Rebecca Doughty is a lifelong artist. Her artwork has taken many forms over the years, but it wasn’t until 1999 that she connected with an author who worked with fine artists to make picture books. This made perfect sense to Rebecca who had always loved creating comical line drawings.
“It was fun to have this new way to apply my style of drawing,” Rebecca told Cracking the Cover. “I illustrated a number of books, learned the ropes in the publishing business and eventually discovered I had ideas for writing and illustrating my own books.”
Rebecca has since written and illustrated five picture books on her own. The latest, “Before You,” remembers life before “you” came along and changed things. Though geared toward children, the book resonates with readers of all ages.
“I wrote ‘Before You’ for my husband, but also for everyone in my life whom I love,” Rebecca said. “It took a long time to arrive! I first began working on it in 2009, and the manuscript went through lots of changes. At first it was much more for an adult reader, and slowly developed to speak to all ages. I wanted the book to be about all kinds of love and friendship.”
Along those lines, Rebecca chose to use animals instead of people in her illustrations. “In this book I didn’t want to have a specific main character,” she said. “Instead, I wanted this to be a love poem about anyone, and for anyone, about all kinds of love and friendship. I wanted anybody to be able to relate to the characters, whether it was a dog, or a bird, or even an ice cream cone. I thought it would be funnier and more playful to use animals and objects in the scenarios, and would leave more for the imagination. The books I loved most as a kid had animals as their main characters.”
As with Rebecca’s other books, “Before You” started with “a tiny spark of an idea, usually when I’m not trying, maybe when I’m walking, I’ll hear a line or two, a phrase or a rhyme that’s really musical, and then there’s an indescribable moment where I’m hooked, and I know I have to do it. Then the fun begins, the wordplay, and puzzling out the whole thing from start to finish. The illustrations follow, and some drawings come right away, but others take lots of trial and error.”
While Rebecca does start with writing, it doesn’t come as naturally to her as illustrating, in part, she says, because she’s never had regular disciplined practice in the field.
“I studied both art and writing in college, and first began to take writing seriously while an angst-ridden undergraduate writing poetry,” Rebecca said. “But since college I have focused primarily on my artwork, except at the magical moments when the idea for a picture book has emerged. When that happens the writing comes easily, but I never know when that will be.”
Rebecca hopes that children enjoy her books because they are both simple and complicated. “Kids know that life is complicated. And I hope it’s because the books are witty and not condescending, and are sweet but not saccharine. And I really hope it’s because they’re playful and funny, and have a little mischievous edge.”
*Learn more about Rebecca Doughty, including how being a fine artist influences her illustrations, by reading the complete transcript of her interview with Cracking the Cover.
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