7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #435: Featuring
Up-and-Coming Illustrator, Sarah Kaufman

h1 June 7th, 2015 by jules

“Even the huge rhinoceros is walking on stilts.”
(Click to enlarge)


I’ve got some local talent today, Nashville artist Sarah Kaufman, whose picture book The Circus (Greenleaf Book Group) is out on shelves. She will also have a book launch next Saturday, June 13, at Parnassus Books at 2:00 p.m., where she will do a reading and answer questions.

As you’ll read below, Sarah used some of her existing paintings to create this book. I had the pleasure of meeting her in person recently, and she has a real passion for children’s literature and learning even more about picture book-making. (This is the first picture book she’s both written and illustrated.) She has a BFA in Painting and an MAT in Education and taught for many years. She’s a big believer in nurturing children’s creativity: “Look at art, make art, read books, and write stories,” she says. “That creativity is in everyone; it just needs a little encouragement.”

Below, she tells us more about herself and shares some paintings from the book. I turn things over to her now, and I thank her for visiting.

On Artistic Influences:

As far as children’s books go, I am a huge fan of Maurice Sendak, not only for his amazing illustrations, but also for his willingness to tell a strong story. And Maxfield Parrish, illustrator extraordinaire. When I was a kid, I used to copy his illustrations in my sketchbook, and my mom would critique them for accuracy. It really helped me with drawing. The illustrations from Alice Adventures in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, the original Oz books by L. Frank Baum, and the paintings of Alphonse Mucha all had a big effect on me as a child.


“People came from near and far.”
(Click to enlarge)


During this time, I have to say, though, my biggest influences were my mother and father. My mother is an artist, and she guided and encouraged me in drawing and painting. My father is a storyteller, and we used to take long walks and he would make up stories about “The Bubble Man,” who would create a giant bubble to transport me, my brother, and himself to any time, any place. The stories were fascinating, and listening to my dad create them on the spot was one of my favorite things to do. This enormous encouragement and modeling of creativity and development of my imagination laid the foundation for all my work today.


“They all wanted to see the circus.”
(Click to enlarge)


On Her Work Thus Far:

My first experience illustrating was The Tale of Bambu Mouse by Marianne Bouldin. It is a charming story about a little mouse in China, who learns lots of lessons about home, friendship, and patience. The book also incorporates Chinese phrases, so the reader can learn a little about Chinese language along the way. I lived in China for a year, teaching English, and Marianne Bouldin’s grandmother was Chinese, so it was really fun to draw on those experiences to make the book.


“Some came by air.”
(Click to enlarge)


I was amazed at how the illustrations influenced the story. Obviously, the story is the inspiration behind the illustrations. But surprisingly, as I created the paintings, Marianne was able to further edit and change the story, because it was clear that some elements were fully realized in the illustrations. What a wonderful way to edit a book and completely integrate the words and pictures! It was an fantastic experience, because I learned how a children’s book is created — from the ground up. A huge amount of work but so rewarding! At that point, I was hooked.


“Jonathan brought his dog on his flying houseboat.”
(Click to enlarge)


Attention everyone! The performers are almost here!”
(Click to enlarge)


My current book is The Circus, and I both wrote and illustrated it. The reader is brought along with the audience of a mysterious circus. The patrons arrive in magical contraptions to be entertained by an assortment of surreal and magical performers. Flying boats, floating animals, rhinos on stilts. It is written for younger children, and my intention is for each page to create an opportunity for the parent and the child to talk about the mysterious and surreal images. Like my parents encouraging my imagination as a child, my hope is that it gives other parents and kids the opportunity to go off on some creative tangents as well.


On Both Writing and Illustrating
for the First Time:

Because of my career as a painter, the illustrations were the driving force for this story. They had been painted previously and worked into a story after the fact. As I paint, I am always telling myself the narrative of the painting — something is always happening visually, and there is always tension in it. I always wanted to bring the stories of these pieces together as a children’s book, but the business of being a painter and a mother took so much time. It was one of those dreams on the back burner.


