Thursday, November 15, 2007

Robert's Snow: Starring Mary Newell DePalma

I met children's author and illustrator Mary Newell DePalma at the first Robert's Snow Open House of 2004, which was held at the Child at Heart Gallery . Since that initial encounter, our paths have crossed a number of times.

We were both on hand for a Robert's Snow kickoff event in Boston in 2005. Mary is the person on the far left in the picture above. I heard her speak at the 2007 Robert's Snow Artist Open House in October.
We see each other and chat at some of the events sponsored by The Foundation for Children's Books. Here you see--from left to right in the picture above--Mary, Grace Lin, Me, and Anna Alter. We were all at Boston College to hear Janet Wong.

Mary joined in celebrating at Grace's birthday party in May. She's pictured here with Steve Engel, the man who cut all the wooden snowflakes by hand, and Nicole Tadgell who created snowflakes for Robert's Snow 2004 and 2005.

Mary attended the May 2007 dinner meeting of the PAS North Shore Council when Mary Ann Hoberman was our featured speaker. Here she is sitting with my friend Peg Howard.

Mary Newell DePalma is a talented author and illustrator of children's books. She is also personable, has a great sense of humor, and is a pleasure to be around.
Mary doesn't limit her artistic talents to creating picture books. She also knits mittens and sometimes constructs "odd objects."

One of Mary's "Odd Objects"

Interview with Mary Newell DePalma

Elaine: Would you like to tell us about some of the different job experiences you had before you ventured into creating picture books for children?

Mary: I tend to avoid traditional nine-to-five jobs. In HS I knitted sweaters for a local designer, and used my calligraphy skills to address envelopes and make signs. During college and after, I interpreted for the deaf, mostly in classroom settings. My first job out of college was at a small greeting card company in Chicago where I did some typing, filing, and brainstorming for scented stickers for children. For example, if the scent was grapes, I’d make a list of hundreds of ideas for what a bunch of grapes could do: sing, skydive, drive a racecar, walk on stilts, go white water rafting, paint, eat an ice cream cone, etc, etc…I didn’t get to draw the stickers, I was just thinking up ideas for the guy who did draw them. I lasted there about six weeks. Then I took an even lower paying job being an apprentice engrosser where I ground my own ink, mastered various lettering styles, and wrote names on certificates all day long.

Mary is still knitting the mittens above.

Elaine: When did you decide you wanted to become an author and illustrator of children’s books? What inspired you?

Mary: Well, after the engrossing thing, I tried all kinds of illustration. I attempted medical, semi-technical, editorial, advertising, and textbook illustration. I would get the work, try really hard, learn new skills, flounder a bit, realize I wasn’t very good at it, cross that career off the list and move on. So by process of elimination I was left with children’s book illustration. I knew lots of illustrators, but none who illustrated children’s books. I had never even given it a thought because I was kind of in awe of children’s book illustration, I guess. I imagined that some separate species of illustrator—geniuses—illustrated children’s books.

But I did send out postcards advertising my work to editors and art directors at publishing houses. I was pretty much dumbfounded by the response. Susan Hirschman, editor at Greenwillow, called and wanted to know if my illustration had a story to go with it. No, I said. She suggested that I try to write a story. Oh, sure, do you need your car repaired or any brain surgery while I’m at it???! I mean, I knew writers were very serious about their business and I had never written more than grocery lists. But I got this response over and over and I finally tried putting some book dummies together.

The stories that I made up for my book dummies were terrible, but my illustrations were charming. Some editors were very kind and thorough in their responses, and I learned what NOT to do. By making every error known to children’s book writers, then eliminating them, (and sheer dogged persistence), I did finally write and illustrate a book that was published.

Elaine: You have illustrated books for other authors as well as your own texts. Do you find there is a difference in how you approach a picture book project when the text is your own?

Mary: I enjoy the freedom and flexibility of writing my own text. Sometimes the story evolves in surprising ways and I’m free to follow my ideas and change my text if I want to. Illustrating other writers’ works helps me to stretch out of my comfort zone and has helped me to learn new things. For example, I would never have attempted to illustrate a crowd of children if it weren’t for Betsy James’ wonderful text for My Chair. (I would have avoided writing a crowd scene because I would have been too lazy to draw it.)

Elaine: You created snowflakes for Robert’s Snow 2004 and 2005. Can you tell us what your inspiration was for each of those snowflakes?

Mary: In 2004, I illustrated a book by Eileen Spinelli titled Now It Is Winter. It was the perfect snowflake theme book! I made a three dimensional mouse skating on the snowflake. I even knitted him a little sweater.

