What were the particular challenges of creating both art and text for this book, and not just captions but a narrative text?
I know many writers of picture books who feel the illustrations are there to augment and support the written story. As a writer and an illustrator, I feel the emphasis the other way! When I view a picture book, I take in the pictures first and the words later. For me, the words augment the illustrations. It’s a subtle perspective difference to perhaps only a few of us. In Where Do Birds Live? the illustrations drove the narrative, as much as a nonfiction, informational book can be driven. The illustrations were completed first and gave me a structure to write from.
There are always space challenges. I wanted to include so many fascinating details. But in the end, the old adage “less is more” turns out to work for nonfiction picture books on birds as well!
Although one would think sitting at a drawing board would not be tiring, it is. The mental focus of such work takes its own unique physical toll. After a big illustration project is completed, I need to crawl away for a while and rejuvenate! But Where Do Birds Live? was like an extended marathon, as the text still needed attention after my illustration work was complete. I have a perfectionist’s drive to see projects through to the end, but I would say the biggest challenge here was keeping my energies balanced. Both writing and illustrating are equally daunting, creative tasks. It took lots of planning and time-management to make sure that both sides of the project were top quality. It helped tremendously to have a supportive editor.
This isn’t a fair question, but what is your favorite among all fourteen habitats in Where Do Birds Live?
I love each featured habitat and have an authentic personal connection to each. I’d have to say, going “home” to create a spread for the Pacific rainforest (I was raised in Washington state) was pure pleasure. Researching the birds living there was like a walk down memory lane. The heady smell of a cedar forest, the feel of a spongy pathway underfoot, and the call of a raven make up one singular experience for me. I would pick this habitat for sentimental reasons.
Your readers are particularly fond of your bird illustrations, and it’s easy to see that you have a special affinity for these winged creatures. What other animals do you especially enjoy illustrating?
I love cats. We have two in the house that are constant studio companions. I draw them frequently. My mom also tells me it is the first animal I ever drew! I also love our own native animals—foxes, squirrels, bears, bobcats, possums. All have such lovely forms and textures!
—Claudia McGehee, Where Do Birds Live?