|Author/Illustrator and Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant Winner Sallie Wolf|
Lee: You’ve written and illustrated - when you’re working on a project, does it evolve visually first, or does it come to you in words?
Sallie: When I first decided I would write children’s books, I hoped to illustrate as well. But the writing came more easily than the art, although I could always see my story in my head. After the publication of Peter’s Trucks, in 1992, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith, I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and eventually earned a BFA in drawing and painting. I consider myself an artist and writer, but not a traditional illustrator. My second book, Truck Stuck, I dabbled in making a dummy, but it seemed like more work than fun. That book is illustrated by Andy Robert Davies in wonderful, child-friendly, scribbly drawings with great humor.
For The Robin Makes A Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal, the art inspired the writing. I was looking at 12 collages of birds I had made on an old calendar, and I realized that I had almost half of a children’s book—all I needed was text to go with the bird imagery. Simple, right? I began to write down in prose everything I knew through observation about each of the birds on my calendar. One thing led to another—the prose became poems. I switched from collages to the sketches that were the sources for my collages. I decided to focus by season rather than by month, and that opened up possibilities for different kinds of poems and other birds. But the art inspired me to write about the birds, and in the process create more art until the book was complete. The pages were designed by a barista at my local Starbucks, where I went to write every day. Micah Bornstein is also an artist, writer, and bookmaker who knows Photoshop and could work with scans from my journals. His wife is a children’s librarian so he was familiar with quality children’s books. The whole creation of this book was very unconventional, and I was amazed that Charlesbridge would let the two of us, both inexperienced in illustration, work so freely. And I am extremely pleased with the end result. We designed the book to resemble a journal, including “cursive” rough drafts, journal excerpts, and bird lists as well as printed poems and sketches.
Lee: Can you share about a project that you hope will be your next published book?
Sallie: I have two projects under way for which I would also like to create the art. The first is a collection of poems, (working title—Old Moon, New Moon), about my 20+ years of observing the moon and making art from those observations. The poems begin by wondering why the moon is out in the daytime and lead the reader from that question, through the muddle of not knowing, to understanding. This is a book that encourages the reader to focus on an interest of his or her own, observe over time, and record in words and images what he or she is learning. I intend to use imagery derived from my Moon Project art installations to illustrate the poems. You can learn more about the Moon Project, and even listen to “Moon Song,” a Gregorian Chant created by translating observed movements of the moon into musical notes, on my website, www.salliewolf.com. Old Moon, New Moon is not exactly about the moon, but more about my relationship with the moon. As in the Robin book, I intend to provide a window into my creative process through the writing and the illustration. And here again, the art came first and is inspiring the writing and the creation of a book.
My other project, Summer Upside Down: A Day on Bear Camp Pond, is the story of a day spent by a parent and child canoeing on a secluded New England lake. It is told in prose and haiku, much the way Basho, the Japanese haiku master, wrote journals of his travels in prose and haiku. I have been working on watercolor sketches for this story as I develop the manuscript. Observation of nature is important to this story, but it is also about the loving relationship of parent and child played out against the backdrop of a sudden storm.
Lee: How long have your been a member of SCBWI, and what do you feel you’ve gained by being part of this community?
Sallie: I joined SCBWI in 1992 when the wonderful Illinois region was fairly new and under the nurturing care of Esther Hershenhorn. Esther set a wonderful example of being welcoming and generous, and I soon became involved various programs. I have attended most of the Illinois region writing retreats, which evolved into Prairie Writers and Illustrators Day, and I have been a network co-rep for years. I also help organize “Food For Thought” programming for published members.
Being a member of SCBWI has given me so much—the programming in Illinois is outstanding, and I’ve had numerous opportunities to meet with editors for critiques as well as hear wonderful keynote speeches. I have attended the LA conference once and will go to the NYC conference for the second time this February. I’ve applied for several grants in the past, and even though I did not win one—until now—the process of submission was very helpful in pushing my manuscripts forward and making me formalize my career goals.
Most important is the friendship and community of fellow writers. When people ask me how to publish a children’s book I tell them to join SCBWI. Anyone who is serious about getting published belongs in this organization.
You can find out more about Sallie at her website here.