“The birds bring the circus animals into the tent.”
(Click to enlarge)


“Lions, tigers, bears, and baboons.”
(Click to enlarge)


One day, I decided to give it a try. I looked over all the circus paintings I had done over the past several years and used some of them to form a narrative. It is not a traditional story line, but rather like a true visit to a circus. There is the journey to the carnival itself, and then the beginning of the show, then all of the performers and their acts, and finally the end of the show and the circus moves on. It is set up more like an art exhibit; you go from one painting to the next on a trip through an experience, rather than the traditional protagonist, antagonist, conflict, and resolution plot line.


“Here comes another tiger.”
(Click to enlarge)


I chose to self-publish using Greenleaf Book Group, mainly because of my impatience! Once I wrote it, I was ready to go and did not want to wait to be picked up by a publishing house or have the story changed. I had my vision for the story, and I didn’t want to deviate from it. I decided to use Kickstarter to get it funded, and it was an awesome experience. The energy of getting so many orders for books from all over the world was an amazing and validating thing. And with Kickstarter, if you don’t reach your goal, you don’t get any of the money, so the stakes are high! It was a real nail-biter. Once the goal was reached, I paid the balance on the publishing, and Greenleaf did an amazing job of laying out the book, giving me editing suggestions, and publishing it. Once it arrived, I was over the moon!


“A black bird carries in a little dog named Peanut.”
(Click to enlarge)


On Painting:

I paint on canvas. The first thing I do is lay down a texture of plaster and gesso. I seal that by applying many translucent layers of acrylic paint, very loose and messy and chaotic. I mostly use giant brushes, paper towels, and paint splatters. After I get the ground of the painting rich and exciting, I stop and let an image or idea come to me. Then I get the oil paint and render it on the abstract background. The idea for the painting develops as I paint it, so the process it very integral to the work itself.


“The crow makes Annabelle float through a hoop.”
(Click to enlarge)


On What’s Next:

After the book launch, there are a few projects on the calendar. I have a show in Madison, Wisconsin (Art Fair on the Square), and an exhibit at Blend Studio in Nashville. I am in Proto Pulp book fair in Nashville as well — and have a list of commissions to paint in between it all. And in March, I am the featured artist, along with sculptor Preston Farabow, at the Webb School in Knoxville. We will be creating a circus installation, complete with performers!


“Only the dancing bear took the day off.”
(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge cover)


THE CIRCUS. Copyright © 2015 by Sarah Kaufman. Published by Greenleaf Book Group, Austin, TX. Illustrations here reproduced by permission of Sarah Kaufman.

* * *

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.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) The Deslondes.

2) The girls and I are having fun this summer with more time to read. We are reading all good things thus far but are probably enjoying these two the most:


3) Lying in the sun. I don’t mean tanning. But just soaking it in.

4) The 11-year-old survived her first fall from her bike. Her chin was one with the pavement. But she’s still going.

5) A friend told me the fun fact that, for a while, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had the working title of “Scrambled Eggs” for “Yesterday.” I told my 9-year-old, who ran off and wrote some new lyrics.

6) Then I saw this.

7) The first night of my grad course went well this past week. I seem to have a good group of students.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

9 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #435: Featuring
Up-and-Coming Illustrator, Sarah Kaufman”

  1. Good early Morning! The writer and organizer JULES, creates a room full of memories through her review of children’s authors and illustrators. The only way I am able to describe this wonderful feeling when reading how people create art and by viewing the techniques behind the books is by looking back at the characters of children while I taught school. Too many years ago… Yet, the language, dress of the children, their misfortunes and innate goodness color my memories and fill in the quiet times my husband and I share in a small brick house. Where our backgrounds mean nothing to the people in the community. But we did share our skills to small groups of children and ya when we taught school. What is under the surface of these remarkable rural area children and ya??? atk Thanks again!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story, illustrations, and process with us, Sarah. I hope the book and your career as well.
    Jules, I know exactly what you mean by lying in the sun for the just soaking it in. The Cabinet of Curiosities looks really fun.
    My kicks:
    1. Our annual indoor volunteer picnic in the library for the school volunteers.
    2. Visiting Portland Nursery.
    3. The Milwaukie Farmer’s Market.
    4. Oldest Grandgirl’s ukele concert.
    5. The responses over The Onion’s story about the dangers of glitter.(on my FB page).
    6. Hummingbird at the hanging flower basket.
    7. Sophie.
    Have a good week.

