LATELY LILY by Micah Player - Interview and Giveaway!

If you read my blog, you probably know I love to travel (although I don’t get to do it as much as I’d like). Hubbie and I did a Safari in Africa for our honeymoon, and I was an exchange student in Paris during college. So, when LATELY LILY came across my desk - I flipped! Lily is a jet-setting young girl excited to see the world and make it her marble. The endpapers are suitcases - gotta love it. The author/illustrator, Micah Player stopped by to talk about it…

Q. Micah! I adore LATELY LILY! How did the idea come to you?
I had been working on this series of little international characters for my Around the World Puzzle and would often think to myself that it would be rad if there was one kid that knew all these other kids. Some immensely connected, well traveled little person that happened to have friends all over the world at like ten.
      The thought stuck with me and later when my good friend (apparel designer and Lately Lily co-founder) Erin Nichols contacted me about collaborating on a line of teeshirts for little girls with an international element, I immediately thought again of that imaginary cosmopolitan kid. She would serve to connect all the different places we might use as inspiration for our apparel seasons. A Traveling Girl! Erin and I went around with a bunch of different names, but one day I spotted a “Lily’s Laundry” sign while driving home from a brainstorming session. We really wanted the name to have a “breaking news” sort of feel and sound a little old timey. So “Lately Lily” popped in my head and there she was!
      Lily’s unique situation is that her Mom and Dad are a writer and photographer for “The International Exposition” (in Lily’s universe it is nothing short of the “World’s Greatest Magazine”) traveling the globe on assignment. She lives out of a meticulously packed Sunny Yellow Suitcase and has pen pals and friends all over the globe. I love the idea that she writes letters and carries a notebook. Her very best friend and travel companion is a stuffed corduroy zebra named Zeborah, which she purchased early on in her travels at a thrift store in London. So, we’ve produced five Lately Lily apparel releases so far, each one is a short story “pulled from Lily’s Notebook” and told across a line of teeshirts.

Q. I’ll be using LATELY LILY in my Design class at Hollins University to talk about shape and color in book design. What was your approach to all that?
Hmm... What a great question! Well, Lately Lily has a very specific palette because we make product and it has to be consistent. Having already done that work for the brand as a whole, I had a good starting point, color-wise. Lily has very particular blues and yellows and reds that are all pantone colors. If you look at Lately Lily’s teeshirt art, it’s super linear with alot of brushy lines in fluid thicks and thins. This works great for apparel because its easy to reproduce and doesn’t rely on a lot of color to be expressive. Lily’s face, which also acts as a logo for our company, is harder edged with more color. The art for the book is a blend of the two. Strong full color shapes with linear details and ink washes finishing the illustrations. There is almost no black at all in the book, except Lily’s eyes and Zeborah’s coloration.

Q. What is your method?
I always start with a pencil drawing. Things change after that point depending on the final destination of the art. If its going to be one color or linear, I’ll do the pencil drawing on watercolor paper and immediately jump to ink and brush, erasing the pencil lines underneath when its dry. I use Speedball ink and Grumbacher Golden Edge brushes. For monochromatic art prints and whatnot, I use watered down ink to shade the finished piece and then I scan it in and do final cleanup.
      If the finished destination is screen printing for our tees, I will usually stick to simple line work and scan that in, leaving the shading for a separate layer on the light table so I can scan it in separate. That way I can adjust the dot density and stuff in a bitmap pattern to best preserve the washiness of the shading in the final print.

      For full color art, I scan in my pencil sketch and then open it in Illustrator. I make all my major shapes there, sort of like an underpainting. I leave out any details that are linear, like nose, mouth, freckles, eye lashes, fingers, zippers, hair, etc. Then, I print out the finished layout of flat colors and put it on a light table where I paint all those final details in ink on watercolor paper. Two layers, one for the fine details and another for the shading and washes. I scan that detail work and compile the underpainting and ink work in photoshop! Its sort of a long process on paper, but I prefer scanning details to working on a stylus. I feel like the paper and the inky water (with it’s little bits and grit) add something that would get lost if I did all the work in a digital medium. The finished art has a nice “is it digital or not?” feel to it, with super-saturated color that I like alot.

