Today’s Art Day Interview is a two-part interview with illustrator Laurie Allen Klein. Read on to find out more about Laurie and her art in part two. Read part one here.
Q: What childhood art supply brings back happy memories?
A: Clay. I love working with clay but don't think to use it very often - probably because I don't have a good place to work or own a kiln. I've also had some fun success with oven-baked clay and papier-mache. I enjoy the 3-dimensional quality of those things and there's something very satisfying about getting your hands all goopy. And let's not forget library paste - though not necessarily for its art properties (I think of it as more of a food group).
Q: Do you have a favorite childhood picture that you remember making?
A: I wouldn't say I have any specific favorite, but I do still have quite a few of my earliest childhood drawings - mostly of dolphins, dogs, deer, and horses - stored away in my flat file cabinet. I also have a notebook of sketches my best friend and I did together in elementary school. And of course I have all my favorite pieces and Christmas cards in a couple different portfolios. My absolute favorite illustrations I have framed.
Q: Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?
A: Yes. I knew I wanted to draw since I was a little girl. Occasionally I dreamed of working for Disney or Industrial Light and Magic (and yes, I did apply to those places) but it was always as an on-staff artist. And I never abandoned the dream of illustrating children's books.
Q: Do you use models / source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
A: I once had a college art professor tell me the human mind is not nearly capable or creative enough to imagine all the intricacies in nature, and that I should always use a reference when drawing or painting. Of course my initial reaction was one of righteous indignation believing my mind was plenty capable and creative enough - thank you very much! But I have since come to the realization that, at least in my case, my teacher was right. I use my imagination to come up with the initial idea or concept, and certainly rely on my memory to flesh out the sketch, but I have found my work is so much stronger if I have a model or a reference photo handy when I go to the final clean up stage. Even if I'm creating some sort of fanciful fictitious creature, like a unicorn or a dragon, or doing a cartoon or anthropomorphic character, the figure is so much richer if it has some basis in real animal form.
Also, when it comes to doing a series of book illustrations it helps to look at other styles and work to spark the imagination. My first response when roughing out a picture, for example, is to automatically go with the easy, standard, side view - and sometimes that is indeed what the picture calls for. However, often on my second or third revision of the sketch I start searching for a more dramatic angle or unexpected perspective and that's where looking at other poses, or real trees, or a living animal (if one is readily available) gives me a much more interesting approach. I take photos of landscapes and people in interesting poses and I have shelves full of books just to help jump-start the creative inspiration process.
The Taleweavers: I wrote a little story that goes along with this illustration. All the elements represented are taleweavers, or story tellers, in some fashion. The little doll the child is holding belonged to my mother.
Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?
A: Oh there are tons of things - though I'm not sure all of them have an actual title. A marine biologist comes to mind; I'd love to study dolphin interaction and the songs of whales. I also love philosophy and archaeology and history. I'm fascinated by music and so wish I could play an instrument (my daughter is a Vocal major and I love talking music theory with her). I'd like to work in a museum - be it art or natural history, or own a wonderful old bookshop. I'd love to work in films - specifically in the creative concepts departments like WETA or ILM (though I guess that's getting close to art again). Then again maybe I'd like to be some sort of animal curator or a park service ranger. Or perhaps do something along the lines of Francis James Child and collect the ballads and folktales of past civilizations or the songs and music of other cultures. Obviously books and words would be involved.
Tasha & Taliesin In the Company of King Arthur's Bard: This is an example of using my own pet as a model and my manic obsession with research. Tasha was our beloved Welsh corgi of 14 years. She died in November of 2007 and i wanted to honor her memory. I could think of no better companion then Taliesin, considered the greatest of the Welsh poets. Again, there are tons of little elements in this picture that all mean something or have historic significance and the explanatory note that went with the card filled a page.
Q: What gets you through an illustration you’re having trouble with?
A: My neighbor, and the woman who owns the place where I get my copies done. Seriously! During “Dolphin”, “Skink” and “Turtle” (as well as a few other paintings I've struggled with) I was brought to tears a number of times because things weren't turning out the way I thought they should (I am my own toughest critic). My neighbor would come over every day and look over my work and tell me it was fine and I was being too hard on myself. Even now, when I have a new project she'll pop over and ask if I need any encouragement. The other friend has publishing experience and talked me off the ledge when I was ready to give up on one of the books. I raced over to her office one day (again in tears), threw the uncompleted remnants of that book's illustrations on her desk, and asked her when I should call the publisher and tell them I couldn't do the job. She calmly looked over what I'd done and said, “You aren't there yet” and pointed out how much I had really accomplished. Sometimes it just takes a different, fresh perspective or another point of view. I also find it helps to walk away from the picture for the night and look at it with a fresh eye in the morning - inevitably things always look better the next day. Or I have thought of a way to solve the problem.
Q: What was your favorite toy, stuffed animal or doll when you were growing up?
