Today is a special day. I got to illustrate this book, and now it is in the world.
While I turn the pages of What If…, I remember making macaroni portraits in preschool. I remember decorating cookies for Christmas with my Mom. I remember sneaking out my paint set when I wasn’t supposed to and spilling paint on the carpet. The paint and easel were taken away from me for a while, but I was just as happy using my crayons instead. I remember eating French onion soup and drawing on placemats at my favorite restaurant with my Mema, with markers that she had just bought for me. And I remember other times, when I didn’t have those markers, I would just make mountains out of creamer cups, and portraits out of spaghetti and meatballs. I remember being lonely, and playing make believe. If I didn’t have friends to play with, I would line up my stuffed animals and perform for them. I sang all of their favorites. I would build pillow forts and Lego castles for us to live and dream in. We would run wild through the backyard, through bushes and trees, to another world where whatever we thought of was possible.
I remember creating my whole life, from childhood to adulthood. I’m so grateful to be able to create, and to encourage others to create. There were times in my life that I felt like my art was all I had. If life was too scary, I could create a beautiful world to escape into. If I felt silenced, I could cry out through my drawings. If I felt lost, I could paint something to give me hope. I have always felt the need to make something.
I also remember making friendships. Real ones. The kind that last a lifetime, no matter the time or distance apart. I remember making friends with Julia in college. We would take turns pointing at the sky or at our lunch and challenging each other to list what colors the other would use to paint it. When we weren’t making art side by side, we were talking about it. If we weren’t talking about art, we were dancing. This book is dedicated to her, and to my friend, Sarah Jane. She and I were studio mates for many years. We were each other’s support when our art or our lives fell apart. She has always been there to pick up my pencil when I threw it on the floor. When I was full of doubt, she gave me hugs, handed me that pencil, and led me back to my desk to say “yes, you can.” Julia and Sarah Jane have very different artistic styles than me, but we speak a common language. They understand the necessity to create.
And I remember making friends with someone through laughter and song, someone who would become one of the most important friends of my life, Samantha Berger. Today, I want to thank her for sharing this story with all of us, and for giving me this beautiful journey to run mad with in my studio. Her words and my pictures have come together to make this book, our song of resilience and creation, one of my most favorite things that I have ever created.
I’m still relatively new at making books, but so far, it’s been my experience that you don’t really realize or understand the depth of what you’re making until you’ve finished making it. Some say our book is about art. It is. But it’s about much more than that. Some say it’s about survival. It is. But it’s about much more than that too. It’s about being you. It’s about putting yourself into the world, even when it seems like the world doesn’t want you. When something precious is taken from you, which unfortunately is inevitable in this life, you are forced to ask yourself, “who am I now?” I find great comfort in Samantha’s words:
“If I had nothing, but still had my mind,
There’d always be stories to seek and to find.”
We all want and need our lives to mean something. Meanwhile, this world wants and needs you to put something good into it. What can you create to make it better? It doesn’t have to be art or words. Solutions come in many forms. It can be a program or a formula. It can be a building or a cake. It can be a cure, or a blanket, or a community. It can be a thought. It can be a kindness.
What If… you made something that changed the world for the better?
What If… everyone did?
For more information, resources, and to order, please visit my site.
For further reading about the making of What If…, check out our blog tour:
WHAT IF…We Told You the Story Behind the Story?
WHAT IF…Mike Curato Used Mixed Media to Make a Book?
WHAT IF…We Used Our Creativity to Overcome Obstacles?
WHAT IF…Two Best Friends Made a Book Together?
WHAT IF…We Revealed our New Book Trailer?