With Frané Lessac

Another illustrator who worked on a LRFO (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out series from HarperCollins) with Anne Rockwell is Frané Lessac.

Born in New Jersey, Frané (pronounced fra-NAY) traveled all over the world, and has lived in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Montserrat, and London, among other places. It was her stay in Montserrat that inspired one of her best known books, “My Little Island.” Her art is exhibited all over the world.

She now lives in Fremantle, Australia, and is Illustrator Liaison for SCBWI in Australia. Read more about her work here: www.franelessac.com.


Cover from CLOUDS

Cover from CLOUDS

6. Frané Lessac was a terrific choice for CLOUDS. She renders bright colors in a painterly folk-art style, to happy effect.  Of course, she has observed the sky from all over the world!

It feels almost like a whimsical tale, yet CLOUDS is packed with facts. Not a typical way to treat children’s nonfiction. In other words, very non-textbookish, yet basic and personal in approach.

Anne Rockwell: I agree.  I really don’t like charts and graphs and cross sections and arrows for little kids!

Joy Chu: If you (Anne) do not supply pictorial references, then much of this had to be done by both the artist and the editorial staff.

spot art from CLOUDS

Spot art from CLOUDS

Frané Lessac: With LRFOs (Let’s Read and Find Out Series), one of its great strengths also imposes some limitations.

These books are terrific because they are an amazing science resource for kids and teachers. On the other hand, it did limit the amount of fantasy I could inject into the book.

I had to find a way of making a science topic personal, fun and accessible. The illustrations had to be very clear in the way they depict the science — in this case the various clouds.

When I was thinking of what is an almost universal element of clouds and kids, I remembered lying on my back in the grass and looking up at clouds as they floated by.

Joy Chu: Do the editors / copyeditors / art directors look through all your preliminary sketches with a fine-tooth comb?

Frané Lessac: My sketches would come back (with comments) on post-it notes.

Alternative sketch with editorial post-it comment

Alternative sketch with editorial post-it comment

I just went through my CLOUDS file and found all sorts of interesting preliminary ideas and sketches. This book had three (yes, THREE) editors — Phoebe Yeh, Mark McVeigh and Melanie Donovan.

This book took over six years to complete, from concept to published work. In addition to three successive editors, there were many assistant editors, and perhaps a couple of art directors.

My initial idea was to create the book by collaging different papers and textures to represent the clouds.

Experimenting with various art treatments

Experimenting with various art treatments

The next idea was to paint the art on top of real photographs of the clouds.

More experiments: art combined with photographs

More experiments: art combined with photographs (a)

More experiments: art combined with photographs (b)

More art combined with photographs (b)

In the end the art was created with gouache on paper.

Joy Chu: Did you find it more painstaking compared to illustrating a story?

Frané Lessac: Clouds are a hard thing to illustrate. The brief was that kids who read the book should be able to then go outside, look at a cloud in the sky, and know immediately what type of cloud it is.

Illustration from CLOUDS

An illustration from CLOUDS

Being a science based book, I wanted to be accurate and with my naïve style. I was anxious whether my clouds might just look like poos in the sky.

Joy Chu: How were you chosen?

Frané Lessac: Phoebe Yeh chose me after she commissioned me to illustrate “Queen Esther Saves Her People” at Scholastic, but then joined HarperCollins.

We were determined to collaborate on a book. Unfortunately, another editor took over the LRFO series from her. One day we hope to see a book all the way through from conception to birth.

Joy Chu: Did you use the Internet for your research?

Frané Lessac: Every which way possible: books, internet. Since I spend a lot of the time flying, I visited clouds at eye level, up-front and personal.

I even got in touch with the Chief Information Officer at National Weather Service to look over my art and give my clouds a gold star.

Joy Chu: Any contact with Anne through your editor, Phoebe Yeh?

Frané Lessac: Iʼve never had any contact with Anne, but would love to meet her one day. Iʼve admired her work over the years. When asked to illustrate a book of hers, as you can imagine, I was delighted.

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20 responses to “With Frané Lessac

  1. I’ve tried to post this wonderful interview with Frane on my fb page and can’t seem to. Grrrr! Any suggestions Joy?

  2. I loved this entry! Two of my favorite artists! Heavenly!

    • Yay Melanie! And YOU collaborated with Anne, too. . . . 🙂 Great seeing you here!

      See a slide show featuring “Good Morning Digger,” alongside our previous Countdown interview with Melanie here.

  3. Hi Denise
    Thanks for visiting. I love your artwork.

  4. @ Frané: I’m still shaking my head about you having to deal with three successive editors. I know that the Harper complex is enormous! And despite the best of intentions, every new person brings something different to the mix, not to mention the background babble and cacophony of myriad details going on. What a triumphant delight CLOUDS is, despite all that! 😉

  5. Hi Denise! Always a pleasure seeing you. I like the blog you are working on, and your color palette. It’s a dramatic evolution, in every sense. I like it.

  6. Love the process on Clouds, Frané, and I´m glad it was decided not to mix your wonderful illustrations with photography!

    @Joy, thanks for putting all of this together. I have been very busy here but monitoring the “Got Story” when I have the chance. I applaud the effort you have put into it and appreciate the wealth of information.

  7. On Antigua and flying to Montserrat, the inspiration for My Little Island, and back to the airport in 10 minutes.

    Anne, there were so many opinions to deal with having three editors. I would LOVE to illustrate a book using collage materials — a good stretch out of my comfort zone. Dashing to the airport and back into the clouds.

  8. I must say that 6 years is an unusually long stretch for a picture book. But then, I could see that so much went into it! When you’re also juggling other projects, not to mention the nature of cobbling together nonfiction that’s accurate, it makes sense that it could take 6 years to do it right.

    @ Everyone: You can use this link to browse through its colorful pages. It can be ordered here.

  9. Frané — I meant to say when the guide is up and running. I’ve only seen the comp for it. I believe it will post on my website (annerockwell.com) at the beginning of January. It will be mentioned in a teacher’s magazine in January with a link to the site. Blue Slip is more up to date on this than I am. I’m sure they could send you the comp as well.

    • Hi Anne! 🙂
      Frané is staring at the clouds right now!

      She’s mid-flight on her way to Monserrat from South Korea as I type this, so we may not hear from her for a while. She sent me an email from her flight a few hours ago. Good thing we are carrying on both today and tomorrow (with the added cushion of the weekend) with Frané!

      I’ll bet you’ll sleep well tonight, after your adventure at the dentist’s.

      Hugs, Joy

  10. The curriculum guide is a great one! I hope you’ll download some, Frané, and print them to take to school visits. I was amazed at how many ways teachers and parents could use this book!

  11. I wanted to add that I loved the idea that Frané would be illustrating this book, for I’ve always admired her work — the charm and bright colors. But I also figured it would be a real challenge for her!

    The collage clouds are intriguing. Do you have any plans to illustrate a book that way?

  12. Hello Frané and Joy,
    Sorry to be so late coming into the conversation but today was a 2-dentist day, and I came home, lay down a moment — and that was a mistake!

    I’m fascinated by all the stages the art went through, Frané. I hope you’re as pleased with the end result as I am. I remember wondering when, and if, the book would ever come out! But with three editors, I can see where you had a lot of opinions to deal with.

    Actually, I like it that LRFOs are vetted by an expert in that branch of science. It makes me feel more secure, and I am always pleased that an illustrator like you can be so playful, in spite of the necessity for accuracy.

  13. fyi: There is a corresponding Curriculum Guide in the works for CLOUDS, too. Check Anne’s website for future availability.

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