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Lewis“For all those who thought E.B. White was coming. Sorry, I’m the black one. As you can see, I’m not white and I’m not dead.”

Talented artist and illustrator E.B. Lewis discussed process versus product for his NJ-SCBWI keynote. He opened with some humor but then got to serious business.

He has a strong work ethic and told the audience that a person was only an artist if they spent each day producing art. It takes no less than 10,000 hours to become an expert in your craft. If you’re counting, that’s nearly 5 years straight of 40-hour work weeks, no breaks, no vacation.

Work is just that–work. It shouldn’t be easy. But you should love the work. If you don’t, then maybe you’re just fooling yourself into believing you’re something you’re not. Some people say they don’t have the inspiration. “I don’t understand that. I can’t step out of my bed without falling over a juicy piece of inspiration.” (Note to Mr. Lewis: I’m the one who tripped over your portfolio case. How’s that for falling over juicy inspiration?)

Mr. Lewis claims that once he finishes a painting, he admires it. He loves it–for about two hours. Then he hates it. For him, it’s all about the process of creating. He isn’t happy until he is creating once again, improving upon his last accomplishment, trying something new. “As soon as an artist knows their style, they’re dead in the water,” he said. Because your style is something that should be evolving. You’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to better yourself. If you’re satisfied, perhaps you aren’t a true artist.

homesoonHe gave us some background on his childhood. “When I visit schools, I tell the kids that I failed 3rd grade. It levels the playing field. ‘Wow, E.B. Lewis failed!’ the kids say.” The children immediately understand that if Mr. Lewis was able to become an artist, they, too, can reach their goals.

Mr. Lewis attended a small, old school with fireplaces in every classroom. One day during math class, he crawled up the fireplace. Remember how the girl in A Christmas Story pointed shyly toward Flick, outside, tongue frozen to the flagpole? Well, the whole class pointed shyly up the fireplace when the teacher asked where Earl had gone.

Then on career day, a classmate said he wanted to become a doctor. That boy received a lot of attention. E.B. wanted that same kind of attention, so he raised his hand. His teacher pushed it down. He raised it again. Finally, he was able to answer. “I want to be a lawyer,” he said, not because he really wanted to, but because he thought everyone would admire his aspirations. Instead, they all laughed, including the teachers. No one thought E.B. Lewis would amount to anything.

So E.B.’s uncle decided to take a special interest in his nephew. Every Saturday afternoon for years, his uncle drove him to art class because he knew E.B. loved to draw. His uncle told him that artists were the critical thinkers of society, and very well read, so he gave E.B. a new book to read every week. This man connected E.B. Lewis to his passion.

E.B. began his career as a fine artist. He would take photographs of his subjects, but from far away, hidden, with a telephoto lens, because as soon as someone knows their picture is being taken, they no longer act naturally. They’re no longer in the moment.

His work appeared on the cover of a magazine and a few days later he got a call from someone in the children’s book industry, asking if he’d like to illustrate a book. He said no. Why not? “Because I’m a fine artist, not an illustrator.”

What’s the difference? A fine artist solves their own philosophical problem. An illustrator solves someone else’s problem.

However, that art director was persistent and encouraged E.B. to go to the children’s section of the library. Mr. Lewis soon realized that some of the most ground-breaking artistic work was being published in children’s books. He called back and agreed to illustrate.

batboyOver the past 14 years, Mr. Lewis has illustrated 47 books at the rate of about 3/4 books a year. He has won the Coretta Scott King illustrator award four times. He won a Caldecott honor for Coming on Home Soon. He works with 14 different publishers and is currently booked through 2014. (That’s right, five years in advance. But I’m taking special note of the lucky number 14.)

He is one of the few illustrators who travels to meet with his editor and art department to discuss a book at the early stages. He likes to create a brain trust in the beginning. He starts with thumbnail sketches and this begins the dialogue. Then he enlarges the sketches to a dummy and adds the words. He researches photos in the library and uses a model, often combining both photographic guides to create the end result.

“I have a love of the process, the doing. For me, that’s all there is.”

How lucky for us. We get to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

jonwoodwardJonathan Woodward’s an artist, a nomad and a soon-to-be father. The man behind, a blog for aspiring children’s book illustrators, Jon shares his passion for creativity and his good business sense.

Woodward grew up in Nottingham, the home of Robin Hood. (Hmm, no wonder he was drawn to children’s literature.) He was known as the “arty one” in school, the kid who would always be asked to draw the posters for school plays.

After studying Graphic Design in college, Woodward worked as an in-house designer before going freelance in 2006.

To Woodward, freelance means freedom to explore. He and his wife rented out their UK home in 2007 and have been on the road since, living in Panama, Buenos Aires, Grenada, Toronto, South Africa, Thailand, Hong Kong and Dubai. The internet makes running their marketing and design business from anywhere possible.

Jon, how do your travels influence your illustration style?

I wouldn’t say that they have directly influenced it from color or style perspective based on the different cultures that we have seen (although that is an aspect I really love about the travel), but having seen so much beautiful wildlife and nature around the world, it has definitely influenced the subject matter that I illustrate.JWsorrow

Tell us about some of your most recent illustrations.

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy is the piece that led to my current collage style of working. I’d been flicking through magazines and noticed how much the hair on a particular advert looked like tree bark–it was one of those light bulb moments!

The idea for the final illustration came from a song I was listening to at the time that coincidentally tied in with my idea for the tree (and my love of crows!).


The Phoenix is from a recent set of four illustrations based on mythical beasts. Here I was trying to pare down the collage to a bare minimum–to create a bolder, simpler illustration style that might be more suitable for a children’s book.

I enjoy finding textures of a particular surface that are perfect for conveying a totally different texture in the illustration. This happened with the feet of the Phoenix. I found a picture of a model wearing a sparkly bejeweled top and instantly knew that I had to use it for the feet.

This piece was done mostly in traditional collage, with just a bit of detailing, adding the white eye and pumping up the colours a little in Photoshop.

JWsheep  JWwolf

A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing is where I first started using acrylic paint alongside the collage medium. It’s a technique born out of necessity, as I was struggling to find a magazine clipping to represent the wolf fur, so I started working into the collage with paint. I got a bit carried away in the end and ended up painting the sheep’s head and zipper on top of the collage, too.

This was an interesting piece personally, as I had previously been creating collages digitally using scanned magazine clippings, but I realized that my choice of texture ended up being a lot more interesting if I did the collage traditionally using whatever I could find within the magazines and materials I had. I don’t think I would have chosen the printed text to represent the sheep wool had I been doing the piece digitally.

Who are some of your favorite illustrators?

My illustration inspirations and interests are quite diverse, ranging from artists like Jon Foster, Dave McKean and James Jean all the way to Shaun Tan and J. Otto Seibold.

What is your ultimate goal as a children’s book illustrator?

I initially thought I wanted to go into comics or sci-fi and fantasy illustration for book covers, but the theme and content of my illustrations always seemed to gravitate back to one of my other passions: wildlife and nature. If I was only ever allowed to illustrate creatures great and small for the rest of my illustration career, I’d be a very happy man.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful artwork, Jon!

If you’re interested in learning more about the ilustration and design work of Jonathan Woodward, visit his blog and follow him on Twitter at @jonwoodward.

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books


illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Early 2019

illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
Summer 2019

illus by Ross MacDonald
Fall 2019

illus by Vivienne To
Spring 2020

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