The Making of Maya

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maya_cover_lores_screenrgbMaya officially releases today!  It was written by Mahak Jain and is published by Owlkids. It is about the power of the stories we tell ourselves and how these stories shape the way we feel and see the world.


Jain and MacKay’s story and art work seamlessly to convey an important and subtle story of love, loss, beauty, and joy. (Picture book. 4-10)

TO PURCHASE: It is available at bookstores and online at Indigo , Amazon and Owl.

Illustration shop talk

This is by far the most challenging book I have ever worked on and so I thought I’d share that illustration process with you. There were times when I was working on this book that I really wondered how to move forward. I even threw away 2 sets.

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The first hurdle was to decide if I could even do this book. I have never been to India, where the book is set and my savings would never allow me to take a research trip like this! I reread and reread the manuscript, worried I would have to decline this beautiful story. Then I realized that most of the book is actually set in a dream world, and that is something I am very familiar with illustrating. I asked for Mahak’s help to understand the urban Indian setting she was remembering from her childhood and she created a Pinterest board for me filled with reference photos… cots, rooftops, rickshaws, birds, animals, and even pyjamas. It might be a surprise to know that authors and illustrators rarely get the chance to interact. This was a real treat. I used her reference photos quite a bit to figure out things as simple as the skyline. Alisa Baldwin the designer, was so helpful too in guiding me (thanks Alisa).


Once I realized that Maya takes place in different dimensions, I had to figure out the aesthetic for each. There is a real world, a story world and a dream world and at times they blend. How to make each world feel separate but united? This is what I decided on:

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The next challenge was the lighting. Some of the scenes were at night but I rely on light to create my works. The urban scenes were tricky. I found I could put light in the scene in more subtle ways. Here I used the light of the rickshaw to add some interest. These are a couple of process shots.

The dream world had challenging lighting too. It is at first a fearful place but then becomes filled with light and play. This progression was very tricky. I ended up taking photos of each dream scene with several different types of light. We then found the ones that worked best together. Here are 4 rough shots of the elephant to show some of the types of lighting I tried. There is one dream scene that I won’t share here for fear of giving away too much of the story but once you see it, you will understand why I spent so long trying to get it right. It involves shadows.

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These were the big hurdles but there were lots of other ones along the way too. How does anyone do justice to the feathers of a peacock? All in all though, I think it came out pretty well and Mahak is happy too (Yay!) It has gotten some great reviews and I am really proud to be a co-creator of it. I hope you will enjoy it too.

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This post has really been about the illustrations. Mahak can tell you about writing it. Mahak, Allsion MacLacklan and Jemicah Marasigan came to the studio and Jemicah put together this Video Trailer!

I really want to thank Karen Li and Karen Boersma for making books with challenging subject matter. Also, diverse books (without that being the focus of the book!).





I will be at the Gananoque Literary Festival April 29th – May 1st.  Come on out!

I will also be sharing my work at the Festival of Trees at Harbourfront Centre On May 17th and in Sault Ste. Marie on May 27th.

Thank you to all the schools who have invited me to give presentations! It has been loads of fun.



Beach Baby’s Birthday!

Yesterday I was out at a school visit in Brampton. It was a wonderful day of making art with kids. It was also the book birthday for Beach Baby!


Laurie Elmquist, illus. by Elly MacKay. Orca (Age 0-3)

From Publishers Weekly:

Beach Baby

Dreamy artwork and verse reassure readers who are headed to bed that “Everything will be here when you wake.” Debut author Elmquist’s writing seems to drift along the seashore as she lists small natural wonders: “Purple starfish/ The goose waddling up from the bay.” MacKay (Butterfly Park), once again working in dramatically lit dioramas, creates a string of gauzy, delicate scenes—the lower half of a seal’s body is obscured by a translucent rolling wave in one image, while a pale, pink moon snail, “a mystery,” almost seems to glow. Enchanting, engaging, and restful. Up to age 3.Illustrator’s agency: Bright Agency. (Apr.)

“MacKay’s…illustrations are dreamlike…This board book…captures the beauty of the ocean, and it would evoke pleasant memories when falling asleep. Recommended.” (CM Magazine 2016-01-19)
“This lovely introduction to a beach environment is a good read for naptime and evening sharing.” (School Library Journal 2016-03-01)
“A gentle and gorgeous book.” (Quill & Quire 2016-03-01)

Available at your local bookstore and online: AmazonIndigo

Laurie lives in BC but will be coming to Ontario in July, sooooooo…. We are going to have a Book Bash for Beach Baby on July 12th at Sauble Beach! It will be beside Casero at 3:30. Join us for a reading, craft and treats.

Thought you might be curious to see a couple images from our board book:

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In a few days Maya, written by Mahak Jain will be having a book birthday too!!



