Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Holly Meade

h1 August 10th, 2009 by jules

The illustrator of one of my favorite picture books ever, the 1997 Caldecott Honor winner Hush!: A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho, is here this morning for a breakfast chat. Woodblock artist Holly Meade has illustrated almost thirty picture book titles in her career, launched in 1992, including what I thought was one of 2008’s most outstanding picture books, David Elliott’s On the Farm, published by Candlewick. (My ’08 review is here).

“Sleeps / with / one / eye / open / in the shady / farmhouse yard. / You might think / he’s keeping cool. / Beware! / He’s keeping guard!”
(Click to enlarge.)

But Hush! put Holly on the map, showing us her expert sense of composition, her playful perspectives, and the warmth, humor, and uncluttered sophistication inherent in her artwork. That title was rendered in beautiful, brightly-colored cut-paper-and-ink illustrations, but these days Holly works in woodblocks — and has been for about seven years now. As you can see in that handsome On the Farm spread above, rendered in woodblock prints and watercolor, Holly’s work is simply beautiful. I’m happy to have her here this morning over coffee to tell us a bit more about her prints, as well as share some from her gallery in Maine, Reach Road Gallery. She gave me free reign to choose images from the gallery site, and let me just say that it was very hard to narrow down my favorites. But I did — and included them in this interview. To start us off, here are two I really loved:

Don’t Shoot, linoleum & woodblock print, 2008;
Click on image itself to be taken to Holly’s gallery.

To the Still Earth Say, I am Flowing, woodblock print, 2002;
Click on image to be taken to more of Holly’s 2002 prints.

Holly’s very latest illustrated title, written by Tom Brenner and released in July by Candlewick, is And Then Comes Halloween, which Kirkus describes as “{t}he way Halloween should be.” As the title indicates, the book is a joyous sensory celebration of early Fall and the counting-down to Halloween (the children, having brushed candy from their teeth, even immediately dreaming of next year’s plans as they doze on Halloween night): “WHEN nighttime creeps closer to suppertime, / and red and gold seep into green leaves, / and blackberries shrivel on the vine . . . / THEN hang dried corn, / still in husks all crinkly and raspy, / sounding like grasshoppers. / WHEN Papa stacks firewood under the eaves, / and a V of geese squawks its way south, / and chilly morning air turns noses pink . . . / THEN cut out paper witches on brooms and dangle skeletons in doorways…” Holly’s watercolor and collage illustrations shine from the page. (Click to enlarge this spread.)

Holly’s breakfast-of-choice this morning for our short interview is a veggie frittata and coffee. I think I make a pretty wicked-good cup of coffee, if I may say so myself, but I’ll be giving this frittata my first go. Let me get that started, while Holly gives us some of the basics. I thank her for stopping by.

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Holly: Author/illustrator, with the emphasis on illustrator.

7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?


To come:

  • If I Never Forever Endeavor by Holly Meade
  • In the Wild by David Elliott

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or -– if you use a variety -– your preferred one?

{Ed. Note: Pictured below is Holly’s Go to the Well, three-color linoleum and woodblock print, 2009. I love this so fiercely I can hardly begin to say, but I digress. Click here for Holly’s other 2009 prints.}

Holly: The majority of my illustrative work has been done in cut paper collage. In the early books, I tore sheets of pantone paper to make the pictures. Later I cut a variety of hand-made and found papers. As time went on, more and more I watercolored the paper before cutting — and sometimes also stamped the paper with a pattern or texture before cutting. All these pictures begin with a drawing that is then translated into cut shapes, then arranged and adhered with cello mount (a two-sided sticky paper). Several of the books I’ve illustrated were done with gouache, also watercolor and ink. Recently, I’ve used woodblock prints as a medium. This method involves cutting an image into a woodblock; rolling the block with ink; printing it, using oil-base ink onto watercolor paper; then adding color with watercolor paint. I try to choose a medium that will best complement the text.

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Holly: I live at the edge of a field at the edge of the ocean. The water passage I look at is called Eggemoggin Reach, and Deer Isle sits beyond. It’s fairly quiet and beautiful, a lovely place to work and live in.

{Ed. Note: Pictured right is Holly’s Man in Gorilla Suit, three-color linoleum print, 2007. Click here for more 2007 prints.}

7-Imp: Can you briefly tell us about your road to publication?

