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Interview with illustrator Wendy Edelson

(Sorry this interview is a little late in being published. It seems that every working artists I know has very tight deadlines this month. — Including me!)

Please extend a warm welcome to a fabulous artist and friend of mine, Wendy Edelson.

Wendy Edelson Studios Wendy Edelson

Born 6 weeks early, Wendy Edelson spent her first couple years in New York, then moved with her parents to California, It was there in the back of the station wagon with the country speeding past the windows that she began to draw, and draw…and draw and hasn’t stopped yet.

She now lives on Bainbridge Island and has recently begun licensing  her images for all sorts of products, such as puzzles, cards and banners  and  is currently busy with her new favorite passion, creating  fabric collections.

Visit her at http://www.wendyedelson.com/

When did you get started illustrating for children? What did you do before?

I illustrated my first book, “Whose Garden” published by Harvey House in New York when I was 18, following my first trip to New York with my portfolio.

Tell us a little bit about the recent book you illustrated, “Saturn For My Birthday”

“Saturn For My Birthday” by John McGranaghan/Sylvan Dell, is an amusing story about a small boy who asks his father for the planet Saturn for his birthday. Using humorous situations, facts about the planet are presented.

What are you working on right now? Do you have any other books or art projects you’d like to talk about?

I have recently completed illustrating “Bartholomew’s Gift” by Diane Dignan  and  I am about 2 days away from completing the illustrations for “Pobble’s Way” by Simon VanBooy.

page illustration from the book Bartholomew's Gift page illustration from the book Bartholomew's Gift Bull's head illustration for pop-up book

I am also working on the illustrations for a pop up book about Bahrain, a commissioned “shaped puzzle” and a new fabric collection.

Your artwork has been showing up as puzzles and other items. What project are you currently involved in? How do these usages differ from picture book illustration?

The puzzles are really something I enjoy…..this will be the third commissioned shaped puzzle that I have done. I enjoy painting “one offs”, pieces that stand alone and  have a LOT of detail. It’s sometimes a bit of relief to only paint a character once!

I’m also working on my second fabric collection. I love doing these, The first was a Christmas collection, this is an Animal ABC, for a soft book, quilts and accompanying print fabrics.

The lovely thing about licensing is that one piece of artwork can be used as a puzzle, as fabric, as a card etc etc…..it’s wonderful to have them out there earning their keep, rather than sitting in a flatfile, or even on a wall after a book is published.

I also do pet portraits.

pencil sketch for Rich and Duff - pet portrait final art for Rich and Duff - pet portrait

The guy on the motorcycle with the Wheaton Terrier in the sidecar was a pet portrait. Richard owns the local art supply store and rides around with Duffy in the side car. This was a pet portrait I did for him. I included my sketch, as well…this is what my finished drawings look like
before I paint them.

You spent a while living in Mexico. How long did you live there? How has living outside of the USA influenced your art?

I lived in Mexico for a little over 3 years.

I did write my first picturebook while I was there, “The Cajeta Colored Dog Who Loved Tortillas” The book is set in the  town where I lived so it was wonderful  drawing everything. The colors are what really have stayed with me……my kitchen was painted Rosa Mexicana, which is a deep, vivid pink, it made perfect sense there. The memory of bright orange and salmon bougainvillea spilling over a turquoise and violet wall is one that I think of often. Also Pitahaya, an amazing cactus with hot pink and lime green fruits…inside they are bright white with black flecks. The colors were truly swoon worthy.

Do you illustrate full time? If not, what else do you do?

Yes, mostly 7 days a week, unless I’m  in a garden.

When you illustrate a picture book how do you decide what scenes and details to draw?

I spend a few weeks reading and rereading the story, thinking about it all the time while I’m doing everything else and it seems as though the story reveals itself to me, scribbling blobby shapes that would make sense to no one else helps the process…..mostly it seems to simply evolve, either it feels right or it doesn’t.

When illustrating picture books do you include a visual storyline not mentioned by the text or include animals or people you know?

Yes, I do. In Saturn there is a group of pets that are never mentioned in the book, In The Cajeta Colored Dog I have added people I know in the scenes of people in the shops…..that’s one of the really fun things about being an illustrator. Once I wrote all sorts of little messages in the bark of trees.

Can you explain your art process?

All my work starts out with a very finished, detailed pencil drawing on  my favorite Clearprint Design Vellum. I LOVE this paper because we all have days when we must draw a foot 25 times to get the foreshortening right and one can erase and erase on this paper and it doesn’t ghost or become damaged in any way. Once I have my drawing how I want it I scan it and then print it out on one of my beautiful Epson wide format printers right onto 140 lb watercolor paper, usually in a light Sepia. I vacillate between papers and cold and hot press, depending on …what’s left in my flatfile, my mood….the piece itself. I love being able to do this……it used to take so much time to trace my own drawing on a light table , besides being mind numbingly boring, plus every generation away from the original sketch takes away from the freshness, life, of the line, I think.

All the pretty paint and painting techniques cannot make up for a stilted drawing….I think. Great drawing is the most important part, to me……one can pull anything off if the drawing is good. My father was a wannabe, weekend sculptor and we used to draw together all the time…he was a big stickler for accurate anatomy and good draughtsmanship.

Do you have a favorite color or palette?

Not really….but I do love granulating watercolor pigments, love the mystery and surprise of them.

What is your favorite medium to work in? Have you always worked in this media? If not, why did you switch?

I started out just drawing. When I was 13,  the father of a friend in school was artist Henry Koerner. He introduced me to rapidographs, technical pens and I used them for years, most of my work was black and white. Then I found Dr Martin’s dyes and Luma colors and started using those with the pen line and then I began teaching myself about watercolors. Those have been pretty much my mainstay, but the black line became a sepia line. The rapidographs gave way to very fine line brown, waterproof markers which now have pretty much disappeared, except for  occasional use just on the outside contours of a person or animal. Now I use watercolors in combination with Golden liquid acrylics and everything is build up of glazes. Occasionally I’ll use colored pencils in the mix, as well.

Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?

Yes, I began drawing in the back of the family station wagon when we moved from New York City to Southern California when I was two. After that trip, I spent pretty much every waking moment drawing.

Do you use models/source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?

Yes, I draw people, animals, landscapes from life and also use photos that I take and from magazines, the internet etc……my work is stylized but definitely realistic, so I like to know how things really look, to start with.

If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?

Some sort of landscape designer…….my second favorite thing is gardening.

What gets you through an illustration when you’re stuck for inspiration?

Sheer Taurean grit and determination. One of the blessings of being an illustrator are deadlines. Deadlines have no patience with waiting for one’s Muse to make her appearance. Sometimes one simply has to work through it and waste a bunch of paper, but the effort is almost always worth it. A looming deadline can be very motivating.

What book do you remember from when you were young?

The Wonder Clock illustrated by Howard Pyle.

Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now?

I love looking at the work of artists like David Shannon …I’d love to be freer, more able to exaggerate features and bodies , to loosen up more.

It’s all a process….I suppose when one finally totally arrives and has nothing left to learn, I guess one is ready to shuffle off this mortal coil

If you could illustrate any writer’s new work, who would it be?

I’d love to illustrate another book for Simon Van Booy, the author whose book I’m currently finishing up…..

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