Thursday, October 18, 2007

Behind the Snowflakes- Up close and Personal

Now through November, Blogging for a Cure 2007 will feature over 70 bloggers who will be highlighting many of the beautiful snowflakes created by children’s book illustrators as part of Robert’s Snow: for Cancer's Cure. Visit the handful of artists featured each day, and get to know each one of them up close and personal. Bid on your own original art snowflake while helping to fight cancer.

Today I have the privilege of featuring author and illustrator and snowflake creator Jennifer Thermes. Jennifer writes books about life in the colonial time period. Her stories are inspired by events that happened in her 280-year-old family home. The old farmhouse was once owned by poet and editor Louis Untermeyer. She is convinced "his spirit still infuses the place with a love of stories and ideas." Be sure to check out her website. Like her books, it's chock-full fine detail and historical information.

Interview with Jennifer Thermes

How did you become involved in Robert’s Snow and what was your inspiration for your snowflake, The First Snow?

I had heard about Robert’s Snow in previous years, and when the call for interested artists came out, I sent in my name. So many people’s lives have been touched by cancer, and I thought it was a very worthy cause.

As for the inspiration for my snowflake, I still get excited with the first snow of the season, and I’m sure that children in colonial times did, too!

Who had the most influence on your work?

Many people– my first art teacher, my writing group, something I’ve read, other artists’ work. It’s always changing. I try to stay inspired by new things. I have always liked that saying about “thinking like a beginner,” in order to keep learning and growing.

What is your all-time favorite picture book?

Another tough question, because my favorites change all the time! (I will say, my favorite Dr. Seuss story is “What Was I Scared Of?” There’s something about that “pair of pale green pants with nobody inside them” that gets me every time!) But seriously, I love the work of Peter Sís, David Small, Garth Williams, Barbara McClintock, among so many others.

For “Sam Bennett’s New Shoes” what was the time line between when you first found the boot and shoe hidden within in the framework of your 1720's farmhouse house, and when the book actually became published?

I knew right away there was a story in the boot and the shoe, but it was about three years before I put pen to paper. Between putting the story and the pictures together took about a year, and then another year before a publisher picked up the idea. Then, of course, another two years working with the editor, doing the final artwork, and completing the whole production process. It’s probably not a good idea to think too hard about the time it takes to make a book!

Do you have the original boot and shoe on display in your home?

Yes, they make a great conversation starter.

Tell us what it’s like working from your office in a home with such a colorful history!

I probably have the same distractions as anybody who works from home, though with a lot more dust! I think the thing an old house really teaches you is that life isn’t perfect, but it can still work just fine, and even be wonderful. In an old house things break, paint peels, floors creak and nothing is level- but there is a certain charm that is hard to reproduce. Also, I find it oddly comforting to think about all of life’s ups and downs the different people who lived here must have experienced.

Working as an author/illustrator, for you, which comes first, the pictures or the words?

It depends on the project. Sometimes an idea will come to me visually, and sometimes a line of text will come whole, seemingly out of nowhere. I’m convinced it’s a gift from the subconscious when that happens! More likely is that I’ll work on the words first– struggling through a first draft and trying to figure out what the story is about, and then shifting back and forth between the words and pictures to meld it all together. I think with each new project I crawl before I walk, and walk before I run. Once I get into the “groove” of an idea it seems to flow quickly.

Tell us a little bit about your illustrative process.

I do a lot of scribbly-sketches before a picture’s composition takes hold, and then refine the drawing from there. It’s helpful to keep a thumbnail layout of a book project in front of me as I work so that I can keep in mind how the pictures and story will flow from page to page. Once I start the finished art I have to remind myself to take frequent breaks– otherwise I get too nit-picky with the color and, actually, everything! I’m never completely satisfied with the finish, but I suspect many artists would say the same about their work.

Your stories are such a part of the life you have lived, or inspired by the lives of those who lived before you, what do you have planned next?

Right now I have several stories out for consideration, one is a picture-book biography and all with historical themes. Since my “day job” is creating illustrated maps, I’ve been working on an idea that incorporates them into a story. It’s still in the early stages.

What were you thinking with that 1980's hairstyle? Just kidding! (All you curious readers can see what I’m talking about on Jennifer’s website bio.)

Oh, come on, I was SO COOL!! (But really quite shy, believe it or not!)

Thank you Jennifer for letting us get to know more about you! And a special thank you for donating a signed book to be given away to one lucky reader of this blog. That's right! Just post a reply on this blog telling me if Jennifer is in auction 1, 2, or 3, and your name will go into a drawing. The winner will be selected on the first day of her auction. (You can find the auction details here.)

Be sure to check out the other snowflakes being featured today:

Brooke Dyer at Bookshelves of Doom
D.B. Johnson
at Lessons from the Tortoise
Erin Eitter Kono
at Sam Riddleburger
Sherry Rogers
at A Life in Books


Tricia said...

