It’s the first Sunday of March, and on these first Sundays I like to shine the spotlight on a student or debut illustrator. Today, Liz Starin is visiting, and I sure do love the art she is sharing here today.
You may be familiar with the blog Liz runs with two other illustrators, Pen & Oink. (More on that below.) If you like to read about illustration, you really must check out their site. Their posts are carefully-crafted, and it’s generally a wonderful, entertaining place to visit.
I would introduce you to Liz by telling you a bit about her, but she shares generously below, including how she went from Scientist to Illustrator with regard to career goals. I thank her for visiting, and I really hope we see her in picture books one day very soon.
Liz: Once upon a time, I was going to be a scientist. I went to Brown and studied geophysics, with a little art on the side. Brown students can cross-register at the Rhode Island School of Design, so I enrolled in a picture book class. (He may not remember, but Chad Beckerman was one of my classmates.) I felt like such an imposter in that class. Most, if not all, of the other students were illustration majors, whereas I had no technical training whatsoever. One of the professors called me “math girl.” (She wasn’t wrong.)
One day this professor (generously) praised my loose sketch work, as compared to my stiff finished pieces. I didn’t know it at the time, because I didn’t know anything, but the lively sketch/dead finish problem is really common for illustrators. Nonetheless, I latched onto the idea that I could cultivate a spontaneous way of drawing. Right around that time, a friend gave me a book of Quentin Blake’s work—the apotheosis of energetic line—which I studied for quite some time.
I eventually went back to school for illustration: first the Fashion Institute of Technology, where I did a spectacular amount of life drawing; then, the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst (School of Graphic and Book Arts) in Leipzig, Germany.
There, my illustration professor gave a weekly exercise that he called an Eintagsfliege, which means mayfly, or literally, “one-day-fly.” It was an assignment with a one-day lifespan: brief in the morning, crit in the afternoon. Because we had to work so fast, there wasn’t any time to get too precious about it.
One week, we had to draw three slips of paper from a box and then draw a scene based on what we got. Mine were “dancing bear,” “public swimming pool,” and “Pablo Picasso.” In an effort to link these subjects, I imagined a bear who did water ballet. Suddenly, a series of images came to mind, a bear moving through graceful poses in the water. I did five or six smudgy ink drawings and scrawled text on each one, the beginnings of a story. That story later became the dummy that landed me an agent!
It was fun to discover that I really like drawing animals. Humor is my natural mode, and there’s something especially comical about an animal wearing human clothes and doing human things. (I had previously considered animals too cute.) Before that assignment, I was never any good at animals or action poses drawn from the imagination. But that day, the dam burst. It felt very sudden, but of course it was all that life drawing asserting itself.
I work mainly in ink (sometimes pencil) and watercolor, with swipes of colored pencil, gouache, and crayon, as needed. I also make silkscreen prints on occasion, which is a totally different way of working and thinking. Sometimes I work digitally, alone, or in combination with other techniques.
[As for my] influences, I still love all those energetic-line, ink-and-watercolor types: Quentin Blake, Neal Layton, William Steig, David Ezra Stein, Roz Chast, James Marshall, Tomi Ungerer. I adore Saul Steinberg, whom I discovered when I was 15. Käthe Kollwitz’s work is also very special to me.
Pen & Oink is my blog on children’s illustration. I started it with Robin Rosenthal and Ruthie Lafond, fellow illustrators in my crit group, whom I met in Sergio Ruzzier’s SVA class. We do illustrator interviews, geek out about technique, and share professional tips, favorite books, and, I dunno, YouTube videos. I do a lot of interviews, because I like meeting people and finding out about their work. For me, the blog is a way to engage with the children’s book community and a way to exert my critical opinion a little bit. I also like having a professional platform that doesn’t have to be all ME ME ME.
All images are © Liz Starin and posted with her permission.
Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.
How about Liz’s illustrations? I like them. I also like “energetic-line, ink-and-watercolor types.”
1) Look at this. Jack White is Record Store Day 2013 Ambassador. Thanks to Farida for sharing this. As Adrienne said, he keeps using his powers for good, doesn’t he? (The video at that link is worth watching, too.)
2) See this post from Philip Nel? I also received the same Moomin merchandise from Chronicle, who were telling us they enjoy our Niblings page. I also feel as Phil does (say that seven times fast) about children’s book-related tie-in products and don’t cover them at my site, but I agree with everything he says in that post, and it was a delight to open that box. (”Tasteful” and “nicely produced,” indeed.)
She sent this knitted hat, which
my daughters forced upon our poor feline the cat donned. Pumpkinfacehead looks happy about this, yes?
And here from 2011 is the red hat on the Best Simpsons Character Ever, who permanently lives in my kitchen windowsill.
I’m showing you this, because in celebration of this book, Lita is asking folks to put their favorite red hat on. If you don’t have one, you can knit one, she says. You are even welcome to draw a picture of yourself or your pet wearing a red hat. You can read more about it—and see all the entries thus far—here at her site.
(Is this a tie-in product, as I was just talking about? I don’t know, but ah well. Lita’s mother knitted it, and since I like her new book a lot, I’m sharing — and I’m hoping she’ll visit soon to share some art and maybe even early sketches from it.)
6) Today, I tackle copy edits on our manuscript, which is EXCITING. I suspect I’ll learn a lot from copy edits, not to mention it’s wild to think how much closer we are to seeing the book’s release (Spring 2014).
7) I have said this before here, but when my children get ill (which … well, there was much sickness in the house this week), I am grateful that they are not, say, chronically ill, ’cause I don’t know how those parents do it without falling over. Bless them.
What are YOUR kicks this week? I shall try to break away from copy edits soon to read them.