Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Super Star Children's Book Review: The One with the Scraggly Beard

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.

THE ONE WITH THE SCRAGGLY BEARD
By Elizabeth Withey • Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield
Picture Book (ages 4-8) • 32 pages
Published by  Orca Book Publishers • 2020
ISBN 978-1-4598-1855-2

Inspired by the author’s brother who is homeless and her experiences introducing him to her young son, The One with the Scraggly Beard is a compassionate story about a young boy who questions his mother about a homeless man in their neighborhood. He wonders why the man sleeps under a bridge when there are so many houses all over the city.

The young boy draws many parallels between himself and the man—they are both missing their front teeth, they both forget to brush their hair, they are both boys, one grown and one not—and in turn, the parallels offer a gently humanizing perspective.

Scurfield’s bright and energetic illustrations bring the boy and the one with the scraggly beard to life. Clean shapes and energetic lines flesh out the urban landscape and expressive characters. Thoughtful details, like a guitar and Princess Leia button, bring personality and humanity to the winsome homeless man.

An important and thoughtful read—one that is sure to spark compassion for the different experiences and life paths of the homeless living among us.


Buy this book:




Reviewed by: Jane Smith

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Super Star Interviews: Irena Freitas

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 pleased as pink lemonade punch to be chatting it up with the darling illustrator Irena Freitas! I adore Irena's light, bright illustrations and winsome characters. 
Irena is from Manaus, Brazil and holds a master's degree in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design. When she is not reading and illustrating books, she likes to travel and visit new places. You can view more of her gorgeous artwork here.

Ooo! Perfect for Mother's/Father's Day!

Q: Your bright & beautiful NEW twin interactive children’s books, A Book All About Mom and A Book All About Dad just released! (What a delight! Congratulations!!) Give us the full scoop on your new books—their interactive elements, the artwork and your experiences developing the projects!

A: When Workman reached out to me to illustrate these books I knew it would be so much fun! I really love the idea of being an interactive book, and the editor and art director of the book were very kind and open to listening to my ideas and suggestions for the illustrations.

(Psst! You can order your own copy of All About Mom and All About Dad here today:)
Independent Booksellers

Fill in the blanks with all the sweet details!

Q: Let’s chat about your creative process—ideas to sketches to finished artwork! Tell us a bit about how it begins, how it flows, what mediums you use at various stages and how it all comes together in the end.

A: The first step is always to read the manuscript multiple times and highlight what feels more important or interesting to me. After that, I start working on very loose thumbnails to figure out the pace of the book. Only after I have all this figured out do I move onto sketches. I do all my preliminary work on pencil. When sketches are approved by the art director, I start thinking of other materials and how I want to color the final illustrations. Usually, I color artwork with a mix of traditional and digital techniques, but on A Book About Mom and A Book About Dad, I did most of the work in Photoshop and just created some watercolors to add as textures later on.

What would your dream treehouse look like?
                              
Q: You live in Manaus, Brazil and went to the Savannah College of Art & Design in the United States. Dish with us a bit about how each of these unique locations have influenced and inspired your artwork.

A: I love drawing on location, so where I live usually informs a lot of what kind of ideas and themes I incorporate into my work. When I was studying at SCAD, my MFA thesis project was a series of travel books based on places I've lived so far. The idea was to illustrate those places based on my experiences and how I viewed those cities, but in the process, I researched a lot the history and interviewed the local population. It was a really special experience.

Just hanging out at home!

Q: What is your MOST favorite illustration project: one from your past and one from your present?

A: My first picture book, Manaus, holds a special place in my heart. And I'm currently working on a book about Brazilian folktales that I can't wait to share with the world!

How cozy!!!

Q: Tell us about your typical workday as a creative professional—routines, rituals & practical practices. Set the scene for us, too—what does your creative workspace look & feel like?

A: Even before the pandemic, I've been working from home. I have my studio set up at my home here in Brazil, so commuting is never a problem—hahaha! In general, I try to keep my routine super simple, because I feel if I get too caught up on rituals I'll never get any work done. I'm not a morning person, so mornings are usually dedicated to walking my dog, run small errands, read a little and cook lunch. After lunch I start working on my studio, I try to keep my planner organized on what tasks I have to complete every week, so I don't waste a lot of time figuring out what's the next step on the project I'm currently working on. I try to keep my studio very colorful and cheerful, because it's where I spend most of my time, so I have illustrations hanging on the wall, books for references and inspiration. Around 7 p.m. I call it a day!

