The illustrations of Sybil Cohen, one of the first SCBWI artists I spoke with at the event in NYC, has a tenderness to it, an innocence, a sense of yearning that resonated with me. There’s a familiar world element and an alien or fantastical world element as well.
OCB: What do you think of YA author Jacqueline Woodson’s claim?
Sybil Cohen: Oh yes, definitely! I would totally agree with Woodson on this. As an illustrator, I use art rather than words to tell a story. I like to think of myself as a visual storyteller and as storytellers, we regularly need to tap into our personal emotions to help convey genuine feelings. The strongest emotions are usually a time or a situation in our lives we are still working through. Using these emotions, helps define the essence and struggles in our story in an authentic way. We all have struggles, and being able to put those into my characters helps make them relatable. While digging deep into my emotional well, I end up working through some really great stuff!
OCB: What are you painting or creating art for (as in, what is the deep-down driving force behind your choice to paint/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?
Sybil: What a great question! I believe everyone has an emotional expressive language. For musicians, its sound and music. For dancers, it’s movement and dance. We all have a preferred language to express our feelings. I imagine, for the majority of people it’s words, but for me it’s visual. I feel in images. When I want to create an image I put myself into that feeling and work on getting that emotion onto paper. When I’m drawing, time disappears and I lose myself in the art. One of my favorite quotes is by Thomas Merton “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” If you find the thing that does that to you… do it, and do it a lot!
OCB: What technique/medium did you use to create the Sleeping Dragon image and/or the Alien Looking Up at the Latterns/Stars (and if those images have titles, please share those as well)?
Sybil: Sure! I work in pastels. I use pan pastels, which are basically pure pigment (I love color!;) )
I end up using my fingers to move around the pigment. My husband jokes, that I’m a professional finger painter! But I just love the feeling of pastels on my hands. After I’ve done a fair amount of finger painting, I use color pencil (Prismacolors) to add in the details. Then, I scan in my image and do some digital tweaking and more detailing to get it ready for print.
“Don’t Wake the Sleeping Dragon” was a fun picture to create; I love the suspense and tension that this image eludes. There is a moment on the road to pursuing your dreams or ambitions, where you pause and ask yourself “Is this worth it?” “Can I do this?” “What if I fail?” This was what I was trying to convey in this image. The teddy bear is what’s at stake (it’s obviously important enough to trek into a mysterious cave to get) but the obstacle is a huge dragon! So the question is – “is this worth it?” To me, the answer is “yes.” 😉
If you’re interested in seeing how the pastel painting is done on “Don’t Wake the Sleeping Dragon” follow the link.
The Alien picture, “Fickle,” was created using the same technique as “Don’t Wake the Sleeping Dragon. I work mostly by hand. In this story, my alien, Fickle, goes on a personal journey of curiosity which ultimately leads him to creativity. His new found creative skills do not align with that of his fellow aliens who follow specific routine, day in and day out. In this scene, Fickle is looking at his world with clarit”y, from a far. He is setting himself apart from his clan, and is a turning point in the story, where being true to himself brings out a spark that not only touches him.
One thing that I find to be super exciting and interesting is how one piece of art can be looked at very differently by each person. I may have a particular emotion and direction in my mind while creating an illustration, yet it may evoke a completely different feeling and emotion in someone else. That’s what makes art so beautiful. And while the meaning and feeling may be different for each of us, it is the shared experience that bonds us all.