Sometimes, there’s that person in your life who just gets you. Your BFF. Your bestie. Your boo. Maybe they’re someone you’ve known forever. Maybe you’ve only just met. You might love them platonically. Or romantically. They might live close by. Or far away.
Eliza Wheeler and I — with some help from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers — have created a book celebrating that ride-or-die person who makes everything better. It comes out March 1, and today, Eliza is joining Picture Book Builders to talk about how she created the classic, yet contemporary art for this book. She even asks me some questions, too.
Hi Eliza, how did you get the idea for the wonderful art in WHEN I’M WITH YOU?
This being the third book I’ve illustrated of yours, I’ve learned that the best way to read a “Pat” manuscript is not to breeze over the doc attached to the email, but to print it out on paper to read it. That way, I can take it to a comfy chair and make notes with a red pen in the margins during my very first reading.
What I already know I love best about your writing is that you leave so much space for the visual story, and so I want to capture anything that comes to mind on the first (and freshest) read-through. I write notes in a stream of consciousness — artistic influences, questions, visual imagery that comes to mind, possible directions for the story.
I just noticed when re-reading my first batch of notes that I was trying to work out the “when and where” of the story while reading all the variety of topics from stanza to stanza, and was visualizing all these pairs of characters in haphazard locations. And then, mid-way through the reading, I had the idea of a shared sort of summer camp location (which I circled and starred, which means it was a “hell yes!” idea). That evolved a bit and became a shared backyard, but that helped me find the connecting thread visually –we’re in a shared real world with all these pairs of kids, but then we launch into their imagined adventures, as pairs but also as a group of friends. It’s kind of all there from the start, which is fun to see!
I’d love to throw this question back at you, Pat! I’m wondering about the origin of this text idea, and also, did you have more stanzas to choose from that you had to cut out, and if so, how did you know what to leave in and what to cut?
Like many good ideas, I got this one while I was taking a shower. I got pretty far along in my head before I got out, dried off and started typing. Then, over several months, I wrote a ton of stanzas about friendship. I definitely had too many, so then I spent a lot of time choosing the strongest ones and finding ways to connect them seamlessly. And, because this book rhymes, there was a lot of polishing and refining after I chose the stanzas I wanted to make sure the meter and rhymes were as creative and polished as I could make them.
Back to you, Eliza! What materials did you use to create the art? Did you do anything new and different with the art for this book?
I did do something new and different for this art. I knew that I wanted to let my process be more free and fun and experimental for this book, and I was also inspired by a lot of mid-century children’s art, which was often created in color separations and combined during the printing process.
While I couldn’t do that old technique, exactly, I decided to try painting and drawing all the pieces separately with acrylic and crayon on sheets of vellum, as well as watercolor washes on paper, and compiling and coloring them in digital layers. This new process brought in a lot of fun and flexibility, but, as it goes with most experiments, I underestimated the sheer amount of time it would take.
More than half of the way through the art deadline, I could see that I was never going to finish on time! So, I had to pivot and bring in more digital drawing and painting techniques than I’ve previously ever used. I ended up buying a Wacom Cintiq – which is essentially a large computer screen that you draw directly onto – to aid in the process, and it was a lifesaver.
Which spreads are you most proud of? Which were the most challenging?
I would say I’m most proud of the connections and relationship between the spreads, vs. any particular spread on its own. This was probably the most challenging part of the book — figuring out how to weave everything together into a cohesive visual story.
For example, it took a lot of figuring out how to create a shared play space for the characters in the book while also giving them their own little unique areas of play. Sometimes, they’re off in their pairs. Other times, they’re all together as a group. I had to work a lot on continuity of the “set design,” the backgrounds. We see their play trees from different angles in different scenes, and getting those to work across all compositions was a bit of a puzzle to work through.
You dedicated this book to “Maddelyn — Because all this started with you.” Tell us more about that.
My niece Maddelyn was born when I was in college, and as a birth present, I made a little book about and for her. It was my first go at writing and illustrating a children’s book, and so it has all the hallmarks of an amateur effort (lesson-based writing, not structured in 32 pages, derivative of other storytellers’ works), but it was a sweet experience that planted the seed that I might try to learn more about illustrating books.
Tell us about a memorable moment with a friend that you had growing up.
I can’t think of just one particular story, but my first friend memories would be with my cousin, Kristin. We were born several months apart and lived near each other, so she was my first playmate. She was more physically daring, while I was a more physically timid kid.
