I’m so pumped to be participating in the blog tour for Claire Legrand’s debut novel The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls! Today, Claire is taking over the blog and interviewing Sarah Watt’s, the illustrator of her novel.
Sarah. SARAH. How are you so awesome? That’s the first thing that comes to mind whenever I think about you. That, and how magical your brain is. Tell me: What is your policy for people taking up residence in your brain? Are there rooms for rent? Is there a secret handshake to get in? Must I perform a Herculean task to impress the implacable gatekeeper who may or may not have a weakness for blanketed bat babies?
Claire, YOU are amazing. I feel so darn honored to work on your first book!! I wouldn’t trade the opportunity for a life time supply of pudding snacks. So, because of that, you have free rent (with rent control) to a luxury room in my brain. With, like massages and whatnot. And those bats are the best thing I’ve seen all month. Seriously!! Some of my friends actually researched as much as they could on how to get me a pet bat. But the reality is, he would probably poop all over the house. So the fantasy is that I have a pet bat and he flies and delivers creepy letters to people that are mean, and then he returns to me every morning to go to sleep.
You are basically an artistic wizard. A wizardly artist. TAKE YOUR PICK. I mean, y’all, take a few minutes to poke around Sarah’s website and you’ll see what I mean. What is a typical day like for you, Sarah Watts, artist extraordinaire? What projects are you working on right now?
If I was a wizard I would make Slim Jims healthy, haha. So, a typical day for me is never really consistent. I quit my day job last year to full time self-employed since things were picking up to stop the double life (working full-time while you frantically do your passion on the side.)
It was tough at first. Since taking the jump, I quickly learned that I had to deal with the fact that my process is very organic. I no longer had someone telling me what I had to get done, but instead it was me! And I can be very scatterbrained with ideas and excitement. I am sure other creative types can relate. So I learned that, for me, I have to stay busy to function to my fullest potential. I think better with deadlines, little timeframes, and a busy schedule. It keeps me on top of things. I work best in the morning, and at night. I try to finish at a reasonable time so I can hang with my husband. I go sit outside for a little bit each day to get sunlight(to offset the vampire lighting I typically get). I make a loose itinerary for each day on a piece of note paper, but by no means do I stick with things hourly, or in sequence. I just do the best that I can.
I also seem to have two personalities, where I feel super optimistic and social, and then I have sort of a dark cynical joke-making side. Do I sound crazy yet? Haha. So I had to find a good balance for these two moods. I made a little blog where I can be dark and funny using unedited little drawings (Sandie Willow). This has done wonders for me. Now I have a way to express any mood, which helps me embrace it all and make good work. Creative types can be moody little creatures. We feel a lot, it can’t be helped. Recognizing it and embracing it is the best thing we can do.
Currently, I am working on 3 books, two of which are my first picture books. I am also working on Halloween aprons, magnets, embroidery kits, and some fabric designs. I am super excited about the Hallo aprons! Most of it will be available early next year. am also selling art prints, mostly through Scoutmob. This has really picked up for me, so I am working on new prints to keep it fresh. I am a hybrid illustrator and surface designer. So my goals are to not only illustrate books, but to also make beautiful work for home goods and products that everyone can enjoy. My background is in textile design, so I have a big passion for that. Wallpaper, couches. One day, one day.
So, pretty much your illustrations for CAVENDISH are the best thing ever. I remember the first time I saw the finished cover, I burst into tears. It was EXACTLY what I had always envisioned for CAVENDISH. Tell us a little about how you got started working on CAVENDISH. How did you catch Simon & Schuster’s attention?
I’d like to think that I did something awesome to catch the attention of Simon and Schuster. Like build a mechanical whale that floats over their building, and I project my portfolio onto his belly. But, I’m pretty sure Lucy Ruth Cummins found me online, and let me incubate on her desk until the right story came along for me to illustrate. Which was yours! And it was a wonderful mix of worlds. 😀 I was so excited that Simon and Schuster contacted me too, since they were on my “badass people to work with” list. Typically if I want a client I will send them samples or prototypes.Or I meet with them in person with my portfolio. I did this last May and it did wonders! It is also great to get to meet them personally and even concept together.
What were some of your first impressions of CAVENDISH when you initially read the manuscript? Did you jot down notes as you read or create an “inspiration board” with images that helped you get started?
Right when I read The Cavendish Home for Boy and Girls in the proposal email, I thought, “Oh yeah, please be a spooky story.” Then I was like, “Yes! A spooky story!! With a really cool story line!” Haha. I just love this story so much. Haunted house stories were a main source of entertainment when I was a kid, so I really connected with Cavendish. The idea of such magical and creepy things coming from a place in the neighborhood that no one really knows about. That is where good stories come from. People speculating and innovating from their backyard, no matter where they are. I really identified with this story. And it was bizarre how natural it felt to draw the images for it!! It was awesome. As I was reading the manuscript, I highlight sentences or phrases that strike images in my mind. Then when I actually go to sketch the drawings, I would sometimes go on blogs and find old photos and stuff to get inspired. Most of the work I do comes out of my head. I usually only look at photos to remember how something functions, so I don’t go draw a bike with no chain or something, haha. Looking at your Tumblr was a big help for me working on CAVENDISH! It was nice to get into your visual head a little bit and start creating tones from that and my own visions.
Did you listen to any particular music for inspiration while working on CAVENDISH?
