School Library Journal gave illustrator Kate Garchinsky’s debut, THE SECRET LIFE OF THE RED FOX (Boyds Mills Press, written by Laurence Pringle, illustrations by Kate Garchinsky) a starred review, saying:
“Beginning on a snowy afternoon in February and ending in early autumn, this book centers on a fox named Vixen as she explores her habitat, hunts, runs from danger, and starts a family. This intimate and personal view into Vixen’s life is chronicled through a beautifully cohesive relationship between text and illustration.”
About Kate’s illustrations, SLJ continued:
“Conveying the intensity and precision of this specific hunt, the art, rendered with pastels and aqua crayons on sanded paper, also fuels the foxlike moments with emotion, from Vixen and her mate’s tender nuzzle to the curiosity and playfulness of her four kits.”
Anna Forrester: Kate, thanks for visiting Eastern Penn Points today—and congratulations. WHAT a beautiful book!!
Kate Garchinsky: Thank you so much, Anna! This book is very special to me. I’m very proud of it.
AF: I’d love to start out by asking about the research you did for the book—did you have any close contact with foxes? And how else did you research?
KG: Secretive as foxes are, I did not find any to pose for me while working on the book. Common as they are here, it’s hard to find one locally in a zoo. I did, however, find some taxidermy specimens at the visitor centers at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, and the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, both near my home in Philadelphia. I also turned to my nature journals, where I had sketched and written about wild fox encounters in the past. I used a lot of my own photographs for the landscapes. And of course, I used the internet. I created a Pinterest board and filled it with hundreds of fox photos and videos.
AF: As you worked, how did you think about Vixen—in what ways did you consider her as a “typical” fox, and in what ways did she have her own distinct personality?
KG: Hmm, interesting question. At first I tried to see Vixen’s world through her eyes, and in doing so, I made her world my own. I chose to use landscapes from some of my favorite places, including my parents’ home. Then I found this connection between Vixen’s family and mine—Vixen and her mate became my Mom and Dad. My siblings and I were the kids. Just recently my youngest brother got married and moved out of my parents’ house. They’ve helped all six of us begin our own “secret lives.”
AF: What were your biggest challenges with these drawings? Were there new techniques you had to develop or use in the book, that you hadn’t tried before?
KG: My biggest challenge was getting stuck in my own head. I learned quickly that over-thinking and overworking were a big waste of time, materials, and energy. I was really nervous about getting my first book just right. So much so, that I would add more and more pastels, redrawing details over and over, until the surface of my paper became unworkable. I started several spreads over from scratch because if of this—one of them took three tries! Then I forced myself to slow down, use a lighter hand, and trust my first strokes, leaving some things a little undone for the reader’s imagination.
AF: And what are you most proud of in the project as a whole?
KG: When my first advance copy arrived back in September, it all finally felt real. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I felt Real, like a real children’s book illustrator who illustrates real books! After years of following this industry, learning my craft, attending workshops and retreats and conferences and critiques, finally, I have a book someone else can hold in their hands and read, not just a collection of loose drawings stashed in a drawer, or a folder of JPGs on my computer. It’s a salable product, one that people outside my immediate circle will find and enjoy. I put myself out there, and I’m proud of me for doing it. I made my dream come true.
AF: I know this is a book about foxes, but I can’t NOT say: your SNOW is unbelievable. A lot of it has this super-icy, glittery quality that is SO unique to a certain type of really cold, light snow. Can you say more about how you approached drawing the snow, in particular?
KG: Aw, thanks! I’m giddy that you appreciate my snow. I love snow. (Like really, really love it.) About a decade ago I spent a few years in a ski town in Colorado, aptly named Winter Park. Over 300 inches of fluffy powder falls in Winter Park every winter. While painting the winter scenes, I took a mental trip back to my favorite spot on my favorite mountain, and layered the pastels until they felt just right. I think my paper played a big part in the result–it’s coated with sand with its own sparkle. The sand particles grab the dust from the pastels almost like the alpine trees seem to scrape snow from the clouds.
AF: I know, too, that you’ve been hard at work on your next project for Boyds Mills—another book with Laurence Pringle—can you tell us a little about it, too?
KG: Yes! The next book in the Secret Life series is about the Little Brown Bat. Now this is a real challenge. While foxes feel familiar, kind of part dog/part cat, bats are completely foreign, like no other creature on earth. Not even birds—because bats are mammals! Forget all the rules of typical mammal anatomy, because the first joint of a bat’s finger is longer than its entire torso. Despite bats’ stranger qualities, Laurence Pringle makes you fall in love with them through the story of one individual, named Otis.
I could go on and on, but, I gotta go, my bat art deadline is this month! Look for The Secret Life of the Little Brown Bat this time next year.
AF: We’ll be excited to see the next one too. Thanks for chatting—and congratulations again!
Kate Garchinsky illustrates children’s books and educational media in her studio in the woodlands near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Kate is a recipient of the Eckelberry Fellowship at the Academy of Natural Sciences, where she has researched the extinction stories of North American birds such as the Passenger Pigeon. Prior to creating children’s books, Kate designed lots of fun things like toys, birdbaths and trail maps. She lives with her husband Brian, Julia and Spencer the cats, and her one-eyed beagle, Maggie May. Get to know her more at www.penguinart.com.
Anna Forrester’s debut picture book BAT COUNT (Arbordale 2017, illustrated by Susan Detwiler) came out in February. Visit www.annaforrester.com to learn more about Anna, bats and citizen science.