The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Simona Ceccarelli
I love colors and stripes, characters, stories
and making children smile.
I am honored that Simona Ceccarelli has come back for a chat. She is a wonderful person and a talented illustrator you need to keep on your radar.
Simona describes herself as: “a potluck children's illustrator: half British, half Italian, half Swiss and more than a quarter French. I had a different career for many years, but art eventually lured me back to follow 'the road not taken.' I studied illustration and visual development at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University. Upon graduation I hopped into children’s book illustration – occasionally straddling into advertisement and concept art for children products and entertainment. I worked for Scholastic, Sterling Children Publishing, Rizzoli/Mondadori, Rubicon and Spinmaster, among others. Because my family didn’t seem to span enough countries already, I now live in Switzerland with one German husband two kids, three nationalities and four languages.”
She's the illustrator of three picture books with Jeffrey Dunnihoo: SOIC & SOT: The Microchips (2018); MSOP & DPAK: One Hot Day (2019); and TSSOP Gets Zapped with Static Electricity (2019). She also illustrated Joyce Lapin's If You had Your Birthday Party on the Moon (2019). For more information about Simona and her previous books see our earlier interview (here).
Her newest picture book, with Erin Rose Wage, This Book is Upside Down, released March 15th.
Welcome back Simona,
ME: What captured your attention with the manuscript for This Book is Upside Down?
SIMONA: The manuscript was tough to understand! With a book like this, text alone is not enough. It’s one of the cases where illustration and text need to work together to make sense - that was intriguing.
I have to admit, "tough to understand" is not a usual comment I've heard. But after trying to figure out how one would write this manuscript, I can only imagine. Since this book involves characters in opposite orientation, as well as physically flipping the book, how many drafts did it take to get the illustrations right?
A real physical dummy in paper and cardboard was needed to understand how the book works. Once the text and rough scribbles were on real pages, it was clear how the illustrations would play with the words and where and how the book needed to be turned around and backward.
Did Erin Rose Wage send along illustration notes or was it clear from the text what needed to happen?
I think Erin did put a lot of notes from the onset, and the Art Director at Phoenix International Kids (PI), Sarah Sisterson, further expanded them. I got a fully annotated manuscript to work with, which was necessary with this book!
It's always fun to discover these "behind-the-scenes" tidbits. Thank you. What’s something you want your readers to know about your illustrations in This Book is Upside Down?
I did many of the illustrations while camping in Canada! They’ve been drawn around the fire, at the foot of mountains, on North Pacific beaches and in a lot of other awe-inspiring locations!
Living in the PNW myself, I agree that it is indeed a wonderfully inspirational area. Which is your favorite spread in This Book is Upside Down?
Text © Erin Rose Wage, 2020. Image © Simona Ceccarelli, 2020.
My favorite spread is where Linda - the lobster - confers with the penguin, while the giraffe feels out-of-place. I think it shows the personality of each character beautifully. [Note: at this point the reader has turned the book upside down to read the text!]
Did you do these illustrations digitally? Was it challenging to keep track of which spread was “up”?
Yes, they were done digitally, as is all of my work nowadays. All pages were drawn and painted from the same side (the right side?) and then flipped while putting the sequence together.
Wow! I can imagine that being a challenge! Just reading it the first time was intriguing and challenging. Did you leave treasures tucked throughout the illustrations? Could you share one or more with us?
The illustrations are all isolated characters; there’s no parallel narrative. I hope, however, readers will see the pun of having a penguin wear a Hawaiian shirt! The teapot and teacup are important props in getting the mood across, and it’s not by chance that the book they keep disagreeing about is titled “Tea for Two.”
Your illustrations are so fun! How did you come up with the part of the title and your names on the back flap being upside down? Was it challenging to make it all work?
That’s entirely Sarah Sisterson’s credit! This is the first of two books I’ve worked on with the team at PI kids (a second one is coming out at the end of the year), and I have to say they’re a fantastic team to work with and highly creative.
I imagine Sarah had a lot of fun with this book. With a number of book launches and possibly school visits under your belt, do you have any advice for upcoming/new authors regarding either?
I have yet to do a school visit, so I’m the one needing advice!
As for book launches, I’m not sure I do that optimally either. I love doing animation, so I enjoyed creating a video trailer for one of my launches, and I plan to do that again on upcoming titles. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXnIqhpid-0]
Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Always too many - which is a good thing: I’m a bit of a workaholic, especially with illustration! My pet project at the moment is the new book by Joyce Lapin with Sterling Children’s Books, The Little Spacecraft That Could, which will be out in 2021. It’s a wonderfully creative non-fiction title about New Horizons’ epic trip to Pluto and beyond, written from the point of view of the probe itself and enriched with loads of information on the mission and the solar system. (https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/82523-rights-report-week-of-february-24-2020.html)
I’m also working on several midgrade titles for the German-speaking market, board games, and a hilarious goodnight picture book with Amicus Publishing.
I have a strong tendency to procrastinate with writing, but I’m striving to get one of my own books ready for pitching this year in the hope it will find a loving editor.
I can't wait for New Horizon's book! What a fun premise. I also look forward to celebrating your author/illustrator debut. Best of Luck! What have you learned from your journey? Any advice for beginning illustrators?
The most relevant advice I can give is to show up... Even in the age of social media, google searches, and online portfolios, nothing tops meeting people in the industry face-to-face and seeing what they care for.
Get out of the studio and visit industry events, book fairs, workshops and conferences. At the very least, pay frequent visits to small and large bookshops and libraries. The children books’ market is complex and in rapid flux, and you need to get a sense of its life and pulse. I promise you’ll start to see endless possibilities!
Thank you, Simona for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you, again.
Be sure to come back on Friday for a Perfect Picture Book #PPBF review of This Book is Upside Down.
To find out more about Simona Ceccarelli, check out her amazing illustrations, or get in touch with her: