Thursday, July 24, 2014

Blog Tour!

A very big thank you to my illustrator friend Meg Sodano for inviting me on this author/illustrator blog tour! I am posting later than expected, but here we go: 

*What am I currently working on?*
I'm finishing up final illustrations for my eighth children's book, called Poems in the Attic. It is written by Nikki Grimes, and will be published in Spring 2015 by Lee & Low Books
It's been a busy spring and summer! I recently wrapped up illustrations for another book which I'm very excited about, called One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, also due out in Spring 2015, published by Millbrook Press

Here is a little sneak preview of an illustration for Poems in the Attic, a story about a little girl discovering her mother's poems.

It was my first time painting a horse! Very nerve-wracking, but I'm happy with the result. I'm used to painting human faces and figures, and let me tell you, going from a human painter to a horse painter is scary- very worried the horse would end up looking like a donkey... also, it's hard to make a goat not look like a lamb- but that's another story- in another book.

The illustrations I'm working on now are a mix of oil paint and collage, so I'm currently waiting for the last few illustrations to dry so that I can add collage elements to them. It's labor-intensive, but the final result is so fulfilling! 

*How is my work different from others in my genre?*
I very much use my personal experiences and mementos in my illustrations; it's like putting a piece of me, a memory that I have, into every illustration. I lived in the Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire) where my dad is from, until I was twelve, so things like bright patterned African print fabrics and lush green foliage often make their way into my work. Just about every scrap of decorative paper or fabric I use in my illustrations has a memory attached to it.

*Why do I illustrate what I do?*
Because it's the best way for me to express myself and tell stories.... and I love color and texture and pattern and contrast, and all those things art school nerds stay up at night thinking about :)

*How does my illustration/writing process work?*
As an illustrator (I'm working on the writing thing, keep your fingers crossed... ), it all starts with reading the manuscript and doing some doodles of the first images that the words conjure up in my head. 

Next, I create a storyboard for the book. Most picture books are 32 to 40 pages, so I get a large piece of paper and draw a box for each page of the book (32 pages will translate to 16 rectangles cut in two on the paper). I do thumbnail drawings of what I think would make the most sense on each page. 

The next step is research. Since most of my books are non-fiction, I've got to research the people and the places that the book are about . Maybe one day I'll have the budget to travel to far away places for research:) For now, it's Google and other books. 

Next, I take photographs of myself in various poses of the characters in the book so I can use these photos as reference when I'm painting... super corny if you don't know the context... 

Then I draw to-scale drawings for each page of the book, in pencil. 
The two following images are from The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, written by Willam Kamwamba and Bryan Mealer, Dial Books, 2012.

I transfer these drawings onto my gessoed watercolor paper, paint and collage...

(the words are added on later digitally by the Art Director)

And pray that they all dry in a reasonable amount of time... this is the most stressful part- making the deadline (or asking for an extension in time) and hoping that the art directors are happy...

Finally, I wrap all the illustrations up in a box with probably too much duct tape, take the long-anticipated drive to FedEx (by 7pm so that I can send the illustrations overnight to their final destination), send them off, and b-r-e-a-t-h-e!!! 

Then I reward myself with a great meal and wait till morning to vacuum up all the tiny little pieces of paper left in the rug from the epic collaging. And Voila!

Next up, I'd like to invite you to see what two of my illustrator friends are up to.

Nicolette Callaway is a self-taught visual artist. Her collage paintings are made with paper cut from gossip and fashion magazines. She repurposes these magazines in an effort to direct the viewer away from the consumeristic culture they promote; however, rather than reappropriating the images themselves, she uses their color and texture as though they were paint.
Her work focuses on totem animals surrounded by the four natural elements: earth, air, fire and water, speaking to how we as humans can actively connect with the natural and spiritual worlds.
Visit Nicolette's blog at:

Violet Lemay has been an illustrator for twenty years, focusing on children's books for the last five or six. She has 20+ titles to her credit, including New York Babyand Isabella's Shoe Studio—the latter of which, besides illustrating, she also wrote. Violet, who lives in upstate New York with her husband and twelve-year-old son, is the art director of her favorite publisher, duopress.

Visit Violet's blog at: