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.
Gareth Llewhellin, illustrator of From A to Z with Energy!, lives in Somerset, England, with his wife and two boys. He works from his home studio alongside his assistant, Herbie the Jack Russell. After studying illustration at Bournemouth College of Art and Design, and working as an in-house illustrator, Gareth took the plunge to freelance seven years ago and hasn’t looked back. (From Gareth’s bio in From A to Z with Energy!)
Describe your illustration style in ten words or less!
My style follows my love of pencil sketch and pastels.
What drew you to illustrating for kids? Can you tell us about your artistic journey?
I started copying pictures of Snoopy when I was 5 years old. I was obsessed with him! This moved quickly onto Mickey and his friends, me creating my own characters and then many years later onto University where I studied Scientific and Natural History Illustration. My imagination always got the better of me, though, and I pulled away from the tightness and restraints of illustrating exactly what was in front of me and I reverted back to the world of make believe and to where I am today, illustrating children’s books!
What is your favorite part of the illustration process?
My favourite part of the process is probably the longest part - adding the colour! Watching the artwork come to life as I put down the colour and transforming the pencil visual into a bundle of energy and emotion.
There are many action scenes in the picture book From A to Z with Energy! You shared with me that your two sons modeled some of those actions. Can you tell us more about that process?
My boys are a constant source of reference and ideas. From watching them play together and run around to seeing their emotions of joy, stress of school or sadness, it is all there for me to take ideas from. They also give me their opinions on colour. Whether a character looks too young or too old for the script, their opinion is always to hand!!!
I had the boys running, jumping, cartwheeling around the garden and in the house to give me ideas to take into the book. Angles of hands, feet, perspective….I was constantly bugging them to pose for me— haha.
Which illustration in From A to Z with Energy!are you most proud of, and why?
My favourite spread in From A To Z with Energy! is the Letter R! My younger brother was in a wheelchair from birth and he was always racing around in his chair, even when he wasn’t supposed to be doing so. He was constantly in my thoughts when I created this artwork.
One of the many reasons the illustrations of From A to Z with Energy! stand out is your rich and vivid use of color. Do you have a favorite color you use in your work, and why?
I love ALL colours!!! I try to compliment the tones within an artwork whether it be a fun and vibrant design or a more subtle and emotional artwork. The colours are always led by the scripts, but I just love every colour going, so impossible to pin it down to 1!
What other illustration projects have you done in the last few years?
I have been super busy over the last 2 years with back-to-back books covering so many subjects. That’s the beauty of my job, the variety is huge and I am never quiet or twiddling my fingers.
When you are not drawing for writers, what do you like to draw for yourself in your free time? Do you have other hobbies too?
I am a huge cycling fan and if I’m not out riding my bike, I am running my cycling art business producing prints covering all aspects of cycling from then and now. If not either of these, I’m usually out and about on an adventure with my wife and boys.
Can you share a photograph of your creative work space with us, and tell us aboutyour typical work day?
My studio! I’m lucky enough to have a studio in the garden so I can see all the flowers and birdlife going about its business. I often find myself distracted by it, nature is certainly very busy!!!
I start the day with a pot of coffee and answer emails before I start the artwork of the day. I like to have the day’s work prepped the night before so I can comedown to the studio and get going straight away.
Our dog Herbie is my studio assistant and always loves a cuddle. He sleeps on my knee whilst I work, which is lovely in the winter when it's cold. He’s so warm!!
What is the most useful piece of advice you could give to a budding artist/aspiring illustrator out there?
Always keep drawing with a pad and pencil would be my number 1 tip. The Mac is a great addition to the creative world, but you can never reproduce that feeling you get from moving the pencil across the paper. It connects you to what you are creating.
Please tell us 3 fun facts about yourself!
Follow Gareth at garethllewhellin.com
Today’s blog features Wendy Leach, the gifted illustrator of I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM: A Boy’s Quest for Ice Cream Trucks. Along with advice for aspiring illustrators, Wendy shares with us why yellow #2 pencils and little white mice appear in so many of the picture books she illustrates.
What is the most useful piece of advice you could give to a budding artist/aspiring illustrator?
Can you name three artists who inspire you? Three! That’s hard to narrow down. If I had to choose: Caravaggi, Rene Magritte, and Richard Scarry.
As parents, much of what we do is also inspired by our children. Was becoming a mom what drew you to illustrating for kids or have you always wanted to be an illustrator?
I have wanted to illustrate children’s books since second grade when I created my ﬁrst story about a sleepover in a museum. However initially, I didn’t pursue illustration as an adult, but having a child changed that. As a parent, there is a lot I want to teach my daughter about life starting with knowing that she can be anything she wants. But I realized I wasn’t really doing what I wanted, which was to write and illustrate children’s books. I knew that had to change. I had to ﬁgure out how to lead by example so she would truly believe my message to her.
