Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Sources of Inspiration
by Sylvia Long
My interest in the natural world began early. It stemmed from my mother’s infectious excitement on hearing the song of an oriole, then finding its intricate hanging nest at the top of a nearby cottonwood tree. And from my father’s comments on the geology of the landscapes streaming past our car windows on our annual summer vacations—the alluvial fans, volcanic cones, scarp and dip slopes, and the forces that created them billions of years ago. My father also taught us the names of constellations and studied the bark of trees during our woodland walks.
It’s second nature for me now to scan the sky for raptors, trees and bushes for songbirds, and tall grass for a katydid or praying mantis. A walk on the beach or by a stream always ends with my pockets heavy with shells or interesting rocks.
Illustrating nonfiction picture books is a perfect fit for me. Almost as much as drawing and painting them, I enjoyed researching all the various eggs, seeds, butterflies, and rocks for Dianna Hutts Ashton’s An Egg is Quiet (2006), A Seed is Sleepy (2007), A Butterfly is Patient (2011), and A Rock is Lively (2012, all Chronicle Books). The most fascinating thing I’ve learned is how complex nature is and how much is yet to be discovered.
Most of my days are spent in my studio. The view from my desk includes an orange and a pear tree, grape vines, a koi pond, and many hungry and thirsty birds and cottontails scurrying about. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a reference library as well as dozens of boxes of natural treasures.
Some of these seeds ended up in A Seed is Sleepy.
An Egg is Quiet includes my ostrich egg and the Anna’s Hummingbird nest, which I discovered just outside my son’s bedroom window.
These rocks from my collection can be found in A Rock is Lively. Clockwise from upper left: chrysanthemum rock, granite, sandstone, chrysocolla, and quartz.
The most recent addition to the series, Nests Are Noisy, will be published in 2015. If you discover an oriole’s nest in that book, you’ll know what inspired it.
Listen to Sylvia Long introduce and pronounce her name.
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This text may not be reproduced without the expressed written consent of Sylvia Long. Images courtesy of Sylvia Long, Martha Carlisle and Dennis Nessler.