Isn't this the sweetest group of friends?!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: I'm a huge fan of quiet and rainy Sundays! I know it's boring, but I love to stay in and gathering friends to cook something or watch a movie.

Thank you so much, Irena, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congratulations on your adorable new books!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Miss Meow Now Available for Pre-Order

I'm SO excited to share that my new picture book, MISS MEOW, is now available for pre-order!!! Hooray!! Enjoy the Miss Meow book trailer—it's the purr-fect bit of fun!







Easter Bunny's Workshop

Bunny & Chick are busy getting ready for Easter! Are you? © Jane Smith

 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: A Different Pond

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.

             

A DIFFERENT POND
By Thi Bui • Illustrated by Bao Phi
Picture Book (ages 6-8) • 32 pages
Published by Capstone Young Readers • 2017
ISBN 978-1-6237-0803-0


A Different Pond is a beautiful, yet haunting, testament to the Vietnamese refugee experience in America in the early 1980’s. The story, presented in graphic novel style, begins with a father waking his young boy very early in the morning to go fishing. The boy observes the darkness and quiet of the early morning as they drive to the pond, and then we realize the father needs to fish in order to provide food for his family. While the father is fishing, the boy builds a fire on his own, and his father freely shows his approval. The boy beams with pride. After catching two fish, the pair drive home, and present two fish to their family. The whole family happily eats the fish together later that evening, after the mother and father return from work.

While the story is seemingly simple, throughout there are many details that reveal the difficulties the family face in America. We see the bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and hear the bait shop owner asking why they are so early, to which the father reveals he has taken a second job to make ends meet. When they arrive at the pond, a “No Trespassing” sign is posted. Clearly, the American dream is a struggle for the family. While they are fishing, the father tells stories of the war and of his brother who one day “didn’t come home.” The family is still overcoming the trauma of war while having to acclimate to an entirely new culture. On the way home the boy wonders about “that other pond, in the country my dad comes from.” The father’s stories are told and shape the boy’s world view.

Bui and Phi have created a lyrical, evocative story that juxtaposes the tenderness between the boy and his father with the harsh realities surrounding them. A Different Pond is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit and the refugee experience.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Bookshop

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Sarah Orgill

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Super Star Interviews: Vanja Kragulj

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 thrilled to pieces to be chatting it up with the lovely illustrator Vanja Kragulj! I'm a huge fan of Vanja's bright and friendly graphic illustrations! And I've had the pleasure of meeting her in person awhile back on a trip to NYC—a delight! 
Vanja is a Canadian illustrator, and graphic designer who specializes in surface design and illustrations for the children’s industry. She lives in Calgary, Canada with her son Jun, husband Kenji and their miniature husky named Hero. She is originally from Former Yugoslavia. You can view more of her gorgeous artwork here.

Squirrel & Snake—what an adorable pair!
                             
Q: You have a fabulous new book out with Scholastic Asia, Shape Hunt! (Hooray! Congratulations!) Give us the full scoop on 
Shape Hunt: what is it about, how you came to be illustrating it, your working relationship with your publisher & what page is your favorite!

A: Thanks Jane! Yes, I’m really excited to share my new board book with Scholastic Asia called Shape Hunt. Although, I’ve worked on several books since, this is my very first book that has actually been published so it’s very exciting for me. (Unfortunately, due to Covid I haven’t been able to see the printed copies as they are stuck in Malaysia at the moment!)

The story is centered around two characters: a snake and a squirrel who are going around the city spotting different shapes in the things they see around them. The book is intended for very young readers to teach them basic shapes. Initially, when I got the manuscript for this book I found the idea of a snake and a squirrel being friends really funny, because in North American culture I don’t think this combination would be very popular. I took it as a challenge for myself to make sure that the characters came across really cute and friendly together. This was my very first project with my agency—The Bright Agency—and I was very lucky, because the process was so smooth and I was basically allowed free rein on the illustrations, which I now know never happens, ha ha! For that reason, I think I’m relatively pleased with the illustrations. One of my favourite spreads is the one below, where Snake and Squirrel go into a candy store to purchase some chocolates that have different shapes in them. I love drawing animals in human clothing :)

Mmmm!!! Could there be chocolates in that heart box?!

