Inside the Studio with Carin Berger, Author-Illustrator of A Curious Menagerie
The Children’s Book Review | June 12, 2018
Carin Berger is an award-winning designer and illustrator. Her cut-paper collages are made using ephemera, such as catalogues, old books, receipts, letters, and ticket stubs. In a starred review, Kirkus said of her Forever Friends, “Sophisticated, sensitive, and accessible, this picture book will offer new insights and pleasures with each season.” The Little Yellow Leaf was a 2008 New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books selection, and in starred reviews, Publishers Weekly called her A Perfect Day “lovely” and her Finding Spring “exceptional.” She is also the illustrator of the acclaimed Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant, both by Jack Prelutsky, among other books. A Curios Menagerie is her newest masterpiece. She lives with her family in New York City.
Inside Carin Berger’s Studio
I work on an old 10 foot long farm table that has had a lot of lives. I found it in a flea market in Marin, California, and it served as my office table for years when I did graphic design [mostly book jackets for trade books]. It then made it’s way across country with us and became our dining room table.
It has hosted all sorts of fabulous dinner parties, but now lives the quieter life as my work surface while I snip tiny shoes and snouts from bits of ephemera.
I work surrounded by the weird and wondrous things that I have collected over the years. They aren’t directly part of my work, but they are there as inspiration and certainly inform what I make.
I also have an endlessly growing collection of books. I pick up children’s books wherever I travel. There are books from Japan and Portugal and France as well as a hefty group of books by, well, everyone whose work I love. The list is long!
I also collect materials to work with. I have old army navy catalogs and french dictionaries and all sorts of ephemera from flea markets, all of which I treasure. I love that they come with their own secret, built-in stories.
When I am not deep into a book or if I am stuck, I busy myself in the garden, urging my plants to grow, and building rock walls, and deadheading and trying to identify the plentiful mushrooms and ferns in our garden and woods upstate. Being outside is an essential part of my creative process.
Carin Berger’s Creative Process
I often start a project with the text, although occasionally a concept for the art leads the way, as in my book, All Mixed Up where the idea of collaging the collages, à la exquisite corpse, was my starting point. But mostly I write first, and then do a huge amount of visual research. For A Curious Menagerie, that meant going to the American Museum of Natural History and sketching from the dioramas. I also researched the origins of collective nouns and the 13th century etiquette guides they first appeared in. After doing research, I make embarrassingly un-beautiful, scribbled thumbnail sketches. Since my background is in graphic design, I design the books, the layout and type in these early stages. I blow the messy little thumbnails up to 110% of the final art, and refine them over and over on vellum, until they are exactly right.
Then I use the vellum as stencils to cut the exact shapes to make the collages. I may make many versions of each character, until I get the right combination of color and texture from the found papers that I work with. My materials are really simple: an x-acto knife, lots of good sharp blades, found papers, and white glue. As I work, each little creature or tree lives on my desk like paper toys until all the pieces are made, and then I glue them in place, almost like a puzzle.
This blue “thank you for teaching us to take chances” sign was given to me during a school visit and is something that I especially treasure. I have it hanging on my studio door to remind me to be just a bit braver and to take more risks.
Learn More About Carin Berger
Written and Illustrated by Carin Berger
Publisher’s Synopsis: From a flamboyance of flamingos to a mischief of mice, this gorgeous picture book introduces readers to sixty collective animal nouns in a fun and unusual way!
Illustrated with show-stopping collage art by acclaimed author-illustrator Carin Berger, A Curious Menagerie is a delightfully engaging read-aloud sure to delight and expand vocabularies.
In this extraordinary picture book, acclaimed and award-winning author-illustrator Carin Berger introduces readers to sixty unusual and engaging collective nouns, from an ambush of tigers to a loveliness of ladybugs.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Greenwillow Books | June 11, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-0062644572
Discover more books like A Curious Menagerie, written and Illustrated by Carin Berger, on The Children’s Book Review by following along with our articles tagged with Animals, Carin Berger, and Picture Book. And be sure to check out more authors and illustrators featured in our Inside the Studio column.