Guest Blogger

Each month, we ask distinguished authors or illustrators to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!

Guest blogger: Tomie dePaola is delighted to welcome award-winning author and illustrator Tomie dePaola as our featured guest blogger.

Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!

My Most Unusual Project

by Tomie dePaola


Listen to Tomie dePaola speak about Look and Be Grateful.

Look and Be Grateful (Holiday House 2015) is the most unusual project I’ve ever worked on in my 50 years as a children’s book illustrator/author.

Usually, a book starts with an idea that I’ll turn over and over in my head, sometimes letting it pop-up when it wants to, other times, sitting down and forcing myself to get right to it, jotting down notes, maybe making a quick sketch or two—nothing serious, nothing finished, just doodling with words and images.


Thumbnails in ultra-fine point permanent marker on steno paper.


When I feel I’ve fully explored the idea, which can take years—as my autobiographical “26 Fairmount Avenue” series (Putnam) did—I start to write the story. Most of the time, I write two, three, four, or five drafts. Sometimes, I’ll toss these versions out and start over again. I show the story to my editor only when I feel the writing is as good as I can get it. He or she will have a few thoughts, so more drafts are written.

Thumbnail sketches in ballpoint and ultra-fine point permanent marker, and a color sketch in markers.


During this period, I don’t think too seriously about the pictures. I might create some thumbnail sketches on little pieces of paper, but I wait until the story is finished before beginning the final artwork.

Thumbnails in ultra-fine point permanent marker and pencil.


By that time (sometimes a month or two, sometimes a year or longer), the size of the book, the number of pages, and other production details have been determined, and I put aside all other work to start on the illustrations.

Rough sketch on tracing paper.


I begin by choosing the paper and paints. I use paper framed the exact size that the printed book will be and I jump right in. I don’t make dummies—a whole book in sketch form—anymore as I prefer the immediacy of going right to an image.

This is my typical way of working.

Look and Be Grateful was totally different.

First, I must share that I meditate every morning and my meditation often begins with a reading. One morning, after reading a passage about gratefulness by Brother David Steindl-Rast, I had a sudden, strong revelation: an entire book in simple words and simple pictures in my head. Amazing.

Text and illustration copyright © 2015 by Tomie dePaola. Used by permission of Holiday House.


Afterwards, I went straight to my studio, chose some paper, and cut it and lined it to a certain size. I then made some very strong tea in a jar. When the tea cooled, I strained it and stained the paper with it. While the paper dried, I wrote down the words so I wouldn’t forget them.

Tea-stained paper with color samples for hand lettering Look and Be Grateful (top).  Tea-stained paper (bottom).


I then created the art and hand-lettered the text right onto the pictures. The work literally flowed from me. Two days later, I was finished. On day four, I set the whole book out on a long table. I decided in that moment that I would just send it off to Mary Cash, my editor at Holiday House. I thought she might like it, but who knew? After the package was mailed, I called Mary to tell her what I had sent. I wasn’t going to change anything, text or illustrations, and I wouldn’t feel bad if she didn’t want it. There was no jacket design, but I’d do one, if she liked what she saw. (This is not the way books are done.)

Well, Holiday House accepted the manuscript. I never worked this way before, and I’m not sure that I ever will again. But, who knows? I’m very proud of Look and Be Grateful.

Text and illustration copyright © 2015 by Tomie dePaola. Used by permission of Holiday House.

Text and images are courtesy of Tomie dePaola and may not to be used without his express written consent. © 2015 by Tomie dePaola.


Listen to Tomie dePaola share the origins of his name.

Listen to Tomie dePaola’s Meet-the-Author Book Reading featuring Look and Be Grateful.

Access all available online resources about Tomie dePaola and his books.


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