June 27, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #30: Daniel Miyares

I've long, long admired author-illustrator Daniel Miyares for the incredible amount of emotion he can pack into one sparsely worded or entirely wordless scene. He has an impeccable track record for creating compassionate and relatable children's books that use few to no words (see FloatPardon Me!, and Bring Me a Rock!), so it's no surprise that his newest book That Neighbor Kid represents yet another triumph for him. Daniel was kind enough to drop by and share his process with me, so let's just dive right in and take a look!


About the book:
There's a new boy in the neighborhood, and he's up to something very curious. His next door neighbor, a girl his age with two long braids, peeps around corners and watches as he scavenges wood from the fence between their houses, drags around a hammer and a bucket of nails, and reads a book about living in trees. When she finally works up the courage to say "hi," she finds herself invited to help build the private getaway every child has dreamed of: a tree house. She also finds herself with a new best friend.

Peek underneath the dust jacket here.

Let's talk Daniel Miyares!


LTPB: Hi Daniel! Thank you so much for taking time to talk about your books!

DM: Hi Mel! Thank you so much for the chance to talk picture books. It’s an honor to join you.

LTPB: Let's start off by talking about your newest book That Neighbor KidWhat inspired the story we see?

DM: I first started developing the idea for That Neighbor Kid as a series of images on Instagram a couple of years ago. There really wasn’t a linear story at that time -- just one little ink painting after another. It all centered around a shy, awkward young boy.


When I was considering it as a picture book, my family and I had recently moved into a new neighborhood. My seven-year-old daughter was starting her second new elementary school in two years. She would come home from school every day and lament how difficult it was for her to make new friends. It was a stark reminder for me of how much anxiety can be rolled up into life transitions. The idea of a new kid moving in next door seemed to be a great way to explore that. Also, I like when the setting of my books can become like a character as well. Having the fence or barrier between them transform into a shared experience that brings them together was top of mind at the beginning.


LTPB: What did it mean to you to have this story in particular experienced with as few words as possible? 

DM: It meant a lot because I feel like some of the most meaningful moments of our lives are wordless. Is making a lasting friendship more about what you say to one another or the experiences you share? For this story two words seemed to do it.


LTPB: The one thing that is super consistent across all your books is color, especially yellow (which I’m guessing has to be your favorite color!). But That Neighbor Kid actually starts in black and white and moves into a world of color over the course of the book. Why did you choose to highlight the evolution of this blooming friendship through color? 

DM: Ha! I guess I do like yellow. It’s always represented warmth and joy to me. Color is one of those design elements that comes pre-loaded with a ton of emotion. A little bit can go a long way.





For That Neighbor Kid I originally thought of it done entirely in just black ink (like the paintings I had done on Instagram), but through the process of bringing the book to life we went round and round on whether to add some color or not. Ultimately it felt right to have color introduced in a gradual and intentional way.



Because the story is so streamlined and simple we wanted each element to play a unique role. It started to make a lot of sense to subtly bring the color in as the friendship developed -- to act as a mirror for their feelings. Particularly at the moment when the ice was first broken and the anxiety begins to lift. As soon as I did my first few test paintings to see how I wanted to make it work. It was really clear that was the way to go. It needed that second layer of emotional reinforcement.




LTPB: That Neighbor Kid is a divergence in illustration technique for you -- you use a lot of digital media in Float, Pardon Me!, and Bring Me a Rock!, but here you use ink and watercolor on paper. Why did you decide to go a different route with this book? 

DM: I began the series of That Neighbor Kid paintings as ink on paper illustrations. It seemed fitting to carry that through in the book, plus I grew up learning to draw and paint with ink. It’s kind of like coming home. So much of what I’m trying to do now creatively is tease out the things that feel the most authentic to me -- process, subject matter, whatever. This direct way of working was how I fell in love with image making in the first place. It’s fun to focus on that.


LTPB: So how do you decide what technique you will use for a new story? 

