I’m very excited to discuss today’s book with both the author and the illustrator. This one is a real treat!
“Summer Color” is written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Zoe Persico. While Diana has visited my blog several times, this is Zoe’s first visit and I’m excited to introduce her to all of you. It’s always awesome when I get to talk to both creators and share what part of the process each got to take.
Diana Murray has published seven picture books to date, has several more coming out (one more this fall), and I’m sure will write many more. She is an author to watch out for. If you’re not familiar with her work yet, you can learn more about her at her website.
“Summer Color” is a story about the colors to be found in the country on a summer’s day. It leaps with some of the cutest animals I’ve ever seen, swims with a gorgeous palette and design, and explores colors in a way I haven’t quite seen before. It’s a wonderful feast for the senses.
Welcome back Diana!
Me: “Summer Color” isn’t a typical story that follows a specific plot per se like some of your previous picture books (“Ned the Knitting Pirate” or “Grimelda,” for instance). Indeed, the characters in this story don’t even have names. Did you find this concept a challenge to write?
Diana: I enjoy working on different kinds of stories. Some stories are character driven and very narrative, like NED and GRIMELDA. Others, are more lyrical concept books, like CITY SHAPES and SUMMER COLOR!. While SUMMER COLOR! doesn’t follow a traditional plot, in which the MC solves a problem after three tries, it does have a story arc, and a distinct beginning, middle, and end. There is even some tension building with the coming of the storm, and then the resolution when the characters are safe, back at home, and finally get to experience a transformed scene after the storm passes. Some refer to this kind of thing as a “gentle arc.”
Me: I like that. A “gentle arc.” And once again your rhyming skills are amazing. Yet I noticed that the layout of the book didn’t have one stanza on every page. This allowed for some beautiful illustrations and spreads like the scenes with the well and deer. Did you paginate your manuscript before you submitted it? Or was this an illustration choice by Zoe Persico, on how to break up the text?
Diana: What a great question! Yes. These days, I almost always paginate my text as I work on it. I find it helps tremendously with pacing and with creating a smooth arc. I’m not married to the page breaks and don’t mind switching things up if needed, but most times, the breaks do stay as I initially envisioned, as they did in this case.
Splitting up stanzas is another way to build tension, to drive page turns, and to slow things down or speed them up.
Me: The illustrations in this book are FANtastic! I love them! Were there any surprises for you with them when you saw them?
Diana: I love them, too!!! And indeed, everything was a surprise! Seeing illustrations is always the best part of the process. Zoe added so much to the story. She truly brought the text to life. In fact, I didn’t initially have “egrets” in the text until I saw them in her illustration. Then I went back and added them in because her art inspired me.
I was also amazed by how she made each color stand out. This was a tricky text. There were lots of colors on each page, and yet, one needed to stand out significantly from the rest.
Me: I noticed that too! I was amazed at how she was able to play with the colors on every page to emphasize what needed to be focused on. I also loved all the different plants and animals you included in the text. This is definitely a rural setting for your exploration of colors, as compared to the urban landscape for exploring shapes you used in “City Shapes.” Is there a reason for this contrast? Did you intentionally write a book set in the country, since you already wrote one set in the city?
Diana: Yep! You’re onto me. Haha! Because I had “shapes” in a “city” setting, I specifically wanted to have “colors” in a “country” setting. And on a personal note, I moved to the country pretty recently (some call it “suburbs”, but it’s country to me). So that hit a note. I’m enjoying the slower pace and the closeness to nature.
Me: Ahh, so do you prefer the country to the city then? Was this book a gentle nudge to encourage children to play in nature?
Diana: They’re apples and oranges! I loved the city when I lived there. But now I love the country. It’s a whole new world. And yes, in an age of computers and such, I certainly wanted to encourage kids to get out there and explore outside. Even when I lived in the city as a kid, there were always opportunities to experience nature in some way. Whether it was observing a pigeon nest on the balcony, or a tree in front of the building where we’d “help” squirrels gather acorns.
Me: I know you have another book coming out this year set in winter, while this story is set in summer. Is this another set of contrasts, or do you prefer one season over the other? Do you have a favorite season?
Diana: Well, with multiple books, I like to do my best to set them apart from each other. My favorite season is fall. It smells good, it’s not too hot, and my kids don’t get allergies. But most of all, I like living in an area where the seasons change. It lets me appreciate each one. The first snow is always super exciting. So is the first warm day. So yeah, I just like seasons in general.
Me: What is your favorite color? Was that included in the book? Was there a color left out that you really wanted in the book?
Diana: My favorite color is black, and it is included toward the end of the book. I tried to include all the colors that young children learn. When my kids were young, I sometimes got annoyed when color concept books didn’t include “brown”, for example. I suppose the only major color I didn’t include is “gold.” But that’s quite similar to yellow, especially on paper.
LOL! I was just talking to my kids today about how to create gold (they needed gold to color a dragon’s wings in a project in class but gold crayons aren’t in your typical small box of crayons). I too told them that gold was close to yellow. And since we’re talking about creating colors, let’s talk with Zoe.
Zoe Persico has started her illustrating career with quite a few feathers in her cap. She has already published work in Highlights magazine, Little Golden Books, and done visual development for DreamWorks TV and Bento Box Entertainment to name a few! You can learn more about her at her website.
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing or creating?
