Seven Questions Over
a Late-Night Breakfast with Christian Robinson

h1 August 27th, 2012 by jules

Get out the veggies, eggs, and coffee mugs. Illustrator Christian Robinson is visiting for a late-night breakfast. (Why not? Breakfast for dinner! I say.) Given that he’s a vegetarian—though he admits he kinda misses his bacon—he enjoys “a really good veggie omelette in the morning, usually with avocado, tomato, spinach, and cheddar. Pancakes or toast on the side. A tall glass of fresh-squeezed OJ is a must.” This is all more than good with me, though of course we’re going to have it at night, not to mention I’m bringing some strong coffee to the table, too. (Yes, it’s late, but decaf is just wrong all wrong.)

Christian, who is also an animator, will soon see the release (October of this year) of Renée Watson’s Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills, published by Random House. This is the picture book biography of the African-American cabaret singer and dancer, the daughter of former slaves who faced bigotry herself during her rise to fame at the time of the Harlem Renaissance, yet sang of civil rights and ultimately used her fame and talent to give back to the community. (“After her performances,” Watson writes, “Florence disguised herself so no one would recognize her. She went to hospitals to deliver flowers to patients. And she walked along the Thames River giving money and food to beggars.”)

Robinson’s mixed media illustrations convey emotion with a child-like clarity and seeming simplicity; they are a striking accompaniment to Watson’s words. Today, Christian shares art from this book, as well as lots of other art, and I thank him for visiting.

So, let’s get right to it.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Christian: Illustrator for now. Aspiring to be both.


Sister Girl: “[Birthday] gift for my grandma.
I was trying to channel an Ezra Jack Keats feel in this collage.”

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?

Christian:


Illustration from Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens (Zest Books, 2011)

Jules: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

Christian: Paper cut-out.


Endpapers
(Click to enlarge)


“Florence had a hard time paying attention in school. Instead of listening to the teacher, she would stare out the window. The sky became her stage,
and she was a star singing and dancing for the world. …”

(Click to enlarge)


“…That night, Florence performed her best routine. Everyone stood and clapped.”
(Click to enlarge)


“She flew from stage to stage, all over the country from the East Coast to the
West Coast, until she landed at New York’s 63rd Street Music Hall. …”

(Click to enlarge)


“A very special thing was happening in Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance.
All kinds of creative minds contributed to Harlem’s cultural movement. …”

(Click to enlarge)


“Tho’ I’m of a darker hue, / I’ve a heart the same as you. … /
For love I’m dyin’, my heart is cryin’. /
A wise old owl said Keep on tryin’. /
I’m a little blackbird looking for a bluebird too. …”
(Click to enlarge)

Images from Renée Watson’s Harlem’s Little Blackbird:
The Story of Florence Mills
(Random House, October 2012)

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Christian: I give a large amount of credit to San Francisco for contributing to my happiness. I currently live and work in the city. I love it.


Koko & All Ball: “Do you remember Koko & All Ball?
Their story is the most beautiful and most saddening thing.”


Lovers: “…I made these two goldfish lovers…aren’t they lucky that
distance will never be an obstacle for their love?”


Nebula


“Come on, People”

Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Christian: Oh, I like this story.

I had just graduated college (CalArts’ character animation program) and was interning with Pixar Animation Studios in their consumer products department. Long story short: I found myself in a meeting with Pete Doctor, director of Disney Pixar’s Up. My internship mentor, Ben Butcher, had invited me to be a fly on the wall and observe how meetings with directors and the consumer product department go. Ben also asked me to prepare a few sketches and illustrations before the meeting, demonstrating how I might interpret the film’s characters in my own style.

Pete Doctor noticed my illustrations pinned to a board, placed off in some dark corner of the room. He turned to the film’s producer, Jonas Rivera, and said, “Wow, we should have this guy make a book for the film.” And, just like that, I received my first book-illustration gig. I think my mind just exploded in that moment. It was so unreal, the kind of stuff you’d daydream about happening to you — but couldn’t imagine it happening for real.