She ran down gravel roads barefoot and charged up trees while I followed her, sort of “ouching” along the way. I’m grateful I had her to pull me from my very small comfort zone. I love those memories of roaming free with my brothers and a gaggle of cousins — climbing, swimming, exploring — these are the memories that fuel a lot of my work today, and I definitely got to channel a lot of that into the art for WHEN I’M WITH YOU!
Pat, how about you? Can you share a childhood friend memory?
I grew up on a very short street that connected two busier streets. We didn’t get much traffic, so the neighborhood kids used the street to play kickball and kick the can. We also set off a ton of fireworks in the street every July 4. The rule was, we could stay outside until the streetlights came on, and then we had to go home. I had a lot of fun with my brother and sister and the Weber and Gosz families on our block.
Eliza, each of your three books with me has a distinct color palette. Oranges and reds for WHEREVER YOU GO, blues and yellows for WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE, and greens and pinks for WHEN I’M WITH YOU. How much thought did you give to having similarities or a sense of connection between the three titles? Was it important to you that they look like they go together?
They do have distinct color palettes — I think for our first two books the colors were led more purely by the stories, and so for this third one, I wanted the book to have its own color identity too. I see them sort of as cousin books to each other; they’re all journeys of their own sort.
WHEREVER YOU GO is a physical journey along the roads of the world, WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE is an emotional journey from timidity to bravery, and I see this book as a journey into the imagination of these friends. To keep them all connected, we chose the same trim size for all three, and the front cover designs all have similar placements of the curved horizon lines and main characters. I feel they have shared spirits!
Pat, when you wrote the books, did you ever see these stories as being connected? Or did that just happen organically in the coming together of the books?
I did not see them as being connected, but when I wrote them, I felt that each of them sounded like an “Eliza book.” They had a spirit that seemed as if it fit well with your illustration style. And, I like that while they clearly go together, they also completely stand alone as individual titles.
Hey! Want to win a book?
If you’d like to be entered in a giveaway to win a copy of WHEN I’M WITH YOU, leave a comment on this post telling us something about a friend you have. And, if you want an extra entry, share a link to this post on Twitter using hashtag #whenimwithyou.
Want to pre-order a copy?
You can pre-order WHEN I’M WITH YOU from:
Mystery to Me: An Independent Bookstore. If you order from here, I’ll sign the book! If you’d like it made out to someone in particular, add that info in the “Other Comments” box. They ship almost anywhere. Eliza and I will do a free, virtual event Thursday, March 3 with the store. Visit the Events page and scroll down for details.
Any other independent bookstore. If you want to find one near you, this link takes you to IndieBound. Eliza and I also are fond of The Red Balloon in St. Paul, Minnesota. We’ll likely be doing a virtual story time with them in early March.
You also can request the book from your local public library.
Special congratulations to Picture Book Builders’ very own Andrea Wang and illustrator Jason Chin for WATERCRESS winning the Caldecott, a Newbery Honor, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. This book also earned a gorgeous handful of stars. Andrea and Jason — you’re awesome, and so is the book you made.
Lovely! I can’t wait to read this book about besties! One of my besties doesn’t even live close, but about 3 hours away. We met as college roommates and have been getting together to stamp, hike, eat, and talk for the 40+ years since. EEK. Besties are the best! Congrats!
I simply love this! Friendship is such a gift. We moved a lot when I was young so I had lots of different “new” friends all through my school yaers.
I’ve had 54 years with one of my best friends. We don’t get to see each other or even talk very often perhaps 4 times a year. But when we do – it is like all time drops away.
Perhaps it is why friendship books are among my favorites.
Both new to living in the country, Roxanne and I became fast friends. Both of us asked our parents for a pony. (Isn’t that what all kids who live in the country do?) Roxanne’s parents told her, “If Joyce gets a pony, you can get one, too.”
Taffy sealed the deal for me and then for Roxanne. My parents went to a farm auction and brought home Taffy, a $25 Shetland pony. Soon after, Roxanne’s backyard was filled with Lucky pony love, too.
Everyday, the four of us (Joyce and Roxanne, Taffy and Lucky) trotted from home to home, packing down the grass in the ditch along Hwy. I. Looking back now, I realize that our 4-H horse project leader’s farm sits half way between our homes – on the corner of where U and I meet.
Love this, Joyce!
Reading this post transported me back to meeting my childhood best friend, who’s now essentially a family member (even though I once used a rock to cut a wad of gum out of her hair.) Can’t wait to get a copy of the book – looks like another gorgeous, heartfelt collaboration! Congrats!!
