How to Illustrate a Thought!
Bree Galbraith & Lynn Scurfield
talk about growing as creators
and making a non-binary character together
Bree: At what moment when you were reading the manuscript did you know you wanted the job?
Lynn: I knew it was a gem after I read the whole manuscript. I initially loved the fact that Finn uses they/them pronouns, and the mystery of this thought was intriguing but when I went through the whole story and saw how well rounded the storytelling was, I was like, “I have to draw this!”
Bree: Did the ambiguity of the Idea growing get you excited, or scared to take this on?
Lynn: Honestly, I didn’t think too much about it when I first got the project! Generally, when I first get a project there’s only a blank canvas so I get really excited about the possibilities of what I can create. It’s not until I actually have to sit down and draw something out when I realize it may be more difficult than I anticipated. I was really focused on Finn and their friends for a giant part of the rough stage, so much so that I actually ended up neglecting what the Idea would look like. It wasn’t until our editor, Debbie, gave me really good direction using some of my previous work as examples where I had a solid idea of where to go and what to draw.
Lynn: Can you name a nice surprise or two in what I added to the story?
Bree: The tennis balls on the feet of the chairs made me smile. That was SUCH a thoughtful addition to the book. It makes kids feel like the small things in their environment are seen, and they matter. Also, Eleanor is such a lovely character, you managed to get so much into her expression when she is giving Finn advice. And the backpacks, and Oscar’s glasses… You brought this story to life!
Bree: Do you like or not like hearing an author’s opinion of what might be in the pictures?
Lynn: I actually have always enjoyed getting author notes/ feedback through my publishers. I feel like the feedback has only made my illustrations stronger. Sometimes there are specific things that I miss that are connected to the author’s life/ story which I wouldn’t know if the author didn’t tell our editor, who then tells me, about it. I’ve also been really lucky to draw for really kind and generally amazing authors so I think that helps too.
Lynn: How was the main character in your imagination different from the one I created?
Bree: When I wrote Finn, they had lived in my head for about a year before I put pen to paper. But their physical identity only came to life when I saw them on the page - When I saw your representation of Finn, I fell in love. I think that anything I was already imagining was thrown out the window because you captured Finn.
Lynn: As someone who just reads the manuscript and then works off just the words, I’ve always found it fascinating that often there isn’t a lot of writing in kid’s books! But that never compromises the quality and power of the story. How do you distill writing down to what’s most important for the story?
Bree: This is the hardest part. Before you get your hands on the story, it’s been edited down hundreds of words. When I first started writing, I would overwrite the story and leave no room for the images to play a role. Now I try to think what aspects of the story the images will tell, and what is better served visually.
Bree: Have you ever wanted to write your own text?
Lynn: Yes, but not right now. I’ve been sitting on an idea for a graphic novel based on my life experiences with family issues and going through cancer treatments but it doesn’t feel quite ready yet. Also writing a cohesive story with a good meaning is very difficult! Every time I write something I end up either hating the tone or become confused with the point of the story so I end up shelving the whole idea. One day I hope it comes to me and it makes sense!
Lynn: How about you? Are you tempted to pick up a pencil and start drawing?
Bree: HA! I have an art background, I went to an art + design university… But no. I can create worlds with words, but what you do is far more involved, and I would never be able to do it the way you do, so I will stick to writing stories and crossing my fingers I get paired with talented people who bring a vision to life.
Bree: Do you do any research when illustrating? If so, what does that entail?
Lynn: Yes! The amount does depend on the project, but I did do quite a bit for Hold That Thought. I did a lot of reading about non-binary representation, how people felt about their own identity and also about types of representation people are looking for in media. I also do a lot of visual research looking for cute hairstyles, fun clothing, the stuff in their bedroom, what the school will look like, etc. Mostly though it’s a lot of reading articles and then having a very robust pinterest board (or if I’m lazy having a million tabs open with research images).
Bree: Do you have a type of story you like to illustrate? Or do you find a way to make each one your own?
Lynn: If I were asked this question a couple of years ago I would say 100% yes. For the majority of my career I’ve been drawing a lot of very sad subjects (death, mourning, sickness, mental health, etc.) and it wasn’t until recently where I’ve been drawing a lot more happier things. It’s been a nice change haha. Ultimately though I don’t mind what I draw as long as the story/ article/ project has a strong emotional core to it. I get into projects the most when I can feel whatever the subjects are feeling and I think that also resonates with people when they see my work.
Lynn: What’s your favourite part of being a kidlit author?
Bree: I have a compulsion to write, so my favourite part is getting it out on the page and feeling satisfied with an idea being articulated. I also feel a sense of safety when the story is written, like I don't have to keep all the moving parts in my head any longer.
Lynn: How long, generally, does it take you to write a story? From initial thought to getting it to a publisher?
Bree: I would say it varies, but I have likely worked on it, in my head and on paper, for about 6 months at least before it gets to a publisher.
Lynn: What was the hardest part for you in making this book?
Bree: The hardest part was making sure Finn’s pronoun, they, flowed seamlessly, because I know it can. Finn should be celebrated, and I didn’t want anything to stand in the way of people coming on this journey with them. This book isn’t about gender, and I wanted to make sure that came across - it’s about Finn, and the sharing of an idea to create something amazing.
Lynn: Where and when do you do your best work?
Bree: I work best when an idea has been simmering in my head for a fews months to a year, and I have a moment when I NEED to get it out. That’s when I can easily write the first draft, and then from there it’s a matter of refining and editing. I have grown to trust that those moments will happen, and I have to be patient and not stress it. How about you?
Lynn: I am, unfortunately, an afternoon and late night worker. It’s not great for my schedule haha. But the best work flow times are when I find the right song that fits perfectly with the mood of the picture I’m drawing. I just put that song on repeat and it’s hours of the best quality work time.
Bree: Who wrote or illustrated some of your favourite books from childhood?
Lynn: My favourite book from childhood was The Pokey Little Puppy written by Janette Sebring Lowrey and illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. I don’t know why the story stuck with me for so long, re-reading it I realized the story wasn’t as great as I remembered it to be! The illustrations are though and I ultimately still love the book. Another stand-out for me is the Berenstein Bears. They’re the books my mom used to teach me how to read so they’ll always have a special place in my heart.
Lynn: What is your favourite spread in the final book?
Bree: It is very hard to choose. Of course, I love the final spread where all the children come together to create something larger than life, but I also think the transition Otis goes through should be noted. It’s not often a secondary character undergoes a change, and this was a lovely spread to see actualized. It shows emotional growth, and is a piece of art. What’s your favourite?
Lynn: I love the final spread! I also have a soft spot for the library scene because I LOVED how the bookcase turned out and the “SHHHHH,” part of the text really resonates with me, haha.
Hold That Thought! Published by OwlKids Books
Written by Bree Galbraith
Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield