Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Robert's Snow & Julia Denos!

So, who wants to buy this snowflake? Who DOESN'T? Seriously, can you even resist Julia Denos' snowflake? The shining flame? The noble cardinal? The gorgeously detailed scarf? The movement against what is sure to be a frigid wind? The sincerity and hope on that rosy freckled face?

You can't. I know it. I can't. You've got 25 days to get your funds ready to start bidding on the first wave of the Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure annual benefit auction. Denos' Red Bird's Hope will be in the third wave, opening on Monday, December 3 at 9 am. Check the cushions, over-turn the change jar, skip that trip to Milan, smash the poor little piggy-bank's body in. It's worth it. You're buying art AND a cure.

Jules, over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, hatched this wonderful organized event. If you pay any attention to the kidlitosphere at all and you haven't heard about the blogging effort? Well, you don't just live under a rock, you ARE a rock. However, it's not too late to escape The Rockbiter. Catch up with the comprehensive list. Perhaps wait until after the interview, though. You really don't want to accidentally get lost in the maze of interwebs and neglect learning about THIS FANTASTIC ILLUSTRATOR:

Meet Julia Denos!

1. Do you often chew on books? We librarians aren't really fans of that, you know.
Oh, sorry Jackie! As a part time bookseller, I'd have to agree with you. As a fanatical picture booker, I can't deny the urge to chew a well designed spread.
I try to hold myself back when the crates of new titles come in every Monday. Yum! Art work just becomes delicious when it is done well, and the designer has done a splendid job, and the paper choice is spot on. I will try to learn other healthier ways to express my love for crafted linework and bleedy watercolor washes.
2. What inspired your blog's title? Who was the Cinnamon Rabbit?
The rabbit of all rabbits! I realized a year AFTER creating it, that the little brown rabbit on my website was Cinnamon, an old friend from childhood. Cinnamon was the best rabbit a little girl could have asked for. I mean, he rolled over and played tag!? We had a blast in the backyard and some pretty good conversations too. I would draw his portrait, and spend lazy hours lying around in the grass with him. I thought he was the best thing in the world, and made sure DogFancy knew so, as I wrote them demanding a Rabbit Fancy spinoff. Mostly it was one of those magical child/animal relationships.
The piece with the girl and the rabbit was actually created while I was finishing art school at The Art Institute of Boston, and quickly became my calling card- one that clients and agents remembered for some reason. Thanks to Cinnamon!
3. How did you become involved with the Robert's Snow effort?
I had heard of it through my agency, Shannon Associates at first. They thought I had done one in the past! That was impossible, because I was still in school, but I looked up the project this year and was so excited to finally get involved. I ended up emailing Alvina Ling, who I had just met in Boston, and she put me through to Grace Lin for the sign up info. Getting the snowflake in the mail was so exciting (and also yummy…I didn't bite it though! Not to worry, bidders.)
4. Could you tell us a little about your snowflake?
I went through a bunch of sketches, and received critiques from friends and my family (especially the wise younger brother) until I figured out which design had the magic. I wanted to make a character design embodying the idea of hope, sort of turn the symbol into a child. I love turning a general emotion or subject into a character with a face.
Then came the question of her costume. I've been secretly obsessed with the costume and traditions of the Saami people in the Lapland regions, and took much of my color palette from their traditional dress. Something about their fight for the preservation of an ancient way of life in modern times really speaks hope to me too.
As for the red bird- I explain it in my blog, but it's a family symbol now, it was generated with my grandmother. Both grandmothers recently were taken by cancer too, so it is a symbol of the ones who have gone before, guiding us.
(Jac says: Do read her full explanation at Cinnamon Rabbit, it's heartfelt & moving.)
5. For the art-ignorant, like myself, could you describe your process of creating and completing images?
No ignorance in art! Only further exploration. I'm still exploring so my process is different each time for every project, depending on what the end vision is. Some pieces NEED watercolor edges preserved, with imported patterns, so digital collage is the answer. Some characters want to be tightly rendered, so pencil on paper is best for them. Ultimately, it ends up as a hybrid process of digital and traditional art. I work in pencil and watercolor first, scan it separately, then use Photoshop for putting the line back into the watercolor, digital painting, and finally importing found material (roommates' skirts, the retro shelf paper in our bathroom, gardening gloves, you name it) I digitally collage, or hand draw the patterns to be scanned back in.
I love fusing old and new, process wise, but also subject wise like Jane Austen via rocker chic, or old fashioned color palettes on modern looking characters. I usually begin book work with tiny squiggly thumbnails to get the gesture of the character down. I usually begin personal work on some really inconvenient type of paper, wherever inspiration has found me, and proceed to figure out how to deal with that. I have a mental note right now reminding me to try out dried out Crayola markers next time to see what happens. I am learning so much as a young artist. I hope it will always feel this fresh.
6. What were some of your other favorite books as a child and why?
The Polar Express was an eye opener in 2nd grade. I remember reading it and staring at the VanAllsburg spreads, getting to the last page with the bell and feeling prickly goosebumps on my arms. There was MEANING in this story. I thought, "I'm going to make books". I was on the couch, probably wearing a side ponytail and hightops, and that was it, then and there. I loved how he would hide his dog at his whim in his pages. Such a secret world you could create! Also, my parents were adamant about bedtime stories. Some of our favorites were A Book of Seasons by the Provensens, A Quilt Story by Tomie DePaola, Barbara Cooney's OxCart Man, A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams. The art in all of these were highly detailed, and the stories were honestly presented, and rhythmic and real. They made bookmaking exciting and also approachable at age 8. Reading Rainbow created a lasting impression on me too. What's better than hearing Bringing the Rain To Kapiti Plain being narrated to you by James Earl Jones as the camera pans the African landscape?
7. You did illustrations for an Easy Reader book about Sojourner Truth called Path to Glory. Did you do any extra research for the historical subject? How did you approach the subject? How did it differ from the illustrations for the series of chapter books, Sleepover Squad, you have done?

