Parenting Win of the Week: A World of Imagination
Megan Hess talks illustrating, imagination, and children’s books.
You may know Megan Hess from her children’s book about the adventures of Claris, the chicest mouse in Paris, and her crew of animal friends. Or you may have seen her illustrations on the cover of Candace Bushnell’s books (of "Sex and the City" fame) or in a number of different campaigns for luxury brands like Chanel or Prada. I fell in love with her whimsical, fashion-forward illustrations, but also love the subtle messages she puts in her children's books about embracing people for who they are. I chatted with Megan about her career, the world of Claris, and her latest book about a very talkative chihuahua.
How did you get started with illustrating?
I loved to draw as a kid. As I got older I didn’t have a lot of options, drawing was the only thing I was really good at, but didn’t think that it could be my career. I studied graphic design, mostly so I could pay the rent. I then worked as an art director and drew on the side, but deep down I always wanted to be drawing again. When we would commission writers and illustrators for projects I always wished that I would be the one actually drawing up the project. I eventually started doing a little illustrating. I did a small project for Italian Vogue. That’s when Candace Bushnell saw the illustration and knew that it was the style she needed for her books. It was 2006 and "Sex and the City" the show was really big. I ended up illustrating all of her books and then an agent found me and I started to illustrate for Tiffany & Co., Dior, Chanel, and have been doing it ever since.
How did you go from illustrating fashion campaigns and books to children’s books?
I had my first daughter in 2006 and thought in the back of my head about creating a children’s book. I always thought when I read her books every night that there could be something different in that space, but knew it would have to be something I’d be really excited about.
Years later, I was in Paris for a book and at the end of a long week, I was sitting on the balcony of my hotel — grateful for everything — and I saw a little mouse pop its head up from above. I remember thinking how cool that this little mouse lives in Paris and imagined all the good cheese and bread it could experience in its little rooftop apartment. I called my publisher and told her I had this idea about a mouse.
There was something about creating that first book that I have really enjoyed. Anything you love and enjoy you do more of. That tends to lead to better things.
Claris is a lot like kids, she is small and the world around her is enormous. While she lives in a very fashionable world with all these beautiful things, ultimately she’s a humble mouse who is grateful and kind and she sees other animals and people for who they are. As an author, I want there to always be a starting point for conversation.
Now there is a whole world of Claris…purses, stationery, stuffed animals, and so much more. What’s that been like?
Building out the world around her has been so enjoyable. I am working on picture book eight for Claris, but it’s been really fun to build out the characters around her too. When I first wrote the book, I put some of the other animals in the background and didn’t think much about their stories beyond just a little blurb, but now we are building out their origins too which has been fun.
Caviar The Hollywood Star comes out in April. Tell us about that.
This story takes place in Los Angeles, which was fun. Caviar the chihuahua is a Hollywood star. Her owner wants her to be perfect and look good in her handbag. While Caviar is small, but she has big feelings and can’t stop talking. The book is about the journey for the two of them finding balance with each other. I thought a lot about the journey parents have to accept kids that aren’t perfect and can certainly be messy.
Any advice for aspiring illustrators?
If you just keep drawing and you love it, your style will find you. The more you draw, the more your style develops…just draw the things you are interested in. Drawing is really good for mindfulness, so you should encourage it even if just for fun. There are a lot of career paths you can pursue if you decide to go that route and if you don’t, you can always be an artist on the weekend as a creative outlet from your other career choice.
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