Thursday, September 03, 2015

Interview with author/illustrator KRISTINE LOMBARDI

It is a very happy story when an illustrator gets a first contract for a children's book. Kristine Lombardi's debut book Lovey Bunny was recently published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. Her adorable and very creative bunny greets the world: Congratulations!

As fall arrives and school starts up again, I know my SVA students love hearing the success stories of other illustrators who were previously in class. I think you will enjoy hearing about Kristine's experience in the field so far!

We are always curious about each artist's journey to publication – can you tell us about that?  
My path was definitely long. I had a lot meetings and interest from publishers but it was getting very hard to secure a book deal as just the illustrator. It was disheartening to say the least. I kept hearing how they loved my art, but there was no manuscript for me at the time. I finally realized I needed to write my own books versus wait for somebody to assign me something. It made perfect sense.

How did LOVEY BUNNY get started?  
It all started with a character. I had been drawing bunnies for quite some time and was actually pitching a board book with a similar bunny character. At some point I changed her outfit and put her in a pink plaid dress. It got the attention of an editor at Abrams and the next thing I knew I was having a meeting and talking about doing a book with them. I think the biggest challenge was the writing. At first the book read very much like a list. They wanted me to to pick one of the vignettes of Lovey and develop a story from that. I decided on the dress-up idea because it had the most propensity for fun. It was during a run around a local lake that the idea came to me that the little bunny would ruin her mom's dress. It got easier from there. I ran to my car and quickly wrote a brief synopsis of what I had in mind and sent it off to the editor.
The original character
What were some the stages?  The character was born first and the story came second. When I talked with the editor and art director at that initial meeting, they told me I had basically already designed the look of the book (The bits of vintage lined paper and hand lettering were already part of the original sample) so once I found my story we would be all set. I had to rewrite it quite a few times to get it right and then of course my editor made some adjustments of her own-which all editors do. Then the real fun started and I got to illustrate it.

What was your favorite part of working on this book?  
I think my favorite part was putting all the little details into the illustrations. I also decided early on that I wanted to use a limited palette on this book. And of course I had great fun reliving my childhood and thinking about all the things I loved as a kid. The number 43 on the bunny family homestead was actually my childhood house number. The box fort (which was not really part of the book, but a spot on the dedication page) was something my brother and I used to make all the time. The atelier scene where Lovey was re-creating the dress was also a lot of fun. I enjoyed making bunny fashion figures and little things like Bun Vogue magazine, her little naive sketch, etc. Oh! And the family portraits on the last page, designing the “Bun Tunez” record cover to give a little nod to vinyl. It’s fun to inject bits of things that make you tick into the art.

And the most difficult part?  

The most difficult part was probably after I had delivered all the artwork and the publisher came back with a request that I hand-letter the entire book! It actually made sense. There was no font that really meshed with the book's crafty look. I had hand lettering on all the brown paper labels, but the rest of the story’s narration needed a typographic solution. So I got out my lined paper and made very careful, childlike letters for every page. Then I had to add these back into the Photoshop files and redeliver it all. But really, I can’t imagine it any other way now.

Where do you live and what is your studio like?  
I live in Montclair, NJ in an old prewar building with lots of charm. My studio is a converted dining room with one desk from my computer scanner and printer and another for my messy art making. It has tons of light in the morning which is when I get most of my work done. My cat Boo is usually napping on the desk beside me. I really love my town and spend much time at our wonderful library doing research for book ideas. They have an amazing children’s section there with super sweet staff.

What are your art materials?  

I used to work in gouache and ink a lot, but my children's book style has evolved into pencil line work with digital coloring. I draw everything by hand and then scan it in and color it. Sometimes I convert the color of the line work and sometimes I add old bits of ephemera which I’ve collected for years. I keep adding bits here and there so by the end of the project there are hundreds of drawings piled up. I think my process of keeping everything on layers makes edits a little more bearable!

What were you like as a child? 
I was a very happy kid!  I grew up in New England, where our home backed up to a field-so I spent most of my days running wild, climbing trees, jumping hay bales, sledding in the winter and playing hide n seek at night. There's enough material in my childhood to write another 20 books. It was a magical time and I couldn't think of a better way to thank my parents for my childhood than dedicating my first book to them.

Did you always draw and paint?  

Yes. I was the one drawing on the sidewalk and just about anywhere. My mother always encouraged me to draw. I took art classes as a kid and always doodled in the margins of all my notebooks. I won some elementary school contest where I got to paint a store window in town. Big stuff.

How did you decide you wanted to be an illustrator of children's books? 

I had spent most of my career as an art director in advertising and promotions, where my favorite part of the job was always drawing the concepts in layouts. Someone asked me why I didn't just become an illustrator. That's stuck in my head for a long time and eventually I quit my job and did just that. For years I worked on magazines and book covers , CDs, greeting cards–you name it, but my interest in children's books was unrelenting. I took Monica's class around 2009 and learned all about pagination and pacing and creating a book dummy. It took me a while to find my way. My old style wasn’t working for picture books. But then I really honed in, adjusted my style, studied everything that was out in bookstores and libraries and began to promote like a madwoman. My illustration started to get a lot of interest and editors were writing me to see if there were stories to go with some of the illustrations I sent.

Vintage books in Kristine's studio

Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs?  Of course! But the way I looked at it was that it made me a better artist. I always tried to gleam as much feedback as I could so I would learn from the experience. Sometimes it was very frustrating because it looked like it would finally happen but then it fell through or an editor switched houses. But I was determined and never gave up.

Do you have other projects in the works?  
I just finished my second book “The Grumpy Pets” which comes out Spring 2016. The story takes place in a shelter which is something very close to my heart. I absolutely love animals and feel adoption should be the only option in getting a pet. It was a lot of fun and I really evolved as an illustrator. I also still work as a regular illustrator. My last projects were some hand lettering for Petco and some spot illustrations for an upcoming middle grade novel about a feisty Jack Russell. I’ve always wanted to get more involved in licensing too, but picture books are my singular obsession right now.

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
Yes. Persevere. Don’t let a little rejection get in the way of your dream. Let it fuel you to be better. Promote so people see your work and have at least one polished dummy to show if given an opportunity. Picture books are a lot of hard work–nearly a year in the making so be prepared to work and be open to change. Stories get edited and you will often redraw things again and again to make the book better. It’s a lot of push and pull and revising. Show art directors and editors that you can not only illustrate but think in terms of sequence. Show a range of emotions in your work and try and have a unique style and point-of-view. There is a ton of competition out there so I also think work ethic is pretty important. Be on time, beat your deadlines if possible and go above and beyond. But most of all, find joy in what you do. It shows in the work. Good luck to everyone. You can do it if you don’t give up.

Thank you Kristine!
Visit her website here 

And the best reward of all: kids who love your books!
And you can read more interviews with author/illustrators' about their journeys to publication: Vanessa Brantley-Newton,   Jannie HoJennifer Merz,   Clare Pernice.  I hope these fill you with inspiration!

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