Janie Bynum's CHICK CHAT

Janie Bynum and I go way back. So I was thrilled to hear she has a new picture book, Chick Chat, and it is adorable! Janie dropped by to share more about it...
e: What was your creative process/medium for Chick Chat, can you walk us through it?
That might be one meandering walk!
      The story started with a character, Baby Chick. I’ve been fascinated with chickens as picture book characters for a while now (even before I signed with Hen & Ink Literary Studio). I can’t remember how the initial character and story presented itself. I just know that it started with Baby Chick and classic writing advice of “write what you know”—from an emotional standpoint—because, no, I’ve never been a baby chick. But I have been the youngest, chatty sibling who brought home all manner of wildlife.
      I usually start a story with a character in my head that I must then draw so that I can get to know them better (in order to write their story). The first Baby Chick sketch embodies the heart of her story—her concern for the just-discovered egg’s well-being. The question “where’s your mama?” doesn’t appear in the book because as I revised the story, Baby Chick only says “peep” throughout. But that heartfelt question became the foundation for Chick Chat.
I first thought Baby Chick’s story should be a board book for the very young, with art created in a more graphic style, more shape dependent (than line). But, I discovered as I was revising the manuscript, and as I began to thumbnail the story, that the audience was a little older than I had originally thought. The art for Chick Chat needed to translate more nuanced humor—via visual detail —than I could accomplish with simpler compositions. So, I used a textured black line for the final art.
      For thumbnails, I started with an extra-fine-point Sharpie pen on paper. They’re very rough, and I made story notations along with the visual concepts because I was still working out the manuscript, working back-and-forth with both word-story and picture-story.
      At this point, I switched from pen and paper to Photoshop, using a Wacom tablet and stylus on a Mac computer with large monitor. I used Photoshop for very rough sketching and for ease of manipulating images (cutting and pasting, reordering and resizing elements) as I worked out page layouts, page turns, and story flow.
      For the next iteration of thumbnails, I added manuscript text and continued to work out images and flow.
      Below is the last set of thumbnails (but not necessarily art pre-finishes) that I used to create the rough dummy that my agent sold to NorthSouth Books at the Bologna Book Fair in 2019.
For finished art, I imported the rough drawings into Procreate on my Apple iPad Pro. Using those at a reduced opacity, I drew the finished black line drawings on a transparent layer above. For the painting, I worked on many layers so that I could adjust elements and colors as needed. I then imported those images into Photoshop and added more texture through various layering techniques. At this point, I incorporated some “real” watercolor by way of digital collage with swatches I had painted and scanned into the computer. Then, I took those images back into Procreate and painted and drew over them some more. And, finally, those images journeyed back to Photoshop for finished art preparation. Whew. When I say all that aloud, it sounds more complicated than it seems when I’m working!
e: You’re an author/illustrator. What was your path to publication?
In 1996, after a decade of running my own graphic design studio, I went in search of something I couldn’t quite name. Ultimately that “something” involved tapping into the artist and writer parts of my graphic designer self. In 1997, after taking a few courses on children’s book illustration and writing in Chicago, I joined SCBWI, created a roughly illustrated dummy for a story I had been working on, and headed to LA for the SCBWI national conference. I connected with other writers and illustrators, one of whom introduced me to her agent. He liked my work, so he sent the dummy to Harcourt. My first book—Altoona Baboona—was published in 1999.
e: I remember that book! Maybe that conference was where we met! Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of Chick Chat?
I was a very chatty chick growing up, and I pestered my older siblings (who were 4+ years older), trying to get them to play with me. When I wasn’t playing with my next-door neighbor friend, I spent a lot of time playing alone, making mud pies, and bringing home different species of aquatic wildlife to “care for.” Unfortunately, many of them didn’t thrive with all that care. (I did spare the carp my nurturing and returned it to its suburban drainage creek home.)
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?
For me, “heart art” would be art that represents a character’s emotional Truth to which the viewer can connect. Determining such art as “heart art” may be contextual; it may or may not be “heart art” if separated from the author’s words.
      In Chick Chat, the illustrations of Baby Chick nurturing the big round egg feel like “heart art” to me.
e: How do you advertise yourself (or do you)?
I maintain a website where I showcase my work and my books; and I post my art fairly regularly on Instagram.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
My favorite part of being a creator is getting lost in the process of writing or making art. When I become immersed in that world, I don’t notice the passage of time or much of anything else, only the world I’m creating. And, I’m aware that this is a precious ability to possess—especially this past year (2020).
e: Indeed! Is there something in particular about Chick Chat you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Self-reliance and determination can reap big rewards—such as a surprising friendship.

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
A dream project would be to create a board book or small format picture book series for ages 0-3.

e: I think you'd be great at that! Hope to see one from you soon! Click the image below to watch the adorable book trailer for Chick Chat!

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