Q. Your work has such a consistent look to it (I know you’ve done work for Target). What is the philosophy behind what you do?
Thank you! A couple thoughts... My philosophy is that anything that is made for kids should be thoughtful. Working on art, literature or product for children is such a privilege. Its an opportunity to connect with some of the most complete parts of your head. By the time you are in your thirties or so, the questions that came up for you as a kid are things you’ve been mulling over on some level for a very long time. Like, I only have a few years of perspective on what it is to live as a thirty something person, but I have more than thirty years experience being a kid. So, the fact that so much of what is made for kids is throwaway, thoughtless garbage is inexcusable.
      Art-wise, as I get older, I find that the amount of traditional media I use rises in relation to the amount of digital work, to where now almost all of the actual art making is on paper, aside from color. I’m just less and less impressed with digital art tools, which is weird because of course they are getting better not worse. Still, why do anything on a computer that can, objectively, be done better without a computer? Like, a fake ink brush in Photoshop or Corel Draw isn’t better than a real brush! The one thing that holds me back from just ditching all digital and handling my color completely with watercolors or acrylics is that handling color as a core digital element is just really great for consistency and reproduction. The graphic designer in me holds on to that. And, I’m not gonna lie, I do love the undo button!

Q. There is an entire website of fun stuff dedicated to LATELY LILY at Did that come before or after the book? Was it a planned product line from the start?
Because so much of what is sold for kids follows the pattern of “Oh! This is a popular character in a movie or a cartoon or a book, lets expand it into a bunch of stuff after the fact”, sometimes people get confused about a project like Lately Lily. From the first tee line we produced three years ago, people were like “This is so adorable, is this a book?” No, its a story told across teeshirts. Now that we’ve released a book I’ve seen people be like “This is so adorable, is it based on a cartoon?” There is no distinction for me. A Lately Lily teeshirt is as much a piece of literature to me as the book and of course Lily would make an amazing cartoon. The process is the same, the attention is the same. The amount of time I have spent with her as a character has been so awesome. You really sense that there is so much more to her than whatever you’re seeing at that moment. Erin and I are ridiculously ambitious in that way, we put easter eggs in everything and then make up what they reference later.

Q. What was your path to publication/journey with LATELY LILY and how’s it going?
From the moment we started showing the early designs for Lily, people just took for granted that she was going to be in a book. Then, I sent it to a couple friends at Chronicle Books. That publisher is incredible. It is staffed, top to bottom, with people that absolutely adore books. Lily is the result of wishing everything made for kids could be as smart as great kids books, so it really appealed to my friends Naomi Kirsten and Amy Achaibou who just grabbed Lily and made her a part of their life. Everyone over there just embraced Lately Lily. Chronicle Books is very friendly territory for the Traveling Girl. She does that! Lily makes friends! Its been the same everywhere we take her. There is always someone awesome that falls in love with her and makes an opportunity happen.

Q. Will we see Lily again in future adventures?
Lily is always having new adventures! There is always a new story to read in one way or another. One way is of course in our tee shirt line as well as a pretty constant stream of Lily art on Instagram and Facebook. In addition to the picture book, Travel Flash Cards, and Sunny Yellow Suitcase available now, there are two new Chronicle Books Lately Lily projects coming out next year that I’m extremely excited about. So much awesome stuff!

Q. How have you been celebrating the release of LATELY LILY and what are you cooking up next?
Its been amazing seeing people react to the book, which turned out absolutely beautiful. We have a line of Lately Lily bedding that just came out through the Land of Nod, and have also just finished perfecting the first Lily plush doll, coming out this Holiday season!

Thanks so much for stopping by!
Thank YOU!! Such rad questions.

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Chronicle Books is generously giving a free copy of LATELY LILY to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US/Canada to win - enter below.


Msrcy said...

I might be biased, but this is adorable!

Wehaf said...

I love the mod, retro style of the illustrations!

Anonymous said...

These pictures are just too sweet! It is a book that begs to be picked up! Well done!

Geo Librarian said...

What a delightful idea! Kids need to become more aware of the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

My daughter saw the pictures for Lately Lily and begged that I enter this give away.
I for one love to travel and learn about new places and people. Trying to teach my children the same ideals.

Thank you for the chance to win this