My Valentine’s Day gift to everyone this morning involves some illustrations from Sergio Ruzzier’s newest title, Hey, Rabbit!, published by Roaring Brook Press. (I had it in my head that it was published at the end of last year, but online sources tell me it’s coming out in a few days. Shows you what I know.) Since this is a sweet, unassuming tale of friendship that I very much like, a peek at the art is my Heart Day gift to you all, my friends.
You may remember when Italian-born Sergio visited 7-Imp in October of 2008. Sergio lives in Brooklyn, as noted in that interview, and I look to all his new titles with interest. I still remember from that ’08 interview when he said, “I came to New York from my native Milan in 1995, and my goal was to enter the picture book world. For many years, I found all the doors closed, as most editors and art directors considered my work too sophisticated and ‘European’ (which I understand is a curse word.)” I, for one, am grateful for his unique style. (And, if you haven’t seen Amandina yet, oh my, go run and peek at a copy and come back and talk to me. I love that excellent book.)
Hey, Rabbit! is the story of a rabbit, the one you see opening this post (as well as on the book’s cover, pictured here), carrying a large suitcase. Various friends wander up to Rabbit to ask if there’s anything at all for them in Rabbit’s suitcase. “Maybe a bone for my birthday?” asks the dog; “Maybe a leaf to remind me of home?” asks the toucan; “Maybe a pillow for my sleepy head?” says the bear; “Maybe a shell with the sound of the sea?” asks the crab; and so on. Each animal gets exactly what they want — either via their imagination or via the magic suitcase (depending, I suppose, on which side of your brain you use most often). Plus some. In the end, Rabbit wonders if there’s anything at all for him in his suitcase, only to be pleasantly surprised to see all his friends pop out. The toucan’s got his leaf; the bear, his pillow; the cat, her ball of twine. And everyone’s happy to be greeting their kind friend, Rabbit.
Writes Kirkus, “The twin powers of friendship and imagination are stunningly portrayed with utter simplicity…The all-encompassing visions embody the joy of finding exactly what one’s heart desires…The colors are soft and clear; the line is vivacious and the little anthropomorphized animals are sweet. Their satisfied imaginations fill whole pages, and friendship emanates from every wriggle.” Kirkus is on to something with that bit about Ruzzier’s simplicity; it’s this seeming simplicity in his storytelling and illustrations that draws me to his books. And, yes, his singular style. “Quirky” gets over-used, but … well, as I said in the ’08 interview, you can spot a Ruzzier-illustrated title from here to Milan, what with his wry humor and the delicate pen-and-ink lines of his intimate, subdued watercolors.
I asked Sergio a bit about the book, plus threw two random, fun questions at him. His art from this title is interspersed with his responses below (and some above, as you can see). Sergio sent details of many of the spreads, the full jungle spread, and some sketches. I thank him for stopping by. If you’re looking for the kicks, scroll down. (You’re welcome to pass go, but I can’t give you two hundred bucks. Sorry.) But I hope you’ll enjoy Sergio’s art — and my brief chat with him:
Jules: I know authors sometimes hate to be asked about “inspiration,” but tell me what brought on this particular book idea.
Sergio: It’s true: It’s often difficult to answer this question, especially when we steal the idea from an out-of-print book and we cannot admit it.
But in the case of Hey, Rabbit!, I can actually explain easily where I got the idea. I had just delivered the drawings for Amandina, and I was talking with Neal Porter, my editor, about possible new stories to work on. He particularly liked one drawing from that book: a suitcase out of which comes a huge bunch of colorful flowers, so he suggested I think of something with a “magical” suitcase. I also had an old idea in my mind of a box with a little peephole, and each person sees something different when they look inside. So, after combining the two ideas, I only had to find the right characters and situations, and the story was done.
Jules: I love the color choices in this picture book, particularly the jungle spread. What particular factors go into palette choices for you?
Sergio: Thank you. I’m so glad you like it.
When I was in my late teens, I only drew in black. I really loved, and still do, black india ink. I find it fascinating to dip the nib in the tank, try it on a scrap of paper, see how it mingles with the surface of the paper. Depending on its quality, the paper will quickly absorb the ink, or it will let it dry slowly, leaving a sort of ink glazing.
Maybe because of fear of failure, or maybe because I really needed to master pen and ink first, I shunned color, and I was sure that my art would always be black and white. I had a big box full of many different art materials: pastels, acrylics, oils, temperas… I was afraid of that box, afraid of being unable to use those materials. Of course I was unable: I had never tried! It took me a few years, but then one day I went and bought a few Maimeri watercolor pans and two brushes, and with those I colored a series of ink line drawings I had done of a scruffy-looking bird, who was probably a self-portrait. So, I colored those birds with blue, yellow, and green, I remember, and I was really happy about it. The paper was very old, and I liked the fact that you could still see its yellowish tint trough the transparent watercolors. I also liked how my beloved pen line was still completely visible.
From then on, I’ve always used watercolors, even though I now use the Schmincke brand. (The paper is Arches, rough).
I have the tendency to use subdued shades, but with Hey, Rabbit! I knew I needed more vivid colors. There is a lot of white in the layout, and it is such a sunny, breezy story. But I didn’t really change my usual palette, which is made of about sixteen pans; I just put more pigment on the paper. The jungle spread was a bit more challenging than others, because there are so many different elements in it, and everything needed to be harmonious. Of course, what looks bright and vivid to me might still look somber and dull to others…
Jules: What’s next for you? What books/projects are you working on now, if you can talk about them?
