September 5, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #39: Molly Idle

A little while back I was putting together a post on complementary colors (which you all know is my jam), and I sent out a tweet about purple-and-yellow picture books. And thus my conversation with Molly Idle about her new board book Flora and the Ostrich: An Opposites Book was born! Molly is a Caldecott Honor winner for her first book in the Flora series Flora and the Flamingo, and I cannot believe my timing that I was able to interview Molly about this book in particular because it's my favorite one in the series so far (yes, yes, because of those yellows and purples). Enjoy the awesomeness that is Molly Idle!

About the book:
When a new feathered friend seems so different from her, Flora discovers that opposites, in fact, attract!

Let's talk Molly Idle!

LTPB: Hi Molly! 

MI: Hi Mel! Thanks so much again for inviting me to answer some questions about Flora and her feathered friends! 

LTPB: So I just realized that you’re my first board book interview! What was it like going from writing Flora picture books to Flora board books? How did you work to fit your stories into smaller (physically and page-wise) books? 

MI: What a fine coincidence –– this is your first board books interview, and these are my first board books! I thoroughly enjoyed trying out a new format. The stories I’d had in mind for both the Chicks and Ostrich seemed, to me, to call for something different than the full 40 pages of the Flora picture books. They needed something more succinct. So I was really pleased that Chronicle was open to the idea of exploring board books with Flora. It was just the right format for these stories. As I was paring down the number of pages, it felt right to pare down the scenery a bit, too –– focusing each page entirely on the characters and the concepts. Doing that allowed us to make a smaller book that would fit nicely in the hands of smaller readers. I love it when things work out!

LTPB: What is your design process like? Do you plan where to put in flaps?

MI: My design process is… is it a process? 

That word makes it sound like I have more control over it than it does over me. And I’m not sure that’s true. For example, I don’t plan out where all the flaps will go ahead of time –– I just start sketching, finding the story, and then look for moments that emerge that necessitate the use of flaps.

However, I do set out at the beginning with an idea as to how I’d like the flaps to operate in each book. And the type of flap is determined by the action and the characters. I think, or at least I hope, that helps to keep each new type of interactive flap unique to its particular story. For example: Flora and the Penguin. Iceskating –– like having a disagreement with a friend –– involves a lot of back and forth. So I wanted the flaps to allow the reader to move the characters back and forth.

Peacocks have amazing fan-like tails that they use to get attention, and so I wanted to design the flaps in Flora and the Peacocks in such a way that the reader could participate in their attention-seeking dance, by folding and unfolding their fanning feathers. 

LTPB: You and I have talked about this a bit, but I’m a HUGE sucker for complementary colors, so this book is just extra wonderful to me.

How do you choose your color schemes? I assume the birds have a lot to do with it, so how do you choose which bird you’ll use to explore these different concepts? 

MI: Oooo, I love complementary colors, too! And I really enjoy the challenge of creating a new limited palette for each book. The colors I choose to work with in the Flora books are determined by her fine feathered friends. The flamingo –– obviously, pink. The peacocks have their blues and greens. But as to how the birds are chosen, to me it feels like a sort of artistic natural selection… 

While making Flora and the Flamingo, my art director at Chronicle and I came up with the idea of Flora ice skating with a penguin pal with whom she has a falling out. My editor suggested that I consider having Flora skate with two penguins, as interacting with groupings of three friends is often tricky. And I remember replying that penguins really seem to get along well in a group setting… I mean, have you seen March of the Penguins? I think they’d be cool with the idea of cooperation. But PEACOCKS? Those birds are like, “It’s all about ME!" I think they’d have trouble sharing the spotlight. That’s when we knew we had the makings of two more stories. It was the same with the Ostrich. I know ostriches don't really hide their heads in the sand, but that old notion got me thinking that making friends with an Ostrich would be like trying to make friends with someone who is shy… which is the opposite of what Flora is.

And that’s how Flora and the Ostrich: An Opposites Book came to be.

LTPB: What medium do you use for your illustrations and why? 

MI: Colored pencils! Specifically Prismacolor pencils. I love the their colors, the ease with which they blend together, and the precision with which they allow me to work. I think the precision is what drew me to pencils in the first place (some pun intended). For, while my sketching process is very loose, I am seriously Type A in the way I approach my color work. I’ve got all my pencils sorted by color and from tint to shade. I like to think of myself as “really organized”… but “crazypants” would be an equally fitting adjective.

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

MI: Right now I am working on my next author/illustrated book Pearl (Little Brown, Fall 2018). Here’s a little sneak peek…

LTPB: If you could have one illustrator, alive or dead, illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

MI: I would choose the live one, no question. Because, with the dead illustrator, you know what you’re gonna get. Their best work has been done. But with the live illustrator, they’re still striving to make better and better work. There are exciting unrealized possibilities…

And, it’s easier for them to hold a pencil.

Isn't Molly the best? Her answer to that last question cracked me up! It truly is easier for a live person to hold a pencil, Molly. Well-said! Be sure to check out Flora and the Ostrich: An Opposites Bookout today from Chronicle Books, and be on the lookout for Pearl in 2018! 

Special thanks to Molly and Chronicle Books for use of these images!

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