Forget-Me-Nots book art: the process

Here is a piece of art from my latest book, Forget-Me-Nots, Poems to Learn by Heart, A poetry anthology compiled by Mary Ann Hoberman and published by Little,Brown/Hachette. Below you can see the preliminary sketches of the spread, and the changes it went through. The finish art work is done with mechanical pencil line and tube watercolor on Arches cold press 90lbs. Some dry pastel is used here and there in the book, like below in the shaded bit in the water and at the bottom.For those who don’t know what paper designations mean, Arches is the name of a very old French art paper maker. They make most of their paper by hand. They are quite famous and popular so the paper can be found all over, both here in Ireland where I live, and in the US where I did the first few books in this series with Mary Ann Hoberman. 90 pound is the weight, or thickness of the paper. The “press” is hown the paper is moulded, or more simply how rough texture of the paper is. “Hot” is the smoothest, “cold” is medium rough, and “rough” is the roughest surface, with lots of pits and lumps.

Most people don’t use 90lb paper for watercolor. I use a lightbox for line art, so I need thin paper. I’ll explain that another time….

It can make a big difference switching papers, to ones that you are not used to, so I try to stick to one easily available paper, as I am likely to screw up and run out of paper, just when art is due in two days time, and it would be an inconvenient disaster to have to mail order special paper in a hurry. It’s simply unthinkable to use two different papers in one book. It would change the art too much.

This is the final sketch (above) with text in place that I would have sent in a revised dummy to the designer in New York.This is a cleaner design rough(above) of the whole spread idea. The rabbit is still rowing the boat. the blocks are used to visualize where text would be.This is a new idea (above)for the spread incorporating the entire spread as one design image. Here you can see the text I was imagining in different places with more sky and less water. The sketch art is usually roughed out  in a sketch pad, at home or sitting in a coffee shop, then scanned, then combined with the text in photoshop which has been roughly set ind placed on a page layout like this shown here. Sometimes I draw directly onto a xerox of the text proof. Below is an example. Some of the shading is added by computer as I prepare to send them off to the publisher/editor/designer for review. Sometimes they are just smudged pencil line.
This is the original design (above) sent in the first sketch dummy to New York. The two pages were different at this point. But you can see the elements of the final design in this one.

The spreads, or two facing pages together in an open book, were not intended to be, or described to me as one continuous image, but they were assembled as closely related. For most of this book I tried to bring one image if possible to incorporate the poems appearing on the two pages. I did not have a say in the choice of poems or their grouping, though I did change the audiences perception of them by linking them in this visual way. The pencil line would be the same mechanical pencil I use for sketching.You become accustom to a pencil’s “personality”, so it makes sense to stay witht he same exact pencil for the final. I switched to mechanical pencils, instead of wood pencils you need to sharpen, as the line is consistent and predictable. Not always a good thing but sketching out in the world is much easier with them and they make better ones all the time.

Let me know if there is anything else you’d like to know about how the art is made. M.E.

Deb Marciano - August 2, 2012 - 4:00 am

Michael and Maryann have produced another gem. What a beautiful collection of poems totally made alive with Michael’s creative drawings. Each illustration tells a story, too! I already bought my copy and gave one to Joan Glazer for her birthday. this will become another book to share with my pre-service teachers. Love it. Thank you for your dedication to children’s quality literature.

Michael Emberley’s illustrations called “an unassuming wonder”

“Emberley’s art is an unassuming wonder…”

“…a playful masterclass in using the page…”

A great new “In Depth” review for my latest work, Forget-Me-Nots, Poems to Learn by Heart, an illustrated anthology of poetry compiled (and with contributions) by former US Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman, was featured in the June 2012 edition of the highly respected review publication Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. “The Big Picture”, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is a special monthly in-depth look at selected new titles and trends.

Below is an excerpt from the review that discusses the art. See the full article here.

“Emberley’s art is an unassuming wonder, a playful masterclass in using the page to support and extend the verse visuals. Watercolor lined with pencil and touched with pastel, the illustrations perform their job with assurance, taste, and humor, subtly linking spreads across the gutter and framing verse in negative or even positive space. For instance, the first anthological spread is a clever perpendical, subtly framing the verses with a focused vertical downpour on the side (which falls on a mournful, umbrella-wielding auk) and an oceanic horizon line on the bottom (the auk bobs in a tiny boat). The subsequent spreads plaster poems on the broad backs of animals, illuminate them in the diagonal lightspill from a flashlight, or curve around them with snowy footprints. Small jokes, visual stories, and sneaky allusions to the poems add to the visual entertainment, insuring that kids will want to return to the book even when they’ve tucked the poems into memory.”