Home: “This is a piece I made for an art auction [whose] goal is to raise money to build homes for children in Ghana. The theme I was encouraged to work in was HOME. I have to admit I spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of home. I think home is something we carry with us, it isn’t any place necessarily. I find home in people and relationships, it’s also like a feeling of peace and belonging.”

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Christian: Blog: www.mosscovered.blogspot.com. Website: www.theartoffun.com.


Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Christian: Always a little scary at first: Children are the best critics. I think it’s because they’re honest, sometimes brutally. You hope you can keep them engaged and that your work will appeal.

In the end, I always leave feeling re-charged and even more excited to continue doing what I love.


Children of Harlem
(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Christian: After Harlem’s Little Blackbird, I worked on a picture book titled Rain! by Linda Ashman, published through Houghton Mifflin. This is a really special story with few words and a lot of heart.

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, the coffee’s on the table, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Christian again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Christian: I like to do my research. I’d describe the start as cultivating curiosity for the characters and setting in the story. I go to the library and absorb all the visuals and facts that will influence and inspire the work.

Then I start sketching, sometimes rough concepts; other times, more polished work. I basically work on creating enough art to share my vision with the art director and editor.

Then layout sketches — I like to use Post-it [notes]. These are great, because I can easily switch out sketches that aren’t working.

Then, once approved by the editor and art director, I create images in Photoshop, tying down shapes and colors. Then, final art collage and acrylic.




Christian’s Post-it note sketches,
color and shape exploration in Photoshop, and final collage art
(Click last photo to see this in its entirety and to see images side by side)

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Christian: I currently work from home. I live in a beautiful, 100-year old Victorian home. My room is really small, and I love it. I have a huge window that faces a tree-lined street. San Francisco is expensive, and I don’t mind inhabiting a crammed quarter in order to afford to live in a city that inspires me.



3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Christian: Honestly, as a child I struggled learning to read and write and needed a little extra help to keep up in class. I remember being intimidated by reading and not being very attached to books without pictures. My love for books came later.

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Christian: Yeah, I’d like to cheat on this one. While I am a fan of many contemporary authors and illustrators, most of my heroes are from a different era.

But, if I try, I’d say Beatrice Alemagna, Kevin Waldron, and Serge Bloch.


Christian with Yuri Norstein in 2010; click here to read more

5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Christian: Yes, I just checked my Spotify playlist, and the last artist I was listening to was Thelonious Monk.

Yes, I love listening to music while working, although if I feel I need to use my full attention on an illustration, I’ll put the headphones down.


(Click to enlarge)

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Christian: That before I was fortunate enough to make a living illustrating children’s books, I worked as a parking attendant at the Hollywood Bowl, a shoes salesman at a Crocs kiosk, and a store-greeter at Bath & Body Works and Ikea.


Outcast


Environmentalist


Drunk


American Soldiers (2010): “It would seem the U.S. Army is becoming more inclusive and more accurately portraying the diverse country it protects.” Read more here.


The Politician

7. 7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Christian: Do you think the universe is friendly, unkind, or indifferent?

Friendly! I tend to feel it’s ourselves working against us, not the universe.



Two pieces for The Goods from McSweeney’s

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Christian: “Happiness.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Christian: “Sorry.”

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Christian: Passion, enthusiasm, fun, play, charisma, exuberance.


More of Christian’s inspirations; click here to read more…

Jules: What turns you off?

Christian: Convention, complaining, doubt.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Christian: The sizzle of an egg when it first touches a hot pan.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Christian: A dog tied to a post outside, whining for its owner.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Christian: Comedian.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Christian: Prison guard.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Christian: “Everybody in!”

* * * * * * *

HARLEM’S LITTLE BLACKBIRD: THE STORY OF FLORENCE MILLS. Text copyright © 2012 by Renée Watson. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Christian Robinson. Published by Random House, New York.