Thaumatropes & this and that.

Hello, hello! It has been so long since I last posted! Lots happening in the studio these days. I just got these back from the printer and am so excited I have to share them. I was flipping my business card when I thought… hmm… Thaumatropes are way more fun. I love Victorian paper toys. This is the first of my designs… Spring!

EllyMacKayThaumatrope from Elly MacKay on Vimeo.

In the Studio

This winter I have been working on outlines for 2 new books that will be out in 2017. It has been a really enjoyable process. I have also been working on some boxes for the solo show I will be having at the Longwood Centre in Virginia this summer. The show will run the whole summer and will include my photos, original dioramas, a large installation, sketches and an animation wheel (if I can get it working).

Right now I am making a series of Grimm boxes. Here is a peek at one of the scenes – Snow White and Rose Red meet the ungrateful dwarf while collecting kindling. My wonderful husband, Simon MacKay is making all of the boxes for me. They will be available for sale in November.

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Interior of one of several Grimm boxes for the upcoming show at the Longwood Centre in Virginia.

The Nightingale Award

Continue reading

The Forest of Reading 2016!

Butterfly Park is a nominee for the Blue Spruce Award in the Forest of Reading


Art Extensions: I have also put together some art activities for kids and teachers to do after reading Butterfly Park- Magnetic Butterflies and Balancing Butterflies. You can find them on my website


School Visits: I will be doing school visits through the Authors’ Booking Service. I will be in Toronto for the week of December 14th – 18th. Tuesday and Wednesday have been booked. I will also be in the Brampton area in the first week of March for visits to schools. Check for availability. I am happy to visit other areas of Ontario too. Please get in touch if your school would like to book a presentation.

Some New Work

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You can find these prints on my ETSY page.

Other News

Spotlight: I was so excited to see this lovely article this week in Quill & Quire by Dory Cerny – which features my book (Feeling so lucky.):

Kidlit spotlight: the golden age of Canadian picture books

You can read it here:

(On a side note – it also features the book Sidewalk Flowers by a former NSCAD classmate, Sydney Smith. Pick up a copy if you haven’t already. It just won the Governor General’s award. Some of the other contemporary Canadian authors and illustrators in the article include are François Thisdale, Jon Klassen, Cybèle Young (paper artist!), Julie Flett, Ashley Spires, Mélanie Watt, Jeremy Tankard, Cale Atkinson, Kate Beaton, Julie Morstad, and one of my very favourite authors, Sara O’Leary.)

Exquisite Corpse at Kinderlit: I’ve spent so many car trips making these with my kids. Have you ever made one before? The fine folks at Kinderlit host this fun activity. Check it out! 12045389_10153629891115196_7570944379430486743_o

Hope you have a great Hallowe’en! (We are so excited here that my little guy wore this to gymnastics.)

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Celebrating Literacy! Visits in and out of the Studio

Visit to Gravenhurst~  Tomorrow: Friday, August 7th, 2015! Celebrate Literacy.

I am so excited for this! It is going to be great fun.
My presentation is ALL AGES and FREE – no registration required! Offered by the Gravenhurst Library (2PM Opera House)
It is an interactive hour which will show kids how books are created, inspire them to write, illustrate and share their stories. I will bring my little theater and we will create a scene together. People will also have the chance to make a shadow puppet and see how they can use light and photography to create dynamic art.
See you there! 

More Info: Gravenhurst, ON – The Gravenhurst Public Library proudly presents children’s author and illustrator, Elly MacKay on Friday August 7th, with a special presentation in the Trillium Court of the Gravenhurst Opera House beginning at 2 p.m.


Studio Visit – Longwood Center for the Visual Arts:

I have been so fortunate to have the lovely Rachel Talent Ivers and Emily Grabiec from the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts visiting the studio this week. We had fun in the studio and exploring the area together. Here we are in front of the henge in Big Bay.

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They came to organize an exhibition in Virginia next Fall. It will correspond with the Virginia Children’s Book Festival. I will be creating an installation and exhibiting original shadow boxes and photographs. One of the pieces we will have there is my weather cabinet. Here is a shot of my studio with the cabinet. ( I took snapped a picture of the studio because for once, there weren’t any little paper pieces on the floor!) I also have to show you the shelves Simon has just built in the side room just off the studio. (Thanks Simon.)

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Other News:

My Etsy shop Theater Clouds will be on holiday for a week or so. It will reopen on August 17th. Use code FRIENDS for 15% off.

New Book! A Celebration of the Seasons

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I was so honored to be asked to create an image in this book – a collection of poems by Margaret Wise Brown. Above (right) is a detail of the image I created for the poem The Cherry Tree. I used cut paper and salt and photographed the image from above.

