August 4, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #151: Natalie Nelson

I have been following Natalie Nelson's career for a few years (I am a collage girl at heart!), but when I saw that she was releasing her author debut, I knew that now was the perfect time to catch her and chat about her process! Natalie's author debut is called Holiday! and it's equal parts funny and beautifully designed. Come take a look at how Natalie made the book and peek at what she has in store for readers next! 

About the book: 
Early one morning, a strange visitor arrives -- a visitor whose name is Holiday. "I'll be taking over for you today!" Holiday tells Monday. And before long, Holiday has met the other days, even Saturday and Sunday, who usually sleep all week.

With each introduction, Monday becomes more and more upset. She is used to starting the week, and she'd like to keep it that way. When Holiday announces how much fun he's having, and that he'd like to stay, Wednesday and Friday admit that they are a little worried, too. Meanwhile, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday are completely smitten by this exciting new day.

Finally, Monday (with Wednesday and Friday in tow), asks Holiday to kindly pack his things and go. Then just in time, Tuesday comes up with a solution that will work for everyone.

Let's talk Natalie Nelson!

LTPB: Am I correct that Holiday! is your author debut? Congratulations! Where did the story come from? What was your inspiration?

NN: You are correct! I’ve always found it humorous that, as adults, we say things like, “Today may be Thursday but it sure feels like a Monday!” I wondered how that would sound to a kid, especially if they are early in their school days, just beginning to learn the days of the week and what differentiates each day from the next. This thought led me to start envisioning the days, themselves, as characters with distinct voices and characteristics. Who is Monday? What motivates her? What makes her different from Wednesday or Saturday? And finally, I thought about what kinds of weeks really throw our normal routine off, and those weeks often involve a holiday taking the place of one of the days of the week. If a holiday falls on a Monday, where does Monday go? 

LTPB: What differences did you find between creating a picture book on your own (text and illustrations) versus illustrating someone else’s text? Now that you do both, which do you generally start with?

NN: Illustration is what I have built my career around, so even though I love reading and appreciate great stories, actually having to write one myself was very daunting. I knew the idea was there, but putting it all down on a page was certainly a new creative challenge. Whether I illustrate another author’s text or my own, I always start with the text. I feel like I really need to know the story and the characters internally before I start drawing them. I spend a lot of time reading and re-reading the text, jotting notes and little images down as I go. 

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of the book? As you got to know the characters, how did your illustrations change?

NN: I knew I wanted the characters to be more abstracted, less figurative. It didn’t seem right to envision an abstract concept (one day, a 24-hour period of time) as a literal person with a human-looking body and face, etc. I spent a lot of time first developing the personalities of the days–what makes them tick, how do they wake up in the morning, what’s their favorite part of the playground, things like that. A lot of this didn’t actually make it into the story, but I needed to know each character before I could come up with their look and voice. (side note: my publisher, Groundwood, made a really fun personality quiz called “Which Day of the Week are You?” as promotion for the book.)

(Mel is a Wednesday!)

Monday was so clearly a square shape to me, completely symmetrical and orderly. Tuesday is Monday’s best friend and right-hand man, so I thought that it would make sense for his shape to appear as though it’s leaning over to be nearer to Monday. Wednesday is the individualist, so her shape needed to be a bit softer and moldable, which is why she ended up as a circular shape. Thursday is a burst of energy, as reflected in the angular, firecracker shape. Anyway, some of the character designs were just intuitive to how I saw them in my head and others were based on specific traits.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

NN: I used a combination of cut paper collage and Photoshop. Basically I worked out the shapes with scissors and different textured paper or scraps I collected on my project table, and then scanned them into Photoshop to add the finishing details. My work always involves a hybrid of tactile and digital. In a lot of my editorial work I often use collage and found photography as well. For the picture books I’ve illustrated so far, my main goal is to invoke a sense of play and fun while mixing textures, colors and bold shapes. 

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

NN: A couple things! First, I’m working on a board book called Dog's First Baby, which, if you can’t tell from the title, is about how the family pet might describe the event of a baby being brought home for the first time. After that one I’m also doing Cat's First Baby. I’m the author and illustrator of both books and I’m super excited about them.

Related, the other big project I’m working on is growing a baby in my own body! My husband and I are expecting our first son, and he’s due October 7. 

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

NN: Maira Kalman, 100%. She can take the most mundane of subject matter and turn it into gold. My life is really not that interesting, but she’d make it sound (and look) fantastic! 

A million thanks to Natalie for taking time to answer some questions (and help me figure out what day of the week I am!). Holiday! publishes TODAY from Groundwood Books!

Special thanks to Natalie and Groundwood for use of these images!

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your process, Natalie. I'm working on my own PB with abstract concept characters, so this is quite helpful. Thanks! Will have to take a look at your new book. Hope it does well!