My interview series with children's book illustrators who have been in my class at one time or another at The School of Visual Arts continues with CLARE PERNICE. Her first book CIRCUS GIRL was recently published by Simply Read Books. Here she is at a book signing: Congratulations!
The heroine of Circus Girl is "daring and dazzling and Oh! so dramatic...outrageous...plucky...sensational...stupendous" and full of imagination.
How did she come into being? Read on!
The idea for Circus Girl came from my childhood memories, my daughter dressing up and performing and from all children’s love of dressing up. I wanted the book to have exuberant and expressive words conveying different circus acts. I made long lists of all these words and doodled images beside them. It’s fun playing with concepts and characters but my favorite part is making a final book dummy, as this is when the idea comes to life and looks like a real book.
You are both the author and illustrator. Which came first the words or the pictures?
I think that both come together. It usually begins with an idea that I write down, I start drawing characters and I write some words and then more images spring to mind, back and forth. It is definitely a partnership of words and pictures.
The design and typography are also very important in this book. Did you work closely with the art director on that?
My book dummy was accepted by my publisher and followed almost precisely the way I designed it. One spread changed and I had input on that. We went with a more vibrant book jacket design but a nod to my original cover concept is printed on the actual book under the jacket. It is fantastic that my published book is how I visualized it.
What is your studio like? What are your art materials?
A lovely room over the garage that was designed as a studio by the previous owner, is my special work space. There are windows looking out onto the woods where I live and Milo the Magical our miniature Dachshund likes to curl up on his pillow at my feet while I work.
The upside of a studio at home is being able to work in the middle of the night, however there are an incredible amount of distractions. I wear a lot of different hats during a typical day. Art supplies and paper make me happy and I love to collect books and all sorts of miscellanea. Sketches, ideas and inspirational material build up when I’m working on a book. I'm not eager to throw anything away but eventually I have to do a big clear up! I mostly work in colored pencils and watercolor. My pencils are grouped by color. I’m a fan of Faber-Castell.
If you were going to be an animal, what animal would you be and why?
Our dog Milo. I’m sure his favorite expression is "Yes I can!” I’d be him because he's always up for anything, he’s an adventurer and he loves everyone and everything!
And I know people are very curious about each illustrator's journey to publication. How did you find your publisher and your editor?
I have been lucky to meet some wonderful editors and art directors who’ve shown interest in my books along the way and it was really a matter of timing. I met my publisher at Book Expo. Simply Read Books small booth drew me in. I felt a wonderful connection to their style. The publisher and I chatted and I was invited to meet them after the expo. They took two of my book dummies to show their editor and she loved them. They decided to publish Circus Girl first and I just did a few color illustration samples but no changes to the words before they signed me on. It was serendipitous.
Did you have some rejections along the way? What were some of the ups and downs?
I’ve had a couple of near misses. Simon and Schuster had my Mother Goose book dummy for 3 months, the reason for not taking it was that another editor had a Mother Goose book already under contract. Sterling were divided over Circus Girl, the art director loved it but the editor felt it was too conceptual for their house. It is a great feeling to have interest in your books but it takes timing and grit. Try not to be discouraged and here’s a tip which comes from experience, don’t get distracted!
Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out?
Getting published doesn’t usually work out super quickly but try not to get side tracked into knitting socks for your Etsy shop. If you want to be a children’s book author and illustrator keep focused, immerse yourself, discover blogs and join illustration groups, try out some competitions, make some fun cards at moo.com. Create stories and make book dummies. Take classes. Go to book stores and libraries and find books that appeal to you as your book could be a good fit for that publisher too. Scbwi conferences and panels at the New School are good to go to as you will be able to submit your work to the participating editors, ad’s and agents. A great inspiration for me was taking Monica’s wonderful class twice! I’m a member of Scbwi and Cbig.
Thank you Monica for interviewing me. Your animal question got me thinking and penguin was a close second. I think penguins go “Whee!” as they slide into the water, they are such happy birds and on that note happy picture book creating to all your readers!
To learn more about Clare and her work, check out her website: