Every so often while we're out and about, we are fortunate to bump into Amy Young -- author, illustrator, and friend. You may remember last year we reviewed one of her Belinda the Ballerina books. Now Amy has a brand new book out called "The Mud Fairy." Not only was she kind enough to let us chat with her about this great new title, but she also let us stop by for a studio tour! And she capped the visit by sitting down with the kids at the kitchen table, sprawled with supplies, to make art together! Thanks to Amy for the truly memorable day!
The portrait of Mrs. Young above was drawn by Gracie. And we set Isaac loose with a camera during the studio tour, so we have him to thank for all the photographs below...
Dad: Before we share the interview/studio tour, why don't you guys first tell everyone about "The Mud Fairy..."
Isaac (age 11): It's about a fairy who wants to get her wings.
Lily (age 7): There is this little fairy girl... actually she's 100 years old.
Dad: Little in size, but not in age.
Lily: Very little in size. But when fairies are born, they are probably 60 or something.
Dad: Well, they'd be zero when they are born. They just live longer.
Lily: Wow. She's old.
Gracie (age 9): Her name is Emmalina, and she has to earn her wings.
Lily: She needs a talent to earn her wings. And she doesn't have a talent.
Dad: What kind of talents did the other fairies have?
Lily: Rainbow making. Opening flowers. Putting dewdrops on spider webs.
Gracie: Fairies are supposed to be dainty and flit around.
Lily: But she's the opposite. She likes playing in the swamps and usually she gets in trouble.
Isaac: The only thing she really liked doing was getting dirty and playing leapfrog with the frogs.
Gracie: Then the frogs have babies, and they freak out.
Lily: They were like, "Help! Help! Our babies are strange!" But really they were just tadpoles.
Isaac: She told the frogs what was going on, and she helped them raise the tadpoles.
Gracie: She helps train them and protect them. And in the end she gets her wings for helping the frogs.
Thanks guys! And now it's time to share our visit to Amy Young's studio...
Dad: Thanks for letting us come over!
Amy Young: I'm so glad that you all came to visit! I like it when I do a book signing or a reading and you guys are out in the audience... Hey there's the Zenz family!
Lily: You have a really cool art studio.
Amy Young: I do have a great studio -- I'm so lucky. When we were looking for a house, it had to have a good studio area.
Dad: Great windows... great light... great view...
Amy Young: In the spring, the water is high and we can canoe around out there.
Isaac: That's cool.
Amy Young: I think the mud fairy must live right outside there... I was very inspired by where I live. You can't tell now because of the snow, but all the flowers inside the book grow right out there in the spring and summer.
Lily: What's that on the floor?
Amy Young: That's one of my dog's bones... one of Sophie's bones. She keeps me company while I'm working.
Gracie: You must like bones. Because you've got a little skeleton person up over there. You've got a 'bones' book right there. You've got that big dead thingie on the wall.
Amy Young: Bones are pretty. They are the structure underneath everything. And I have that human skeleton because if I'm having trouble figuring out how somebody moves, sometimes it helps to understand what their bones are doing. So I'll actually pose this skeleton and make a little sketch from it.
Gracie: Guess what - I have something like that. It's made out of wood and you can bend it into poses. But that skeleton is a little more accurate.
Dad: Well, who has a question for Mrs. Young?
Lily: Which do you like more, writing or illustrating?
Amy Young: I probably like illustrating a little more. It's a little easier for me. When I'm writing, I'm making the story up out of the blue. But when I'm illustrating, I'm drawing what I've already written. And also, I've drawn all my life.
Lily: Did you ever take ballet classes?
Dad: Ah, a "Belinda" question...
Amy Young: I took ballet for the first time when I was in my 40's. I did it because I was writing all these books about a ballerina, and I thought, "I really have to find out what this is all about." So I not only watched kids taking ballet, but I also signed up for a class. And it was really fun!
Dad: Did you guys know Mom used to take ballet as a grownup too?
Amy Young: You guys have seen Belinda's shoes, right?
Dad: I know I have... But I don't think the kids have yet...
Amy Young: Do you remember what is kind of unusual about Belinda?
Gracie: Her big feet!
(Mrs. Young brings out a bag and unveils... Belinda's GIANT ballet slippers)
Lily: Are those her shoes!!
Gracie: Oh my goodness! HA HA Hahh!
Amy Young: (laughing) You should have taken a picture of their faces...
Gracie: Are those seriously Belinda's?
Amy Young: Those are her shoes. Well... I had them made for Belinda.
Gracie: Those are awesome!
Isaac: Are you making any more Belinda books?
Amy Young: Nope, no more Belinda books. It's time to move on! I've told all the Belinda stories I have to tell for right now.
Dad: Should we turn our conversation to "The Mud Fairy"?
Amy Young: I thought you guys might want to see these... For "The Mud Fairy," before I did anything else, I took lots of photographs of flowers. And I also drew lots of pictures of flowers. And I put little fairies in these pictures too, so I'd know how big they were in relation to the plants.
Lily: (gesturing) I think fairies are this big.
Amy Young: I think there are different sizes of fairies. I think Emmalina is about this big.
Gracie: When we saw all the flowers in the book, we thought that you must have done lots of observation.
