Today I get to share a funny new picture book by a debut author-illustrator!
Neesha Hudson is a freelance author-illustrator living on the coast of Maine. She is delighted to spend most of her days drawing funny little characters and sipping black tea. She is the illustrator of Walk Your Dog (Putnam 2018), but this is her author-illustrator debut. When not illustrating, Neesha enjoys spending time with her husband, their two children, two dogs, and four chickens. You can learn more about her at her website.
Her debut picture book “Turtle in a Tree” feels like a conversation I’ve had many times over the years, just not about turtles in trees. I feel like I’ve had nonsensical conversations with others that have left me shaking my head and wondering what just happened. Here we see one dog who is convinced he sees a turtle in a tree, and another dog that tries to talk sense to him. Turtles can’t climb and don’t hang out in trees. Therefore it must be a squirrel. The results of this conversation are both hilarious and illuminating.
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing and/or painting?
Neesha: Like most artists I’ve been drawing for about as long as I can remember. When I was younger we had a lot of “How to draw…” books and I would study and copy them for hours. After taking some art courses in high school, I went to Ringling College of Art and Design and graduated with a BFA in illustration. That’s where I really fell in love with watercolor and kid’s books! Mary GrandPré visited our children’s book illustration class and I’ll never forget listening to her talk about her work. Something clicked and I was like, “yes, this is what I want to do.”
Still, it took about ten years before illustrating my first picture book by a larger publisher (WALK YOUR DOG, Putnam 2018). I’m grateful for that time though, because I was able to gain confidence, and develop my craft and style.
Me: Can you talk a little bit about your process? How did you create the illustrations for this book? Do you use traditional media or do you create digitally? Or do you use parts of both?
Neesha: For this book I created the illustrations in watercolor and colored pencil on hot press watercolor paper, then scanned and altered them in Photoshop. Some spreads were painted in various sections, and then combined digitally. I found this helpful with keeping consistency throughout the book. For example, I used the same ground (with minor variation) on several of the spreads. Watercolor really does have a mind of its own; which I love! But it doesn’t always want to cooperate and that’s where editing and combining in Photoshop really comes in handy.
Me: You have previous work as an illustrator. How is that different from your work on this book, your debut as author-illustrator.
Neesha: My resume is a bit all over the place! After college I worked at Carter’s clothing designing children’s graphics. There I developed a good understanding of Illustrator and Photoshop. Then went on to do freelance work like logo and package design, educational work, magazine illustrations, etc. Every single job has helped me grow in some way as an illustrator, even if it’s something far removed like branding design for a hair salon. You are still dealing with things like balance, composition, and color theory. Although I will admit, it was a good feeling to finally be able to end the design jobs, and focus completely on children’s books.
Me: I notice a lot of dogs in your illustrations. In fact you illustrated “Walk Your Dog” in 2018, which was also about dogs. Are dogs a favorite subject matter? If yes, what draws you to them?
Neesha: Dogs were my favorite animal as a child. I drew them ALL the time. I wanted to pet every dog we saw, begged my parents for years to get one, periodically crawled around on the floor barking…you get the idea. Today I’m a little less obsessed, but still like them a lot. I love that there’s a variety of breeds to pluck characters from, and personality types to go with the breeds. For example, a grumpy thick eyebrow French Bulldog is just a hilarious character to me. Pair that with a lean easygoing Greyhound in a fancy sweater and it’s like the characters wrote themselves.
Me: LOL! I can see that. This book is a hilarious take on “truth” as we each see it. I love how you say there’s more than one side to the story with such subtlety. Why is this an important message you want to share with young readers?
Neesha: First of all, thank you! I really didn’t want the “message” of the book to hit the reader in the face. The goal was for it to subtly get the point across in a lighthearted way. Realizing that just because someone sees something a different way then you, doesn’t make them wrong, is extremely important learning lessons for both children, and adults! It leads to open conversation and an understanding of where someone else is coming from. I think, especially right now, that’s something that is missing a lot in our society.
Me: I agree! What is one of your favorite illustrations or moments from the book?
Neesha: Hmm…without giving too much away…I think my favorite moment is after Bulldog says, “AHH it’s throwing acorns!” Then Greyhound responds, “turtles LOVE acorns.” Then the next spread is wordless with Bulldog open mouthed staring at Greyhound. Like, what?! No they don’t! I’ve definitely looked at people the same way Bulldog looks at Greyhound on that spread. But I’ve been wrong many times too, haha.
My favorite illustration is towards the end of the book when another dog enters the scene. I struggled a lot with getting the illustrations for this book just how I wanted them, except for this spread. It was fun and relatively easy to paint, and it’s my favorite!
Me: Any advice for new picture book authors or illustrators?
Neesha: Go join SCBWI if you haven’t! That has been a tremendous help in furthering my career. There’s so much advice and guidance available through that organization. Also join #kidlit Twitter! Twitter has a very supportive children’s book community. Sometimes it’s just nice to know others are struggling with the same thing you are. Or to realize, hey, this established author had to query two dozen agents too!
Lastly, being an author or author/illustrator can be really lonely, and difficult at times. It’s important to find a supportive group of people either via a critique group, or online through Twitter or other sites. There have been many times I’ve wanted to give up or think my work is rubbish, and having others to commiserate with helps boost you up again and get the motivation to keep going. Ok last lastly, KEEP GOING. Keep querying, keep growing, keep learning. Eventually you will get to where you want to be if you put forth the effort.
I love that. Thank you for stopping by Neesha.
Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to read this book, I highly recommend it. It’s funny, entertaining, and yet there’s an incredibly subtle lesson to be had here too. It’s worth studying to see how Neesha snuck that last bit in.