While working on Cavendish, I mostly listened to Dead Man’s Bones (Ryan Gosling’s side project, hawt) and a bunch of goth music, along with some Clint Mansell. I work well to darker music, even when I am working on adorable stuff like kid’s clothes. The grit of it inspires me, same with folk music and fantasy stuff. I also jammed to a lot of Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, and Murder by Death. Each of them are mostly story telling with sad undertones, which for me is rich for spooky drawin’. When I work, I have to work to music. I need to sink into my fantasy brain so full imagination can take flight. If I can hear the TV, or people, I get really distracted by reality. Haha!
Who is your favorite character from CAVENDISH and why? And what is your favorite scene? (No spoilers! But feel free to be as tease-y as you want. 😉 )
I like Victoria the best. I identified with her on the over-achieving perfectionist side. I also love her snobby wittiness. Her stubbornness and justified side is something that I envy in people, so I liked that about her too. I was raised to see things from every point of view and consider that in making decisions, so anytime I meet someone who is very decisive, I tend to gravitate towards them. Plus, you can see her sensitive side every once in a while, which makes her a really great character.
My favorite scene is when Victoria finally gets to go discover the home. It’s amazing, and the home in general and all of its magic is so rich and inventive. Oh yeah!! I wish I could go into detail, because this part of the story made me want to draw a lot more interiors! Oh, oh, and my other favorite part is when the wind is blowing and Victoria is walking down the eerie street! I also loved the descriptions and character of Mr. Tibbalt. And, I looove the relationship between Lawrence and Victoria. It was so fun for me! I also loved Lawrence’s house scene, and the piano scene. And, the first encounter with Mr. Alice and Miss Cavendish. Okay, seriously I’m done. 😉
What was the most challenging part of working on CAVENDISH? And was it harder to create the cover or the illustrations?
The most challenging side was figuring out how to make the best, most striking images for the interior, using only one shade: black. There is so much to work from in this story, and visual simplicity with a lot of rich content is hard with one color, but an exciting challenge. The cover was tough too, but it was more instinctual since the challenge of a more symbolic image for a story really gets me going. Also, for covers, there is more input from the team so it feels like you have cheerleaders and great ideas from that. Which, speaking of that, Lucy Ruth Cummins was amazing to work with! I was also thrilled to get to do the lettering for the cover. It made my day.
Y’all, I’ve been lucky enough to meet Sarah in person and peruse not only her art, but also her textiles. (Yeah, she does textiles too! I’m telling you: WIZARD.) And it is ALL AMAZING. Sarah, what do you use as inspiration when working? Do you often go traipsing around graveyards? Set out on long drives in the middle of the night? Peruse antique stores? What gets your artist brain going?
All of the above.
You make me feel so cool Claire! Haha. I was thrilled to get to meet you. I felt like I was meeting someone famous. So for fun, yes, I love all of the above. Antiquing and thrifting is where I get most of my visual inspiration. Thrift stores were a big part of my life growing up, and now they really inspire my aesthetic. There is something about a found treasure that is just too good!! I also tend to find a lot of really strange characters, like badly painted figurines and stuff that are so rich with narrative. And I love fabric stores!! I go to a lot of them and just sort of rub the fabric on my face until I’m escorted out.
I also try to go on a lot of little trips, since the only way I know how to take a break from work is to leave it physically. I looove the forest, woods, mountains, the beach. I also like to see a lot of live shows. Concerts and whatnot. Music is endlessly inspiring. And of course, I read now. I didn’t read much growing up and I feel like I missed out. To intake rather than output is very good for the brain, especially good storytelling. I like getting lost in someone’s world. And, about graveyards, I actually live next door to one! I always go over there and draw. I also come up with Sandie Willow names from the headstones. 😉 I call my family for good inspiration too. They run into interested people and are filled with crazy things to tell me. My grandmother is a wise woman, and she gets me all gushy and mushy. Lastly, I like having girls’ nights. I have a lot of gritty, hard-working girl friends here that really inspire me.
Describe your general aesthetic in five words.
Heart-felt, humorous, authentic, striking, timeless
On your blog, you say that you “will not rest until a shark eats [you] or [you are] abducted by aliens.” Well, which is it? Let’s “would you rather” this. Eaten by a shark? Or abducted by aliens? (Let’s say the aliens are hostile.)
I am going to go with aliens. Because, being abducted means that I still have the opportunity to convince these jerks that I may be of use to them. “I can wash your dishes, I can babysit your kids, I can wash your car,” you know, things like that. If I get eaten by a shark, that would suck. I am afraid of deep ocean and big creatures in it, so I have already been able to build the horror up for that scenario in my head. Getting chewed up while drowning sounds terrible. And if I die in either situation, I guess I can still come back as a ghost and haunt annoying people. So that would be cool.
A closing note: I just want to say that it is amazing that not only did I get to work on your book Claire, but I also got to make a new friend. You are very inspiring and I will always be one of your fans. 😉 Thank you so much for interviewing me. I am also thankful to Sara from The Hiding Spot for hosting my interview. You rock! Thank you to Lucy Ruth Cummins for hiring me for this job and being an awesome Art Director!
Claire Legrand is a Texan living in New York City. She used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now a full-time writer, Claire can often be found typing with purpose on her keyboard or spontaneously embarking upon adventures to lands unknown. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is her first novel, due out August 28 from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Her second novel, The Year of Shadows, a ghost story for middle grade readers, comes out August 2013. Her third novel, Winterspell, a young adult re-telling of The Nutcracker, comes out Fall 2014.