An interview with Nancy Coffelt, author and illustrator of The Big Eclipse
Nancy Coffelt talks about her art, her favorite books, smiley dogs, the first eclipse she ever saw, and the neatest space thing she’s ever done.
What was the first thing you ever drew and how old were you? I drew a stick person when I was three years old.
What is your favorite animal to draw and why? I like to draw dogs. They smile and so you can draw smiley dogs.
Do you have pets? I have a dog named Twig. He’s pretty smiley except when he’s barking at the mailman.
What’s the biggest piece of art that you’ve ever created? This summer, I finished a piece that is 4 feet tall and 12 feet wide. In it, chefs are at the beach, trying to catch all the fish and lobsters they can for dinner.
What art supplies do use to get the colorful and textured effects in your drawing? I like to use oil pastel sticks on paper that has “tooth”. Not actual teeth! Paper with tooth means it has a rough surface that can hold the oil pastel color in place.
How long did it take you to illustrate and write The Big Eclipse? It took about four months to complete The Big Eclipse book. First, I did a lot of reading about eclipses to learn all about them. Then, I sketched out ideas and wrote an outline of the text. I sent it to an editor who made corrections. Then, I made changes and sent the draft to the editor again. This time, not only did the editor look at the draft, so did a number of eclipse experts. They made sure the facts in The Big Eclipse were 100% correct. After everyone gave their OK, only then I did I do the final art.
When you’re not writing and drawing, what do you like to do? I like to ride my bike and go for hikes. I take care of the garden that I planted just for bees. The garden is full of flowers – and bees!
Have you ever been stung by a bee? Not in my garden. I got a bee sting on a bike ride the other day when a bee got stuck in my bike helmet. I would sting someone, too, if I got stuck in their helmet!
What was your favorite book when you were a child? My favorite books were Black Beauty by Ann Sewell, and a Wrinkle in Time by Madeline l’Engle. I read every book in the library that was about horses, including all of the Marguerite Henry books.
Who is your favorite illustrator? Maurice Sendak.
If you could spend an afternoon painting with someone, who would it be… and why? Vincent Van Gogh. He liked bright colors and he liked to paint outside.
Are you famous? My mother thinks I am.
Where did you grow up? Tigard, Oregon.
Have you seen a total solar eclipse? I saw a solar eclipse when I was in high school. I was all alone in a field by my house. The sky got really dark, the birds and insects became very, very quiet. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
What is a weird fact about you? Here are two: 1) I don’t like to wear socks. 2) I have never eaten a peanut butter sandwich.
What were your favorite subjects in school? Art and science.
What’s the neatest space thing that you’ve ever done? When I was writing Dogs in Space: The Great Space Doghouse, I got to see and touch a replica of the Space Shuttle at Johnson Space Center in Houston. On the same visit, I also got to see astronauts practicing for a Hubble telescope repair mission in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, which is a huge swimming pool.
Where will you be on the day of The Big Eclipse? On the day of the total solar eclipse, I’ll be four miles from Baker City, Oregon, where I live, at a place called Virtue Flat. It’s a big, flat field covered with sagebrush. There are lots of bunnies hopping around.