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Monday, August 5, 2013

One Word Pearl and the Beautifully Full of Words Hazel Mitchell

by Amy Allgeyer Cook

Today, I'm super happy to be interviewing my dear friend and fellow Turbo Monkey Hazel Mitchell, whose latest illustrations hit the shelves last week in the darling new picture book One Word Pearl, written by Nicole Groeneweg.

So, Hazel, give us the pitch for One Word Pearl.

Pearl loves words. All kinds of words. Words make up songs, stories, poems . . . and what does a lover of words do? She collects them, of course!

But one day most of Pearl’s words are blown away, leaving her only a few which she keeps safely in her treasure chest. After that day she uses each word carefully—one at a time, until she has no words left. When her teacher asks her questions at school, she doesn’t answer. When her friend wants to know what she has for lunch, she can’t respond. What will Pearl do without her precious words? Will she ever find them?

One Word Pearl explores the power of words to transform, inspire, and cultivate imagination. This whimsical story is the winner of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Children’s Book Competition in the Picture Book category.

(ISBN 978-1-934133-53-8 $17.95 HC  -- Ages 5–8)

It sounds fantastic. What’s your favorite part of the story?

I have to say I really love the part when all Pearl's words go crazy and she has to figure out what to do to get them back. Then it gets a bit moody and I loved having some darkness enter the book. I also like the end .. but I won't give that away!

A picture book with a little darkness...I love it! So, how did you get started with the illustration process? Did you have any input from the author or publisher?

No, I worked with the publisher after I completed the rough sketches, but the concept and ideas were all mine. The writing gave me lots of clues about Pearl though. Her love of words, her sassiness and she's a bit stroppy! (Bit like me really). I always saw Pearl as from an Asian ethnicity, with lots of thick black hair. Maybe 'Pearl' sounded Asian to me. I also wanted her to have a friend, as a lot of the images are solitary, so I gave her a kind of colourful parakeet who reflects her emotions. I really got to love that bird. He doesn't have a name, he's just her companion throughout the book. So my first task when starting a book is to find out who the MC is, what they look like, what they wear, where they come from. I had a lot of fun with Pearl's clothes which are pretty sassy, just like her! I also wanted the book to reflect her love of words (after all that is what it is about) so I used a lot of paper textures and there are letters which follow her around. Maybe they are real, maybe not. I don't know! After the character sketches are approved I do little thumbnails and then bigger layouts, and then a more finished layout. There are about 3 - 4 redrawings till I get to the final drawings and colouring.

Sounds a lot like writing revisions! (And revisions. And revisions)

What medium /technique did you use for the illustrations?

I used a real mixed bag, and it was a lot of fun!! I am a bit of a chameleon as far as style is concerned and it really depends on the book and the feel of it. I think the Eastern origin of Pearl along with the abstract feel of the use of words gave me clues. I wanted to use papers and textures, so I scanned in to photoshop - rice paper, handmade paper, crumpled up paper, torn papers and then had a lot of fun creating backgrounds for the action with them. I hope they give a feeling of continuity throughout the book, especially on the more abstract spreads. All the line work is hand-drawn and I created washes in watercolour and put everything together in photoshop. Some of the images have over 125 layers and took a while to create. I also used collage, especially for the 'words'. The end pages might be my favorites though - I spent about a week of evenings cutting words out of magazines and papers and piecing them together for the end pages, scanning them and changing the colour to a light purple .. and then added in Pearl's little bird! I hope the children have fun reading all the words and making up their own stories.

125 layers!?? Holy monkeys! Did you have a deadline? What was the schedule like?

It was pretty tight. The art finished in 3 months. And somewhere I managed Christmas.

What’s next on your schedule--aside from next Christmas?

I am happy to say I am beginning work on a new book for Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press which is totally different to Pearl! But there WILL be a lot of colour and texture I can promise! It's due to hit the stores in Fall 2014. I am also working on a graphic noivel and an MG mystery novel in my spare time. (grin). I am not sure about Christmas.

I know I'm not the only one who'd love to see you. Do you have any conferences / workshops coming up?

I will be presenting at the NESCBWI Illustrator's Day in Manchester, NH on November 2nd, and at Princeton Book Festival in New Jersey Sept 21. I am also part of the SPARK exhibition in Kennebunk, ME from August to October which includes Maine's stellar illustrators: Chris Van Dusen, Matt Tavares, Dahlov Ipcar, Cathryn Falwell and Wade Zahares. http://rivertreearts.org/irvine-gallery/current-events-exhibits/

Where can we find out more about your work? And the author of One Word Pearl, too?

Nicole Groeneweg is an award-winning teacher and author of teacher resource books. She regularly conducts in-services for teachers. One Word Pearl is her first picture book. She lives in Lorton, Virginia.

Hazel Mitchell is the award winning illustrator of Hidden New Jersey, 1,2,3 by the Sea, How to Talk to an Autistic Kid amongst other books. Hazel lives and works from her studio in Maine. You can visit her online at www.hazelmitchell.com and on Facebook, Twitter @thewackybrit and all those other places :-)

Favorite dessert?

Creme Brulee served by a man in a kilt.


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