By Sarah Hoppe
I’m excited to introduce Milanka Reardon, the illustrator of our book Who Will? Will You? Milanka learned to illustrate at a very young age. When she emigrated to the U.S. from the former Republic of Yugoslavia at the age of six, no one in her school spoke her language, so her teachers sketched images of the English words for her. But instead of copying the words, Milanka took it upon herself to improve their work and draw more interesting pictures. Later, Milanka went on to earn a children’s book illustration certificate from the Rhode Island School of Design and was awarded the 2016 R. Michelson Galleries Emerging Artist Award. She is the central New England illustrator coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
I love to explore different mediums. Currently I am happiest working with watercolors and pencils. I love the looseness of the water and paint and watching it flow on paper, and then I like to have some areas more controlled with colored pencil or pastel pencil. I try to achieve a nice variety of textures. But most of all I am drawn to whatever works for creating that unique character or scene that best fits the story. Watercolor seemed to be a good fit for Who Will? Will You?and the beach scenes in the book. I have also been able to add finishing touches digitally with photoshop or procreate.
Did you have a definite picture of the main character, Lottie, in your head right away, or did she evolve? I know you made her a bit older, but were there other things you changed?
I can remember when I was thinking about Lottie. I was at Panera and I saw this beautiful little girl come in with her mother and she had this messy hair and wore flip flops on her feet. When I came home, I couldn’t forget her funny expressions and the messy hair. So, I drew who I thought Lottie would be. My initial sketches were of a much younger Lottie! I remember the editor telling me that my little preschool Lottie would not be walking the streets alone looking for a home for a pup, so I changed her to an older child, but I kept the messy hair and the flip flops.
What was the character process like for creating Lottie’s dog, Rufus?
I did a lot of sketching before the right Lottie and her dog appeared on the pages. I wanted Rufus to be able to run free on the beach with Lottie, so just the right kind of dog that a messy haired girl would love. I guess that could be any kind of dog! I sketched a lot of different kinds of pups that I saw on the beach or anywhere really. I remember pushing the stroller with my baby granddaughter and finding cute pups along the way. I was able to use some of those different pups in the story too!
Here we have some of Milanka’s early sketches of Rufus, Lottie and the final Rufus, my real -life Rufus, and the other pups that made it into the story.
Can you describe how your process differs between drawing (or painting) a picture and illustrating a story?
I enjoy both painting a picture and illustrating a story and sometimes they seem almost the same to me. But my paintings even though they tell a story can stand alone whereas my illustrations are part of a story with or without text. So, there is a lot of planning in illustrating a story and a lot of drawing to get the story right. It works together with the text. I like my illustrations to have a painterly feel to them, so they are paintings that are part of a story and work together and with the text. So, my process is similar for both except that usually I can get to actual painting sooner on a stand-alone piece of art.
That makes sense. What is your favorite subject to draw and why?
I love to draw all kinds of animals and to tell a story with them. I always love the funny individual expressions of the animals and see them as characters, and I wonder about their story. So, all the different pups in Who Will? Will You?were so much fun to draw, especially the sea lions and the otter mom and pup, even the bats! I learned a lot from your story - I didn’t know that an armadillo can also be called a pup!
You know, when I was researching pups for the book, I learned a lot as well. Ok, what is the most bizarre thing you’ve been asked to draw?
I did a few covers for e-books and this isn’t too bizarre, but it is a little out of my comfort zone. They wanted me to draw an artificial intelligence being in outer space that was human like and had human emotions, but it was not a human. It was hard to figure out how to make it like a human but not a human and to show that difference, so I made him blue! I really wanted to make him a crazy looking creature with three eyes and many arms!
That would have been quite the sight! Do you have a favorite color, and if so, what is it?
I don’t have one favorite color; I love all the colors in the rainbow. I was always that kid that loved her brand new 64 count box of crayons on the first day of school!
I can smell that crayon aroma just thinking about them! What is your all-time favorite picture book you didn’t illustrate and why do you love it so much?
When I was little, I was fascinated by the pictures in the old fairy tale books that my mother bought for me in Yugoslavia. They were so colorful and so ornate. I remember begging her to buy them for me and I remember carrying them in my little suitcase when I emigrated to this country. Ruth Sanderson’s The Twelve Dancing Princessesreminds me of them, only Ruth’s artwork is much better! When my son was little, he loved for me to readChris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Expressto him and I loved the illustrations, his color palette evokes such emotion! I also love his book Just A Dream, again such beautiful use of color! Yikes, I guess I can’t pick just one! I have more that I love!!
I can relate! There are so many extraordinary picture books out there. I remember my favorite as a kid was a collection of troll stories. My mom actually kept it and gave it to me! It is Favorite Tales of Monsters and Trolls retold by George Jonsen and illustrated by John O’Brien. The illustrations are so detailed and bizarre, I still love to pour over that book.
