The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Sandra Salsbury
Sandra Salsbury is a Japanese-Brazilian-American-Author-Illustrator-Something-Something! She is the 2018 recipient of the SCBWI Don Freeman Illustration Grant and has a BFA and MFA in Illustration from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
She lives in Berkeley, California, where she cares for numerous house plants and a software engineer. Sandra works with watercolor, graphite, photoshop, procreate, and occasionally words. She enjoys hiking, snooping at open houses, and telling people what to do on the internet.
Her debut picture book, Best Friend in the Whole World, releases March 1, 2021.
Sandra, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut book and writing.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
Hello! I suppose I’ve been writing for about six or seven years now, but I’ve been an illustrator for much longer than that. Illustration is, at its core, telling a story with pictures, so switching over to using words felt like a natural progression. Most of my writing has been focused on picture books, but lately I’ve been exploring middle grade and YA as well.
It will be fun to see what you do next. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I’m allergic to jackfruit! Most American’s don’t even know what jackfruit is (it’s a tropical fruit found in South America and South East Asia), but as a Brazilian, it’s a disappointing food to miss out on.
You're right, I had to go look it up. Sorry about the allergy. What inspired you to write Best Friend in the Whole World? How long did it take from the spark of inspiration until you got a contract?
When I was around 7 years old, I found the most perfect stick. It had two kinds of moss and was excellent for swinging around and accidentally hitting things. My father, who was not a fan of the stick due to said accidental hitting, threw it away. As an adult, I still remember how much I cried afterward and that inexplicable attachment I formed to a random object became the basis for Best Friend in the Whole World. From first draft to acquisitions, it probably took about three or four years, but arguably, the story was thirty years in the making.
Kids (and adults) can get attached to the darndest things! What is the hardest thing for you about writing and/or illustrating children’s books? How about writing Best Friend in the Whole World in particular? Which came first – the text, a title, or an illustration idea?
The hardest part about writing books is that you never know which part is going to be hard. Sometimes it’s just getting an idea that feels fresh and interesting. Sometimes, it’s getting those first words onto a page. Sometimes, it’s finding the right character design or planning a difficult sequence of illustrations. You think a book is just flowing out of you and then—BAM!—you get stuck.
The hardest part of BFITWW was figuring out the middle of the story. The words, the illustrations, and the page turns all needed tweaking throughout the process, at every stage. Most of my picture books start out with a character and through a long process of imagining the character in situations, I eventually come up with the words, followed by sketches. And then it’s a lot of back and forth as I get the words and pictures to work together.
Interesting. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or
My greatest source of inspiration has always been through educating myself. Learning a new technique or discovering a new way of thinking always feels like I’ve opened a door to an entirely new landscape of possibility. Many of my best creative breakthroughs have come after listening to a really great talk or reading a brilliant article.
I love this way of encouraging inspiration. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?
Though art has always been my primary interest in life, I didn’t consider the possibility of being an artist until I was 18 and had graduated high school. For all the value our society places on art, we do not value the artist. If I could share one thing with children, it’s what I wish I had been told as a child—that pursuing the arts is a worthy goal that should be celebrated, not discouraged.
That is a VERY important message for everyone. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave a story throughout the illustrations. Did any or all of you do this in Best Friend in the Whole World? If so, could you share one or more with us?
One character’s name isn’t ever mentioned in the text, but if you look closely, you can find her name hidden in the illustrations.
Sorry to my readers, I'm not giving out any hits. You'll have to find it yourself. Do you have a favorite spread in Best Friend in the Whole World?
© Sandra Salsbury, 2021.
My favorite pages are a wordless spread in the middle of the book, when Roland finally notices all the signs in the forest. I grew up in the redwood forests of Northern California and the large trees and the shifting pockets of warm and cool in the illustration remind me of my childhood home.
Now that you mention it, that does look like a path through the redwoods. Though, with a touch of moss, it could a forest in the Pacific Northwest, too. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or what was your favorite book as a child?
One of my favorite author-illustrators when I was a child was Beatrix Potter. I loved her exquisite watercolors and mischievous woodland creatures, no it’s no surprise that my first book is about little creatures living in the woods.
I think Roland and Peter would get along really well. Is there something you want your readers to know about Best Friend in the Whole World?
One interesting fact about the book is that it was painted using only four colors: cadmium yellow, scarlet lake, French ultramarine, and burnt umber. Most people are surprised to learn the book was created using a limited palette because it feels colorful, but the limited palette just allows all the colors to harmonize.
I wouldn't have guessed that. You're right it does look so colorful. How are you staying creative during this crazy year? Any specific things you are doing to “prime the well”?
A friend of mine, author-illustrator Amy O’Hanlon, said that she doesn’t think of creativity as a well. She thinks of it as an ocean, with tides that come in and go out. For me, a big part of managing my own creativity this year is learning to accept that sometimes the tides will be out and that’s okay. If you take a walk on the beach or a nap in the sand, sooner or later, you’ll feel the waves lapping at your toes again.
I love that image! Thank you for sharing it. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I have a few projects I’m working on, but they’re all still in the early stages, so I’m not quite sure what will happen with them.
We'll just have to keep our eyes open. Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one that you are currently enamored with. Why?
In the third grade, I did a report on puffins and ever since then, they have been my favorite animal. I love how affectionate they are with each other and I definitely relate to any creature that wants to live on a craggy rock in the middle of a freezing ocean.
Hope you find the inspiration for a puffin story! Thank you, Sandra for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to stop back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF Sneak Peek post on Best Friend in the Whole World.
*BREAKING NEWS: Check out Friday's post for a chance to win a special sketch by Sandra.*
To find out more about Sandra Salsbury, or get in touch with her: