The Artwork

Here’s a question artists are asked all the time: Where do you get your ideas? Fair enough question, I suppose, but one I dread when it’s asked of me because I know the answer is going to disappoint. The truth is, I get ideas by working. Not through my dreams, not by meditating, not by taking long walks by the sea while I summon the muse. I get ideas when I’ve gotten some new information and I bring it into the studio and start splashing paint around. Making a mess is helpful. Frustration is unavoidable. Despair looms. But if you stick with it and stay on your toes, I promise something will happen.

In the case of Sing To Your Baby®, I got lucky. Not a lot of anguish on this one. I found that the lyrics for each song, no matter how simple, evoked a whole scene. This really speaks to Cathy and Marcy’s gifts as song writers. Take the first song Love Is What I Feel For You. It’s about the aspirations and pure feelings a parent has for his or her child. But it can also be read as a love song from one partner to another or, for that matter, from any person who cares deeply about another. I pictured a young couple in their slightly run-down, urban apartment. The mom-to-be is due any time now and she’s exhausted. Her husband is trying to make her laugh and get her through the last days or hours of pregnancy so he sings a song into her belly. But he’s a terrible singer and he makes the old dog howl. She can’t help but smile.

From there, it seemed like every song suggested another scene showing a different way of experiencing a baby–intimately, adventurously, playfully, educationally, rambunctiously, all of it. And here was the exciting part for me: whether it was intentional or subconscious, Cathy and Marcy had created a story arc with their songs. Now I knew that I should approach the book as a play with different actors playing each scene. In the end, the finale if you will, our young couple has moved into a comfortable, possibly suburban home and have evolved into a multi-racial, multi-generational family. The children are growing and moving into the world. Wherever You Go, I Love You.

And so off to the studio to splash paint around… It was important to convey a feeling of comfort and safety with the illustrations, yet also of liveliness, just as the songs do. I started by making dozens of small paintings– mostly patterns and textures– using tempera paint. This seemed appropriate, as tempera is a staple of pre-school classrooms and for many of us, the paint we used to create our first masterpieces. Tempera (or its swanky cousin gouache) is also the textile designer’s traditional medium for preparing painted designs, usually the first step in the production of printed textiles. It’s quick-drying, allowing for lots of spontaneity, and reproduces beautifully in print. It was at this stage that the illustrations started to come into clearer focus in my mind. I thought about what the environment of each scene could be, what the characters looked like and what they might wear that would say something about their personalities.
A couple of tips for any aspiring children’s book illustrators out there: First, get my agent Winnie Kelly riding shotgun. She’ll make it a fun ride. Then get Amy Williams in your corner. (Try it and I’ll break your arm.) She’s the designer who advised me on the best way to translate my illustrations to print and obsessed with me over every color combination, type choice and layout decision in the book. Finally, if you don’t have the cutest stinkin’ kids in your life already then you better go find them. You’ll need them for reference. My brothers pretty much sent me a steady stream of pictures of their beautiful kids through the course of making this book. Alisa Kaeser, Cathy and Marcy’s agent, also sent me reams of pictures of her son Carleton. Alisa had the amazing foresight to predict this project years in advance and give birth to a boy who is a children’s book illustration come to life. Talk about dedication! These kids are all over Sing To Your Baby® and I like to think that the love we feel for them is too.