Interview with Author and Illustrator PBJ
The first thing that readers notice about a book is the cover. Whether they want it to or not, the cover plays a part in whether or not they want to read a book. This is where illustrators come in. These artists are especially important in children's literature, and the thought and work put into drawing pictures to go along with a story can be just as important as the story itself. That's why I have begun to interview illustrators as well as authors.
I've found that many illustrators are also authors. It only makes sense that the one doing the writing has the best idea of how characters and situations within that story should look. My first interview was with an author/illustrator who goes by the name of PBJ (Patti Brassard Jefferson). She has written and illustrated her own books and also designed the covers for other authors. Many of her illustrations are colorful, animal-themed covers. Her website is fun but professional, showing that she has a real handle on juggling a career as both an artist and illustrator. Check out my interview with PBJ below!
1. Explain your background: schooling, preferences, body of work, first job illustrating, etc.
I was that kid that was a doodler. You know the type: scribbling on every scrap piece of paper and always a pencil stuck in my ponytail. I loved art in school but never really thought of it as a career path. The businesses I have owned over the years were always in creative fields, (design company, pottery studio, art gallery) but when I decided to write my first children's story, I actually looked into hiring an illustrator. It just seemed out of my comfort zone. My friends and family convinced me that I should do it. It was not an easy sell but I finally agreed, and How Long Will You Love Me? came out on Halo Publishing International in 2013. I was very pleased with the outcome.
After that, I started getting requests for illustrating. Just like that a new career had snuck up on me! After a particularly torturous experience with an author, I wished out loud that I could do a very simple illustration job, and that's when I came up with the story of Stu's Big Party which is an illustrator's dream project - about 80% of the story takes place in the dark!
Since 2013, I have illustrated two of my own books, seven for other authors, and have three in various stages to be completed before the holidays. Twelve books in two years from someone who wasn't sure she could do the first one. Lesson to be learned? Trust yourself and take that first step. No telling where it will lead.
2. Who are your influences? Do you ever try to emulate those artists’ works?
I have so many illustrators that I admire, but I don't think I have ever tried to emulate them. I am at a point where I finally have stopped trying to compare what I do to anyone else's work. Art is funny that way. Picasso and Michaelangelo aren't always loved by the same people.
That said, I love the work of Melanie Watts (Scaredy Squirrel) or Sandra Boynton (Hippos Go Beserk) because of the brilliant simplicity, and Mark Wayne Adams (The Fart Fairy) is just a super-talented indie illustrator who probably bleeds in watercolor.
3. Why do you illustrate?
My beliefs in illustrating are much like why I write rhymes for kids. Picture books are often the first introduction to kids of storytelling and the illustrations are often a child's first taste of art and it many forms. I just think its incredibly important to introduce art to kids - whether creating their own or learning to appreciate it from others.
4. What is the best compliment that you have ever received from your art?
I think the best compliment I get regularly is how my illustrations make kids (and grown ups) laugh. The review I remember most, though, was probably the most honest review I ever got. It was from a small book award I entered in which the reviewer said, "The illustrations are certainly passable, but not of the caliber of the majority of stories on my Buy list."
I learned a lot from that! It stung a little, but I realized it wasn't the end of the world. I worked harder, drew more for practice, and even took some classes. I did end up being on the "Buy list" and also ended up as one of three finalists from the award. I think it's an important thing to remember: You can't control what a reviewer says; you can only control your reaction to it.
5. Do you save all of your work? How do you store it?
I do save it all! I have drawers full of the physical painting on watercolor paper. I finally stopped saving the sketches, though, since I have a SMALL create space!
6. How many versions of a drawing do you typically sketc/plot out before developing a specific illustration?
Working on someone else's book, I may draw and redraw several times. When I do my own books, I probably sketch far less, but I am more likely to have it all complete and decide I want to use a whole different medium and redo the whole thing. My first book was done start to finish three times before I settled on watercolor pencils.
7. What is your favorite subject matter?
As far as illustrating, I do a lot of semi-cartoony animals who interact with things in real life: a dragon that works with kids at a library, a dog and its owner - those sorts of things. I also do a lot of Anthropomorphism like alligators and crocodiles having a BBQ. It's more fun when I can skip the people! But as far as story matter, I love love. That's just a joy to illustrate!
8. What are your favorite book covers?
I'm not certain I could even narrow my list down to 100 favorites! I love any well-done cover that automatically evokes a response to pick up the book and open it. Smart indie authors get that and leave it up to the pros, but I see way too many book covers that are very amateurish.
I say all the time, "Skimp where you must but never on on editing and never on your cover."
9. If you are also the author of the book, when in the process do you start developing your covers/illustrations? If you are not the author, when do you begin to collaborate with the author?
I am both author and illustrator on some projects and illustrator only on others. For me, there is no separation when it's my own book. I do both parts simultaneously. I don't write the words if I can't already see the illustration in my mind. For other people's books, I prefer to have no input until it gets back from the editor. Too often, the editor suggests changes like use "at the park" to "near the lake" - three words that maybe fix the flow of text but totally change what I've done. I like to be the last step before it heads to production.
10. What’s next for you?
I am currently finishing up a book for a first time author and then the third book of a series for another author. I'm still hoping to get my third book, I Love you to Pieces finished before the holiday season, but since I am also opening P.J. Books, a new bookstore for indie authors, in October, I'm not sure I will get a chance to finish it in time!