Yes, I did research Sojourner in multiple libraries. I have always loved historical research though, so it was fun. I was completely wide-eyed because this was my first –ever client project out of school. I approached it honestly and kept the messiness involved in sketchwork, in the final pieces. This is very different from the Sleepover books. Research for these takes place walking by a playground, and kid's clothing catalogues. I enjoy being light hearted and jumping back into elementary school while I work on Sleepover. I am working on the cafeteria illustration right now, and I swear I can still smell the chicken patties.
8. Can you tell us anything about the picture book you are working on currently? Any other projects?
I am so excited to be working on my first picture book with Candlewick Press due out in 2010! It's in it's initial exploratory stages, but I am loving the world it brings me to already. It's top secret for now.
I have been lucky and blessed to have been so busy this past year. Pant. Pant. I am on book 5 now of the Sleepover Squad. I just finished the art for the opening scenes for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, which will be airing the week after Thanksgiving- it was a blast. I recently finished a bunch of educational pieces for textbooks, modern retelling of Gift of the Magi by Scholastic, promotional identity (coloring book and merch) for a new townhouse going up in Manhattan next year. I have been doing a bunch of book covers for multiple age groups too.
(Jac says: Um, holy crap! I think she's talking about Pictures of Hollis Wood with Sissy Spacek and Alfre Woodard! That's an adaptation of a wonderful Newbery Honor book by Patricia Reilly Giff! SO watching! Julia, set me strait if I'm wrong.)
10. Do you write? Will you someday wear both hats for a book?
Yes I write, but I need time for old stories I've saved up to gestate. So far time hasn't really been available to anything but visual, so someday soon, yes. Stories are cooking.
11. Who are some of the artists who inspire or influence you today?
Oh dear…so many. I was fed a steady diet of the Golden Age illustrators in art school, Kay Nielsen, Alphonse Mucha, C. Coles Phillips are some old faves. They did magical things with shape and volume and the character. As far as picture bookers, I just love to peruse the work of the older gems: Clare Turlay Newberry, Ezra Jack Keats in his page composition, and beautiful hand made textures, Barbara McClintock's detail and Barbara Cooney's simplicity. I am extra lucky to get to work at Curious George bookstore in Harvard Square because I'm surrounded by influence there. It has been great to talk shop with another influential illustrating friend, Emily Goodale and hear the book crits of the astute kidlit students on staff. I am also exposed weekly to the newest titles and resurrected classics. I've been studying the animal paintings of Doug Florian and Brian Wildsmith, the line work of Patricia Polacco and the playful collaging of Lauren Child. Some current favorites are Tony Diterlizzi, Greg Swearingen, Alissa Imre Geis, Leuyen Pham, Amy Bates, Jonathan Bean and newly found Lauren Castillo. Hiroko Hasegawa's fashion illustration and Ilhana Kohn's gritty editorial work is inspirational too. For stretching my style I like to look at artists in other genres like comics, costume design and film concept work.
(Jac says: Alphonse Mucha. Dude. I LOVE that guy. I have a ginormous framed print of his hanging in my entry way. It's the first thing I see when I come home. It makes me happy. I want to go to Prague just so I can visit his murals. I KNEW I liked Julia!! I can totally see that influence in some of her work.)