Q: I absolutely love your bright, bold, graphic art style! Dish with us a bit about your illustration approach & process—initial concepts to sketches to final artwork.

A: Thank you, that’s so kind of you to say. I start almost every project with a mood board. This involves me scouring Pinterest and Google for inspiration images, colour palettes, and the overall feel that I want the illustration to have. I usually create the mood board in Illustrator then print it out so that I can have it with me as I draw the rough pencil sketch. I don’t particularly enjoy being on a screen so I love the part of the process that allows me to sit on my couch with a pencil and paper. I have a friend who is always trying to make me transition to the iPad for my sketching phase and I’m adamant about sticking to my pencil and eraser for as long as I can.


Then I take a photo of my sketch and bring it into Illustrator where I create the vector line-drawing of the illustration. It looks like a colouring book page. This is what I send to clients as the first “sketch.” I’m really picky about composition so my “sketch” really doesn’t change too much once it goes into colour. From this stage, depending on the client feedback, I might have to send in another line-drawing for approval and then I move to colour which basically becomes paint-by-number. However, colour is the most difficult part of my illustration and I can spend 2/3 of the time just colouring. It’s basically what makes or brakes an illustration for me so I’m very picky about it. I’m trying to learn to let go more to streamline my process. Lastly I add a bit of texture in the form of very tiny vector shapes, although I should really learn to use Illustrator brushes.

Ooo! Isn't this cover out-of-this-world?!

Q: As an illustrator who works primarily digitally, what advice would you give fellow creatives about: 1) what digital art programs to use, 2) what digital brushes to use, and 3) how to develop your own distinct style?

A: Well, I only use Illustrator because It’s really important to me to be able to scale the art and also create perfect geometric shapes. I do know many illustrators that have either adopted or completely switched to Procreate on the iPad, but I haven’t felt the need to as I equally use the mouse and my Wacom tablet to create my work. I am curious about Procreate and will look into exploring it in the near future. However, I have an allergy to Photoshop, ha ha! I am a “vector” illustrator, so Photoshop is not a good tool for me as it is based on pixel art.

I don’t actually use brushes in Illustrator other than one brush that comes with the program that I occasionally use for my line work. However, as mentioned above I do think I should spend some time exploring brushes as I think it would really streamline my process.

It’s funny you ask for my advice about style. I think I’m still trying to find my style, although I’m often told that I have such a distinct style which always comes as a surprise to me. I’ve been listening to a lot of illustration podcasts lately and almost every successful illustrator says that to find your style you need to look inward, not compare what others are doing. I really believe that. I think when I first started I compared a lot, (and I still do, believe me!) but I am learning to really trust myself and just do what I think looks “cool” and know that is probably my best work. Surprisingly, it’s those pieces in my portfolio that get me actual paid work. So, I’m going to keep doing that.

Hey, yourself, little crocodile cutie!
                                       
Q: You teach a variety of children’s art workshops. How have your experiences working with children influenced your approach to creating artwork for children’s books and products?

A: I’m so glad you asked this, because I have thought about this a lot over the last couple of years. Recently due to the pandemic, I’ve had to shut down my in-person workshops and I really felt devastated by that. I realized that when I create these illustration projects for the children, it’s the only time when I’m doing something completely free, by hand and with no “brief”. This time allows me to just be a child who loves drawing, which is how we all started before we got on the computer and started doing work for clients. I feel that this time of exploration is really important for me. I’m one of those people who always needs an “assignment” in order to sit down and do creative work, so my children’s classes are that assignment.


I also base every workshop on a children’s book, so I spend tons of time at the library looking for the best picture books. This obviously has a huge impact on my actual work because it’s a constant source of inspiration. But most of all, working with young children really, really inspires me, because they are so free and their art is so amazing! I get so excited about what they create and I always tell them that I could see their work in a children’s book today. It’s taking me years to be so free and naive with my art, so I find them inspiring.

California dreaming...

Q: What would be your most ultimate DREAM illustration job?

