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Lizi Boyd’s Inside Outside is a lo-fi busybox of a book: sixteen wordless spreads of a child’s play and projects indoors and out, linked by the passing of the seasons and some simple die-cut windows. As much fun backwards as it is forwards, the book invites readers to imagine what they might make of its myriad images and opportunities for creativity.
Roger Sutton: How did this book come about?
Lizi Boyd: I have a little paper company, and a printer friend gave me a whole case of very heavy kraft paper. Usually when I’m working in my studio I take a break and try something I have never used. This time I chopped up the kraft paper and did a bunch of sketches in black and white paint. I hung them on a wall and didn’t do anything else. After a few weeks went by, I folded them and cut windows. Then suddenly there was this little character — inside he was doing something, and then outside he was sitting in a tree, or inside he was counting shoes, and outside he was at a bird feeder.
RS: How did you determine when a particular spread was done? Because I would guess there would be a temptation to always put in one more thing, but you wouldn’t want it to turn into Where’s Waldo.
LB: That’s when you say, “I’ve got to get up and go for a run with the dogs. I’m going to over-paint now. I have to stop.” My studio is surrounded by windows. Often I’ll prop the drawings up on my drawing table and go outside and look through the windows at them to see how I feel. There’s something about that process that allows the drawings to become their own pieces and lets me be objective.
RS: You are at a physical remove, so any instinct you have to touch something up is going to be delayed at least until you get back to the drawing board.
LB: It’s something about the object belonging to that space, and me removing myself from it.
RS: That is, of course, exactly what’s happening in the book.
RS: I like that you kept it simple. A lot of what we call “toy books,” simply because they have some kind of an extra-dimensional aspect to them, have lots of bells and whistles these days, because they can. And Inside Outside is really, really simple. Do you have any knowledge about kids reading this book for themselves?
LB: When the book came out, I did a little workshop at the local bookstore. I made big kraft paper cards with windows in them and I had the kids make their own Inside Outside. There were kids of all ages, and they stayed for an hour and a half. They couldn’t stop working. They all had their own ideas about what the inside-outside was. One boy kept wanting to reread the book; he kept going back and back and back and retelling the story. Another child gave all the characters names. That never even occurred to me. I love that he went to another place completely. And I love that this book has the possibility of really belonging to a child’s eye and a child’s story.
RS: I wonder how kids account for what happens between each two-page sequence. Because time passes away from what you’re depicting.
LB: Well, you know, kids have their own sense of time that’s very different from ours. Like summertime. Can you remember? It just felt like it went on and on and on.
RS: Time is very elastic to children, and, as you say, everything does seem to last longer. I think it’s because they have less to compare it to. I’m fifty-six, so I have fifty-five Christmases in my past. When you’re five, you’ve only had four of them. So they loom larger.
LB: Yes, and children’s sense of the magic of it is just unbelievable to watch. They light up. They just light up and go someplace else. I believe I still do that, even though I’m an old bird.
RS: Speaking of lighting up, I think there’s one incidence, maybe, of an electric light in this story, and there are no outlets to be found on any of the pages. Was it a conscious decision to keep it very low-tech?
LB: Yes and no. I mean, you’re not supposed to stick your fingers in those outlets. That probably went through my very subconscious mind.
RS: But you had no problem with leaving the child unattended with a pair of scissors on the table, I see!
LB: Yeah, I’m not that scared of scissors. Never was. Again, I didn’t deliberately do it. I didn’t consciously say, “Let’s not have any outlets.” They just seemed unnecessary as a design element, as a visual.
RS: This kid, whether it’s a boy or a girl, and I guess you could go either way depending on what you wanted, seems very self-sufficient in that little house. Nobody else is there, and he seems fine. It feels to me like you have a lot of trust in children.
LB: I do have a lot of trust in children, and I think we all need to have a lot of trust in them becoming their own people, giving them enough space to be creative, to have their own playtime. When my youngest son went to first grade, he used to come home and stand on his head on the couch and talk to himself for about forty-five minutes. He was decompressing, trying to unwind from being with twenty little people for the last seven hours.
RS: We’re always urging kids to do something. There’s something subversive about this book being so non-directive. There are no words. You can read the book backwards as well as forwards and it still makes complete sense. You can choose to pay attention to the birds, or the cat, or the child, or whatever you want. You’re not being told what to do. That’s a very freeing experience. How finished was this, if you compare what you submitted initially to your editor, Victoria Rock, with what I’m looking at now? How different is this book?
LB: It became layered and layered and layered when I went to the second set of sketches. I actually painted this book three different times. I did a hundred and ten paintings. At first it was black and white on kraft paper, and there was a publisher in New York who was interested but said, “There should be some color.” I was really afraid to add the color, that it would change the book, so I did it very slowly. Then I did another version, adding more color. But I wanted to be very careful about how I was using it. There’s a real arc of color in the book. It starts slowly, with a simple palette, and then it builds and builds and builds until the summer. You hit July and August and you have all the colors. Then it starts lowering down and down and down again.
RS: You initially created this book on the kraft paper. Can you tell me anything about the decision to keep it that way? Was there any push or temptation to go to, say, a glossy white?
LB: No. Victoria totally loved the kraft paper. I did have to buy a lot of different types because it wasn’t reproducing on the original paper I had chosen. So I went right to the Mohawk paper company and had them send me many, many samples of different papers, and I picked this one, which is straw. It reproduced beautifully.
RS: The use of that tactile-looking paper is really brilliant, because it encourages you to put your hands all over the book. The holes do the same thing. I’m sticking my finger through a hole right now, waving to the little boy. You’ve really embraced the book as a physical object.
LB: Yes, it is an object. Books we love are objects.
RS: Especially for little kids. Books are something they can drag around, chew on, throw up into the air. Did you think about page-turning as you worked?
LB: I didn’t really think about it, it just felt right. I did have to play with the colors, like that pale pink when you get to the fall. Pink is not really one of my colors, but with the oranges, it gives that feeling of letting go, that sort of melancholy fall feeling. So it was more about keeping track of the palette — the building up and letting go, down into the indigo-terra-cotta-white snow nights. In that way I did think about how the pages were turning, how they were moving, but color was driving that.
RS: What are you going to do next?
LB: I’m doing another book with Chronicle called Flashlight that I hope will come out next spring or next fall. It’s being done on a special paper, and it’ll also be die cut. A book of surprise. Again, a book of exploration. A book that will be wordless and will encourage a child to look and see and to discover and to be a part of it.
RS: Well, surprise and exploration are two things that really work in this one. Thanks for talking to me.
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