I Love You Like Yellow: An Interview with Andrea Beaty and Vashti Harrison
Hi Andrea and Vashti,
It’s wonderful to ‘meet’ you! Thank you for taking the time to chat to me about your beautiful new bedtime story, I Love You Like Yellow.
I adored this book – it’s so heart-warming and playful. I was especially struck by how well the text and illustrations complement each other. Can you walk me through your collaboration process?
Andrea: Thank you! I love Vashti’s illustrations so much. While I could never have imagined what she was going to do, her images beautifully match the feel and mood I hoped to convey in the text. As a writer, I create something and it grows into something so much greater through the vision of the illustrator and the other people who add their talents to the project including the editor, art director, designers . . ..
That’s the fun of writing picture books! A whole world grows around a few simple words. I think people are always surprised to hear that the writers and illustrators of picture books usually do not interact early on in a project. And almost never directly. The editor and art director are the conductors. After sketches are done, sometimes, there’s tweaking of the art or the text. Mostly for plot points or to clarify something.
Vashti: Even though we don’t sit down and work together, I think the collaboration for picture books comes between the art and the words! It’s really cool to see how these two things we create combine to become something new. Typically as the illustrator I get the manuscript either in document form or sometimes paginated. I chat with the editor and mostly the art director to get a sense of what they are hoping for and then I just start sketching. Using Andreas words as a map, I start developing ways to turn it into something visual. I used key words from each line of her poem to develop little vignettes and from there I thought about themes. For example: yellow, green, orange, purple orchid: those could be colours on someone's clothes or things you see in a grocery store, or it could be a day at the park. Her writing has such great rhythm, I just tried to listen carefully to that and turn them into beats for little stories.
Andrea, When it comes to picture books, I feel as though there must be so many different balances to capture. For instance, it’s important that the text is just as visual as the illustrations. The tone as well needs to speak to children and adults alike. What can you tell me about your style and process as a writer?
I think of writing picture books as writing poetry. In a lyrical mood piece like I LOVE YOU LIKE YELLOW, that means using the fewest words possible to capture the essence of what I’m trying to explore. In this case, love in its many forms. The fun is seeing how the illustrator builds a narrative around that. It’s never what I imagine and it’s always so much better! A longer rhyming text which tells an actual story with events—as in AARON SLATER, ILLUSTRATOR—is more like writing a song. The rhyme is usually more complex and sometimes affects the action and characters. In either case, though, I never think about writing for kids vs. adults. I just write for myself. I try to use the fewest words possible to say exactly what needs to be said in the right order. Nothing more. Hopefully, that connects with the reader, no matter how old they are.
Vashti, I loved the warmth and texture of your illustrations. What can you tell me about your style and technique as an illustrator? How did you choose your colour palette?
I typically work 100% digitally, illustrating on the computer in photoshop with a drawing tablet. I was grateful for some time to slow down and experiment with style for this book. Once I had all of the sketches done, I knew there were going to be lots of characters in lots of different places, which could make a fun opportunity to switch things up. I did some experiments with paper collage, and digital collage but those tests weren’t feeling as soft as I was hoping for. Knowing that the book ends with a bedtime theme I wanted it to feel a little dreamy, so I ended up using a mixture of tools. I did all of the base drawings in colored pencil, just in one shade to capture all of the values and texture. Once the lights and darks are done I can just focus on colour. So I scan my work into the computer and add colours on top. Splitting up the drawing into two steps really helps me move quicker and not second guess so much. I wanted a soft light throughout without going too pastel. I kept my palette simple with muted tones, and used warm lighting on top to make it feel sunny and bright!
I’m sure your book will resonate with so many children on their journey to expressing love in their own varied and unique ways. How do you express your love? Do you have a love language?!
Andrea: That’s an interesting question. When I was younger and had more time, I would make things for people: funny cards or t-shirts or whatever. Now, I’m all about flowers. I converted a third of my yard into a cutting garden and share bouquets with everyone I can. Also, I send people pictures of the bees that sleep on my flowers. It’s silly, but it makes me happy to share the joy of my garden.
Vashti: For me it's definitely all about quality time. I think that's why I leaned so heavily into these special little moments in the book. I don’t need big gestures, just the time we get to spend together! Those are the things I remember most from childhood and what I was hoping to capture in the art.
Finally, are there any tips you can share for budding writers and illustrators?
Andrea: Write or create for yourself. Don’t worry about the audience. If you create the thing that amuses you or speaks truth to you, it will probably connect with someone else, too.
Vashti: Draw and read everything! Figure out what you like and don’t like. Practise the things you like and don’t like (for me it will always be hands, ugh.) Study other peoples work and try to understand why they made the choices they did. Once you put in all of that practice and study you’ll start to develop your style, your way of doing things, and that’s what will make your work stand out.
Sweet and playful, I Love You Like Yellow follows a diverse array of children and their families—families who come in all shapes and sizes— and showcases the smallest but sometimes most special moments of the day: from going to a garden, to playing pretend pirates, eating some crunchy chips and lemonade, and rushing to get ready in the morning.
I Love You Like Yellow will be published by Abrams & Chronicle Books on 29th March 2022. £12.99.