"Artists need to fill themselves to overflowing and give it all back." -- E.B. Lewis
E.B. Lewis almost didn’t become an illustrator. Which means he almost did not open a visual pathway to African American culture and history that can be enjoyed by children in libraries and schools all around the country. He thought of himself as an artist, not an illustrator. When he thought of children’s book illustrations, he imagined pictures that were engaging, funny, sometimes almost cartoon-like. That wasn’t for him.
But an agent saw his work and insisted E.B. look at what was going on in children’s books now. As he sat in a bookshop, poring over the many wonderful books available for young audiences, he realized he wanted to be a part of this. He had been teaching art to special needs kids, a job he would have to set aside because publishers were hungry for his art to accompany the great stories they had already bought from the writers. He plunged into illustrating full time, sometimes working 15-to 18-hour days. He’s illustrated dozens of stories, including a Caldecott Honor book, and several projects have won the Coretta Scott King Award.
Leo Dillon was fascinated by Diane Sorber before he ever laid eyes on her. It was one of her paintings that caught his attention. For he did not know of any other student who had that deft, expressive technique. He was curious and a little jealous. He had a rival, and he knew it.
For years, Anita Lobel shied away from many memories of her childhood, and she had good reason to do so. Born in Poland just before World War II, Anita’s father ran a chocolate factory and the family was rather well off. Her mother had furs and jewels and employed servants to help with the housework and the children, including a beloved nanny, Niania. All that was soon to change when the Nazis marched into Kraków.
When he was two, Paul Zelinsky’s family moved from an apartment near Chicago to a house in Kyoto, Japan. Most of the Japanese houses had walls made of paper. Though his was an exception, he does wonder if all that paper might have influenced him to become an artist. While in Kyoto, he drew the stylish and elegant geisha ladies. When they came back to Chicago, their family home overlooked a construction site, so he took to drawing tractors and steam shovels being driven by geishas!*
He kept on drawing and kept on getting better and found a market for his work after college. Through the years, he has illustrated many, many books and written some himself. Today, his life, as chronicled on Facebook, is a happy blend of family, visiting schools, and, of course, drawing!
Rosemary Wells is one of our best-loved writers and illustrators for very young people. Her “Max and Ruby” books capture the relationship between a bossy big sister and her inquisitive (and stubborn!) little brother. That they happen to look rather a lot like rabbits makes no difference to the stories. Rosemary Wells’ wry humor turns these brief books into rather perfect treasures for the preschool set.
When Mercer Mayer was a young artist looking for book illustration work, a potential employer suggested he give up and throw away his portfolio. Fortunately for the thousands of children who have enjoyed his many books, he did not give up. Indeed, he went on to create one of the first widely-published wordless books for children, A Boy, A Frog, and a Dog. That book and its successors were hugely popular.
Soon after that, Mayer tackled one of the biggest problems facing young children—how to cope with fears of the unknown. Rather than write pedantic, matter-of-fact, non-fiction children’s books, he turned the process of dealing with those fears into engaging stories from a child’s point of view: There’s a Nightmare in My Closet; There’s an Alligator under My Bed; and There’s Something in My Attic.
Children’s author and illustrator Margot Zemach was born into a show business family--her father was a theater director, and her mother was an actress. Growing up, she drew imaginatively costumed characters to retell her favorite fairy stories and folktales, something she continued to do as an adult that would lead her to worldwide fame.
As she wrote in her autobiography, Self-Portrait: Margot Zemach: "I can create my own theater and be in charge of everything. When there is a story I want to tell in pictures, I find my actors, build the sets, design the costumes and light the stage. . . . If I can get it all together and moving, it will come to life. The actors will work with each other, and the dancers will hear the music and dance. When the book closes, the curtain comes down."
“I have always thought my best stuff was in my sketchbooks. I have hundreds and hundreds of sketchbooks. I like to work at night, I suppose because that’s when my defenses are sort of low. I have my most creative ideas at night. I’m less inhibited, and I really let it rip.”
From: Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book, edited by Leonard S. Marcus. p. 96; pp. 82-106 are on James Marshall
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, James Marshall’s whimsical drawings added humor to dozens of children’s picture books. While many were made for other writers’ works, including classics such as Mother Goose, Edward Lear, and Ogden Nash, he was also a talented writer on his own. Indeed, he became one of the most popular and prolific illustrators in children’s publishing. In high school, however, he wasn’t so much about the art--though he did doodle, as he called it--as about the music which he saw as a way to get a scholarship to college far away from swampy Texas town where his family lived.
Famous picture book illustrator and author Tasha Tudor loved the old ways of country living and payment for her beautiful work allowed her to live the life she dreamed of. She dressed in clothes styled for the 19th century that she made herself and carried a handmade willow basket to do her grocery shopping. Tasha kept goats, chickens, Corgi dogs, as well as a garden full of herbs, flowers, and the sort of tasty fruits that would find their way into homemade pies cooked on her wood stove. These things she loved and made a part of her illustrations.
Listen and watch a video of Kadir Nelson and you will get to know one of the most wonderful children’s book illustrators of our time. The soft-spoken Nelson has accomplished, before the age of 30, many things. He has worked on a Stephen Spielberg film, Amistad, and won the Caldecott Honor Award for Illustration for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom, in 2007 and in 2008, won it again for Henry’s Freedom Box: a True Story from the Underground Railroad.
Born in Washington, D.C, Kadir began drawing at the age of 3 and at the age of 12 was apprenticed to his uncle, an artist and art instructor himself. Nelson won many contests and ultimately won a scholarship to and attended the Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn, New York. He currently lives and works in San Diego, California.
Nelson has a passion for African Americans and their plight and has illustrated beautifully many books and has created many works of art for celebrities that have sought him out.