Behind the Book: SUMMER COLOR, Illustrated by Zoe Persico

last updated 10 August 2018

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Summer Color, written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Bright artist Zoe Persico, is a joyful romp through the varied color pallette of summer. Zoe is a master of creating gorgeous and unexpected color combinations, so we were excited to talk to her about how she used those skills, as well as her love of nature, to create the outdoor scenes that make the book such a joy to read again and again.

How long have you been with the Bright agency and illustrating children’s books?

I have been with Bright since September 2014, so almost four years! I’ve been illustrating children’s books for the same amount of time as I signed onto Bright a little over a year before I finished my art degree.

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

I’ve always known that I wanted to be an artist since I was a child (with other ideas as well, such as a meteorologist, a zoo keeper, your typical career fantasies), but it didn’t really click that I wanted to pursue illustration until I was prepping my portfolio for college applications. For years I originally wanted to be an animator, but soon figured out that it wasn’t my passion. I revisited my love of picture books as inspiration for new portfolio pieces in high school and the rest is history.

You live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and much of your artwork is a celebration of nature. Were you particularly excited to tackle an entire book about that very topic?

Absolutely! When I got the news from my agent, Anne, back in 2016, I was actually visiting Chicago at the time. I remember daydreaming of what lush landscapes I would paint as I was riding the bustling trains around town. This was my first picture book project as well, which was perfect timing as I could jump right into it after I graduated college. I moved out to Washington as I was finishing up the first initial sketches and worked on the final painted illustrations, as rain would pitter-patter on my windows. The weather along with beautiful views of trees and deer roaming outside inspired me tremendously.

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Your illustrations have very vibrant and joyful color palettes. Can you walk us through your process for choosing colors in general, and for SUMMER COLOR specifically?

I love color so much! What I love about it so much is how you can convey certain feelings and moods from only a handful of colors. I usually lean towards analogous or triad color palettes along with using unique accent colors for things such as flowers. If there’s a more somber mood I want to convey, I focus on cooler and more subdued palette. If I want something more cheerful and full of energy, I go warmer and more saturated. For Summer Color! I wanted to make sure that each color represented on each spread in the text was prominent, but not overly obvious. My favorite way to express color is how it harmonizes with other shades, hues, and temperatures to make fun palettes. Plus, I really wanted it to feel like a nostalgic rainstorm on a summer afternoon, so including shades of greens, blues, and grays were important. I think with these colors along with pops of pinks, purples, oranges, and other colors of the rainbow give the storm a more fun and approachable look.

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Diane’s text had no mention of how our protagonists should look, so at the beginning I kept options open. Working with the art director and editor, we ended up agreeing with designs that showed diversity in their family. You don’t see many mixed raced families presented in picture books and what better way to join in on the conversation than to create one!

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How did your agent, Anne Moore Armstrong, help to connect you with this project?

Anne is a wonderful agent! With Summer Color! it was a complete surprise through email. It was fantastic to hear that they wanted to work with me for the book, no art sample needed (which is a blessing!!!). From when the project started up to finalizing the final cover, Anne was always there with encouragement and support. I’m looking forward to other book opportunities we will have together.

We know you have a debut picture book coming up, can you tell us a bit about that and other projects are coming up next for you?

Yes! My debut author/illustrator picture book is Georgia’s Terrific, Colorfic Experiment (originally titled Georgia) that follows an aspiring scientist from her family of artists. After researching and admiring her favorite science heroes, she is ready to hit the big leagues and come up with her very own experiment. With her creative family wanting to chime in with ideas, Georgia gets overwhelmed! Science isn’t art! Art can’t be science! Or can they? We’ll find out in 2019!

I’ve been so excited to bring Georgia to life and I’m so thankful to my agent, Anne for connecting me with Running Press (Hachette). It’ll be full of fun and colorful artwork that I can’t wait to share.

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In terms of other projects I am working on more My Little Pony Little Golden Books (say that five times fast) which should publish next year along with another picture book I had the pleasure of illustrating, Mermaids Fast Asleep with Feiwel & Friends. Now that Georgia has wrapped up, I’ve been finishing up touches on a new manuscript and concept art. I hope you all like succulents and other amazing plants!

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See more of Zoe’s work here.

If you want to get in touch with Zoe, contact her agent, Anne Moore Armstrong.

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