By Alison Myers
Alison: Can you describe the creative process you took to arrive at the new EPA SCBWI banner?
Adrienne: Knowing that the SCBWI mother ship web site was going to be overhauled, and that the individual chapters’ sites would be linked and have a more cohesive look, I wanted to incorporate the kite from the SCBWI logo in some way. Having a child flying the kite, in this case it’s book-shaped, was an obvious choice as well. And I have my very own little girl with a red dress, so how could I not include her? I also wanted to portray Eastern PA, so I worked on a couple of landscapes, incorporating trees, farmlands and a city. Then I combined the landscape elements with tools that illustrators and writers use, namely paints, pastels and palettes, brushes, pencils and the computer keyboard. The trees became the brushes, and so on. I wanted to use a map too, so I cut out a section of eastern Pennsylvania, and put that in the landscape. Since both writers and illustrators use pencils, I used them as the steps to reach our ultimate goal, our very own published book! That would be the yellow book kite, which also happens to be the ultimate SCBWI award, the Golden Kite.
Alison: What has being a member of EPA SCBWI meant to you and your career?
Adrienne: I was amazed at what SCBWI had to offer when I first discovered it. It really opened up the whole industry for me. The opportunity to have one’s work seen by professionals, often face to face, is priceless. And sharing work, resources and methods with peers is an enormous benefit too. It’s so rewarding for everyone when you’re in a workshop, for instance, and the illustrator talks about how she accomplished a certain technique. “Oh, that’s how you did that!” and then everyone frantically makes notes! It’s great.
Alison: Can you briefly describe your foundations as an illustrator?
Adrienne: After art school, I worked as a graphic designer and then art director in advertising agencies in my native South Africa and then Washington DC before moving to the Philadelphia area. I often illustrated client work in-house, sometimes copying other illustrators’ styles if we didn’t have the budget to hire them! I did everything from fashion illustrations, caricatures and hardware line art, to food, plants and people for gala party invitations. And this may be lost on some younger people, but before computers, back in the day, I’d render images for ads and storyboards in Magic Marker for client presentations. I’ve tried most media, but now use mostly pastels. I also love typography, so I sometimes incorporate hand lettering and calligraphy. Years of coming up with creative concepts in advertising help; it certainly did with the banner.
Alison: How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?
Adrienne: Maybe I spent too much time illustrating in other artists styles! I used to draw very tightly, with as much detail and accuracy as I could. It’s taken me a while to loosen up and draw more freely, which I really admire in so many other illustrators. Yes, it has changed somewhat, and this is the first time I’ve used collage and photography, which I really enjoyed. But that loose line has been the illusive line for me. Sounds oxymoronic, having to “work” at being loose and spontaneous. Maybe when I learn to chill, my drawing will too. And when I forget what I was aiming at, I might pore over a book about Marc Chagall or William Kentridge and get lost in the paintings.
Alison: Who are some of your favorite children’s illustrators?
Adrienne: The first illustrator whose work I fell in love with is Raymond Briggs. His The Snowman and When the Wind Blows are incredible. Old favorites are Lisbeth Zwerger, Brian Froud, Alan Lee, David Wiesner, (concept genius); Mary GrandPré and Gary Kelley; both pastel geniuses; Jon Muth, Shaun Tan, G. Brian Karas. More recently, Oliver Jeffers, Sean Qualls, and The Brothers Hilts. And Matt Phelan has a spontaneity of line that I greatly admire.
Alison: Many of our readers are interested in writing and/or illustrating for children’s books. I wonder if you might have an exercise that both the children’s book writer and illustrator could do to get those creative juices flowing?
Adrienne: What touches us is often personal, so if you’re moved by a newspaper article or historical event that interests you, follow up on it. A friend of mine read an article in the New York Times about an archeological find, and used that as a seed for a wonderful story. Overhearing an interaction between a child and a parent can spark an idea in you that might bypass someone else. Of course having a child at home helps! I’ve often crept up on my daughter and videotaped or photographed her to capture “raw material”. And my cats, they are endlessly inspiring. Take photos when you’re out, you may find something in them to write about or sketch later. What I really enjoyed was doing an exercise that I learned about at the last Poconos retreat where you take a newspaper or magazine article and black out some (usually most) of the words, and see what you’re left with — you may come up with something profound, funny, or who knows what? And the little book “Steal like an Artist” is worth a look too for some reminders.
Thanks for asking me. It was fun! Maybe it will lead to a story about a little girl who is nervous about standing up in front of the class and talking about herself.
Adrienne Wright, EPA SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator