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This is a special post. A cover reveal! In fact, I get the great honor of sharing the cover of my and illustrator Mags DeRoma‘s picture book, To Make, with her cover art! This picture book will be out in summer 2022 from Harper/Katherine Tegen Books. But let’s get to today’s main event:
Here is the cover of To Make, made by Mags DeRoma!
It is truly every children’s book writer’s dream to behold a cover like this, one they truly love, that feels right, that makes them dance when they see it. That all happened when I saw this stunner. Most importantly, it captures the spirit of To Make.
Because at its heart, our picture book is a manual to inspire kids to make. It celebrates the process and perseverance of creativity and encourages every reader to “keep making.”
And the book’s cover feels to me like those three kids joyfully embarking in that direction. It feels like an invitation, full of possibility.
Lucky for us, Mags DeRoma, artist behind it, is going to answer some questions about the cover and her process of making the art for To Make. She’ll also share about her craft and convictions when creating picture books for kids.
This Picture Book Life: I relate the child on the far right of the cover to you as an artist, with a bundle of art supplies. Will you tell us about your materials for making?
Mags DeRoma: Ha! Yes, I can often be seen with an armful of art supplies and a trail behind me! I simply love to make things, things of all kinds, wherever I find myself, whether it is in my studio, in the kitchen, at the beach, camping, even laying in bed helping my kiddos fall asleep (there, I use words to paint pictures). I am delighted by art supplies both classic and found (old books make for fun collage elements, for instance), so I could make lists for days!
“For this book, I used Blackwing pencils (my fave), graphite, charcoal, soft pastels, newsprint, flea-market found paper, acrylic paint and gouache, sandpaper, and lots and lots of glue.”
TPBL: How did you approach the illustrations for To Make—what was your vision for bringing this story to life?
MagsDeRoma: When I first read the manuscript that you wrote, Danielle, I was so touched by the gentleness, care, and patience of the making process as expressed (among many other things!). I wanted to echo that feeling in the art. It only seemed right to make the “story arc” of the pictures actually “illustrate” the process of making the art of the book.
“At the beginning of the book, the images are rendered in graphite and pencil, and as the pages turn, more materials, colors, and layers are added. There is a sense of building and layering and becoming over the course of the book. Which is what happens when you make.”
The story that must be told here is of a conversation we had over dinner one night, just before you sent me the manuscript. We first connected (gushed) over our mutual reverence for Gyo Fujikawa and her picture books. I have a tattered copy of Come Follow Me from my own childhood that I frequently open for inspiration (and a warm hug).
Gyo is a mentor and a guide, even though I never knew her, and I have so much admiration for the art, and the woman—a bold, talented, and fearless, and huge-hearted woman artist. She could see kids. You can see that in her work. She showed kids from every walk of life, and in the most charming and heartfelt way. So anyone could pick up her books and see themselves in them. And she made everything with an element of magic and whimsy. Pure gold.
“So, the art in To Make is very much inspired by, and an ode to my love of Gyo Fujikawa.”
TPBL: What’s a favorite detail or two about the cover, something meaningful to you? What’s a word or couple of words you’d use to describe it?
MagsDeRoma: I make everything with curious, observant little minds in mind. So I love to put in little details—like random hearts—or even “waves” to my kids in the art. I will tell you one…there is a little graphic on the hat of the third kiddo that is a little “wave” to my son.
“A few words to describe [the cover]—impetus or the birth of an idea, a commencement,
a joyful celebration, an awakening.”
TPBL: “Gather, make, wait” is the main refrain of the text. How do those instructions reflect your own process for To Make or in general as an artist?
MagsDeRoma: I think that refrain was the hook that perfectly harmonized with my feelings on making, and yes, in particular, this book. I grow through art-making, and this book was very much a growth moment for me. I lived by this mantra of ‘gather, make wait’ for several months, gathering ideas and scraps and making sketches and marks and mistakes, and then the funny thing with art, for me, is that you do have to let it steep for a bit. There were several pieces I completely changed or redid after letting them rest a little tucked away on a shelf. And also some that got better with age. 🙂
TPBL: What do you hope to convey to children through the voice of the work you create?
MagsDeRoma:I believe that picture book art is a conversation between the reader and the illustrator. So I hope that kids feel the warm hug that I try to put into all of my art, first. Then, that they receive the permission to make a mess or be gloriously creative, and to be totally present and lost in a project.
I hope they see themselves reflected in the art, whatever that means to them.
“I hope they can feel a glimmer of understanding, the way I did when I first read it. The ‘someone just GETS me’ feeling. Or, they forget everything altogether and just start making things, wonderful things.”
And I hope they feel that their creative pursuits matter, greatly.
TPBL: Please share your path to becoming an illustrator. What are your reflections or even advice as you look back at it from where you are now on the journey?
MagsDeRoma: The path of every creative I know (of allll kinds) has one thing in common—they are all completely unique and different. I have always made art and things and I wrote and illustrated loads of stories growing up. I went to school for sculpture and photography, and then got a job at a photo studio at an ad agency in Chicago. That path led to an unexpected career as a Creative Director in advertising. I left that path several years later when I created Silly Street, a board game for preschoolers. In the process of designing the game, I ended up illustrating a million little animals. I had a 5-year-old at the time, and so this animal-drawing skill came in very handy (I can also now draw all of the Avengers, Pokemon, and dinosaurs, or whatever the whim of the day happened to be…but I digress).
The creation of Silly Street led to a more dedicated and intentional art practice, which lead to a portfolio, then an SCBWI portfolio showcase, which led to an agent (Hannah Mann, Writer’s House), and finally a book deal (Awake, Roaring Brook Press, out Oct 19!).
That is the most hyper-simplified encapsulation of this journey! There were a lot of late nights, coffees, scrambles, piles of discarded attempts, missteps, a hilarious snafu with a portfolio presentation involving 17 hotel sewing kits, and other happy accidents along the way. I wrote my first picture book manuscript/thumbnails on the pages of the 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss when I was in a hotel on a work trip, longing for a more art-driven path (and without paper to draw on!).
The secret for me was consistency and diligence. I just had to make something, every day. I found the #100days community to be super supportive, and a great accountability buddy. I also have a small critique group of picture book makers that has been an invaluable source of support and fun over the years.
Last, I have found it helpful to do my best to employ a student mindset. Everyone is a teacher, especially the little ones entrusting their childhoods to those making picture books! I plan to keep learning and growing forever, in service of them.
Thank you, Mags for this window into your making process, and for the most wondrous and meaningful cover for To Make!
We both are also full of thanks for:
Mabel Hsu, our incredible and truly dream editor at Katherine Tegen Books; Hannah Mann, who boldly and affectionately agented this book for us both; Amy Ryan, ace art director at Harper; Molly Fehr, gifted designer at Harper. This team has worked diligently on and cared deeply for this book from the jump. Thank you.
All photos courtesy Mags DeRoma.