A Café Chat with Author/Illustrator Julie Fortenberry, by Laura Parnum
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of chatting with picture book author and illustrator Julie Fortenberry at the virtual EasternPennPoints Café. Not only has Julie released a number of picture books, with another coming out in March 2022, but she also enjoys doing interactive school and library visits, both virtually and in person. Here’s what we chatted about:
Laura: Hi, Julie! It’s pretty chilly here in my corner of the virtual café. I’m cozied up in a blanket and sipping some Earl Grey tea. How about you?
Julie: Hi, Laura! It’s a lovely fall day here. And perfect for the Philly Marathon, which is happening right outside my apartment building.
Laura: Tell us a little about your early life. Did you always aspire to create children’s books, or did you meander down that path gradually?
Julie: I meandered. I’m a great meanderer. I started out as an abstract painter. My oil paintings are on carved wood, and very heavy and sculptural. You can see them here: https://www.juliefortenberry.com/blog/paintings (a secret portal on my site). A lot of fine art needs a specific type of setting and understanding. I love illustration because it has its own context. I wish there was some crossover between my illustration and my fine art, but it didn’t work out that way.
Laura: Ooh! Thanks for inviting us into your secret portal! I love the texture and contrast in your paintings. They’re so different from your illustrations. The word “charming” comes to my mind when I look at your illustrations. They have a classic feel to them. How did you develop your style?
Julie: Thank you! I hope my influences show. I love the Little Golden Book illustrators. And I’m a big fan of stories with animals in clothes a la Richard Scarry. I also like the sketchy quality of Bemelmans.
Laura: As an author/illustrator, what tends to come first for you—the images or the story? And how do you decide whether to center the story around humans, like in Darcy’s First Sleepover, or animals, like in your upcoming book, Grandpa and Jake?
Julie: The character comes first. Then the illustration and story become intertwined. Many of my stories are about my kids (now young adults) and about leaving your comfort zone for the first time. My more fanciful stories have animal characters. Grandpa and Jake is my first published animal story (Viking, March 2022).
Laura: Tell us about your school/library visits. It looks like you use an interactive approach and incorporate crafts and creation into your presentations.
Julie: Yes. I like to put students into the illustrator or writer’s frame of mind. I also like to show a simple craft project or drawing that preschoolers can do on their own.
Laura: It seems like you’ve successfully been able to modify your school presentations to the virtual setting during the pandemic. What challenges and victories have you experienced with this transition?
Julie: It’s nice to be able to share my screen and demonstrate my illustration techniques using the computer. The one downside is not seeing the kids asking the questions.
Laura: Do you have any projects you’re working on now that you’re able to tell us about?
Julie: I’m at work on a story about two little sisters at a parade. (I love illustrating crowd scenes!)
Laura: How fun! Thanks so much for chatting with me. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your books on bookshelves everywhere!
Julie: Thank you so much!
Julie Fortenberry has an MFA from Hunter College. Her abstract paintings have been in the Whitney Museum of American Art. But for the last 17 years she’s been painting for preschoolers and kindergarteners. She illustrated Eve Bunting’s Pirate Boy, and a series of Sydney Taylor Notable books by Rabbi Jamie Korngold. She is the author and illustrator of Darcy’s First Sleepover, Pearl Goes to Preschool, The Artist and the King, and Lily’s Cat Mask, which received a Kirkus starred review and was added to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. You can find out more on her website at www.juliefortenberry.com.