February 13, 2018

Let's Talk Illustrators #59: Marianna Coppo

About two years ago I heard tale of a little Italian picture book called Petra, written and illustrated by Marianna Coppo. I’d seen it on one of my favorite sites (Picture Books Blogger) and instantly fell in love with the cover. I knew I had to have it. I purchased it from Italy and fell so in love that I even made my own little Petra (who you can see below)! I reviewed it and included it in my Best of 2016 list, and if anybody is worth the fanfare, it’s Petra. Fast-forward to now, and Petra is available in English in bookstores here in the States and Canada! This makes me incandescently happy, and I feel so lucky that I got the chance to chat about my favorite little rock with her creator, Marianna. I’m sharing that conversation with you here today, so get ready to rock and roll!

About the book:
Petra is a little rock who believes she is a mighty mountain . . . until a dog fetches her for its owner, and she is tossed into a bird's nest. A mountain? No, Petra is now an egg An egg of the world in a world of possibility. Until she's flung into a pond, and becomes an amazing island . . . and, eventually, a little girl's pet rock. What will she be tomorrow? Who knows? But she's a rock, and this is how she rolls.

Here's my Petra rock!

Let's talk Marianna Coppo!

LTPB: Petra is a very self-aware little stone, and she’s definitely a unique focus for a story. Where did the idea for Petra come from? Why did you choose to explore the idea of existence and relevance through the eyes of a stone?

MC: As a child, I always filled my pockets with small, useless items that I found around. Even now, when I go to the beach, I often spend time crouched on the water's edge retrieving stones and shells that now live on every free shelf of my house. I think this has something to do with it :)

Choosing a stone as a protagonist reflects, I think, my need to write a story that could give an encouraging response to my personal feeling of immobility. When I thought about this story, I was a little afraid of the world, and in order to prove myself, I was stubborn about certain things . . . a little like how Petra feels at the beginning of the book. Then life took over and, thanks to a change in perspective, fear made room for a more optimistic vision of the future and the unexpected in general. In short, I believe that Petra is not very confident at the beginning of the book, but she builds up her identity along the way.

LTPB: What was your process for creating Petra? What about her changed as you got to know her and the story evolved? What was it like trying to give Petra a distinct personality when she can basically only move her eyes?

MC: I think I already partially answered this question in the previous answer. Petra grows and gains confidence by confronting the unexpected events that she meets. She uses her best weapon: imagination. In short, everyone is who they are –– in this case a stone –– but they also contain everything they can imagine themselves to be, which is without its own value. I find it liberating.

I do not know about her expressiveness. The character came out so very spontaneously. I think having limited elements available to characterize her helped. When you have too many elements, it's easy to get lost. In any case, I think that makes all the difference in characterization, the fact that the author manages to get inside the book so much to successfully know and love the protagonist.

LTPB: How did you create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium?

MC: Petra is the result of a mix of gouache, pastels, and digital collage. I very often change medium, depending on the project I'm working on. Now I like to use mostly colored crayons, which I control better. Tomorrow, who knows!

In general, I’m taking a break from the digital now (except to clean drawings) because I know that I miss so many things, especially mistakes, which can lead to interesting solutions. (I don’t want to diminish working in digital, but I realize I use it sometimes as a shortcut and not as a resource.)

LTPB: What are you working on now? Can you show us anything from The Very Late Story?

MC: Now I'm working on a new book featuring a dog. I love drawing dogs and finally I have an excuse to draw them galore!

The Very Late Story is the book I just finished, and it will be released by Flying Eye Books in September. Here are the main characters!

LTPB: If you could have one illustrator (dead or alive!) illustrate a picture book biography of your life, who would he/she be, and why?

MC: Haha, I don’t think I would ever want a biography of mine to exist. It would be rather embarrassing! But if only I could read it, I would like it to be illustrated by Quentin Blake. I am madly in love with Roald Dahl's books, and their illustrations have a place of honor in my imagination. So, who else?

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Marianna, for talking to me about little Petra! Petra published last week from Tundra Books!

Special thanks to Tundra for use of these images!

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  1. Love this! I’m an aspiring author and kids book obsessor, and just tuned into Marianna Coppo... she so fabulous! I really enjoyed reading your conversation, and post. thank you!