A: Oh my goodness, this is a really tough question to answer. I don’t think there is just one and they keep changing. I’ve actually been so lucky to be creating some of my dream work over the last year as a result of partnering up with my agency. I’m so thankful for that. However, here are a few more that are on the list: any book to do with food/fruits/veggies, a fabric collection or a collaboration with a fashion brand, a stationary line, children’s products and apparel, toys, product packaging…the list goes on.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My perfect Sunday would be going to the farmer’s market then for a coffee and pastry at a local cafe. Then maybe I would bake or spend some time doing a creative activity and finish it off with a movie night with my son and husband.

Thank you so much, Vanja, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congratulations on your gorgeous new book! Hooray!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: Shirley Chisholm Is A Verb

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.

                    

SHIRLEY CHISHOLM IS A VERB!
By Veronica Chambers • Illustrated by Rachelle Baker • Design by Jennifer Kelly
Non-Fiction Picture Book (ages 4-8) • 40 pages
Published by Dial BFYR • 2020
ISBN 978-0-8037-3089-2


Verbs are action words. And a perfect device to describe the life of Shirley Chisholm.

CONNECT. SPEAK. ORGANIZE. LISTEN. CHALLENGE. Shirley Chisholm knew that words have power. She chose her verbs carefully and used them to create change. The author’s decision to call out certain verbs heightens the accomplishments of her subject, and the warmth in which she relates them to key moments, draws the reader in, enhancing this energetic biography.

Shirley called herself “Fighting Shirley Chisholm.” Those words propelled her from an early career as a nursery school teacher to her days in Congress to eventually becoming the first Black person, and the first woman, to run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Her campaign paved the way for Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Kamala Harris to run for the highest offices in the country.

The text is sprinkled with actual quotes from Ms. Chisholm including the often repeated, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” The book ends with a call-out to the reader to choose the verbs that will INSPIRE their own actions and move the world forward.

Rachelle Baker’s flat, graphic-style art brings each scenario to life, aptly showing the real woman who was a real-world superhero.

Buy this book:


Reviewed by: Laurie L. Young

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Super Star Interviews: Benson Shum

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 incredibly talented author-illustrator Benson Shum! I absolutely adore Benson's sweet and lively characters! He uses watercolor, ink and digital tools to create his illustrations. Trained in animation, his stories and paintings are expressive and full of movement. Benson is also an Animator at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, where he was a part of such films as Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, Frozen 2 and Raya & the Last Dragon. Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Benson now lives in Los Angeles, California. You can view more of his fabulous artwork here.

Celebrate Chinese New Year with Alex & Ethan!

Q: Your NEW picture book, Alex’s Good Fortune, released with Penguin Random House, in December! (Congratulations! SO exciting!) Give us the full scoop on your bright & cheery Chinese New Year story: your approach for writing & illustrating it, your working relationship with your publisher & what you love best about it all!

A: Thank you so much for having me! I'm super excited about Alex's Good Fortune. I feel very fortunate to have an editor, designer and agent that believed in this story. When researching for the story, I asked my sister and parents what Chinese New Year meant to them and what we did to celebrate. Remembering my experience as a kid and what that felt like. I also learned a lot of new well wishes in Chinese while researching. For the illustration, I thought about what my nieces and nephews wore during the holiday, and that inspired Alex and Ethan's clothings. I tried to incorporate lots of reds and yellow. Red is a lucky color for Chinese New Year.

I loved working with my editor, Renee, on this project, as well as the designer, Julia. There's always so much to learn, whether it's positioning the characters in a certain way to make it read better with the text or adjusting that one word that makes all the difference. I'm so happy that I'm able to share the little things we did as a family growing up with the New Year's traditions.

(Psst! You can order your copy of Alex's Good Fortune here today:)


The dragon at the parade is so magical!

Q: In what ways is Alex’s Good Fortune inspired by your own experiences and heritage? And what advice would you give fellow author-illustrators also writing from their own familial experiences and heritages?

A: Alex's Good Fortune was inspired by my family. We always had large gatherings for dinners on Sunday with my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. It was loud with lots of laughter and lots of food. For Chinese New Year, my parents taught us to greet and wish well wishes to everyone we see, especially our elders. And some things we shouldn't do. For example, we shouldn't wash our hair on New Years day, as that will wash away luck for the New Year. Or sweep the floor, as you will sweep your fortunes out the front door! So we had to clean our rooms and wash our hair before the big day.

For advice on writing from our own experience, I would say don't be afraid to write or draw something that is personal and resonates with you. I feel if it's authentic to you, others will feel the same in one way or another. Plus, we'll all learn something new and that's always great.

