You asked how I would describe my creative process?
Well…I see something…a lost button on an elevator or a single mitten on a park bench or a note tucked under a windshield wiper…
And I get these ideas…
Hey, the lost button and the blob of gum next to it look like a pair of eyes, with that shoe scuff for the mouth, and, oh—ground floor, I’m getting off the elevator, but I’ve picked up an idea and left the button face for someone else to see.
If a button can be an eye, what else can it be? Easy question, even for a two-year-old, and the answer becomes the reason for a new book.
A button is usually round and usually has two or four holes, features that can translate into many other familiar circles in our world—a jewel, an apple, a stoplight, a snout. Not every teeny idea can grown into the size of a book, but buttons are reliably appealing.
I wander around for a few days, zooming in on round things.
Round red things, since somewhere along the way the title came to me, One Red Button.
I make very small and sketchy “thumbnail” drawings, not a whole lot bigger than a thumbnail, trying out different ways to use the button. It’s a board book without words, I know that intuitively from the start, and I have in mind a big fat red button on the cover.
Just the button, no title and no name. That’s one of the thumbnails.
But should I be using a real button or making one out of paper? I look through my jar of red buttons (yes of course I have a jar for each color), and find some really nice ones. But if the button is going to appear in 12 or 14 illustrations, it has to look the same… and it’s going to be a different size on each page, sometimes teeny or enormous…
I’ll make it out of paper.
Some images will fit neatly on one square page, some will do better as a horizontal spread. I depend on the enlarger feature of my printer to blow the wee sketches up to the size and shape I’ll work with, usually 15 or 20 percent bigger than the final trim size of the book.
For awhile, we consider (we being the art director and me) making the pictures black and white and grey, so the red button really pops, but soon the wish for color overwhelms us and I start pawing through my paper drawers and use the new project as an excuse to collect more.
I’m getting to the fun part. Whatever my insecurities about having no art training, being a shaky draftsman at best, adjusting to the inconvenience of arthritis… I love sifting through pretty papers and piling patterns together, slowing sorting out what comes close to the picture I see with my eyes shut.
I play for a long time, cutting pieces, moving them around. This way? That way? Checks or stripes or blossoms?
Just the glue phase left to go, leaving out the odd hour here and there when an entire picture needs to be scrapped because it just doesn’t work once it’s all stuck together. I’ve learned to leave the glue until the last moment and to use as little as possible. When I visit schools and guide kids in making collage, the mantra is: Just a dot, not a lot.
One Piece of String is the companion to One Red Button and was conceived almost simultaneously. String as an art medium has certain challenges, but pretty good impact on the page.
Take a look! Share the books with a toddler and have some fun.