If you’ve followed my blog for a while now, you know I love to reward my followers. Since we’re nearing the holidays, I have a special giveaway for you all today (possibly just in time for someone’s holiday present!).
I love the ocean. It’s in the name of my blog, it’s in my love of my home town, and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the salty air is in my blood stream. That is why I’m drawn to stories about the ocean over and over again. There is something about the ocean that fills my heart and soul with joy (and who doesn’t need more of that right now?), even in fiction. That’s what drew me to today’s very special picture book and author-illustrator.
Skylaar Amann is an author and illustrator specializing in all things ocean in the worlds of science and kid lit. She believes that fostering a sense of wonder through art and science is the key to ocean conservation. She is also a member of SCBWI and Women Who Draw, as well as an affiliated artist with Climate Science Alliance! She is represented by the incredible Jessica Watterson of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. You can learn more about her at her website.
“Lloyd Finds His Whalesong” is the story of a shy whale who can’t sing as loudly as the others in his pod. And if you know anything about humpback whales, they actually use their whale song to locate each other, communicate, and travel together (among many other things scientists are still discovering). So a whale who can’t sing is a pretty serious problem! The solution is as unexpected as the problem in this delightful story and the art work is beautiful! I knew as soon as I saw the cover, that this was a book I would love (and I do!).
Me: “Lloyd Finds His Whalesong” is your picture book author/illustrator debut. That’s exciting! What draws you to picture books?
Skylaar: Like so many people, I drew and wrote stories a ton when I was little. I wanted to make books as far back as I can remember. I was lucky to attend an elementary school (Yaquina View in Newport, Oregon) that embraced and encouraged creative writing. We had “author’s tea parties” where we made and shared books for students and families, and we celebrated Love of Reading Week with a costume parade each year.
While I never stopped writing and making art (I studied both in college), my path took me to zines and artist books for a long time. Then about eight years ago, I decided to get back into writing fiction, with an interest in traditional publishing. I’m drawn to picture books because of that unique magic they hold — the pairing of big, beautiful illustrations with sparse text. I love the way the two play off each other. The creation of picture books is often described as rigid or limiting because of the tight page and word counts (which can be true!), but the possibilities of text and image are really only limited by imagination, and that’s an exciting space to work in.
Me: Can you talk a little bit about your art process? Are you a traditional or digital artist? Or both?
Skylaar: I work in both traditional (graphite and watercolor, mostly) and digital media (Photoshop). I drew some of the underlying sketches by hand for Lloyd Finds His Whalesong, but the majority of the book is all done in Photoshop.
I approach art making the same in both traditional and digital. I keep in mind character design, light and shadow, and composition as the underpinnings of every piece. The nice thing about working digitally is that you can undo and redo so much more than something as delicate as watercolor, but I love working in both. For digital painting, I like to start with a drawing and then layer in some base colors for an underpainting, then I start finding the big shapes and values of the illustration. After that, I go in for lighting and save the finer details for the end.
Me: Which comes first for you: writing or illustrating? Do you prefer one over the other?
Skylaar: This is such a hard question for me because the two are so intertwined. These days, I often start with the genesis of an idea that I write down. It could be a concept, a few lines, a funny phrase, or something like that. If I’m struggling with figuring out the story though, I always turn to
drawing. Drawing is a form of brainstorming and puzzle solving. It helps me get to know a character better in a way that writing can’t. When I work on a draft, I go back and forth — I write a little, hit a roadblock, draw a little, and then revise the words.
For Lloyd, though, I created him as a drawing so many years ago, before I was seriously writing picture books. So I drew him probably hundreds of times in various iterations before I figured out his story!
Me: This is a sweet story that any child who doesn’t fit in can relate to, as well as learn about whales from! What gave you the idea for this story?
Skylaar: I grew up on the Oregon Coast, and the ocean has always been a huge part of my life. So a whale character just came naturally to me. I’ve always been drawn to humpbacks — the way they sing, interact, swim, and jump. And I even got to see them migrating past Oregon a few times.
I learned to play ukulele about ten years ago, and I fell in love with the instrument right away. I had this image in my head of a big sad whale playing a tiny happy instrument, and the story of Lloyd developed from there.
It’s also worth mentioning that I can definitely relate to Lloyd. I have a quiet voice, am often not heard or misunderstood, and that was even more true when I was a little kid. I want kids and readers of all ages to know that their voices matter, in whatever form they take.
Me: I love that! Any advice for other picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Skylaar: Writing, illustrating, and publishing are hard! Keep learning and don’t give up. I’m a big believer in working smarter, not harder. If you’ve been doing the same thing over and over and aren’t getting the results you want, take a hard look at why — and at how to change that.
Things started to happen for me when I went from creating the same type of drawings and stories I always had without results and instead focused on improving my skills as a writer and illustrator, from a technical standpoint.
I diligently practiced art fundamentals — like color, light, composition, and narrative, which dramatically improved the way I create. When my stories weren’t going anywhere, I researched outlines, story structure, and writing tools until I found techniques that work for me, and I adapted them to suit my particular needs.
It was (and is!) still a long and slow journey, but with my improvements came more specific rejections, near-misses, and finally, those coveted yesses.
Me: Great advice. Any other projects we can look forward to from you in the future?
Skylaar: Yes! I am so excited to share that my second book, SMILE, SOPHIA, will be coming out in 2022 from Feiwel and Friends. I’m so thankful to my incredible agent, Jessica Watterson at Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and to Holly West, my editor at Feiwel and Friends for believing in this little story. It’s about a little girl who loves dinosaurs and doesn’t conform to grownups’ expectations of her to smile all the time.
Me: That’s great news! Congrats! Like me, you are madly in love with the ocean. What about the ocean calls to you? What creature of the sea do you love the most?
Skylaar: Having grown up on the Oregon Coast, the ocean was ubiquitous. It was just part of everything. It affected the air I breathed, the weather, the food I ate, and what I learned in school. So naturally, it affected what I wanted to read, write, and draw, too!
I spent a lot (and I mean a lot) of time on the beach as a kid. My favorite pastime was exploring tide pools, those microcosms of life and activity and wonder. I walked the sand, climbed the rocks, found the best shells, grabbed the best sticks, learned the names of shore birds, and whales, and pinnipeds, breathed in that salty air like it was my own DNA. The shore was my playground, my sanctuary, and my school.
Seeing the ocean’s impact on not only my life but my community (from scientific research to commercial fishing), stayed with me. It gave me my lifelong appreciation for the environment, and a deep understanding for the connection between the ocean and … everything: humans, land, wildlife, and climate.
To this day, if I don’t know what to draw, I just draw a whale. Whales are definitely some of my favorite sea creatures, and I obviously have a soft spot for humpback whales! I got to see humpbacks, orcas, and gray whales swimming off shore when I was little, and their majestic tranquility moves you in a way that can’t be put into words.
Other than whales, I have a soft spot for those tiny, unassuming creatures you find in tide pools, often hidden unless you are very quiet and careful and know where to look. Nudibranchs, chitons, and sculpins are a few of my favorites!
Oh my goodness. We DO have a great deal in common Skylaar. I too grew up exploring tide pools on a regular basis (though mine were Alaskan tide pools).
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to track down this book and read it, I highly recommend it. It’s another great ocean story, but it’s so much more. This is a story of finding your voice and of knowing how much you matter. And you, dear readers, do matter to me.
SO, today you can enter to win a copy of your very own! There can only be one winner though, sadly. Enter the rafflecopter here (winner announced next week).