Thanks for returning to my blog for this second post featuring JACKIE AND THE MONA LISA. (Click here if you missed Part I). Deborah Robin Murphy graciously agreed to answering a few questions about her debut picture book, and I'm happy to also have illustrator Jen Bricking join the conversation.
Deborah Rovin Murphy, Author
Carol: How did you get interested in Jackie and the Mona Lisa?
Deborah: I have always been a fan of art, history, and museums. I read an adult book about Jackie Kennedy and the Mona Lisa, and I was so fascinated and surprised when no one I talked to about it really knew about the story…even those old enough to have possibly seen it in a newspaper or heard about it on TV. I love stories that have “fallen through the cracks” and aren’t well known. The Mona Lisa is so iconic and famous, and I couldn’t believe that it was actually in the United States. I have also always admired Jackie Kennedy and all she did as First Lady and beyond.
Carol: What was your path to publication?
Deborah: I wrote the first draft of this story about seven years ago. It looked a lot different than the final story you see in the book today. I submitted to many publishers using the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Guide and connections I made from being a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) as a guide. Five years and multiple rejections later, my awesome editor at Sleeping Bear Press liked the story and offered me a contract. I literally screamed when I saw the email… to a writer that is like winning the lottery-especially with years and years of trying with this and other stories I have written.
Carol: What went into researching the text? Do you have any personal connection to Jackie?
Deborah: I love research! For me, the library still remains one of the best places to look for information. I like to be able to find books that explore my topic and make use of the traditional tools such as using the index and exploring the chapters of the book myself because I may find a piece of information that wouldn’t have come up on an internet search. Of course, the internet is definitely a great tool for research; however, like any tool, I think you have to know how to use it efficiently and effectively. I believe that you want to approach your research with a plan. Where will you find the best and most accurate information? For me, finding the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library website was invaluable. I could access their archives and see actual documents, speeches and photographs that tied in with Jackie and the planning that went into Mona Lisa’s visit to America. I researched Mona Lisa’s background as well. I like to get all of the information I can and start to whittle it down to the important parts I want to include in the book.
I guess my personal connection to Jackie would be that I remember my mom telling me how much she admired her when she was First Lady in the 1960’s and how she herself had outfits modeled after Jackie’s style. My mom even had a pillbox hat with her wedding veil! As I grew older and read more about her, I loved that Jackie was such an amazing mother who made raising her children her number one priority. As a mother myself, I value that. My favorite Jackie quote is, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters much.”
Debbie has loved visiting museums since her class trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art when she was in elementary school. An elementary school teacher herself, she even considered becoming an art teacher because of her love of art. She was so inspired by Jackie Kennedy when she read about what she did to promote the arts in America and amazed when she found out Jackie was responsible for getting the Mona Lisa to come to the USA. She lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and was lucky enough to have seen the Mona Lisa on her trip to France.
Jen Bricking, Illustrator
Carol: What went into researching the illustrations? Do you have any personal connection to Jackie?
Jen: Researching and the early sketch phase are two of my favorite parts of the picture book making process, and I love to doodle while I collect reference! Once I received the manuscript, I basically did a deep dive into all things Jackie. I researched historical photos, watched videos and movies, and read everything I could find about Jackie, the time period and, of course, the Mona Lisa. I wanted to make sure my illustrations were historically accurate (aside from minor details to pump up the charm), so I combed through the JFK Library and The National Archives. They have a comprehensive collection of resources from Jackie’s time as First Lady, her White House restoration, and when she brought the Mona Lisa to the United States. I relied heavily on these collections, along with other websites and blogs dedicated to Jackie’s life. I collected around a thousand reference images and even made a Jackie Pinterest page.
Other than what I learned in history classes or saw on TV as a kid, I didn’t know too much about her life before or after being First Lady. I especially didn’t know about some of the fun and interesting facts this book reveals. I remember both of my grandmothers having a great fondness for her, and I’ve always admired her for her contribution to the arts and her pursuit in making it accessible for everyone.
Carol: What was your medium and what influenced your choice of that medium and your choice of the color palette?
Jen: I used pencil and digital to create the illustrations. I sketched some of the initial character designs and layouts with pencil on paper, but I primarily used my iPad and computer to sketch and paint all of the illustrations. I painted digitally in the same manner as using watercolor to give it a soft, traditional, and timeless look, perfect for Jackie! Because Jackie was also known as a very influential fashion icon, I referenced a lot of 1960’s fashion illustrations, magazines, catalogues, and advertisements. I wanted to evoke a nostalgic yet modern visual style, and so the color palettes of the fashion of that era, especially Jackie’s colorful dresses and pillbox hats, were a big influence. It was all very vibrant but soft, and I wanted that to come through in my illustrations.
Jen has seen the Mona Lisa twice and, like Jackie, loves everything French. She works as an illustrator and artist for video games and animation. Her other books include Ten Magic Butterflies, Jane and Me series for the Jane Goodall Institute and various illustrated novels. When she isn’t drawing, she likes to travel, ride her bicycle and skateboard. You can follow her on Instagram at jenbricking or visit her at jbricking.com.