MEET THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR
Rebecca J Palmer is an author, illustrator, printmaker, educator and teacher. She is the author and illustrator of a new picture book – Monkey Mind – launched in November 2020. We’re pleased to have Rebecca stop by to talk to us about some of the behind-the-scenes activity in the process of creating Monkey Mind.
From the publisher:
Piper wants to try lots of new things, but something always stops her – her monkey! Some monkeys are playful. Some monkeys are fun. Not Piper’s monkey.
Piper’s monkey is very, very, naughty. Everyone else can tame their monkeys. So why can’t Piper?
Monkey Mind is a gentle story for children and adults about the worrying thoughts that cause anxiety.
On with the questions!
Monkey Mind is a book about facing anxiety. Were there any ‘monkeys’ you had to overcome in the creation of the book?
Oh Yes! Even adults have monkeys! When I first signed with my publisher, Little Pink Dog Books, I was excited and I said to myself, ‘Yay! Everyone’s going to see my story!’ But my monkey said, ‘Oh no! Everyone’s going to see my story.’
That was the start of it for me. I’m a first-time author-illustrator, so everything I did was new, and my monkey questioned everything I did. He said some really mean things like, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘It’s too much for me,’ ‘I’m too old,’ ‘I’m not an author, who am I kidding?’ and worst of all – ‘Everyone will find out I can’t draw either!’ He was a mean little monkey. He took some taming I can tell you.
Can you tell us about the illustrations and what materials/tools you used?
I knew I wanted to do etchings. I decided those furry little lines could be made with blue ink – because blue is used to represent depression or anxiety. I also loved the mindful aspect of creating etchings and ‘zentangles’. I thought the process should reflect the main idea of the book. Live in the present!
- I start out with a copper plate.
- Then I skritch skritch (what I call this part of the process), into some asphalt that I’ve poured onto the plate and allowed to dry.
- My ‘skritches’ expose the copper.
- Then I place the plate into a bath of citric acid.
- The acid ‘bites’ into the copper surface, but not the asphalt, and creates a line. The longer I leave the plate in the acid bath, the deeper the line.
- Then I clean the plate so I can see the lines, which could be a pleasant surprise or a bit disappointing, because I’m never quite sure what they will look like.
- Then I rub soy-based inks into the scratches, wipe the surfaces gently so the ink is just left in the etched lines. This is pretty satisfying, because you can see it properly for the first time and get more of an idea of what your print is going to look like.
- The next stage of the process is to print the etched plate. 100% cotton paper has been specially made for this process and must be torn to the correct size, soaked and then patted dry so it is damp. It then acts like a sponge and ‘sucks up’ the ink.
- The paper is carefully placed on the prepared plate in a printing press, and I turn a big wheel like a ship’s steering wheel and the plate is placed under pressure. It travels through two big rollers that squish the ink from the plate onto the surface of the paper.
- Then comes the exciting bit! Peeling back the paper to reveal the print.
How long did it take you to create the book, from your first draft to the book being published?
Hmm. I’d say about three years. I had already started writing the manuscript because I was teaching some adults at university who were really struggling with anxiety. I thought it was strange we didn’t start teaching ‘monkey taming’ skills using picture books earlier than this. Kids are really clever. We just need to give them the tools early, so it becomes as easy as breathing in and breathing out.
Then, a publisher opened up a submission window. I was one of eight people offered a contract from 400 applications!
But then the hard work began. I changed my etching process to dry point etching (because of the cost of the copper for the etchings). Then, as I learned this new process, I realised I’d have to learn how to use Photoshop and some other digital programs, and then learn how to do watercolour! So I had to ask for help. My publisher agreed to me doing all the graphic design, the cover, and the typography.
Then, on top of it all, I hurt my knee. I was awarded an arts grant with the DLGSCI to let me ask my school if I could take off term four in 2019 to finish the art. It was a lot of hard work! Eventually it all got done. It was hundreds of hours, but it was a chance to achieve my heart’s desire and I couldn’t give up, I thought I might not have this wonderful chance again.
Do you have a tip for kids who would like to write or illustrate their own books?
I have three!
- Ask for help when you need it. (People love to be helpful!)
- Turn a gift into a talent. Many people are born with a gift like – being able to draw. Others can’t draw to start with but love it and they practise a little bit every day, and end up better at drawing than the gifted person who doesn’t practise!
- DON’T GIVE UP. Practice whenever you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you take a break!
Etching: There are other etching processes you can try that are not so expensive and long winded as this! Your local art shop has scratch board for instance, that gives the same satisfying ‘skritch scritch’ experience.
Can you tell us something about your next author/illustrator project?
I have two manuscripts that I’m working on right now. I have one that I started working on five years ago! I say to my monkey – listen, don’t take it personally, and learn. If it’s helpful, use it, and make the work better. If it’s not, then I say to my monkey, ‘Other people’s opinions of my work is none of your business!’ Think about this. 😉
Monkey Mind is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library.
Take a sneak peek at some of the pages in Monkey Mind on the publisher’s website.
Visit Rebecca J Palmer’s website for more about her and her book.