Melissa Guion's BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA - Guest Post and Giveaway!

Everybody clap your wings together for Melissa Guion and her new book BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA. She dropped by to talk to us about it...

      Many thanks to E for giving me this space to talk about BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA, the follow-up to my debut picture book, BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE!

      E asked me to write about craft, which surprised me given that my style is so simple and easily achievable, in a way. I’d especially like to talk about how my craft evolved from the first book to the second, because the two experiences were so different.
      BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE was my first real illustration job. When I began the book I had little experience as a working artist, and almost no process to speak of. Here is a portrait of the artist feeling inadequate to the task:

      I knew I had to settle on a style (not to mention characters and a world) in a year instead of, say, the four years one might spend in an illustration track at an art school. It was a chaotic struggle and I tried at least a dozen approaches hoping to come up with something personal and book-worthy.

      After making experiments in charcoal, oil pastel, torn newspaper, and ink, I shared the results with my art director. We decided to stick with simple pencil drawings, which was where I had begun. I worried pencil wouldn’t look finished enough, but my art director was fine with it, and that gave me the permission I needed. I liked pencil’s inherent gentleness for such a young picture book. I used soft, dark graphite pencils and bars so the images would reproduce without being inked.

      A nice thing about this approach was that I would only need a few materials, many of which were already in my art cabinet. I put most of my budget toward better watercolor brushes and paper than I was used to. My costs broke down something like this:
      Pencils: $0
      Tubes of watercolor: $0
      Water: free
      Bleed-proof white for touch-ups: $10
      Brushes: $250
      Paper: $200
      Therapy: $5,000
      The results were good. Because I was in such an experimental frame of mind, the artwork had a rough, personal quality, which I happen to like. The jury at the Society of Illustrators Original Art show liked it, too. Here is a portrait of the artist feeling successful:

      Now fast-forward a year.
      I sit down to begin final artwork for my second book. At my art director’s request I make two preliminary finishes, thinking, this will be easy. I scan them and send them to her. She calls me and says, “Uh-oh, there’s a problem. The baby penguins have become adolescents!”
      It was both a fact and a metaphor. I had drawn the baby penguins much bigger relative to their Mama. The more significant problem was that my drawing was confident and not as sweet. In the intervening year I had completed a picture book’s worth of finished artwork. I had presented my work at schools, libraries, bookstores and festivals for months, often drawing for live audiences. I was in a completely different position as an artist, and it showed.

      What could I do? I couldn’t go back to being frightened and inexperienced. I would have to draw in a similar spirit on purpose. I worked very consciously to get back to that spirit. I didn’t totally succeed, but I got close.

      On the plus side, I was able to make thoughtful choices about the second book that had once been beyond my abilities or understanding. I incorporated a third, bigger graphite bar as a drawing tool. I kept my colors consistent from spread to spread. I substituted black gouache for black watercolor to reduce painting and drying time. I built a cardboard frame that showed me the book’s trim size instead of marking up each picture with pencil guidelines. (Those were impossible to erase from the original artwork for the first book, because I’d painted over them.)
      These changes were all major improvements in my craft, but they don’t sound like much. Well, talking about my craft is simple because my work is simple. Dots, lines, and a few colors. I try to convey as much as I can with a minimal number of marks. I paint loosely and inaccurately, which on a good day adds a feeling of movement, and on a bad day just looks messy.
      I don’t plan to change the way I work for my third book. But experience tells me things will have changed on their own since the last time I sat down to paint, and that’s what makes this job so wonderful and interesting.

Penguin has generously offered to give a free copy of BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA to one of my lucky commenters and Melissa will sign/dedicate it before it gets to you! Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below!


Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

A fascinating look at how our own personal growth affects our work! Also, I just figured out that when I try to comment from connecting to a story via FB, THAT'S when it won't let me (I think). Either way, I'm happy I can comment!

Joy said...

I love reading the back story for various children's books. Thanks for sharing yours!

janice skivington said...

I was first attracted to the gentle lovely line work used to describe the penguins. And the books look like a style that i would love to read aloud and look at again and again.

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

Oh Vicky - I hope that solved the mystery!!! :) e

Dana Carey said...

So interesting to read about your artwork and how it's evolved, Melissa. Love those penguins!
Thanks, Elizabeth! Thanks, Melissa!

Unknown said...

I love Melissa's sweet penguins! It's great to know how much work goes into kids' books. There are so many elements involved, especially that consistency. It's interesting to learn how tricky it becomes when a style starts to change. Her 2nd book looks terrific. Melissa is refreshingly candid and she's a very nice lady :) I bought this book for a friend, but I want one, too!!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating story. Can't wait to read this book to my children.

Anonymous said...

I love these pictures! They are really special!