Ok, hopefully this next question will be easier to answer. What is your current favorite picture book out now and what makes it special to you?
I love reading to my little baby granddaughter and I love seeing her reactions to books. I love the laughter and the curious looks she gives me and we both love If You Give a Mouse A Cookie, That’s Good, That’s Badand of course she always asks for Lottie and Rufus (she can’t say Who Will? Will You? yet, she’s not quite two). She loves the different ways people say “No” to Lottie and she kisses the picture where Lottie is sad.
Oh goodness, that’s sweet! Kids are so empathetic. Now, I need your help. I can draw a great stick-man but would like to move beyond that. Can you give me some concrete tips to improve my craft in five sentences or less?
Have fun and sketch what you love and sketch from life every day. They don't have to be perfect sketches because just sketching helps you to see things better. And one thing you'll notice is all the wonderful gestures that people and animals have. People don't just stand still, they lean, they bend they do all sorts of poses even when just standing there. Sketching will help you to improve your craft no matter what style of illustration you choose, even stick figures!
That’s great advice, thank you! Anything else you’d like to share?
Thank you for writing such a fun book to illustrate! I loved working with you and Blue Whale Press on Who Will? Will You?
I feel the same way! It’s been a wonderful journey. Thank you for taking the time to talk pictures today. I think I’m going to go sketch something now, using these faces as inspiration.
There can be no better pairing for a book written about sheep than with an illustrator who lives in the heart of the British countryside surrounded by them! Danny’s illustrations for ‘Counting Sheep’, written by Pippa Chorley, are not only alive with humour but full of expression that only someone who knows their subject well could master.
We sent debut picture book author Pippa Chorley the task of dragging Danny away from his beautiful and inspiring country setting to find out a little bit more about the artistic mind of this wonderful and distinct children’s illustrator.
Pippa: I know you particularly love to draw animals Danny, what is your favourite animal to draw and why?
Danny: Tough question. I would have to say a tiger. A Siberian Tiger if I'm allowed to be specific. I've been obsessed with tigers since I was little. They're just beautiful. A dream of mine is to see and draw a tiger in the wild, but the odds of that happening are unfortunately slim due to their decline in numbers and isolation in small areas away from people.
Pippa: Dare I tell you Danny, that I have actually seen tigers in the wild, in India? We were lucky enough to live there for 3 years and go on safari a number of times. It was truly a wondrous moment and I hope you get to realise your dream very soon too.
I am sure you thought that I was pretty crazy when I first approached you with theidea of drawing a whole book full of sheep. What is the most bizarre thing you haveever been asked to draw by someone (besides lots and lots of sheep!)?
Danny: Ha! With a book titled ‘Counting Sheep’ I had a pretty good idea it wasn't going to be based on just one sheep. I dunno, those sheep do get up to some crazy things! However, my son did ask me to draw a digger with shoes on the other day. I tried to decline the job but was forced into doing it by his tears. I did it. It was rubbish.
Pippa: It sounds like your son has a great imagination. There is a children’s book in that idea for sure!
When you are not drawing for writers like me, what do you like to draw for yourselfin your free time? Do you have other hobbies too?
Danny: I like to go on long walks, preferably amongst forests and alongside rivers and usually have a sketchbook with me. When I find a nice spot where the scenery is inspiring I'll get the inks and watercolours out and see where it takes me. It's a great way to practice. I find if the drawing is not for anything or anyone in particular, then I take more risks and make mistakes that a lot of the time tend to make for a more interesting image. Other hobbies include listening to music/going to gigs - I'm a big fan of 60's garage rock, folk rock and blues music. I'm in to my sports too, especially football.
Pippa: Living in the British countryside sounds pretty inspiring. Does it influence yourwork? If you could work anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
Danny: Definitely. I tend to use a lot of natural colours in my work and there's no doubt a large variety of contrasting colours can be found in the unpredictability of British weather. I'd love to work in many parts of the world. Freelancing whilst travelling through Africa would be at the top of the list.
Pippa:I know illustrating ‘Counting Sheep’ was pretty great (ha, ha) but what would be your ultimate dream project?
Danny: It was pretty great. However, drawing that many sheep did keep me awake at night. Bit ironic that, right?! My dream job... if David Attenborough wrote a book and wanted me to illustrate it, or, even better, needed an artist to accompany him to visually document his/our travels together. I know, I'm a dreamer.
Pippa: Dreaming is what made our book come to life Danny – never stop dreaming!
What is the most useful piece of advice you could give to a budding artist out there?
Danny: It can be really tough starting out as an artist, it was for me anyway. But if you create art that gives you a buzz feeling, then there's a chance others will experience it too.
