What planted the seed for The Simples Love a Picnic?
J. C. Phillipps: It all started with the art. I was making collage illustrations for Illustration Friday (a website that gives weekly prompts like “burst” and “balance”) and the figures I made at the time were very simple. Dot eyes. A line for a nose. Hot dog shaped arms. I did four different illustrations and I liked them so much I started calling them my “Simple People” series. When I needed inspiration for a new picture book, I went back to the Richard Scary Busytown Books that I adored as a child and I saw how the bulk of the story happened on a journey. So I thought I could take my simple people and send them on a simple journey – a picnic – and see how many crazy, silly things could happen along the way.
Mr. Schu: Where’s your favorite place to have a picnic? What would we find inside your picnic basket?
J. C. Phillipps: I love a good garden. I'm not much of a gardener myself, but I love a well manicured, planned-out, bursting-in-bloom garden. I live near a beautiful rose garden in Hartford's Elizabeth Park, so I would definitely picnic there. My husband and son could play frisbee while I dip into my basket and pull out ... tunafish sandwiches, raspberries, and chocolate chip cookies. If I could eat cheese, I'd want some cheese in there, too. Oh, how I loved cheese. If it's a real picnic – no cheese. If it's a dream picnic – cheese galore!
Mr. Schu: Please tell us about how you created the illustrations.
J. C. Phillipps: The illustrations are done in cut paper collage. I start with a sketch – then I refine it so everything is the proper size. Then, with the help of my trusty light board, I use the sketch to help me trace shapes on the pretty paper, which I then cut out and glue together like a puzzle. I have a ton of paper in my studio: wallpaper, scrapbook paper, origami paper, rice paper, card stock, etc. So I always go to my stacks and drawers first to pull colors for the palette. Anything I don't have, I make. I use a lot of watercolor paper to make things like the Simples' hair and Rocco's doggy fur. And sometimes I make prints on my computer, like the paper for Lulu's dress and the living room wallpaper. Even though the characters are simple, they still need a lot of different parts. Mom's character needs six pieces of paper. Peach-painted watercolor paper for the head and two hands. Blonde-painted watercolor paper for the hair. Blue card stock for the sweater. And yellow-plaid patterned paper for her pants. (Cheat alert: I color her shoes with a Sharpie.)
Mr. Schu: Scenario: You’re in an elevator with a group of enthusiastic teachers and librarians. They ask you to tell them about Monkey Ono and Wink: The Ninja Who Wanted to be Noticed. You have about thirty-five seconds to deliver your elevator speech.
J. C. Phillipps: Monkey Ono is about a little stuffed monkey who's desperately trying to get to the beach via a variety of Mission: Impossible type schemes. Wink: The Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed is about a boy that's so full of energy and enthusiasm for the things he can do, that he simple cannot contain himself. I think both books appeal to high-energy, creative kids who love a good laugh.
Please finish these sentence starters:
Picture books are mini art museums. The art I see in pictures books today is some of the most compelling art I've ever seen in my life.
Reading is like going on a vacation with your friends. It's great to finish a day of work and travel to 19th century England to hang with your gal pal Elizabeth Bennett and gossip about that stuck-up Darcy dude.
Thank you, J.C.!
Thank you, J.C.!
I am giving away one copy of The Simples Love a Picnic.
Rules for the Giveaway
1. It will run from April 4 to 11:59 p.m. on April 6.
2. You must be at least 13.
3. Please pay it forward.
The Simples Love a Picnic will be released on April 8, 2014.