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creating the art for:
WITH MY HANDS
by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson
The art we create together follows an organic process, which means each book is differently produced. One thing is always true: we use our hands to make art!
Yes, there are steps in the process that are performed on a computer or involve gadgetry like an iPhone. Computers and cameras, like paint brushes and palette knives, are tools, not the ultimate art-makers. Mind you, this isn’t anti-tech philosophy. We just like to muck around and get messy with paint, glue, fabric, string, leaves, twigs, cardboard, leftover wallpaper, candy wrappers, old photos and other whatnot lying around our home studio.
People often ask who does what, because we are two artists who actually work on the same painting. (But not at the same time: too crowded!) There’s not a clear delineation, but it’s fair to say that we both draw (Lou’s horses look like funky horses, Steve’s horses look like functional horses). Lou does the collage, Steve does more of the tear-my-hair-out-what-will-I-do-to-fix-this-mess activity. We both paint, but Steve is classically trained and Lou is more improvisational, like a jazz musician.
For With My Hands, one basic principle for the art was to not make wasteful byproducts. Using what was close at hand was a great starting theme. In fact, that’s Lou’s thumbprint, used to make the body of the horse and of the car in the first scene (thereby doubling down on the hands-on theme). The boy’s fort and other items throughout the book are collaged with cardboard packaging received in the post or parts of Fed Ex and UPS shipping boxes stripped of their outer casing. For the spaceship, Lou took pictures of a steel manhole cover, tossed the photo into Photoshop and changed the color and other attributes. (Because she’s a mom, she added the note about helmets.) The whale texture is created by manipulating a photo of cracked paint on asphalt in a parking lot about 50 yards from where we live. Here’s the original, then the color altered version.
Steve’s most “hands-on” part of the book might be the cookies in the scene with the snowman. They are his favorite holiday cookies and were made (and still are made) every year, by his mom. He needed to do a lot of research—meaning eating cookies—to include them in the scene.
Collectively, we most appreciate Amy’s poems that inspired us and the bang-up design and production jobs done by the art directors, designers, editors and other people at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
We hope our art demonstrates that you can make art out of almost anything—and it’s fun. Kids already know those things and adults who’ve forgotten it can always relearn. All that’s needed is stuff (see list in paragraph two) and wonderful words to spark your imagination!
Original photo of cracked paint on asphalt.
Photo after color manipulation
Color manipulated photo is added to art to create texture.