With the recent publication of their fourth book together, we asked Free Spirit author-illustrator duo, Erin Frankel and Paula Heaphy, what it was like to work together. While these college roommates have shared many wonderful friendship moments over the years, they describe their collaboration as much more than a moment. It has been a friendship experience that they wouldn’t trade for the world. In honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, they reflect on how they got started and look back at some of the emails that set the stage for their journey together as co-creators of Weird!, Dare!, Tough!, and Nobody! The following spotlight was recently published in our newsletter, Upbeat News. Click here to subscribe.
Every once in a while, something happens that you know was meant to be. Somehow the stars seem to align at just the right time. It’s magic. And when you catch your breath for a moment, when you look up at the stars, you wonder how it all came to be. How did we get to this place?
In looking back on our creative journey, we realize that it was heart, soul, and hard work that got us where we are. In our case, there was one extra special ingredient that put the finishing touch on our collaboration success: friendship. We discovered that picture books take time, dedication, determination, perseverance—and belief. Belief that what you are doing can make a difference. Belief that there is one special person who is meant to tell that story with you. Belief that stories can wait patiently while our own stories unfold (a story that longs to be told will find its way). And, belief that as ideas grow, we grow.
Looking back at our first emails about the books, you can see how excitement and vulnerability were intertwined as we found our way together as partners. We gave each other the space to gracefully decline other’s first attempts at story or art—a space that was quickly filled with encouragement and gratitude. We didn’t know then that these stories would hold us together at moments when things seemed to be falling apart. We didn’t know if we could pull it off. We didn’t know if there would be enough hours in the day. We didn’t know if anyone would like what we had created. But we did know that we wanted to take a chance on each other and create something that could make a difference.
We knew that publishers weren’t likely to take us on as a team—most prefer to match writers with illustrators. But we stuck together, and we worked to stand out by creating characters who stand out. We created something authentic because we were authentic in our mission to help children, and we were fortunate to find a publisher with the same authenticity. Maybe it isn’t just magic. Our hearts were in the right place. And when your heart is in the right place, anything is possible!
Here is an early email exchange that shows us tiptoeing our way into collaboration:
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Paula, you will not hurt my feelings if you find that the manuscript doesn’t speak to you. I know as an artist that that is extremely important. I also know that you are doing a hundred things right now so you can be upfront with me if the timing isn’t right.
Give it a think.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I love it, Erin! I am going to start researching right away . . . look for style inspiration. It’s very exciting, I’ve always wanted to work on a project like this. I think it’s so great that you came up with this with your girls. It’s amazing . . . and sends such a great message.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
I am attaching a simple line drawing of the little girl that spoke to me the most. Of all the sketches she just felt right to me . . . just imagine her very colorful. Please let me know what you think . . . don’t feel bad about saying she is totally off base or anything. You can be super honest, I am used to constructive criticism! Don’t mind the boots, I just threw them on for fun. She can wear anything . . .
Saturday, February 14, 2009
You are soooooooo talented! Luisa is wonderful. Today, February 14th, is her birthday. Luisa is born. Don’t lose the boots—I think they give her a quirky feel and can picture them with polka dots!
We think that last email sums up collaboration for us. Don’t lose the boots! Take risks, be original, be colorful, be kind, and most of all, stick together and never give up!
Erin Frankel has a master’s degree in English education and is passionate about parenting, teaching, and writing. She taught ESL in Madrid, Spain, before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her family. Erin knows firsthand what it feels like to be bullied, and she hopes her stories will help children stay true to who they are and help put an end to bullying. She and Paula believe in the power of kindness and are grateful to be able to spread that message through their work. In her free time, you’ll find Erin hiking in the woods with her family and doggie, Bella, or getting some words down on paper wherever and whenever she can.
Paula Heaphy is a print and pattern designer in the fashion industry. She’s an explorer of all artistic mediums from glassblowing to shoemaking, but her biggest love is drawing. She jumped at the chance to illustrate Erin’s stories, having been bullied herself as a child. As the characters came to life on paper, Paula felt her path in life suddenly shift into focus. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she hopes to use her creativity to light up the hearts of children for years to come.
Free Spirit books by Erin and Paula:
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