Today I hopped in my DeLorean, fired up the flux capacitor, and went back to 1987, the year I graduated from North Ridge Primary (then Elementary) School in Commack, NY. I met about 150 Kindergarteners throughout the day, and we read PAX AND BLUE and drew silly pictures together. It was so. much. fun.
I had the pleasure of sharing a reading with the wildly talented and absolutely lovely Sujean Rim, author-illustrator of CHEE-KEE, A PANDA IN BEARLAND. It was a really nice pairing, since both of our books are about kindness, empathy, and being a good friend. Sujean and I have so many mutual connections, it was wonderful to finally meet. Thank you to Powerhouse on 8th for packing the place with kids!
I'm sorry, but I have to put on my braggy pants for a moment. The very special Books of Wonder in Manhattan has been displaying my book on the end cap right as you walk in the store! When my friend Jess Townes told me she saw it, I didn't believe her. But there it is! I'm so incredibly grateful to bookseller Joel and the rest of the lovely staff at Books of Wonder for their support.
Some very brave parents packed up the kids and headed into a sleet storm to join me and my pals Pax and Blue for a reading at Stories Bookshop in Brooklyn. Thank you so much to Maggie and her adorable son for hosting us!
I hope readers enjoy this story about empathy and friendship. I’ve been asked a lot of questions about the book and the making of it! Here are answers to some of them:
1. Why is the book so purple?
I love the Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile books. The style, the limited colors, the city. It’s just so great! I especially love how Lyle is just this big, green, bold thing in each piece of art and he really stands out against everything else. Pax and Blue is sort of a modern version of that. I knew, from a design standpoint, that I did not want to use any realistic coloring for any of the characters or the environments. I wanted the main characters to come forward and for their surroundings to recede because the story is not about the city, but a moment between two friends. By blending the background people and scenes together in a wash of the same purple-gray color, it gives a sense of the surroundings, but visually blurs them so the reader can remain focused on the emotions between the two main characters.
2. Did you name Pax after Angelina Jolie’s son? (Question courtesy of my mom)
One of Angelina’s children is named Pax, and I’m sure he is a lovely young man. But he was not the inspiration for the name. (Sorry, mom!) Because I like alliteration, the original title of the book was going to be “P___ and the Pigeon.” I knew I’d need a P name, preferably one syllable. I looked through a ton of baby name lists for inspiration, and saw that Pax means “peace.” Since the character is so calm and thoughtful, it seemed like the perfect name. Naming a picture book child is just as difficult as naming your human child.
3. Why is the book now called Pax and Blue?
My editor and I felt that using the two character names warmed it up and introduced Blue as special, and not just an ordinary pigeon.
4. Pax looks just like Cooper. Is he Cooper?
(Cooper is my older son.) Yes and no! There is definitely a physical resemblance between Cooper and Pax — the glasses give it away — but Pax’s personality is my younger son. This book is for both of my boys, so I put both of them into the character.
5. What will I find if I look under the jacket?
Gah! I LOVE my case cover and fancy spine! Paula Wiseman, my editor, was incredibly supportive of all the design details I wanted. She let me do this 3-piece binding with textured spine, which makes the book feel vintage. All these little things add to the production cost, so it’s not always easy to get them. The foil stamp was a bonus I was not expecting! Be still, my designer heart.
My friend April Lesher is a teacher in Arizona. She works with ASD students and created some FREE lesson plans for ELA and ELL featuring some favorite picture books, including A HOP IS UP. It's such a joy to see our book being used in this way. (And I recently had the pleasure of surprising April's students on screen via the magic of Google Hangouts!)
One of my eagle-eyed friends spotted A HOP IS UP peeking out of the bookshelves in this amazing nursery makeover on 100 Layer Cake-let blog! Photos are by Heather Moore and the styling is by Shannon Althin.
Thank you to students and teachers at Hamilton Park Montessori School in Jersey City! I had the pleasure of spending the morning with all of their kindergarteners. We read A HOP IS UP and played my favorite drawing game -- I start with a prompt, and then the kids call out what we're going to add to our characters. The results are always super creative and funny!
Thank you so much to Riley at Powerhouse on 8th! This special little store in Park Slope is such a neighborhood gem. Our reading of A HOP IS UP was followed by a drawing game... which resulted in a dog with an orange (!!) mohawk drinking a pumpkin spice latte near the subway.
What a picture-perfect fall day in Princeton! This book fair is bustling and oh-so-much fun to attend. Every last one of our board books of A HOP IS UP went home with adorable kiddos. Thank you so much to Princeton Public Library and JaZams for a wonderful day!
I've been going to BookCourt as a customer for the past 11 years. To be there for my own book event was so, so amazingly FUN (and mind-blowing!) Thank you to Aubrey and the rest of the BookCourt team for being such lovely hosts to me and A HOP IS UP. Friends and family, you are amazing.
I had the pleasure of being part of September Picture Book Bonanza alongside Jon Agee, David Soman, and Todd Kessler at the iconic Books of Wonder in Manhattan. It was a fun surprise to top off our panel presentation with CUTE PUPPIES (!!!) from R.E.A.D., a literacy organization that uses therapy dogs to help children with reading. The kids got to share our books with these adorable, furry friends.
