It seems only fitting, since I am hunkered down in a bookstore in Syracuse right now, about to embark on an SCBWI adventure related to picture books, that I allude to two other talented illustrators whose work I first encountered back in February at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC.
As mentioned in previous posts, there was a special illustrator showcase at the conference where artists put their work on display for everyone which allowed me to discover dozens of wonderful visual artists whose illustrations resonated with me on various levels.
Kristin Dudish and Sara Gavryck-Ji were two of those artists, and I’d love to share some of their work with you here, as well as a little insight into the women themselves. While their work is quite different (in focus, tone, and style), both women create engaging and inspiring art.
I had the good fortune to spend a little time with Kristin during the NYC event and it was evident right way that she has a big heart. So the fact that she ended up doing a mural project associated with Oprah (yes, that Oprah) wasn’t as much of a surprise as it might have been. Kristin’s work has a playful side, a sometimes tongue-and-cheek tone which I love.
There’s something about exploring illustrations that make me smile in appreciation of the art and chuckle in appreciation of the humor. For example, you’ll find garden gnomes in several of her illustrations, including humorous takes on classical works.
Although she lives in California now, Sara Gavryck-Ji lived in China for over five years, is fluent in Mandarin, and considers China her second home. That deep connection is evident in her art as she works on picture books reflective of that culture. There’s an elegance and a dancelike feel to Sara’s illustrations that I find enchanting and evocative.
Below are a few questions I asked the two artists and their respective responses. I hope you enjoy their feedback and especially their illustrations.
OTHER COOL BIRDS: Young Adult author, Jacqueline Woodson says that writers tend to focus on the time in their lives they’re still working through. Is there an element of truth to Woodson’s claim as it relates to Visual Artists (or to your work)? If so, how?
KRISTIN DUDISH: That’s an interesting question. A lot of my work consists of subject matter that I would have found interesting as a child, so maybe I’m trying to work through it. Or, maybe, I’ve just resisted the idea of fully growing up. Either way, I enjoy creating colorful, fun, (and often silly) artwork!
SARA GAVRYCK-JI: Certainly some artists focus on a time in their life they are still working through. My artwork is mainly about seeking something new, understanding people and places different from me, and my desire to share that with others.
OCB: What are you illustrating or creating art for (as in, what is the deep-down driving force behind your choice to illustrate in the first place)? What is it about the act of drawing or painting or illustrating that speaks to you or resonates with you most?
KRISTIN: I think the answer to this question is connected to my answer to the first. I think I am most often creating art for my inner child and as a way to communicate to others.
When I was little I was very, VERY shy. (I was so shy that my teachers called meetings to discuss my shyness.) Because I was timid in speech, I turned to art as a means of expression.
The ability to tell a story without ever saying a word has always been very appealing to me. Now, as I venture into the world of picture books, the relationship between words and pictures fascinates me. I love how a good picture book marries the two.
SARA: I have always found painting and drawing very calming. The driving force behind my choice to illustrate for children is a desire to share different cultures and places with young curious minds.
OCB: What technique/media did you typically use?
KRISTIN: I believe that every visual “problem” has a different answer. Sometimes the solution is a simple pencil drawing, or sometimes the image might require graphite and watercolor and colored pencil and acrylic and maybe even some collage. There is freedom in giving myself permission to experiment and see where the piece takes me. (It also helps keep things fun!)
SARA: For “Snowy Night” I first sketched out the roofs and characters in pencil. I then transferred the final sketch onto Chinese xuan paper in pencil, and went over in black ink with a brush. The background blue was done with Chinese ink. After everything dried, I added the girls and snow with gouache.
For “Lantern” I started with the black ink of the forest on xuan paper. After allowing the ink to dry, I added the green wash background in Chinese ink. Finally, I added the girl in gouache.
OCB: Since you illustrate books for young readers (among other things), did you have a favorite illustration or illustrator when you were young (or now)? If so, why?
KRISTIN: Oh, wow . . . This is the hardest question. I had (and have) SO many favorite illustrators. There is no way I could possibly choose just one! When I was young I was drawn to the illustrations of Bill Peet, Arnold Lobel, Mercer Mayer, Maurice Sendak (and many, MANY more).
Through the years I have added so many illustrators to my list of favorites that I’ve lost count. In art school I fell in love with the work of Mark Teague, Mark Buehner, David Wiesner, William Joyce, and Mary Grand Pre (who actually came to speak to our class!).
Some of my more recent favorites include: Emily Winfield Martin, Dan Santat, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and I’m fascinated by the collaborations of Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. I really could go on and on. I am drawn to many styles for many reasons, but the common denominator that all of my favorite illustrators share is the ability to add visual layers to the stories they’re telling that words alone couldn’t convey.
SARA: I love looking at the work of Chinese painters and calligraphers. One of my favorites is Wu Guanzhong. I am attracted to his use of white space, calligraphy strokes, and his ability to create a scene and feeling with simplicity. The illustration work of Jon Muth and Meilo So, and The Fan Brothers also really resonate with me.
OCB: How long have you been a member of SCBWI and what is the best thing you have learned during your time as a member?
KRISTIN: I have been a member of SCBWI since 2016. In addition to the wonderful friendships and professional connections I’ve made, the best thing I’ve learned (so far) is that persistence is the key to success.
SARA: I have been a member of SCBWI for 3 years. I have learned so much about the trade of children’s books through SCBWI, but I think the biggest and best piece of advice I have received over and over again through SCBWI is simply ‘not to give up – keep trying!’
OCB: Any exciting projects coming up for which we should keep on the lookout?
KRISTIN: I am currently working on an illustrated dummy for a manuscript I’ve written. With any luck, in a couple of years (publishing moves pretty slow) you’ll be able to buy it at your local bookstore!
SARA: Right now I focusing on a book project about the Chinese written language/Chinese characters – an approach to learning Chinese characters based on their resemblance to pictures and etymology.