A: Oh, that's a tough one because I still have most of my toys, either in boxes out in the garage or scattered around the house. I'm afraid when it comes to books and toys I just won't grow up (to quote Peter Pan). I have my toys, my mother's doll collection (and all her “Five Little Pepper” books) and even a good number of my daughter's stuffed animals I thought were too cute to give away when she out grew them. I'm often reminded of the scene in “Toy Story” when a once beloved toy is consigned to a box in the attic or the yard sale and get quite a pang when I reluctantly have to bump one of my toys from the place of honor in my art room and move it to the chest in the living room to make way for something new. Heavy sigh. As far as childhood goes - growing up I had the prerequisite plastic horse collection and many of the Stieff animals (still have them all in fact) but if there is one thing I wish I still had, or that was still possible to find, it would be my “Disneykins” - tiny, hard plastic-material, very detailed, Disney characters that I absolutely adored (and played with so much they simply didn't survive). It should be noted, in the interest of full disclosure, that I STILL buy toys - for myself - today, with my current collection full of Star Wars and Doctor Who action figures and collectibles. I just love when I find some new figure in the store or when a box shows up in the mail after an extensive Internet search.
Q: What illustrated books do you remember from when you were a child?
A: On the bookshelf behind me I still have my original copies of “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett with illustrations by Tasha Tudor (one of my favorite illustrators),”Nightbirds on Nantucket” by Joan Aiken with these great line drawings by Robin Jacques, “The Turret” by Margery Sharp (a Miss Bianca Mouse adventure) with illustrations by Garth Williams, “Charlotte's Web” and “Stuart Little” by E. B. White (and Garth Williams again), “Rabbit Hill” written and illustrated by Robert Lawson, all the “Winnie-the-Pooh” books, most the horse books written by Marguerite Henry and illustrate by Wesley Dennis, “Thee Hannah” and “Henner's Lydia” written and illustrated by Marguerite De Angeli, just about all the Beatrix Potter books. And that's not even a fraction of the children's books and picture books I've collected for my daughter, and myself, over the years. Great stories with wonderful diverse approaches to illustration - color and black and white. All memorable.
Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now? (You can list more than one.)
A: I don't know that I specifically look for a particular artist, but there are some favorites - Tasha Tudor, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, N. C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, Edmund Dulac, Edward Gorey, Alan Lee, John Howe, Trina Schart Hyman, Brian Froud - that never disappoint. The rest of the time I just buy things I find compelling - either the story or art just grabs me and I'll pick it up. I rarely go into a bookstore and come out empty handed.
Q: Did you like to tell jokes or stories as a child?
A: I suppose I did, though I really can't say I have a strong memory of it. I certain made up stories for myself (and still do) and I loved when we got creative writing assignments in school. I'm much more a story person then a joke person either way.
Q: If you could be a kid again for just one day, what would you do?
A: That's an interesting question because there really isn't a lot I can't do now, even though I am no longer a “kid.” I still love toys and books (and now I can buy exactly what I want - when I want). I still love costumes and make believe. Probably, truth be told, I wouldn't necessarily want to be a kid again so much as I'd love to just be able to dress up and indulge in all my kid-like fantasies and obsessions and passions, every day - without attracting the attention of guys in white lab coats. I'd like to travel through space and time in the TARDIS with the Doctor, wield a lightsaber as a Jedi knight, sit in the parlor of 22B Baker Street and listen to Mr. Holmes play his violin, communicate with dolphins, ride a flying horse, tame a dragon, swim with Nessie, walk through a wardrobe and wind up in Narnia, be part of the Fellowship that hikes across Middle Earth, have Christmas dinner with the Cratchits, dance with wizards, sing with troubadours, and talk to the animals… and I guess the best way to do that is to just keep drawing!
Bio: Born in Philadelphia, PA, I got my first introduction into the art of illustration watching the local TV affiliate children's program, “Gene London's Cartoon Corners General Store” (where Mr. London told stories, usually along the lines of fairy tales if I'm not mistaken, and drew accompanying pictures before introducing the cartoons). When I was 8 or so, my family moved to St. Petersburg, FL where books and Disney movies (not to mention dolphins and manatees) provided a lot of my creative inspiration. After graduating from high school I went to a small liberal arts college, Maryville College, in Maryville, TN (in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains) majoring in Art. From there I made my way to Atlanta, GA where I worked at a photography and slide show company as a graphic & paste-up artist before eventually going off and trying my hand at a freelance art career. I did illustration work for the Georgia Wildlife Federation, the Atlanta Botanical Society, Callaway Gardens, and Athens Magazine among other clients, and it was during this period that I illustrated my first book, “Out To Pasture” by Effie Leland Wilder, for Peachtree Publishers. Some eighteen years later (give or take) I began to miss Florida and wanted my little girl to have the same sort of “beach kid” childhood I had so, in one of those impulsive decisions that sounds either incredibly brave or simply stupid, my husband and I quit our jobs, sold our house, packed up our daughter (and the dog), and moved to St. Augustine. The rest, as they say, is the stuff of myth and legend. Laurie’s “Meet the Illustrator” profile can be found on the Sylvan Dell Publishing website.
Thanks for the interview Laurie!
All images in this post © Laurie Allen Klein.