Thursday, July 2, 2015

Melissa Sweet On Winning The Golden Kite Award For Picture Book Illustration (Again!) - And A Chance To Win A Copy of "THE RIGHT WORD: Roget And His Thesaurus"

Melissa Sweet has written and illustrated many children’s books, from board books to picture books and nonfiction titles. She wrote and illustrated Balloons Over Broadway, which garnered a Sibert Medal, and received a Caldecott Honor for A River of Words and The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus both by Jen Bryant, as well as two New York Times Best Illustrated citations. Melissa lives in Rockport, Maine.

Award-Winning Illustrator (and Author) Melissa Sweet

"The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus" has won the 2015 Golden Kite Award for picture book illustration. I caught up with Melissa to find out more...

Lee:  Congratulations on winning the Golden Kite Award – for the third time!!!

Melissa: Thank you! It is an honor and a thrill. Looking forward to celebrating with you all.

Lee: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus was written by Jen Bryant. How do you start the process of illustrating someone else’s words?

Melissa: First I look at what material I need to read, and in this case I began with Joshua Kendall’s biography of Roget: THE MAN WHO MADE LISTS. It’s important to find the whole story of someone’s life and to see primary sources. The quest is for visual clues to help decide which materials and imagery will best convey this person’s life. Once all these decisions are made, the art takes over and ideas shift within a piece of art, and throughout the book design.

Lee: Tell us more about your research for the illustrations – in your “Illustrator’s Note” at the back of the book you mention holding Roget’s original 1805 word book in your hands.

Melissa: I went to CA to see his original Thesaurus and Roget’s papers at the Karpeles Manuscript library in Santa Barbara. I was interested to see the book, how it was constructed, what kind of paper he wrote on, his handwriting, Also, in traveling to visit a place to research, the journey is part of it. I began to see the world through Roget’s eyes.

an interior illustration
Lee: Your collages include ephemera, and words, and your illustrations, and printed pages as textures, and word balloons and lists… Tell us about your process of creating the art, both technically and aesthetically.

Melissa: From the start I knew there had to lists – that was the genesis of the Thesaurus. But should they be in his handwriting, typeset, hand-lettered? There was a lot of trial and error and eventually I decided hand–lettering them would be the most fun and readable. Each list progressed from childhood to old age. The words I chose all came from his original Thesaurus – these list were not in Jen’s text. It took me an inordinate amount of time to settle on the words to use.

As the illustrator, I break the text and place it where I want on the page. It’s a lot of playing around to create collages that feel spontaneous! The piece are glued down– there’s no photoshop. What you see on the page is the art I made, though in this book the back endpapers required some photoshop finagling to get the words to fit.

Lee: There’s a lot of framed images within the frame of the pages, and with so much going on visually, how did you account for where a reader's/viewer’s eye would go first?

Melissa: There is a hierarchy of information: the text, the lists, the pictures. It becomes a design puzzle. It doesn’t matter to me if readers search out the text first, or the pictures first. I want it to work as a piece of art, and be readable.

Lee: The back endpapers are astonishing. Tell us about them.

Melissa: Thank you. They were really fun to do. Though I don’t work consecutively, one of the first pieces I did was the front endpapers. I used bits of old books to convey learning and knowledge in a graphic, vertical “list.” At first I had no idea what the back endpapers would be, but the more I researched the stronger I felt that readers should see Roget’s list of 1000 words– the basis for his Thesaurus. This list was arranged by classification beginning with 1. EXISTENCE and ending with 1000. TEMPLE. In between is all human life– the whole world. It is a beautiful and awe-inspiring collection and organization of his lists. But how could I fit it into this 48 page book?

The back endpapers were the perfect place. I wanted to hand–letter this list because I knew it would be slow going and that would allow me to spend time with each word and help understand Roget and his way of thinking. If this list was typeset, it would have looked static. I envisioned this being just words, but then added small spots to break it up visually, and to convey that these words describe our physical world. It was a nice mirror to the front endpapers.

Lee: In addition to being celebrated and receiving your Golden Kite Award at the big Golden Kite Luncheon, you’ll be on faculty at the upcoming SCBWI Summer Conference, presenting at the Monday’s Illustrator Intensive on “Drawing In: Creating Inspiration From Tools At Your Fingertips.” Can you tell us a bit about what you have planned?

Melissa: I’m really excited to share my process and talk about inspiration. My work changes slightly with each book, and the creative process is exciting and always in flux. It will be dialog about how to continue to grow as an artist.

Lee: What advice would you have for writers as they craft picture book manuscripts that they envision being illustrated by someone else?

Melissa: It’s a process of trusting that everyone is making the best book possible. Typically authors have some say in who they might like to see illustrate their book, but there are variables in schedules, timing, etc. Publishers work hard to find the right person to bring a story to life.

Lee: What’s your favorite piece of advice you’ve received on your career journey that you’d like to share?

Melissa: Don’t put all of your energy in the dummy. Save it for the art. My cryptic dummies prove I took that to heart!

Thanks, Melissa.

To be there to cheer Melissa on (and learn from her at the Illustrator's Intensive), you'll have to join us at the 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference, July 31 - August 3 in Los Angeles. All the details and registration information are here.

You can visit Melissa's website here.

Want a chance to win a copy of "The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus?" Leave a comment, and we'll randomly pick a winner a week from this posting!

Illustrate and Write On!


Dow said...

Congratulations on this fabulous (wonderful, spectacular, stellar) book! Your work is beautiful, Melissa. :)

jpetroroy said...

Congratulations on all your accomplishments!

Linda H. said...

You are very talented. As a writer who cannot draw well, I am always in awe of the great illustrations I see published in children's books today. Congratulations, Melissa, on having your talent recognized and winning this award. You deserve it.

Kelly H-Y said...

Huge congrats!! The book looks/sounds amazing!!

Julie Branch said...

I would love to hear your presentation! I am going to track down your book as the description of the endpapers alone has me intrigued. Congratulations on winning the Golden Kite and thank you for sharing your process. All the best!

Fancy Morgan said...

Congratulations, can't wait to read it! What a great idea, wish I'd thought of it! said...

Wow, what a great honor to have won the award THREE times. Very interesting process and I love that it totally is separate from the writing process.

Carol said...

Wonderful topic. Can't wait to read it.

dt said...

It's a beautiful book. I enjoyed hearing about Melissa's process.