All other artwork and images used with permission of Christian Robinson.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.





28 comments to “Seven Questions Over
a Late-Night Breakfast with Christian Robinson”

  1. Welllllll, I am smitten.


  2. What a wonderful interview! Christian, your work is fantastic! :)


  3. Smitten. A good word, Robin.
    He had me at Florence looking out of the window. I would have that framed. Large. In my home. Forever.

    I LOVE, love, love, love the paper cut-out thing. It is so … disingenuously simple looking, but so complex.


  4. AMAZING work! BEAUTIFUL interview! Thank you so much Christian!


  5. Love these images, so happy.
    The interview makes me feel the same about Christian.


  6. Thanks for this great introduction! I love “the environmentalist” and many of these illustrations. I look forward to reading his book!


  7. Gorgeous work, Christian! I love your answer to the last question. “Everybody in!” Yes!


  8. Amazing work. Love that elephant!
    Christian, I read this post last night and woke up this morning thinking of your post-it note thumbnails! Of course!! That may have changed my life forever!!!!!
    Thanks Jules and Christian.


  9. Whew…I discovered I was holding my breath as I was reading this interview. With every new visual I felt myself getting happier and happier. Christian, I love so many of your answers. I am completely drawn to the alphabet drawings (with everything really) and I must have a copy of Harlem’s Little Blackbird. Thanks to you Jules and you Christian for this interview.


  10. first saw this book when Joy Chu introduced it me. love the work.

    and the ispy with instruments…that was so clever. had to take a double-take on it.

    smiles,
    anna


  11. I see awards in his future! Fabulous post!


  12. I love his work/this post.


  13. lovely interview christian! your brilliance and kindness shines through. best wishes for everything!


  14. Amazing work. So inspiring!


  15. Great creative spirit. I love his work. Big fan.


  16. I’m in love with every single image in this post. This is not just inspiring–it’s sheer bliss!


  17. Christian’s art makes me happy, especially that sun at the end. And the cat. And the environmentalist.


  18. WOW! yuuuuuuuuuummmmmmm! amazing work and interview ( and I love the post-it note thumbnail idea…) thanks for another fabulous post!


  19. That alphabet alone would make me a big fan. Wow, LOVED this interview :) .


  20. great interview, i do like his work. How interesting that it sounds like he works digital to traditional instead of the opposite necessarily. I likethe post note idea too.


  21. Christian’s work makes me so happy!
    It’s amazing how he captures character and gesture!
    So much humor and feeling.
    A gift to the world! and
    the interview, and its format very delightful; pithy yet SO rich.
    Gratefully, Alice


  22. I am such a fan! How awesome is his work. The eye just has so many wonderful places to go. I love the simplicity of his work. Lots of feeling and movement. Awesome!!!


  23. Well, I’m late to the party, as usual, but wanted to say how wonderful it is to “meet” Christian. Can’t wait to read HARLEM’S LITTLE BLACKBIRD — it looks gorgeous. And I’m absolutely thrilled with his illustrations for RAIN! So talented. Thanks, Jules.


  24. [...] Christian Robinson (August 27, 2012) on his illustrating [...]


  25. Christian, you are (as they say on American Idol) A STAR! You have a strong, unique voice and a huge career ahead of you that will be wonderful to watch unfold.


  26. [...] first introduction to this talented artist was on the 7 Impossible Things website. I was mesmerized by the post. His art could be described as Ezra Jack Keats meets Eric Carle, yet [...]


  27. [...] Christian Robinson’s character development and exploration forsome of the characters in Linda Ashman’s Rain!(Click to enlarge)   This morning over at Kirkus, I write about Emily Jenkins’ newest picture book, Water in the Park: A Book About Water and the Times of the Day, released recently by Schwartz & Wade Books and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. (Stephanie will visit 7-Imp next week.) That link will be here today. [...]


  28. […] a reminder, Christian visited 7-Imp in 2012, and it’s still one of my favorite […]


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