Working with Morgan Owens on Hey, Baby, Look! was an amazing gift and a remarkable experience. He possesses so many admirable qualities as an artistic person and creative partner, and I’m surely in the “raving fan” category when it comes to the work he did for this book; hence, this blog-post. The application of neuroscience and academic research underpinning Hey, Baby, Look! make it conceptually solid. The rhyme and cadence and linguistic simplicity create the space for some incredible bonding and learning. This is all well and good, but Morgan is the one who made it all come to life! So what made him so amazing? At least six fundamental things.
1. Practiced talent. Long before I met him, Morgan Owens had far surpassed Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours toward becoming highly skilled in illustration, and it showed. I saw him draw this little guy in a a handful of minutes.
Cityscapes, animal portraiture, flowers, cartoons—from the complex, to the sophisticatedly simple—he could do it all! He has talent. A ton of it.
2. Confidence without ego. In a way that I admired and sort of envied, he was able to accept feedback and criticism of his work without ever taking it personally. “You don’t like the dog,” he said to me once, “that’s okay. That’s not about me, it’s about the dog. You have the vision. Speak what you want to see, and I’ll recreate it.” And he did. Every. Single. Time.
3. A thought leader. Sometimes he delivered things I didn’t even know I wanted. He anticipated the impact of the message and often led the illustrative conversation by showing me, rather than telling me, how things could be done differently. For example, on the final page of the book, there are four colorful pictures. Where there is currently a beautiful basket of fruit, I’d asked for a cornucopia. Morgan drew and delivered the most gorgeous cornucopia, just as I’d requested, but then he also presented the lovely basket. “I’m offering this up,” he explained,” as a more culturally ubiquitous and timeless understanding of food.” Sold. He was right and the basket went to print. In hindsight, I’m so grateful for the times he lead with his soft courage and gentle but confident guidance.
4. Prompt communication. You’d think that this one would go without saying, but it is a changing world, and not everyone is courteous or considerate of another’s time or timelines. As with any consummate professionals, the communication on this book felt seamless—fun, collegial, productive, efficient, effective, highly respectful, and easy.
5. Mind reader. Okay, so while perhaps not an actual reader of minds, Morgan was extremely good at deciphering my literal and non-literal messaging and turning those conversations into shape and form. I think what belies this ability is his excellent communication skills. He didn’t always ask a million questions, but he did a lot of listening, and in some amazing way, he took what felt to me like “author babble,” and he turned it into the images in my head. That’s a remarkable gift, and it made my life so unbelievably easy.
6. Collaborative spirit. The creative process behind the build-out of the imagery seemed like a true give and take. Morgan really wanted me to be happy with each tile and seemed genuinely willing, without reservation, to change, modify, or scrap altogether an image he’d completed. There were countless style iterations of everything from cars, chairs, and dogs to forks, flamingos, and flowers. He tested shape, dimension, scale, scope, color, realism, everything! And the back-and-forth to produce the final book always felt like a partnership—that we had co-created something magical.
I’m looking forward to seeing him at the Midwest Book Awards (sponsored by the Midwest Independent Publishing Association) this Wednesday, May 13th. Hey, Baby, Look! has been named a finalist in three different categories—including for illustration. Fingers crossed. Good luck, Morgan Owens!