Sergio: The next book to come out, in Fall 2010, is Zoom, Broom!, and it’s a funny and tender story about a little witch and a little green monster, written by Caron Lee Cohen, using very few words. Right now, I am illustrating another picture book, written by Eve Bunting, while I am also thinking about my next idea.
Jules: Now for the two random, fun questions: Are there specific experiences that formed the essential basis, the fundamental building blocks, of your artistic vision? Books, movies, artists, events, images, anything else, etc. and etc.?
Sergio: Okay. I’ll just make a disorganized list of things that have inspired me through the years: Late Medieval and early Renaissance art, especially frescoes; book illuminations and stone carvings; Hieronymus Bosch; Alfred Kubin; European folk prints; Goya’s etchings; the movies of Luis Buñuel; American comic strip artists, like George Herriman, E. C. Segar, Lyonel Feininger, Charles Schulz; the Fleischer animated cartoons; the books by Thomas Bernhard, Arnold Lobel, William Steig, Giorgio Bassani, Edward Gorey, Edward Lear; The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily by Dino Buzzati, Collodi’s Pinocchio… I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot. Any old book with pictures.
Jules: (This question comes from Stephen Alcorn. I must give credit where credit is due.) What do you, as an artist, find most challenging and satisfying in the creative processes you employ?
Sergio: I am a procrastinator. Sometimes this makes me sick; sometimes I accept it and live with it. So, time-managing is probably the most challenging part of my process. It’s hard for me to give the initial push. When I have, say, six months to turn a book in, I always waste the first four months and then do everything in the remaining two. I usually deliver the work on time, though.
Maybe because of all this, I feel so good when I am done with the drawings, and I just have to wait for the book to be printed. Another thing that I find very rewarding is when someone understands and appreciates a small detail in one of my drawings — or a subtle little joke in the text.
Here’s the video Sergio made of his school visits with Hey, Rabbit! I like this, my favorite moment being the “you guys are quite negative” one:
Thanks again to Sergio. Happy Valentine’s Day to him. And to Rabbit.
As a reminder, 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.
First, Happy Valentine’s Day again to all…Hope each of you manages to find happiness in some form or fashion today. Here is what Sergio sent me when I reminded him that I’d be doing this post on Valentine’s Day. This is one of his illustrations from The Little Giant (Laura Geringer Books/HarperCollins, 2004).
My kicks . . .
2). Meet California, Piper, and Athena. (The wee daughters are responsible for the names.) Lori Nichols sent them to me and my girls, which was very kind of her. Look at how Athena there on the right is giving us a sneaky, slightly paranoid look. Lori makes these out of recycled materials. I LOVE THIS.
Guess what else? Lori got an agent! CONGRATS to her!
3). I’m reading a novel (historical fiction) about Frank Lloyd Wright. I don’t know if he actually said this, but I like this. It’s also kicks-esque in nature: “The measure of a man’s culture is the measure of his appreciation. We are ourselves what we appreciate and no more.” Whaddya think?
4). Sam Phillips has some great new music out. Also: She asked for Worst Valentine’s Day Ever submissions, and mine (and fellow fan Jill’s, who comes kickin’ with us) made Honorable Mentions. Sam has these audio files, what she calls the Phone Booth, at her subscription site for new music this year, and she interviews whomever she wants in her Phone Booth. In this week’s Phone Booth, she talked about the Worst Valentine’s Day Ever submissions with a fellow musician, who plays on her CDs, and she specifically mentioned mine and Jill’s as being good ones (even though we didn’t make the top three). Well now, WOOT! That was fun to hear.
My last three kicks are going to be brand-new picture books that I love and whose illustrations make me happy. It goes without saying I’m a Picture Book Nerd. As in, really, the first part of my week was LOUSY, and these three picture books momentarily cheered me up:
5). Anyone else remember back in October, when I featured the work of Il Sung Na? Well, the First American Edition of a 2008 Na title (published in Great Britain), The Thingamabob, will be out next month (Alfred A. Knopf). It’s funny, lets the child be one-up on the protagonist (which children LOVE), and it’s a great story-time choice (note to all librarians and teachers). Love Na’s art. In writing about A Book of Sleep last December, Daniel Handler wrote at The New York Times, “The art moves easily from the actual…to the fantastical…in a blurry variety of textures and styles — from stark, clean sketch lines to a cavalcade of splotchy color — that might sound overbusy but work very well on the page. An endnote explains this multi faceted approach as ‘combining handmade painterly textures with digitally generated layers, which were then compiled in Adobe Photoshop,’ which I take to mean that it’s none of my business how Na does it.” True. But, no matter how the art’s done for Na’s titles, I love it.
RANDOM BONUS KICK: The way wee kids will wake up at, say, midnight and ask for a drink of water and drink it with both hands cupped around it, holding on for dear life, like they’re drinking the nectar of the gods. (This is only a kick if I myself am also awake at midnight, but I usually am.)
AND ONE MORE BONUS: Heart-shaped Valentine’s donuts with red sprinkles on top. And singing with my five-year-old “Over the Rainbow” with every major word replaced with the word “donut.”
What are your kicks this week? Remember that Cybils winners are announced on Valentine’s Day!