C.R.E.A.T.E. with Dev Petty

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The C.R.E.A.T.E Series is a look behind the curtain at what inspires and motivates children's authors and illustrators. We'll take a peek at their creative spaces, learn about any unique writing or drawing habits, and examine how they carve out time in the day for creativity.

Today we're featuring Dev Petty, the author of such picture books as I Don't Want To Be A Frog, Claymates, and the forthcoming The Bear Must Go On (Feb 11, 2020). Dev came from a creative field as a texture painter, doing visual effects work for films (like The Matrix). But now that she's fully entrenched in the picture book world, it seemed like a good time to hear about her creative process and how she feels that thinking is almost more important than sitting down and writing.

Dev:  There wasn’t a lot of crossover [with my job] because I started writing pretty late. By the time [I wrote my first book] I was taking care of a kid full time and mostly teaching visual effects. I’m pretty motivated when I decide there’s something I’m into, so for me that really took the form writing and writing a lot.

"l think a lot more than I write. I actually spend very little time writing. I just think on something and I think on it every which way."


"I swear every time I bump into the turkeys I have a good day of writing. It’s really the oddest thing."

Dev:  I spend a lot of time on our deck just thinking. We are blessed with perhaps the best weather on earth and I love where I live. I also talk to my husband a lot and he’s really great at like saying one word and I’m like "ah, quiet, I know now what I must do." Writing wise, I’ll write anywhere, any time. I’m not fussy.

Dev:  I was a weird Berkeley kid. I get inspired by taking an idea and trying to go just a little deeper. Not deep like tears, but questions, like why are things the way they are? Claymates was the most ME project ever. This idea that parents and teachers and society are always trying to shape you...we’re molding [kids] into what we want, perfect owls or perfect wolves or whatever, but there is a deep part of being alive, which is that you’re going to evolve and play with that and screw up. And no matter how many hands are in the kitchen, you are you. For me, it’s a takeaway I probably don’t talk about much with kids, but I do talk about it with adults and about letting kids play and just figure it out and not tinker so much.


Dev:  Every writer, when they haven’t sold a book for a while, starts to get the panic and they press. Almost without fail, when I press, it doesn’t end up so good. For me it’s really a thinking thing. Usually I have three to four ideas at a time and I roll over them until one has more legs than the other. I wouldn’t say I don’t work at it, I just think I work differently.

Dev:  If I’m not feeling it, I’ll close [my laptop]. I don’t bang my head against writing. The advice I give to people that I talk to is don’t rush to get right onto the page because then you just end up arranging words. That’s not really the point. If I’m not feeling it, I probably shouldn’t be doing it.

Dev:  People learn to find their own thing that gets them going. For me, picture books are so challenging and such a cool medium. They really are like little paper movies. They’re like nothing else. The sheer challenge of trying to take something that is an idea and put it in this art form. . . it’s almost like a weird heart racing, insatiable, bananas quest to get it into a picture book form. For me it’s just about that. 

"For me, it feels like breathing. I love to try and take a story and put it in to picture book form."

Dev Petty and Her Books

Videos by children's book author & video producer Brian Gonsar.


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