I'm thrilled to have Roxie Munro
on today to talk about her latest book, MASTERPIECE MIX. Talk about a savvy children's book creator - she has her fingers in so many wonderful kidlit projects. I had the pleasure of meeting her in person when she and her hubbie visited Edinburgh not too long ago. We'd been talking about her visiting my blog ever since. So, prepare for a visual feast from a Master herself! Welcome, Roxie!
e: What is your creative process and medium, can you walk us through them?
I’m a “visual thinker.” I get my ideas and develop concepts often by imagery. That’s the way I start, conceive of, and develop my books. So I do a storyboard, dummy, rough sketches, and often final art before I start the text, which is a bit unusual. (Most of the research is done prior to starting the illustrations.) I write to the art, which dictates the concept, the beginning, middle and end, and the flow of the book.
I don’t do digital art. I think there are basically two kinds of illustrators. Some, like my buddy Paul Zelinsky
, may use a completely different medium for each book – sometimes oil in a classical painting style, or maybe a cartoon-y method, with pastels or colored pencils, and sometimes he goes digital. I am the opposite. I use one favorite type of paper, colored inks, one familiar line thickness with my trusty Radiograph. I want to know my media thoroughly, so that my energy and brain power doesn’t go into trying to figure out new materials. To paraphrase Flaubert: “… be regular and orderly in life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” I save experimentation not for different media, but for the idea, the compositions, color, pattern. The Horn Book said of my latest book Masterpiece Mix: “Like so many of Munro’s books, this one is hard to categorize.” I like that.
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?
It has to be visually rich and sometimes unpredictable. I do not “talk down” to children in my work. Children are keen viewers of art (40% of kids are considered “visual learners”). I want them to have something to really look at, to see – not to skim over, but to engage with, to become absorbed in.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of MASTERPIECE MIX?
In the late 1990s, I was encouraged to do a book about my process – about making art – by my former editor at Dutton. So I created a book dummy and gave it to her. She promptly rejected it, and I stuck it in a drawer for more than a dozen years. A couple years ago I took it out and showed it to my editor, Mary Cash, at Holiday House. They suggested a slight change in the middle part of the book, which was great – that was the “click” that it needed - and they bought it. The beginning and end and most of the book is as I first envisioned it, but the examples of great paintings were based in my first iteration on techniques and formal matters (perspective, color, use of patterns, creating volume, etc); in the new book the examples are based on genres (still lifes, portraits, landscapes, etc). The salient quote from my father – “Do what you really love” – is true. That is what he told his children.
e: What was your path to publication?
I have always been a working professional artist. Did fine art gallery-exhibited paintings and editorial work in Washington DC (for newspapers and magazines) right out of college.
I was also a television courtroom artist for the local CBS affiliate (which is great training for working under pressure, making deadlines, and honing life drawing skills). I started to take trips to New York City for freelance work and when The New Yorker
magazine bought the first cover (of fourteen) I moved to NYC. After a couple years in the city, I needed more work and went to publishers to do trade book covers – maybe architecture, which I did for The New Yorker
. One art director suggested I see a children’s book editor friend. I did, and snippily said, “I don’t do cute. I don’t do bunnies and bears.” But she thought I had something to offer children. A week later I woke up at 7AM with the words “The Inside-Outside Book of New York City” written in a red font across my closed eyes. I called her and said I had a title for a book, but not an idea. (I was fascinated with the city, and what was behind all those windows; what was it like to look down from the top of buildings, or down the subway tracks?). I wrote and illustrated the book, and it went on to win the New York Times
Best Illustrated Book of the Year, was on Time magazine
’s Best list, and more. I knew nothing before that about trim size, storyboards, dummies, what the gutter was, page turn, etc. Learned it all on the job.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
I love to get an idea and see if I can make it work. A lot of my books use “gamification” to impart content – mazes, search-n-find, ABCs, shapes, lift-the-flap moveable books – so sometimes it takes a while to figure out whether the device or construct I want to use will work for the subject.
e: Is there something in particular about MASTERPIECE MIX you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
You often need to combine history and previous knowledge with new concepts, and wrap the idea around your own sensibilities. So the challenge is making the idea both personal AND universal - letting others relate, and have the Aha! moment.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
, a book about rats and other such critters, comes out in February 2018 from Holiday House. The conceit is that they are all drawn actual size, which gets dicey when you are doing a beaver (three feet long) or a capybara (four and a half feet) and the trim size of the book is 10 inches by 10 inches.
Am awaiting word right now from my publisher on a couple projects (a lift-the-flap book and an ABC concept book).
I didn't submit the following idea to them, but when you asked what my dream project would be .... I have created and completed eight pieces of finished art for a series of complex mazes for a book called MazePlay that I LOVE doing. It’s probably too abstract (and quirky) for a regular kid’s trade book though. Visit www.roxiemunro.com/ to see more.
e: Thank you, Roxie!
Roxie and I are dear friends and we often talk about our processes. She is a master where a great many of her steps are internalized and seamless. This means that she can easily convert what's in her head to the page. Her technique is so good that she focuses on truly original ways to tell a story. Some publishers are locked into derivative work because they are worried about sales. Kudos to her publisher who give her the autonomy she deserves.
You do such great work with your blog posts, Elizabeth....informing us about all sorts of interesting stuff. Your blog is a real asset to the industry. (And you are great to work with... Thanks so much!)
Thank you, Roxie! Proud to have you on! :) e
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