Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers—Joan Charles, Laurie L. Young, Sarah Orgill—and I are so excited to be championing books celebrating everything from gender diversity, people of color, the LGBTQ community to ethnic, cultural and religious minorities, people with disabilities and developmental challenges to controversial topics, unique family situations and anything and everything I did not include. It is to say we take a rightfully broad view of diversity! We aim to shine a light on books that bring both familiar experiences to those who do not often see themselves represented in books and new experiences to those looking to expand their worldview. Here at Bird Meets Worm we believe in the power of story to build empathy and thus a better world for you and me and everyone. Look for a new review on the second Wednesday of every month.

By Nikki Grimes • Illustrated by Laura Freeman
Non-Fiction Picture Book (ages 4-8) • 40 pages
Published by Atheneum BFYR • 2020
ISBN 978-1-5344-6267-0

Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice is a biography of US Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris told in narration by a mother to her young daughter, who has just been told by a classmate that “girls can’t be President.”

Grimes’s light and bright text is full of momentum as it traces Harris’s life from her early childhood in California and her middle school years in Canada to her college years in Washington D.C and California thru to the present. Along the way, Harris’s diverse experiences are highlighted and celebrated, shining a light on her social activism, public service and open mind. The narration comes to a close at the moment Harris suspended her bid for the US Presidency and poses the question of whether or not she will ever reach the White House.

With rich, graphic artwork, that echoes that of Ezra Jack Keats, Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice is an inspirational introduction to our country’s newest, ground-breaking Vice President, who we, as the audience, know does indeed reach the White House after all.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble


Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Jane Smith

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Super Star Interviews: Kelsey Buzzell

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I'm delighted to be catching up with the fabulous illustrator/designer Kelsey Buzzell! I'm a big fan and can't get enough of her unique characters and rich environments! 
Kelsey is from Oregon. She finds regular inspiration in the Pacific Northwest, where the forests, rocky beaches and high desert are home to all sorts of enchanting flora and fauna. She loves drawing quirky human and animal characters and enjoys making up back-stories for her illustrations. Kelsey works mainly digitally, but dabbles in hand media and incorporates handmade textures into a majority of her work. You can view more of her gorgeous artwork here.

How delightful! Let's play!

Q: Your darling NEW and very timely children’s book, Mindful Games for Kids, released earlier this year! (Congratulations!!! Very exciting!) Give us the full scoop—how it came to be, your process for illustrating it and what games are your most favorite!

A: Thank you! This book was a fun one and is full of exercises for children to help them explore their senses, thoughts and emotions. Each game has an illustration that goes along with the text (written by Kristina Marcelli-Sargent) to help explain the intent behind the exercise.

This was an interesting book to illustrate, because I actually didn’t see the full text for many of the pages, and relied on the art director to describe what I needed to illustrate. It is always fun to see the final outcome where the text and images are matched! Since the text wasn’t sequential the most important thing for illustrating this book was keeping the color scheme and character (human and animal) style consistent. The art director shared some of my work they specifically liked for this and so I tried to be consistent style-wise with that. They also wanted to use a range of brighter colors, which they provided as a swatch, so I tried to weave those throughout consistently. I work primarily digitally for book work and enjoy the ability to change out colors quickly as needed. My process involved laying out sketches for each page (many were spot illustrations, and some were a half page) and then adjusting as needed before I moved to color. I use color intuitively, so if something isn’t working, I change it!

I like games that have to do with sensory feelings. There is one called “Octopus Feelers” where you sit on the floor, close your eyes and pretend you are an octopus feeling around your environment. I tend to think games like this are great for centering, focusing on the present, and I love that imaginative play is involved!

Critter chitchat!!!

Q: You also have TWO new children’s books releasing in the new year: How to Talk to a Tiger and Everything Under the Sun! Yay! Dish with us about these upcoming releases and your experiences creating them.

A: Yes! I am so excited for both of these! How to Talk to Tiger is a non-fiction children’s book and is all about how animals communicate in the wild. Each spread is packed full of animals and I also got to explore a variety of settings from around the world! This was a really fun project as I illustrated creatures that I had never really drawn much before (tarantula, spider, shrimp, peacock, cockroach, eel)—there is a challenge in drawing something for the first or second time and creating a consistency that relates to your overall style.

