Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A truly odd guest!

No, just kidding! There's nothing odd about my friend, Karen Lee. But she certainly is special! She is the illustrator of two Sylvan Dell titles, One Odd Day and My Even Day, as well as BOTH author & illustrator of ABC Safari. She's joining me today on the 2nd day of her blog book tour.

It's great to have you in for a visit, Karen. I'll just jump right in with my questions!

Who are your favorite illustrators? Do you feel they influenced your work?

My favorite of all time is NC Wyeth – my son’s middle name is Wyeth in his honor. Among contemporary illustrators I admire Adam Rex , Tony DiTerlizzi, Peter Ferguson, Kadir Nelson, and Tim Bower . If you look at the work of these artists you can see some of the same elements; powerful design, masterful execution, drama, style, but all with something uneasy about them. These artists’s work all challenge the viewer rather than simply lull them. That is exciting to me and something I aspire to do with my art.

Now that you're a southern girl like me, (after your Ohio childhood) do you think your southern lifestyle has had an effect on your work? Or does it just make your materials melt faster?

I love living in the south and have for about nineteen of my adult years which is crazy because I’m only 29, but that is a whole other interview. It’'s pretty laid back and I love being able to be outdoors year round. I can'’t seem to think clearly unless I’m moving. We are fortunate to have a paved greenway path near our house and I do almost all of my best thinking while walking the dog every morning. There is also a strong writing tradition in the south and I think it has given me access to some phenomenal role models.

And what ABOUT that Ohio childhood... how did it affect the artist you are now? (And I mean artist in all senses, including your writing and any other arts to which you may lend your talents.)

I am the second oldest of five kids born within five and a half years so my poor mom didn'’t have much time to entertain me – she hardly had time to breathe – can you imagine? Just about all of my most vivid early memories are of either art or of books. I read all the time and I remember feeling anxious that my small town library was running out of things I hadn'’t read. I read anything I could get my hands on from my dad’s scientific journals to my mom’s Redbook Magazine. Back then Redbook featured great fiction and always had lots of short stories coupled with art from wonderful illustrators. It was my introduction to writers like Judith Viorst and artists like Charles Santore. I even read almost all my dad’s collection of classics from Shakespeare’s comedies (couldn'’t do the histories and only a few of the tragedies) to Hawthorne, Doyle, and Dickens.

The books I remember the most from my childhood are an illustrated David and Goliath that I checked out of the library over and over, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’'Engle, The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, and Illusions by Richard Bach. It’s interesting to me that several of these books have essentially the same theme – the triumph of good over evil at great odds. It is such a universal story.

We lived in a small suburb of Cleveland and, as a teenager, I took a bus into Cleveland to attend Saturday classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art. That was the perfect combination of freedom and creative stimulation for me and probably influenced my decision to go to an art college more than anything else.

Do you prefer illustrating your own books or the books of other authors?

That’'s an interesting question and I’m not sure how well I can answer it yet because I’ve only illustrated one of my own books. I can say that while it is satisfying to be able to have control over the entirety of a book it also comes with the burden of being solely responsible for the success of that creation. There is something to the gestalt that comes from two or more minds coming together to make something greater than the sum of its parts and I think that has happened with One Odd Day and My Even Day.

Do you have other books in the works that you have authored?

I have two manuscripts that I am currently storyboarding and maybe here I can shed some light about how I feel about illustrating my own work. One of these stories is a quirky, creepy story that I don’t feel adequate to do the finished art for. I have convinced my husband, illustrator Tim Lee www.leeillo.com to collaborate with me on the art in the event that it gets accepted. He can bring something to this picture book that I can’t pull off alone and he also is much more experimental than I am and will push the art to a level that matches the story better.

The other picture book I am working on is also a story that wouldn'’t be well matched for the style of work I am currently doing but this one is my challenge. I am hoping that when I begin the sketches for this I will launch my work into a new direction. This particular story has also been a departure for me - it is written in prose after several years of writing primarily in rhyme.

I know Sylvan Dell is a well-respected publisher which does a good job of promoting its authors and illustrators. I've met Lee German, your publisher at Sylvan Dell and he's a great guy! Since many beginners start out thinking they would like to be published only by a "big" house, can you share some of the things a smaller publishing house has to offer which may even be superior to a big publisher?

I have loved working with Sylvan Dell. Besides being extraordinarily friendly, they have a real passion for what they are publishing. For me the assets are that the author or illustrator has greater creative freedom. They will also keep these books in print and remain committed to them long after most big-house books are out of print.

Karen is also on tour the rest of this week, so to get more in depth information, follow her to the blogs of our other talented friends:

Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Kim Norman
Ruth McNally Barshaw
Barbara Johansen Newman
Dotti Enderle
Kerry Madden

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