Most children’s book illustrators just have words to work with when they create artwork. At The Secret Mountain, they also have music. Marie Lafrance takes us behind the scenes of the six-part series, Little Stories of Great Composers, which required equal parts imagination and historical research. What is your studio setup like? I work in a room on the second floor of my house in front of a window where I can see my neighbour’s huge tree. It helps me figure out which season of the year we’re in. The room has the table on which I draw and is equipped with all the tools I need, including papers, pencils, and brushes, and the scanner, computer, bookcases, documents, light table, coffee machine, a small fridge, and houseplants. How do you start a project like this? There’s always research to be done for a book, but when it’s about someone who existed in real life, especially in an era before photography was invented, it’s a lot of work. I start by rummaging through books and the Internet for historical data, then I try to visualize the main characters and draw them, which helps me to “see” them acting out the story told by the author. I had to imagine everything from their clothes, the furniture for their house, the castle or the café they sit in, the trees and birds in the landscape, to the weather of the day. View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Secret Mountain (@secretmountainpublishing) What types of art tools do you use? With the sketches as a reference, I trace everything onto high-quality paper using my light table. I then draw every detail with a soft black lead. This is the longest part of the process for me. After that, I scan and place the illustration into the scene. Finally, I put everything in colour on my computer. I also use textures, which I make with brushes, gouache, ink, charcoal, wood, fabric—anything really. These textures help to create a feeling. The Little Stories of Great Composers series is based on actual historical events. Was it difficult to ensure the accuracy of your illustrations? I spent a great deal of time researching. I especially used paintings that were created in the era each of the composers lived through, and I tried to make my illustrations as historically accurate as I could. View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Secret Mountain (@secretmountainpublishing) In every story, readers see through the eyes of a charming little mouse named Minim. How did you decide what Minim should look like? Well, at first I focused on the fact that Minim was a mouse, so I started researching mice. What they look like, how they move— that sort of thing. While trying to draw my own mouse I had the inkling that Minim’s ears should be oversized to hear the music he so loves. Then I thought that his long tail should move and portray a treble clef when he’s listening to great music. With those touches, I knew I had my Minim! The last detail to decide on was whether Minim should wear clothes or not? I thought it could be fun that for him to dress like the composer or another character living in the given time period. View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Secret Mountain (@secretmountainpublishing) What inspired the style, color palette, and textures you chose? I chose a different print for each composer and a slightly different palette for each album. I kept the style rather classical, to fit with the composers’ music and time period. Little Stories of Great Composers features stories by Ana Gerhard about Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Schubert, Haydn, and Paganini. Each illustrated picture book includes a CD and digital album include the audio story narrated by Colm Feore and musical performances by I Musici de Montréal orchestra. Click here to see the full catalogue. About Marie Lafrance: Marie Lafrance is an award-winning illustrator and multiple finalist for the Governor General Award. She studied Graphic Arts and Etching, worked as a printmaker, and eventually started illustrating for magazines, newspapers, posters, billboards, board games, and picture books. You can find more of her work at www.marielafrance.net.