Vita and Ethan Murrow's THE WHALE

We're thrilled to have Vita and Ethan Murrow visiting Hollins University for the opening of their show at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum featuring works from their new picture book, The Whale (Candlewick Press, 2016). To celebrate, they are here to talk about their process. Welcome Vita and Ethan!

e: What was your creative process on The Whale, can you walk us through it?
Vita and Ethan:
We approach each of our projects like a movie. We collaborate on a manuscript with our editor, then we sketch out a story board.
The story was an evolution of one we’d told in the past, about a whale hoax, that we thought could be improved upon and adapted.
      Once the pacing and plot are approved, we cast actors and try out the story as a performance. We stage our photo shoots with props, specific lighting cues and costumes. We really look to our actors to help get the story right and bring it to life.
With the photos as our guide we build composite images around them using photo shop, to fill in background information and take risks with perspective. We review the narrative and always have edits. In The Whale we made some large changes like moving the story from airplanes to boats. Then we produce a "pick up shoot" a chance to rephotograph the story with the necessary edits and revisions.
      Then we refine our compositions in photoshop and ready the images to be projected on the wall. The drawing process involves projecting the images in order to map them out with graphite sticks. Then a couple of weeks per drawing to render out all the details, improvisations and changes. the drawings are them photographed and it is these digital images that make up the illustrations in the book.
e: Is the entire book in graphite? What form of graphite (pencils?) do you use and how big do you work?
Vita and Ethan:
Yes the entire collection of drawings are rendered with hundreds of graphite sticks of different weights. Lots of kneadable and electric erasers are utilized as well.

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Vita and Ethan:
For us the magic of an image is how it transports the viewer/reader. We are drawn to strong and encompassing perspectives such as sweeping landscapes, aerials, or tense close ups.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of The Whale?
Vita and Ethan:
Each project we take on is so unique and is usually a combination of whim and impulse, paired with cajoling and support from our collaborators. Such was the case with The Whale. Our friend and Editor Rachel Williams really pushed us and drew us into the project. Her confidence in us and our trust in her really made The Whale possible. It is in every sense a story of friendship, trust and collaboration.

e: What was your path to publication?
Vita and Ethan:
Relationships! We really see our work as relational. Not just between the two of us, but with our larger network of peers and colleagues. It was this network that offered us conversations, forums, meeting points and events that exposed us to opportunities and people in publishing that we trusted and were eager to explore.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Vita and Ethan:
Being a team. We relish in the ensemble part of our work. As a duo and with the photographers, actors and publishers with which we work. The combination of people is enriching, challenging and we love sharing the fun and excitement with others. But all that collaborating is also our biggest challenge. From logistics, to time zones, personalities, and perspectives. And between the two of us, being sure we are both growing as artists and that we find potential and evolution in each project and role we take on.

e: Is there something in particular about The Whale you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Vita and Ethan:
We tried to hide a sweet parallel story in there about the generations that came before. And we also strove to weave the thread that some things, are just for kids.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project (or have you already done it!)?
Vita and Ethan:
Our forthcoming projects include another wordless picture book, followed by a more mature graphic novel adventure. Our dream is to see our work turned into film. We are always kicking around non narrative ideas, like collections and of course more adult oriented content too...

e: Good luck with all, we can't wait to see them!

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