Silent Music :: 2008
My Acceptance Speech for the Jane Addams Award
Aloha to you all.
I am sorry I cannot be here today, but I want to thank you for honoring my book about peace, here in this place next to the United Nations.
In 2003, amidst all the talk of war, I wanted to write about Iraq. I wanted to talk about something positive about its culture. Gradually, an idea began to take shape: I would write about Yaqut Musta'simi, a famous calligrapher who lived in Baghdad and who survived the devastating Mongol invasion of 1258. I did some research and took notes, but no story came. I watched the nightly news with its angry images and clips from Al-Jazira filled with the dots and sweeping hooks of Arabic writing. Still no story.
Shortly after the first bombs fell on Baghdad, I went to hear Caldecott winner Allen Say talk about his work. He spoke about his books dealing with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and how it took sixty years before the public was willing to read about such a controversial subject.
Allen Say's words greatly affected me. That night, as I got ready for bed, a story came into my head not about Yaqut but about an Iraqi boy living in present-day Baghdad.
"I don't want that story," I said to myself. "It will never get published—or, if it does, it will take sixty years before anyone is ready to read it."
The next morning, the story was still there. Unable to resist the words any longer, I wrote them down. Later that morning, I made a dummy. Then I waited.
When the time was right, I told myself, the book would be published—and it was. My thanks to you all and to Neal Porter for accepting this award on my behalf, and for believing in a book about peace.
How I Did the Illustrations Using Photoshop
Having worked with detailed images for Traveling Man, and having spent hours cutting out and pasting together tiny pieces of paper for the collages of Nine Animals and the Well, I decided to learn how to use the computer to accomplish the same tasks. Why not? Not only would it save time but it would also afford me greater possibilities.
I discovered that in photoshop it was quite easy to make collages. The trick was to start out by keeping everything on a separate layer.
First I scanned in my rough drawing. Next I cleaned up the drawing by digitally erasing any unwanted marks and adding new lines with the appropriate brush. When I had my drawing the way I wanted it, I scanned in collage papers that I had on hand. Once in the computer, it was easy to color them and to add designs. These designs I either took from books on Arabic calligraphy or I drew them myself. Drawing them was easy, because all I had to make was one element of the design then let the computer generate duplicates.
I was now ready to take an important step. I outlined the drawing in bright green, making sections I would later fill in with the collage papers. It was then a simple task to use the magic wand to highlight a section, then choose the layer with the collage paper I wanted to cut out. I pulled down SELECT in the menu bar, clicked on INVERSE, and pressed DELETE. The result was the perfect shape I needed for my illustration.
How I Did the Gold in Photoshop
When I did Traveling Manin 2001, I did not know how to use the computer to do any illustrations. Everything in that book is real. The problem I had at that time was how to make it look like I had used gold leaf. My art director Bob Kosturko at Houghton Mifflin told me that any metallic substance was impossible, because the laser would bounce back off of the metal surface and read the metal as black! My only choice was to use a gold acrylic paint, which I carefully applied to all of the borders and illustrations. Once the finished illustrations arrived at Houghton Mifflin, it was decided to print in five colors so that a bronze-based ink could be used for the gold. I was very pleased with the results. I knew, however, that such an expense in printing was out of the question for Silent Music; so I set about trying to figure out how to do gold leaf digitally. The technique I discovered was easier to do than I thought it would be. Basically, the area to be gilded is highlighted then filled in with a solid ochre color. Next, at 60 to 70% opacity, various shades of yellow and dark ochre are applied until the highlighted area seems to glow as if it were gold. The final trick is to use a pastel ‘brush’ and make sweeping passes with a light, light yellow (almost white). This seems to make the gold appear as though it is reflecting light.