Cabbages! Carrots! Cauliflower!
IN OUR GARDEN, a new picture book out next week from G.P. Putnam’s Sons, has all those veggies plus a heartwarming story of a student with an idea, a school with a rooftop garden, and plants and people that blossom and bloom.
I’m so happy to welcome illustrator Melissa Crowton to Picture Book Builders today to share how she created the art for this book. (And if you want to know more about Melissa’s work, follower her on Instagram at @mcrowton.
What process did you use to create the art for IN OUR GARDEN? Why did you choose to use the materials you did?
For IN OUR GARDEN, I used a mixture of techniques. A lot of my illustration work is done digitally, but because book projects are longer than typical assignments, I knew I wanted to incorporate a mixture of digital and traditional processes to bring a new dimension to the artwork.
I made a lot of textures and marks using pencil, charcoal, and ink, scanned it in, and manipulated it digitally. I also had some old gardening encyclopedias from the 1950s that I used for collage material in the book, so any time you see text or black and white photos in the book, they come from pages in those books.
What sort of research, if any, did you do while you were working on the art? Why did you choose to use the materials you did?
One of my favorite parts of any project is the research portion, and this project was no different. I started off by researching what I wanted the book to look like and feel like. I usually start really broad, with old photos, color palettes, and inspirational art that can direct how I draw the characters and environment. I also knew I needed to research gardens specifically: how they are grown, what their growth cycle is, and equipment people use to grow plants in city environments.
There was a point where I was really struggling to figure out the gardening scenes in the book, and luckily my agent Kirsten Hall had a close friend and family member, Heidi Veres, who is a gardening expert who answered my questions when I most needed the help. I’ll be forever grateful for her input!
What was the most satisfying part of working on this book? The most challenging?
For me the most satisfying and most challenging parts of this book were very similar. I don’t often make a lot of published artwork that features a human cast — my work has a lot of animals in it. I was very excited to work on a project with this diverse set of kids, but I also knew it would be a challenge.
Not only did I need to draw subjects I wasn’t as familiar with, it was also in a city setting, which was also unfamiliar. There were times when I struggled with figuring out the direction of the sketches, but when I was able to nail something, it was extra satisfying.
What do you hope readers will get out of this book?
I hope readers will see how small ideas can easily grow into big ideas. I think it is natural as human beings to think that our contributions don’t make a difference, when in fact, we may never know the change we can inspire both individually and in our own communities . That is one of the things I loved so much about Pat’s text, she captured the simplicity of the story very poetically, while also showing how important it is to advocate for ourselves and our ideas.
Are you a gardener? If so, what do you grow? What do you like about it?
I’m not a gardener myself, unless you count my indoor plants. However, my parents are prolific gardeners. Growing up, we never went a year without something growing in my backyard: potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, corn, zucchini, you name it. We also had a fruit orchard of a dozen or so trees. My siblings and I would pick the fruit and my mother would can and bottle them for storage. I learned early on the hard work that goes into maintaining a garden, and those memories played a big part when I was making this book.
What made you interested in illustrating children’s books? How did you get started?
As a kid, I always really enjoyed drawing. I had a brother who was good at copying cartoons, and I wanted to do the same, so my mom bought me those “how-to-draw” books to get me started. I also liked to read a lot and started writing my own stories.
It wasn’t until I was out of high school and halfway through a different degree at college that I realized my love of illustration, and specifically my love of picture books was an actual job! I switched majors and have never looked back! During my master’s degree, I met my first art director, Rachael Cole, and she gave me my first picture book project. I’ll always be grateful to her for giving me a chance when I was still a nobody at the beginning of my career.
You do cool stuff besides illustrating books — like teaching illustration and working on Google Doodles. Fill us in.
When I was finishing up my master’s degree, someone from the Google Doodle team reached out to find artists to help on their doodle for International Women’s Day that year. My program director knew one of the artists and suggested me, so I was really excited to do work on a project highlighting my interests. About a month later, the same artist on the team mentioned that they had an opening on the team and was wondering if I would like to apply for a job. I applied, got the job, and started right after I graduated.
When I transitioned away from the Google Doodle team into freelancing full time, I started looking for ways to diversify my work day. Freelancing can be lonely, and I wanted to interact with people more, and luckily, the local university was looking for adjunct professors to take over some classes. I never saw myself in the professor role, but I’ve really enjoyed connecting with students and sharing what knowledge I’ve gathered over the years. I still feel like they teach me more than I teach them, but I’m looking forward to seeing what other directions my career will take in the future.
Want to order a copy? And get some swag?
IN OUR GARDEN can be ordered from any bookstore or online bookseller. If you’d like to order copies signed by Melissa and me — and get some cool stickers and bookmarks — visit the website for The King’s English Bookshop, and place your order there.
Some final news!