What is your favorite item to draw and why?
As far as an item I would have to say yellow number 2 pencils. They just seem to show up in my work a lot!
What is your favorite part of the illustration process?
The end! I enjoy seeing all the images come together polished and in color and turning them in to the publisher always feels like the last day of school before summer vacation.
Since I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM is nonfiction, you had to draw several real-life characters. Did you find this more or less difficult than drawing characters in fiction books?
Both have pros and cons, but I do feel a bit more pressure when illustrating real life characters. It’s nice to have a general idea of what the characters look like, but there is more of a chance of disappointing someone when you’re drawing a true-life character.
Did you need to do any research in order to illustrate I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM?
I had never been to a township board meeting, so I watched several of my city’s board meetings online. All of which were extremely thrilling! I looked at meeting notes, at images for community buildings, and other township boardrooms for interior ideas. I also ate lots and lots of ice cream—you know, for research! 😊
Were there any challenges to overcome when illustrating I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM?
I would say the biggest challenge was creating the meeting scenes with so many people in the audience. It was difficult keeping everything consistent and showing the audience from diﬀerent viewpoints.
After I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM debuted, you asked me if I had found the little white mouse you hid in one of the illustrations. Can you tell me how your tradition of hiding a white mouse in each of the books you illustrate came about?
I found these adorable little white mice at IKEA. My daughter and I built them a house and made them costumes, furniture, etc. We also played a game where they hide around the house and have to be found. Then one day, they just showed up in my illustrations! I decided to continue the tradition in each of my books as a gift to my daughter.
When you’re not illustrating for authors, what do you like to do in your free time? In my free time I draw a lot. Most of the time it’s characters and stories I’m imagining. I also like to garden (actually I like to visit the garden store), bake, and eat!
Before we sign off, can you share three fun facts about yourself with our readers!
I bet your daughter loves to draw on the living room walls with you! Thank you for joining me today. I wish you all the best in all your endeavors.
To find out more about Wendy, visit her website http://www.artofwendyleach.com/ and follow her on Instagram @wendy_leach_illustration.
Today’s interview is with Steve Page, illustrator of THE PENCIL EATER and many other picture books. Author Stacey Corrigan, takes us through a series of questions. It’s always fun getting to know your book partner better, isn’t it?
Here’s a toughie to start you off. Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
Fun, Quirky, Energetic, Colourful, Amusing, Sketchy, Friendly, Cute.
Can you name the TOP 3 artists who are your biggest inspiration and tell us why you love them? They can be from any artistic era or genre.
There are so many great illustrators and artists out there it’s really hard
to choose. I usually love pieces of work rather than a specific artist,
whether it’s an old master’s painting or the concept art from a movie or game.
I would have to say Disney had a major impact on me as a kid. I loved their animated movies and their books. They had an influence on my ‘style’ and I guess they are why I illustrate children’s books. I used to spend hours studying them, especially the books that showed how to draw the character. The same can be said about Marvel comics. I was never much of a reader of novels as a kid but give me a comic and I was off. I would spend ages drawing my favourite superhero of that time, usually Captain America or DareDevil.
If I had to name names, Tony DiTerlizzi would have to be a favourite. The work he did for The Spiderwick Chroniclesis just stunning. The imagination and detail he puts into his work is incredible. His fusion of natural history illustration and fantasy creates a rich world that is totally believable.
Another artist who I was lucky enough to work within my designer days was Luis Rey, who specializes in dinosaur art. The energy and movement, not to mention the colour palette he uses, was an inspiration. It made me look at what I was doing and try new approaches rather than always going with the norm.
So many of my students connect with comic books. It’s really cool to know comic books played a role in your development as an illustrator and a reader. I can’t wait to share this interview with my students. What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
I enjoy the colouring stage but my favourite part is doing the initial sketches, coming up with ideas for the characters, their expressions, their poses; that’s the real fun part for me. When I am developing a character, my mind is working overtime giving them a whole back story like why they look like they do and if they could talk how they would sound, things like that. It helps me bring the character to life.
You did a great job of bringing The Pencil Eater to life too, Steve. When I first saw your sketches, I was amazed. He looked exactly how I pictured him. I still have no idea how you were able to do that. I have heard that there are an incredible 100 or more types of green. What’s your favourite colour to use in your work and why?
Depending on what I am doing I might favor a certain colour to create the mood eg. for a sunny, cheerful piece I may use yellows and oranges and for a night or shadowy image I would choose blues and purples, so I can’t really pick a favourite.
