If you ask nearly any illustrator what they’d like to do that they haven’t done yet, chances are you’d hear that they’d like to illustrate a book … and what’s more fun than illustrating a children’s book?
Today we are speaking with Julie Fortenberry, a New York illustrator and painter who does just that.
Dave Hile: Hi, Julie. I know that in the past you worked as a magazine illustrator as well as supplying artwork for school publications. What motivated you to start illustrating children’s books?
Julie Fortenberry: Hi, Dave. Thanks for asking! I actually started out as an abstract painter working in oils. Later, when a friend gave me Photoshop I started playing around with it. My kids were small so it was inconvenient to be covered in turpentine and cadmium all the time. Having kids renewed my interest in picture books.
DH: Can you share with us some of the book projects you’ve worked on lately?
JF: Pippa at the Parade by Karen Roosa (2009), Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast by Jamie Korngold, and Pirate Boy by Eve Bunting (both to be released in 2011).
DH: Is there a favorite book project?
JF: My favorite is always what I’m currently working on. Right now I’m illustrating another book by Jamie Korngold, and the cover for Pirate Boy. Pirate Boy includes sea monsters, a magic potion, and (of course) pirates—assignments don’t get any better than that.
DH: Tell us a bit about how the process works. How do you work with the authors? Do they send you a manuscript and give you a lot of freedom to determine what to illustrate, or do they have a list of illustrations already in mind that they’d like you to develop? How much does the publisher have to say about the artwork?
JF: The manuscript comes from the editor. With Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast the author sent a few reference photos for ideas. But generally I just discuss the project with the art director or editor. Some editors send layouts with the text in place, and some let me design the layout. When I’m given the opportunity, I enjoy making the layout, pacing the page turns, etc.
DH: Let’s talk a bit about your style. Your characters are so simply rendered yet so compelling. Can you tell us how your style developed and from where you draw your inspiration?
JF: Thanks! I’ve always been interested in illustration. As an adult I admire Ludwig Bemelmans for his loose and sketchy style. As a kid I loved Richard Scarry’s funny animals and bright, flat color. Those would be my inspirations.
DH: And although your images look like they are illustrated in watercolor washes or gouache I know you work in Photoshop. Is there any point at which you work traditionally—say, with initial sketches?
JF: Not really. I paint entirely in Photoshop using layers and filters. (I’ve downloaded a trial of Corel Painter that offers an overwhelming assortment of watercolor-type brushes, but I haven’t gotten around to trying it.) Somewhere I read that sketching with a mouse was like drawing with a bar of soap. It is, but I’ve gotten used to it, and I can draw a completely awkward looking character and then move his limbs around to make him look as realistic or as comical as I want. I’m always experimenting. When your universe includes sea monsters, just how realistic do you want to be? I also go back and forth with just how loose I like it to look. I love that back button!
DH: Have you ever thought of writing and illustrating your own book?
JF: As a matter of fact, yes, I have a dummy that I want to publish. I love the character I’ve developed and would love to see her story in print. But I’m also tremendously happy illustrating other people’s stories.
DH: Finally, what does the future hold for you? How would you like your career to develop?
JF: I’m hooked. I would just like to keep doing what I’m doing.
Thanks, Julie. We appreciate your time and talent. To see more of Julie’s work please visit Julie Fortenberry’s website.
JF: Thanks, Dave!