I have absolutely no idea what you'd like to know...so I'll begin with a summary. If it piques your curiosity, read on!
Mary Newell DePalma has illustrated twenty picture books, and is the author of seven, including A Grand Old Tree, an IRA/CBC Children's Choice in 2006, and Bow-Wow Wiggle-Waggle, one of Bank Street College of Education's Best Books of 2013. In her long and varied illustration career, Mary has drawn just about everything, including eyeballs, cans of shrimp, mice, matchsticks, and dogs in swimsuits! Her circuitous path to children's book illustration included stints as an interpreter for the deaf, a calligrapher, and a hand knitter.
Mary gives lively, interactive, and fun presentations about the creative process for groups of all ages. In addition to numerous elementary schools and libraries, she has presented programs at The Mazza Museum for Picture Book Art Summer Institute, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, The Eric Carle Museum, and the New England School Librarians Association. Mary developed several family programs for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and has participated in panel discussions sponsored by the New England Society of Children's Book Authors and Illustrators.She has taught Picture Book Writing and Illustrating as an adjunct at The New England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University. Mary is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and the International Visual Literacy Association.
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I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I have four brothers and two sisters. We spent a lot of time digging holes in our backyard, which eventually looked just like the surface of the moon. I don't think our next door neighbor liked that very much; she had a lovely flower garden and eventually bought the house next to hers and tore it down to expand her garden. We also spent a great deal of time observing the neighbors, who included a retired vaudeville dancer, an ancient suffragette, hare krishnas, hippies, and a university professor who rode his unicycle to work each day. We collected acorns, buckeyes, maple tree 'noses' and treasured the occasional osage orange. My brothers and sisters did normal things, like play baseball and kick-the-can, but I spent most of my time at a drawing table in the basement, although I could be coaxed out once a week to help our neighbor, Jake, pack his parachute.
I took Saturday art classes at the Carnegie Museum while I was in elementary school, and then attended pre-college classes at Carnegie Mellon University. I particularly loved my calligraphy class with Arnold Bank. He was elderly and eccentric. My mother read the want ads assiduously; she was justifiably afraid for my economic life. She found me employment knitting sweaters for a local designer, and I also began my freelance career lettering signs and addressing envelopes. The only 'real' job I had was a complete and total failure; anyone who ordered a sandwich at Wendy's during one six-week stretch in the summer of 1980 inevitably was served something different than they had ordered.
I loved school and was a great student (except for math). Given this fact and the complete economic implosion in Pittsburgh at that time, my parents suggested that I study medical illustration in college, which I did. At RIT/NTID I also learned the useful and profitable skill of interpreting for the deaf, which is how I paid my bills in college and supported my freelance illustration career.
My first job was at a small greeting card company in Chicago where I answered the phone, organized the files, and brainstormed ideas for their new line of scented cartoon stickers.
Then I got an even odder job: apprentice engrosser. I showed up every morning at an office in the Loop that looked like it was right out of Charles Dickens and spent 30 minutes meditatively grinding chinese stick ink. Then I wrote names on certificates all day long--graduates of colleges, members of professional associations...all in beautiful calligraphic lettering. I took notes and observed the illumination styles and techniques of the more accomplished employees. This is all done by computer now. So.
I moved to Boston and became a freelance illustrator. During a long and varied illustration career, I have illustrated just about everything, including eyeballs, cans of shrimp, mice, matchsticks, and dogs in swimsuits! At first I did not even aspire to become a children's book illustrator. I had never met anyone who did that, and I figured they were magic or something. But eventually, I sent sample postcards to editors and art directors and was lucky to be noticed by Arthur Levine, Margaret Raymo, and Susan Hirschman. Each of them asked me if I had written a story. I was very much surprised by this! I actually just said 'no'--which was the complete wrong answer, as I am sure you know.
But eventually, I did try. And I was awful. I took two classes at Radcliffe, one with Eleanor Garvey and another with Leon Steinmetz, to understand artist's books and picture books. Margaret Raymo at Houghton Mifflin patiently wrote lovely and detailed rejection letters, the first of which began something like this: 'Dear Mary, Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, this is not a story; it is a list. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end...' So began my correspondence course in picture book writing. Margaret published my first book, The Strange Egg, after reviewing at least 9 spectacularly bad picture book dummies. Arthur Levine at Scholastic patiently reviewed 12 entirely different book dummies of the same story over the course of 4 years or so before My Chair was finally published. I am grateful for their attention.
Now I love the puzzle of putting pictures and words together. I still find that writing is the most difficult part. Although I have always been an avid reader, my mind feels totally blank if I have to think up a story using words. I visualize what happens, and then I draw/write it. Stories usually arrive in fragments. Often it is totallly different than I thought it was going to be; a small incident becomes the entire story, or a minor character takes the lead. I pay attention and take notes; eventually it all comes together. My favorite challenge is to communicate with the fewest words possible. In this blog post I attempt to explain the writing process for my book Bow-Wow Wiggle-Waggle: http://eerdword.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/a-picture-book-puzzle-by-mary-newell-depalma/#
I have lived in Boston for more than 25 years with my husband Alphonse and two children, Alphonse and Kepley, who have now grown up and moved away. We live near the Arnold Arboretum, which was an inspiration for A Grand Old Tree. Kepley was a student performer in the Boston Ballet Nutcracker, and her adventures were the inspiration for The Nutcracker Doll. My son Alphonse has played the oboe, baritone and sousaphone, and operated the elevator at Fenway Park. His adventures are a puzzle in progress, story-wise--something to look forward to!
El extrano Huevo, the Spanish language edition of The Strange Egg, will be published in 2016. I have two book dummies completed: one about a marching band, and one about crossing the street. They are both joyful noisy read aloud books! I am working on a new picture book about the bizarre and beautiful undersea world; I have been fascinated by the ocean since I watched Jacques Cousteau explore it on TV. Also, I have been thinking more deeply about art in terms of observation, communication, and participation as a result of my work at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and I am sure that will influence the book. Wish me luck!
Hobbies & Etc.
I volunteer with the Boston Ballet Costume Shop, I knit mittens and make odd objects. I putter in my garden, maintain my Little Free Library, and enjoy the tiny goldfish pond I dug in my yard. My favorite shoes are red polka-dot TOMS.