Isaac: I try to press flowers a lot. Then in the winter if I need to see a flower, I usually just look at the pressed ones.
Amy Young: I worked on this mud fairy book in the winter -- every day I was painting all these spring flowers. And when I finally finished, it actually was spring. And the flowers I had been painting all winter started to come up. And it was really weird because I felt like, "I've just been through spring... How can it be spring again?" It was so real in my head.
Dad: This is a cool drawing...
Amy Young: It's a little fairy resting place. My neighbor next door made that for me.
Gracie: So you actually have one?
Amy Young: Well I think I have a photo of it somewhere. But she told me that when she was a little girl, she used to make places for the fairies to sit and play. And I said, "Really? I never did that. What are they like?" And she said, "Well, let's go do it." So we did it.
Dad: Fun! Maybe you guys could do that. That totally sounds like the kind of stuff you guys do.
Lily: Did you ever see real fairies?
Amy Young: Not yet. Not yet. Did you?
Amy Young: They are very hard to see.
Lily: They are really tiny.
Amy Young: And they are very good at hiding. They stay really still. You don't even see them even if they are right in front of you.
Gracie: What are these? Are they the thumbnails for the book?
Amy Young: It's one step beyond the thumbnail. See - most kids have no idea what a thumbnail is. But you guys know it all, don't you... These are the rough sketches.
Gracie: This sketch looks like the picture on this page of the book, only it's really teeny.
Amy Young: Yep, but sometimes things change. Let's see if anything changed... This fairy's name was "Violet" first, and we changed it to "Indigo..."
Isaac: Are you going to make any more mud fairy books?
Amy Young: I don't know... Nothing in the works yet... we'll see...
Gracie: (running across the room) What is THAT thing???
Amy Young: That's an airbrush. I put ink in a little cup that attaches to this... And it sprays out here...
Gracie: Is that how you did the awesome backgrounds?
Amy Young: Yeah!
Gracie: Oh cool!
Amy Young: And you know what, I had never done airbrush before. I wasn't sure I could do it. So I had to practice for two weeks before I did it on the book, because I was so afraid I would ruin it. I didn't want to have blobs...
Isaac: So that's how the colors are so smooth.
Gracie: The colors all blend in so good!
Amy Young: That's because I practiced so hard. I knew I wanted the backgrounds to be soft and atmospheric. And I couldn't do it with my regular washes.
Dad: You guys saw how the airbrush just sprays over everything... So how do you think Mrs. Young kept paint from getting all over the characters?
Isaac: She did the characters afterward over top?
Amy Young: The problem with that -- if you try to paint over the airbrush -- it gets muddy looking. The ink underneath makes it look too dark. So there's a special technique called "frisket."
Amy Young: Frisket!
Amy Young: I take this big sheet of see-through stuff, and I put it on top of the drawing. Then I take a knife, I cut out the shapes, and can I lift off everything but what covers the characters. And then I spray the airbrush. And then I take the shapes off. And then I paint the characters on the white paper left behind.
Gracie: That's awesome!
Amy Young: And I had never done it before, so it was cool to learn something new.
Gracie: Your books say you use gouache to paint... Why do you mostly use gouache?
Amy Young: Well, I used to use oil paint a lot when I did big paintings.
Gracie: Oh - we have oil paints.
Amy Young: But for the smaller size, I thought oil paint was hard to use. And it smells kind of bad.
Dad: You just learned that, didn't you Isaac...
Isaac: Oh, yeah.
Amy Young: And we don't really like having it in the house because the turpentine isn't good for you to smell.
Gracie: And you can barely wash oil paint out of things. We learned that a few days ago, and now we're not allowed to use them.
Amy Young: Ha ha ha! That's interesting... Is there a story behind this?
Isaac: I was trying to wash oil paints off a palette...
Gracie: It got all over the table, all over the sink, all over the counter, on the floor!
Amy Young: Oh, oil paint! That's really bad!
Gracie: It was horrible!
Amy Young: Usually if you do oil paint, it's better to have a studio that's completely away from your house.
Dad: We're holding off until the summer, and then you guys can oil paint outside...
Gracie: We are not allowed to use glitter either.
Lily: Once Gracie spilled glitter all over Mommy's bed.
Amy Young: I'm kind off messy when I do my art. I'm not a neat artist. I'm like Emmalina that way. In fact, it's good you guys came over because my studio was a total mess. I didn't even want to go down there. But I thought, "I'm having company! I have to clean up!"
Gracie: Dad makes us clean our room whenever we have company too.
Isaac: I should take a picture of my desk and send it to you. It's where I keep all my wire and springs and stuff. Like... I took apart a hair dryer and a digital camera...
Dad: I went up there to help him clean his room once, and I started laughing out loud. His desk looked like it belonged to a mad scientist. Strange bits and parts and pieces and tools piled everywhere. I can't imagine a typical 11 year old's desk looking like that.
Amy Young: Not very many.
Isaac: I'm glad I haven't electrocuted myself doing something yet.
Amy Young: That would be bad.
After the interview and studio tour, Mrs. Young sat down and and drew with the kids for a good hour or so! Dad swiped the camera from Isaac and got a few shots:
Thanks again to Amy Young for such a great visit!
Author/Illustrator: Amy Young
Published, March 2010: Bloomsbury
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