Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Author-illustrator Barbara McClintock

I was a Fraggle Rock fanatic as a child. I watched the television program. I played with the action figures. I spent countless hours reading and carrying around Marooned in Fraggle Rock, What's a Fraggle?, and Waggeby of Fraggle Rock. I'm sure my parents hid the books because they were so tired of me talking about them. I couldn't spend enough time with Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, and Boober. 


Scroll your eyes back up for a moment. Do you see the name listed after pictures by? Yes, that is the same Barbara McClintock who illustrated Our Abe LincolnTwelve Kinds of Ice, Leave Your Sleep, and Where's Mommy? I had no idea that she was involved with the Fraggle Rock series. My jaw may have dropped when I discovered it on her website last night. 
I am honored Barbara agreed to finish my sentences. We chatted about her latest picture book, her studio, school libraries, and reading. I wrote the words in brown, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Barbara, and congratulations on Where's Mommy? being named a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2014


Where’s Mommy? tells the story of a secret friendship between a girl and a mouse, and a shared mystery. Both Maria and Mouse Mouse's mothers disappear at bedtime; girl and mouse hunt high and low, all throughout the human house upstairs and the mouse house downstairs. There's a big surprise at the end - and I'm not giving it away! You have to read the book! 

It could also be a eco-furniture story. The mouse house is furnished with cool stuff from the recycling bin - plastic berry container tables, iPods with earbud speakers for a living room sound system, clothespin beds, stairs made from a discarded slinky. It's a contemporary spin on 'The Borrowers'. 

Illustration Credit: Barbara McClintock


I created the illustrations for Where’s Mommy? with great joy and enthusiasm. And as a way of explaining that the lost small things from my purse and the backs of our kitchen drawers have gone to furnish the homes, towns, and cities of all the many mice who live in our 200 year old house.

I think you actually want to know my process and what medium I used…

As I initially read the printed out manuscript, I saw images of the characters moving and talking and sitting on half-squeezed toothpaste tube couches.  I made small doodles in the margins and in the white spaces between paragraphs as I read. This must be a hold-over from when I was in school and filled up all the empty spaces on test papers and homework assignments with little drawings, much to the exasperation of some of my teachers. 

Those tiny doodles lead to slightly larger doodle-sketches that I broke down into a 2" x 3"  32 page dummy book. 

I scanned and sent that little dummy to my editor and art directors Anne Schwartz, Lee Wade and Rachael Cole at Schwartz & Wade. 

Anne, Lee, Rachael and I worked as a team to tweak the drawn ideas in my dummy to become more visually energetic and contemporary. I channeled the inner early childhood cartoonist in me by simplifying some page images, and employing word balloons. 
The teeny tiny sketches were blown up to 10" x 11" layouts, with the text incorporated into the layouts. 

I taped all the printed layouts onto my studio wall. One by one, I took each layout off the wall and used tracing paper and pencil on a lightbox to refine each sketch. I scanned the finished sketches and sent them to Anne and Lee. 

Once I had a green light from Anne and Lee, I proceeded to ink the sketches on Arches 90 lb cold press watercolor paper with Higgins waterproof black ink and a Hunt 100 flexible steel nib pen point. 

When the ink drawings were done, I taped them to masonite boards and did a clear water wash over the paper to stretch the paper on each board. The clear wash also mitigated whatever sizing or grease might have been on the paper as preparation for watercoloring.

I used Windsor & Newton tube watercolors and sable brushes to color over the black and white inked drawings. I  wanted a warm, evening light golden-glow throughout the book, which I achieved by using multiple layers of warm ocher watercolor washes. 
I used gouache at the end of my coloring process for things like creating highlights, patterns on rugs, and to correct mistakes in my drawing.

I'm a luddite - I don't use digital methods in my work, other than scanning work to send to my publishers. 

Illustration credit: Barbara McClintock 

Beverly Donofrio and I both love mice in theory, maybe not so much in practice. 

If you visited my studio you'd call a hazmat squad! Paper, inks, watercolors, pencils, crumpled sketches, little sticky note pad papers full of doodles, drawings and paintings in process taped to the wall, books piled up on tables and the floor, paper cut-outs I make of the characters from my books and Steiff toy animals everywhere. And two cats, either on my drawing board or in front of the studio fireplace, toasting away. 

My studio window looks out over my paramour David Johnson's rose garden. He's designed the garden so that I have a lovely view of the riot of roses blooming all summer long. 


Reading is as important as food & water & sleep. Reading feeds imagination. 

School libraries... can't say enough good things about them! Standard school curriculum gives children a basic education, but free access to a library allows them to find themselves. And librarians are heroes standing on the shore holding beacons of light, acting as guides and mentors. 



Picture books are more fun than a litter of kittens. Or puppies. Maybe a litter of kittens AND puppies! And they're just as warm and enticing to curl up with. And picture books don't shed, and are hypoallergenic ( for the most part ). 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how important humor is in picture book illustration. Like, WAY important! I think getting someone to laugh, or at least find something funny in a visual image gets a connection going between the reader and the artwork/text. The idea that mice would walk off with discarded stuff, and see it as beautiful, or use it for something so totally different than what it was made for is surprising. And that incongruity is also funny and charming. I hoped that by perpetuating the joke of a mouse world full of cast-off things, the reader would slow down and take time to explore the pictures. And that would let the art and the story seep in and stay, forever changing the way thrown-away stuff is thought of. I'm not getting preachy about recycling here, but I think humor helps drop walls of resistance and gets us thinking about things in a way that could lead to bigger, more socially conscious acts. Or not. Just having fun is enough!  



I am giving away a copy of Where's Mommy? 

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 11/26 to 11:59 p.m. on 11/28. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 


Borrow Where's Mommy? from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

1 comment:

  1. I how I loved Fraggle Rock! I used to watch it with my son all the time. SO grateful Barney came later on! lol This was such a great interview and I LOVE hearing about the mediums you use, Barbara, and your process. This was so enjoyable. Thank you both :)

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