Back in 2012 at my site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, an illustrator I’d not heard of left a comment at one of my posts. Intrigued, I went to visit his site, and I was blown away by his illustration work featured there. It was then we began a correspondence and I learned his debut picture book would be released this year. Lucky for me, I even got to see a very early copy of the book.
That book is Aaron Becker’s Journey, and it sees its release from Candlewick Press this week. The book has already been met with rave reviews and garnered Caldecott buzz, no less. It’s the wordless story of a young girl who embarks on an exhilarating journey to a wondrous, new world (not without its dangers) after using her red crayon to draw a door on her bedroom wall. Becker, whose background is in film design, creates in this book a very specific, precise and truly awesome world. On display are intricate and detailed watercolor spreads, breathtaking in their beauty and telling a compelling story of friendship and magic.
I’m happy to see Journey finally released this week and to see it met with such well-deserved approbation, and I decided to check in with Aaron to ask him a bit about it.
What was the seed of Journey? Which element of the story came to you first?
I've always been drawn to designing complex, exotic locations. This comes from learning to draw from Ed Emberley's books, where by starting with simple lines and shapes you can slowly build more elaborate scenes, filled with architecture, vehicles and people.
In the summer of 2010, I spent two straight days on a large drawing of what ultimately became the loch castle in Journey. After seeing it come to life, I realized that it held the sort of enchantment I had been searching for in the book I knew I would one day make.
How do you think your background/experience in film design informs your illustration work, if at all?
There are two sides to this one. On one hand, working for years side by side with extremely talented artists was an invaluable education in and of itself. I also picked up some fancy skills in the film industry that helped in the planning stage of the book. For instance, before doing the final watercolors, I built digital 3D models for the more complex illustrations that I then used as both lighting and perspective reference when doing the final pencil sketches.
On the other hand, because I was used to working on other people's creative endeavors for so long (i.e. big budget animated films), I had to navigate the frightening waters towards trusting my own judgment as an artist. And thank goodness for that! I've heard it said that it takes years to forget everything one learns as a commercial illustrator. At the same time, there's no doubt that a lot of what I find people are responding to in Journey stems from my years spent designing for the silver screen.
I know you've told me before that you took about a 10-year hiatus from doing anything Internet-related but, in the past couple months, have been getting up to speed. What do you think are both the benefits and drawbacks of social media for picture book-creators today?
There are benefits to social media?
Kidding aside, it's been amazingly helpful as a way of connecting to the larger book world. Sometimes a simple Facebook post or tweet or email has been enough to invigorate me with a new sense of purpose and resolve on days when I feel particularly isolated as an artist.
That said, I'm a luddite at heart and believe that we're better off in the long run without these bleeps getting in the way. Of course, it's always our own degree of skillfulness with using technology that either helps or harms us, but I do sometimes feel powerless against the all-too-human desire to check my email.
What's next for you? Working on anything now that you can talk about?
I'm thrilled to say yes. Candlewick has taken me under their wing and I couldn't be happier. They're a wonderfully positioned house with creative independence and a fantastic reputation in the book world.
My second book is already finished and will be out in the fall of 2014. It may or may not be related to Journey, but I'm not saying for sure.
Another book is on its way soon after, but first I have to settle on the storyline. I'm on my umpteenth version after nearly a year now and it just hasn't found its heart. But it's getting there.
What's that they say? Oh, right. It's not the destination. It's the Journey.
JOURNEY. Copyright © 2013 by Aaron Becker. Spread reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.