April 11, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #20: Deborah Marcero

When I picked up Deborah Marcero's newest picture book Rosie and Crayon, I immediately connected with it in about a thousand ways. Deborah and I had the pleasure of chatting a little about how much her book means to me, and I was thrilled when she agreed to an interview. Deborah has a way of breathing life into every character she conceives, and it brings me so much joy to share her process behind creating this special book about love, loss, and hope.

About the book:
Rosie and her pup Crayon lead readers through the colorful seasons of growing up together and what it means to love . . . and then experience loss. After a long colorful life, Crayon dies, and Rosie's world becomes black and white. We follow along as she processes her grief and embarks on the most important journey of all -- opening her heart to love again.

Peek underneath the dust jacket here.
Watch the official book trailer here.

Let's talk Deborah Marcero!

LTPB: Rosie & Crayon is chock-full of emotion, and it’s grounded in honesty and relatability. Where did you draw your inspiration from? 

When writing this book, I drew inspiration from 1) big changes that were happening in my life, 2) my pup, Bear, and 3) the place that I lived. Between 2012 and 2014 I changed cities, careers, relationships and adopted a puppy. In and amongst all that change – as positive and necessary as it was – there was excitement, fear, joy, and also loss. As I bonded and grew together with my pup, everything was new, and yet I was also struck with the idea that his sweet life will only last so long. What was I getting myself into?

In traveling by my side, Bear’s companionship and unconditional love so easily became something so LARGE in my life, and the promise of knowing he wouldn’t be here forever with me contributed greatly to this book. I can’t but somehow think that I wrote this partly for my future self, as a reminder of where and how we found each other inside of those big shifts in my life. As for place, I lived near Saugatuck Dunes on the magnificent shore of Lake Michigan – which feels like the sea. Bear and I would walk almost every day in every season up and down the wooded dunes to the lakeshore. This landscape served as an inspired backdrop to the awakening in my life and sense of renewal as I shaped new rhythms and settled into a routine where I could rediscover myself and fill my time with being creative once more.

LTPB: The patterning you do in your illustrations is just breathtaking (curtains, floors, even the lawn). What is your preferred medium and why? How do you start the process of creating your illustrations?

Thank you, Mel! My preferred mediums are ink, watercolor and gouache. I also love making textures from woodblock prints, wood surfaces, tea stains, dyes, exotic papers and other hand-made mix-media surface texture designs. What comes first and most natural to me is pencil and line work. My line work is the thing that feels most effortless and intuitive to me. I always start there in deciding, shape, emotion/expression, positive/negative space and composition.

Initial sketch designs of cover

LTPB: I noticed that Rosie & Crayon is more brightly colored than Ursa’s Light, which is lighter in tone. How does your process change from book to book? Are these “color schemes” planned or subconscious? 

My color palettes are definitely decided before a book moves from sketches to color. Sometimes the colors expand a little beyond my original selection, but for the most part, securing the palette before I begin is very freeing. It also helps the book stay consistent in tone. 

Book case (different from jacket cover) design: raw ink brush lines. I wanted to showcase the theme of absence as presence by not having the main characters appear on the case. Only to show their footprints, as evidence they had been there. 

Printed bookcase, final art.  Reading from left to right, takes the viewer through the seasons (spring-summer-fall-winter), in the same way the story does.

I deliberately made Rosie & Crayon brighter and more vibrant, because the meaning in this story for me is how much loving a pet (or anyone) truly makes life better, more joyful and more colorful. Even after they are gone. Rosie in her loss and grieving initially shuts out the color (as she tries to forget Crayon), so the palette becomes very de-saturated in the middle of the book. Then as she finds her way through her grief to a feeling of hope, she allows herself to remember Crayon. In doing so, the color comes back into her world. I intentionally used color to figuratively reflect Rosie’s emotional journey throughout the story. 

LTPB: Your illustrator debut was Backyard Witch: Sadie's Story (written by Christine Heppermann and Ron Koertge), and you illustrated Twinderella (written by Corey Rosen Schwartz), which comes out in September. What differences have you found in writing and illustrating a book versus illustrating someone else’s text?

That is a great question. The processes are very different for me. Illustrating someone else’s work is a wonderful experience, because it pushes me outside the realm of my own imagination. At the beginning it is sometimes more challenging to illustrate someone else’s words, but I embrace this challenge whole-heartedly (if I connect with a story) because I feel myself grow and develop as an artist because of it. I also cherish the opportunity to work with different editors, art directors and designers. They are all such brilliant, insightful, wonderful people who think about what makes a book better and more beautiful ALL THE TIME. I love the chance to learn, question, and discover what emerges from taking on a new assignment. 


In being an author-illustrator, I get to play with what happens in that space between words and images. I love writing something spare in the text and filling the mind with an illustration to expand or even contrast the language. I believe that emotions, humor and wonderful storytelling can happen and be amplified in that space between.

LTPB: It looks like you’re working on a book called Rella, is that right? What details (and images!) can you share? What other stories do you have in the pipeline/what topics would you like to explore?

I’m working on a handful of projects that are on submission or in contract negotiation, thanks to the wonderful partnership I have with my agent, Danielle Smith. My picture book, In a Jar, was most recently announced. It was acquired by Jennifer Besser at Putnam and is about a young bunny named Llewellyn who is a collector of things big, small and even the intangible. His story embarks on a journey of magical-realism and friendship while inviting the reader to be present, slow down and discover the most important thing we have to share with others is time (Spring 2019).

As for Rella and her maps!! Yes! That is one of the picture books we’ve sold, and while negotiations are set, the title is a working title… so until we have one definitively, we are waiting to announce, which should be soon! This book is mostly about imagination. 

The journey Rella takes is the one I take when I’m drawing or writing or reading. Where the world drops away and I am suspended in thought, creating, visualizing and imagining. Plus I get to make big, detailed, fantastical maps!! When I was in third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Green, gave us the assignment to make up a map using geography terms, a legend, etc. I drew an island in the shape of a witch’s head and made up a story about a lonely witch who lived there. Most things from elementary school I’ve long forgotten, but those certain things (few and far between) that made an impression on me stand out as small beams of light, showing me what I loved to do. And now I get to make a book that stems from the very assignment when I was eight, that filled me with wonder, imagination and creativity.

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? 

I would have to say Isabelle Arsenault. There is just something I deeply connect to in the potent energy of her line work.

Thank you so much for stopping by Deborah! Rosie and Crayon published last month from Peter Pauper Press -- I suggest you all grab tissues and give it a read! 

Special thanks to Deborah and Peter Pauper Press for use of these images!


  1. Deborah is a very talented and gifted writer/illustrator...I love her books even as an adult and as a mom they are perfect bedtime stories bc of the timing and beautiful pictures!! Just a great person overall!!

    1. 100% agree — A great person and an exceptionally talented picture book creator!

  2. I knew Deborah very well in college and she was born for this. Incredible poet, artist, and person.

    1. Couldn't agree more, and super thrilled to see her new book Out of a Jar doing so well!