  3. Oops forgot. Bonus kick: Snowpiercer the movie. Wow!

  4. Jone, I really liked that movie!

    What did your granddaughter play on the uke? I once learned to play “You Are My Sunshine,” but it’s now lost to the ravages of time. …. Hope Sophie is feeling tip-top.

  5. Such a beautiful, delicate fantastical magical world created in those illustrations – thanks so much for sharing these and your process Sarah!

    Jules – Glad you and the girls are enjoying the reading, those look like great books. Also glad the 11 year old is back on the bike after her fall. Listening to The Deslondes as I read and comment.

    Jone -I don’t live in Milwaukie anymore but I love that Farmer’s Market! The hummingbirds in my yard are stealthy so I am always excited to catch a glimpse. Hooray for ukulele concerts!

    My kicks this week:
    1) Watching a friend in trial and getting to see some unusual witness behavior – it was quite awesome. In real life trials do not always match the theater of tv show trials, but this was certainly a moment.
    2) Started watching UnReal (first 4 episodes free on Lifetime) and it is a dark, raunchy female-driven soap opera for summer.
    3) Through the trailer music for UnReal discovered musician Hugo. his cover of 99 problems is great, and here’s a piece of his work. Jules I think you might like him (if you haven’t already shared him and I just forgot, which is also entirely possible.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJ4jjbVnZik
    4) Finished Station Eleven – now I want a book club with all of you where we can drink wine and discuss. By the end I liked it far more than I thought I would.
    5) A HH catch up with a friend who just finished year 2 of law school. Her spirit and intelligence and compassion are always such a pleasure to be around. Plus, fresh oysters!
    6) Midnight soccer game last – we won! and now another game this afternoon.
    7) Last night had my first tomato basil mozzarella salad with fresh basil from the garden. Looking forward to later this summer when the tomatoes are from the garden as well.

    Have a wonderful week everyone!

  6. Holy moly! Cannot believe I forgot this kick – but American Pharoah!!! What a horse, so cool that we have another Triple Crown winner after 37 years.
    And being a sucker for horse stories, loved that Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery was at the Belmont Stakes to watch.

  7. Good afternoon, Imps and rhinos and flying boats!

    Lovely work, Sarah. It’s like lullabies and soft steampunk and flying dreams combined.

    Jules: Yay for your class being officially underway! Kudos to your songwriting/parody-ready daughter and your resilient daughter – hope it doesn’t scar.

    Jone: Good thoughts for Sophie and her humans. I love hummingbirds. Three cheers for volunteers and for music!

    Jone and Jules: I haven’t seen Snowpiercer yet.

    Rachel: I like writing up book club-like discussions at my blog, Bildungsroman – see the posts marked roundtables and He Said, She Said – so if we ever find we’ve read the same book and want to discuss it, let me know! Have fun at soccer.

    My kicks for the past week:
    1) Previews
    2) Performances
    3) Breathing
    4) Pacing
    5) Believing
    6) Persevering
    7) Mile by mile

  8. Rachel: Glad you liked Station Eleven! Don’t you love Kirstin? (Hope I spelled her name right.) … My favorite thing about summer is a tomato basil mozzarella salad. Now I want one for dinner. … Thanks for the music recommendation. I shall explore!

    LW: She got right back on the bike yesterday. Whew. … I like your last kick. Most of the time, yours read like poems!

  9. LW – I will check out your site – would live to have a chat about books we’ve read in common! Hooray for Kick 6 – Persevering is always a good thing.

    Jules – yes! I really came to care about and like Kirstin. And I liked having to think about the “what if” idea of a world without technology. TBM salads are one of my favorite things about summer. Have a great week!

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