This is a wonderful interview. I must say I think Jennifer's brave to put those 80s pictures on her web site. I have tried to hide all evidence of growing up in the days of big hair and leg warmers!
Nice job.
P.S. - The answer is 3!

Anonymous said...

That was fun to read! I love this: "It’s probably not a good idea to think too hard about the time it takes to make a book!" I'm always amazed at the length of time and love and devotion that goes into one book.

I never succumbed to the big hair, even though I went to high school in the '80s, but I enjoyed her big hair pics!

Goadingthepen said...

I was a slave to Aqua Net in the 80's!
I love her 80's look.
What a great interview!

Also she is in week 3. 12/3 - 12/7
Along with Mo Willems and Judy Schachner!
My four year old was SO excited to see Skippyjon "Snow Flake" Jones!

JenFW said...

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I am not at all familiar with *What Was I Scared Of?* and until today I considered myself well-versed in Dr. Seuss. Yeesh!

The 80s were my high school years, too. A sad time for one with fine, straight hair that even perms couldn't curl.

Thanks Gail and Jennifer. These Robert's Snow posts are great!

(Auction numba 3.)

Julie said...

Wonderful interview! (I wish my house was haunted by the spirit Louis Untermeyer.)

Anonymous said...

I won't enter, but will definitely add this prize the list I have on my blog.

Mary Beth said...

Like Jules, my hair never reached those heights (it was/is way too fine to hold anything that long). But I got some flashbacks from her pictures! By the way, I'd love a skirt like the one featured on Jennifer's snowflake - one that swings wide like that:) I will be watching week 3 to see how she does.

tanita✿davis said...

Ooh, the 80's have so much for which to answer!! But what an awesome snowflake -- I love the swing of the skirt, I love the movement -- something in it makes me think of hurrying home through snow flurries to warm and good cozy things. I really like this one!!

Thanks for a great interview.

Anonymous said...

Great interview & feature! I read this with my 7th grade students today, since they're helping me with my own illustrator features later on. We all love the way you mixed images & text. Thanks for sharing this one!

Jennifer is in Auction #3!

Anonymous said...

Oh, dear. I've fallen in love with another one...

Mary Lee said...

She's in auction 3, along with Jeff Newman (Franki is doing his feature today) and Matt Phelan (my feature later this month). Just for the record, I went and looked BEFORE I entered the comment zone!

I wish I could live in an old, old house with lots of history.

gail said...

Mary lee, yeah I thought about that. I guess it's a pretty easy answer, but I figured everyone will want to go look at all the snowflakes anyway.

Kate, wow! You read it with all of your 7th graders! I"m flattered. Good luck with your features. I'm looking at everyones!

Man, the 80's. Who would've thought that question would create the most buzz! Although I have to admit, I'm with all of you who had the fine, straight hair. I certainly didn't think my hair was "full" enough back then. But just last night I was searching through some old photos for a friends party and low and behold, there I am with some BIG hair. And those bangs! What was "I" thinking!

Thanks for all the flashbacks here!


PS Jen, I'm not familiar with *What Was I Scared Of?* either.

Annie Bailey said...

Great interview Gail! I love the snowflake!

I also think I must be losing my mind because I can only find the snowflake in Auction #1:

If I'm wrong, can I still enter . . . pretty please? :-)

elysabeth said...

Lovely snowflake - and all the old houses and info - the shoes was interesting - anyway - she is in week #1 - (starting bid is $50 on her snowflake and goes up in increments of $10) --- I am not sure how others found her in week #3 unless she has two snowflakes out there or they searched for "The First Snow" and got several other illustrators' snowflakes - but even when I did search on each week with exact words, it did not come up - I had to scroll down to find her.

She is the second from the bottom on week #1 - E :)

gail said...

And I thought I'd made this contest too easy! Looks like things were moved around over at the auction. I'll be sure to put all names in the drawing. I'll also do a new post with the title of which book is being given away.


Michelle said...

I love the idea behind the snowflakes! I am currently sitting in the hospital with my son who has osteo sarcoma. What a great way to have a fund raiser and raise awareness at the same time. I love Jennifer's snowflake (I also found it in week 1) it captures the excitement of seeing the first snow of the season. I almost can't wait for winter!

gail said...


I'm so sorry to hear that this effort relates to you on a personal level. My prayers are with you and your son.

I'm so glad that I was assigned Jennifer. It's been fun working with her. Plus, it's cool that her snowflakes is titled "First Snow". I did a piece with the same title, trying to capture that excitement you're talking about!

I put you in the drawing.


Elaine Magliaro said...


This was a great interview with Jennifer. It was interesting to read about how she feels about living in her old home. Imagine...Louis Untermeyer once lived there, too.

Kristi Valiant said...

Gail, thanks for interviewing Jennifer. It's fun to read all these artist interviews! Jennifer's snowflake is in auction 1 and I'm sure it'll be a great blessing in the fight against cancer.