The first Princess Posey book was published in 2010. How long before that were you asked to illustrate the book? And were the plans to have it be a single book at that time or were there already intentions to publish more than one book about Posey?
Susan Kochan and Cecilia Yung at Penguin contacted me in November of 2008 about the Princess Posey series. If I am remembering this right, there were two books planned initially. The first book was well received, so I think that’s what expanded the series out.
Knowing how important it is to have characters in books look the same no matter how they are standing or sitting or moving, how did you begin to create Posey’s look?
Stephanie Greene’s text created Princess Posey through her approachable and clever text. After reading the first manuscript, I thought that this is a real and relatable kid- someone we all know. As an aside, I loved that Posey’s family situation is not explained. We don’t know why her father isn’t in the picture. This isn’t a divorce book or a book about why dad isn’t there—her world is not about the absence of someone. Posey has her family, her neighbors, friends, and a teacher who are loving and nurturing and that’s enough.
What type of drawing materials and papers do you use when you’re illustrating the Posey stories?
The Princess Posey illustrations are done traditionally with watercolors and paper. I do a little cleaning up digitally, but 90% or better is traditional media.
What do you think of differently when creating the black-and-white drawings and spot illustrations for Posey as opposed to creating the illustrations for your newest book: Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos?
When I was working on the illustrations for Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos, I was preparing for a life outside of the U.S. on this little island called Mauritius. On Mauritius the air is humid (paper buckles and molds) and quality art materials are difficult to find, plus shipping original artwork is an act of faith in an incredibly unreliable service at best. I can’t even count on a letter mailed within Mauritius with clearly printed addresses to make it to its destination. For Star Stuff, I used mostly digital media working on a Wacom™ tablet with some scanned art—mostly for backgrounds. I needed to teach myself a method that I could use that could be uploaded to an FTP server. I uploaded the book shortly before we moved to Mauritius and it worked!
Do you keep a file of images, either on paper or digitally, that helps you with ideas?
Yes, I have files for all of my books. I am also a big fan of Pinterest. Whenever I find images that I think I can use I collect them. This is a great way to create a book.
Posey has three friends, a teacher, Miss Lee, and her mother and grandfather as main characters. Do you organize your information about each of them in a particular way? What form does those records take?
I keep a file with images of Posey’s world. It contains maps of her neighborhood, drawings of her house, a floorplan of her house and drawings of each room. I do a bit of the same for the other characters, noting what sort of clothing they wear. For example, Nikki wears a lot of tunics and wears a headband, Posey likes her bling. I have scans of the characters in various positions and have a “line up” drawing with their heights relative to one another.
Do you feel that you know Posey and her world quite well now? Does it feel like a real place to you?
Yes, definitely. Her world sits as a complete place in my mind.
On your website, you wrote that Tomie dePaola was the first illustrator who made you realize that you could have a job writing and illustrating children’s books. What kind of training did you go through to make you confident in your work?
Yes, I was lucky to have met Tomie dePaola when I was in elementary school. I haven’t received any formal art training. My collection of books for children grows by the year and includes most of my favorites from childhood. I study those books. I love everything about them from the feel of the paper, how the story is laid out, the theater of this thing we call a book. I began drawing (like most of us) as soon as I could hold a pencil, I’ve just never stopped.
What books would you recommend to budding illustrators?
Study the books you love and ask yourself why you like them. Study how the story unfolds, how we meet the characters in the book, and what we can tell about the characters from the pictures. I’ve noticed that many successful illustrators come from a film background. Watch movies and see what kind of lighting is used to set a mood, how scenes are framed and how things are paced to heighten the emotion of the story. As a storyteller, my number one focus is always the emotional connection between the reader and the characters and the story. As far as books go, there are so many! Leonard Marcus has written some gems about childrens’ literature, I love reading biographies of illustrators and writers for inspiration, too. My first stop though in this process of becoming a creator of content for children is the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
Stephanie, it has been a joy to come to know Posey through the visuals you create. Many of them show tenderness, humor, and joy … all of which young readers appreciate. Thank you for sharing your talents with us.