Reading this post transported me back to growing up with lots of kids around in my neighborhood. I always had friends to play kickball, football, tag, hide and seek, or just ride bikes. One of my current friends is always there to listen and I try to reciprocate.
Pat and Eliza, congratulations!!! I love friendship books and look forward to reading When I’m with You. And what a lovely collection you’ve made together!
Love the peek inside the processes. And I love how the best ideas wash in on water.
Thank you so much Pat and PBBs for having me here to share about the art for WHEN IM WITH YOU! (If my name gets drawn for the giveaway, redraw please! ?)
Looks wonderful! Congrats on all your sweet books!
Congrats, Pat and Eliza! I just tweeted and I’d love to win a copy.
I have a friend from when I used to live in Canada, and even though I moved away six years ago, we text each other almost every day and also send each other snail mail.
I can’t wait for this new book! And today I’m SUPER excited because I’m making a surprise visit home – and the only one who knows is my best friend from high school. I can’t wait to see him again! He’s always got my back, and always happy to see me.
This book looks lovely! I am blessed to still be friends with someone I met in junior high. We may be miles apart but we are always there for each other.
I left behind some very good friends when I moved to a different state a year ago and am adjusting to not being to meet for coffee and adventures on a whim. It looks like there’s plenty to enjoy in this book–I love how the three seem like they belong together, tho they actually look different in many ways, and I can’t wait to take a gander at the rhyme!
I love everything about this post and I know I’m going to love this book. I’m already thinking of the friends that need this book.
This looks lovely, just like the other two. Congratulations!
My closest friends live in different states than I do so there is a lot of time between visits. I meet up with one particular friend from college every so often for a girls trip and those have been some of the best memory makers.
What a great interview. My best friend is my first cousin, too. I think I need to get this book for her.
This is the magic that occurs when you bring two incredibly talented and creative people together.
I appreciate the writing friends who I talk with online. I hope that someday, we’ll meet in person! (Sharing your post on Twitter, too.)
Pat, I wish an idea would come to me in the shower. Lucky you!…And congratulations on another wonderful book!
I’ve known my longest best friend since we were six years old. She is my childhood; I am her childhood. What a sweet picture book!!
This looks wonderful! It is beautifully written and illustrated!
I enjoyed the interview! Congratulations!
Reading this was such a joy on so many levels: recalling besties growing up, those with whom I share memories of time spent together, and the peek you’ve given us into a collaboration of creators who clearly enjoy one another! Thank you! I look forward to holding this story in my hands!
Great interview! Looking forward to reading this next book! Congrats!
Wonderful interview! My friend Alison and have been bfs since the 4th grade when she moved to my town. We have the same sense of humor that has bonded us forever. Can wait to read your book Pat and see all the beautiful illustrations Eliza!!! Thank you for sharing your insights!
Thanks for the interesting backstory. I’d love to be in the giveaway!
I am truly lucky because I married my best friend!
Thanks for sharing about this post. I especially love seeing the progression of the spreads. So cool! When I was in high school, my best friend and I did absolutely everything together and our speech team coach would just call our names together when he was doing roll call. He knew if one of us was there, the other was too. 🙂
It’s always so interesting to read the story behind the story. Thank you for sharing and best of luck with the book launch!
Thanks for the wonderful post and behind the scenes look at its creation. Of my best friends and I were born one day apart, in the same hospital. We didn’t meet until kindergarten, but since then we’ve been friends for almost 50 years. We’ve been in different states for more than half of the time but as others have said, when we do get together, none of that matters!
Thank you for sharing this fascinating glimpse at your process! Every bit of it is helpful from the reveal of Pat’s original document covered with Eliza’s notes to the raw look at the art separations. You two make a great team.
Loved this post! Can’t wait to check out the post. I knew my best friend in elementary school was a keeper because she always picked out all the my favorite color gummy bears from her bag and saved them for me 🙂
I have had a best friend for 69 years now:) We haven’t physically seen each other for over 7 years; however, we email and call, send cards, and write longer letters, too. It is so good to reminisce with her about all our years of friendship.
Awesome interview! I’m such a huge fan. Thanks for sharing your process! 🙂 My best friend and I met at a mommy’s group when our first borns were born — turns out they were born on the same day! It’s been amazing to “grow up” together, watching our kids blossom into young adults.
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What a terrific author and illustrator interview! It’s so fascinating to look behind the scenes at the creation of books, and Pat’s books are some of the best to learn from.