The Backstory: DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT
It is my pleasure to welcome Morissa Rubin and her debut, DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT (POW! Kids Books, 2022) to The Backstory today. Morissa is serving up a pattern-filled board book with vibrant colors and bold images that will catch the eye of toddlers and grownups alike. Read on to learn all about this beautiful book as well as the inspiration behind it. And don't miss out on a chance to win your choice of a copy of your own, manuscript critique, or portfolio review.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Dot, Dot, Polka Dot is a board book that explores a variety of fabric patterns: polka dots, paisleys, plaids, and stripes from places around the world. The different patterns come together to create a child's quilt. It is an exploration of designs that include the over-and-under flapping of plaid, brillant blocks of kente cloth, fish-like scales of Uroko triangles, and sun splashed tie-dyed bursts to make up this crazy, cozy quilt.
Morissa, you have created a stunning book. It is so bright and vibrant! I love the language you use to introduce each pattern and the way it all ties together at the end.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from? Dot, Dot, Polka Dot came about as I did the painting equivalent of doodling: I literally dabbled painted dots on a page. I made a page of dots and then made a page of stripes. I've always liked wandering around sewing stores and seeing all the bolts of different fabrics lined up together, but it wasn't until I began thinking of other kinds of patterns that I realized that fabric in particular offered fun sounding names for different kinds of design arrangements. The idea to have the swatches come together to form a quilt only came later in the process.
It is wonderful to see how you connected the thread (Ha, see what I did there?) from your fabric store perusing to your doodling to what became DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT. In many ways, our story ideas are very similar to a quilt, swatches of our lives, emotions, and imaginations coming together to make something beautiful.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page? This book evolved much more organically for me than other books that I have worked on. As I didn't have a preconceived idea of what I wanted to do with the "story," I was able to go with where it led me. The first few spreads happened easily and relatively quickly. But then there was an intermediate period where I struggled with a few other patterns that I kept trying to make work. I was never happy with them and they didn't ultimately (forgive the pun) make the cut. The idea that distinctly different patterns make up a single quilt came early in the process and was the turning point that produced a structure for the story. It seems so obvious now with hindsight. Because swatches are something that are naturally collected and laid out to look at, presenting them along the edges of each spread happened intuitively. As the story built, they become a visual inventory and a reminder of the patterns already introduced. After the book was acquired by POW! Kids Books, the then editor, Jordan Nielson, asked if I'd consider including textiles from other places around the world which helped the book's concept to grow again. I had always thought that these distinct pieces coming together to make a "whole" was a nice metaphor and adding geographic diversity seemed to tie in well with that.
The idea of the swatches throughout the book was such a clever choice and I agree that the inclusion of patterns from around the world works great with the theme. I also love the variety of patterns, where you have some common, widely known patterns such as stripes and polka dots, but also patterns that may be new to the grownup reading the book. It is wonderful when adults and children can share new learning together.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas? While I read tons of children's books, I think most of the direct inspiration for my work comes from wisp-like thoughts of things I see or do. The trick for me is making sure to catch them as they flit through my brain and then to try to recognize what about them intrigues me. My most productive ideas seem to happen when my mind has space to wander, allowing more unusual associations to run together. The creative challenge for me is how to take these nebulous ideas and find one small concrete element in them to start building with.
That is such a challenging trick to catch those glimmers of thought before they evaporate. However, once they are captured we can find time to let them simmer, grow and develop.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing? I'm not sure that I can connect a direct line from these amazing PBs to my own writing and design work, but here is a very partial list of books and their author/illustrators that have wowed me again and again:
Richard McGuire's "What Goes Around Comes Around"
Antoinette Portis's "Hey Water"
Andrea D'Aquino's "Mine" and "A Life Made by Hand"
Beatric Alemagna's "Things that Go Away"
Theoodoris Papioannou's "While You're Away"
Paul and Ann Rand's "Sparkle and Spin"
I love following Yael Frankel on Instagram because she is one of the most prolific and imaginative illustrators I've seen. Unfortunately, because I don't read Spanish, I have only read one book by her, "A Simple Vista".
I think similar to your response about inspiration, reading books by amazing authors and illustrators doesn't necessarily have to spark a story idea, but fosters an environment for creativity and wonder. I know the more I immerse myself in the world of children's lit, be that reading, critiquing, listening to podcasts, or drafting, the more I am inclined to create.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
Most of my design/illustration work for children's books uses a mix of real materials (paint and markers on paper) and Photoshop and Indesign in the digital realm. For paint, I use gouache as it can be applied opaquely or with more transparency. It's a medium that's easy and I like to work quickly. I try to capture lines that look spontaneous and that have an energy and life of their own. In reality, though, the artwork often takes me many, many attempts. Despite wanting to capture a moment naturally and in a single try, I do edit heavily in Photoshop. I recombine all kinds of things, from the smallest segment of a curve to merging different body parts from separate sketches into one new person. Most of the layering and the more graphic elements that I make are created in InDesign. I've spent so many years using InDesign as a publication designer that it is second nature to me. When writing, the first words that I write I usually catch on paper, sometimes on the back of receipts (when I'm stopped at a red light) or on the back of a grocery list. At different points in time they may migrate to a "word" document or go directly on the page with images in InDesign. I find that the more different formats I can examine my work in, the more likely I will be able to see what changes need to be made.
Thank you so much for sharing your process. It is fascinating to learn how other authors and especially author/illustrators approach their work.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors? Here's are some things that I tell myself to help keep me going: Try to remain immersed in the creative process and not to think about the end product too much. Remember what got you started on this journey in the first place. Figure out how you like to work and what works for you. Do work that is personal. Don't get too attached to any ideas because then it is harder for you to change and evolve them. Always know you will do a next project even if you don't yet know what it will be yet.
Super advice and I love how actionable it is and very much rooted in a place of positivity. Authors would be well-served if they put these suggestions into practice.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us? I have several PB projects that I'm working on and a few that I'm shopping around. While Dot, Dot, Polka Dot grew from a visual experiment, these new projects all grew primarily from my own life experiences and observations. Sometime in the future I hope I will be able to say more about these projects.
Until we can hear more, I wish you the best of luck finishing them up and finding the perfect home for them.
Where can people connect more with you? I'm on both Instagram: @morissa.s.childrensbooks and twitter: @MorissaRubin. I also document projects on my website morissarubindesign.com/books. I can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Readers be sure to check out Morissa Rubin's DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT (POW! Kids Books, 2022). And if you haven't already, connect with Morissa on social media to keep on top of her latest author/illustrator happenings.
Morissa thank you so much for joining The Backstory and for sharing both your incredible book, DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT as well as the inspiration behind it!
Morissa is generously offering one winner the choice of a copy of DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT, a manuscript critique, or a portfolio review.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT MORISSA RUBIN
Morissa Rubin is a graphic designer and the author/illustrator of her first picture book, Dot, Dot, Polka Dot. Her graphic design work has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and Graphic Design USA. She received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and her MS from MIT’s Visible Language Workshop. She lives in Sacramento, California where she teaches typography and other design courses at UC Davis and Sacramento State University.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew Hacket is a teacher by day, parent by night, and writer in the nooks and crannies of life. When it comes to his books, Andrew aims to create stories that tickle the funny bone and hug the heart of readers both young and old.
Andrew is the author of the early reader, CURLILOCKS AND THE THREE HARES (The Little Press, 2024) and the picture book, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024). Additionally, his short story, THE TUNNEL, has been chosen for inclusion in the SCBWI anthology, The Haunted States of America.
Andrew lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three young children, and puppy, Gus.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.