Polka Dots and Book Design: How a Clever Board Book Was Conceptualized, Featuring Artist Morissa Rubin (+ a Giveaway)

Please welcome graphic designer and author/illustrator Morissa Rubin to Frog on a Blog. I absolutely love her clever new board book Dot, Dot, Polka Dot, which features colorful and fun patterns from around the world. Her eye-catching style is so unique, and the illustrations in this book are super engaging and are sure to delight your little ones as they explore 12 different patterns, from the familiar diamond shapes of argyle to the fish-like triangles of Uroko. I wanted to learn how Dot, Dot, Polka Dot was created, so I invited Morissa to give us a close-up look at her process when she designed the book. Let’s take a look!

Dot, Dot, Polka Dot is a concept board book that explores all the different types of fabric patterns found in the patchwork of a child’s quilt. Unlike narrative books that have a built-in storyline, concept books often rely on word and visual structure to carry the story forward.

Dot, Dot, Polka Dot literally came about as I aimlessly dabbed my brush on a page. As multiple dots appeared I mused to myself “dot, dot” and then “dot, dot, polka dot”. From there I thought about making other patterns with loosely painted brush strokes: stripes, plaid, calico, paisley and argyle. It was a then editor at POW! Kids Books, Jordan Nielson, who later encouraged me to explore additional patterns from around the world. Kente cloth, Molas, Batiks and Uroko triangles along with tie-dye were added in a later round of revisions.

The short phrase-like description of the first couple of patterns became the structure for the words throughout the book. The idea that these different patterns could come together to form a quilt only came after I had spent time making and looking at the different patterns. Once I had the quilt idea, I realized that as each pattern was introduced, it’s swatch could be displayed on the next spread, alongside the previously introduced pattern swatches. The repeated swatches helped connect the separate patterns and serve as an inventory of all of the patterns introduced. They help to introduce the moment when the swatches come together to make a quilt. I used a mix of gauche paint and digital tools to create the patterns, assemble pieces, and layer and mix the images.

Thanks for sharing, Morissa! I really like the clever way you were able to “join” all of the different patterns together from page to page, leading so beautifully to the incredible quilt, featuring every pattern, at the end. Folks, this book would make a great gift at holiday time or any time!


Morissa is generously offering a copy of her book Dot, Dot, Polka Dot to one lucky person! All you have to do for a chance to win is leave a comment on this post by December 10th. I’ll choose a winner at random and connect them with Morissa. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.

Morissa Rubin is a graphic designer. Her work has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sacramento Advertising Club, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and Graphic Design USA. She received her BFA in graphic design from the Rhode Island School of Design and her MS from MIT’s Visible Language Workshop. She lives in Sacramento, California where she teaches typography and other design courses at UC Davis and Sacramento State University. You can follow her work on Instagram at @morissa.s.childrensbooks.

Regan Macaulay Likes To Work Collaboratively

Please welcome Regan Macaulay! Regan is the author of several children’s picture books. Her latest Libby the Lobivia Jajoiana is officially out today! Isn’t that cover adorable?! Happy Book Birthday Regan and Libby!

“This childrenʼs picture book is about Libby, a lonely cactus plant who has trouble believing in herself. However, when lovely, confident Violet moves in next to her on the windowsill, Libby learns that the things that make her different also make her special.”

I really like how this book features a cactus and a violet plant. Growing up, we had tons of plants on our windowsills. My grandma had a cactus that lived for years and years, and my mom always had violet plants. It makes me smile to think the plants may have been friends like Libby and Violet. 🙂

But enough about me; I want to hear from Regan. She’s stopped by today to talk a little about the collaborative partnership she’s had with each of her illustrators. Take it away, Regan!

I love what I do, which is writing. In particular, writing for children as it brings with it specific rewards for which I am so grateful.

Working on picture storybooks over many years and now starting to see those works published in the last five, it got me thinking about what’s special about writing these short, most concise stories, where the text shares the storytelling effort with the images on each page.

What’s stimulating for me about working in the picture book category is that, since I do not have the patience to do the artwork myself, I always have a partner helping me tell the tale. So far, I’ve had the privilege of working with four gifted illustrators on five – soon to be six, then next year, seven – picture books. 

Alex Zgud worked her magic through water colour on Beverlee Beaz the Brown BurmeseSloth the Lazy Dragon, and Merry Myrrh, the Christmas Bat. We traded my storyboards for scanned sketches and paintings via email over many months on each work.  

Wei Lu works digitally, but her styles for Mixter Twizzle’s Breakfast (a sort of anime look) and upcoming picture book Dog Band (water colour, but via computer) are strikingly different, though always brilliantly colourful in the life she brings to my characters.

I’ve actually never met Javier Duarte, who works as a freelancer through Mirror Publishing. I merely sent my storyboard ideas for each page of Tamara Turtle’s Life So Far and he sent back the fully formed illustrations (black and white first, then colour once confirmed or tweaked if I had notes), ready for the next step in the publishing process!

Now, with Libby the Lobivia Jajoiana, released by Mirror World Publishing (note that this is a different publisher than Mirror Publishing), I have been blessed with a truly unique collaborative experience I will never forget. For many reasons – the search for the right publisher, then a change in publishers, as well as the technically involved artistic process of our new illustrator, Gordon Bagshaw – Libby has been years in the making. I worked with a co-writer, my husband, Kevin Risk. Our publisher, Justine Alley Dowsett, was even more closely involved than she usually is with the completion of the book over the last year or more. And Gord constructed a 360 degree digital “set” – the kitchen, in which most of the story takes place – in minute detail and with breathtaking art that straddles the line between photorealistic and fantastical illustration with digital painting.

Once Kevin and I had the manuscript vetted over several years by several different sources, including editors, publishers, educators, and parents and their children…after revisions galore…we were able to watch and participate in Gord’s step-by-step illustrating process, as if we were leaning over his shoulder. Yet Gord, though Canadian, lives in Sao Paolo and Kevin and I are both in Toronto, Ontario, and when Justine joined the process, she did so from Windsor, Ontario.

What a fabulous age to live in if you are creative, even in these uncertain and often scary times. We can reach across the miles and work with anyone anywhere in the world!  And with this recent book project, Libby, it often felt a little bit like shooting a film (and filmmaking is a part of my background as well). Gord carefully chose angles for each “shot” or page from any vantage point in that kitchen set, and was able to place the characters in their performance space and let them catch their light. Then he was able to show us every stage – from rough and unrendered to the final version ready for printing.

It seems to me there are many ways to tackle putting together a picture storybook, but one constant for me is the need to work collaboratively, even more so than you would on a typical novel. This is something I recommend writers of children’s literature become accustomed to, but I also think most writers will find it a fun, supportive and inspiring process.

Regan W. H. Macaulay writes novels, short stories, children’s literature, and scripts. Writing is her passion, but she’s also a producer and director of theatre, film, and television. She is an animal-enthusiast as well, which led her to become a Certified Canine and Feline Massage Therapist. Other picture storybooks include Sloth the Lazy Dragon, Tamara Turtle’s Life So Far, Mixter Twizzle’s Breakfast, Merry Myrrh the Christmas Bat, and Beverlee Beaz the Brown Burmese. She is also the author of The Trilogy of Horrifically Half-baked Ham, which includes Space Zombies! (based on her film, Space Zombies: 13 Months of Brain-Spinning Mayhem!—available on iTunes and on DVD), They Suck, and Horror at Terror Creek.