Behind the Book | Wakey Birds by Maddie Frost

last updated 23 April 2019

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Bright artist Maddie Frost is the author-illustrator of three books; her most recent creation, Wakey Birds, published earlier this month with Templar Publishing. We’ve spoken to Maddie on the blog previously about her unique style of digital collaging from found textures, which she scans and then assembles into colorful, geometric scenes and characters with a ton of personality. With the publication of Wakey Birds, we took the opportunity to catch up with Maddie about the process of writing AND illustrating, the evolution of her style, and the challenges she encountered with this project. As always, Maddie kept it refreshingly real, honest, and funny and gave us a sneak peek at the book’s earliest stages.

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All of the books that Maddie has illustrated, along with her author-illustrated titles: Wakey Birds, Once Upon A Zzzz, and Animobiles.

When did you first know that you wanted to be an illustrator?

I didn’t know I wanted to be an artist in the book world until after I graduated art school. I studied animation in Boston and initially wanted to work in film. But when a small freelance book project fell into my lap, everything changed. I see so much of my animation background in my work which is really neat. When I write, I think in “scenes,” like I’m creating a teeny tiny short cartoon.

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Early sketches for scenes in the book.

Wakey Birds is your third author-illustrated book; first published in the UK. What inspired the story?

Wakey Birds is about a species of bird that is never tired. I have been a terrible sleeper for most of my life, often experiencing waves of insomnia. I go from the bed, to the couch, to the kitchen (for cereal), back to the couch, then I look out a window, stare at my husband sleeping, stare at my dog sleeping, go back to bed, then go back to the couch. It’s the worst. But my struggle made me a book! Hooray! I even worked on it when I couldn’t sleep. How’s that for irony? I chose birds as my main characters because they always seem so restless. And because I’m kind of a bird lady. There are birds in every one of my books.

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Some early cover options.

How is your process as an author of the story different than compared to your process as an illustrator only for a story?

I’m going to make a weird comparison this to this process and say that for me, it’s kind of like designing clothes. Something I know absolutely nothing about. Being solely an illustrator for a story is like putting together an outfit made from really fun clothes designed by somebody else. There is an exciting yet overwhelming thrill of this fantastic wardrobe and now it’s up to me to assemble the layers.

Being an author for a book that I will also illustrate is like designing the clothes, the patterns, choosing the fabrics, and then tailoring it all just right with a dream team. Two very different experiences, both magical in their own ways.

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From sketch to collage.

You have a unique process for creating your illustrations-scanning textures and piecing them together digitally to create characters and scenes. Did you work that way with this book? How has your style evolved, and do you continue to experiment with different styles for each book?

Yes, I used this technique for this book. I decided to limit the patterns and types of paper textures because color needed to be more important. I wanted a very simple and sharp look, with bright colors and fun shapes. It’s what I felt the story called for.

title Left: early sketches. Right: Mozzy gives the book five stars!

My style is always evolving. It’s one of the most exciting things about being an artist. As I grow and change, so does my style. When I first started illustrating I thought all my projects had to look the same. Same style, same colors, same textures, same, same, samey same. But then I realized that’s impossible because I don’t stay the same. Different stories call for different art, and sometimes I don’t even have a choice in the matter.

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What were some of the creative challenges that arose with this book?

This book was so hard to illustrate. I absolutely cried multiple times working on it. The biggest challenge was color. Color of the birds, the sky, the trees, the other animals in the book. I pulled my feathers out over all of it. Apparently nighttime books are difficult to illustrate because it’s…um…dark. We didn’t want every single page to be the same shade of blue, or purple, or all black. We didn’t want things to feel busy or distracting. Color became a main character that drove the story. It took a lot of playing around to get it just right. My art director, Marty Cleary, and editor, Katie Haworth at Templar helped immensely, as did my agent, Anne. It was a 100% team effort and I’m so grateful for their support.

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Color tests for a scene from the book.

What exciting things do you have coming up next, and what is your dream project?

My next author-illustrated book comes out in spring 2020 with Little, Brown. It’s called Smug Seagull and I think it’s absolutely hilarious. It’s in a new style for me that is mainly all digital brushwork and comic panels. I can’t wait to share this book! Hurry up, Time!

I don’t think I have a dream project. My dream is just to be doing this for as long as possible, until I’m a little old bird lady.

“Maddie has such a great sense of humor, a wonderful range of characters and an uncanny ability to think creatively. She’s currently working on a non-fiction book about owls with Walker Books and has oodles of story ideas she’s developing. It’s an absolute delight to represent her and see her grow in her illustration career. Please get in touch if you have a new text or idea for her.” -Anne Moore Armstrong, Maddie’s agent

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To work with Maddie, e-mail Anne here.

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