Christopher Silas Neal Interview

Hello, Chris, thank you for joining me for an interview to talk about your upcoming book, Everyone.

Tell us a little bit about Everyone.

Everyone is about a boy alone with his thoughts who, through a metaphorical journey, experiences a full spectrum of emotions. It’s about feelings, or more to the point how the world reflects and responds to our expression of emotion.

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Where did you get the idea for such a special book?

It began with an illustration I did for the Op-ed section of the New York Times. The essay was about a young boy whose parents were deported and the aftermath of that separation. For the illustration, I drew a boy with tears that morph into two birds taking flight. I really enjoyed that image—the sadness of it all—and later, just for fun, made a short animation based on the same image. A boy cries and his tears morph into a bird that flies into the clouds. It begins to rain or rather the clouds begin to cry and the boy’s frown turns to a smile. I titled it, When You Cry You Are Not Alone. When I met with my agent Stephen Barr for the first time, he was more interested in this short animation than my other picture book ideas. A year and 53 revisions later, Candlewick bought my rough draft of Everyone. Then we tweaked the story even more. I first tried a version where I spelled out each metaphor in the text. My editor and I slowly paired it down until only a few lyrical phrases were left. The pictures and metaphors  are much more mysterious paired with such sparse text and I think it makes for a more unique story. There are plenty of picture books about feelings that directly address tantrums and bad moods in a straight forward fashion. Those books are great, but I wanted to do something different. I listened to and read a lot of lyrics (lots of John Lennon) while working on the book so it’s no surprise that the sparse text almost reads like a song.

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What illustration style/medium do you typically use for your books?

All of my illustrations are made in layers like a print. With acrylic, gouache, and pencil I make various shapes and line drawings. I scan those doodles and layer them in Photoshop where I add color. For Everyone, I decided to work in a limited palette and the book is printed using only three spot colors. Most picture books are printed in CMYK—Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black are printed as miniscule dots, which mix together to form millions of different colors. With Everyone the inks were mixed beforehand (spot colors) and printed one color at a time, almost like a screen print. So the art has to work with only those three colors. There are fun things you can play with like the overprinting—where the colors overlap it makes a secondary tone or color.

Do you prefer writing and illustrating your own books, or do you prefer illustrating other people’s books as well?

I really enjoy both ways equally. Writing is really new to me and I have so much to learn which is both exciting and terrifying. The great thing about working with an author is that I am in awe of their craft and as a team we can do things I wouldn’t be able to do on my own. Though I should stress that typically there isn’t too much back and forth between an author and the artist. After the manuscript is finished, I respond with my art and the editor and art director act as a conduit through which all communication must travel. In most cases this is certainly the best way to get things done though it would be a fun experiment to make a book with a writer in a more organic way, where we are writing and drawing in tandem—building the book page by page.

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What’s it been like to work with Kate Messner? I understand there’s a new title in the works with her?

She is such a great partner and because she’s a former teacher, she is very organized and detailed. For our books Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, she made a chart with the time of day and seasons and what animals and plants would be present during that time, and how they would be behave. I learn so much working on these books and her thoughtful notes help me to layer the environments with visual facts. There’s room to go deeper if the reader wants to. We are an interesting pair because she writes science in a way that is poetic and I make pictures that rely on expression and texture more so than realism. Despite that, we manage to inject a lot of science into our books. I’m putting finishing touches on our latest project, Over and Under the Pond. I’ve had so much fun making the art and can’t wait for it to come out. In the meantime, we’re brainstorming a few other ideas for nature-based books.

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What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

I’m an only child and much of my childhood was spent alone in my room making drawings, making music, designing video games, and writing plots for movies. In that way, my book Everyone is some what autobiographical in that it’s about the cerebral journey we take when left alone with our thoughts. I had plenty of time as a kid to let my emotions and imagination run wild.

If you weren’t writing and illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

I’m a former drummer and at one point pursued music as a profession. Had I not started making art, I might of actually stuck with it. Besides that, I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I’m writing a book now about a very curious and hungry cat and have a few exciting projects ahead including a picture book with author Barbara Rosenstock about Frank Lloyd Wright.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

Thank you so much for reading this interview and taking the time to get to know me a little better. I hope you enjoy Everyone!

Thank you, Chris, for joining me here!

EVERYONE. Copyright © 2016 by Christopher Silas Neal. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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