‘Take care, my little ones,’ Miss Maple says, ‘for the world is big and you are small.'”
Happy Sunday. Happy Easter. Happy chocolate eggs.
I don’t want to go on and on right here about today’s featured artist, Eliza Wheeler, and her debut picture book, Miss Maple’s Seeds (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin)—which will be released this week—because she is visiting this morning to share sketches and art and tell us about her work. And I’m pleased she’s visiting and want to get right to it.
I’ll say this much, though, before I hand the breakfast table over to her: Her book is the story of Miss Maple, tiny enough to get around on a bluebird and whose home is in a maple tree. Miss Maple gathers “orphan seeds” that get lost during spring planting; she nurtures them in her home, even during the winter months; and she then sends them off “to find roots of their own.” It’s a tender story with a big heart about the care that goes into nurturing living things — as well as the notion that even the smallest of such life needs our attention. “Take care, my little ones, for the world is big and you are small” is her repeated refrain, as you can see above. Wheeler’s art is delicate and warm, and she has created a detailed miniature world for her protagonist; these are inviting landscapes for young readers.
Today, Eliza discusses the book, as well as shares sketches and art from other projects, including the cover art she did for Holly Black’s new novel, Doll Bones (McElderry Books/Simon and Schuster, May 2013). (I haven’t read this yet, but I’m definitely intrigued after Betsy Bird’s recent review.)
Let’s get to all the art, and I thank Eliza for visiting.
Eliza: I remember the first moment of inspiration for Miss Maple. I was at my first SCBWI National Summer conference in 2009 and saw in the sea of people an adorable woman wearing a bright hat, who looked straight out of a folk-tale. I wrote this in my sketchbook:
Later, I had the pleasure of getting to know my muse in person through the SCBWI Westside L.A. Illustrator’s group. Her name is Diane Browning. She’s as sweet as she looks and is a talented author/illustrator.
It took about two years to get back to the idea, and in 2011 I began to sketch and explore who my character is and what she does. I didn’t see her as human size, but as a tiny woman who was something of a gardener. I eventually made a model of my character, which I used for reference. Through this process, I ended up exaggerating her features and giving her a large nose (for which I’ve since apologized to Diane Browning, who’s nose, I should say, is lovely and petite). I wanted her to feel like the teacher or grandmother we all had (or wished we had).
Ever since I was little, I’ve had an obsession with doll-sized people living in trees. I don’t know exactly where it started, but was I surely influenced by the homes of the Berenstain Bears and Winnie-the-Pooh characters. I combined my seed-saving character with my childhood inspiration, and that’s when Miss Maple’s story began to come to life.
She has hurried ahead of the flock to get ready for her guests.”
I wrote the story in about a week (an experience I have yet to duplicate), and it took a month to create a dummy for the book. I shared the dummy with Cecilia Yung, my SCBWI mentor and the Art Director at Penguin Books, who connected me with my editor, Nancy Paulsen, and the three of us worked on revisions to make the story so much better.
I sketch in pencil, and my final artwork is pen and ink, and watercolor.
(Click to enlarge)
The cover was the last piece that we worked on. I gave Nancy and Cecilia a few thumbnail options, and we felt that the scene of her flying with the seeds would have the most movement, making a more eye-catching cover. The working title at that point was The Maple Tree Orphanage.
The book launches this week — on April 4th [from] Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Books!
In addition to picture-books, I create illustrations for middle grade novels and had the honor of working on Holly Black’s new middle grade, Doll Bones (McElderry Books/Simon and Schuster, May 2013). This was a super fun project to work on! I read the manuscript and worked on character development (which my agent, Jen Rofé, gave me a lot of helpful feedback on).
Then came cover ideas: I begin with a few thumbnail options …
…then created a full sketch based on the one we liked the most — and then moved on to the final image.
For the interior illustrations, it’s a lot of fun to hone in on one moment and bring it to life. In this scene, the kids are making their escape from the bus station:
And, in addition to developing some new picture book stories of my own, I’m also working on an awesome picture book by author Mara Rockliff, called The Grudge Keeper (Peachtree), a folk tale-inspired story of the one man in town who collects everyone’s insults, umbrage, and petty complaints, filing them all away in his cottage. I’m just beginning final art stages now. To give you a small glimpse, here are my sketches for Mara’s wonderful cast of characters:
Other projects coming down the pipeline include interior illustrations for Maryrose Wood’s The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book IV (Balzer + Bray), with cover art by Jon Klassen, and a new Kate Milford novel, called Left-Handed Fate (Holt Children’s/MacMillan), a nautical fantasy set in 1813 about the wars in the Atlantic.
A huge thank you to Jules for featuring my artwork on Seven Impossible Things, a wonderful source of inspiration for the children’s book community!
Thanks to Eliza for visiting, but wait … wait … I’m not done!
You can visit her site, by all means, to see more of her artwork, but I want to share more here (with her permission, of course) from her website portfolio, illustration pieces that I’m quite taken with …
And, finally, this one, which is called Evil Squirrel and sent my nine-year-old into near hysterics:
I don’t know about you, but I’d read an entire story about that malevolent rodent.
MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS. Copyright © 2013 by Eliza Wheeler. Published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, New York. All images here reproduced with permission of Ms. Wheeler.
Note for any new readers: 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. New kickers are always welcome.
1) I saw Zero Dark Thirty on DVD this week. I realize the movie was no stranger to controversy, given the torture scenes, which I found hard (okay, impossible) to watch, but what struck me—and what’s kicky—was the main character, Maya. And that’s because … well, this write-up puts it well:
Viewing Zero Dark Thirty I kept waiting for Maya’s story to sideline into one of the subplots typically tacked onto a female professional protagonist. But no love interest turned up. No one questioned her about any maternal yearnings, and her “womanly” emotions never got in the way of her work. Because I find these are often dull and sometimes flat-out offensive, I was elated when I realized Bigelow [the director] had rejected these standard “women” stories.
I mean, really. It’s unusual to see this in films.
2) This a cappella cover of the theme from Game of Thrones (what I think is a really kickin’ piece of music) is lovely. Let’s pretend I do have cable and will be watching the premiere of season three tonight. La la la I’m pretending.
3) This says it all. Leave it to McSweeney’s to make a point so incisively and cleverly with so little.
4) The very dark chocolate brownies with coconut oil that my friend baked.
5) When my youngest, who likes to sleep in my tee shirts, tells me she loves the smell of me and my clothes. (I figure I should treasure these moments, since when she’s a teen it’s possible she might want to have nothing to do with me for a while there.)
6) Watching my daughters master the art of the poker face.
7) I really like Eliza’s art. Clearly.
I hope those of you who celebrate Easter have a great one. What are YOUR kicks this week? Anyone around? I’ll be back later to read kicks — after I hunt for some eggs.