ILLUSTRATOR: Miriam Nerlove
AUTHOR: Anna Olswanger
BOOK TITLE: GREENHORN
PUBLISHER: NewSouth Books
BUY LINK: www.newsouthbooks.com/greenhorn
What were you like as a kid? Did you always like to draw?
One of my earliest memories of drawing/painting, was when I got a child's easel and paints for my seventh birthday. It was a gift from my grandmother, and I immediately painted a very vigorous and sort of awful rendition of an elephant for her, which she framed. My grandmother hung it prominently in her diningroom, where it stayed until the day she died. That kind of enthusiasm and support was very important to me.
How has your work been influenced by your childhood?
I was very lucky to have parents who supported my artistic interests, and our home was filled with art, books and music. I remember going to art fairs with my mother, and one summer she bought me some rapidograph pens, which started me on constant doodling.
How did you get started illustrating books?
I had been working freelance as an editorial illustrator for various newspapers and magazines in New York, and then I took a class in children's book illustration. Picturebooks seemed to me to be the most natural way to combine my love of art and writing.
What were the challenges you faced with the first book you illustrated?
The very first book I illustrated was back in the 1980s, when illustrators were often required to do their own color separations. It was a good training ground in understanding aspects of the printing process in those days, but it was also rather daunting.
What is your illustrating process?
When I'm illustrating a book or defined project, I try to read and explore as much as I can about the material I'm working on. I balance reading with actual painting, whether it's for myself or a project.
What art supplies and tools do you use?
For children's books I like to use pencil and watercolor with brushes. When I do greeting cards, I've used pen and ink along with the watercolor.
Do you illustrate in different genres, and if so, how does the genre determine your illustration style?
I started out illustrating editorial cartoons/illustrations, where I was very line-oriented and used pen and ink. Watercolor and children's books feel a lot more fluid.
Who are your favorite illustrators?
I have always loved the people Louise Fitzhugh drew for her own books, starting with Harriet the Spy. And Aubrey Beardsley was a favorite artist when I was younger because of his incredible pen and ink mastery. Hilary Knight and Etienne Delessert were favorites as well.
Who or what has influenced your artistic style?
I was an art history as well as a studio art major in college, and I think reading about various artists along with looking at their work has always been a source of inspiration for me. I think my style, too, has been defined by whatever projects I've worked on. Drawing for a newspaper versus painting for a children's book versus painting for myself--these are different venues that require different approaches. I think/hope my style seeps into each venue, though.
How do you get your illustrating jobs?
I worked with mostly two publishers in the past, one in New York and one here in Chicago. But it had been a while since my last book, as I got caught up in raising my children and working other jobs, along with focusing on doing fine art for myself. I was very lucky to meet Anna Olswanger online in a children's writer's group she headed, and getting the privilege to illustrate her beautiful Greenhorn book has rekindled my love of children's books.
Describe your work space.
I have two door-top desks in the room that I work in: they came with me from New York when we moved to Chicago long ago. One has my computer on it, the other one is designated for drawing and painting. It's a small room, but I'm grateful to have it, and I like to fill it with books and music and rotating picture clippings I like to tape to the wall.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a series of paintings which I'd like to turn into a book. It's a backwards way of working, having the paintings "speak" the words, but one I enjoy doing.
A note from the author, Anna Olswanger:
Greenhorn, my illustrated middle grade novel, is about a young Holocaust survivor who arrives at a Brooklyn yeshiva in the 1940s with only a small box that he won't let out of his sight.
Greenhorn is a tough story, but my publisher New South Books believes the book has much to say both to young readers and to the adult community and has made a free Discussion Guide for families and a Classroom Guide for teachers available from its website www.newsouthbooks.com/greenhorn.