Does living in Australia influence your work? If you could work anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
I don’t think living in Australia influences my work as such but I think the area where I live has certainly played a part in me being able to create my work. I live in a very peaceful little town in the country, surrounded by forest and nature. If I had to choose somewhere else to work from, Yosemite National Park would do me fine. A nice cabin in the woods, with an internet connection of course!
Can you share some details about your creative workspace with us and talk us through what your typical day at work there consists of?
Hmmm a typical day… is there such a thing? Depending on what I am working on or what stage the book is at, it will vary, but a day may go something like this: coffee, food, check emails and do my admin, which can sometimes take a large part of the day, especially if I am uploading the digital files to the publisher. Next, coffee. Then it’s out to my studio to do the fun part of my job. It may be in front of the Mac digitally colouring my scanned in art or working at the drawing board, sketching or planning out the illustration for the next book. Once I get in the studio time just flies and can go into the small hours, only coming up for air for
food and coffee breaks.
What is the most bizarre thing you have ever been asked to draw by someone?
You mean apart from a fuzzy purple thing that eats pencils? I’ve not been asked to draw too many bizarre things, but some of the story ideas I’ve received have been a bit out there. But one bizarre thing in particular that springs to mind was an animated fire hydrant.
I know illustrating THE PENCIL EATER was pretty great 😉 but what would be your ultimate dream project?
I’ve been lucky enough to have one of my stories accepted for publication, doing both story and illustration which has been a dream of mine for some time. So that is a dream project. I also would love to have one of my characters made into an animated movie. I wouldn’t want to do the animation, the guys that do that are amazingly talented and I wouldn’t know where to begin, but I would love to be involved in the creative process of making it. Oh and illustrating Pencil Eater 2 of
Congratulations on the accepted story. So exciting! I can’t wait to read it and am so excited about working on the Pencil Eater 2 with you. What is the most useful piece of advice you could give to a budding artist/aspiring illustrator out there?
DRAW DRAW DRAW…simple. Draw what you love and be yourself with it. It’s not an easy road to getting your art chosen for a project, but when you finally have your work published and someone says ‘wow I really like that picture you did’ it’s a real buzz, so keep plugging away at your art and don’t give up.
Last, but certainly not least, tell me 3 fun facts about yourself.
Please welcome our first illustrator to the blog!
Cole Roberts is the illustrator for NEIL ARMSTRONG’S WIND TUNNEL DREAM. Cole started work in December and finished in early March, in plenty of time for the 50th anniversary of Neil’s moon walk. As you read his interview, you’ll get a feel for how he brings his characters to life. Budding artists/aspiring illustrators, check out his tips to improve your art.
Can you share a photograph of your creative work space with us and talk us through what your typical day at work consists of?
A typical work day starts off with lots of hot coffee, a little quiet time and reading, then answering e-mails, more coffee, then I schedule out the day and start on my list of things to do. I'll usually knock a task or two off before lunch time. That’s an hour or so I can spend with my wife and daughter. Then it's back to work, drawing and creating. Before I know, it's time for afternoon coffee, then a few tasks before wrapping up for the day!
Here’s a toughie for you! Describe your illustration style in ten words or less!
Sunday paper comics mixed with mid-century style Golden Books.
What is your favorite thing to draw and why?
I love drawing characters. I love pushing myself to create a memorable character with lots of personality whether the traits are fun, sad, happy, mean or scared. Exploring what makes a character "them" is always the most fun.
What is your favorite part of the illustration process?
Probably the line work. I love everything about drawing but when doing the line work, I start to see things take shape and it's always exciting to see where it goes.
Do you have any challenges to overcome when you’re illustrating something?
All illustrations present challenges. When illustrating for a book the biggest challenges are keeping the character consistent. Making sure each character looks the same from page to page is always the hard part!
What is your all-time favorite children’s book you didn’t illustrate? Why do you love it so much?
For me it's a toss-up between WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak or THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES illustrated by Lane Smith. Both books are very different visually but they’ve always appealed to me because of their distinct styles, use of color, mood and storytelling.
What is the most useful piece of advice you could give to a budding artist / aspiring illustrator out there?
Draw everything, and draw all the time. While I love to draw characters, making picture books has forced me to learn more about storytelling and drawing the environment. So, draw your bedroom, or living room. Draw what's on your desk. Study light and shadows. They don't seem glamorous as case studies or stand-alone pictures, but when you put them together with your characters, it all needs to work together. Keep a sketch book, and try to draw for at least 20 minutes a day. Do that, and you're sure to improve over time.
To find out more about Cole Roberts, follow lifeofcole on Instagram or check out his website at: coleswork.com.