Bethanie Deeney Murguia, author and illustrator of the very funny and recently released picture book Do You Believe in Unicorns? was so nice to answer my questions about creativity and creating picture books.
I am grateful to her for taking the time to talk with me about how she nourishes her creativity, what she would tell her past self about being creative, and some great book recommendations! Her answers are affirming, inspiring, and practical.
Please enjoy! I love her responses! I think you will, too!
What did you love about making Do You Believe in Unicorns?
I loved creating the images. The book is about a character that could be a unicorn. The images in the book are ambiguous. On some pages, the character is wearing a hat. On others, the character is placed in such a way that it could have a horn…or perhaps, it’s just in front of a building’s spire.
As an illustrator, I was taught to make images that are very clear and unambiguous. That’s generally the goal of visual communication! But there’s something so fun and compelling about images that deliberately don’t tell the whole story. They require the reader to look for clues and to use their own experiences and beliefs to parse what they’re seeing.
I think this feels more like real life than perfectly composed, unambiguous images. A person might catch a glimpse of an animal and decide that they saw a mountain lion. But (most likely), that animal isn’t going to sit there posing until the person is 100% certain. We bring our own beliefs to what we experience in the world. And, to take that a step further, I’d like to think that by believing in magic and looking for magic, we’re more likely to find it.
What is it about writing and creating for children that calls to you?
Children are generally very willing to suspend disbelief and join me in the worlds of my books. They’re really great travel companions.
As a creative person, what do you find nourishes your creativity? (How do you keep that part of yourself filled?)
Some combination of hiking, daily drawing, meditation, and interacting with other creative people tends to keep me inspired. But, I don’t have a magic formula. What worked last week may not work today.
On a related note, I did a lot of experimenting with process and style for a few years. There were new methods and messes all over the studio—collage, photography, cut paper, and so on. Now, I find the pendulum swinging in the other direction—I’m really enjoying the simplicity of drawing. I suppose it boils down to trusting your instincts and following where they lead.
Do you have any advice for your past self on being creative? (Just in case time travel becomes a thing and your past self is reading this.)
There’s no substitute for persistence—doing the work is what matters.
Tell me about picture books you loved as a child. Do you remember why? What it was about them that drew you in? When was the last time you read it?
I still have my childhood collection of Four Frogs in a Box (Mercer Mayer). They’re tiny books about a boy, his dog, and their interactions with a frog. They’re wordless, and I remember wanting to explore that world of trees and streams and to befriend the frog who always outsmarted the other two. Fun fact—my dog now looks just like the dog in the books. Coincidence? Or did those books shape my idea of canine perfection?
What was the last picture book you read and enjoyed? What was it about that picture book that impressed you?
You Belong Here by M.H. Clark, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. The images are quite beautiful. And I just adore the message of the book. To me, it says that each of us has our purpose and reason for being here. It’s comforting and affirming without being saccharine. I read it to my daughters whenever I want to remind them that each of us has a place in this world.
Have you read a graphic novel/comic book lately? Anything you recommend?
I’m a big fan of Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared—heartbreaking, poignant, and very funny all at the same time. And her art is fantastic.
How can people learn more about you and your work?
There are a few ways:
Thanks for having me!
Thank you so much for writing such great books and for taking the time to talk with me!