If I were more organized I would have declared this Blog Tour Week here at 7-Imp. First, Maxwell Eaton III stopped by, kicking off his tour at 7-Imp, and now Cece Bell is here in the midst of her own tour (if you’re interested in winning some original Cece art at the close of her tour, be sure to check out that link). I think Maxwell and Cece are a good pair of illustrators to show up beside one another during a one-week span, seeing as how they both create your more light-hearted, cheerful, cartoon-esque, colorful, fun-filled fare — books with uncluttered, spare styles and simple, rounded shapes for the youngest of picture book readers, yet ones that rely on their visual humor to snag the reader. Cece, who’s joining me for “buttered toast and hot chocolate” this morning, has certainly created books without a sock monkey as the protagonist, but there’s no question she’s better known for her tales of one of those old-fashioned, hand-crafted toys made from, you know, socks and fashioned to look like, you know, monkeys (all those titles published by Candlewick). Since 2003, Cece’s brought us three tales of Sock Monkey, beginning with Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood: A Star is Bathed, which Publishers Weekly described as Cece’s “imaginatively silly debut.” Bouncy, breezy, “as light as cotton candy” (that would be School Library Journal on Sock Monkey Boogie Woogie: A Friend is Made) — these are descriptors for Cece’s tales. And, whew, what would we (and the children. THINK OF THE CHILDREN!) do in this world without our bouncy and breezy?
Cece’s brand-new title, Bee-Wigged (Candlewick, November ’08), which involves nary a monkey, is a tale aimed at young readers about the problem of being yourself and finding new friends. Here’s a brief moment with Jerry Bee, who loves people but is having trouble making friends, what with being a bee-with-a-stinger and all. Jerry picks up a wig he thinks might help solve his issues of alienation:
I have learned that it’s always fun when Cece stops by, so let’s get right to it. Shall we get the basics from Cece while we set the table here for our seven questions over breakfast? And I thank her very much for stopping by.
7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?
7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?
- Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood: A Star is Bathed
- Sock Monkey Boogie Woogie: A Friend is Made
- Sock Monkey Rides Again
- Food Friends
- Busy Buddies
- Itty Bitty (out June 2009)
7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or -– if you use a variety -– your preferred one?
Cece: Sock Monkey books: Freehand + Photoshop on the Mac. Others: Acrylic paints applied using lots and lots of stencils, and outlined in black or brown ink.
7-Imp: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?
Cece (pictured here in “this little carnival-like thing that I made for my book launch party”): I reckon the books for the older kids are a little bit more complex — they all seem to have at least one climactic spread where there is a lot of stuff to look at. The younger books are simpler and bolder.
7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?
Cece: Montgomery County, Virginia (close to Virginia Tech).
7-Imp: Can you briefly tell us about your road to publication?
Cece: I sent out one book a long time ago to Harper Collins, I think, and got rejected (the story was way too dark, but the illustrations were pretty tasty), so I hung it up, so to speak, until a better idea came along. The better idea came along, and I made a really nice dummy version of it and sent it to Candlewick Press in 2000. I got a phone call three months later, asking me to make a few changes and re-submit it. You better believe I made those changes in a hurry. Once the changes were made and approved, I signed a contract with Candlewick. The book, Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood, came out a whopping three years later.
7-Imp: Can you please point us to your web site and/or blog?
7-Imp: If you do school visits, tell us what they’re like.
Cece: If the kids are reading-age, I get volunteers from the audience and the volunteers and I present Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood like a play with scripts and simple costumes. When the kids are younger, I usually present Sock Monkey Boogie Woogie, and there is a lot of dancing. When the kids are in fifth grade or so, I do Sock Monkey Rides Again, because that book is all about kissing, and I enjoy seeing the kids squirm. I also teach the kids how to draw all the characters in the books and introduce them to the original stuffed animals that started it all. I haven’t yet started presenting Bee-Wigged yet, so I’m not sure what I’ll do. It’s good to have a very interactive program, as it takes some of the pressure off to perform the whole time. I am quite shy, after all!
for me to see at a school visit.”
7-Imp: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell us how that influences your work as an illustrator.
Cece: I only teach a little bit (what I do during school visits), but the way I teach drawing is very much based on the way Ed Emberley taught me in his drawing books. That guy is ACES! I checked out his books from my school library every Friday, and did all the exercises over the weekends. A great way to learn how to draw.
7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?
Cece: I’m still wating to hear back from Candlewick about a few projects (oh, the waiting), so I’d better not spill any beans just yet.
Okay, the table’s set. We’ve got our hot chocolate, and we’re good-to-go with our toast, too. Now we’re ready to talk more specifics . . .
1. 7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?
