Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. In this post, Laura Vaccaro Seeger explains how she came to write and illustrate Green (Roaring Brook, 2012). Enjoy!
by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Photo courtesy of the author
“I think you should write a book called Green.”
One evening in 2007, I received an email from Neal Porter. He wrote, “Here’s a title for you and Pete. Green.”
Neal Porter is my editor at Macmillan’s Roaring Brook Press. We’ve worked together on each of the 15 books I’ve written and illustrated. In the past, most of the ideas for the books have originated in my journal. This was the first time we began with just a title.
Pete is my husband’s uncle, Pete Seeger, the folk musician and activist. Neal thought this might be an interesting project for me to work on with Pete. I was intrigued, but soon decided not to approach Pete about anything that would require adhering to deadlines–he is, after all, in his 90s, and is constantly approached by people from all over, asking him for all kinds of things. I certainly didn’t want to add to his workload.
I thought about the title for a while and images began forming in my mind’s eye. I asked Neal, “Do you mean ‘green’ as in a book about environmental awareness?” which I thought at the time was probably stating the obvious. “I have no idea,” he said. “All I know is, I think you should write a book called Green.”
Early journal sketches
So I set out to write a book called Green on my own. There were many iterations ranging from a history of the world in 32 pages to a study in recycling, but none of them felt like my voice. I prefer to focus tightly on a given subject, zooming into what is often overlooked, so the concept felt too large for me. I became increasingly more uncertain about the project and Neal and I finally agreed that perhaps it wasn’t meant to be.
A very messy example of the writing process
I continued to work on other projects until one night just about a year later while working in my studio, the title Green popped into my head again. I began to zero in. I looked up the word “green” in the dictionary. I became fascinated with the fact that so many things in our world are green–varying shades of green. I jotted down a simple poem, “dark green/light green/dull green/bright green.” It occurred to me that the one thing that had been bothering me all this time was that I was afraid of creating a didactic book. I think that if we can first truly appreciate our environment, then we are more likely to take care of it. I hoped that by exploring the color green, it might be possible to encourage that appreciation.
More journal sketches
One March evening in 2008 at around midnight, I wrote to Neal and asked if he was awake. Minutes later, he called and I told him about the idea of using a poem about the color green to convey a deeper meaning about our environment. He loved the idea, and though he ordinarily dislikes rhyming texts, he was thinking along similar lines.
And so began the challenge of creating a book where through die-cut holes, every painting was a part of the one before it and the one after. I set out to illustrate the idea that everything in our world is connected and if we look a little closer, we might see and appreciate that which we stopped noticing long ago. It quickly became evident that in order to connect each painting, there would have to be a great deal of back-and-forth revision as I would be confronted with problems within one painting that would directly affect another (or several others).
Journal sketches for “Never Green”
One of my favorite paintings in the book is the “all green” spread because it’s the only place where the die-cut holes actually disappear. This spread is composed of swatches from every other painting in the book. What is seen through the holes on this spread is at once part of the art on this painting, and part of the art on the paintings before and after this one, as well. And what THAT means is that in effect, different paintings share identical portions making them truly part of one another.
An internal spread from Green (Roaring Brook, 2012)
Neal was understanding when for the first time ever, I missed my deadline. He reassured me that the book “needs what it needs” as I continued to work and rework each painting over the course of many months. In March of 2011, just about 4 years after that initial email, the book was completed and scheduled for a 2012 release. It had all finally come together and I had not only complied with Neal’s request to write a book called Green, but in the process, created a book of which we are both immensely proud.
- An original article by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Laura Vaccaro Seeger. All images courtesy of Laura Vaccaro Seeger.
More online resources about Laura Vaccaro Seeger:
- Hear Laura Vaccaro Seeger introduce and read from Green. Listen Now
- Learn how to pronounce Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s name. Listen Now
- See all online resources for Laura Vaccaro Seeger.
Enter to win a signed copy of GREEN!
Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, is giving away three signed copies of Green.
To enter to win, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line of “I Like GREEN” and please include your mailing address.
Deadline: January 22, 2013
(Open to US residents only)