Thursday, September 22, 2011

Interview #12: Kelly Murphy

Last week we were delighted to have a conversation over Skype with illustrator Kelly Murphy!  Kelly has created art for many books that we've enjoyed over the years, including "Hush Little Dragon" (one of our early reviews).  We are so happy that she took the time to visit with us -- we had a great time talking art and monsters... two of our favorite things!

Above, Gracie has drawn Kelly Murphy for us, joined by a couple of her furry friends whom we also met.  More about that soon!  But first a review:

Dad:  Here is the new book that Kelly Murphy illustrated...
Lily (age 8):  Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters!
Dad:  What is it about?
Lily:  It's about monsters.
Isaac (age 13):  Hundreds of different monsters.
Lily:  There are these little pig-things flying around in almost every page.
Gracie (age 11):  Not pigs.  Little floaty-marshmallow blobs.
Elijah (age 5):  The monsters are all awesome and weird.
Gracie:  There's a guy with three eyes.  And a guy with eyes on stalks.  Guys with beards and eyelashes.
Isaac:  Bearded Weirdie!  I like the Bearded Weirdie!
Gracie:  Kelly Murphy is very imaginative.  Who else in the world would think of that.  Or even that.
Dad:  Tell everybody what you are pointing at.
Gracie:  A little chicken dude!  This little weird chicken guy with hair.
Isaac:  Where's the Bearded Weirdie?  Bearded Weirdie!  Bearded Weirdie!
Gracie:  And the swing set -- even the swing set is a monster.
Evangeline (age 3):  That bag is a monster bag.
Lily:  And their bathtub is made out of a monster.
Isaac:  I'd hate to be that bathtub guy.  It wouldn't be fun.
Gracie:  Because a bunch of naked monsters would be jumping around inside you.
Isaac:  Exactly.
Dad:  What kinds of things do the monsters do in this book?
Gracie:  They are things that all real kids do too.
Lily:  But with a monsterly twist.
Gracie:  Because monsters are awesomer.  I'm kind of sad... I'm not as awesome as a monster.
Lily:  But they eat worms.
Evangeline:  And bugs.  I don't like bug salad.
Gracie:  I wonder if she named any of these monsters?
Isaac:  What should the Bearded Weirdie's name be?
Dad:  I think you just gave him a name.
Isaac:  It would be really fun to draw this book.
Dad:  I've always thought there's no greater illustration assignment than getting to draw monsters.  I doubt there were many rules with this book - they probably just let Kelly Murphy go crazy.
Elijah:  Drawing monsters is fun because you can make any kind of monster you want.  The first time I made a monster, it came out really cool.  So then I turned into the King-of-Making-Monsters.
Dad:  Anything else you want to say about the illustrations?
Isaac:  The pictures are at cool angles.  Some are far away, some are close up.  There are cool perspectives.
Dad:  The author of this book, Jane Yolen, is very well-known.  Last year she came out with her 300th book.
Isaac:  300th!!!
Dad:  Yeah!  Isn't that nuts!  I don't know how long she's been making books, but let's say it's 60 years.  She'd have to come out with 5 books a year, every year, for 6o years to hit 300.
Gracie:  Jane Yolen did all those dinosaur books.  Like, "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight."  I love those books.
Dad:  How do you think Kelly Murphy felt when she found out she was going to illustrate a Jane Yolen book?
Gracie:  "Oh... My... Pickles!  This is going to be radical!"
Dad:  I bet those were her exact words.
Gracie:  Hey, this could be Jane Yolen's next book series!  Just like she had "How Do Dinosaurs Go to School"... there could be "How Monsters Go to School" and stuff.
Elijah:  I wish I could read this book again right now.  I'm going to read this book forever.

Later that day, we fired up Skype and had ourselves a little conversation with Kelly Murphy!

