Monday, October 12, 2009

Interview: Artist Rebekah Raye

Maine is the sort of place in which a traveler discovers unexpected delights: a stunning view from an undiscovered spot along the shore, a restaurant serving hot chowder to diners sitting on the pier, a yarn shop that also sells penny candy (!). I found all these when I visited Maine recently to participate in the Bar Harbor Book Festival, but I didn't expect that I would discover a new favorite illustrator. I truly fell in love with the work of artist/author Rebekah Raye. To my delight, Ms. Raye, who works with the small Maine publisher Tilbury House which was recently named publisher of the year by the New England Independent Booksellers Association, was willing to give Jacket Knack an interview.

CB: What things need to be considered when choosing the cover art for a picture book? How does this differ from the interior illustrations?

RR: I have learned from my publisher at TilburyHouse that the eyes of your characters are very important and to make a connection to the audience as if they are really looking at you the viewer. While the interior illustrations contain images of the characters looking at each other to better tell the story. Though I like to have a glance or two of a character looking back at the viewer.

CB: Your publisher is a small one. Does this affect the amount of input you as the illustrator have in the design/images/typeface/layout of your covers? How does the relationship between the art director and the illustrator work, in your experience?

RR: The first two books were designed with the given dimensions and shape of the book and I was told to leave bleed out areas for trimming and cropping. I was given plenty of freedom using the entire page for a spread sheet, just to leave room for the text. I would get approvals of the dummies and all of the stages of the paintings. I would turn in the paintings and the next thing I would see would be the folded and gathered part of the book. This last book due out Oct. 15, Bearly There, was different. I was able to see the full spread sheets laid out and was in a great back and forth conversation with the both the publisher and designer which let me feel like my voice and ideas were still clearly expressed. I have developed a strong and close friendship with the publisher. It has been comfortable and easy to discuss concerns, opinions, questions and she has always been there with helpful responses. I love her editing and philosophy. It has been a wonderful experience from the beginning and I am grateful.

CB: I was taken by the unique layout of the covers on The Very Best Bed and Thanks to the Animals (the latter, authored by Allen Sockabasin). Whose decision was it to use the band of white across the top on these picture books? It's quite an attention-grabber, and yet soothing and simple at the same time. How did the clever idea of the squirrel reclining on top of the lettering come about?

RR: In Allen's book, Thanks to the Animals, the designer Geraldine Millham created the covers along with the publisher. The idea was that the title would be easier to read on a shelf if it was placed at the top. In The Very Best Bed, the publisher, Jennifer Bunting, thought of the title as the shape of a bed since the idea of the story was how the little gray squirrel was in search for that perfect place to sleep at night. They chose the chipmunk from part of an interior illustration and asked me to create a separate single squirrel relaxed enough to be placed on top of the title.

CB: Please share any other stories about your covers, if you like.

RR: I had quite a time creating the cover for my next book, Bearly There. I tried 6 different attempts thinking I had the main character , the bear, the way I wanted him. Finally one came that seemed to fit the personality I wanted to portray. I wanted him to be looking back at the viewer, as if you caught him by surprise or you by surprise and with some feeling that he quickly wants to disappear back into the woods. It just takes a while it seems to get to know your characters. Once I saw those eyes, I fell in love and hope others will to.

CB: You mention your newest book for Tilbury House, Bear-ly There. This cover has a similar design, but the band across the top is blackish and the lettering is a mixture of fall colors. Can you tell us why this one was done differently?

RR: This was the decision of the designer, Geraldine. We wanted the title to still pop out and the black seemed to help with the contrast. The letters were cut out from a previous cover attempt of a bear with a very colorful red background that she liked. So she sort of combined the two. The publisher felt the title disappeared into the back ground without the black furry band.

CB: What, if any, children's book covers by other illustrators have caught your eye lately?

RR: I am drawn to any animal cover that has a mystery feeling,or that fills the page with strong color and has a somewhat simplified design. I love Ashley Bryan's Beautiful Blackbird cover:



and Holly Meade's cover for David Elliott's On The Farm,



and also Goose's Story [by Cari Best, Holly Meade, illus.] cover.


CB: What are you working on now? Can we expect more children's books?

RR: I am presently working on a body of work, hopefully 60 paintings of 10 different themes with also some sculpture work for the winter. I hope to be touring and doing some school visits in between, but yes, ideas are percolating for more children's books. I hope so, I love doing my art work and to share with children, and children's books are the best of both worlds.

Thanks so much for sharing your comments with our readers, Rebekah!

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