The other thing I enjoyed about this book is that it challenged me to draw animals that were both characters—often with particular facial expressions or exaggerated positions to get the main ideas across—and animals who were more realistically rendered (so colors, types of feathers or markings and certain details were accurate). Blending both a realistic and character-based approach was a bit newer to me and gave me new pieces for my portfolio.

Everything Under the Sun is a fact-based book written by Molly Oldfield and is based on questions asked by children from around the world. This project is a collaborative one, as there were 12 illustrators working on the book. Some of my pieces for this are full double page spreads, some are a single page that faces a page with another artist’s work and some are spot illustrations that are on the page with several other artists. I love this “quilted” book format and have enjoyed seeing the mix of the artists’ work together on the pages and how that supports this book being a collection of questions and answers. Working on the pieces for this was really rewarding, as the art director really wanted us to explore the ideas presented in our own style—there was a lot of room for creativity on each page!

What mysteries await under the Autumn sky?!

Q: You have a unique background in both architecture and interior design. How have these adjacent creative pursuits influenced your illustration work?

A: I really enjoyed my education in design, and I think this has informed the way I work through problems and approach illustrative designs; I understand concept, idea generation, color schemes, perspective, space and light because of my education. I also think it taught me discipline and how to persevere—putting in the hours and hard work comes naturally and I know there is payoff at the end of that effort.

That being said, what I really love about illustration is that I get to break some of the rules I was taught existed while in architecture school and in my career as a designer; with illustration I can get messy and communicate the quirky aspects of life and create scenes that exist in an imaginary world. Buildings don’t have to be made with logically placed lines, or be right-side up and people and animals can be giants compared to the buildings (it all goes!). There is a freedom and playfulness in the world of illustration, and it opened up new possibilities for story-telling for me. I still work in design and teach part-time at the University of Oregon (in the Interior Architecture Department) and I enjoy being able to work with students and on projects in the community.

Hoot, hoot, hoot!

Q: Your artwork is a delightful blend of traditional and digital techniques. Tell a bit about your process for combining them in harmony.

A: Over the years I have moved to do more of my work digitally, but I also love the texture and feel that creating by hand provides. Traditional techniques can give illustrations some imperfections that make them more relatable and enjoyable, in my opinion. I love to draw on paper with pencils and I also love painting, but I work very slowly with these methods. Digital illustration has allowed me to play more with color and layering in a quick way, so I continued to develop that practice. I have worked to not lose too much in the switch to digital...I try to not let things get too “tight” and keep my process more similar to traditional work (building color in layers and “washes”).

This is a constant work in progress though, as it is easy to get zoned into drawing something “perfectly” when you can simply back-up/delete a mark you just made. I also make sure I use digital brushes that are closest to the traditional brushes/pencils I would typically use. I used to draw all of my sketches by hand (still do some times) and take a photo or scan them in to create the final, but lately, with deadlines and book work I have started sketching on my tablet as well. To further create more of a traditional feel in my work I use handmade textures and washes to help establish softness in my pieces. 

Clean, organized and fun! Perfect!

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: My day is kind of funky (inconsistent) and my answer to this would have been very different a couple years ago, before I had my son. Now I work during his naps and in the evening, usually after he is in bed. Luckily, I think this pairs fairly well with my creative moods—I like working in the evening and cozying up with some tea and a blanket. During the day, I try to take a walk most days which helps get my brain warmed up and free up my thoughts for creative work later on. I also am a major multi-tasker so a lot of times my workspace is the sofa or in bed with a podcast, music or movie on in the background (depends on what I am doing, of course). I also have a traditional desk set up for when I do traditional work or need to be on a computer, but I am on my tablet a lot and I enjoy being able to move around and create workspaces everywhere I go!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Good coffee and a croissant, a drive along the coast and a bit of tide-pooling, maybe pop in to a few estate sales, then homemade pizza and a board game!

Thank you so much, Kelsey, for stopping by Bird Meets Worm and chatting with us! Congratulations on all your exciting new books!!!