Even sweeter is this note that just came to my inbox:
"My son stayed up late last night and I couldn't figure out why. This morning, I discovered he was drawing the dog from your book! He was practicing it over and over. I've never seen him do this before ... You inspired him!"
You can order signed copies of A HOP IS UP from the Books of Wonder website.
I love making illustrated notes. This summer, I immortalized our family vacation as a visual journal in the pages of my Moleskine. People think this is hard to do, but, it's not... I promise! It IS NOT about perfection -- it IS about documenting something you want to remember. Here's a little behind-the-scenes look at how I created this travel journal:
I start by quickly jotting down some notes. Very messy notes. I scribble down what we did each day, something funny that happened, quotes, objects... anything I would want to remember. Ideally, I write down the notes at the end of each day so I don't forget anything, but, that doesn't always happen, especially when traveling with kids. I didn't write any notes until day 4 of this trip... whoops.
I start on a clean page and draw the title -- usually in the top left corner, and then fill in the drawing to the right and down. There's no real reason why I do it this way, it's just my preference. The title can also go in the middle, and the drawing will fill in around it.
Now comes the fun part! This is like doodling on the back of your notebook in 7th grade. I refer back to the notes and start filling in the page with detail. I try to make the details as rich as possible, so that the memory will be equally rich. Documenting the littlest of moments is what makes it interesting!
I write in different lettering styles, use words for some memories, and draw objects for others. I draw things close together because I like the density, and my drawings seem to get more dense as I do them. I fill in any holes with dots, expression lines, stars, and other random doodles. I play with scale by making the drawings larger and smaller. As I go, I use markers (list of tools later in the post!) to add shading and visually separate the objects. Think of it as a visual brain dump. There's no planning... just drawing.
Sometimes I finish a page or spread in one sitting, and sometimes the drawing builds over several days.
....And that's it! I keep going until I fill up the entire spread all the way to the edges, and then I turn the page and begin again. Voila. I got our entire 11-day adventure into these three spreads. My kids really enjoy exploring all the details and finding their cameo appearances in the drawings!
I use pens only (no erasing allowed!) I like Microns in varying weights for line, and Faber Castell PITT markers for shading (but sometimes I use a brush.) If I make a "mistake," I just keep going and work it into the drawing. The lines will be wonky, my renderings will be imperfect, I'll forget something and have to sneak it into the drawing later... but that's why it's fun.
I always use a hardcover Moleskine notebook -- either the regular unlined drawing paper, or the books with watercolor paper (the thicker, toothy paper is really nice.) A hardcover notebook is helpful when drawing in the wild, where I may not have a good surface to lean on.
Tips and Tricks
Are you ready to make your own journal this summer? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. I feel strongly that the travel journal should be completed while traveling, and not at home. The energy of travel comes through in the drawing. I work quickly so I can finish it all in the duration of the trip. And for my fellow parents asking, "WHEN the hell do you this while traveling?!" -- I feel you. My kids are at a good age where I'm not constantly running after them. I suggest you steal time when they are asleep on a flight, late night, or early morning. Or just hide in the bathroom with your sketchbook. :)
2. Don't be afraid of the gutter (which is the middle of the book, where it folds.) Sometimes it is tricky to draw around. Don't get nervous, just pretend it's not there, and keep going! I like to draw right over it, and have my artwork extend across the entire spread.
3. If you really don't know where to begin, draw yourself a tool box of elements you can keep reusing -- different types of lines, shapes, type styles. You'll see that I often use the same shadowed hashed line element to separate the days of travel. No pressure to think of something new. Just use what you've already done!
Now, go draw! I have more illustrated live notes and journals here for inspiration.
So exciting to find proofs of my friends PAX AND BLUE in my mailbox upon returning from vacation. It's thrilling to see the next step in the process of these two becoming a book! Holy moly... what started as a class project in 2013 will be published in Feb 2017, and is now available for pre-order!
This year I got to work with a repeat client, the Consulate General of Switzerland, on their program ad for the Northside Festival in Brooklyn. We updated the art to include all the cool stuff at their booth this year!
It was a super-fun dream come true to bring proofs of A HOP IS UP to my son's class for a visit! His gracious teachers let me take over the class for 45 minutes. We started out with a show of hands to see how many authors and illustrators are in the class... looks like a lot to me!
Holden, my trusty assistant, got to wear the special dog cap I made to match the book.
We shared a couple of easter eggs hidden in the book (shhh... don't tell anyone.)
Sometimes the pencil sketches can look different from the final art in the book. Holden is showing one of the sketches for this page, and I asked the kids to spot the differences!
Next up - doggie drawing demo.
Then we got to work creating our very own dogs! It was inspiring to see what designs the kids came up with: yellow dogs, striped dogs, rainbow dogs, dogs with spots, dogs with names on their collars... SO fun!
While getting ready for a group photo, the kids showed off their adorable dogs for my friend and photographer Tory Williams and we all made our best doggie 'woof' sounds!
Remember to look for A HOP IS UP (by Kristy Dempsey and illustrated by me) in both hardcover and board book in stores September 13. You can also pre-order now!
Hey children's book enthusiasts... I've designed some products for us! I'm a fan of the totes (look for me wearing both of these at SCBWI Winter Conference!) but this art is also available as prints and pillows. More designs are coming soon... Click here to buy these totes on Society6!