Today’s #picturebook marks our “Week of Elly MacKay”. Elly MacKay is a talented paper artist and author of whom we at the blog are a longtime fan! We are very excited to feature one of her books every day this week AND even more excited that she agreed to an interview AND offered a giveaway (watch for it on Friday!).
First up is: If You Hold a Seed via @runningpress the heartwarming story of a seed and a little boy growing up together through the seasons that ends full circle with the grown boy sitting in that tree with his own son. The illustrations in Elly MacKay’s books are photographs of her wondrous, hand created paper sets. I was particularly moved to read that she created this book while pregnant with her son–it definitely captures many of the feelings we have for our smalls. A wonder-filled book, bright with colours and light and alive with nature and seasons. My small and I were inspired to head to the great big garden centre in town and choose a little plant to grow together (as seen in the photograph!) and I think you will be inspired to do the same after reading this very special book with your own smalls. Recommended 2+up.
Elly MacKay agreed to an interview with us & shared some “behind the scenes” photographs of her work. Thanks so much Elly! Readers, please enjoy seeing the magic that goes into her work:
1. Can you tell us a little about how you create the beautiful images in your books?
To make my illustrations I use paper, light and photography. I first do a sketch to work from. I then imagine the picture 3 dimensionally and draw each layer onto Yupo paper. I use ink to colour the layers, then cut them out. I set the layers up inside a little theatre, securing everything with wires and tape. Then, I light the scene. I often use backlighting and filters to create atmosphere. I use several different lenses on my camera, to create depth or distortion. I often take about 20-50 images, adjusting the lighting and playing with the different filters or moving the characters around. It is a lot of fun.
2. We read in your bio that you studied print making but also had an informal education in the paper arts via the Movable Book Society by train as a teenager? That sounds super exciting! What was it like?
It was great! My mom has an adventurous spirit. She is also an author of ‘how to’ books on paper art. When I was a kid, I was her ‘tester’. When I was 15, I told her that I wanted to be a paper artist so she thought she’d help me on my journey by introducing me to members of The Movable Book Society, a group of paper engineers and artists. We found a free pass to travel on Amtrack so off we went! We met wonderful people along the way who taught me about Victorian optical toys, paper theatre, artist books and simple mechanisms I could use in my dioramas. (Here is a picture of me looking quite serious with some of the dioramas I made back then.)
3. One of the many reasons we love your books is the sense of movement and play caught in the images. How important is play in your art making? And what would you like to say to kids and their parents about play as they read your books together?
Thank you! Yes, I think that is why I like printmaking too. I like surprise elements. With printmaking you don’t know quite what something is going to look like until you lift the paper from the press. I was never into making editions. I liked changing the printing plate as I worked. Working in my theatre is much the same. Sometimes working with something you can’t completely control, frees you. It takes away some sense of ownership, and makes things less precious. I like that.
I guess I see picture books as a sort of playground for parent and child. It is a place they can meet to discuss their feelings and ideas, make silly sounds and cuddle. My most recent book is a wordless book called Waltz of the Snowflakes. What I love about wordless books is that they invite play. They can be more challenging to approach but offer opportunities. Waltz of the Snowflakes is as much about The Nutcracker, as it is about emotion. My son likes to make the faces that the children are making as we read the story, while my daughter likes to give us a soundtrack and dance her arms around. I hope parents and children will bring their own sense of play to the story.
Thank you for answering all our questions Elly! Here are some amazing photographs of her work on the upcoming Red Sky At Night (via Tundra) out in Spring 2018 and a sketch from a fairy book she is currently working on called The Tallest Treehouse (releasing later in 2018).