Honestly, I think part of my secret is not being formally educated as an illustrator.


I educated myself by looking closely at art and illustration (the masters) that touched me deeply, for whatever reason. I analyzed every detail—how the art was composed, how it might have been created, what tools and materials were used and in what order, how color was used, different ways of communicating facial expressions or body language. I have some of this in sketchbooks, and a lot of it on scraps of paper here and there around my house and studio. In a way, it’s okay not to have a systematic way of storing and using this information. I absorb it, and then move on, and the act of looking closely is enough to lodge it somewhere in the recesses of my brain, where it quietly influences every mark I make.


As I developed my style, I would actually try to mimic that art that I was studying --not so that it would become my style, but so that I could inform my developing visual vocabulary. And, eventually all of this close study started leaking into my work until I saw that I really was developing my own unique style. I tried tons of different things, lots of varied media, and made lots of awful art, and here and there some things that made me feel good, or resonated as an ah-ha! As I grow as an illustrator, I continue to try to take general art classes when I can: photography, lots of printmaking, some drawing and painting, a wonderful collage/painting class. These broadened my visual horizons and introduced new methods and processes, without telling me how to do kids books!


So it turns out that my style is an amalgamation of my idiosyncrasies and tastes as an artist and the idiosyncrasies of my favorite artists, whose work sometimes belies their actual habits. Even when I switch it up and use different media and techniques, I can see pretty clearly why my style is mine--my hand insists on doing some things certain ways; I love certain color combinations, and they usually show up in my work; I have developed techniques that give me total flexibility because I am not very good at commitment! But that may be changing—as I gain confidence in my artist’s voice, I am more willing to take risks and commit to a less flexible technique, and that too is causing my style to evolve and grow!


Posted by michael at 09:01 AM Link to this post

TWO SPECKLED EGGS is a picture book that I wrote after stumbling across some wonderful old family photos. (My mother was a photographer, and really did document just about every moment of my childhood--excellent fodder for story ideas!) Much of TWO SPECKLED EGGS springs directly from these photos that my mom took at my seventh birthday party:

speckled eggs1

Look at our spiffy outfits!! I am the one in the pink and white plaid dress.

I can name every girl in this photo except for one--Mystery Girl. Who is she? Did I invite her, or did my mom? Did she have a good time? Did she fit in? How did I feel about her being there? I remember feeling worried about whom to invite to my party. What if one guest didn't fit?

Here is another photo from the same party:

speckled eggs2

Girls gone wild! (Except for the ones required to sit on the bench with their hands in their laps--Whoa.)

I remember being not quite sure how I fit in either, at my very own birthday party. It seemed like everyone was having fun but me. This was a tiny lonely birthday party feeling. I bet many a birthday kid feels that, even if just for a brief moment.

speckled eggs sketch

Birthday parties are such loaded occasions.

Who hasn't experienced having the thrill of the imagined birthday party trampled by the disappointment of the actual birthday party? The games get wrecked. The party room is ransacked. The cake is rejected. The friends are bossy, overbearing, sugar-crazed, needy. Someone throws up. Someone needs stitches. The cat's tail is pulled. The new doll is ripped.

Okay, I exaggerate. But you know what I mean.

Sometimes, however, the whole experience is redeemed by something small and wonderful--a moment of discovery, a new friendship, the sharing of a treat. And that is why we keep having birthday parties, year after year.

I wish I knew who Mystery Girl was--I bet she could have become a really great friend, but something tells me she moved out of town before that could happen. I am not sure what games we played, what gifts I received, or what cake I had, although I do know my favorite then was Angel Food Cake with Lemon Glaze. (And I know I loved my outfit.) I don't even know how I felt about everything by the end of the party. Maybe that's why I wrote TWO SPECKLED EGGS--so that I could find out how I might have resolved my own ambivalence about birthday parties, and gotten past that tiny lonely birthday party feeling.

*TWO SPECKLED EGGS will be published by Candlewick Press, Spring 2014.

Posted by elena at 11:05 AM Link to this post
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