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Rachael Smith and the Journey of 'Pigeons in the Subway'

Welcome to the new post from the series 'Behind the Book Art'. We are proud to have worked with many talented artists, illustrators, photographers and graphic designers who create innovative multidimensional book art to accompany our stories. Rachael Smith is the artist behind our newest book 'Pigeons in the Subway' and talks to us about what it was like to be part of the collaborative book creation process.


1. Can you introduce yourself to our readers? I’m an artist and teacher at a Waldorf Inspired Early Childhood School in Fallbrook, California. I love to travel and have lived in many locations around the world, including Edinburgh, London, Singapore and Hong Kong. Most recently, I spent the summer in South Africa on Safari, the forests and nature preserves in Illinois and in the hills of Italy. I find inspiration in travel and nature and I love both the bustling city and the backyard garden. I love natural materials and making things out of silk, cotton, wool fiber, felt and thread. I’m drawn to storytelling, the beauty of language and the journey of the tale.

"I’m drawn to storytelling, the beauty of language and the journey of the tale."  

2. What was it like to work on ‘Pigeons in the Subway’ book? I loved working on the Pigeons in the Subway book. It was such a rewarding process. Researching pigeons, their development, flight patterns and behavior along with the research into subway lines and stations of New York was engaging and challenging. And working with Muthu, Vlada, Eira and Emilee was such fun. Early on in the process I visited the family in New York and we spent a day riding the subway. We talked about how they came up with the story and the characters in it. I walked the city with the family and got to feel a part of their lives and how they worked together to make the story and their books. It was exciting to be a part of this collaboration, sharing ideas and inspirations. I loved the way that the art would be inspired by ideas that the girls had - at one point near the end of the work - Emilee pointed out there were no other animals in the pictures and that there should be. We then had the joy of figuring out where to put a little rat in one of the panels so that we could incorporate this idea. I did the majority of the work on the book during the summer and my niece and nephew would visit me while I worked, joining me in creating art and making their own stories, and commenting on my work. I loved having children and their ideas and insights as a part of the process.

Rachael Smith and one of her detailed artworks for the book

3. Can you tell us more about the art you created? Do you have a favorite character among the pigeon family? The art was a combination of needle felting, embroidery, and silk. The felt panels of the pigeon family and the subways were all needle felted and embroidered. For the Muthu family - the storytellers - I made Waldorf style silk marionettes. Early on we were searching for a way to illustrate the story with various handwork methods. We went through all sorts of ideas on our way, before settling on this combination. Needle felting allowed me to find the characters of the birds and the people in the stations. The embroidery technique allowed me to highlight the textural details, the tiles of the subways, the columns, and the signs. I’m not sure if I have a favorite character in the pigeon family. Sometimes, I think I do. I feel like I love the explorer searching out lost tunnels and stations but also the observer trying to notice all the details. In the story, the children try to identify with one or another of the pigeons but the father says they are all a part of each other - the fabric of the story - the explorer, the observer, the counter, the collector, are all a part of everyone. In the end, this is how I feel. I am connected to the whole family and even the passengers on the platforms and trains had life and stories that I felt as I made them. The subway stations themselves were also a favorite character, each tile and column unique to the feeling of that station.

Have a look at how some scenes from our daily life compare to the colorful artworks for the book

4. What is your view on creating books through collaborations between parents and children? I am an early childhood teacher and a lot of my work is collaboration between parents and children so this process felt like a continuation of that. I loved the process of seeing the family work together and having each member contribute a different idea or thought. I was completely included in the process and loved being a part of everything.

"I loved the process of seeing the family work together and having each member contribute a different idea or thought. I was completely included in the process and loved being a part of everything."

5. Do you have any upcoming projects or exciting news you’d like to share? I am in the middle of the school year and enjoying being with the children, and families at school, gardening and cooking and creating together. At the moment, my art projects are school based but I look forward to more opportunities to create art for books or other ventures.


Rachael C. Smith teaches at a Waldorf Inspired School in Fallbrook, California. She has lived in many locations across the world, including Edinburgh, London, Singapore and Hong Kong, and loves to go on summer-long trips to far off destinations. She finds inspiration in travel and nature. Her joy for storytelling, handiwork and teaching animates her personal life as well as her work as a teacher and artist.  

All images of Rachael were taken by her friend, Shelby Clark. The studio images were taken by Stepanka Pasekova and all of the remaining ones by us - Vlada, Muthu, Eira and Emilee. 

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