Today I have the special treat of sharing an interview with the author AND the illustrator of PRAIRIE STORMS (Sylvan Dell Publishing) written by famed writing coach Darcy Pattison and illustrated by Kathleen Rietz.
Q. I love the concept of this book - how weather affects the animals that live in particular environments, in this case, a prairie. Darcy, how did the idea come to you and what was the road to publication for this story?
Darcy: As an avid hiker and camper, I've always been interested in nature. But the market is saturated with books about certain animals and their habitat. I wanted to add something extra and when I realized I could add in weather around the calendar, the book started to take shape. It was a challenge to find twelve types of weather events to include and to spread them out evenly over the months; then I had to find appropriate animals within the prairie habitat to include. There were so many animals, it was hard to decide, but fun to eventually work it out.
Sylvan Dell is small and innovative. For this book, I wanted a publisher who was trying different ideas about books and marketing books. I submitted the manuscript first in verse, but the editor asked for a rewrite in prose, then accepted it.
Q. Although the topics tie together beautifully, there's an awful lot of research that must have gone into this book. Can you tell us about it?
Darcy: The research was intense. I had to make sure that each animal would act as I describe which meant finding solid scientific research. I searched through scientific journals and a couple times emailed scientists to confirm the information.
Kathleen: I put in countless hours of research in order to illustrate this book. The cool thing is, I learned so much in the process. Growing up in the Midwest, I have witnessed all of these types of storms firsthand, but still found it fascinating to search for photos and video online. I was even able to take some of my own reference photos as the seasons changed. I learned how thunderstorms form, and found footage of all types of tornadoes. And while working on the final spread for the book - the blizzard for the December spread - the Blizzard of 2011 pounded Illinois. I was able to witness a blizzard firsthand, which gave me confidence in my illustration. I also learned a lot about animals and how they react to storms. I loved illustrating such a vast array of species.
Q. Kathleen, weather has always been a challenging thing for me to illustrate. How was it for you, and did you figure out any illustrative tricks to capture the right feel?
Kathleen: I must admit I was intimidated at first. The idea of illustrating weather seemed like a daunting task to me. But it actually ended up being a lot of fun! The dramatic lighting and the effects of the storms themselves brought my illustrations to life, and stretched my creativity as an artist. I have always painted traditionally, and then finished my illustrations in Photoshop. For the illustrations in this book, Photoshop proved to be an invaluable tool for creating storms, backgrounds and visual effects in ways I could not have done through traditional paint. For example, the rainbow in the September spread was created digitally, as well as the cool, stormy sky and soft sunbeams breaking through the cloud cover. There was no way to achieve that look with paint. In another example, I was able to create the softness of the billowing fog in the spread for February using effects in Photoshop. I hope the reader can actually "feel" the wet chill of the misty fog and snow in this spread. Of course, there are some effects I love achieving in traditional paint, and so I really consider myself a "hybrid" artist - one who uses a mix of both traditional paint and digital effects. All of my animals were painted in watercolor. And for several of the spreads, including the front cover, I sprinkled table salt into the wet paint in order to create interesting textures in the ground, rock and sky.
I can feel the weather Kathleen!! And I'll be looking for Darcy's next book, Desert Baths, due out in 2012. Thanks guys and congratulations again!
BONUS! Kathleen is offering a free coloring page for September - you saw it here first! Just click the thumbnail to open the printable version. More coloring pages coming soon (one for each month) at the Prairie Storms facebook page - go LIKE!
GIVEAWAY! As I am doing more and more at dulemba.com - once I have 15 comments, I'll do a drawing for a free copy of PRAIRIE STORMS. (Must live in the continental US to win and include an email addy in your comment.)
Meanwhile, check out the great book trailer with animal sounds!