12. Can you tell us about a typical workday for you? What's going on in the background as you work?
Wake up around 8. Eat oatmeal. (Sometimes) hit the yoga mat. Get the lighting right in my room (bright and cozy is essential) Turn on the iMac to do the email catch up game and look through my fave blogs for inspiration......Start work! In the background is my music! I have this new fascination with, a station on the web. Currently my "stations" include blues singer Madeleine Peyroux and my favorite Canadians, Feist and the band Stars for fast energy sketching and character creating. Movie soundtracks are usually playing too- awesome for scene creation. Classic Django Reinhardt is good for getting through a long afternoon of sketch revisions. I love ambient and classical music for painting, especially Album Leaf, Azure Ray and Chopin. Roomates drift in and out, I take business calls, take family calls. I take mini breaks to cook or walk in my quirky neighborhood outside Boston. The background noise isn't just music, it's usually the close-by neighbors and their families sitting on the stoop, children running between houses, lots of crazy chatter too.
13. Since this is a blog primarily concerned with teen literature, do you have any intention of doing book covers or illustrations in books for older readers?
Yes! I am also a fan of this genre, especially the cover art. There is a lot of fun experimentation in cover work for this genre, it seems. I get excited when I see artists from other art scenes take on a cover in this genre like Tara McPherson (comics) for Kiki Strike or Marcos Chin (advertising) for The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney. I have recently finished a cover Penguin, for middle school level readers, about a mysterious violin theft. Can't wait to do more.


I want to specifically point out this piece by Julia. It's called "the rebel peace" and here's part of what she said about it on her blog:

"It was interesting doing this piece to answer my own question, "why do we wear the pattern of war in this country, so casually?" Her design was based on my impulse to create a character in the spirit of fearless innocence, wrapped in a flag of "camo", combative with a bugle and in attention-commanding colors, a mockery of the every day camo originally created in a palette, designed for hiding. She is on a flat backdrop of randomly placed media suggestions of violence, not only of war, but war on life within our own culture. In a way she was designed to be a herald of a sort of awakening, one that would call to question our reasons and motives for violence within our entertainment/media/culture."

I find it nigh on impossible to choose a favorite piece of her's. I really, really do, but there's something about "the rebel peace." There's
innocence and defiance and optimism in this fiery girl. I know those are slightly contradictory terms, but I've stared at and pondered the piece for a long time, and I can see all of them in it. It hits me somewhere. Possibly the gut. Maybe right in the heart. Actually, I think I'm floored by it. And I didn't want you to miss it, or what Julia had to say about it.
Right. So, who's in love with Julia Denos? Yeah, me too. The funny thing is that at first I didn't want to choose an illustrator. I didn't want to break another blogger's heart by taking their favorite, so I told Jules at 7-Imp that she should just assign me someone. She was cool with that, but really thought I should take a closer look at the list and make sure there wasn't someone that I really wanted. So I started looking up every illustrator, in alpha order, trying to find one that spoke to me. I got as far as the Ds. Then I yelled at Jules for giving me YET ANOTHER PERSON TO PAY ATTENTION TO. It's all her fault, of course. ;)

Anyway, since I know that I've just successfully become the gateway to the drug called Julia Denos, check out her portfolio to cement your addiction. She mentioned that she's just signed up for an Etsy account in order to sell prints. I'll keep you posted.

Also, remember, there are many, many artists submitting snowflakes to the Robert's Snow effort, and not all of them can be featured in the blogosphere. For the ever growing list, please take a look at the official website. Don't forget that the first auction starts on November 19 at 9 am. Meanwhile, take a look at the other snowflakes featured today (a fine, fine lineup, I must say):


tanita✿davis said...

