Today, we present Part One of the series featuring both the illustrator and author of the historical fiction children’s picture book, Thérèse Makes a Tapestry.
Renée Graef, an SCBWI member, is the illustrator of this beautiful book. Set in the time of King Louis XIV’s reign of France (1643-1715), Thérèse’s father is a painter who travels with the king; their family lives at the Gobelins Manufactory where world-famous tapestries are made (and are still being made today!). Although women and girls are not permitted to weave, Thérèse practices at home. The book reveals how Thérèse surprises those around her.
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: You have a remarkable résumé as an award-winning illustrator of more than 80 books for children, including the Kirsten series in the American Girl collection and many of the My First Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. You also worked as an art director for the Little House program at HarperCollins for five years and enjoyed traveling to all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites. How did you get involved in Thérèse Makes a Tapestry for the J. Paul Getty Museum and their French tapestries exhibit, Woven Gold: The Tapestries of Louis XIV ?
RENÉE GRAEF: I received an e-mail from an editor at Getty Publications. She had acquired my name from a past client. Thèrése Makes a Tapestry is modeled after the book, Marguerite Makes a Book. It’s funny because I bought the Marguerite book ten years ago at the Getty Museum.
CVZ: How long did it take from idea to actual book?
RG: Initially, the creative team (author, editor, art director, curator, and production director) had a meeting to talk about the look of the book and the historical setting. They provided resource books which proved to be extremely valuable in the research. Charissa Bremer-David, Curator for Sculpture and Decorative Arts, contributed wonderful material, especially regarding the metalsmith and dévidoir. Thumbnails were drawn followed by more detailed sketches. The final illustrations were first painted in sepia, then somewhat finished in acrylic paint. I sealed it at this point with three layers of Windsor and Newton’s Liquin. Oil paints were used for the last layer for detailing and to give it a more “painterly” look. It took about eleven months from the initial meeting to the final deadline.
CVZ: In the back matter of the book, I see that you credit six models for the illustrations. Do you use one person for each character in the book? The models seem to be related. Do you seek out a family when illustrating one?
RG: Yes, I was hoping to use one family for the models for the parents and Thèrése at least. The Knox family has modeled many times over the years for various books. The father posed as Papa and the eldest son, Henri. Max Laughner, my son, was Mathieu in the book. Bruce posed as two of the characters. It is easier to schedule photo shoots with as few models as possible.
CVZ: Were you already interested in tapestries or did you learn along the way?
RG: I enjoy the woven arts but did not know much about the process. Charissa, the curator, was instrumental in explaining the process. I love maps and diagrams so I thoroughly enjoyed painting the steps of weaving a tapestry.
CVZ: You and I met on December 14, 2015, at the Getty Museum for the opening of their exhibit, Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV which ties in with Thérèse Makes a Tapestry. I love that kids can read the book and see the exhibit (which runs through May 1, 2016). I think the tapestries are truly amazing for their state of conservation (some date back to about 1560) and for their size (some are over 16 feet by 25 feet). How did you feel when you saw the Château of Monceaux / Month of December tapestry which specifically ties to your book?
RG: It was a magical moment because I was with the editor, Elizabeth Nicholson, when we first saw the Château of Monceaux tapestry. She was the one who initially contacted me about illustrating Thèrése. Everything came around full circle when we saw the actual tapestry together.
CVZ: What’s next for you as an illustrator?
RG: I am working with children’s book author, Barbara Joosse, on two book proposals. She has written over 50 books including Mama, Do You Love Me? (over 2 million copies sold). We have worked on one book together and are eager to “cahoot” on more!
Also, this is the first time in almost four years that I am caught up with book deadlines so it feels great to have a bit of time to work on my website and my upcoming newsletter, Magic Imaginarium.
CVZ: Readers – Please join us on Friday, January 22, 2016, for Part Two of this series which includes the interview with author, Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs. You can also read more about this book and the exhibit in my January 19, 2016, article on Good Reads with Ronna.
More about Renée Graef:
Renée has illustrated over 80 books for children. She has illustrated books for the American Girl Collection and the “My First Little House” program (HarperCollins) as well as books for Mount Rushmore and Lidia Bastianich (PBS’s Lidia’s Italy). The award-winning illustrator has had numerous solo exhibits. Renée divides her time between Los Angeles and her home state of Wisconsin.
About Christine Van Zandt:
Christine is the co-editor of SCBWI’s Kite Tales
She is the owner of Write for Success Editing Services
Twitter: @ChristineVZ, @WFS editing