Illustrating Poems in the Attic

Posted March 31st, 2015

Poems in the AtticA picture book is not complete without the art, and I’ve been fortunate to have my books illustrated by some of the finest artists in the children’s book business.

My newest picture book, Poems in the Attic, was illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Recently, I asked her a few questions about this project, and why she chose it. She responded by giving me a peek into her process! Enjoy.

Q: What made you want to illustrate this book?

A: I really identified with the theme of travel during childhood! I was born in Albany, NY, but my father is from the Ivory Coast, West Africa. My family and I lived there until I was twelve years old but came back to the States almost every summer, so it seems like we were always hopping on a plane to go somewhere! I also identified with the daughter learning about her mother’s life through her childhood poems. When I was in college, I was given a box of letters written by my mother to her parents while she was in college. I discovered that my mother and I had a lot of the same thoughts and feelings about life!

Elizabeth Zunon

Elizabeth Zunon, illustrator

Q: What were your primary challenges in creating the art for Poems in the Attic?

Making sure that the mother looked like herself, slowly aging from childhood to teenage-hood to adult-hood on the last page took a lot of little tweaks. Also, keeping the two stories separate on each page was a very interesting design challenge to solve. But it was great fun! Illustrating each page was like trying to put together a puzzle.

Q: Do you find poetry easier or harder to illustrate than prose?  Why/why not?

Yes, I do find poetry a little easier to illustrate than prose. I find that my mind’s eye wanders a bit further while reading poetry, giving me more freedom when I’m making the corresponding art.

Q: What was your process for creating the art for Poems in the Attic?

I first looked at many reference photos of the places in the book, as I’d never been to most of them. ( I did go to New Mexico and visit the White Sands National Monument after finishing the book, though!) Next, I drew little thumbnail sketches (with very simple shapes) of each page to figure out the design and composition of each image. I then took photographs of myself posing as the characters in each illustration so I would have realistic reference images to work from. I drew detailed sketches for each page, then transferred my sketches to special paper and proceeded to paint the illustrations. Lastly, when all of the oil paint was dry, I added cut paper collage elements to the illustrations featuring the little girl reading her mother’s poems.

Elizabeth Zunon

Elizabeth Zunon in the midst of an illustration for Poems in the Attic, featured here with the permission of Elizabeth Zunon.

Q: What do you have coming up next?

I’m working on a book about a little girl spending time with her great-grandmother, who is very prickly and a little scary on the outside. The girl learns that great-grandmother is this way because of all of the history she has lived through as an African-American growing up in the United States. It will be published by Lerner in 2016.