Do I want to draw a snowman?! Yes! Yes, I do!

Q: You are an animator for Walt Disney Animation Studios and have worked on many of the most celebrated animated films of the last decade. How has your background in animation influenced your storytelling as a children’s book author-illustrator?

A: Yes, I am an animator at the Walt Disney Animation Studios. I've been fortunate to be there for 9 years now. It's a dream. Animation has definitely influenced how I make books. We learn about posing and acting when we are animating, and I apply those same techniques when I sketch and paint. To bring life and expression to our characters.

What a fabulous collection!!! #letsreadtogether

Q: You have 5 picture books to your credit and 3 more releases upcoming, all while working a day job as an animator. Dish with us a bit about how you balance your freelance book work with your day job.

A: Yes, it can be a bit tricker. Sometimes I'm lucky when my book deadline happens when my work at Disney is a little slower, but if it's stacked, then I have to plan little goals of what I want to accomplish during the week. I plan a lot, so I don't stress myself out. I make little, tiny goals so I know I can hit them and avoid overwhelming myself. I feel that helps.

Ooo!! This is going to be a good one!

Q: One of those upcoming releases is a new picture book, Anzu the Great Kaiju, which debuts in fall 2021. (Hooray!) What can you tell us about this title?

A: Thank you! Yes, I'm super excited for Anzu the Great Kaiju. It's about a tiny kaiju named Anzu who is gentle, with a big heart, and wants to make his family proud. But all great Kaiju are ferocious. Can Anzu make them proud and stay true to himself?

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My most perfect Sunday is to not do a whole lot. Go for a walk with our dogs. If there's an idea that's nudging me, I'll do a quick sketch. But I try to give a day to just hang out.

Thank you SO much for chatting with us here at Bird Meets Worm, Benson! Congratulations on Alex's Good Fortune!!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: Little Libraries, Big Heroes

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.

   

LITTLE LIBRARIES, BIG HEROES
By Miranda Paul • Illustrated by John Parra
Picture Book (ages 4-7) • 40 pages
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt • 2019
ISBN: 978-0-5448-0027-4


Little Libraries, Big Heroes is the extraordinary story of an ordinary man who started a movement in his own front yard that eventually spread throughout the world.

Author Miranda Paul and illustrator John Parra have concocted a colorful, inspiring biography of Todd Bol, the creator of the Little Free Library movement. More than anything, Todd’s story is a celebration of books, reading, community, and the power of one person to create change.

Starting small (with the first little library built by Todd), and growing slowly, the movement spread from Todd’s home state of Minnesota, across the Midwest, then to other nations outside the U.S., until finally, Little Free Libraries can be found in countries across the globe.

The stories behind the several of these libraries will delight and inspire kids to learn that, even through small acts, they can become everyday heroes in their own lives.

John Parra’s exuberant art brings to life the joy and diversity behind the Little Free Libraries—and the not-so-ordinary people who are spreading book love all over the world.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Family Portrait

A fun little portfolio piece I meant to share back in the fall! I thought its cheery vibes were just right seeing as how in my neck of the woods it is still more crisp breezes & falling leaves than ice & snow. Cheers! XO

Family Portrait • © Jane Smith

 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Super Star Interviews: Tatjana Mai-Wyss

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 thrilled to peppermint pieces to be chatting it up with fellow SCBWI Carolinas illustrator & designer Tatjana Mai-Wyss! I'm a huge fan of Tatjana's sweet characters and delightful style! Tatjana is known for her engaging and diverse characters, loving attention to detail, and joyful color palettes. She illustrates children's books as well as creates images for art licensing products. Her clients include Tundra Books, Random House, Sterling Publishing,  G.P. Putnam's Sons and more. You can view more of her gorgeous artwork here.

Ooo! This book looks perfect to cuddle up with!
                                         
Q: Your artwork is full of luminous color, soft shapes and friendly characters! Dish with us a bit about your creative process—concept to sketches to finished art—and how it all comes together.

