Peter Brown, author and illustrator of "The Curious Garden" and "Children Make Terrible Pets," discusses how he creates characters and how illustrations help him tell his stories. This video is part of the NBC Learn original series "Writers Speak to Kids."
Writers Speak to Kids- Peter Brown
JENNA BUSH HAGER, reporting:
Where do you get your ideas?
PETER BROWN: My ideas come from all over the place and I never know exactly when they're going to pop into my mind or how it's going to come about. Usually it come from an everyday experience. So like in the example of the my book The Curious Garden, I was wandering around New York City and I discovered this place called the High Line, which is now this pretty famous park. But before it was a park, it was just this abandoned railway with all sorts of wildflowers and trees growing. And so I saw it and I saw this beautiful nature living in a kind of a dirty part of the city, and I thought it was beautiful to see nature in that place, and that inspired me to dream up this story about a whole city that gets kind of taken over by beautiful, natural things.
BUSH HAGER: How do you create characters?
BROWN: When I'm thinking about my characters it really helps to have a person in mind in my life who maybe has a personality similar to that of the character in the story. So in the case of Children Make Terrible Pets and You Will be My Friend, there's this bear named Lucille Beatrice Bear who's got this big personality, and she's bubbly and she's a little impatient, you know, when she doesn't get her way she can get a little angry, which reminds me a lot of my niece, Ella, who I love, she's adorable and one of my favorite people, but Ella is a lot like Lucy. So, a lot of times when I'm working on a story and I get stuck and I'm not exactly sure what should happen next, I think to myself - What would my niece Ella do in this situation? And that usually helps me figure out what's going to happen in the story.
BUSH HAGER: How do you create the illustrations?
BROWN: The beginning of the process of working on The Curious Garden, I was just drawing stuff that I saw that would lead me to imagine other scenes of plants growing over buildings and overtaking abandoned vehicles. And so, I was just drawing, drawing, drawing, and eventually I realized that - through my drawings - I realized that the story I wanted to tell was about nature living in a really surprising place, like this big, dreary city. Other times, it'll be the opposite, where I'll have an idea with words. I'll write down a few sentences, and then I keep writing and I keep writing and eventually, I get to a point in the process where it's time to figure out what the characters look like, so then I'll start doing pencil drawings, playing around with shapes, playing around with different techniques. Maybe I’m using water color, or maybe I’m using, you know, there’s all different kinds of paints and pencils, obviously. So, there’s a whole experimental part of the process, where I’m trying to figure out what the art is going to look like. I've always loved telling stories with pictures, you know, even if I'm drawing pictures and there are no words involved, I was always trying to tell some sort of a story - even if it was, you know, a bunch of vegetables that are in a rock band. I'm trying to do this drawing so that when people look at it they get what's happening in this little moment in time. And, so now I'm lucky that I get to do it for a living because it's the one thing I've loved to do my whole life.
At this stage of the game, I am much more likely to leave a book in a Little Free Library than I am to take one. I keep a sack of books on my front porch. When I remember, I grab a book to take with me on the dog walk. If I pass a Little Free Library (in my neighborhood it is hard not to), I open the door and pop the book inside.
Still, even empty-handed, I pause and take a look. I am always curious.
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