Book Cover Series: The Cassons Have Arrived!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Meet Indigo, Saffron and Cadmium and Permanent Rose Casson, children of two artists, living outside of London, and all named after colors on the color wheel that hangs in their kitchen.

The whole family arrived at my door last week, care of McElderry/Simon & Schuster (merci, Michael!) It was thrilling to see all of the covers together. The Casson siblings, who enchanted me from the start, weave in and out of a 6–book family epic by Hilary McKay, the acclaimed award-winning author from the UK. The repackages were done in time for McKay to release the prequel Casson fans have been waiting for: Caddy's World. With a starred review from SLJ, I think Caddy and the Cassons are set to fly. It was an honor to be involved in this process.

I worked with a splendid team: prolific art director and designer, Michael McCartney, and editors Karen Wojtyla and Emily Fabre, to bring a fresh look to McKay's series for what we all hope will be a new batch of readers in America.

After signing on, I received a bit of some of the most memorable art direction to date. It made me both wonder if I could and fill with determination that I must, the best kind of art direction an artist could get. Michael wrote:

".....Hilary McKay’s work is charming and endearing beyond compare. Her readers are as completely smitten with the Cassons as the loves of our youth....We must have artwork that possesses the same ability as the characters within the text to induce a captivation like first love."

Gulp! Yikes! And we began with no time to waste or worry. His high-in-the-sky challenge floated ahead of me while I created each cover. There is nothing like a good hope was that existing fans and their creator would approve.

          The list in order:

The books have generated pockets of fiercely loyal Casson-ites across the pond, who have begged McKay to continue (so she blogged as Rose HERE, and hungry fans gossip HERE and even write fan-fiction HERE). Most recently, Rose has stopped blogging and begun officially Tweeting, where she drops her witty one-liners into international Twitterfeeds under the handle @RoseCasson.

Yep, Rose Casson and I tweeted.  I think my life is now complete:

Meeting the Cassons

"Indigo was a thin, dark-haired little boy with anxious indigo-colored eyes. He had a list in his head of things that did not matter (such as school), and another list of things that did. High on Indigo's list of things that mattered was his pack. That was how he thought of his sisters. His pack."
–Saffy's Angel

If you open a Casson book, even start a chapter, be warned that you are committing to all six. One adventure roles into the next, and beautiful sentences string themselves in such a way that I had a severe headache trying to dissect pretty quotes without pulling a whole page! McKay is adept at relating childhood in an astonishingly true way, with pages full of witty and hilarious dialogue, and endearing people you feel you already know: Bill and Eve, the children, their friends, driving-instructor Michael "Don't call me darling. I'm a driving instructor!”, boyfriends, neighbors, stray hamsters that tumble about. Casson life is messy, wild, honest and lovely as they grow up together and seem to be just barely hanging on at times. I came out of the series misty-eyed and laughing, as I let the series settle into my bones before I began on the covers. (And it took a year before I stopped adding "Darling" to everyone's first names, poor Darlings!)

(Cover-making must be done in neon flats!)

These books resonated with me as a creator, but maybe most personally as a big sister. The deep history, love, humor and unspoken understanding between siblings is sometimes unrelatable in words, but McKay can do it perfectly (who I hear is also a big sister). Our Denos childhood household was comprised of 4 wild sisters (Julia, Christa, Anna, Shauna) and 1 enigmatic guitar-playing brother (John!), who rambled in and out of our loved and worn-out house in Connecticut. As the oldest and eldest, I was quite at home in the Casson's fingerprinted doorway, watching their stories unfold in Rose's wall murals. In this excerpt from Caddy's World, we witness Caddy, oldest, locking eyes with her little sister for the first time. It's stunning:

..She turned to scan the corridor and the doorways and the long glass windows of the hospital wards.
As she looked she became aware that somebody was watching her.
Somebody quiet.
Caddy turned and turned, searching and then through the window that had been behind her she found what she was looking for.
Smoky, dark unblinking eyes.
A solemn, friendly gaze.
A mouth curved into the start of a smile.
It was a baby.
The baby and Caddy looked at one another. Deep, deep, deep, each into the other's thoughts. And Caddy did not need to see Eve's sketchbook on the stand close by, or the cards that Saffy and Indigo had made, or the photographs from home to know that this was the fledgling. The firework baby. The last and best touch of the genie's finger on Caddy's spinning world.
A name card was fixed to the side of her cot.
"Rose," read Caddy.

–Caddy's World

I'm blowing bubbles on the RV step with Christa, Anna, Shauna, John and Mom.
(When summer vacation lasted for ages,)

Shauna Denos on lawn-chair, John on guitar
(Youngest Denos sibs all grown up.)

