Gianna Marino's IF I HAD A HORSE

I was so horse crazy as a kid. What little girl isn't? I took riding lessons every Saturday for so many years. I was even a groom for a summer and you've read my posts about brushing horses at Hollins. But I never had a horse of my very own. So, you can imagine how Gianna Marino's IF I HAD A HORSE speaks to my inner child. What a gorgeous work. I'm thrilled to have Gianna here today to talk about the creation of this lovely book.
e: What is your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
I love to start of with tiny little sketches, really rough and easily changed. I find once I get attached to a drawing, I have a hard time letting it go, even if it is not right for the story.
In these early drawings, I try to capture movement, emotion, freshness and a feeling of how the book might make the reader feel. It doesn't always work.... but to me this is the most important part of making a book. I make tiny little dummies with these first sketches, usually just a few inches tall. I go back and forth between the text and the illustrations, though I did something completely different for If I Had a Horse (see below). I move on to tighter, full size sketches once the tiny ones are in an order that feels like it tells the story I want to tell. I work in pencil on tracing paper, mostly because it is soft and easy to erase and over-lay.
When these are to my liking, I do color studies for each page, trying to tell some sort of story with the color (if the story calls for that!).
     While I have tried other mediums (and failed in mastering them in any way), I love gouache and that is usually my go-to. I sometimes layer it with gum-arabic over mulberry paper, or use it over crisp white watercolor paper. I love that it can be transparent or opaque. I love that it feels like melted chocolate. I love that it can get really muddy and make me insane with finding the perfect tone. I usually mix up little jars, number them and take notes when I am doing color studies. I will end up with 8-12 jars of different colors to finish the final illustrations with.
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?
"Heart Art" = Art that makes our senses come alive, so we can smell if the character is by the sea, or taste the delicacy we can only see an image of, or hear the wind blow from the page of a book. My favorite illustrations are those that make me cry, or laugh, or love a character so much that I want to know more. Art that makes me FEEL!
      When I work on my own books, I often think about someone I know well when I am drawing the different characters. I hope to let the reader know little secrets about the characters, or THINK they know them more than the words are saying.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
The creation of If I Had a Horse was completely different from any book I have written.
      I was in Costa Rica for a month and greatly missing my horse. While getting frustrated with another book I was working on (with piles of crumpled paper at my feet) I decided to shelve that idea and get my hand back into drawing by doing these really loose and small sketches of a horse and what it would be like if I had my horse with me. Which lead me to recall what it felt like as a child to NOT have a horse and how I would do things differently now that I was adult and (sort of) knew better. (Although I think a child's instinct with an animal is more natural than us over-thinking adults).
With these little sketches, I cut them out and moved them around until it visually started to tell a story. I cleaned up the drawings a bit and sent them to my editor. No words, just these silhouette drawings. While he loved it, he asked how I felt about adding words. I thought about it for a few days, and then wrote what is now the story, in a day. I think I tapped into my own childhood feelings of longing for connection with a horse.
      And what made this story even more strange, were the color studies. Because each illustration was fairly simple, I decided to use color to help tell the story. So I did a small version of each page, no bigger than 6 inches long. They were lose and quick. When I sent those to my editor, we both decided that I could not reproduce this feeling in a larger size and they printed from those first color studies. There was a little magic in that horse...
e: How do you advertise yourself?
I am not a good advertiser! I love coming up with ideas and turning them into stories. I love to visit schools and share secrets with the students about creating art. I love to speak at conferences and workshops. But I am also an artist and spend most of my time alone in the studio, waiting for the invites to come to me! I guess I am a little lazy in the advertising aspect of art. (I was at a residency in Wyoming for a month, so I'm including THAT studio images, since that is where this book was created.)
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
What we love and hate are usually close, right? I LOVE to work alone and be on my own schedule. I hate that I work alone so much! I would say that is my biggest challenge. Though there are days when I just can't figure something out and it feels like I never will. I have finally learned to walk out the door and go for a hike. When the mind stops trying to figure something out, it usually DOES figure something out.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
When I was writing the text for this story, I stopped short on the page where the child is falling off the horse. Yes, it is scary to fall off a horse and I am sure something that every parent hates to see. On the other hand, learning to ride a horse (and learning to try new things in life) often results in failure and an opportunity to try again. The child realizes that they don't agree on everything. Realizes that relating to this creature, being strong like him, and seeing that he could be gentle, "Like me" are how they move forward together. Horses, and many animals for that matter, are often trained by power OVER them (through strong training tactics, harsh bits and objects to scare them). I love that this child finds a way to gain his trust (with an apple and patience), and realizes they need to work together in order to grow and become a team. I also want the reader to know that this child could be anyone. It could be a girl. Or a boy. It is more about the connection to each other, which is why we decided to keep everything in silhouette.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Every book is a dream project! At least when they begin! Then comes the work...
      I am working on a book now about giraffe siblings. The smaller of the two wants to be like the bigger one and realizes, through a game of hide-and-seek, that they are! It is called Just Like My Brother and is due out Spring of 2019 with Viking. I am working on something else now that is one of those tip-top-secrets (I have never been able to write that before and it makes me feel like a spy!) as well as a sequel to Night Animals!

e: Thanks so much Gianna!! I adore this book!

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