Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your pop-up book, Beyond the Sixth Extinction, through Candlewick Studio! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Shawn Sheehy: Thanks! Beyond the Sixth Extinction shows a slice of life on this planet in the fifth millennium. The year is 4847, and the Earth's sixth big extinction event is winding down. You'll recall that it was the fifth extinction, caused by a meteor strike, when we lost the dinosaurs. Most of Earth's species have gone extinct, leaving lots of room for other creatures to spread out, claim new niches, develop new habits, and... evolve! I describe eight of these newly-evolved creatures, and show how they live together in this new ecosystem. It's a chilling book, for sure, but there are bright spots. For example, each one of the creatures is a bioremediator: meaning, each plays some part in restoring health to a ravaged world. Each of the creatures is shown both as a full-spread pop-up (by me), and also in gorgeous illustration (by Jordi Solano).
Inspiration came after reading The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin. I've always been interested in the outside world, and I spent several years in my 20s teaching environmental programs to school children at a YMCA camp. But it wasn't until I read this book that I understood the scope of the current extinction. Because we have lots of discussion around climate change these days, people tend to think that this extinction event is connected with modern humans. The sixth extinction actually began 10,000 years ago! When the first humans began spreading out over the planet, one of the first things they did was hunt all of the megafauna—saber-toothed tigers, giant sloths, mammoths— to extinction. And it has only escalated since.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in designing the book, and what have been some of your creative influences? Likewise, what can you tell us about your shared creative process in working with Jordi Solano?
SS: I first started working on this concept about 14 years ago, and I was developing it as an artist book. I wanted to create lush sculptural objects—in form, at least, if not in color. I was very interested in creating segmented bodies--like the rex roach, the mudmop and the peteybug. I liked the detailing that came with the joints, and I also liked how the segmentation gave some fluid motion to the creature when it pops up. The book is a field guide from the future, and I wanted to focus on the forms, so I reduced the color palette to just 9 colors. You can see that minimal use of color in the pop-up spreads in Candlewick's edition. Thankfully, Jordi had free reign, even while he was working to match my work in tone and range. Usually a paper engineer needs to be clever about building a pop-up, making it as interesting as possible while still making the production affordable. I didn't have this limit, initially, and as a result I felt I could better explore possibilities. Hands-down, my biggest creative influences—for the engineer—are Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. They were responsible for re-introducing the deluxe pop-up to the American market in the late 1990s, and they worked hard to build the biggest, most spectacular, most animated pop-ups possible.
I love Jordi's illustrations! I have actually never communicated with him directly! In order to maintain a consistent vision for this complicated book, our art director at Candlewick was the go-between for all of our communications. That being said, there were many drawing, chips, and ideas passed back and forth through our art director as we worked. She was terrific at bringing out the best in both of us, and fusing our very different contributions into a cohesive whole.
BD: In addition to your work on this book, you teach workshops throughout the country to creators interested in utilizing the pop-up book format. What can you tell us about your experience in sharing this process with other creators?
SS: The great majority of people who take my workshops are beginners. Some are interested in introducing pop-up structures into their artist books, some have an idea for a pop-up book that they would like to bring to market, some have just always loved pop-ups and are looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon! Occasionally, I will work with someone who already has paper engineering skills and is looking to expand their repertoire. I must say I love to teach this material, and I take great pleasure in meeting the people who share my enthusiasm. Folks will talk about how teaching something helped them to understand it better, and the same is certainly true for me.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
SS: Before Beyond the Sixth Extinction, Candlewick published my artist book, Welcome to the Neighborwood. In both of these books, as well as all of my other artist books, ecology plays a major role. I'm interested in the creatures of the wild world, and I'm deeply interested in their systems. I love that many people are working to instill this same sort of interest in their children, and that for the past several decades we as Westerners have been doing a better job at this. I work to add my voice to a general environmentalist movement, and I hope that parents and educators see some value in using my books as teaching tools. AND, I hope that people have fun playing with them!
BD: What makes Candlewick Studio the perfect home for Beyond the Sixth Extinction?
SS: As mentioned in [a previous response], this is my second project with Candlewick. I can't say enough about how much I enjoy working with the people there. Candlewick is invested in providing quality literature for children. Candlewick has been astonishingly supportive of my work and my vision and is committed to a collaborative process. They showed extraordinary nerve in deciding to publish "Beyond the Sixth Extinction"--it's a complex project, not at all a standard narrative, it's neither cute nor pretty, nor is it something that will necessarily leave you feeling good about the world when you are done reading it. I feel very lucky to be working with them.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
SS: I recently released my latest artist book project called Fresh Cut Xmas: A Well-Trimmed Survey of Holiday Plants. My last three artist books—including Fresh Cut Xmas—have been a little more on the heady side, so I'm looking forward to the lighter, more playful project I'm currently cooking up. Details to come soon! I'm also developing a couple of new workshops that I'll be teaching next year. Stay tuned on that one, as well.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Beyond the Sixth Extinction?
SS: You can see a spectacular promotional video of Candlewick's version of Beyond the Sixth Extinction here.
This YouTube page also features promotional videos for "Welcome to the Neighborwood," "Fresh Cut Xmas," and one of my workshops.
You can see the original artist book version of Beyond the Sixth Extinction here.
You can visit Candlewick's web catalog for a full run-down on the project.