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BIG, from Little Pickle Press, is available at the press website (http://littlepicklepress.com) and on Amazon in hardcover and Kindle versions. This is excellent news if you have a Kindle Fire (and I do).

As all of you with even a nodding acquaintance with my blog know, we’re big people around here. There’s the House Leroy, of course, whose nickname is “Big.” There’s The Boy, who is 6’4″. There were my uncles, all over six feet. And now there are my nephews–6’4″ and 6’8″–who by chance are visiting and cooking for me. Since they’re marvelous cooks, that explains why we’re big in other ways, too). We know big. We do it well.

Which is why I was particularly pleased to run across BIG, a new Little Pickle Press book written by written Coleen Paratore and illustrated by Clare Fennell. BIG that takes the idea of bigness–something about which I thought I knew just about everything there is to know–and expands it in intriguing, and thought-provoking, ways. I was even more pleased to score Clare Fennell’s email address, and have the chance to chat with her a little bit about her work style.

Being big is a subject that’s central to the lives of many children. You’re a mom. Is it something that comes up a lot at your house?
Being big is a massive issue in our house; my younger girl is quite small for her age (she was born prematurely) and other children often refer to her as “little.” She hates it and insists she’s a ‘BIG’ girl. And she is! She also hates it when her older sister gets to do stuff that she can’t, like staying up late, sleepovers or being able to ride her bike without stabilisers (training wheels) etc.

I notice that a lot of these illustrations include measuring tools–rulers, drafting paper, and so forth. Was this intentional? And if so, can you expand on that a bit? In a book that basically defines bigness in terms that have nothing to do with physical measurements, what role do those measuring tool textures fill?
Hmm, I guess you can look at them as literal measuring tools. I particularly like textures like text books, graph paper and newspapers, and use them a lot. The more textures the better!

I think we wanted to use them here to show how being “BIG” isn’t necessarily a size thing right at the beginning of the book, even though that’s what people think. Then I liked the theme running through the book.

Speaking of textures: How do you get your collage textures? I see painted paper, printed paper (the drafting paper), and paper textures that involve words and various images. Do you create those textures as well, or do you seek out already-printed paper textures for your work? And if so, where do you like to look?

I think the answer is where don’t I look! I am constantly looking and collecting stuff. I have three boxes labeled “Patterns, Textures, Colours” to keep them all in, and a cupboard full of fabrics. I love going to haberdashery departments and vintage clothing stalls! I go through all magazines before they are recycled and rip out anything I can use–be it a nice area of colour, water texture, skin texture–anything!

I also do a lot of painting colours on brown parcel paper (I like the texture it produces) and on old newspaper. I’ve used old bits of clothing–I’ve also photographed some of my old stuffed toys (for the pattern) and photographed my furniture for wood textures, photographed rocks, plants etc.

How did you find Little Pickle Press? (Or, how did they find you?)
They found me! It was so lovely to be approached like that. I think they saw my work on Children’s Illustrators.com and then on my blog. They liked the mixed media feel of my work. Hooray!!

Your work looks very traditional. How does PhotoShop factor in? Do you collage your work there, or do you develop images, print them out, and then integrate them into your collages?

Well, I don’t have any hard and fast rules, I’m always experimenting. Mainly I collage and paint the individual bits by hand on paper. For BIG, I made all the  characters first, then scanned them in and used Photoshop to finish the collage electronically. Finally I added background textures,  shadows, and so forth, also in Photoshop.

I love collage because it gives me the flexibility to change and move things around. Photoshop is just an extension of this for me. Sometimes I create a pattern in Photoshop, print it out, and then collage it, but not often.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?

When I was eighteen I wrote to Quentin Blake (it was pen and paper in those days) And he replied!!

He sent me loads of press clippings because I was doing an essay about him (no internet!) His work has always inspired me, even though it’s completely different to mine. I have always enjoyed how much movement and character he can bring to his images.

I trained in illustration at university. After I graduated I continued buying children’s books because I loved them. I stumbled into greetings card work after graduating and ended up staying there. It was an amazing grounding into art and design on a professional level, but my heart has always been in children’s books. I just didn’t have the confidence…

After I had our girls, I spent hours reading lovely children’s books with them … wishing. One day a very good friend of mine said, “Just try it; what have you got to lose?” So I dusted off my sketchbook and started! I guess it shows what you can do if you put your mind to it. It’s the best job in the world, AND I get to be here with our children after school and in the holidays too. One day I hope to write a children’s  book as well….well, that’s the plan!!

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with us, Clare.

And if you, Gentle Readers (or Savage Readers–we’re equal-opportunity around here, what with the Magic Dog’s penchant for biting UPS men, gas men, Fed-ex men, mail men, cops, and random strangers) would like to read more about BIG, Little Pickle Press, and the nice people who make these things possible, you can download lesson plans at the Little Pickle Press website here. Click here for the BIG lesson plan. And of course you’ll want to buy a copy of this beautiful book, or download a Kindle version of the book by clicking here.