Kelly Murphy:  Here we go... da-ta-da!
Dad:  Thank-you for taking time to talk with us!
Gracie:  Yeah, thank-you!
Kelly Murphy:  This is an honor and a privilege.  I really enjoy reading your reviews and seeing everybody's drawings.
Dad:  Do you have a question to start us off, Gracie?
Gracie:  Yeah.  What's your cat's name?
Kelly Murphy:  Oh, can you see her?
Gracie:  She is crawling behind you while you are talking!
Kelly Murphy:  This is Mama.
Lily:  Hi Mama!
Gracie:  She's so pretty.
Kelly Murphy:  She's a bit of a pain because she likes to walk on anything that I'm working on.  She's ruined a few paintings before.
Gracie:  Uh-oh!
Kelly Murphy:  And I have a very bizarre looking dog too. (Holds up bizarre looking dog)
Gracie:  Oh!  She's so cute!  What's her name?
Kelly Murphy:  This is... Lily!
Lily:  (Gasp)
Kelly Murphy:  Lily, meet Lily!
Gracie:  They are practically twins!
Kelly Murphy:  You have a really big family, right?
Lily:  We have 6 kids.
Kelly Murphy:  You just need one more, and you can be Murphy-size.  I'm one of 7 kids.
Dad:  Really, wow!
Kelly Murphy:  I was the baby.
Lily:  We have a baby.
Kelly Murphy:  I hope you treat her nice.
Gracie:  Most of us do.
Kelly Murphy:  Sometimes my brothers would pick on me...  I'd be drawing a unicorn, and then all of a sudden they'd be putting smell lines coming from it, or they'd be putting arrows through it.  So I'd start crying.
Dad:  Poor little sister!
Gracie:  Isaac is the big brother who picks on us.
Isaac:  What did I do?
Lily:  You know that little cat head I made... you drew a big muscle body on it.
Dad:  Actually, that was me.
Lily:  Aaaaahrp!
All:  Ha hah ha...
Dad:  Who has a real question for Kelly Murphy?
Isaac:  When did you start illustrating?
Kelly Murphy:  Professionally, I would say 1999.  You guys might not have even been born then.  Ha ha...
Dad:  Isaac was born in '98.  So he was around.
Kelly Murphy:  That's when I professionally started.  But ever since I could hold a pencil, I've liked to draw pictures.  Always.  It's my happy place.
Elijah:  Did you start making monsters when you were 5 like me?
Kelly Murphy:  Not exactly like the kind of monsters that are in this book.  But I drew mythological-creature monsters.  Like centaurs.  I used to read a lot of those kind of stories.
Gracie:  Elijah really, really likes monsters.  He draws the coolest monsters ever.
Kelly Murphy:  I see kids' drawings and they are so much more imaginative than mine.  Kids are confident.  Kids aren't saying, "maybe I should get a reference for this before I draw it."  You guys just draw it instinctually, and it comes out so unique and perfect.
Lily:  Where do you get the ideas for all your monsters?  Do they just pop into your head?
Kelly Murphy:  Creating the monsters was almost entirely imaginative, but then it was a fun challenge bringing them back into the observed world, so that we as humans could identify with them.  I also tried to remember the things and shapes that I liked when I was little.  Do you notice that all the monsters have big googly eyes?
Gracie:  Yeah!  We were talking about that.
Kelly Murphy:  A lot of my characters have big googly eyes because that's how I drew when I was little.  Here's another thing I did for this book so that my characters wouldn't all look the same...  I drew a bunch of different squiggles and shapes on a piece of paper.  Then based from those squiggles, I'd start to put on eyes and legs and mouths... then I could make sure each of my monsters was a little different from the other ones.
Dad:  Almost like playing a game for inspiration.
Lily:  We do that sometimes.  Dad draws a little squiggle and then we make them into monsters.
Dad:  We play that game at-- well, should I say this?  We play that game at church sometimes.
Kelly Murphy:  Ha ha!  Uh oh!  It's so much fun though.
Dad:  Sometimes we need to keep the little ones quiet.  So on the back of the bulletin I'll draw a whole mess of shapes, and they'll turn them into things.
Kelly Murphy:  Super fun!
Dad:  Now the whole world is going to know that we doodle during church.
Kelly Murphy:  As long as you keep your ears open, you're solid.
Gracie:  I take "picture" notes during church.
Dad:  She records the sermon message in pictures instead of words.  It's amazing how much more she retains that way.
Kelly Murphy:  In school I was always doing little drawings of things the teacher was saying.
Dad:  Who has another question?
Gracie:  How did you feel when you found out you were getting to illustrate a book by someone so famous?  Jane Yolen has 300 books!
Kelly Murphy:  I know!  I was like, Holy Cow!  I was excited but overwhelmed too.  Jane Yolen has worked with amazing illustrators before.  So I wanted to make sure that the caliber of work I was dedicating to the book was high.  I was really excited once I got to actually see the story.  If you noticed, the words are pretty minimal.  So that meant... (Gasp) I can do almost anything I want!  Which is a dream for an illustrator!
Dad:  Especially with monsters on top of that!
Kelly Murphy:  Yes, it's even monsters!  The whole story was so open.  It's just talking about the monsters' day and the noises they're making.  But it didn't talk about where they lived or what they ate for dinner.  So I really went back to what it was like when I was little.
Dad:  Is that challenging or is it fun?
Kelly Murphy:  It was fun.  I'm a teacher now for college students, and sometimes when I give open projects they say, "I don't know what to do!"  And my advice is to go back to what you know, what you love.  That way you'll have good ideas.
Lily:  Do you like teaching or does it take up your time from illustrating?
Kelly Murphy:  I love teaching.  When I'm illustrating - in busy, busy months - sometimes I don't leave the house for 5 days straight.  I go out to the mailbox.  I look out the window.  But other than that, I'm working.  Teaching allows me to get out of my studio and talk.  Not just talking to a grocer or someone at the post office.  I'm talking to students that love making art as much as I do.  That fuels me, which then fuels them.  It's a lot of fun.
Gracie:  We were looking at all of your books, and we noticed that you make a lot of shadows and night scenes in your pictures.  Is there a reason for that?  Do you do that on purpose?
Kelly Murphy:  You guys are super observant!  Whenever I talk about certain illustrators or see certain pictures, I get instant goosebumps.  So when I was a student in art school, I had to really look inside myself to figure out what kind of pictures I liked.  Then I had to figure out how to make those things a part of my own artwork.  And the pictures I'd always liked were nighttime pictures or pictures that had soft light.  They were simple paintings with analogous colors -- and it sets a mood.  And mood is so important in the pictures I make -- I try to make sure that every one of my books creates a mood or a feeling.
Dad:  We definitely noticed that.
Isaac:  How do you do that?  Sometimes a picture is all blueish, and even when yellow and red are in there they seem blueish.
Kelly Murphy:  I wasn't always able to paint that way.  In school my painting was a big messy rainbow.  But the way I paint now makes me able to create these moods and atmospheres.  The first step is to separate my picture into darks and lights.  The blue you are seeing is a tonal wash.  I get those darks and lights first with blues and whites...  Or for a brownish picture I use browns and whites.  Then I put the color over that with a slow layering effect to build those colors up.
Gracie:  You do picture books, and you also do chapter books like the Beastologist books -- and I LOVE the Beastologist books!
Kelly Murphy:  Yea!
Gracie:  What are the different challenges between picture books and chapter books?  Which do you like more?
Kelly Murphy:  It depends on when you talk to me.  If I've just finished a picture book, then I don't like picture books very much.
Gracie:  Ha ha!
Kelly Murphy:  They take me soooo long.  Just the paintings on "Monsters" took me 6 months, painting every day.  I do like picture books because they allow me to do color.  But I guess I like the chapter novels better.  They are usually for older kids, so you can do more sophisticated things.  I'm working on a book now called "Behind the Bookcase," and this thing is really weird!  It's such a strange story.  A girl goes behind a secret bookcase in her grandmother's house, and it leads into the land where shadows are born.  Crazy stuff happens from there.  There's some creepy imagery in it.
Lily:  Do you like creepy things?
Kelly Murphy:  Oh, I love creepy things.
Dad:  We wondered... We've seen some of your personal work on your website...
Gracie:  Shadows and monsters and dragons.
Kelly Murphy:  Spooky.  I love spooky things.  You guys might know Tim Burton.  Or Arthur Rackham.  Or Edward Gorey.
Dad:  They might not know the names, but they've all seen their work.
Gracie:  What about Jim Henson!  Your little monsters and dragons look like Muppets or Sesame Street.  Or the Dark Crystal.
Kelly Murphy:  "HhmmMMMmmmm...."  The Skeksis?  I love that stuff.
Gracie:  "HhhmmMMMmmmmmm...."
Kelly Murphy:  I'm a huge fan of Jim Henson.
Gracie:  So are we.
Kelly Murphy:  It's good stuff.
Dad:  Well, thank-you so much for talking with us today!  We love your work, and we're honored that you took time to talk with us.  Do you kids have any final, pressing questions?
Gracie:  "Whaaat.... is your favorite color!"
Dad:  Ha ha - We just watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail last night.
Gracie:  Whaat... is your name?  Whaat... is your book?  Whaat... is your favorite color?
Kelly Murphy:  Ha ha!
Dad:  Well, thank-you again!
Kelly Murphy:  Thanks so much guys!  Keep drawing and keep reviewing!  Everything you are doing is perfect.
Lily:  Thank-you!  Bye!
Kelly Murphy:  Say hi to the other kids for me.
Dad:  We will!  (Closes down Skype)
Gracie:  She didn't answer my question.
Dad:  Huh?
Gracie:  I was serious.  I want to know her favorite color!