DM: I’m a big believer in having the technique of how an illustration is executed reflect the story you’re trying to tell…but that doesn’t mean you should burn your whole process down each time you start a project. I try to make simple adjustments to how I work to fit the feel I want a story to have. For example I just finished up a book with author Jody Jensen Shaffer and Nancy Paulsen called A Chip Off the Old Block.


The story is about a little pebble that aspires to be great like his famous family members -- the Rock of Gibralter, Mount Etna, Mount Rushmore, and so on. Rocky goes on an epic journey across the U.S. in search of significance. There’s humor, there’s drama, and lots of different locales and rock formations. I wanted to be able to get at the distinct personalities of each place just as if they were people. In some cases I needed the boldness and heft of acrylic paint to define a rock structure, but in others I needed the lightness and air of a subtle watercolor/gouache wash. Hopefully after it was all composited digitally it represented the depth and grandeur the journey required. With that being said, I can’t ever completely depart from who I am. I trust that the unique marks that I make will show through no matter what media I use. Evolution and growth as an artist is important to me, but also letting what comes naturally shine.


LTPB: What kind of research do you do with each new medium? 

DM: I love sketchbooks. They’re my creative playground. They provide a safe place to try and fail with ideas and image making processes. I try to constantly mess around with materials. It would be extremely rough I think to pick something completely new up at the beginning of a project and expect yourself to use it at a high level. I’d rather spend my calories worrying about what I wanted to say at that time, not how I was going to say it.



It is true I did approach That Neighbor Kid with a different media than my readers are used to seeing from me, but I had been exploring painting that way for about two years prior on Instagram with daily posts. I suppose you could call that a super extended research and development period!



LTPB: How involved are you in the design of your books, including endpapers and case covers/dust jackets? 

DM: Designing picture books is definitely a team effort. I like thinking through the design of the book and usually have ideas of how things should look, but I also trust my creative partners to do what they’re great at. We usually volley ideas back and forth. You know when it feels right. Hopefully the strongest ideas for things like endpapers and case covers end up in the final book no matter where they come from. I do have a lot of fun with those extra opportunities to extend the story. For the case cover for That Neighbor Kid I thought it would be fun to expand a bit on the character’s relationship. I imagined the little girl peeking around the spine of the book and the boy making off with a board from the fence. It was probably a little too mysterious for the jacket especially with all the negative space, but it seemed to be a perfect bit of something for the reader to find underneath. (Mel did a case cover reveal here!).


LTPB: What are you working on now? And what can you tell us about your upcoming book That Is My Dream!

DM: I’m working on a few things. Thanks for asking! First off, That Is My Dream! comes out October 3rd with Schwartz & Wade.


It’s a picture book version of Langston Hughes’s poem “Dream Variation.” The story follows a young African American boy and his family throughout the course of a day. It juxtaposes the harsh realities of segregation and racial prejudice with his dreams full of hope and possibilities. It was a true honor to get to make this book with Anne Schwartz and Lee Wade. Langston Hughes’s poetry turned me upside down as a teenager. I can’t wait to share it.






I’m wrapping up A Chip Off the Old Block (which I mentioned earlier) with Nancy Paulsen Books. It hits stores February 2018.

I’ve also begun making finished art for my newest project as author/illustrator called Night Out. It’s another one with Schwartz & Wade. I’m not entirely sure what I’m allowed to say about this one yet, but it’s about a boy, a mysterious invitation, and a nighttime adventure. Look for it Summer 2018!


LTPB: The last question I’m asking all illustrators who participate in the series is, if you could have one illustrator (other than yourself!) illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

DM: 
Well, if my life should one day warrant such an honor my pick would be illustrator Rafael López. His work is so full of life, aspiration, and symbolism. It would be nice to have my life seen through that kind of lens -- plus if I were alive at the time it would give me an excuse to spend some time talking with him.

It was incredibly wonderful to have someone I admire so much stop by and talk about some of my favorite books -- thanks, Daniel!! That Neighbor Kid published in May from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Special thanks to Daniel for use of these images!