Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Setting the Scene with Barbara McClintock

Scene from Where's Mommy 
It is such a pleasure to spotlight Barbara McClintock this week. Her illustrations are brilliant, and the stories they accompany are enchanting. Today we're featuring Where's Mommy and My Grandfather's Coat, two engaging picture books that will steal you away into the scene. In this season of giving, what could be finer than the gift of a good story? #GiveABook 

For those interested in pursuing their passion of becoming an illustrator, here's a little advice from a master of the craft, Barbara McClintock...

How did you get started on your career path to becoming a children's book illustrator?

When I was in college in North Dakota, I knew I wanted to write and illustrate children's books. But there were no courses in children's lit or organizations like scbwi, and I didn't know any professional authors or illustrators. I loved the work of Maurice Sendak, and thought he'd certainly be able to offer advice. So I decided to call him. I'd read he lived in Ridgefield, Ct. I called information for his phone number - it was listed. ( Which indicates how long ago this was!)

I thought, 'He'll either be nice and talk to me, or he'll hang up, so there's nothing to worry about!' I dialed the number, he answered, and he talked to me for 20 minutes about how to select a well known fairy tale, do three finished pieces of artwork to demonstrate how I would handle the illustrations for the story, and put together a dummy book. He encouraged me to move to NYC; when I asked if he thought I should go to art school, he said 'Absolutely not! They'll put so much garbage in your head it will take 10 years to get rid of it!"  I found out later he was teaching at SVA at the time.
A week after my 20th birthday, I moved to New York City with one suitcase and a basket full of drawings (more about that later )

This was 40 years ago, mind you, and you could call an editor or art director and make an appointment to show your portfolio. I called every publisher listed in the Manhattan yellow pages, asked to speak to the editor in chief and made appointments with everyone who would see me. I got my first agent because the woman who worked for the answering service I used took pity on me, and referred me to an agent who used the same service. He was also Trina Schart Hyman's agent; it was s fantastic boost to have him rep me. Luck and serendipity played a huge part in my career.

What was your strategy for presenting your artwork to publishers?

I'd never seen a portfolio. I had a large flat basket I'd bought in Mexico, and I used that to carry my drawings. I'd dump my drawings out of the basket onto editor's and art director's desks. One editor told me she'd heard of my unorthodox way of showing artwork, and that it was a great gimmick. Naïvety has been my greatest ally. 
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a children's book illustrator? What is the most challenging part?

It's rewarding making a career of doing what you love. I get up every morning and go into the studio to pick up where I left off on a manuscript, or drawing a dummy or sketches or doing finished artwork. Every story is different, each new piece of artwork offers risks and challenges. Does this text want a simpler visual response in the way the artwork is done? Or something more complex? Do we move quickly across a page with vignette drawings to drive the narrative, or slow way down with a full double page spread that invites close examination? it's such a beautiful, satisfying thing to weave together a narrative using words and pictures.

I've been very lucky to have received recognition and accolades for what I do. And my work rewards my inner life - I think when I'm in the moment of writing or drawing it's like meditation. I'm in my own place, it's all that exists and I loose all sense of time.  

But it's also hard, long work producing the illustrations. My style is very labor intensive, and I sometimes spend 18-20 hours a day working in my studio. I'm alone when I write and make artwork. You really have to feel at ease being by yourself for long, long periods of time to be in this profession. I have people who depend on me - my authors, editors, art directors, and all the people involved in production and marketing. I strive to be the best I can for all of them, as well as having a personal standard for myself. I'm always aware I'm a very visible part of a team. If I mess up inking a drawing, I have to start over. If a watercolor wash goes bad, it's not a good thing at all. I'm a master of using gouache to cover mistakes, but it's time consuming and a pain, so I don't make mistakes (or not very often!) 

Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
Don't give up. And join scbwi
Scene from My Grandfather's Coat
In this companion to the acclaimed picture book Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary, Maria (Mary's daughter) and Mouse Mouse (Mouse's daughter) are looking for their mothers. They're not in their bedrooms, their car and cart are still in the driveway, and they are not in the gazebo or under the mushroom! Where could they be? Well, turns out Mary and the Mouse are great friends—just like Maria and Mouse Mouse—and soon the new generation is in on the old generation's secret, and vice versa. Read the reviews! 

A rollicking, rhyming, fun rendition of a favorite folksong about a many-times recycled coat--by the award-winning, bestselling team of Jim Aylesworth and Barbara McClintock.

When my grandfather came to America
he made himself a handsome coat!
Then he wore it and he wore it and he wore it--
until it was all worn out!
So what did he do?

He snipped and he clipped--
and he stitched and he sewed...
and out of the still-good cloth of his coat--
he made himself a smart jacket!
How many things can Grandfather make
out of that old frayed coat?

Jim Aylesworth's satisfying retelling and Barbara McClintock's heartwarming pictures celebrate how Grandfather cleverly recycles his beloved coat through four generations.  Read the reviews! 

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  1. haha well naivety works, have to stick with it.

    1. Pat- I agree! Barbara's story is so amazing and such an inspiration! :) ~L

  2. Naivety, commitment, drive and a LOT of hard work. And talent.
    Gorgeous introduction - thank you.

    1. Elephant's Child- So happy to introduce you to Barbara. She is so talented and has obviously worked so hard. :) ~L

  3. I loved hearing about Barbara's journey. :)

    1. Kelly- So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for visiting. :) ~L

  4. I love that your unorthodox method of showing your work got you noticed!

    1. Kimba- I thought it was so cool that she did things her own way and it worked. :) ~L

  5. Thanks for this interview. I am a huge fan of her work in My Grandfather's Coat, which I adored.

    1. Rosi- So nice to hear from another fan! Barbara's illustrations are so beautiful. I love that you adored My Grandfather's Coat! :) ~L

  6. Replies
    1. Blodeuedd- I like nice drawings too! :) ~L


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