Today’s Simply 7 is another author-illustrator picture book debut and I couldn’t be happier to share it!
I’ve known Lauren Soloy online for a few years now. I wrote a really long blog post about postcards back in 2017 and cited her blog on the same topic. I knew even then that she was close to success on her journey. It’s exciting to see that journey come to fruition (and know that she will continue to have success on her journey).
Lauren Soloy has lived on both coasts of Canada, always within reach of the sea. She currently lives in a 140-year-old house in the wilds of Nova Scotia with her librarian husband, two curious children, an ever-expanding collection of books, two hives of bees, and one cat. You can learn more about her at her website.
“When Emily Was Small” is her picture book debut as author-illustrator. It’s a creative non-fiction biography (yes, that can be a thing!) and it’s a wonderful example of how to write one. It takes one day in the childhood of Emily Carr (a famous Canadian artist) and shows us that one moment frozen in time. This is not an event imagined solely by Lauren. She did her research! I admit that I wasn’t very familiar with Emily Carr’s work until I read Lauren’s book and then I did research of my own. That’s what a good non-fiction picture book will do: inspire you to learn further.
Me: Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic journey? When did you first start drawing and/or painting?
Lauren: Hello! Thank you so much for having me! I was the lucky kid who was always drawing or painting, because my Mom likes to paint. She took me to art exhibits and museums with her, and brought me to Family Days at the Victoria Art Gallery. She also signed me up for weekly sewing classes, where I learned quilting and embroidery. I was always making something. (I still am!) Sometimes that took a different form – when I finished my Visual Arts degree, all I wanted was to make something practical, so I went back to school and learned how to make custom furniture. I did that for several years, until my children were born. Making books is for me a lovely fusion of painting and practicality.
Me: I have always loved the look of your illustrations. Can you talk a little bit about your process? What illustration methods did you use for this book?
Lauren: Thanks! Before I do anything else, I start with a pencil, and make many small thumbnail drawings, until I figure out how I want the page to look. I can never really picture it, until I see it on the paper. That’s probably why I find the thumbnail process so freeing, and it’s a lot less intimidating than staring at a big blank piece of paper!
After that, I love to make a mess. I used a little bit of everything in this book – ink, watercolour, pastel, gouache, pencil crayon, and cut paper all go in there – whatever it takes to get where I’m going! Finally, I scan it and add any final touches with my iPad. Making a book can be intimidating, so I did whatever I could to break it down into manageable steps!
Me: Oh I love that. Manageable steps. Great idea! As both an illustrator and a writer, which part of the process comes first for you: writing or illustrating? Or do they go hand in hand for you?
Lauren: For me, there’s a lot of back and forth, with words and drawings, while I’m planning everything out. I might have one image that feels central to the story, and it can be helpful to write myself to that place. And sometimes I write something and think “how the heck am I going to illustrate that?!”
Me: LOL! Too true. Are you a fan of Emily Carr? How did you hear about her? What inspired this story?
Lauren: I’m definitely an Emily Carr fan. I’ve always loved her paintings, and was exposed to them at a very young age, growing up in Victoria, BC, where she lived most of her life. I had never read any of her books until I moved to the East Coast, though, which perhaps only added to their poignancy. My story is inspired by a story in one of her autobiographies, The Book of Small. With every revision, it became a little more my own, but I think the heart of her story is still very much present.
Me: This story is a stunning author-illustrator debut. I always knew the illustrations would be wonderful, but the words are also so beautifully poetic. It’s a wonderful marriage of pictures and text! Was this a difficult story for you to write? Did you have many revisions of the story itself?
Lauren: Thank you so much – that means a lot to me! It took me a lot of drafts to distill the idea and the details down to what you see now. They were tricky revisions for me, because they weren’t about cutting out words, but about clarifying the story. It’s not a biography of her life – it’s one moment in one day – but I did want to illuminate as much of the expression of her life as I could.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing and/or illustrating this story?
Lauren: This is my first published book, so it was the first time I had ever made this many finished images of the same characters – in a way the longest series of images I had ever made. But I enjoyed making the final image, just as much as the first. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so this was a pleasant surprise!
Me: Any advice or insight for other picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Lauren: Here’s the things I tell myself:
Be kind to yourself – it’s not a race. Make time to celebrate your small successes (I recommend cake!) and use setbacks to push yourself to make something better. Seek out the things that make your heart sing.
Oh wow Lauren. I love that advice so much. Thank you so much for visiting my blog today. Dear readers, I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s an unusual biography that stands out in the market. It’s fantastic and wild. It must be read and studied to understand why it is so unique. You will not be disappointed.