Zoe: I quickly got into drawing when I was a toddler, but took art more seriously as I got older. Growing up in the late 90s and into the 2000s I was heavily influenced by bright, colorful, and fun designs found in all sorts of media. Some examples that made a great inpact on me were Pokémon, Neopets, anything Disney, and children’s books such as the Serendipity Series with the wonderful illustrations by Robin James. I was 11 when my parents gifted me with my first drawing tablet and have been happily working digitally from then on. Around this time I wanted to pursue animation as my future career, but soon realized my passion for picture books as I prepared my portfolio for college applications. Since then I’ve been studying other amazing contemporary illustrators and visual development artists, trying new techniques, and traveling for endless inspiration. I drew a lot of silly things growing up and I’m so thankful that I always had endless amounts of support from my friends and family.
Me: Wow! Not everyone can claim to have been doing this since they were 11! What does your illustration process look like?
Zoe: I primarily work digitally so from start to finish I’m working in Photoshop CS6. I begin with a sketch that isn’t too rough so I can get a clean view of what I want to paint over. Once I’m happy with the look I begin painting on different layers to keep everything separate in case I need to go back and make adjustments. For example, if I’m painting a character, I’ll keep her hair on one layer and her facial features on another layer in case I end up later deciding I want to change her hair color without accidentally changing her eye color! I usually start with painting the environment first in a piece since it gives me a chance to establish a color palette and mood. I love painting trees, skies, mountains, flowers, water, the list goes on! I feel that I can really let loose with these subject matters while I can focus on more refinement on the characters afterwards.
Me: How wonderful that one of your picture book projects was a Golden Book! Were you a fan of My Little Pony before the series? Did fan art lead the way to that deal?
Zoe: I love My Little Pony! I grew up collecting them and making my own stories for each individual pony I would play with. When this newest generation of ponies came out I thought they were so adorable! I love Lauren Faust’s work and I think she did an amazing job bringing these new characters to life. I actually did create some fan art years ago for fun while the show was fairly new. One day I got an email from my agent asking if I wanted to sample for a My Little Pony Golden Book and my heart fluttered with joy! After creating some samples and a few tweaks I was picked for the book! Younger me is still very excited that I get to illustrate these characters for work!
Me: I can only imagine! I love the work you did for Summer Color. I adore the well-deer-gray spreads and transition of text. You also used a specific color palette that blends the colors highlighted by the text really well. I found it interesting that you muted the cardinals’ color on the green spread, and made the frogs on the end papers teal. Can you talk a little bit about the artistic choices you made for this book (some of the division of text, choice of colors or choice of scenes, etc.)? Why did you make some of those choices? Were there choices you had to change or couldn’t make as the project progressed?
Zoe: Thank you! I had a blast working on Summer Color! When transitioning my sketches to final color, I worked with the team to make sure each color mentioned on the spread would be the main focus, but still work in the scene. Going into this project I wanted to avoid the colors being too flat or too obvious, so bringing in textures and color palettes helped.
With the green spread, I kept the colors of the animals more muted to help convey them taking cover from the storm rolling in. The greens were actually different shades in the sketch phase, but we decided to bring out the pop of green in the grass and have the greens in the trees darkened. I think this works better since it helps match well with the mood of a storm arriving.
With the end papers, I wanted to make sure the frogs popped against the bright green grass. Dark green would have worked, but it didn’t give the same whimsical feel as the rest of the book, so I went for a fun teal instead.
One of the trickiest spreads was the purple spread. Not only did it have a good amount of composition adjustments, it was tough to properly nail down the color. How do you show purple in a lake scene?! At first it was just the boat and blanket that were purple, but didn’t show off the color enough, so we just went big and made the lake purple.
I was very happy that my vision for the book didn’t have too many changes except for very minor ones (such as emphasizing colors, adding a character in a spread, etc). I loved working with the team at Little, Brown and I hope others enjoy it as much as I did illustrating it!
Me: Aww! I love hearing that. What is one thing that surprised you in illustrating this story?
Zoe: How tricky the color purple can be! And How much it made me miss my time living in Georgia. I am not a southern girl, but I do miss seeing those big storms roll in (and peaches and lemonade)!
Me: Any advice for other picture book illustrators just starting out?
Zoe: Have fun with your portfolio! Paint and draw subject matters that make you happy, but also push you out of your comfort zone. I used to despise painting environments, but now they are my favorite subject matter and having them in my portfolio helped get me this wonderful opportunity. If you feel discouraged, take a break and go do another activity that floods you with inspiration. I believe in you!
Me: Wonderful advice! You have your debut book, “Georgia,” as author AND illustrator coming out next year. Any hints you want to share with readers about that project? What excites you about that story?
Zoe: Yes! I have been tinkering with this character and story since 2015 and I am ecstatic! Growing up as the only artist in my household, I thought it would be fun to twist the concept: What if you were the only family member who wasn’t an artist? What if you wanted to pursue science? How does science and art work together? This story is a way for me to help celebrate our individual passions that also help bring us together! That inspiration and imagination can be found in places you’d least expect, such as science! Expect an explosion of color and creativity throughout the illustrations!
This is one of my earlier sketches of Georgia and her mom from 2015.
Aww! What a great concept! I can’t wait to read it. Thank you both Diana and Zoe for stopping by and sharing your wonderful work with us. And dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to check this book out yet, I definitely recommend that you do!