Most children’s book illustrators just have words to work with when they create artwork. At The Secret Mountain, they also have music. Marianne Ferrer shares how the upbeat songs in A Picnic in the Sun inspired the characters in Bertie’s gang and scenes like the frog concert and fun-filled picnic. What is your studio setup like? My work environment always has to be cozy and cheerful so that I can be in the best mood while drawing or painting. Whether I’m working from my big desk in my bedroom or the kitchen table, it’s important to me that I’m always facing the window. I wanna soak in as much inspiration and sunshine from the outside as possible (and make sure my plants are happy too)! I’m also surrounded by all of my art materials, funky hair clips of all sorts to keep my long hair from dipping into dirty paint water by mistake or smearing fresh artwork, and my laptop so I can listen to music or movies while I work. View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Secret Mountain (@secretmountainpublishing) How do you start a project like this? What is your creative process like? I always start by reading the manuscript I’ve received from the editor a few times. This way I can start visualizing the characters, setting, and pacing. Once I have a better idea of the direction I want to take, it’s time to sketch! I make myself a sheet full of tiny blank spreads so I can draw in them without getting distracted by details. You focus on gesture and composition when the available space is only about two by three inches. When brainstorming, the cheaper the paper the better. Draw on the back of junk mail, receipts, printer paper—any kind of paper you don’t feel pressured to perform really well on works well! When I’m settling down to paint, I always start by creating a distinctive and limited palette on a separate piece of paper I can refer back to. This helps keep a cohesive consistency throughout the book. I also just enjoy using colour as an additional narrative tool. Your artwork features warm colours and complex textures. What types of art tools do you use? I’m a huge fan of traditional media in general, but my staples are watercolour and gouache. There’s something about how pigments collect on paper as the water dries. The way they blend, the transparencies you can layer, and the luminosity you can bring out of the colours are impossible to completely replicate digitally. I find that it also allows me to feel more productive since I can’t just undo anything with the touch of a button and question myself endlessly. I have to commit to each brushstroke! View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Secret Mountain (@secretmountainpublishing) Did you listen to the music for inspiration while creating illustrations? I listened to the music of the book a lot, of course! It has such a timeless feel to it. That inspired me to create characters that feel like they have existed for many generations, too. At other times, when I just needed to paint and focus, I put on a lot of rain soundtracks and sounds of the forest. It felt like I was on their journey with them and was the perfect immersive background noise. In these stories, songs were interspersed with the narrative. How challenging was it for you to create layouts and scenes that could accommodate the songs and story? I definitely had to make the space for the lyrics first and build the layout around it. I had the idea to incorporate them on a dark background that would contrast with the regular body of text. I used bubbles, trees, and all kinds of dark silhouettes to separate them while still blending in with the theme of the page. Making the lyrics feel more like a compositional element of the illustrations, rather than a body of text that could be confused for the story, lends itself to having more dynamic and interesting spreads. What is your favourite page or part of the story? There are so many illustrations in this book that I had so much fun with. The frog concert, the raincoat pages, the dancing animals inside the boat, and the picnic itself are some of my favourite pages. However, the one illustration I have a particular soft spot for is the spread with the patchwork of animals in the boat as they pass the pink palm trees. It’s a bit more abstract and shows off the colour palette in a graphic way. I just really enjoy looking at it! Where else do you find inspiration for your work? I’m inspired by a lot of things, mostly nature, art movements and history, crafts of all kinds, and so much more. I try to always keep an open eye on everything cause you never know what could spark your creativity and get the ideas flowing. It really shows that I was heavily inspired by medieval tapestries and folk art in particular for this book. Have you been able to share the story with a special little one in your life? A couple of years ago, when the French version first came out, we had the opportunity to create a concert version of the book. My illustrations were shown on screen while the band narrated and performed the songs on stage to a full audience. I had never seen my work interpreted like this and getting to see it live was such a treat! It was so exciting to see the kids singing along and dancing in their seats and everyone had such a good time. I can’t wait for the English concert soon too! A Picnic in the Sun is available online and at local bookstores, including La Petite Drawn & Quarterly. In addition to the illustrated story, the hardcover picture book includes a CD and digital album with the narrated story and 18 songs. Find it on Goodreads, Edelweiss, and CataList. About Marianne Ferrer: Marianne Ferrer was born in Venezuela and immigrated to Canada in 1998. After attending Dawson College for illustration and design, she completed her education in graphic design at Université du Québec à Montréal. She recently published The Invisible Garden and A Story about Cancer (With a Happy Ending).