Friday, May 28, 2021

Q&A with Julie Downing




Julie Downing is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Hello, Moon. Her many other books include No Hugs Till Saturday. She lives in San Francisco.



Q: What inspired you to create Hello, Moon, and how long did you work on it?


A: Even though the text is only about 100 words, it took me a surprisingly long time to create Hello, Moon.


The book started as a sample for another project. I was asked to create a piece of art for a book about twilight. The project did not work out, but I really liked my sample art.


I have always been fascinated by the night and what happens while most people are asleep. I used the sample art as the first spread and thought about all the activity in a forest at night.


I illustrated a number of other books while I worked on Hello, Moon. I think there were at least five years between the piece of sample art and my final art for Hello, Moon.


Q: Did you focus more on the text at first or the illustrations, or did you work on them simultaneously?

A: Each book is different. Sometimes the text comes first and sometimes the images are first.


I worked on the text and art simultaneously for Hello, Moon. The book went through a huge number of drafts while I tried to find the right approach.


At first, I thought the book was about opposites and I played with the idea of each page highlighting opposite words such as up and down, or inside, outside.


The more I worked on the text, the more I realized the concept limited me, so I decided to explore the opposite of day with a group of nocturnal animals. I planned the story arc to highlight a forest between dusk and dawn. 


I went back and forth with the text between rhyme and no rhyme. I think it is incredibly hard to write a rhyming picture book. The first version (well, maybe 15th version) was prose. I showed it to my editor, Neal Porter, and he said, “this book should really rhyme.” And of course, he was right!


I wanted the book to be a reverse lullaby and the rhyme was important. I wrote and rewrote those 100 words many times before the text felt right.


Q: What atmosphere did you hope to create with the story and the illustrations?


A: Hello, Moon is a bedtime book, so I wanted the text and images to have a comforting story arc, but ultimately, I wanted the book to show the beauty of a forest at night.


I hope the book shows how colorful night can be. I loved thinking about all the deep yellows and oranges when the sun sets, the blues and purples of the night sky and the softer pinks when dawn appears.


Q: What do you think the book says about nighttime?


A: The forest is a busy place when it is dark. For many animals, night is their day. Nocturnal animals wake up at dusk, play, eat, stay out of the rain and when the sun starts to rise, they snuggle in and fall asleep. Their routine is the same as a child’s day, it just happens at night.


I think young children and even older artists are interested in what happens in the world while they are asleep. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am continuing my slight obsession with night but this time I am writing about a city at night.


When I was in the third grade, a classmate’s mother was a night nurse. She dropped her son off at school and went home to bed. As a child, I was fascinated by people who worked at night. Like a forest at night, many people flip their days and stay awake all night. Many of the jobs are behind the scenes but are so vital.  


This last year made me appreciate even more all the important jobs people do, both during both the day and at night.Together, we all play a part in making our community work. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I have always been a traditional watercolor painter. I love how controlled and uncontrolled the medium can be.


A few years ago, I started experimenting with combining digital and traditional mediums, and the art for Hello, Moon was created traditionally and combined digitally.


I feel like this technique allows me to have the best of both worlds. I can do lots of watercolor washes and foliage and layer them in Photoshop. I can fine tune color, make changes and play with other materials and not have to redo the art. It has been really fun to play with a new way of working.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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