Carson Ellis is the author/illustrator of “Home.” The following is a complete transcript of her interview with Cracking the Cover.
Have you always been an artist and how did that transition to illustrator?
I’ve always been someone who loves to draw. I studied painting at the University of Montana and after college I collaborated with my friend (now husband) Colin on a lot of art for his band The Decemberists. As that band gained popularity, art directors began to notice the album art and hired me to do illustration work. Before long I was able to quit my lousy bartending job and work as an illustrator.
Why do you illustrate for children?
I love picture books. They combine poetry and art equally and there’s not a lot of limitations on what they can be and who they can be for. To me, they’re just the most gratifying creative pursuit. Picture books are also most kids’ first introduction to prose and visual art. Making them feels like a very special responsibility. I’m honored to do it.
“Home” is your first solo book. Where did the idea come from?
After many years of wanting to write my own picture book but not feeling up to it – of having ideas and scrapping ideas – I decided to stop trying to tell a good story and to start, instead, with something I felt like I knew how to do: which is illustrate. I love to draw homes, environments, and little worlds full of details for readers to find and wonder about. I wrote Home because I knew it would be fun to illustrate and I hoped it would spark the imaginations of readers.
Are you surprised by the public’s reception?
Yes and no. I worked really hard on it so I’m not surprised that people like the art. It did receive a lot of criticism from publishers when it was still just a manuscript. People felt like it was just too broad and untethered – that it didn’t have enough holding it together or was ultimately kind of unsatisfying. So I wasn’t totally sure it worked or that people would like it until it was out in the world.
What came first, the text or illustrations?
The two things happened almost simultaneously. I wrote the manuscript very quickly – in like 20 minutes – and once it was done I had a pretty clear vision in my head of how it would look.
I like the apartment spread a lot. It’s set in New York City, where my parents worked when I was growing up. I didn’t like the city much as a kid but I loved looking out the windows and seeing all the junk on the rooftops there: the water towers and greenhouses and sheds. All that stuff was a mystery to me – it still is – and it was fun to channel that mysteriousness in an illustration. I also love the spread with the Japanese businessman and the Norse god because it was so fun to paint.
Why do you think your book appeals with readers?
Home as a concept is meaningful to all of us – to adults and kids alike. And I was definitely thinking of my adult readers. So often they’re the ones reading a book aloud, sometimes again and again. (As a mom, I know the distinct misery of reading a book you don’t like 5 times in a row to a toddler.) Home is a practical subject for a lot of adults: Do we like our home? Should we move? What would make our home better? But it can be such a fantastical one for kids, who are pretty much willing to think of anything as a home – any hole in the ground or assemblage of legos – and to wonder who lives in it. I think it appeals to kids because it’s fun to wonder about homes and to adults because it’s fun to remember what it was like to wonder about them.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on another picture book I wrote. This one is a lot more narrative and also a lot less easy to make. It’s been through a billion revisions and I’m finally starting on the finished art for it.
Is there a particular book from your own childhood that still resonates with you today?
Winnie the Pooh does. I loved it as a kid and it’s just as sweet and hilarious and well written to me now.