Lots of Art from Melissa Sweet
Makes for a Good Mid-Week Treat

h1 January 30th, 2013 by jules

“That’s right—Clara. She calls out from the front of the hall.
The crowd lifts her to the stage, where she shouts in Yiddish:
‘I have no further patience for a talk—I move that we go on a general strike!’
And she starts the largest walkout of women workers in U.S. history.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


[Friday note: This post has been edited to add some thoughts from Melissa on each picture book. “When I look at these images and think about these people, their passion, drive and determination,” Melissa told me, “I can’t believe my great good fortune to dive into their lives. I hope kids will feel the same way.”]

Last week over at Kirkus, I had a chat with author/illustrator Melissa Sweet about her latest projects. Those include Michelle Markel’s Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909, just released by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins (a spread is pictured very tippy-top), and Jen Bryant’s A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (also pictured above), released by Knopf in January.

That Q&A is here. You’ll see that I also asked her a bit about Susan Hood’s Spike, the Mixed-up Monster, released last Fall by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, since it was recently named a Highly Commended honor book for the 2013 Charlotte Zolotow Award. (Pictured left is an actual axolotl, which Melissa describes as “preposterously cute.”) And I also mentioned Alicia Potter’s Mrs. Harkness and the Panda, another 2012 title (Knopf), the fascinating picture book biography of socialite explorer Ruth Harkness, who brought back the first live panda to the United States. (Such a beautiful book, even if I gave my copy away to my eight-year-old’s classmate, who loves pandas. How could I not? I never got around in 2012 to blogging about this book, but better late then never. I mean, really. The book’s final spread, which is toward the bottom of this post, the one with a photo of Mrs. Harkness’ back and the panda? That spread was one of my 2012 favorites. I’m so happy it’s here at 7-Imp today.)

All that’s to say that today I have art from each of these books, even one of Melissa’s sketches from Spike. I thank her for sharing, and I hope you all enjoy it.

* * * * * * *

Melissa: [For Brave Girl], my sewing machine went into overdrive. I “illustrated” by sewing on all the pages (yep, just ran the art through the machine) and using lots of vintage ribbon, buttons, bits of fabric, and old pattern tissue. The machine stitching gives the pieces a delicate line. It felt like a fitting way to honor these brave seamstresses.

“…Companies are hiring thousands of immigrant girls to make blouses, coats, nightgowns, and other women’s clothing. They earn only a few dollars a month, but it helps pay for food and rent. So instead of carrying books to school, many girls carry sewing machines to work. Clara becomes a garment worker.”

“…In the coming weeks, Clara is called a hero. She lights up chilly union halls with her fiery pep talks. Her singing lifts the spirits of the picketers. When a group of thugs approaches, she yells, ‘Stand fast, girls!'”
(Click to enlarge spread)


* * *


Melissa (on A Splash of Red): There really isn’t anything more challenging than to illustrate an artist. Looking at Pippin’s work, I decided to use his palette of colors, which is so distinctive (but, of course, I highlighted with cerise pink and other colors I love), and to somewhat flatten the perspective. Pippin’s quotes were originally within the text, but I saw them as part of the art, and Jen generously agreed. Pippin’s story is so inspiring and his work in real life is magnetic.

Front endpages from A Splash of Red
(Click to enlarge)

“…Horace loved to draw. He loved the feel of the charcoal as it slid across the floor.
He loved looking at something in the room and making it come alive again
in front of him. He loved thinking about a friend or a pet,
then drawing them from the picture in his mind.”

(Click to enlarge)

“One day, Horace saw a funny face in a magazine. DRAW ME! AND WIN A PRIZE, it said underneath. Horace drew the face and sent it off. A few weeks later, a package arrived. Inside, Horace found colored pencils, a pair of brushes, and a box of paints. CONGRATULATIONS! said the note. Horace had won his first real art supplies. …
(Click to enlarge)


* * *


Melissa: Spike is a great example of a mix of fiction and nonfiction in a picture book. Susan wove a wonderful story, and I loved to researching these characters. Not to mention, they are an endangered species. When I saw an live axolotl in an aquarium, I thought: we need creatures like this!

Early sketch from Spike
(Click to enlarge)

“One look, and the animals knew what to do. ¡El monstruo!’ …”
(Click to enlarge)

“…a Gila monster!…”
(Click to enlarge)


* * *


Melissa: A number of years ago, I traveled through China for a couple of weeks. It was my first time to Asia, and it was so visually out of my realm. Every snippet of paper, the flea markets, (the food!) was a feast for the senses. I stashed away a big box of beautiful paraphernalia and was thrilled to bring it out for Mrs. Harkness.


(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

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* * * * * * *

BRAVE GIRL: CLARA AND THE SHIRTWAIST MAKERS’ STRIKE OF 1909. Copyright © 2013 by Michelle Markel. Illustration copyright © 2013 by Melissa Sweet. Published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins, New York.

A SPLASH OF RED: THE LIFE AND ART OF HORACE PIPPIN. Copyright © 2013 by Jen Bryant. Illustration copyright © 2013 by Melissa Sweet. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

SPIKE, THE MIXED-UP MONSTER. Copyright © 2012 by Susan Hood. Illustration copyright © 2012 by Melissa Sweet. Published by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, New York.

MRS. HARKNESS AND THE PANDA. Copyright © 2012 by Alicia Potter. Illustration copyright © 2012 by Melissa Sweet. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

All images here reproduced with permission of Melissa Sweet.

(Click to enlarge)

11 comments to “Lots of Art from Melissa Sweet
Makes for a Good Mid-Week Treat”

  1. Thank you Jules! It’s always a treat to visit 7imp.

  2. Now I’ll have to go back and read Brave Girl again, just to look at the stitching! There is always something to learn about picture book art. I love learning about the process and the artist’s perspective. Thanks!

  3. I just can’t get enough of her artwork. The extra comments from Melissa in my reader’s mind are the crowning touch. She put her pages through a sewing machine? Fantastic!

  4. Many thanks to Jen for guiding me here and for these magical posts and commentary from Melissa Sweet. I can’t wait to see these books in person.

  5. Art that’s fresh, lively, luminous and textured – could a nonfiction writer ask for anything more? Thank you for sharing!

  6. Fantastic. She just oozes fabulous.

  7. These are wonderful illustrations—what great examples of how art and text work synergistically!

  8. I love this idea of “Going Beyond Black History Month”. There is a lot of discussion among cultural diversity educators surrounding the tendency to think of cultural education as something that comes around a couple times a year, and we pat ourselves on the backs for being so politically correct and culturally sensitive. Yet, this kind of brief and disconnected glimpse can be largely ineffective and often stereotyped.

  9. A Splash of Red looks wonderful I love books that discuss children’s artwork! It really helps as a teacher to have a stock of these to go to when I have a student losing confidence.

  10. […] Discuss what New York was like in the early 1900s, specifically the lives of people from immigrant communities.  What challenges did they face? Fill in any gaps in general background knowledge using the section “More About the Garment Industry” from the back of the book as a reference. image source […]

  11. […] stitching, and patterns to recreate Clara’s world. In an interview with Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Sweet explains that this “felt like a fitting way to honor these brave […]

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