BIG is printed on recycled papers with soy inks in North America (since the folks at Little Pickle Press are all Big People and Understand About Saving Our Planet).  For more of the story behind the story in BIG continue the book tour tomorrow–here’s a full set of the blog stops:

Tour Stops 2012

·  9/17 Carrots Are Orange

·  9/18 Shonell Bacon

·  9/19 Brit Mum

·  9/20 Spoiled Yoga

· 9/21 Capability Mom

Here’s a quick reference list of helpful links for BIG, and for Little Pickle Press:

Picture Book

Kindle e-book

Video trailer

Little Pickle Press website

Little Pickle Press blog

Little Pickle Press on Facebook

Little Pickle Press on Twitter

Little Pickle Press on Pinterest

BIG Lesson Plan Only

Free lesson plans

LPP Blog Book Tour Schedule

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Steve Jobs’ passing this week has gotten me to thinking about bosses. Way back in the hazy, lazy days before I started my own business I had them. Some were good. Some not so much. If you were my boss and you were Not Good, you probably know who you are, so I won’t waste time detailing the horrors of being your subordinate. What I’d like to talk about, instead, are my good bosses, and the key roles they played in my life then (and now).

Let’s talk about Kevin first. Kevin was my first “career” boss–the boss who first challenged me to expand my skills into an area where I was convinced I’d never make a living–design. He hadn’t hired me as a designer. He had hired me as an editor, mostly, I suspect, because I have a Master’s degree, and in our particular work environment advanced degrees carried more weight than they probably should have. At any rate, I got hired as an editor, but since at the time we had no designer Kevin encouraged me to refine my desktop publishing skills. More than that, though, he encouraged me–he encouraged all of us–to share everything we knew, and to learn from each other. The result was a remarkably productive team of happy, mutually supportive people. And when he left, Kevin left behind a letter which he urged me to submit in support of a request for a better, bigger color computer monitor. “Because with the right equipment, there’s nothing she can’t do,” he wrote.

I never turned that letter in. Instead, I saved it. Kevin’s confidence inspired me to switch career focuses. After he left I took a job with another company not as a writer but as a bottom-level designer. I used their educational benefits. I built my skills. And when the time came, I was able to move to a “real” design studio, where I did “real” design work–and where I was fortunate enough to find bosses whose confidence in my skills exceeded my own. Like Kevin, Peter and Michael believed in sharing knowledge and building skills. And so, when I started doing quick sketches for client design presentations they urged me to hone that skill, too. Among other things, they encouraged me to work on my own art on their equipment once my projects were up to date. “The better you get at this, the more valuable you are to us,” they said, and so it was that I started seriously working on children’s book illustrations. When I was ready they started taking on jobs that involved illustration as well as design.

Those me were good bosses, but in between them I had another good boss, Pete. Pete was the man who hired me as a bottom-level designer. He managed a large in-house staff of writers, designers, and production managers. The year after he hired me he remarried, and everyone in the department was happy for him, because Pete was one of those bosses that everyone loved–he knew his business. He knew how to deal with our in-house clients. He knew how to challenge, direct, and free his staff to achieve their best. So Pete got remarried, and everyone was happy. At about the same time my personal life fell horribly, horribly apart. As embarrassing as it is to admit this, it was such a terrible experience that I pretty much fell apart for a while. I had to take time off work. Pete arranged it so that money wasn’t one of my worries, on top of everything else. When I came back to work a month later I was weak, and wobbly. My hands shook. I did my best, and in fact found comfort in knowing that at work, at least, I had my life in some sort of order.

And then one day Pete happened to be getting coffee in the lunchroom when I was. As we stood side by side pouring our coffee he said, not looking at me, “I want you to know I understand what you’re going through. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.” And then he hugged me, quickly, one-armed. And then he left. He never looked at me, and he left without waiting for an answer. I stood there in the lunch room, shaking and crying, staring at the coffee pot so no one would see. When I had myself back together I went back to my office and went back to work.

Pete never brought the subject up again. Neither did I. Everything that needed to be said had been said there beside the coffee pots. What I didn’t know at the time was that Pete was speaking no more than the unvarnished truth when he told me he knew how it felt to have your life fall apart around you. I didn’t know that he had fought depression for years, and on that day beside the coffee pots he he must have had at least an inkling that, even though his life looked like it was finally going his way, the depression was back. Just a few months later the depression won.

I’ve never talked about this with anyone. I never even told him “thank you” for the sheer kindness of his words–and for leaving my dignity intact. I wish I had known about the demons he fought. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but who knows? Sometimes even the department bottom-feeder can be a comfort.

So bosses, give your people room and incentive to grow. Remember we’re all on the same team. Don’t be afraid to offer a kind word beside the coffee pots. And Pete, wherever you are, I wish you the happiness, joy, and contentment your leadership, skills, and humanity fostered for those of us whose paychecks you signed. You mattered. You mattered a lot.

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Here is one of the pictures from my painted journal, Secret History. I should explain that I am less a fine artist than I am an illustrator; my work in general tends to inhabit a no-man’s-land between the world of words and the world of images. When I write, I record pictures in words; when I paint, I tell stories in colors and symbols. So–here’s a painted story, but before I tell you mine, I’m interested to hear yours. What do you see in this picture? (If you need to see details, you can double-click for a larger image.) Talk amongst yourselves….

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