This month I'm thrilled to pieces to be chatting it up with the cowboy-boot-wearing, award-winning illustrator, designer, and paper engineer Merrill Rainey! (Who just happens be an old illustration buddy with a fabulous set of NEW children's books releasing this month!!!) Merrill likes to experiment with tools and uses markers, cut paper or whatever is available to make beautiful things out of junk! You can enjoy more of his creations here!
Q: Your brand NEW duo of Color Cut Create paper toy activity books are releasing this month with Odd Dot! (Congratulations! SO fun!) Give us the full scoop! We want to know every little detail!
A: Man, where to start...I couldn’t be more excited for this series to be coming out. It combines my love of paper engineering with my love of creating. It’s like a match made in heaven!
This project was a blast to create, from figuring out how to build volcanoes, to a horse drawn wagon and so many things in between. I even went as far as designing ground cover that you can intermix with each other to create your own terrain and landscapes. It is 176 pages of pure bliss!
Each book is designed with young people in mind. The books give their creators the opportunity to design, create, and learn the basics of paper engineering. So in other words you get to Color, Cut, and Create! It is paper engineering made easy! This book series is designed to promote creative success with minimal direction.
Did I mention yet that Odd Dot’s design team is made up of geniuses? They are so amazing that not only do the books look AWESOME, but they are also creatively engineered so that the pages can tear cleanly from the book spine, so there is no need for cutting or tearing up the pages (AWESOME!). They even took it a step further and printed each toy on an uncoated material that is basically indestructible. That way you don’t have to worry about your creations falling apart or tearing as you build and play with them (MIND BLOWING!). The books are such a nice package!
I can’t forget to give a shout-out to my editor Justin Krasner! What a rad individual to work with! He is such a positive force that no matter what type of day you are having, an email from him always puts a smile on your face.
(Psst! You can pre-order your own copy of the Color Cut Create books here:)
Q: The Color Cut Create books first began their journey when you self-published an earlier version titled Color-Cut-Create! Paper Toys. Dish with us about how the original version became the super star duo book set of today.
A: The concept for Color, Cut, Create! actually originated from a featured section that I currently create for Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill magazines called Color, Cut, Play! In each issue of the magazine you will find a center spread that includes themed paper toys and a play-set that you can color, cut, and build. I have engineered paper toys ranging from Santa’s sleigh with flying reindeer, to a deep-sea diving submarine, to a build your own leprechaun trap for St. Patrick’s Day, and many more!
Being able to create this section for the magazines gave me the opportunity to try out something that I see an important need for, which is the opportunity to get glue, crayons, and scissors in the hands of today’s youth and teach them how to successfully create.
From there, I took my idea a step further and self-published Color, Cut, Create! Paper Toys • Super hero edition. This particular activity book not only looks super cool, but it had an instructional twist to it. I took the concept behind Color, Cut, Play! and broke the creative process down to three basic steps or sections: Build, Design, and Create. Section 1 is ‘Build’. It teaches how to build paper toys using simple directions. Section 2 is ‘Design’. It gives the users an opportunity to design their own characters. And Section 3 is ‘Create’. It gives instructions on how I create my own paper toys and provides blank grid paper that anyone can use to build & design his or her own creations. Color, Cut, Create! Paper Toys was a success!
Then, as if it were fate, I met my editor Justin through an SCBWI event. I had inquired if Justin would be interested in seeing this project that I was working on and he agreed. So, Teresa (my agent at Bookmark Literary) and I submitted my idea and long story short, here we are about a week and a half away from publication date!
Q: Paper engineering is a unique skill! Tell us a bit about your approach and process for designing paper toys and novelty products—initial concepts to prototypes to final products.
A: My process always begins with a plan, or a sketch. This is where I get all of the thoughts out of my head. During this time, I start to form a plan of what I’m going to do next.
All of my toys are built off of a box like shape. This shape gives me the stability I need to make my toys stand up successfully! To me that is KEY because nobody likes a toy that continually falls over.
Once I have a general idea of what I’m going to make, I start on a prototype. A prototype is a preliminary model that allows me to figure out and test the functionality of my toy before adding in all of the cool details. Prototypes give me the opportunity to experiment and explore how I am going to make a 3D object out of a single flat sheet of paper. Keep in mind that during this stage, I normally create many, many prototypes before I settle on what I think the best and final one will be.
From here, I start to give the toy some personality by adding in things like a head, arms, legs, etc. You know, those things that a toy needs to be able to come alive! And before I’m finished I always add a small heart!
To sum up my creative process, I tell everyone that a successful paper toy is built on Ingenuity, Stability, Creativity, and a little bit of heart!
Many times when I am creating my products, I will let my kids build and play with them to see how they react. It allows me to observe firsthand what is or isn’t working, and how I can make it better. I sometimes refer to my children as my S.M.E.’s. (Subject Matter Experts) :-)
Q: Tell us about your typical workday as a freelance Illustrator—routines, rituals & practical practices. Set the scene for us, too—what does your creative workspace look & feel like?
A: On a normal day, my workshop is bright, full of art tools, trinkets, paper, and toys. All of the things I need to create with and be inspired by.
But right now, my workshop is torn up! We recently found out that our basement sprung a leak, and since paper and water don’t play nicely together, we decided that we needed to waterproof our walls so that I can get back to engineering awesome paper creations!
With how nutty this year has been so far, I can honestly say that all routines have been tossed out the door, and the only ritual that I still have is sipping on a nice cup of coffee as I begin my work day.
I have started something new this past summer that I currently call ‘collage sketching’. Instead of sketching with just a pencil, I pack up a baggie of paper scraps, scissors, and glue. Then I find a location where I can sit and create for a while. I use this technique to challenge myself to see things as shapes, while keeping in mind the positive and negative space that forms around them. It’s amazing how dynamic a simple object can look by just infusing it with the space around it. This form of sketching has given me the freedom I was looking for to be able to loosen up in my sketchbooks, and not feel so tight, or intimidated when sketching with just a pencil or pen. Recently, it has helped me to be able to refuel and gain clarity on projects that I’m currently working on.
Q: What was your most treasured picture book as a child? What is your most favorite picture book now? Why?
A: As a kid, I don’t know if I truly ever had just one book that I treasured over another. I do remember always picking out the Berenstain Bears Spooky Old Tree from my school library. I also remember my first Scholastic Book Club book that I received from my kindergarten teacher to get me to start reading. It was a book based on a 1986 cartoon I enjoyed at the time called Kissyfur.
Today, I also enjoy many books! Most recently two books that have really pushed me to be better at my own writing and art are You Matter by Christian Robinson and a board book called LINES by Sarvinder Naberhaus. Both the words and illustrations in each of these books have opened my mind on thinking more metaphorically with my work. The way both authors use their words in relationship to the illustrations is just beautiful. To me both books are great examples on how text and illustration should work together.
Q: Describe your most perfect summer vacation.
A: My perfect summer vacation (which is most of our summer vacations) includes the opportunity to travel and experience new things, try new food, and take in the sights and sounds of a new landscape. I love taking mini road trips that allow my family the opportunity to find the smallest town with the biggest everything in it. We love detours that take us to see historical sites, unique or fun things, and celebrities like Punxsutawney Phil. I love experiencing something for the first time. I love when hidden surprises occur and make that moment in time so worth it. Then, when I return home, I love sitting around a campfire where I can retell stories about our recent experiences. Perhaps I love all of this because in the industry of making books…story is key!
Thank you for having me on Bird meets Worm! It’s been a blast talking with you and your readers, cheers!
It's our pleasure! Thank YOU, Merrill & congratulations on your amazing new books!!