A: Thank you! I love working on picture books. From reading the manuscript to visualizing the characters; where they live, how they dress, and imagining every little detail, it’s a pretty magical job. Overall, I think it's really important to have clear drawings as a sound foundation for an illustration. To capture the liveliness and spontaneity of a character, I work out their gestures first really loosely with a wash and a square brush. In the course of these early drawings, I really get to know the characters, how they move and exist in space. can refine those sketches afterwards and add as many details as I like. The rabbit from Bunny’s Book Club, for example, got his 3-dimensionality from my daughter's stuffed animal, and for porcupine I couldn’t stop thinking about one of those retro fiber optic lamps whose “quills” move slowly like a lava lamp.

I try to budget extra time in the early phase to allow for a lot of drawing and sketching to give an illustration "good bones”. To plan the whole layout of a book I start with thumbnail layout and gradually move to larger and larger sketches. There are of course many conversations with the editor/art director until the whole book arrives at the final drawing stage. Often this collaboration adds new ideas to the story and help me think of new ways to the sketches are later transferred onto watercolor paper for a clean start. Once I’m painting final artwork, I always do connected scenes at the same time to make sure the colors and “hand” match up in the end.

How darling! Love this crew of readers!

Q: Your fresh, bright illustrations have found a crossover between slow-moving children’s book publishing and fast-paced art licensing. Chat with us a bit about how you balance servicing these two different markets while staying true to yourself.

A: I discovered art licensing fairly recently through the greeting card world, although I’d love to expand to toys and other children’s products. It’s great for experimenting with new ideas and materials, and fun to find your art in a store. The community has been really kind and supportive, and I love meeting new people, even if it’s only virtually. I approach art licensing similarly to book Illustration, my favorite projects are about creating a character and telling a story, even if sometimes that's just a back story for myself. I'm learning to choose projects that feel like a good fit or a healthy stretch for me, and to avoid things that are just not in my range (nothing too opulent, edgy or scary for me, although I do appreciate those things). 

Q: You’ve illustrated numerous books for children, including the Bunny’s Book Club series! Give us the full scoop on your MOST favorite children’s book you’ve illustrated!

A: I will always have a soft spot for the first book I got to illustrate The Yawn Heard Round the World. There was a lot of room for imagination, and some brainteasing calculations about how much time the yawn would take to go around the world and whether it would be daylight or evening in the various places. 
In truth, I actually think Bunny’s Book Club is my favorite so far. I really got attached to the characters with their specific quirks (and their love of books!) Animals are really my favorite thing to draw. I love the collaborative angle of children’s picture books, where two creatives' ideas combine to make something bigger. I would say my favorite book is always the next one.

"Meow" is cat for "hello"!

Q: You grew up in Switzerland and now reside in South Carolina—two very different locales! How have each of these places influenced and inspired you as an artist?

A: I have lived in quite a few places in my life, and can’t wait to travel again. I think when people spend time in a different culture it helps them notice things more, really examine them, and often question some things others may take for granted. Growing up in Switzerland I got to live in a small town and explore my world on foot and by bicycle and train. Some of my best memories are of class hiking trips to the mountains and school wide ski camp. I’m also connected to old fashioned stories and legends and fairy tales and rustic folk art.

As an adult here in South Carolina, I walk my dog Coco and notice the changes in the seasons and all the small plant and wildlife. We have a botanical garden that has a collection of carnivorous plants I’m very fond of. All together I’m pretty detail-oriented.

Under-the-sea adventure together! Yay!
                             
Q: What do you know now that when you first began your illustration career you wish you’d known about: illustration? self-promotion? the book publishing business?

A: The school I attended took a very realistic approach to illustration, with an emphasis on photo references and tight rendering. Since that’s something that felt very safe to me, it’s taken a long time to unlearn and be more adventurous. I would tell my younger self to draw more and worry less. I feel like the publishing industry is changing very quickly, and as I try to pivot and keep up, I learn new things about it every day. To answer your question, I wish I had known that I should really consider being an author illustrator from the start, so I would feel more at home with that idea, especially since my world has always revolved around books.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My perfect Sunday could be a composite of places I’ve lived: a morning run through the city with friends that finishes with coffee on a cafe terrace. Or a long walk in the mountains with a picnic. I love the ocean, so a walk on the beach would be perfect. A family stroll through the farmers market for vegetables and lunch ingredients. A visit to a museum or a flea market, cake and coffee with a friend. Drawing in my sketchbook and dinner with my family.

Thank you so much, Tatjana, for visiting with us here at Bird Meets Worm! It was such a pleasure!!