Breathe: A Visit with Scott Magoon

h1 April 29th, 2014 by jules

“Listen to the sea. Sing.”
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Hi, all. Author-illustrator Scott Magoon is visiting 7-Imp today to talk about creating the artwork for his newest picture book, Breathe (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, April 2014). This is the story of a young whale, learning independence, while exploring his watery world, and even facing danger — but always with mama whale by his side. Scott, among other things, discusses his color choices below in these digital illustrations, and the colors in the final art (he shares them here without the text in them) are one of my favorite things about this book. It’s a book Kirkus calls in their starred review “richly composed and sweetly appealing — just right for baby storytimes as well as one-to-one sharing.”

I’m gonna get right to it. By this time on a normal day, I’d have done maybe four to five very possible things before lunch, but I’ve got a very unwelcome flu of some sort, and this may be all that I accomplish today. (I crawled to my computer in very distinct stages.) But it’s a good one thing to accomplish — to share some of Scott’s art from this sweet story.


Color Development

Above is an early color attempt. I think something like this could’ve worked. It’s definitely more painterly, but it’s less luminous, which is something I wanted to capture in the art. There’s something about a glowing iceberg or beluga underwater. This approach wouldn’t have supported that as well, I don’t think.

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An early color experiment. I was thinking it could work to have super flat color, but I quickly abandoned this as soon as I realized it would make for a VERY dull book, visually.

Early Whale Types

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Breathe started out as a narwhal story. Something about the narwhal’s horn (actually its a long tooth!) didn’t fit with the softness of this story.

Then it was a sperm whale, but I didn’t want such an iconic whale. I wanted something arctic and different. Finally, I settled on a beluga.


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I wanted to capture a close relationship between baby beluga and mom here. And introduce his little fans, the Puffins.

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I was looking to include a little of the fantastic here, the second of two such moments in the book (the other is “Sing”). I wanted the whale to appear as though he was sleeping, dreaming, and flying.


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Life can’t be all rosy for these two belugas, and so I had to introduce conflict into the story. At first it was a squid, but as I changed the whale to a beluga whale, its natural predator is a polar bear.


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I had to include a shipwreck. Its really the only instance of man’s existence in the story.

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Maybe the ship was once a whaling vessel?


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Breathing and singing are so inexorably linked (especially in humans). I wanted to include a singing spread. Of course, like all of the spreads in Breathe, “singing” represents something else. Here it represents being creative, expressing yourself. Belugas are also known as the “canaries of the sea,” because they are such frequent singers. I really like that and wanted it in the book.

Some Final Art

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“Most of all, love and be loved.”
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* * * * * * *

BREATHE. Copyright © 2014 by Scott Magoon. Published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, New York. All images here used by permission of Scott Magoon.

8 comments to “Breathe: A Visit with Scott Magoon”

  1. Aw, look at that last spread — mama and baby, so sweet. Love it. Thanks for all the interesting developmental notes, Scott. You nailed the luminosity in the spreads. Gorgeous cover!

    And feel better soon, Jules.

  2. This is a whale of a post!
    Thanks for sharing all these great images. Can’t wait to check out the book, it looks lovely.

  3. Sending you another round of feel-better-soon thoughts, Jules. Rest up, and recuperate.

    Singing and breathing: Two very important things for me.

  4. Loving this. And now I want that book. FEEL BETTER!!

  5. Thanks for your kind words, everyone. I hope Breathe brings a little peace to the kids’ bedtimes. Jules, hope you’re feeling better. 🙂

  6. Lovely illustrations! Feel better Jules!!!!

  7. […] a moment to read about Scott Magoon’s process in creating the artwork for this book over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Apparently this story was once going to be about a narwhal. I kind of wish that had […]

  8. Hi Jules! Not sure if you get notifications for comments on old posts, but I just wanted to say that this book (randomly picked up at the library) has been a bedtime favourite here recently and I was curious about the illustrations. I of course came straight here and was delighted to read your post above. So thank-you 🙂

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