monsters, by Elijah

bathtub monster, by Lily

monster name tags, by Isaac

monsters and friends, by Gracie

Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Kelly Murphy
Published, 2011: Candlewick Press
Like it?  Here it is


Jade Clark said...

Haha, that was great! What a fun interview. Your kids were cracking me up!!! Love it.

Kelly's husband said...

Kelly, Lily and Mama's group portrait by Gracie is phenomenal. Lovely work all around! said...

OH I loved fun! so funny! great interview, Bookie Woogie gang.

Heidi Noel said...

I am excited to hear sound bites from this one. ;) A fun interview. Some very good questions I probably wouldn'y have thought to ask.

Christina Rodriguez said...

So many of the kids' comments are hilarious! Loved the interview with Kelly as well.

ElizT said...

Really interesting.

Unknown said...

This was such fun to read!

Brimful Curiosities said...

Filing all those great church activities ideas in my mind for future use!

janeyolen said...

That WAS fun! And Kelly and I are hard at work (well, she is, my part is done) on a new MONSTERS book. It's about the games and outdoor activities that monsters do. We are still arguing with the editor over a title. The frontrunners are: BURLY MONSTERS, TWIRLY MONSTERS and WARTY MONSTERS, SPORTY MONSTERS.

What do you all think?

Jane Yolen

anne said...

I love hearing about how Kelly works with color...darks & lights etc...wonderful insightful interview all, thanks!

Jackie Castle said...

I love Kelly Murhpy's work. I introduced the "Dragon in the Meadow" book on my blog and featured her on the Author's Arena Friday. Wonderful illustrations. Loved reading the interview. Thanks.