I'm thrilled to introduce author/illustrator Patricia Keeler and to celebrate the publication of her new book with a Q&A. When Patricia was in class at SVA some years ago, she had already successfully published several award winning books but she wanted to change direction and explore new ideas. She plunged in with her book project about a little girl and her flip-flops and many versions later, LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL has come to life. Joyful, full of action and energy, Lizzie is immediately an endearing character. Get ready, set, go: Summer is coming!
It is exciting to hear about a book's journey to publication—can you tell us about LIZZE AND LOU SEAL?
I breathed in the delicious smells of turpentine and oil paint. I touched the cold cinder block walls and looked out the giant dirty windows and smiled. It had taken me practically a lifetime to get to attend a real art school class. It was 2014, my first class at the School of Visual Arts.
After college, I became a teacher with a family. Later, I got an art rep and started doing realistic illustrations where the Art Director often told me what to draw. No, no, no.
So this day, I was starting over with no rep, no prospects. I was walking into Monica Wellington's class on Writing and Illustrating Children's Books with my own picture book dummy called Flip, Flop, Stomp.
It was the first time I had been in a large group of author/illustrators where the spreads of a book dummy could be seen at a glance. In the class, we critiqued manuscripts and discussed elements that support the visual success of a picture book. We talked about first page illustrations and text placement.We talked about the directional movements of the characters between the pages, and how to visually strengthen the climax of a book.
In later classes, we sometimes worked in smaller groups. By this time, several of us knew each other and our book dummies, so what remained was adjusting and tweaking.
How did LIZZIE get started? What are some of the stages?
The idea came from news articles about problems caused from wearing flip-flops. I imagined a little girl, Lizzie, who loved her flip-flops, but they caused her all kinds of agitation. They got caught on loose stair boards, stuck to boardwalk chewing gum, and didn't keep the hot sand from her feet.
The first version was called Flip, Flop, Stomp! because Lizzie stomped her foot in frustration.
In my original idea, Lou Seal was a blow-up beach toy that didn’t show up in the story until a third of the way through. But as I sketched the dummy, Lizzie got younger and Lou Seal got bigger. The change in sizes was unexpected—but I could see it was more dynamic.
Now Lou Seal was so big, that he needed a bigger part to play in the story. So I thought while Lizzie is busy fussing with her flip-flops, what is happening to Lou Seal?
Perhaps Lou Seal was also having difficulties. And what fun, if the reader discovered what was happening to Lou Seal before Lizzie did!
Figuring out the story plot seems conceivable now—logical. But it took years and three classes with Monica Wellington.
What was your favorite part of working on this book?
My favorite part was discovering the encaustic wax process. I used it to show Lou Seal as plastic, and for the ocean waves. Here I am creating a wave for LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL.
Where do you live and what is your studio like?
I live in Hoboken, New Jersey. My studio is on the top floor of my building. It is a converted large bedroom. I look down on a retro drug store, bagel shop, and the bus stop.
When I take a lunch break I walk along the Hudson River. I'll sit for a while, then look over at Lower Manhattan and think, "My editor is over there waiting for the finished art." Then I get a large iced coffee and a butterfly cookie, and go back to illustrating.
What are your art materials?
I love my box that contains tubes of Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache. I had it made in a plastics shop on Canal Street so each hue could fit neatly in it's own space.
I made color swatches with the mixing instructions on the back. It's always those final bits of color that add vibrancy to an illustration. These color samples allow me to see what colors would work best.
The mechanical yellow pencil laying on my paint box is a PaperMate Sharpwriter #2. I found these pencils in the grocery store. These pencils are amazing! The lead is cushioned and won't break when you press down. It gives my hand a little bounce!
What are some of the other projects you are currently working on?
I have a second book for Sky Pony Press to follow LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL. I'm so excited about this book, SCOOP THE ICE CREAM TRUCK! It will be out in Spring 2018. I'm in the thick of finishing the artwork now!
Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrator/writers starting out now?
Don't try to completely understand an inspiration or art process before you try it! If you come across an interesting plot twist or illustration technique, go for it! It's the mistakes you make that make it yours!
A few tips: a wonderful place to discover new techniques is UPPERCASE Magazine. http://uppercasemagazine.com
Kelly Rae Roberts Unscripted (great while working) http://www.kellyraeroberts.com/unscripted/
Social media: Facebook for friends and family, Twitter for marketing, and Instagram for artists from around the world whose work I want to learn from.