I loved featuring Jessica Lanan recently for her book, FINDING NARNIA, but I also really wanted to talk to her about THE FISHERMAN AND THE WHALE. It's simply stunning. Happily, she was game to come back and share more...
e: What is your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
This book had more drafts than anything I've ever worked on (so far, that is.) At the beginning it had lots of little boxes.
There was a raft. There were binoculars. Through the usual process of thumbnails and dummies I simplified it over and over again. I was also very aware that with just sea, sky and a boat the scenes could get repetitive, so I made a big effort to vary the perspectives as much as possible.
When the sketches were final and I had the colors worked out, I transferred the drawings to cold-pressed watercolor paper. I painted the final art with transparent watercolor and a bit of opaque gouache. I used a lot of paint to get those deep blue-green tones.
e: What was your path to publication?
I participated in the portfolio showcase at one of the SCBWI national conferences in New York. I had the dummy of FISHERMAN with me at the time but was too timid to put it out with my portfolio, so I just carried the dummy around in my pocket and I showed it only to people who I already know and trust. (This is a great strategy for protecting your feelings but not a great strategy for getting published.) Despite everything my now-agent Ed Maxwell saw my portfolio at the conference and contacted me afterward asking if I had any samples of manuscripts I could share with him, and that's how FISHERMAN AND THE WHALE got started. After several months of polishing we submitted it to several different publishers. Most had to pass for various reasons. The generous Liz Kossnar at Simon & Schuster shared some editorial comments with me over the phone. She let me revise and re-submit it, and that's where the book found its home.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
I had the idea for this book while I was attending a music concert. The piece of music in question featured some whale-like noises created by the cello. I saw the whole story in my mind right then and there, and as soon as I got home I wrote it all down. Later, when I was working on the book, I decided that I didn't really know how to draw fishing boats well enough, so I went to Vancouver Island for research purposes. (I live in Colorado and we're short on boats.)
I saw several whales there as well, including a bold baby grey whale who swam up to our boat to peer at the strange, two-legged creatures onboard. It was clear that she had an intelligence all her own.
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?
I love more realistic illustrations that make me feel immersed in another world, but good illustration may also break the rules of reality in order to achieve a specific design aesthetic or a sense of experimentation and freedom. My very favorite illustrators have mastered drawing and painting with great technique and precision but can ignore those rules as needed. That combination is terrifically difficult, and something I wish I could do.
e: How do you advertise yourself?
I suppose social media is the thing we all do nowadays. I post with the most regularity on Instagram because I enjoy communicating with pictures. For the publishing world I think it's still nice to make postcards sometimes. I think everybody likes getting a beautiful postcard in the mail.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Creating picture books is so often a solo activity, so my biggest challenge is feeling a bit isolated and in the dark about what I ought to do. It would be nice to have a larger local community to share ideas with. My favorite thing about this job is working on such a wide variety of projects and getting to indulge my curiosity.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I have found this book to be engaging for very young kids. The story is told with body language, so it's easy for very young children to grasp the story arc and the emotions of the characters. Try it with a kid who's 18 months or so for a fun reading experience. I also hope readers will think about the possibilities of wordless books and what the wordless format brings to storytelling. It could be a great activity for older kids to write their own story to go along with the pictures. Would the narrator be human, or whale?
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I'm working on several more self-authored books right now. They're still in development so I can't say much more except that two are nonfiction/informational picture books, one is a graphic novel, and I have no idea when any of them will be done.
e: Well, I hope to have you back when they're finished!

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