Sergio Ruzzier's TWO MICE - Guest Post

Thank you, Elizabeth, for giving my Two Mice hospitality on your blog. [Nice to have you on, Sergio!]
      I am particularly fond of this little (6 by 7.5 inches) book of mine. Among my books, it’s the one with the briefest text and at the same time the one that took me the longest to write. There was a lot of thinking and editing to get to the final forty-eight words.
      I’m often asked if my books are born text first or pictures first. This is the perfect example of a book that couldn’t be born either way: It was really a matter of working on words and pictures at the same time. You remove a word, you add a picture; you add a word, you remove a picture. I could never have come up with these images based on the words that I eventually decided to use. I wouldn’t know how to illustrate “One island / Two trees / Three tears,” and I couldn’t have written those words independently from the illustrations.

      A big breakthrough while I was struggling to find the right rhythm, came when my editor, Dinah Stevenson, insisted that the book should have a regular number pattern. That’s how I settled on 1-2-3; 3-2-1. It was still a challenge to find the right word for the right situation, while also considering the mathematical play with additions and subtractions, and on top of that being funny, or dramatic, or sweet. I had to move things around quite a bit, but at the end I was very pleased with the result.
      As with most of my books, I created the illustrations using pen & ink and watercolor, my favorite technique. This time, my originals were smaller than the printed page. Once printed, the line looks a bit thicker but also kind of broken and softer, which is nice.
      When I work on my illustrations, I start with a very rough thumbnail sketch.
Once I decide what the content of that illustration will be, I make a pencil drawing in which I study the composition, the characters’ body language and facial expressions, and any other elements. I like to include interesting (to me, at least) objects, so I do some research before deciding what the basket, say, or the floor tiles, or the fireplace will look like.
Once I’m happy with the pencil drawing, I trace it onto watercolor paper (I use rough Arches); then I ink it with a fine nib, and when the ink is dry, I color the whole thing in watercolors.
      Children’s books used to be smaller than they are in today’s market. I think of 19th Century chapbooks, or Beatrix Potter’s series. There is something intimate and charming about a small book, which fits naturally in a little child’s small hands. That’s why I’m very happy that the people at Clarion Books agreed to make Two Mice this atypical size. But that’s not the only production detail I’m grateful for. The paper is very nice, of the right feel and weight. The endpapers’ two different colors for the front and the back lead the reader in and out of the story. The colors are very faithful to my originals, which are not always easy to reproduce. The typeface, Century School Book (Leo Lionni’s favorite), is attractive, elegant, and easy to read. For all this, I want to thank all the people responsible for the way the book was designed and produced, from art director Christine Kettner and designer Opal Roengchai, to Donna McCarthy and Sarah Sherman in production.

     Sergio Ruzzier is a picture book author and illustrator. Born in Milan, Italy, in 1966, he moved to the U.S.A. in 1995, where he's been creating stories and pictures for books and magazines. He was a recipient of the 2011 Sendak Fellowship. Sergio lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit to learn more.


Annina said...

Thanks so much for this terrific post. Great read, great to get a refresher course in your process, Sergio.
Your drawings are wonderful.

melinda beavers said...

Thank you so much Sergio! I always love seeing process images, especially from author/illustrators! Your work is brilliant, as usual—and its so nice to hear an artist appreciate his design team!! :)

Ruth McNally Barshaw said...

Terrific glimpse into the making of Sergio's book. Thank you, Elizabeth!
And, Sergio, congratulations on the great buzz your book is getting. Clearly it's well deserved.