–Deborah Stevenson, Editor

The Bulletinof the Center for Children’s Books
The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends.

Ed Emberley Tribute Mural in Boston Children’s Hospital

Check out this cool new mural in the Children’s Hospital Boston by artists Caleb Neelon and Souther Salazar.

Caleb Neelon is an artist known for his bold Murals as well as being a major fan of the art and drawing books of legendary children’s book illustrator Ed Emberley. The Children’s Hospital Boston is a great organization, and Ed Emberley gets some well deserved exposure with this generous contribution from these talented artists. Caleb also was involved in an Ed Emberley tribute show at a gallery in Los Angeles in 2010. Caleb and Souther Salazar are artists whose work you should see more of online.

From artist Caleb Neelon’s Site

–  “Spent the past week painting this Ed Emberley tribute mural at Boston Children’s Hospital with Souther Salazar and his wife Monica. Working at Children’s is as meaningful as it gets to me.

The mural is 22? x 7? and should be up on view in the main lobby, along with Ed Emberley original Drawing Book mockups – see the below post – until at least end of October. Anyone can stop in to see them, it’s a public area and is open 24/7.”

And from an earlier post

-Starting tomorrow, Wednesday, June 20, I’ll be working with Souther Salazar on a tribute project to one of out favorite artists, Ed Emberley. The two of us will be doing a big mural on-site in the lobby of Boston Children’s Hospital, right in the middle of it all. Ed Emberley will have a bunch of original drawing book mockups on the adjacent wall, and it’ll be a rare chance to get to see them. The only other time they have been out of Ed’s studio was the 2010 show Ed Emberley and Friends that I organized at Scion in LA, and this time around, we have some never-before-seen mockups from Ed’s Thumbprint books.

You can come to the Children’s main lobby June 20th – 22nd and 24th – 25th to see us in action, and after that – at least until November – to see the show as it’s installed. It’s in the big main lobby, so you don’t need to do anything other than just walk in and have a look.

I connected with Ed well after that kids’ book had come out. I was writing for Swindle Magazine then, and somehow Ed Emberley’s name popped into my head. I had no idea if Ed was still alive or even where he lived. I looked him up, and surprise enough, he was alive and well (still is) and living in Ipswich, on Boston’s North Shore. I went up to do a feature article on Ed, and so many things clicked back into place. Turned out Ed even grew up in my old neighborhood in Cambridge.

Ed signed a stack of his books for me, and I gave them away as holiday presents. My buddy Sam, then about 11, was looking through the Big Purple book and called me out: my Lilman book was a big old chomp from Emberley! I couldn’t believe it, and I mailed a copy of Lilman up to Ed, putting the story back together. Ed’s response? “Keep Drawing Them!!”

This is what’s so great about Ed Emberley’s approach to art, and in a way, to art education. His books are about copying, but they aren’t about copying so you get something perfect. If you want to learn how to draw Spiderman, for example, you better get it exactly like Stan Lee had it, or it’ll look wrong. What’s so giving and great about Ed’s books is that even if you end up deviating a lot from his guidelines, it still looks great and you still have fun drawing. Even though I’m that rare kid who got to grow up to be a professional artist, I never was that kid in class who could draw Spiderman and have it look right. Trying to draw him was frustrating more than anything. Ed’s drawing books always gave me that little tickle of pleasure that came from drawing, and that was what kept me coming back to making more and more art. And the sum total of those little tickles is a person who will always enjoy making art.

Thanks, Ed!

Michael Emberley art hits the road in California

Recently the Beaumont library district in southern California commissioned a design for their new library van featuring art from my book, An Annoying ABC (written by Barbara Bottner). I think it looks fantastic! What a wonderful effort on the part of everyone involved.

This van travels to pre-schools and child-care providers so they can come aboard and select from a collection of picture books and storytime materials housed on the shelving.  Beaumont is a small town (they recently put in their 10th stop light!) still they serve about 50,000 people.