Pippa: That’s great advice! What is your all-time favourite children’s book you didn’t illustrate and why do youlove it so much?
Danny: This is a tough question as I could give you a whole list! If I was to narrow it down....
‘The Enormous Crocodile’, written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake. Iwas fascinated by this book as a kid. The croc was frightening yet humorous andloved how this came across in Blakes illustrations. This was the first bookDahl and Blake worked on together and as most know was the start of a magicalpartnership in children’s literature.
‘The Giving Tree’, written and illustrated by Shel Silverstine. Even though first published in 1964, it's definitely more relevant today than ever before. So much truth in this story that's sensitively written for both children and adults to understand.
‘The Gruffalo’, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. I just love the trickery of the tale, the way the words dance of the tongue and characterful illustrations.
Pippa: Some real treasures in there! Would you ever like to write your own children’s book as well as illustrate them?What would it be about?
Danny: Oh, yes! Watch out.....oh, and that would be telling.
Pippa: O wow! That would be amazing! You heard it first here #OntheScenein19 folks!
For more information about the wonderful wild world of Danny Deeptown, please visit his Instagram site @dannydeeptown or his official website.
Claire Sedovic is an illustrator based in Iowa. She’s been been making art since she was old enough to hold a crayon, but by age six, she knew she wanted to be an author/illustrator. Her debut picture book is Odd Animal ABC’s, written by June Smalls and published with Blue Manatee Press. Today she’s been generous enough to join On the Scene in ’19 for an interview.
So Claire, inquiring minds want to know…
Were there any challenges to overcome when illustrating Odd Animal ABC’s?
I think the biggest challenge for me was seeing the big picture. I am a detail-oriented person, so while it was fun to delve into the minutia of animal spots and stripes, hooves and antlers, I had to keep in mind how each spread would look in relation to the other pages and the book as a whole. Planning the page layout beforehand certainly helped, but throughout the entire process, there were still necessary changes to help move the visual narrative along.
Which illustration are you most proud of in the book and why?
I’m really happy with how the cover turned out. I actually made four other iterations of that illustration before deciding upon what you see now. When I look back at my initial sketches, I realize that part of the project alone helped me develop as an artist. And in a very short amount of time!
Well, that cover turned out great! I know illustrating Odd Animal ABC's was pretty great, but what would be your ultimate dream project?
It was great! But eventually I’d love to bring one of my own children’s book ideas to fruition as both an illustrator and author.
What is your favorite part of the illustration process?
Definitely the finishing touches. It’s the simple addition of a darker pencil stroke or a little pink to an animal’s cheeks that really make the illustrations come alive.
When you are not drawing for writers like me, what do you like to draw for yourself in your free time? Do you have other hobbies too?
As I just alluded to, I have always dreamed of not only illustrating, but also writing for children. I am currently working on two of my own picture books ideas in fact. And I’m also a certified yoga and barre instructor.
What is the most useful piece of advice you could give to a budding artist/aspiring illustrator out there?
The best advice I have heard is to simply make the art that speaks to you. You could spend your entire career chasing trends and trying to fit in with what’s currently popular in children’s literature. Rather, spend the time developing your own style. Regardless of whether or not it’s the ‘popular’ style, if you work from your heart, it will be evident in your art, and people will value you and your work for that reason.
I think that advice works for authors too. What is your all-time favorite children’s book you didn’t illustrate and why do you love it so much?
Gosh, this is such a hard question, I have so many favorites! I’ll go with one many of you may not know- The Children in the Jungle, written by Leif Krantz, illustrated by Ulf Lofgren (1961). This was actually one of my mom’s favorite picture books as a child and I too grew to love reading (with my grandmother) this clever story about a bunch of bored kids who paint a jungle on their bedroom wall and then enter the picture. They manage to paint their way out of a number of scrapes, including escaping from a very hungry tiger!
Would you ever like to write your own children’s book as well as illustrate them? What would it be about?
Of the many story ideas I have, two are now full manuscripts. The first, Marcella’s Butterfly is about a girl who makes a new friend on the first day of kindergarten, but on a class field trip learns that this six-legged companion may not always be by her side. And in the second, Olive & Olio and the Great Pasta Race, Olive mixes, kneads, and stretches dough in an attempt to make the longest strand of spaghetti to win the town’s annual contest and her Nona’s approval.
Those sound amazing! Can’t wait to see your author/illustrator books hit the shelves. What is your current favorite picture book out in the shops at the moment and why do you love it?
Again, so many good books out there, but the one I most recently read and then had to purchase is The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. I am constantly amazed by the ability of authors to distill tough topics into something not only understood by, but also enjoyed by children. This book does it all with very few words and adorable illustrations. It made me cry!
