MS. RAPSCOTT'S GIRLS by Elise Primavera - Guest Post

I've been a long-time fan of Elise Primavera's picture books, so I'm thrilled to have her on to talk about her new mid-grade novel, MS. RAPSCOTT'S GIRLS! Here's Elise...
      When I first got the idea for my book MS. RAPSCOTT’S GIRLS I thought it would be a sort of a MADELINE type book – episodic stories of little girls in a boarding school setting. But instead of being orphans I thought it would be funny if the girl’s parents were busy…too busy to be, well…parents.
      I started to wonder about the teacher of this school and I thought about a character from my first novel, GUMM STREET, named Franny Muggs who had a morbid fascination for Mt. Everest, Amelia Earhart and failed missions like Shackleton’s to the South Pole. I thought that a grownup version of Franny would make an interesting headmistress. Here is the first sketch of her:
      We ended up changing out the parrot for corgis:
      I decided right away I wanted the school to be in a lighthouse. Here is an early sketch:
      The writing of MS. RAPSCOTT was a long process which I can only describe as fraught. I think it took a couple of years to complete—but it could have been three—I’m not exactly sure because I kind of lost track of the amount of time or at some point didn’t want to know. Originally I wanted the book to be a cross between a picture book and a novel. A long picture book was what I thought. Lots and lots of pictures with a longer story than a picture book could accommodate but not as long as a novel.
      The first draft was about 56 pages on the computer but my editor, Nancy Conescu wanted more. Nancy had lots of ideas for where the story should go. We had a phone conversation about it and I remember saying to her, “Now you’re scaring me.”
     My office where I write:
      I went back to work and added about sixty pages. At this point my original idea of it being a long picture book had gone out the window. I was in uncharted territory. But when I handed this draft in, Nancy wrote back that she loved what I had done…up to page 56!
      My studio when I’m writing:
      Was I freaking out now? Um, yes. So much that I actually had to put the story aside for six months before I could even approach the changes. It felt a little like stepping into the cage of some wild animal that I was going to have to tame...or fight…or be defeated by.
      Six months later I did venture into the lion’s cage. But something had changed. When I looked at Nancy’s comments this time I could see what she was talking about. For some odd reason (with the benefit of some time past?) something clicked inside my head. I was able to do the third draft and this time I knew I’d nailed it. Here is how my studio looked before I began to work on the art—notice how clean!
      By now I was so late with the book that it was ridiculous. Against my better judgment I started to work on the art in a way that I had never done before—combining graphite pencils with charcoal pencils. There was a learning curve of about a couple of weeks but I loved the medium and really enjoyed working on the art.
      The interior black and white illustrations were done on Arches 140 lb. Hot Press watercolor paper. Here is a sketch:
      When I tackled the cover I decided that I wanted to do it in pastels. The only problem was that I hadn’t worked with pastels in years! I had to buy an entire new set. Pricey! When I went to buy the Bainbridge board that I used to work on I found that they no longer made it so I had to use Strathmore. It was a weird (scary?) experience going back and working in the pastels again. I had done probably over a hundred pieces of art using them but it had been so long ago. There was so much I’d forgotten. Fortunately in about a week I was able to figure it out and really enjoyed it – sort of like being with an old friend.
      So the cover was done on Strathmore heavy illustration board that I coated with a gesso and pumice stone mixture. I used gouache paint as an under painting and then Sennelier pastels and pastel pencils. Here is the cover sketch:
     Here’s the cover sketch with frame:
     The feedback here was that the frame was too yellow so I changed it.
     This banner was done in acrylic paint. Here’s the sketch:
     Here’s a sketch of the faces that I did in pastel before I proceeded to finish:
Studio the day I handed in the book:

Learn more about Elise Primavera and her work - click here!

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