What an honor to have Laura Vaccaro Seeger
, New York Times best-selling author and illustrator and a 2-time winner of the Caldecott Honor Award, here today to tell us about her newest book, WHY? I asked her some questions about it...
e: What was your creative process/medium for WHY?, can you walk us through it?
For the writing, this book developed slowly over time. It began with a germ of an idea that I wrote in my journal. From the beginning, I was intrigued with the idea of writing a story about questions that you never actually hear. As with many of my books, if that little germ keeps catching my eye as I peruse my journal, or if I continue to ruminate about it, I’ll know it’s something that’s worth exploring.
As for the art, I’ve created books with all kinds of art styles including acrylic paints, oil paints, collage, India inks, and flat color, but never watercolor paints until now. With each of my books, it is the text that dictates the art style for me. WHY? was created with layers of watercolor paint and pencil. I then made a huge stack of “splotch” paintings by flinging black ink from sopping wet gigantic brushes at a whole bunch of papers.
Then, I scanned the original watercolor paintings as well as the “ink-splotched” papers into the computer, selected the shapes that the splotches made, and used those shapes to lighten or darken certain areas of the paintings. This added a very organic grittiness to the paintings.
e: What was your path to publication and how did winning Caldecott Honors change your career?
My path to publication was quite unconventional. I’d spent over ten years as an artist and animator in the network television business, creating and producing animated show openings for NBC and ABC in New York City. But I’d always wanted to make picture books, and after cold-calling the president of a major publisher (at home, no less), and inadvertently waking him up at 6am (I didn’t realize that his assistant had given me his home number in California), I was so fortunate that instead of hanging up on me, he recommended that I send my work to him and call back a few weeks later. So, after mistakenly waking him up for a second time (I know, I know, I’m “some piece of work” as I’ve so often been told), he suggested I meet with his vice president at the time, Neal Porter. The rest is history. Neal and I are now working on our 19th book together!
As for the Caldecott Honors, I think they’ve made a huge difference in my career. For one thing, they ensure that the books will stay in print for a long, long time. It’s also such a widely respected and well-known award, so it is truly an amazing honor, indeed. The fact that it is awarded by librarians is incredibly meaningful, because it confirms that the books resonate and communicate successfully with children (and adults alike). And, for me anyway, it is the recognition and reassurance that many of us artists yearn for. I think, underneath, we are a very vulnerable bunch. I also think that the moment an artist becomes overly confident is the moment they stop growing, so as difficult as it can be at times, that vulnerability is necessary. These awards have meant so much to me for so many reasons!
e: WOW! That is quite the story! And congratulations on the awards! Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of WHY?
With every book, I find that it’s usually a single thing that propels me through the often year-long (or more) process of creating the book. With WHY?, it was the challenge of making a book which contains a myriad questions, but you never actually hear the questions, they can only be determined by the answers and the illustrations. So, that presented a wonderful artistic challenge because I had to make sure that the illustrations made it absolutely clear what the questions are. And in some cases there can be multiple questions for each answer, which is wonderful because one thing I always try to do with all of my books is to leave plenty of room for discussion, imagination, and curiosity.
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?
My approach to bookmaking is to distill whatever it is that I’m trying to say down to its absolute essence. I think, if done sincerely, the art ends up being full of heart.
e: How do you advertise yourself (or do you anymore)?
I have a website (StudioLVS.com
) which I try to update regularly. I also have a Facebook page
as well as a Twitter account, but I only use them professionally, and these days, I only post about new books, book tours, events, reviews, interviews, etc. I used to visit Facebook and Twitter more often, but lately I find it’s been a source of great frustration, though that may be a topic for an entirely different discussion!
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
I adore having a blank canvas at the start of each book. That is at once both my favorite part of the process and the most challenging. I love the very beginning of the process when all the work happens in my head and I can think about what the book can be. Neal and I often play the “what if” game as we explore all the possibilities for which direction the book can go.
I also love the process of seeing the writing and art come together. And the organic experience of squeezing paint from the tube and swirling it around on the palette and making those first brushstrokes. Really, the entire process is both fun and challenging!
A big challenge is to continually reach out of my comfort zone in terms of art style and writing, and to constantly make sure that no matter what, the books are not didactic in any way and always respect the reader, no matter their age.
e: Is there something in particular about WHY? you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I’d love for readers to embrace their curiosity and to know that sometimes we simply do not have all the answers and that’s okay!
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Right now I’m working on the final book in a trilogy. I’ve done GREEN which explores the many shades of green in our world and encourages an appreciation of our environment, and BLUE which is an exploration of the color blue in terms of loyalty, sadness, and loss. Now I’m working on RED which will look at the color red through the lens of conflict, anger, and love.
e: I can't wait to see it! Hope to have you back soon. :)