6 Questions with Colleen McCarthy-Evans
For this edition of 6 Questions, I have a special treat. I first met Colleen McCarthy-Evans at Toy Fair in New York City. She’s elegant and funny, and always generous with her time. More to the point of this interview, she’s an award-winning game designer, a published author, and an accomplished artist. As if that weren’t enough, she also crochets!
In short, Colleen not only does it all, she does it all well.
On to the questions!
Artist, writer, game designer… Can you talk a little bit about the differences between the three different creative processes? Is one much more difficult than the others? Do you get different rewards from them? Is there overlap between them?
First, thank you so much for connecting with me, Pat, and for this generous introduction and offering these wonderful thought-provoking questions!
Watercolor is by far the most challenging of these different creative processes. The watery nature of the medium has a life of its own, as water does. Consider the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, what a powerful force the water moving through the canyon was and still is! One of my most beloved painting teachers referred to the process of watercolor as a ‘controlled emergency’. In contrast, creating books and board games offers endless opportunities for revision and refinement with the luxury of time. The trick then is to know when good is truly good enough.
Another difference between painting vs. books/games is, while there may be collaboration on the front end of a painting (for example, if the painting is for someone else’s project/home) ultimately the execution of it is a solitary experience, which is especially nourishing for an introvert like me.
Designing games and creating children’s books calls for much more of a social experience throughout the design process. An artist can look at her painting and decide if it’s moving, beautiful, funny, or whatever she might be intending to express, but for a game or a book to be fully developed, we really need the participation and feedback from lots of other people! Games and books don’t have the luxury of appealing to just one or two, they need to find their niche, if not a mass audience. Because my studio is in my home, it’s good to get out of the house now and then to playtest a game, or read a book to some children, and reconnect with the outside world.
In terms of the overlap between the different types of projects, I think it comes down to LOVE as the common denominator. Ultimately my intention for all my creative projects is to uplift and bring some joy, comfort, and/or inspiration to those who see, play or read them. Games bring people together, and hopefully they share a laugh or two in the course of a game.
Humor is a key ingredient in the games I’ve created and also co-created with Joyce Johnson. There is face-to-face human connection with board games, too, which is so important for our nervous systems in this digital age. Similarly, children’s books bring kids and adults together, to experience something together that offers closeness, even physical contact, and a feeling of safety. The book projects I’ve been involved in all are intended to bring comfort and healing to children and families facing challenging life situations.
For writing, you’ve focused on picture books. What is it about that genre that attracts you?
Children’s literature has always been my favorite, so full of magic and ‘anything goes’. Two of the children’s books I illustrated were written by my dear friend and author Janet Lucy. Being a part of that collaborative process, I learned a lot about the genre from many different angles. And truth be told, I think the brevity of a story in a children’s picture book works for how I like to be creative…in relatively short-cycled compact spurts. People like you who write novels are so amazing…that seems truly super-human to me.
I think everyone gets inspired by different things. Could you talk a little bit about how you transform an inspiration, how you go from idea to product?
The Little Blue Dragon, the children’s book which I recently wrote and illustrated, had a unique inspirational and creative trajectory. I was between projects and had become fascinated by the rock painting craze that was taking social media by storm. I found it deeply relaxing and enjoyable to wander along the beach where I live in Santa Barbara, in search of perfectly round, heart-shaped, or other interestingly-shaped stones to bring home and play with.
One day it occurred to me that I could make animal shapes by combining some of the different rocks I’d collected. The first rock animal I made was a baby dragon. At this particular time, our country had been besieged by multiple natural disasters that initially formed in the sky, and I thought a dragon that traverses the skies might be the perfect vehicle to tell a story to offer healing to children and families affected by these disasters, whether directly or indirectly. So the story begins with the little blue dragon getting separated from her mother in a hurricane.
One by one, the other animals that wanted to be part of the journey called to me to create them, too, and each character had its own special way of contributing to the storyline as they offered assistance to the little dragon, and that’s how the tale evolved, one character at a time. In the end, the story has a broader message for anyone facing unexpected upheaval in thier life. By the way, I just found out today that The Little Blue Dragon was chosen as the Book of the Year for 2019 by Creative Child Magazine! I’m blown away (to use a windy metaphor)!
For many creators that I’ve spoken with, juggling projects is a significant challenge. It’s more than just a time management problem. It’s also about focus and mind space. It’s hard for me to write, for example, when my head is spinning with all my other obligations. With everything that you do, how do you manage to not only find the time to create, but to clear your mind and focus on it?
Well, for starters, my sons are all grown up! You will be amazed, Pat, when you find yourself at that juncture, and how much easier it is to stay focused! 🙂 Right now we have two puppies, one is a year old and the other three months, and I am finding it really challenging to be productive. That being said, and it may sound cliche, but eating right, getting enough sleep and doing yoga and meditating really helps with focus, but throw a couple kids or puppies into the mix and all bets are off, hahaha.
One of my favorite things about writing books is interacting with readers. How about you? Do you have any fun stories about interacting with a reader?
One that comes to mind as the most poignant interaction with readers occurred after the Thomas Fire and the subsequent mudslides in our area. We had donated copies of The Three Sunflowers to our local elementary schools to help the children cope with the fear and loss. Several months later we were invited to visit one of the classrooms at a school that had lost a child in the tragedy…that was deeply meaningful. And we were astonished to talk with the kids and see how much they remembered, not only about the story, but the message of the story and what it meant to them…that was so amazing and touching.
The last question is always the same question. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on now? Anything exciting in the pipeline?
Yes! Mermaid Dreams, my latest collaboration with author Janet Lucy and Seven Seas Press, was just released this week! And the timing is poignant and fortuitous, given the recent bruhaha about a black Ariel in the upcoming Disney live-action remake.
Mermaid Dreams is the story of a little girl who dreams of being a mermaid, but is afraid of the ocean and has nightmares about it. She is visited in a dream by the Ocean Goddess, Yemaya, and is ultimately able to conquer her fear. Yemaya is the orginal mermaid, an integral part of the Yoruba people’s creation mythology in West Africa. Mermaid Dreams is a beautiful lyrical, poetic story that weaves in family traditions and this mythology. We are all very excited to see Yemaya’s legend illuminated, especially at this time!
My intention for the next children’s book I write is for it to be comedic, along the lines of the brilliant Wonky Donkey, if I might humbly aspire to the genius of Craig Smith. We can all use a good laugh, right? Both adults and kids. Laughter is so healing!
I hope my words will inspire your readers to let their imagination carry them into creating something unique to offer our world, if they aren’t already! I believe being creative is our birthright as humans, and my wish is for everyone to get to experience the joy and evolution the creative process offers!
Pat, thank you again, so much, for inviting me into this conversation!
Thank you, Colleen!
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