Posted by: nancyisanders | February 28, 2011

Black History Month: Let the Celebration Continue!

Today is the last day of February and the official holiday for Black History Month is coming to an end. But let’s not let the celebration stop here! All through the year we can learn more about the amazing achievements and important contributions African Americans make in our world.

As the last post for this month, however, I’d like to feature an interview I posted previously on my site when I interviewed the fabulous E. B. Lewis, the award-winning illustrator of my picture book, D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet.

This interview was based on questions from the wonderful students at Glenwood Avenue Elementary School, located on an island in Wildwood, New Jersey! A great big thanks goes to these dedicated teachers who helped organize this exciting event: Mrs. Sharpe, Mrs. Cardaci, Mrs. K. Melchioree, Mrs. T. Melchiorre, and Ms. Sholtis.

As a special guest appearance today, E.B. Lewis, the award-winning illustrator of D is for Drinking Gourd, answers questions Glenwood Avenue’s students submitted for an interview.

Q: What made you decide to become an artist? Did you take art lessons?
A: I grew up in a house where art was very important. My father worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Both of my mother’s brothers were artists. One of my uncles graduated from the Tyler School of Art and then taught art at Temple. My other uncle went to the Philadelphia College of Art. Growing up in that kind of an environment made it a natural thing for me to decide to become an artist. I went to the Tyler School of Art—the same school as my one uncle. I now teach art at the University of the Arts which used to be the Philadelphia College of Art. You can see that it has become full circle.

Q: How long did it take for you to illustrate D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet?
A: It took about two entire months to illustrate it.

Q: What materials and supplies did you use for the pictures?
A: Good quality paints and brushes make a difference. I used Winsor & Newton watercolors and Kolinsky Series 7 watercolor brushes.

Q: In the Malcolm X drawing, were the people reflected in the sunglasses real or made up?
A: Those are real people! I saw them in a photograph and decided to illustrate them reflected off his glasses. Every one of the models I use for the illustrations in my books is a real person. Depending on the book and the location and the background, sometimes I do a photo shoot at a park or other various locations. If the story takes place in Mississippi, I’ll hop on a plane and go to Mississippi. If it’s in Africa, I’ll go there if I can. I’ll go wherever the story takes me. There are times when it’s not feasible to travel because of time restraints, so I will actually create those images as closely as I can. I often go to the Print and Picture Department in Philadelphia and take photographs from the pictures in their files.

Q: When you drew the pictures for this book, did you feel like you were there?
A: I always feel like I’m there when I’m illustrating a book. It’s a very emotional experience. One of the most emotional pieces for me to work on in D is for Drinking Gourd was the page “S is for Slavery, a sad part of our past.” It was very powerful.

Q: How did you get the colors to reflect off each other for the letter H?
A: That’s a great question! It’s all about being observant and looking carefully at the reference. That particular reference I was using had a shiny reflection on it, and I was able to interpret that and include it as a beautiful quality of the illustration I was making.

Q: What is the hardest part about illustrating a book?
A: The hardest part about illustrating a book is probably gathering the references. It’s not necessarily a time issue, it’s just about finding the right images that I want to use. I go to the library. I look on the computer. I ask people who are experts in their field. The reason I want to find just the right images is because when I illustrate a book, it’s a visual interpretation of the written word. It’s like speaking a different language. It’s as if I would be translating your words into French. I need to explain the story someone told me with words and it’s as if I need to translate that to my people whose language is visual. I sit down and go through that interpretation process in my head. I do thumbnail sketches and create a storyboard. I try to translate the words into images.

Q: Do you have a collection of your own artwork?
A: Yes. All over the house.

Q: Do you have any wise words for students who like to draw?
A: Practice, practice, practice. Just have fun! The other stuff comes later. What’s important now is to practice as much as you can and experience the joy of drawing!

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