The Children’s Book Review | August 28, 2016
Unicorns, Rainbows, and Illustrating Picture Books
The Children’s Book Review: Which five words best describe Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True?
Brigette Barrager: Rainbows, rainbows, rainbows, rainbows, rainbows!
What has been the best reaction from a reader so far?
I think my favorite thing to see are photos of Uni the Unicorn-themed birthday parties! Some people go ALL OUT with the unicorn and rainbow theme and it’s so fun to see. Rainbow cakes! Pin the tail on the unicorn! A close runner up are Uni Halloween costumes.
Your artwork is magical and therefore well suited to the magical setting of Uni’s world. Can you describe your artistic process and tell us about the materials you used to create the illustrations?
People are consistently disappointed when I tell them that I work in Photoshop, but that is the case. I do the entire process on the computer, partly because I have to be able to make changes to the art easily and also because Photoshop allows me to explore different options as much as I like. I have an iMac and a very old Cintiq, and my studio is in my home.
My process is something like this:
I always start with a rough sketch pass. I’ll sketch out the entire book and then look at all the pages together to see how the compositions relate to the pacing of the story. I usually change things around quite a bit in this stage. I like to try things out before I decide what’s best.
Then I’ll refine the sketches (because previous to this they are very chicken scratchy) and turn them in to the editor. There are usually some notes, and I’ll make the changes and then move to color when I get the a-ok from the editor.
I always do a very rough color pass over the whole book, just to figure out what colors will go where and how that affects the story.
Then I’ll do the final artwork, which takes approximately one billion hours. I’m just kidding, I don’t actually know how long it takes, just that it takes a long time. I turn it in as I go.
Then there’s usually more notes on the final art, but only minor ones. In this book I had a terrible time keeping the little girl on model. I thought I knew what she looked like, but I actually hadn’t drawn her in 3 years so my sketches were all just a little off. It took quite a bit of tweaking until the little girl LOOKED like the same exact little girl on each page.
Once everything is approved, I’ll get proofs in the mail so I can see how everything looks printed out. These are loose papers – not bound together. This book looked aces printed (phew, sometimes it doesn’t), so I gave it the thumbs up and away to the printers it went!
Have you always loved creating art?
Yes, but I’d argue that the initial desire to create art is pretty unremarkable. All children love to draw, paint, make, create! What makes me or any other artist different is that we continued to enjoy it long after it was considered acceptable. I remember getting in trouble for drawing in the margins of my homework in middle school, and being told art wasn’t really a career in high school. I obviously didn’t listen and just continued to pursue it. It’s that perseverance (or stubbornness, whichever you prefer) that makes the difference.
After looking through the portfolio on your website, would it be correct to believe that you prefer illustrating people versus animals?
I don’t think I have a preference really, it’s just that most projects I’ve worked on call for human characters more than animal characters. I really love mythological creatures that are a mashup of both, to be honest. And I could draw a million cats. You know what I never thought I’d draw so much of? Horses. I’ve often found myself in a position where I HAD to draw a horse. I’m including unicorns in that equation, since they are magical horses with horns. My editor told me that there are 78 distinct unicorns in Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True. 78!
The recent passing of Uni the Unicorn’s author, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, is an incredible loss to the world of children’s books. Which five words best describe your feelings about having the opportunity to illustrate some of Amy Krouse Rosenthal books?
Lucky. Lucky. So lucky. Grateful.
As not all authors and illustrators work closely together, what was your direct experience working with Amy?
On the first Uni book we really didn’t work together at all. We talked over the phone before I started sketches, and I remember thinking that she was very smart and I was impressed by how much homework she had done about unicorns and their mythology. We talked again after the book was finished, but that was mostly her telling me how pleased she was with the way the book had turned out. My experience with the second book was much different, and I’m certain it’s because of the success of the first one! Amy, our editor Maria and I went through several versions of the text before we arrived at something that felt right. Uni was a hard act to follow. Amy and I actually disagreed on a few things regarding the illustrations, which I just take as a reflection of the fact that we both were very passionate about getting the second book RIGHT, but what that looked like was slightly different for each of us. This is what sometimes happens when you get two creative and headstrong people together, after all. We don’t always agree! And we were both VERY attached to these characters and their world. It didn’t sour my experience of working on the second book at all, and ultimately I love the way it looks and I was really happy to return to the land of unicorns.
Can you tell us one more thing we may not know about Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True, your illustrating/design style, or yourself?
Not many people know that Uni is a genderless character! In that first phone conversation that we had, she talked about how the word uni means “one”, and Amy wanted that idea to spread through the text of the book. If you notice, Uni is always referred to as Uni, no pronouns. I’m always surprised that more people haven’t picked up on that. As for the little girl in the book, she is modeled after my niece Summer when she was very small (now she’s in college!).
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by Brigette Barrager
Publisher’s Synopsis: Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brigette Barrager reunite to bring us a sparkly, magical sequel to Uni the Unicorn!
The Land of Unicorns is in trouble — it has been raining and raining for what seems like forever. This is a big problem because there are only three ways that unicorns can get their magic: from the golden sun, from magnificent rainbows, and from the sparkle of believing.
Luckily, Uni the Unicorn has always always always believed…that little girls are REAL. Join this very special unicorn and the little girl who believes right back as they finally meet and work together to save a magical land and all who live there!
Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brigette Barrager reunite to revive this world glowing with possibility and hope that is the stuff of childhood fantasies.
Ages 3-7 | Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers | August 29, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1101936597
About Brigette Barrager
BRIGETTE BARRAGER (Uni the Unicorn) is an artist, designer, and illustrator and writer of children’s books. She spent some time at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios before taking the plunge into freelance illustration, where she’s lived happily ever after. She resides in Los Angeles with her handsome husband, cute doggy, and terrible cat. Visit Brigette at brigetteb.com.
This interview with Brigette Barrager, illustrator of Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True, was conducted by Bianca Schulze. Follow along with our content tagged with Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Books About Rain, Brigette Barrager, Picture Book, and Unicorns to discover more great titles.