The van made it’s debut in the Beaumont community’s Cherry Festival Parade.  Beaumont are known by the State Library for their outstanding services in support of Early Literacy.

The van will hold about 2,000 books, (including a few of mine!) and travels to a number of the community’s child care centers and preschools. The van’s back has a listing of sponsors…

The design is applied in what they call a vinyl wrap. The people who did this amazing job are called Aviwraps. (In case you want to do the same for your van….)


The old Library building in town dates back to the 30’s.

The beautiful renovation inside the library is an inviting space for children.

Inside the beautifully renovated library
More of the inside of the lovely library.
An original mural on the wall

Beaumont Library District

125 East 8th St

Beaumont, CA   92223

Emberley family gather on Dublin stage

From left to right, in the National Libray, Dublin – moderator Steve Simpson, Ed, Michael, Rebecca Emberley, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

This years annual Children’s Books Ireland (CBI) book conference, “Weaving A Shared Story”, brought the entire highly creative Emberley family of Boston, Massachusetts together for an event at the National Library in Dublin. And by all accounts it was a resounding success. The audience was treated to a rare appearance of the complete American book family on stage for a lively discussion led by noted Dublin illustrator Steve Simpson. For this family of artists and writers to share the limelight and not all talk at once was a testament to Mr. Simpson’s skills, and an entertaining and informative talk was the result.

The extended Emberley family is rich with notable children’s book authors and illustrators, including Ed, Barbara, Rebecca, Michael, and newest member, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, the award winning Irish children’s book author/illustrator who currently lives in County Wicklow, Ireland with husband Michael Emberley.

Ed Emberley, the head of the dynasty, is a well known figure in the American children’s book field, and creator of over 100 books during the past 50 years or so. His first picture book was published in 1964, and has won, amongst other accolades, the highest honor for children’s illustrated literature in the US, the Caldecott Award, in 1969. Ed has worked in every art technique imaginable from traditional woodcut prints to crow-quill pen, and pencil drawing, watercolors, color inks and guache, pre-seperated color printing, and finally computer generated digital illustration. Ed is possibly best known for his innovative and empowering series of drawing books, first appearing in 1969, using his original method of teaching using simple shapes as the foundation of a world of drawing for children, and adult as well. Multiple generations of artists have paid tribute to Ed’s books, citing them as the perfect inspiration and encouragement they needed when they first began to draw.

Ed’s wife Barbara Emberley(who prefers to stay out of the spotlight) has been involved for nearly 50 years with Ed as writer, adapter, and mechanical artist. (As well as accountant, tax advisor, wife, mother, etc. , and a craftsperson in her own right with particular skills in fashion design and sewing.)

Ed and Barbara’s daughter Rebecca Emberley has been publishing on and off since 1980, even establishing her own publishing company at one point, becoming known for a successful series of boldly designed bilingual books for young children using paper collage technique. Recently Rebecca has been involved in a series of collaborative projects with Ed, designing wildly imaginative picture books with a bright, colorful hybrid technique best described as “computer collage”.

Michael Emberley began publishing books in 1979. After experimenting with the emerging computer graphic field early on, Michael returned to writing and illustrating picture books in 1990 using mainly “old school” lead pencils, watercolor and pastel. Michael has been involved with creating both fiction and non fiction books, having written and illustrated several original and award winning picture books, as well as designing and illustrating a now classic series of titles exploring the facts of life with renowned child development expert and author Robie Harris. The books, including the initial title, “It’s Perfectly Normal”, have sold over 2 million copies world wide, and been translated into over 30 languages. Michael has also collaborated with well known American authors such as Sally Lloyd Jones, writing guru Barbara Bottner, and recent US children’s poet laureate, Mary Ann Hoberman.

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick has been three times awarded the highest award in Ireland for children’s books, the CBI (formally “Bisto”) award for best children’s book. She has also recently been writing for grade school ages, as well as YA novels.

The creative Emberley clan also includes Rebecca’s daughter Adrian Emberley, and husband Peter Black, who are both professional singer/songwriters, as well as uncles and cousins working as professional photographers and video producers.

The Emberley’s extended their visit with a bit of touring in the west of the country, as well as providing an extended interview for an upcoming issue of CBI’s own innovative and boldly designed publication dedicated to children’s literature, “Inis”.