Saturday, August 10, 2019

Author Panel: Birth of a Picture Book — Corinna Luyken

Corinna Luyken
Corinna Luyken is the award-winning author and illustrator of some absolutely beautiful picture books, including My Heart and The Book of Mistakes. 

When she was a kid, she used to draw at the living room table. Now, she works in a studio.

In her own space, she gets to make a mess. "Also," she said, "my process is messy."

She calls it a process of making mistakes, and of using improvisation and experimentation to move her work forward. "This is how I arrive at solutions."

In Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse, the story is about a child who may or may not have a horse. So she had to figure out a way to convey that. She used negative space (you can see it on the book cover, pictured on the right--the horse continues to the back of the jacket).

Adrian Simcox Does
NOT Have a Horse
Her process involves making many dummies (at least 12 for The Book of Mistakes). And it can be emotionally hard ... her family reports that she gets grumpy when her experimentation isn't going well.

All of her books begin with emptiness ... she needs to get out of her own way, a concept that Kate DiCamillo expressed well. And then there is attention. Books exist between that sweet spot of emptiness and attention.

She also balances fear and love.

"You can make a choice. Which one are you going to allow to guide you? Fear is a very real part of the process ... All we can hope is that we will not succumb to that.... I do try to remember that every day, the job of the artist is to be sharpened and honed by this uncertainty."

What questions do you ask yourself during the work of book making? 

My Heart
"I try to have a conversation with the story and ask it what the heart of the story is, the feeling, the most important thing I'm trying to convey." That can inform Corinna's decisions.

How do you choose touches that are unique to the book that you are working on? 

You have to be interested and excited by the world of each new book. Corinna changes up materials when she starts a new book. "What does this world feel like? What art materials need to be used? what's speaking to me?"

She's used brown Kraft paper, a red, white, and blue color palette. She wanted white to be a character in a book with a little white dog. And there have been moments of doubt during the process—"what was I thinking?" But she gets to a point where she's invested, where the materials have spoken to her, and how their limits help guide and constrain the work in a helpful way.

The Book of Mistakes
Sometimes she's drawing away, and then she gets this charged feeling that lets her know it's important, even if it might not be visible to other people. She doesn't keep her finished art around, but she does keep those pieces that feel like "seeds" that got her going.

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