Erin Stead is the illustrator of the Caldecott-winning picture book A Sick Day for Amos McGee, written by her husband, Philip Stead. Her new book, Music for Mister Moon, also created with Philip, is a tribute to childhood imagination and the beauty of quiet creativity. Erin finished the art for the book prior to giving birth to her daughter, but later ended up scrapping all of her illustrations, deciding they no longer worked with the text. She then re-did all of the artwork for the book. According to Lisa Lee, v-p of production at Holiday House, the art took at least seven rounds of proofs to get right (whereas most books take only three rounds), and required two different color separators. We asked Erin to give us a peek into the joys and challenges of her creative process.

Hello! My name is Erin Stead and I am the illustrator of Music for Mister Moon, written by my husband, Philip Stead. Here is a glimpse into how I made the art for the book. I hope you enjoy!

The first thing I did was make a sketch. Here you see the hero of our story, Harriet (also known as Hank), her cello, and Mister Moon. Click here to view a time-lapse video (some browsers may automatically download the file).

Next, I set my palette up with my inks. I use an oil-based etching ink for almost all my prints. It’s similar to traditional oil paint, just a little thicker. I use a glass palette from art school that I’ve managed to hold onto despite moving hundreds of times and being a very clumsy person. The image you see next to my palette is a scan of my drawing-in-reverse.

That printout of my drawing-in-reverse was then placed under a piece of acetate. The sketch is blurred because the acetate is over it. If you look toward the bottom right-hand corner, you can see the bottom of the acetate.

Then, I mixed my inks. The first color I printed was the sky color.

I rolled out the ink onto the acetate with a rubber brayer.

This book mostly takes place in Hank’s imagination, so I wanted the color to be soft and atmospheric. Monoprinting on acetate allows for really soft edges in the color. In order to keep the white area of the paper white, or to avoid colors interacting with one another once printed, I wiped away the color on the acetate. Here I used a baby wipe, which works great. Sometimes, if I want an edge with a texture, I use a crumpled-up paper towel. Click here to view a time-lapse video.

I then laid the paper over the ink, attempting to line everything up carefully, though often not getting it quite right.

This is the tool I use to print almost every book I’ve ever made. It’s a printing barren, slightly modified with ball bearings to make it a little easier to use. This is one of those tools that is so analog and specific that I sometimes panic about it no longer existing as everything becomes more and more digital. I’m pretty sure only one person in the world makes it.

This is the finished print. I waited about two days for the ink to dry before I felt comfortable drawing on it.

Final drawing time! Click here to view a time-lapse video.

The completed drawing!

Thanks for reading!

Music for Mister Moon by Philip C. Stead, illus. by Erin E. Stead. Holiday House/Porter, $18.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-8234-4160-0