An Interview with Art Director Ellice Lee, by Virginia Law Manning

Welcome, Ellice! Thank you for agreeing to be our faculty art director at the Pocono Retreat! I can hardly believe the conference is less than a month away. Wahoo!!! I’m super excited for your workshops and my portfolio critique with you. Since this will be your first EPA event, I thought it would be fun to introduce you here on EasternPennPoints.


First, what have you heard about the Highlights Foundation? 

I know the Highlights magazine, as I read it as a child and loved it! I did not know there was a foundation and so glad it exists to guide authors and illustrators to improve their craft.

 Is there anything you’re especially looking forward to at conference? 

I’m looking forward to meeting the EPA members and witnessing each person’s unique story, both in words and/or pictures.

 As a designer, whose work do you admire?


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I admire anyone who has something real + positive to say and performs it in a beyond-surface level way. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s work is very powerful. I first saw her art in the streets of New York. She did a series called “Stop Telling Women to Smile.” I’d have loved to have done a book with her, but someone else beat me to the punch! But it made me happy to see her work out there and her positive contribution to society. I also love extreme irreverence, like Harland Miller. Ironically, he loves to mock our Penguin Classic covers. One of his huge pieces hangs in our lobby!she persisted

Tatyana’s work sounds interesting. I appreciate the recent efforts of authors, illustrators and publishers to highlight social messages in picture books. I loved SHE PERSISTED! 13 AMERICAN WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD. I know you art directed this book. Congratulations on its success!


What types of creative projects do you do outside of work?

 I do a lot of graphic design/film editing for nonprofits that are social justice/environment/young people related. I also like to farm/garden.

Can you describe a typical morning as an art director?

For me, it’s settling in by office-brewing my own coffee (Chemex is the best!), greeting my colleagues & plants and having a bit of quiet before launching into the madness. It’s a beautiful madness, but madness nonetheless! And then it’s answering emails, making sure my staff isn’t feeling overwhelmed and balancing a bit of design both on and off the computer.

  Are there any current trends in children’s publishing that illustrators should be aware of?

 For those who are authors/illustrators, in my opinion, I feel that there is a trend to be irreverently funny, a la Drew Daywalt/Oliver Jeffers/Mac Barnett/Jon Klassen. They are all hilariously funny, but I get the impression people are trying to copy them forcibly, which then translates into a disingenuous mess. Being inspired by and copying, as we all know, can be a very fine line.

As for illustrators only, I don’t pay attention to trends. If I come across something interesting and that has that depth that I mentioned earlier, then I’ll save it.

 Who would be a dream illustrator to work with?

Frank Gehry. Since he doesn’t know how to use the computer and thinks in three-dimensional abstraction, I’d love to see what he’d come up with and for young people.

crayons-2667713_1920.jpgThis last one is just for fun. You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why? 

Pantone 804C 😉


Thank you, Ellice! I’m excited to spend time together in the Poconos!


Ellice is the Associate Art Director of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, where she art directs and designs picture books and novels, both fiction and non-fiction. She has worked with such award-winning and best-selling talent as Loren Long, Alexandra Boiger, Christian Robinson, LeUyen Pham, Kadir Nelson, Chris Raschka, Frank Morrison, and Floyd Cooper. Many of her titles have been on the New York Times best-seller lists and featured in New York magazine, TIME magazine and have won Caldecott honors, Coretta Scott King awards, finalist for the National Book Award and Society of Illustrators Original Art Show awards (She PersistedWhat’s the Big Deal About FreedomHarlem’s Little Blackbird, to name a few). Ellice loves to find talent on and off the grid, but mostly the latter. Her nickname is Eliz Leemon for too many of an unfortunate reason.



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