Taking a Break with Lisa
Lisa Falkenstern has been a professional illustrator for more than thirty years. She is a Gold Medal winner from the New York Society of Illustrators and is in their permanent collection. She won the Platinum Award in 2012 from Creativity International, Best in Show and People’s Choice Award at the2012 NJ SCBWI conference, and is on the back cover of Spectrum 19 and has been in gallery shows in New York City. Lisa has illustrated the picture books, The Busy Tree, published by Marshall Cavendish, and My Very Own Pirate, published by I See Me. She has written and illustrated A Dragon Moves In, also published by Marshall Cavendish. Lisa's latest book is Professor Whiskerton Presents Steampunk ABC.
Sketch process for the letter 'G'
Final color art for the Letter 'G'
Lisa constructed models to use as reference for her book: Professor Whiskerton Presents Steampunk ABC
Karen Romagna: So, what have you been up to lately?
Lisa Falkenstern: I have been getting ready for the launch of my new book, Professor Whiskerton Presents Steampunk ABC, published by Two Lions. It is an alphabet book done in steampunk style. Steampunk is usually described as Victorian science fiction. Think of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea or H.G. Wells The Time Machine and that will give an idea of the style. In my book, each letter has elements of what it represents. For example, in F is for Faucet, the letter F is made out of pipes and faucets, and so forth. Plus there are two mice, Professor Whiskerton and his assistant Percy, taking these objects and building something. What that is is revealed at the end of the book.
KR: Can you explain your illustration process? Preferred medium?
LF: Research, thumbnail sketches, review by editor and art director, revise, photograph models (if there is a recurring character or I can’t visualize a pose), lightly trace enlarged sketch to watercolor paper, refine drawing, scan drawing in case I have a bad day with the paint, stretch watercolor paper, print a small version on wc paper, DON’T SKIP THIS STEP: color sketch on printed drawing – this is where I PLAN my palette and technique for each painting, paint large washes, develop tone, recapture line and add accents with colored pencils.
KR: What/Who inspires you.. and why?
LF: When I started out as an illustrator, I painted covers of horror novels. I really liked it, as it allowed me to paint something that wasn’t real, and more often than not, add a bit of humor to the cover. I always enjoy making the imaginary look real. I especially relish painting textures. Now that I am a fantasy and children’s book illustrator, that comes in handy. The great 19th and 20th century illustrators inspired me to try illustration. My favorites are Arthur Rackham, Beatrix Potter, Kay Nielsen, Arthur Szyk, Edmund Dulac, Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth. But there are just too many artists to name. Outside of illustration I love Vermeer, Van Dyck, Corot, Velasquez, Isabel Bishop, Paul Klee, the list goes on forever. I am a gourmand, not a gourmet when it comes to art. As long as it’s fabulous, I love it!
KR: Can you tell me a little bit about your illustration process?
LF: It starts with getting a job, whether I write the book or I am hired to illustrate someone else’s story. I start with color roughs of the potential painting. It helps to think of color at the beginning, since color will affect the composition. When the art director picks a rough idea, I then do research and get all the reference necessary to do the painting. I make models, also known as maquettes, of the characters I am illustrating so I can keep a consistent look and use them to get the form and the shadows correct. I then do a drawing, and when the art director approves that, I go to a painting.
KR: At what point did you realize illustrating for children was right for you?
LF: I always wanted to do children’s books. After many years of doing book covers and asking to do picture books, an art director offered me the chance to do one. I have been doing them ever since.
Check out Lisa's inspiring book trailer… Click Here!
KR: Do you have any advice for illustrators new to the field? Any secrets to keeping yourself motivated and on track?"
LF:The illustration field has changed dramatically since I started in the 1980’s. Illustrators had to live in New York City, or nearby, to be close to the industries that hired them. Thanks to the Internet, that is no longer necessary, but that also allows artists from all over the world to try for the same jobs. Plus, there has been a dramatic reduction in the publishing industry, with companies combining to survive. Where there were thousands of outlets that bought art, it has shrunk and getting smaller everyday. I think talent always wins out. But marketing is a talent in itself. I have seen many talented people fail because they don’t have the stomach to do what is necessary to get noticed. I don’t mean forcing themselves on editors and art directors, I mean having the perseverance to send out their work, and go to conferences where they can have their work looked at and critiqued. A on those critiques and try again. When I decided to try for children’s books, I had painted book covers for years, but I had to start at the bottom, like everyone else. I worked hard to get noticed and still do.
For more about Lisa Falkenstern, check out these links:
COMING UP, May 2014: Jason Kirschner
Pop back next month for an interview with this rising star and NJ SCBWI Illustrator.