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From the Studio

How My Office Manager’s Shoe
Left an Imprint on Perfect Square

By Michael Hall

What begins as a perfect square is torn, cut, crumpled, and otherwise made imperfect six times over six days. With each imperfection, the square makes itself into something beautiful. That is the essence of Perfect Square.  

Before I knew what sort of story this would be, I cut, ripped, and otherwise mangled hundreds of paper squares and looked for images in the resulting pieces—like looking for animals in clouds. I prefer to find images first and then try to build a story around them. That way, the images are more likely to flow naturally from the process.   

I am often barefooted, so when I decided to experiment with shoe prints on a square, Dolly, my office manager, who was wearing moccasins, loaned me one of hers. Its rubber tread had a wavy texture that made me think of water. Eventually, as the story developed, the water idea was included.   

It was stepped on on Saturday.

So it made itself into an ocean. 

Ocean print Greenwillow

Ocean test print.

The ocean fit nicely as the last transformation because the square’s ambitions grew more grand with each passing day. 

Perfect Square sat in a drawer for months before it occurred to me that water could connect all the pieces of the story on the last pages of the book. It required changing the ocean into a river and adding a fountain at the beginning. This became a significant part of the story.  

But unlike the shoe-print ocean, the shoe-print river seemed forced and unnatural, and it had a menacing quality that didn’t fit the story. Still, I kept it. To me, the shoe print was essential to the river and the river had become essential to the story. To go back and try wrestle a square into a river in some other way seemed wrong. 

I pressed Dolly’s shoe into a mixture of blue ink and transfered the image on to a textured square for what I thought would be the final art. But when I sent it to Virginia, she expressed problems with the shoe print, too. Among other things, it revealed too much about whoever or whatever was manipulating the square. I was ready, finally, to let the shoe print go. 

There is a river in the finished book. It is made by cutting a square into ribbons with pinking shears. It makes terrific whitewater.  

Final River Greenwillow

The final river.

The only problem now is that I haven’t been able to get the ink off of Dolly’s shoe. She forgave me earlier because she liked the idea of her shoe being immortalized in print. But since her shoe got the boot (sorry), she’s  reconsidering.  

Dolly with evidence Greenwillow

Dolly with evidence...

In its current form, my third book includes a shoe that is thrown at a cat. Hopefully, Dolly’s moccasin will work—and I will be redeemed.

perfect square greenwillowMichael Hall is the author of Perfect Squarewhich goes on sale at the end of this month—and My Heart Is like a Zoo. He is also the creative director of the Hall Kelley design firm.


  1. Lois Adams says:

    Another sacrifice for the sake of art! We’re grateful, Dolly–the finished product is worth its weight in blue shoes.

  2. […] You’ll want to read this amusing guest post Hall wrote for the publisher’s blog Under the Green Willow; it’s about the “blue river” the perfect square becomes on […]

  3. Curt @ 1011 says:

    A wonderful little story about the creation process behind the book. Maybe Mike can work in his barefoot foot in an upcoming publication.

  4. […] Michael Hall shares an amusing story about the creative process […]

  5. […] me how I created the final art for the book Perfect Square. I wrote about the river illustration last March, so I’ll use it as an example to describe the […]

  6. […] you need more Michael Hall, read this article on how he used his manager’s shoe to create the art in Perfect Square, and this one detailing […]

  7. […] SQUARE Michael Hall, author/illustrator Greenwillow Press. 2011. Guest post by Michael Hall on the publisher’s blog. Rasco from RIF on the book. Exudes  high-energy, creative fun for […]

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