Mel Fell: A Visit with Corey R. Tabor

h1 April 20th, 2021 by jules

Title page spread
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I’ve got a review over at the Horn Book of Corey R. Tabor’s Mel Fell (Balzer + Bray, February 2021), a book that makes me want to snap my fingers and instantly appear in a story time somewhere — because sharing this book will make a child’s day. (Instantly appearing in a story time may actually frighten the poor children, so I’ll be sure to ease into it.)

That review is here if you’d like to read all about the book. Corey also visits today to talk about the book’s genesis and how he created the illustrations for it. I loved reading all about the making of this one, and I’m pleased to share it with 7-Imp readers. Big thanks to Corey for sharing.

Let’s get to it …

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Corey: Thanks for having me on the blog! I’m a longtime fan and truly honored to be here.

I had the idea for Mel Fell while sitting on a bench by a lake. I wasn’t trying to come up with ideas at the time, which tends to be the best way to make them appear. I was just sitting there looking up at a tall old tree growing by the water and wondering how many animals and bugs called it home. That got me thinking about how fun it would be to make a picture book where you get to flip up and down the tree as you turn the pages, and on each spread you see a different animal who lives there.


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Then I imagined a little bird falling from her nest at the top of the tree, and all the other animals desperately trying to catch her. I quickly realized that the bird wasn’t falling from her nest. She was leaping (boldly, confidently)! The rest of the story arrived all at once, and I sketched it out in the tiny notebook I carry around in my back pocket (which is, on occasion, more than just an affectation or something for my two-year-old to snatch while joyfully shouting, “Pick-pocket, Dada! Pick-pocket, Dada!”).


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I knew I had my next picture book idea. (This is a very good feeling.) And it felt like an appropriate follow-up to my previous book, Snail Crossing, which is about a very slow snail trying to cross a road. All the action in Mel Fell, by contrast, takes place over the course of a few seconds.


(Click cover to enlarge)


After I had the story roughly sketched out in my notebook, I made full-sized sketches in pencil [below] and then scanned the drawings into my computer to make adjustments and do some additional sketching in Photoshop.


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Usually at this stage I make a PDF book dummy to send to my editor. For this book, though, I printed it all out and made a physical dummy in order to wrap my head around the format and the twist in the middle.

When it came time to do the final art, I played around with all my paints and pencils and crayons and inks and markers and stuff until I found something that fit the story. I like to do the art a little differently with each book I illustrate, so I tested out tons of options before I settled on acrylic paint and pencil. Most of the art was made with two tubes of cheap acrylic paint I found in the back of a drawer.



I painted everything in either green or red and then changed the colors digitally when I assembled it all in Photoshop. Looking back at it now, two years later, I have no idea why I did it this way, but I’m sure I must have had a (good?) reason at the time.


Painting from the squirrel spread


The final squirrel spread: “The squirrels tried to catch her. …”
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The printed version
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Painting from the water spread


Another painting from the water spread


The final water spread: “Mel dived into the water. …”
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The exception to the two-color thing is the bark of the tree, which I made by combining all of my tubes of block-printing ink. [See below.] I used a rubber roller to smear the colors around on a sheet of watercolor paper until it got nice and muddy. Then I scanned it in and layered it into the illustration in Photoshop.



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Experimenting …
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Back when I first had the idea for Mel Fell, I remember having some doubts about whether my publisher would let me do a book that opens vertically and rotates in the middle. Luckily, I have a wonderful editor who championed the book from the beginning. (Thanks, Donna!) It was such a fun book to make. I hope readers have just as much fun reading it!



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MEL FELL. Copyright © 2021 by Corey R. Tabor. Published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Corey R. Tabor.

3 comments to “Mel Fell: A Visit with Corey R. Tabor”

  1. So great to see this process—gorgeous! It’s waiting for me on my library hold shelf. Can’t wait to see the whole thing!

  2. I just ordered this book for my granddaughter who lives in Germany. I haven’t seen her in 16 months due to the pandemic. She was totally captivated by the book. Thank you!

  3. Oh, good! So glad to hear that. It’s one of my favorites this year.

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