Pets (available everywhere September 15, 2017)

Click here to order 100 Pablo Picassos (available everywhere books are sold)