Last week, I wrote here about Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Blue (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook), coming to shelves this September. I’m following up today with a visit from Laura, who talks about her process, while sharing lots of art. I thank her for visiting.
Laura: When I set out to write Blue, I knew that I wanted to make a companion book to Green, sharing its poem structure, design, connectivity through die-cuts, and trim size. While Green explores the many shades of green in the world around us and (hopefully) encourages an appreciation of our environment, I knew that I wanted to approach Blue from a new narrative standpoint and explore the color blue in terms of loyalty and sadness.
So, I wrote a poem somewhat like the text that appears in the book, but at that time the visual narrative was very different. It was about a newborn baby and his toddler brother, growing up together through the years. Finally, the older brother packs up and moves out, and the younger brother is blue.
After completing three or four final paintings, something began to nag at me. I called my editor (the oh-so-wonderful Neal Porter) to discuss my concerns. I told him that, sure, the younger brother is sad, but it’s not like he’ll never see his older brother again. When Neal questioned what I really wanted the book to be about, I explained that I was interested in exploring loyalty but also sadness. True sadness. The ultimate sadness. Loss. That’s when I realized that I had to start the painting process all over again and change the narrative to include a baby and a puppy who grow up together. And, eventually, the boy (now a young man) experiences great loss.
It was challenging to create paintings where the characters are getting older with each page turn. It needed to be clear — but not distracting.
The paintings were created one layer at a time — and often re-painted. Most of my canvases are quite heavy, because they contain so many layers of paint!
And, of course, the die-cuts were (as always) quite the (at times) headache-inducing challenge. Like Green, each painting is a part of the one before it — and the one after. In this example, the pom-pom on the boy’s hat is a die-cut in this night-time scene, which on the next spread reveals a rubber ducky atop the dog’s head in a day-time scene. So, the area on the left of this spread needed to be a bright yellow and not at all distracting from the tender action between the boy and his dog. A challenge for this scene, indeed!
I thought I had it solved with these fireflies but, because it’s late autumn (the boy is wearing a cool-weather hat, and the ground is brown — both necessary because of the die-cuts!), fireflies wouldn’t be out at that time of year.
Finally, a solution: garden lights!
The scarf that appears in almost every spread is highly symbolic — it belongs to the boy at first, and then halfway through the book, his dog takes ownership — and in the end it symbolizes that, though life does go on after loss, the love and the memories remain. Always.
Little did I know that, by the time I began painting the “true blue” spread where the teenage boy is holding his dog in his arms for the last time, my dog Copper (the star of the Dog and Bear series), would become unexpectedly ill and pass away. The timing was remarkable, and the last few spreads were painted while my own tears dripped upon the canvas. Writing Blue, as it turns out, explored my own loyalty and sadness — in real time.
BLUE. Copyright © 2018 by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images used by permission of Laura Vaccaro Seeger.