Today I’m going to do a Simply 7 with just the illustrator. Usually it’s the author that gets all the attention (I know), but trust me, this is an illustrator you want to meet. And it’s her debut picture book!
Blythe Russo is an illustrator who is both silly (note the headshot photo–one of my favorites!) and sweet. Her adorable animals bring me such joy (and I know I’m not alone in that). She makes amazing puppets, loves to bake (and makes amazing cookies too!), loves dogs, and is one of the moderators of the Thursday night Twitter illustrator chat for #kidlitart. If you haven’t met her yet, I’m SO glad I get to introduce you to her work! You can learn more about her at her website.
Her illustrator debut picture book “One More Wheel” is a concept board book to rival almost every concept board book out there. It must be seen to be enjoyed! There are moving and extending parts that are SO fun! It’s a counting book that counts wheels and gets more creative and outrageous with every page turn. I loathe spoilers and don’t want to say much more than that. You’ve GOT to check it out!
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing?
Blythe: I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. We had stacks of that continuous feed computer paper (with the perforated/holey edges) and I would curl up on the couch and draw on that for hours. And I’ve never stopped.
Me: What does your illustration process look like? Do you use traditional media or digital? Or both?
Blythe: When I’m sketching/getting unformed ideas out of my head, I still like to sketch with pencil and paper. (“Col-erase Carmine Red” – FTW!) I think there is a more direct connection between my brain and my hand when I use traditional mediums for brainstorming. Otherwise, I use both traditional and digital media in my workflow. I still prefer the look of traditional textures, but it’s just quicker to play with compositions/layouts in Photoshop. (Or to fix not-so-happy accidents.) This book was done mostly digitally with some additional watercolor textures scanned in.
Me: What draws you to illustrating kids’ books?
Blythe: Kids are the best. They are smart and creative and brilliant. Why wouldn’t I want to illustrate for kids? Also, books had such a big impact on my childhood. So it may be selfish, but I’d love if a book of mine impacted a child in a similar way. That’s the goal.
Me: “One More Wheel” is quite an ingenious concept for a board book. I can tell you from working with 6-year-olds for the past eight years now that “more” and “less” are incredibly difficult concepts for them to grasp! Seeing how you interpreted them in illustrations, I have to ask: did you think up these vehicles yourself for every number? OR were there illustration notes from the author to indicate something with seven or ten wheels?
Blythe: Colleen AF Venable is the author of the book and as well as the Creative Director at OddDot Books (the imprint who published the book). She art directed and designed this book ON TOP OF writing it. I know I may be biased, but she is absolutely brilliant (as is Justin, the editor, and the rest of the OddDot team. They are all amazing). When I received the manuscript the vehicles were already indicated in the art notes. All the surprising and genius choices of vehicles had already been decided; so, I happily take none of the credit for the concept.
Me: This is also a concept board book (a rare gem!). You are SO innovative with your puppet designs (see your latest Pinocchio puppet!). Did your same innovative talents play into the book design (that wonderful last slider page! And the interactive wheels!)? Or was that the book company’s (Odd Dot) design choice?
Blythe: You are so sweet – thank you Jena! <3 Once again, those were all OddDot’s choices. The concept/mechanics of the book were fleshed out before I was brought on board. However, illustrating with those mechanics in mind was a great challenge. There were a lot of vehicles – of various shapes and sizes – to include in that last telescoping spread which stretched my illustration muscles A LOT. (Which is a nice way of saying I dreaded that spread.) But having gone through this process (and having had such a great experience with it) I think attempting a concept board book from scratch is something I’d love to tackle in the future. I also think it’s something I CAN do because of my puppet-making/construction skills.
Me: Any advice for other new picture book illustrators?
Blythe: Publishing is a long, ridiculous journey that involves lots of things you can’t control. So, work hard and keep at it. The luck WILL happen, but you still have to be prepared for when it does.
Me: Do you have a favorite number of wheels from the book? If so, which one and why?
Blythe: Number 3! I loved drawing that steamroller! That was the vehicle that (more-or-less) got me the book. I was busy doing my 100 day project in 2017 when my incredible agent, Molly, mentioned I should include some vehicles in my daily sketches. (She had known Colleen was working on ONE MORE WHEEL.) I chose a steamroller and lo-and-behold that just happened to be the three-wheeled vehicle being highlighted in the book. So, number 3 is special.
Also, it doesn’t have a number because it’s a bonus spread, but the illustration on the back of the last spread is my most favorite. That part wasn’t pitched by OddDot, but I think it’s such a sweet, little surprise at the end. So make sure you flip it over!
Thank you for stopping by Blythe! Dear readers, you have to track down this book and give it a read. You can also see some of Blythe’s other preliminary book sketches over on Twitter.