Today’s debut picture book comes from an author illustrator who uses a unique artistic approach: quilling!
Marie Boyd is a law professor, author, illustrator, and self-taught quilling artist. Originally from Salt Lake City, Marie lives in Columbia, South Carolina with her husband and two young children. You can can learn more about her at her website or follow her on instagram.
JUST A WORM is Marie’s debut picture book as both author and illustrator. It tells the story of worm who goes through a bit of an identity crisis after a couple of children call it “just a worm.” He then goes through the garden and talks with various insects and critters finding out what they do in the garden. It’s an incredibly creative approach to STEM topics like nature, natural selection, habitats, and much more. Plus the quilling art form is used to great effect here as well. This is a gorgeous picture book that I suspect many teachers will love to have in their classrooms.
Me: Can you talk about your artistic journey? When did you start quilling? How did that bring you to writing and illustrating this book?
Marie: My parents are both very creative and they’ve always carved out time for creative pursuits and encouraged my brother and I to do the same. I first learned about quilling when I came across some quilling supplies on clearance at a craft store about ten years ago. I hadn’t heard of quilling, but I enjoy drawing, painting, and crafting, so I thought quilling would be fun to try.
I started quilling cards and small gifts for family and friends. My mother encouraged me to consider what else I could do with quilling. My parents have a shelf where they display cards from family and friends, and I think I made so many cards for them that they ran out of space!
Me: Can you talk about your art process? What exactly is quilling? What made you decide to use this as your illustration medium?
Marie: Quilling involves curling, coiling, and gluing narrow strips of paper to form images. I used a mix of traditional paper quilling and on edge quilling in Just a Worm and layered the quilling on cut paper to create shadow and depth.
I fell in love with quilling the first time I tried it. Some people knit, some quilt, I quill. Even before I learned about quilling, I was drawn to paper and some of my favorite books as a child were illustrated with collage.
Me: What gave you the idea for this story about a worm who figures out his place in the garden?
Marie: When my son was younger, I frequently told him “It’s just a worm” when he saw worms on the sidewalk after the rain. I imagined how a worm might respond if it could understand my words. This led to “Just a Worm.” In the book, after being called “just a worm” by two children, Worm embarks on a journey through the garden to prove them wrong. Along the way, Worm encounters several insects and other creatures, each of which has important qualities. But what can Worm do?
Me: Your work in this book is absolutely stunning. How did you pitch this book? Did you submit a dummy with art work samples? Or did you let your portfolio do the talking?
Marie: Thank you! When I first started querying agents, I did so solely as a writer. But, whenever I imagined the garden in “Just a Worm,” I imagined it as a lush, quilled paper garden and as I began to consider what the illustrations accompanying my other stories might look like, I knew I wanted to quill them. I created a dummy for Just a Worm and some sample spreads, and my agent used these to pitch the book.
Me: There are SO many beautiful flowers in this garden. How did you pick which flowers to include? Were they flowers you had previously quilled? Were there any challenges in creating them?
Marie: The plants in the book are plants that at some point either my parents or I have grown. For example, one of my favorite spreads shows a strawberry patch. When I was a kid, my parents had a strawberry patch and I loved picking strawberries and helping my mom make jam. I also spent a lot of time picking snails off the strawberries.
Quilling the flowers took a lot of patience! I had to quill so many flower petals and leaves. The blazing stars were particularly difficult to make because I had to cut, shape, and glue so many tiny pieces of paper.
Me: I can only imagine! You are both the author and the illustrator of this wonderful story. What was harder, the writing or the illustrating of it? Why?
Marie: “Just a Worm” is my debut book and I found aspects of both the writing and illustration challenging. I found the illustration harder than the writing and I learned so much about illustration during this process thanks to the team at Greenwillow. For example, one of the challenges in illustrating the book was figuring out what size to make the original art. I knew I didn’t want to make it too small because I find quilling small designs to be more time intensive and challenging than quilling larger ones. At the same time, if the quilling gets too large additional challenges can arise and the size of the available paper can be a limiting factor. In addition, because quilling has depth it can’t be easily stacked and takes a lot of space to store.
Me: Any advice for new picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Marie: I would suggest joining a critique group. I’ve been in several critique groups over the years and I’m currently in two, one for writers and one for illustrators, each of which meets once a month. I enjoy the community they provide and have learned so much from the other group members.
I also appreciate the external accountability that they provide. Since writing and illustrating picture books is not my primary career and I have two young kids, it’s easy for me to let a lot of time pass between times that I work on my writing and art. Knowing that I have monthly meetings pushes me to make time to work on my writing and art regularly and even though it is short periods of time, it adds up.
That is great advice Marie. Thank you for stopping by my blog today.
Dear readers, JUST A WORM is released into the world tomorrow. It’s a fun stroll through the garden that teaches about the creatures that live within it while utilizing stunning art work. You won’t want to miss it!