Cece: I usually get my best ideas when I’m walking one of my four dogs, and for some reason, every time my husband Sam and I go to Wendy’s without the kids, I end up with a great idea. Granted, we hardly ever go to Wendy’s without the kids, so ideas from Wendy’s are few and far between. But they’re pretty good ones!
When I get a decent idea, I usually write it on a piece of paper and stick it in the top drawer of my desk. When I’m ready to start working on a new book, I look at all those scraps of paper and pick one that is most appealing — or combine a few into one story.
I always, always write the story first, trying very hard to get it as perfect and streamlined as possible. Once I’m satisfied with the story, I do a bird’s eye view of the whole book on one piece of paper, to try to figure out the pacing and that sort of stuff. Usually I end up editing the words at this point as well. Lots of back-and-forth between words and tiny pictures.
I then enlarge the tiny drawings from the bird’s eye view, and these pencil drawings are very clear. I scan these into my computer, and then use Freehand to lay out the book with text. I print out an initial version of the book, and make a dummy out of it.
Then the moment of reckoning: I give it to my husband (Sam Riddleburger, writer of The QwikPick Adventure Society and soon-to-be-released Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run) to read. He is an excellent editor, and is especially good about helping me guide the plot when it gets a little too weird. I usually end up making a lot of changes based on Sam’s comments and reactions.
I re-print the pages, make a new dummy, and send it to Candlewick (they have first dibs). If they buy it, then there’s a lot of back-and-forth to perfect the book. And finally, when I get the go-ahead to do the final illustrations, I brace myself, cry a little, and then begin the really hard part!
to make the illustrations for Bee-Wigged.”
2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.
Cece: I bought one of those Home Depot two-story barn structures and hired a very nice man to come and finish the inside for me. It’s not connected to the house, so it feels like I’m actually “going to work” when I actually do go to do some work.
My husband and sons are on strict orders not to come inside, unless I’m feeling particularly charitable. It’s got lovely shelves under the stairs for lots of storage, and a view of the north fork of the Roanoke River, plus the train on the other side of that.
I painted the walls very plain and simple (my house is the wilder place), so that I wouldn’t be distracted by colorful, well, distractions, while I worked on illustrations. The upstairs is used for storage and also for sleeping, but I’m loathe to admit this. There’s no plumbing, so I bring over jugs of water, and have to go back home to visit our friend Johnny.
even before the books came out.”
3. 7-Imp: As book lovers, it interests us: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?
The Judy Blume books.
The Beverly Cleary books.
The Little House books.
The 1965 Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cook Book that belonged to my older siblings (I lived in that book).
I tried to make all of ‘em!”
none can resist its royal charms!”
Lots of the Little Golden Books (those illustrations are fantabulous).
Ed Emberley’s drawing books.
Steven Caney’s Kids’ America (as a kid I tried to do all the projects in the book, and came fairly close).
These really wonderful books from the early 1930’s called Book Trails (there are 6 of them) that belonged to my father and my aunt, and which were at my grandmother’s house for years and years. They are filled with short stories and poems for children, and the illustrations are lithographs — amazing. They’re in my house now!
4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?
Cece: We’d probably be drinking orange juice, as I am such a boring teetotaler, but they would be: Alice Provensen, Ed Emberley, and William Joyce. But it’s really the ones that have left us that I want to talk to, mostly because I know I‘ll never get that chance, and those three would be: James Marshall, Arnold Lobel, and William Steig.
5. 7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?
Cece: I sometimes listen to stuff when I don’t have to think too hard. I like Burt Bacharach’s stuff, Vince Guaraldi, Dave Brubeck, Les Paul, The Swingle Singers, Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66. The kinds of things you’d find in your parents’ LP collection (if your parents were, like mine, buying music in the 1960s, and in no other decade) or in the E-Z Listening sections of music stores.
6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
Cece: I am stunningly beautiful.
7. 7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.
Cece: Q: How did you get so stunningly beautiful?
A: Good genes, and a four-hour long daily beauty regimen that I adapted from my Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life book.
7-Imp: What is your favorite word?
7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?
Cece: “Digit,” especially in reference to one’s finger.
7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Cece: Plenty of sleep, dog-walking, talking to Sam, fun food, and, I guess, eating at Wendy‘s.
7-Imp: What turns you off?
Cece: Myself or others in a bad mood.
7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)
7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?
Cece: My older son belting out the Linus and Lucy song at the top of his lungs.
7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?
Cece: My older son belting out the Linus and Lucy song at the top of his lungs.
7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Cece: I have little musical ability but have always fantasized about being a really, really good jazz pianist, who could play anytime, anywhere — at the drop of a hat.
7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?
Cece: Medical stuff.
7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Cece: “You done pretty good, kid.”
Author photos and sketches courtesy of Cece Bell. All rights reserved and all that good stuff.
Spread from BEE-WIGGED: Copyright © 2008 Cece Bell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.