By Susan Edwards Richmond
I’m here with Stephanie Fizer Coleman, who has generously agreed to be interviewed about her perspective as an illustrator of children’s books. When Vicky Holifield, our editor at Peachtree Publishing Company, told me that Stephanie Fizer Coleman had been selected to illustrate my debut picture book, Bird Count, I immediately went to her website. The first thing that caught my eye, besides the wonderfully whimsical illustrations on her home page, was a tab that said simply, “100 birds.” I felt instantly that she would be the perfect illustrator for this book—and that feeling has continued to grow throughout our publication journey.
Hi, Stephanie! Welcome to the On the Scene in ‘19 blog and thank you so much for speaking with me. I feel so fortunate for our collaboration on Bird Count. Your birds really bring the story to life. Not only are they accurate in color and dimensions, but they each seem to have their own personalities. Could you tell our readers a little bit about your interest in birds, and about the “100 birds” project featured on your website?
Hi Susan! I’m so happy to be chatting with you about Bird Count.Growing up in a rural area fostered a love of nature in me from an early age, but my earliest memories of noticing birds revolved around my grandmother always happily pointing out “Mr. and Mrs. Red Bird” and “Robin Red Breast” along with other favorites. She was a special lady and I often think of her when I’m drawing birds, even vibrant tropical birds that Gram’s probably never even knew existed!
My 100 Birds project came into being a couple of years ago as a way for me to explore my artistic style. I chose birds as my subject matter for a 100 day style experiment, because I knew I wouldn’t tire of drawing them and that I would find nearly endless inspiration in them.
One of the things that impressed me most about your initial sketches for Bird Count was how each spread seemed to have a unique design, which made it exciting to turn the pages and discover what elements you would use next. Can you describe how you come up with and carry out a vision for a picture book, and for this book, in particular?
Generally, my ideas are slow to develop so I’ll start with pages and pages of random sketches that will eventually lead the way.
For Bird Count,I started by doing sketch studies of all the birds the reader would be spotting throughout the book. At the same time, I was perusing references of snowy rural scenes while making notes and scribbles about the setting.
Next, I worked up a series of thumbnail sketches, small sketches with bare bones elements, to get a sense of the book’s flow and to see if my ideas would work.
Finally, I sketched all the various birds, characters, and settings in a sketchbook then scanned everything into Photoshop where I did a final version of the sketches to send off to our wonderful art director, Nicki.
I love the characters you created for Bird Count of Ava, her mom, and Big Al! Could you talk about the process of conceiving and developing characters for a picture book?
Thanks! I knew right away that Ava would have gorgeous wavy hair in an unusual color, so the Bird Count character development started there. As with sketching the book spreads, character development is a slow process for me.
It begins with notes about the characters, information gleaned from the text, and ideas I have brewing about each character including personality traits and quirks. Because Bird Count takes place in winter, I spent time looking at photos of winter apparel as well.
Having made all the notes and put off the toughest part of the process as long as possible, I grab a stack of copy paper and my favorite pencil and get started with character sketches. It’s a process that involves lots of scribbles that even I can’t decode later, a few good drawings that make me think I might be on to something, many cups of tea, and a bit of talking out loud to myself.
Ava’s character arrived fairly easily this time, but Mom and Big Al took a bit more coaxing!
The Bird Count cover featuring Ava with her binoculars is getting a lot of attention. In fact, Peachtree decided to choose it for the cover image of their fall catalog. Congratulations! I feel so lucky to be along for that ride! How did you choose that image, and what do you hope to convey to your readers in a picture book cover illustration?
How wonderful to have the art featured on the fall catalog cover!
You know what though? I can’t even take credit for the concept because our wonderful Nicki came up with it! She mocked up the idea using a bit of my sketch from the interiors. I worked up a more complete sketch and added some hand lettering to give it an extra special feel.
I hope readers see that cover and find themselves wondering what she’s looking at!
What other projects are you particularly proud of or excited about, and what are you working on now?
The most wonderful thing about my career now is that I’m illustrating the books I would have loved when I was a child. There’s something special about that and about being able to share my love of nature with a younger generation.
There are some amazing book projects on my drawing table at the moment, including a sweet story involving peacocks and another bird-centric book from Peachtree that I’m particularly fond of at the moment. I can’t wait to share them with the world!
What else would you like our audience to know about you?
It might surprise readers to know that I didn’t start drawing until I hit my mid-20s, that I first pursued a career in dance, and then finished a BA in history before I realized I wanted to be an illustrator. Some folks know exactly what they want from life right away and some folks, like me, take a circuitous route with learning experiences around each curve.
Following the dream of a creative career can be a challenging journey but I’m a firm believer that practice, a strong work ethic, and a general stubbornness are the best vehicles for that journey.
I’m grateful for this career I’ve built over the last few years and am especially grateful to have illustrated Bird Count, a book that held a special place in my heart from the first moment I read it.