Holly: My school background is in painting {and} printmaking. When it came to choosing a work life that would support me and still allow me to make pictures, children’s book illustration came to mind. I took my portfolio to Little, Brown and Company in Boston, and that led to my first job.

7-Imp: Can you please point us to your web site and/or blog?

Holly: I have a website, This site does not represent the illustration work I do but the prints I make apart from children’s books — and the gallery I have open during the summer months here in Maine. {Ed. Note: Here it is pictured in Winter, to help cool us all off.}

7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?

Holly: I am currently working on a book written by David Elliott, titled In The Wild. This is my second one with David (On the Farm), and I’m very excited about it. The words are a pure pleasure to read, very fun, and it gives me the opportunity to make pictures of animals, like a jaguar, buffalo, orangatan, etc. A second book I’m just finishing up is one I wrote called, If I Never Forever Endeavor. This is a story about a small bird and his internal dabate over whether to attempt that first flight from his safe nest — or not. Both books are done combining printing and watercolor, though in very different ways.

Cover for Holly’s latest illustrated title, written by Tom Brenner (Candlewick, July 2009)

Mmm. Coffee.Our table’s set, coffee’s on, and I’m hoping my frittata won’t flop. (Well, sure, it’s a cyber-frittata, but mmm. I really must try one of these one day.) Thanks again to Holly for stopping by, and let’s keep at it with—despite the title of this post—our five questions over breakfast…

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?

Holly: I covered this somewhat in a previous question. I can add that the visual ideas spring from the author’s words and from my experience of what the writer speaks of. Reference materials are important, as much of what I’m asked to illustrate I haven’t directly experienced (a Japanese monastery garden, a water buffalo in a Thailand jungle, a crocodile in a southern swamp, etc.)

I start out a book by breaking the text down into the required thirty-two pages. Then sketch and sketch and refine until I have a “dummy book” of black-and-white line drawings. This I send off to the designer and editor for advice and direction. Next, I submit an example of a finished illustration. When that’s approved, I carry on making the pictures for the entire book.

{Ed. Note: More on Holly’s woodblock-printing process is here at her gallery site.}

Spread from Virginnie’s Hat by Dori Chaconas (Candlewick, 2007)
(Click to enlarge.)

2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

Holly: Also referred to in a previous question — at least the natural environment, which includes a lot of neighbors that are animals. From my studio window, I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing fox, deer, porcupine, bear, moose, and racoons. My workspace is a high-ceilinged room with large windows, looking out over a field to the ocean. The space is comfortably messy with works in progress, a room never quite large enough for the materials I fling around in it. I have a Whelan Press with a large turning wheel that travels a roller over blocks for printing.

3. 7-Imp: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Holly: I loved The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. Not the Disney version, but the original where our heroine throws herself into the sea at the end to win an immortal soul. My childhood version was illustrated by Gustav Hjortlund.

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?

Holly: I would enjoy sharing a cup of tea with illustrator Warwick Hutton. His loose watercolor and ink illustrations have won my adult heart. He has illustrated a number of fairy tales, Greek myths, and Old Testament stories, all books I cherish.

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?

Holly: Music…Native American flute music and Bach’s arias and choruses are my best working companions, with some blues thrown in on occasion.

Pondering Death, three-color linoleum & woodblock print , 2002;
Click on image to be taken to other 2002 images.

* * * A Portion of the Pivot Questionnaire * * *

{Ed. Note: Pictured just below is Holly’s Prayers Going Up, a four-color woodblock print, 2007. Click on the image to be taken to Holly’s gallery.}

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Holly: Beauty, truth (not always beautiful), goodness.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Holly: Lapping water, thunder cracks, a howling lonely wind, my daughter singing, cold trees creaking in winter, the song of the veery and the woodthrush, unguarded laughter…Oh, there are many sounds to love….

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Holly: Sounds to dislike…all the “beeps” of modern life…the beeping of vehicles backing up in Home Depot, the beep when you pass through the doorway of some stores, car beeps when you leave the key in the ignition, and on and on. Also! Recordings that tell me my call is important.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Holly: “Welcome,” of course.

Cut, Insert, Fold, Fly, woodblock print, 2006;
Click on image itself to be taken to other images from ’06.