Ooh, you're such a PUSHER!
I'm now totally feening not only for the snowflake, but just more of this woman's art. The Sojourner Truth book is beautiful. I love that the snowflake chick has freckles. So much detail, yet it's not something that jumps out at you... subtlety yet a bright palette... Love, love, LOVE it.

Thank you so much for getting all kinds of neat questions answered. This artist - bookchewer or no - is amazing.

My picturebook nerddom increases.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god. And that bit of scarf flopped over the back of the flake!??!? AAaargh!!! This is so gorgeous I might have to start getting pushy at the auction. Yep, I'm addicted. Thanks...

jama said...

What a great interview! Love her work :). . .

gail said...

That's what's so cool about this project! We get to see all this talent that we might have missed otherwise. Great job! Love the reference about "Golden Age Illustrators" next to the Victorian lady with the cats. Love that piece! I'm off to check out her website.


Josephine Cameron said...

I've had "Cinnamon Rabbit" as the desktop art on my computer for a few weeks now. It makes me smile every morning. Thanks for the great interview!

Sara said...

I was just more and more charmed as I read along, and each picture you posted melted me more. And then I dived into her website. Is it too soon to ask her to do my next book cover? Not that I have any say in it, but...

There is something that refuses to leave you after you look at her work.

Anonymous said...

AW, MAN!! I'm in love, too! THANK YOU, Jackie and Julia, for this great interview.

I...I....I don't know what to say. I love her art work, and she's all new to me. Too many things to say, so I won't say anything at all, 'cause I'm kinda overwhelmed. Like I just spotted the picture book love of my life across the room. Except that, bottom line, I love that she's a picture booker eating her books. I can understand this urge.

Oh, and we're featuring a LeUyen Pham illustration or two this Sunday.

Still mostly speechless,

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I just adore her art! Thank you for introducing me to this. Her faces are so charming and unforgettable.

Charlotte said...

Oh my goodness, I echo the comments that have gone before me. What a lovely snowflake.

Jackie Parker said...

Jules: you've said it exactly.

Sara: Totally. I want to think of reasons to commission her art (I have none). I want to wallpaper my life with her images. Which kinda sounds creepy, but I don't mean it too...really.

Julia was a joy to correspond with, and I truly hope she becomes a staple in our world of kidlit.

Anonymous said...

The snowflake: crazy beautiful. Cannot stand it.

The other images: exactly the sort of art I'd want to create if I had a shred of talent. I love those Chuck Jones eyes peering out of all that wispy hair and collage-y backgrounds.

The interview: excellent.

Me: hooked on Julia.

An Etsy account, you say? Hmm...

Anonymous said...

"There is something that refuses to leave you after you look at her work."

*Points up* What Sara said (much more succinctly than I could have put it). Just beautiful.

Erin said...

What a FABULOUS interview! Kudos to you both. Jackie, you now have the entire kidlitosphere in love with Julia's work. Gah. I would adore it if she did the cover for one of *my* book's someday. *swoon*

Mary Lee said...

I can't believe she didn't mention Trina Schart Hymen as one of her influences! That's who I see as an inspiration.

Gorgeous work, and completely original, no matter who she admires!! said...

Can I just pop in and say (I am now severely blushing...) THANK YOU!!
Thank you all so much for the kind words, and positive feedback (such is scarce working alone in the studio). It is all much appreciated.

I'm so pumped for the auction and to be able to check all of your blogs I otherwise would not have known about! And again Jackie, your brilliance and humor rocks.

And yes Mary Lee, I always loved Trina! Forever and ever.

Off to paint a cover! Stay tuned!
Best to you all,

Little Willow said...

The first thing that caught my eye was the photograph of her gnawing on her book. Then I saw the Sleepover cover and recognized her style. Then I spotted the picture with the cats and thought, "I MUST READ THAT BOOK RIGHT NOW. WHERE IS THAT BOOK?"

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! What a great interview with the coolest illustrator ever! I am way excited about this. :)

Anonymous said...

Lovely interview... completely gorgeous art. I have just gone and bought a brown rabbit and named him Cinnamon and he is sitting here next to me, wiggling his little nose as I type. (Kidding!) No kidding - this snowflake is going to get a bidding war going. Hooray!