Mary's 2004 Creation for Robert's Snow

In 2005, my book A Grand Old Tree was published and I was pondering how to make a tree snowflake. My son suggested having the snowflake be the crown of the tree. So he was the creative genius behind that one!

Mary's 2005 Snowflake Tree

Elaine: I know that your 2007 snowflake was inspired by your new book The Nutcracker Doll. Would you like to tell us about the book and how you created your beautiful three-dimensional snowflake?

Mary: When my daughter Kepley was in the third grade, she got a role in Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker. The book is about that wonderful experience, and it is published just in time for her 21st birthday! I built a little Kepley ballerina standing on her snowflake stage with a wire armature, newspaper, and rigid wrap. I sewed her a costume out of ribbons and netting. I hope it captures the adorable awkwardness of a very young ballerina.

We make these snowflakes with love and we’re grateful to have the opportunity to share that love with everyone who sees the snowflakes and benefits from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s work.

Mary Newell DePalma has a great website that includes a book animation of A Grand Old Tree, a Kepley paper doll activity sheet, and curriculum guides for some of her books. Why not stop by for a visit?

REMINDER: WIN A PRIZE!!! I do hope you’ll stop by to read all of my Blogging for a Cure interviews and to comment about the artists and their work. I have a special prize for some lucky person who leaves a comment at any of my six posts featuring a Robert’s Snow artist: a limited edition giclee print of an illustration from Grace Lin’s book Robert’s Snow! Each time you comment at one of my Blogging for a Cure posts about a Robert’s Snow artist, I’ll put your name in a hat. If you comment at all six posts, your name will go into the hat six times! The drawing will take place on November 19th, the day bidding begins on the first of three Robert’s Snow 2007 auctions.

I also have several consolation prizes for commenters who don’t win the “big” prize: five small prints of the Robert’s Snow mouse(mice).

Read about the following Robert's Snow artists that I have already interviewed for Blogging for a Cure:

Here is a link to my interview with Scott Bakal.

Here is a link to my interview with Alissa Imre Geis.

Here is a link to my interview with Wendell Minor.

Here is a link to my interview with Susan Kathleen Hartung.


LindaBudz said...

I love The Nutcracker! Will have to get that book. Amazing snowflake. Thank you for featuring it!

Anonymous said...

Oh, my word. I love that tiny sweater on the mouse and the outfit on the ballerina. Really lovely work here.

tanita✿davis said...

Oooh! The tree! The Chair! The ballerina!!! I am in AWE. Wow.

Thank you so much for sharing this artist and her work and the amazing artistic drive that not only drives people to produce but to share in a spirit of love. This is SO COOL.

gail said...

Another snowflake I hadn't seen yet! And I'm so glad I didn't miss it. Sewing little tutu's and knitting little sweaters...simply amazing. I'm heading over to her website.

Great interview. Thanks Elaine,

Charlotte said...

What a charming ballerina!


Anonymous said...

Oh my, so much goodness here.

First of all, she was once a sign language interpreter? No kidding (so was I -- I guess I still am one, just not currently working).

Second, I love My Chair, and I'll have to find these other books, particularly the new holiday title (I'm lining up holiday titles to cover at 7-Imp in December -- I've got a nice stack of library copies I searched and snagged and some review copies, too).

And I love her "odd object." I LOVE those snowflakes -- all of them. Wow! Thanks for this great feature, Elaine (and Mary, too). Fabulous!

Josephine Cameron said...

Aren't this year's three-dimensional snowflakes fun? ...and that ballerina is *so* adorable!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Thanks for commenting, Everyone! Mary is indeed multi-talented. I think it's great that she wrote a picture book about her daughter's experience with the Boston Ballet and The Nutcracker.


One of my favorite three-dimensional snowflakes is
Jeff Ebbeler's "Runaway Snowflake."

Tricia said...

I am so fond of a grand old tree. I only wish I'd known about the auction in 2005, for I would have bid on that tree. The mouse from 04 is adorable, as is this year's piece. I'm just in awe of the folks who have created 3-D pieces from their flakes. They are so thoughtfully and creatively done.
I'm going to be in real trouble when the auction opens. I have no idea which flake I'm going to bid on!

MotherReader said...

Aw, great. Now I found a snowflake I HAVE to to have. With that whole Nutcracker and ballerina and 3rd grade girl thing going on - that's my kid too! And the snowflake's lovely. Really lovely.

Though I would have also been pretty wowed if she'd made one out of odd objects. I love stuff like that.

Margot said...

WOW! Great snowflake all 3 years! Talented artist! Thanks for sharing!

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