Making the Cassons

Permanent Rose

 'Eve, darling!' said Bill (Eve was Rose's mother).  'Darling!' repeated Bill (very indignant and far from amused). 'What were you thinking of?' Eve, who was also an artist, had been thinking of the colour that painters use: Permanent Rose. A clear, warm colour that glows with its own lively brightness, no matter how thinly spread. A colour that does not fade.
  There had been a Permanent Rose-coloured sky on the morning that Rose was born.  Rose had arrived into the world a lot earlier than anyone had expected her to, and from the absolute beginning she had seemed very un-thrilled about the prospect of having to stay...That was why one afternoon she had slipped out of the hospital and gone all by herself across the town to 
register the latest Casson's defiant name. Permanent Rose."

–Permanent Rose

While I painted, I listened to the retired Anglo-Icelandic pop band, Fields, who I happened to bump into on Pandora when I was just beginning "Forever Rose" and they became my mainstay through the series, along with Andrew Bird (this incredible song, particularlyand Stars' entire new album "Five Ghosts". The energy and sweetness in the male and female harmonies and upbeat tempos just seemed to serve as the right Casson backdrop. (Crossing fingers Indigo would approve of playlist.)

I saw the Cassons clearly right away. They let me know exactly who they wanted to be. I have to be careful to pay attention when I am setting out to design a person, their face, their way of being. I always start by sitting still at a blank page of paper with the music turned up loud. It's a personal, quiet thing and my favorite part of being an illustrator. You have to kind of muddle around with your pencil until he or she finally"shows up"on their own and something sparks between the dialogue and the drawing. I tend to save the final render of the "spirit" for the end, but I'd like to show you some early sketches. Michael and I bandied these back and forth to settle on a composition that synthesized the characters, props, aura, and his lyrical type:

(Rose and friends in the zoo–after hours!)

(Rose's Dreams)

(Indy's conquered fear of heights,  Rose & Tom, Tom on guitar)

(Rose scribbling and dreaming of New York and Tom)

(Caddy in the English jungle and her wayfaring Darling Michael on motorcycle)

I am passionate about the element of family and intrigued by physical inheritance, so I relished the challenge of creating sibling resemblance. Since we worked on "Forever Rose" first, she was the first to be put onto paper. The rest of the siblings followed suit, revealing that they were a moon-faced-dreamer sort of breed...Rose and Indigo looked like each other, moody, dark and a little stoic. Fierce Saffron and kind-hearted Caddy were both "gorgeous" and golden-hued by name and description in the book, so their challenge was to differentiate them visually. I set out to try to project that via eye contact: Saffy looks ahead with her probing and perceptive mind, Caddy looks at you with her hopeful heart...


Cadmium (with engagement-lemur)

I can't urge you enough to begin reading this series, straightaway!
You'll fall in love too, I'm betting, and miss them when it's done.

Many, many thanks to Michael M. for introducing me to the Cassons, trusting me with such a lovely series, for his careful art direction, time, typography, patience and for composing the covers. Admiration and thanks also go to Hilary M. for her genius, her words, and their unending inspiration! And. For any Casson fans out there, I wanted to let you know there are many of you wondering the same BIG Casson question, and you aren't alone in Googling it. I know this because Blogger tells me this is the sentence that most often leads folks to my blog from the UK:

 Google search: "Does Rose Casson love Tom?"

"I have read quite a lot of books lately, and I intend to read many more. And in books I have discovered that there are sometimes lonely patches
And scary times
And long paragraphs of no use at all except possibly (says Saffron) to build up your stamina.
But also there are jokes
And homes.
And these things
Will help you through the long paragraphs
Lonely patches
And even problems with as many heads as dragons.
To live Happily Ever After.
Which is exactly
What I
To do

–Forever Rose

Story Seeking: Blue Hills, South Shore

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Perspective and research at Blue Hills Reservation (see tiny Boston). 
Good for the soul.

 Maybe stories come so easily in Nature, because stories are natural things, just like roots and blossoms and any old thing that grows...

Stories live in the quiet of the woods and marshes, the library shelf, the cobblestones, the bricks.

Stories are whispered in the sound and speed of falling petals...

In wondering about the people who loved this place before us...

My favorite direction to drive in: 3 South to Plimoth.

Back up to the bays all around our home. Happy heart... <3

Weymouth sea grass

Weymouth treasure. 

Shimmering like glass.

Mixed-Up & Berry Blue

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hope you all had a peaceful little weekend (said with Dowager Countess emphasis). Just got home from an Easter visit with our families and was greeted at the door by a package from Houghton Mifflin! Here's my newest cover for Jennifer Gennari's sweet debut novel My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer, out May 8, 2012...had a berry good time (oh, so sorry) collaborating with type-magician & designer, Rachel Newborn over at HMCo. (Ah, love the tendrils and tails on her title type!)

The story features the independent and strong-hearted June Farrell in her changing Lake Champlain town and it's "Full to bursting with sweetness and summer light."–Tim Wynne Jones, author of Blink and Caution. Be sure to put this one on the summer reading list!


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lulu's been bouncing around my brain since yesterday, so I switched brains (from writing to drawing) to make some art and let her out. I think she's REALLY looking forward to summer vacay, don't you?