Behind the Scenes with Maral Sassouni: The Green Umbrella

Featured Books / Inspiration / Interviews / Process

Above: The endpapers for The Green Umbrella.

Illustrator Maral Sassouni combines ink, pencil, crayon, and monoprinting to create the rich collages in The Green Umbrella, a sweet picture book about friendship and imagination by Jackie Azúa Kramer. There are so many great details to linger over. Today Maral tells Pen and Oink about her inspirations and her really cool process.

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Lani Yamamoto inspires me!

Favorites / Featured Books / Inspiration

Above: My complete collection of Lani Yamamoto books.

Lani Yamamoto’s books have been a big inspiration to me. I love her books on every level, for the topics they tackle, for her simple line illustrations that speak volumes, for her inventiveness and for her extraordinary sense of color. Many moons ago I worked at a bookstore and told anyone that would listen that they should buy the Albert series.

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A Studio visit with Dasha Tolstikova

Interviews / Process / Studio Visit

I reached out to Dasha Tolstikova because I LOVED her illustrations for The Jacket. Her work really inspires me — so fresh and loose and graphic. I got chance to meet with her recently at her home studio in Brooklyn talk about the making of her author-illustrator debut, a fantastic, graphic novel autobiography called A Year Without Mom.
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Behind The Scenes of Steve Jobs: Insanely Great, with Jessie Hartland

Featured Books / Inspiration / Interviews / Process

Above: A final spread for Steve Jobs: Insanely Great by Jessie Hartland. 

When we visited Jessie Hartland’s home and studio a little over 2 years ago, she was working on a picture book biography of Steve Jobs. Well that book just came out a few months ago, not as a picture book but as an accessible and engaging 240-page graphic novel for adults and teens called Steve Jobs: Insanely Great. We met up again recently to discuss the process.

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Best Erasers Ever!

Process / Self-Promotion / Tools of the Trade

Above: My two new favorite erasers: dust-gathering (red), light-erasing (blue).

I was recently ordering some of my favorite nibs. As every online retailer knows, I’m going to fill my cart to get the free shipping. So I still had a ways to go and noodled around the website thinking of all the future art supplies I could possibly need. The “dust-gathering” listing intrigued me so I clicked on this Pentel Ain eraser. Somehow, my scans are always covered in erasures that I fail to brush off before scanning — even when I think I really took my time and did a good job. When I see the scan it somehow looks diseased with all the microscopic debris leaving me with a lot of cleaning up to do in Photoshop.

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Laura Carlin: Behind the Scenes of A World of Your Own

Featured Books / Interviews
The final spread from A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin.

Above: A spread from Laura Carlin’s A World of Your Own

Laura Carlin’s work is sensitive, thoughtful, and beautiful. You’ve probably seen her illustrations for The Promise, by Nicola Davies and for The Iron Giant, by Ted Hughes. She also creates fantastic editorial work for publications like The New York Times and creates beautiful ceramics. With her author-illustrator debut, A World of Your Own, Laura adds a nice dose of humor to the mix. Today she tells us all about it.

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A Pen & Oink interview with the great Sara Varon!

Interviews / Process / Tools of the Trade

Above: Endpapers from Sweaterweather

Author/illustrator Sara Varon is one of my all time favorites! From her color palette and quiet humor, her touching characters and story lines, her books welcome us into her world which is a pretty great place to be.

I’m so happy she agreed to be my first face-to-face interview. One chilly night we met for snacks in Brooklyn. Here is what we talked about:
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A List of Ideas for Self-Initiated Illustration Pieces

Creativity / Inspiration / Process / Show and Tell

Above: A new piece for my portfolio, based on feedback from SCBWI-LA. ©Robin Rosenthal

For the past few months I’ve been working on new pieces for my portfolio based on the amazing feedback I received at the 2014 SCBWI LA Summer Conference. (I was one of six illustrators who received the SCBWI Mentorship Award, and I got to meet individually with six mentors who each gave me guidance on my work. It. Was. Awesome. Read more about my experience here.)

More than one mentor told me to forget about words for now. I should think in pictures and create wordless stories. Don’t think about a whole book. Think of an episode or a paragraph. This concept of letting the images lead the storytelling, and of choosing smaller stories to tell with those images, has been very liberating for me.

I do not currently have a particular story dummy in the works so I need to come up with some smaller narratives to illustrate. To get myself going, I’ve compiled a list of ideas—collected and expanded upon from past class assignments, fellow illustrators, and published picture books—and I’ve shared them below.

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Ode to Italian Authors and Illustrators

Favorites / Featured Books / Foreign Exchange

Above: Spread illustrated by Emanuele Luzzati from Italo Calvino’s: Il visconte dimezzato.

I recently went back to Italy, almost ten years after I had left it. That’s a long story I won’t bore you with now, but one of the things I missed most was browsing in European book stores. Books feel more beautiful over there, the thick paper (often textured), well-illustrated covers of every kind of book (no photos from movies that came after the books), and many different sizes and shapes of paperback novels. Every book is begging for you to touch it and flip through it, which is probably why they often come sealed in plastic wrap, with just one copy unwrapped in front for me to play with.

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A Pen & Oink interview with Dan Santat: The making of Beekle

Featured Books / Interviews / Uncategorized

Recently I got a chance to talk with Dan Santat about his latest picture book, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. There are so many things I love about this book and Dan generously gave me some serious inside scoop. Read on for a detailed behind-the-scenes look into the making of this beautiful and thoughtful story.

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High School French Follow-up!

Favorites / Featured Books / Foreign Exchange

Above: illustration by Mel Dietmeier (from my high school French text book)

I cannot believe I wrote this post a year ago. When I put it on Facebook, I hadn’t thought much about it. But lo and behold Mark from my high school French class (and just about every other class I had growing up) kindly contacted me to tell me he still had the books. Not only did he still have the books, but if I wanted them, those books could be mine! And so thanks to Mark, those books are now mine! They make me so happy.

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Event alert! Sex and Violence in Children’s Books at the PEN World Voices Festival


A still from a pilot episode of The Muppet Show.

Hey, literary New Yorkers! Sex! Violence! Also, The PEN World Voices Festival has been going on this week—and this weekend, they’ve got not one but two children’s lit events! Children’s books are literature, YESSSSSSSS! And psst, the organizer tells me: “You can also pass on the discount codes: PEN14 or PEN2014. I think it’s 20%.”

Sex and Violence in Children’s Books: Where The Wild Things (Really) Are, with Sarwat Chadda, Robie Harris, Susan Kuklin, Sharyn November, and Niki Walker – Sunday, May 4, 12:30 pm, Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, Cooper Union, 41 Cooper Square

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