* * * * * * *

All print images from Reach Road Gallery and gallery photos taken from the web site, courtesy of Holly Meade. Photos of Holly courtesy of Ms. Meade and Candlewick. All rights reserved.

Image of The Little Mermaid from

ON THE FARM. Text copyright © 2009 David Elliott. Illustrations copyright © 2009 Holly Meade. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

AND THEN COMES HALLOWEEN. Text copyright © 2009 by Tom Brenner. Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Holly Meade. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

VIRGINNIE’S HAT. Text copyright © 2007 Dori Chaconas. Illustrations copyright © 2007 Holly Meade. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

16 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Holly Meade”

  1. Another lovely interview. Love Holly’s work in On the Farm. Her collages and woodblocks are beautiful — there’s such a purity of spirit that shines through. What a gorgeous gallery, too. Man in Gorilla Suit is so cool :)!

  2. Jules,

    Thanks for this wonderful interview with another of my favorite picture book illustrators. I, too, thought ON THE FARM was one of the most outstanding picture books of 2008.

    JOHN WILLY AND FREDDY MCGEE was one of my favorite read-aloud picture books when I was a school librarian. I LOVE that book!

    I have to get a copy of AND THEN COMES HALLOWEEN. Maybe two copies–one for me and one for a little girl I know.

    Thanks for all of your wonderful pictures books, Holly! The coast of Maine is a beautiful place to live. I’ll be heading “down” Maine on Friday for a week-long vacation on Westport Island. I wish your gallery was closer so I’d get a chance to visit–and see your art in person. BTW, I did see one of your originals from THAT”S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR several years ago at The Banbury Cross Children’s Book Shop–one of my favorite places in the world.

  3. Oh, Jules, this is a wonderful artist to start the day with! There is something very soothing and warm about Holly’s art – I have always loved wood block printing as a medium and actually tried to do it myself once, without much success. I am especially taken with “Prayers Going Up” – isn’t it amazing how art can say so much without words?

    And I really want to get her next book “If I Never Forever Endeavor” – the title alone means something personal to me right now, and I have written this down and posted it near my computer as a reminder.

    Thanks to Jules and Holly for the lovely start to my day!

  4. I am most familiar with Holly’s work in On the Farm (which I love), but I have clearly been missing out.

  5. all so wonderful! what a treat to read – thank you!

  6. First, can I just ADORE the outfit Holly works in? Yay, overalls! Second, what an ADORABLE STUDIO. Wow. Third: well, you know I love me some woodblock stuff. It is just such a cool talent to be able to …cut away… what you don’t want and make what you do want stand out and count in many inked layers. It’s such a transformative art. My favorite, favorite, favorite piece is the Prayers Going Up one. Second fave has to be the rooster from On The Farm. And I love the Mogli looking character in Pondering Death. It’s got an Edenistic vibe from the naked child pondering the fallen bird…

    Lovely, lovely stuff, all.

  7. I think I would have trouble picking which to put on my wall: Prayers Going Up or Go to the Well …or…or…they’re all gorgeous. Go to the Well particularly blows me away, though.

    Thanks for visiting, everyone!

  8. I enjoyed this interview. I’m with Holly on the sounds to love/hate. I really want to hear trees, not car horns, yet I just can’t see myself moving out of the city.

    I love Hush.

  9. Holly’s work is brims with her favorite things: beauty, truth and goodness! I love looking at her creations.

  10. Holly is one of my favorite illustrators. We reissued her book, Rata-Pata-Scata-Fata. The story is whimsical, and plays to a child’s faith in magic. Holly’s art compliments it well.

  11. […] my love for his two poetry picture book titles, On the Farm and In the Wild, both illustrated by Holly Meade. The latter was released this August (Candlewick), and as I formatted this interview, I fell in […]

  12. merhaba. hi
    çok güzel işler muhteşem
    very nice work
    bende woodblock print making

  13. Cousin Holly. I would like to order a bunch of books. Do I do this through our website here? Smiles, Melody

  14. […] Holly Meade: […]

  15. Oh Holly. :Your spirit lives on.. Thank you for sharing with us all. With love from your cousin.

  16. […] work was simply beautiful. Pictured above is a print from my 2009 interview with her. I’ve always really liked that piece of artwork, in […]

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