“Fluffy clouds, butterflies, furry bunnies, and life from a bug’s-eye view: This stunning sequel to the New York Times bestseller Goodnight Songs celebrates the beauty and wonder of nature all year long. Once again, a treasure trove of Margaret Wise Brown’s newly uncovered verses receives loving treatment from 12 award-winning artists, including Floyd Cooper, Peter Brown, David Small, Molly Idle, and Bob Staake. From a little bear singing one morning in May to a soft snowfall, mysterious, deep, and glowing, each song is magical. “

A starred review! 

Lastly – Summer Art Fun:

This is a fun activity we tried this summer that I have to pass on. I am not sure where I originally saw the idea (sorry) but when we had all sorts of bubble wrap around, it sprang to mind ~ Bubble Wrap Shoes. The kids loved it.

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  • Tape bubble wrap into shoes
  • Roll out large sheets of paper (outside)
  • We found rocks help to keep it from blowing around
  • Turn on the tunes
  • Squirt some paint and let the kids dance!
  • It is great to have a tarp and a bucket of water on the side if you don’t want your driveway to be a work of art too. 🙂
  • Use the finished paper as gift wrap (or like one neighbourhood dad, you can frame a huge section for behind your couch!)

Butterflies, Butterflies, Butterflies!!

My newest book is now out!

Saturday, June 6th
10-11 am *FLOWER PLANTING DOWNTOWN ~ Main Street – Scotia Bank Parkette (We have bulbs for the kids.)
11-12 am *READ ALOUD & CRAFT ~ Rocking Horse (Make a Balancing Butterfly)

Butterfly Park

To see more from the book visit
7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Butterfly Park is a book about change, friendship, community, home and of course butterflies. Available at your bookstore or online:
A Heather’s Pick at Indigo


“Centered on the park’s elaborate art nouveau gateway, MacKay’s lyrical paper collage and diorama constructs feature layered details and out-of-focus backgrounds for a sense of depth. Brightly patterned butterflies, delicate flowers, and human figures pose like gracefully off-balance dancers. . . . Worthy of theme and equally pleasing to the eye and the spirit.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“MacKay’s artwork recreates the feel and pleasure of Edwardian-era illustration…”
-Publishers Weekly

Elly MacKay constructs this story with delicate cut-paper illustrations, sets of photographed dioramas that glow with light. The settings are intricate—the Butterfly Park entrance gate is a thing of beauty—and MacKay’s sense of composition is spot-on. 

MacKay in in top form, and readers will delight in the mix of colours, textures, and perspectives she employs in creating the visual elements of this lovely book.
-Quill and Quire

 Other News

Shadow Chasers is 1 of 10 English books for the TD Summer Reading Program
Get your kids reading this summer!

I participated in my first Authors for Indies this year at the Curiosity House in Creemore. {Thank you so much for the invite Jenn!}

Maya for OwlKids is almost done… finishing touches.

Currently working on Book 4 with Running Press…. more on that to follow. 😉

I will be at the Celebrating Stories A Family Festival in Milton this October.


And a wonderful little girl from the USA sent Loretta and me a story she wrote based on FALL LEAVES but with the theme of spring.  Life is good!

A Family of Makers

This post is coming rather late, very late. Today is the last day of a show our family put on together. It is called Family Works and is at the Artists’ Coop in Owen Sound, Ontario. My Mom, Joan Irvine and my brother’s fiance, Christine Su are both paper artists as well. My Dad, Steve Irvine makes pottery and one of a kind ceramic pinhole cameras. And my husband, Simon MacKay is a woodworker and uses a combination of wood and concrete to make boxes. Some families play music together… when we get together we like to pull out the clay or paper, talk and drink tea. My kids love making things too.  Here are a few photos from the show.


Steve Irvine – pinhole camera


Simon MacKay – multilayered boxes in wood and concrete


Elly MacKay – Emily of New Moon cover, Anne of Windy Poplars cover and Anne of Avonlea cover (for Penguin Random House)


Christine Su – cut paper


Joan Irvine – cut paper, yupo paper – Pink Moon series


Christine Su – block prints


Steve Irvine – ceramic platters


Simon MacKay – layered boxes


A collaborative piece – the base of this was done by Simon MacKay, the top by Steve Irvine


Lily and her buddy at the opening.


Koen and his much bigger friend at the opening.


A close up of one of Joan Irvine’s Pink Moon series.


Good friends.

We are thankful for our family members that drove from London to join us, our supportive community and the Coop for hosting us. If you see anything in the show that you would like to own or give, let me know. We are happy to ship! There was a nice little article on our show too. One of the reasons I was so late in posting this is because I was working away on Butterfly Park. It is intricate work… oh, so many little flowers! It is now at the printer and will be out in the spring! Thanks Marlo and Francis of Running Press for all of the hard work you put into this book. 9enterpark