Eliza Wheeler was born into a family of musicians, artists, and teachers, and was raised in the north woods of Wisconsin. As a toddler, she adored crayons, and drawing has been her favorite creative outlet ever since. Recently she was chosen by Little Pickle Press to illustrate What Does It Mean to be Present? The book, which explores various ways children can learn to live consciously--to "be present" in their lives--is the third title in this award-winning series. Eliza agreed to talk to us about life as an illustrator, and about her current project.
Q. What was your inspiration for choosing illustration? And how did you prepare yourself for your career?
A. I studied Graphic Design at University of Wisconsin-Stout, and also took all the drawing and painting classes there that I could. After college, it didn't take long for me to tire of a profession that is based almost entirely on the computer. I'd been building an illustration portfolio, but didn't know how to get it in front of anyone. In the spring of '09, I entered the Society of Illustrator's Los Angeles juried show and was accepted. I met a lot of illustration folks there, learned about the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and have been attending their conferences for the past year. It's how I've made all my contacts within the industry.
Q. Can you describe your process for developing illustrations? What's the first thing you do? Second? Third?
A. I start by collecting images that inspire me and research other projects that might be in a similar vein. I get my ideas down with thumbnails; tiny messy sketches that capture the essence and composition of the completed artwork in my head. Then starts the arduous process of translating that small image into full-sized sketches. Then I draw all the black line-work on watercolor paper, and paint the scene in usually watercolors. Last, I go back and fill in more detail with extra line-work for those last finishing touches.
Q. Let's talk about What Does It Mean to be Present? What were some of the joys--and challenges--of this particular project?
A. The most joyful thing about working on Present was coming up with ideas for the flow of the entire book. I really loved that--it's sort of a magical time making the story come to life. Present has no narrative within the words, so I thought that it made sense to create one within the pictures to propel the reader forward. It turned out to be a "day in the life" story of two children. The book begins in the city with an orange tree in the distance of the landscape, and ends with the children playing in that tree.
The biggest challenge by far is being creative on a very tight time frame. Creating artwork for a picture book is a very meticulous process that's painful to rush. I'm sure every artist goes through panicked moments during big projects, and I certainly had my share on this one. It was my ultimate lesson in learning to be present!
Q: So what's with the blue butterfly on every page?
A. Whenever a butterfly is around people seem to stop to watch them. They are fragile, gentle creatures that don't usually live long, yet they bring such beauty while they are here. I included blue butterflies on each page because kids love to search within drawings and find repetition. Searching for the butterflies slows them down as they read the book, and helps them to be "present" and fully experience each page.
To see more of Eliza's work, or to contract her directly, visit her online portfolio. To purchase a copy of What Does It Mean to be Present? plus another title with a free poster of your choice enter the coupon code BRP at check-out on the Little Pickle Press website.
There is also a Grand Prize drawing of all the books and posters in a Dabbawalla backpack if you submit the chosen name for the next book in the series! Click here for more details.
Have questions about book design? Or about Little Pickle Press? Ask them in the comments below--we'll be around and answering throughout the day.
Images courtesy of Little Pickle Press and Eliza Wheeler
Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.