Hello Lighthouse: A Visit with Sophie Blackall

h1 April 17th, 2018 by jules



 

I’ve got a review over at BookPage of Sophie Blackall’s beautiful Hello Lighthouse (Little, Brown, April 2018). That is here, if you’d like to read more about the book.

Here at 7-Imp, Sophie visits to tell me a bit about the book, her research for it, and her process. I thank her for visiting and sharing lots of art. Let’s get right to it.



 

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Sophie: This [below] was the lithograph which started it all. I bought it at the Brooklyn flea market, and it got me thinking about what it might have been like to live in a lighthouse. It stayed in a drawer until I figured out how I might make it into a book.

 



 

I have always loved cutaways and had a poster of a cross-section of a house on my bedroom wall as a child.

I painted this twice the size of the book, so I could get the detail in the tiny rooms.

 


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I made this paper to wrap a book I was giving to [editor] Susan Rich when I was selling her on the idea of a lighthouse book. Not exactly subtle, but she fell for it.

 


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Before I could begin writing, I thought I’d better go and stay in a lighthouse. I’d been looking for an excuse for years. The one I chose was the Quirpon Island Light off the Northernmost tip of Newfoundland, Canada. It is visited by icebergs and whales and is full of stories. It had everything I was looking for in a lighthouse.

 


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I delved deep into coastguard archives and lighthouse museums, looking for visual references for fresnel lenses and keepers’ uniforms and logbooks.

 



 

I learned how important the supply ships or tenders were to life on a lighthouse. Tenders were all named after flowers. [Below] is the Tulip.

 




 

And then I needed to find my family. I painted them posing for their wedding picture. This never appears in the book but helped set them in my mind.

 


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These [below] were the first set of thumbnail drawings, where I figured out I wanted to alternate between exterior and interior views. I decided to keep the steadfast lighthouse in one place and have everything change around it — weather and seasons and light and time. And the interiors I drew in circular vignettes — to echo the round rooms of the lighthouse, the confined spaces which begin to expand through the book with love and life.

 


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When the woman goes into labor, the circle grows in the center of the book and fills the spread with the joy (and relief) a newborn child brings [below].

 



“Inside the lighthouse, the woman walks around and around the room. Her husband boils water and helps her breathe in and out. He tends the light and writes in the logbook. …”
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“… and notes the birth of their child.”
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The scene where the keeper falls ill and the woman takes over his work (in addition to her own) was an important one to get right. I wanted to convey the sense that she was “everywhere all at once.” But I suddenly realized this book about a lighthouse was missing a view of its most dramatic architectural element, the spiral staircase that the inhabitants went up and down all day and all night long. I thought the stairs could do just as much as the variety of vignettes.

 


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But I couldn’t decide which view was more effective. . . .

 



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We went back and forth and up and down and finally decided on this one. . . .

 


“One dawn, the keeper begins to sneeze; by dusk he is terribly ill. His wife is everywhere all at once, running up and down the spiral stairs. She tends the light and feeds him broth and chips ice off the lantern room windows. She sits by his side and
writes in the logbook the minute his fever breaks.”

(Click to enlarge spread)

[Below] was the original final scene of the book. The family’s new house with all sorts of clues about their new life and, through the open door, a glimpse of the old lighthouse.

 


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But we missed seeing the family. If you look closely, you’ll find all the things from the endpapers and things they brought with them from their old life.

 



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The cover is always the last and, sometimes, the most difficult part of making a book. I knew I wanted Hello Lighthouse to look a bit like these 19th century gold-foil-stamped covers. I used them as inspiration for the composition and lettering on the cover.

 


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There’s a surprise under the dust jacket, but you’ll have to wait and see!

 



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Susan Rich: It’s true that Sophie presented me with a book wrapped in a lighthouse. The painting now hangs outside my office:

 


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Can you spot the detail that sealed the deal?

 


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Please don’t tell Sophie that I really don’t need any more wooing to publish her glorious work, as I still have some wall space to fill.

Sophie: Ha! And I realize I have said “I, I, I” throughout those captions, which ought to be “we, we, we” — because this was in every way a collaboration, just like Finding Winnie. [Ed. Note: See this 2015 post.] You won’t be surprised to see the book is dedicated to Susan Rich — editor, friend, beacon of light.

* * *

Here’s Sophie, discussing the book. . . .

* * * * * * *

HELLO LIGHTHOUSE. Copyright © 2018 by Sophie Blackall. Published by Little, Brown, New York. All images reproduced by permission of Sophie Blackall.





9 comments to “Hello Lighthouse: A Visit with Sophie Blackall”

  1. What a stunning and detailed picture book! We are lucky to have Sophie Blackall in the children’s book world. Her illustrations are unique and beautiful. Blackall’s family illustrations do remind me of another great-Garth Williams. Mighty fine company.


  2. I love to see the work that goes into a picture book. The research and the thought and agonizing that goes into the illustrations. (and for me, into the writing!)


  3. Oh, my . . . I love this post with Sophie discussing her illustrative process and her decisions. I will gladly include a link to this in my blog post.


  4. I love lighthouses and love the conceit of the circular rug following them all the way through, and the spiral stairs.


  5. Two of our favorites together: Sophie + 7 Imp! Lovely post.


  6. God, this could well be her most ravishing book of all. Thank you for these fabulous progressive illustrations. Hoping to see her at this morning’s second Brooklyn appearance!


  7. I am so late commenting on this beautiful book. Thank you for creating it, Sophie Blackall! thanks for sharing it, Jules.


  8. What a wonderful post.


  9. I’m interested in using your art that you used to cover a book, for a singing event at our church. The event is called the “Lighthouse Songbook”, and we will be performing songs from the Red Mountain Songbook and Indelible Grace. I love your art, and will give credit if I may use it. Please let me know.


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