Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Illustrator Spotlight: Vesper Stamper

Taking Time Out with Vesper


New Jersey Illustrator Coordinator Karen Romagna, caught up with up-and-coming NJ SCBWI illustrator Vesper Stamper. Vesper's career has spanned fifteen years, dozens of album covers, four picture books and countless other exciting projects. Vesper brings a refined style and emotional depth to her work that pays homage to the rich illustrative tradition from which she comes. She has a BFA in Illustration with Honors from Parsons School of Design. She was recently voted the People’s Choice Finalist in the 2013 Lilla Rogers Global Talent Search and is the recipient of the 2012 Lincoln City Fellowship for her graphic novel, The Sea-King’s Children. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and filmmaker Ben Stamper, and their two children.


KR: What are you currently working on?
VS: I'm working on a new graphic novel right now, but it's too new to show. So I thought I'd show you a different side of my work. Since being named the People's Choice Finalist in Lilla Rogers' Global Talent Search, I've fallen in love with some new ways of working. I'm designing dolls, home decor and other ideas. I'm getting back to my embroidery drawing, which is something I'm using for both illustration and licensing work. This is a piece I'm doing with the idea that it would be translated into a line of china.


I would also LOVE to do a whole book in embroidery. Here's another piece I'm doing, just to work some ideas out:


KR: Why do you want to be a children's illustrator?        
VS: I've always wanted to be a children's illustrator because of the place that amazing picture books had in my own life. They were a respite from a hectic life. I had three or four books that were, and continue to be, incredibly meaningful to me, and I want to make books that are that powerful for other children. Books can literally change the course of a child's life. The combination of intelligent, rich artwork and compelling story is both anchoring and transformative for kids that are navigating their place in the world. 


KR: Can you explain your illustration process?  Preferred medium?
VS: I work in watercolor, and over the past couple of years I have really worked at opening up the space in my work and allowing the medium to do its own magic. Typically I will start with drawing gum to get fine white detail, then build up my large areas of wash, gradually tightening in on smaller and darker areas. Then I'll use the barest hint of pencil to pull out details. Sometimes I will start with a totally abstract wet-on-wet technique with acrylic ink and let the piece tell itself to me, developing the painting in ink and gouache. I am also getting more into gouache as I seek out licensing work, as its bright, clean line lends itself more to product and pattern design. I'm also really diving into my embroidery work for both illustration and licensing work. That's a really exciting development for me. I feel like a lot of my disparate techniques are beginning to harmonize and mature right now.


KR: What inspires you?
VS: My inspiration is the beautiful world around me. I tend to see the trees and not the forest—in fact, I see the individual leaves and not the tree! The closest part of my world is my family. They are magical teachers. As far as artistic influences, the two artists who have most shaped my work over the years are Hilary Knight on one end of the spectrum (high detail and flourishing gesture), and Lisbeth Zwerger on the other end (space, subtlety and rich color fields). That's always my aim: to balance my twin loves of space and detail. I still have a long way to go. Currently, I'm really, really inspired by the author/illustrators who are transcending genre, like Shaun Tan, Audrey Niffenegger, Rebecca Dautremer, Isabelle Arsenault and others. You can't put them in a category by age or genre—it's simply great art for a wide range of people.


KR: When life gets in the way, what helps you get through and keep going?
VS: Everyone has their own challenges, and everyone has their particular trigger that makes them want to roll over and give up sometimes—especially in a competitive, rejection-replete business like illustration. What keeps me going is the strength of a loving God, and my work is one way of giving thanks for this one life I've been given—but also knowing that my work is not me, and is not all there is. The understanding that I cannot waste time with this precious gift of life is an extreme motivator. I love this quote: "Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live." (Jonathan Edwards) I often say that the only way to go is forward. We must do that as artists. That being said, I desperately need to learn how to slow down and rest. I freely admit that I am a workaholic.


KR: What advice can you give an illustrator new to our field?
VS: There's a lot I could say to new illustrators—check your ego at the door, nobody's a rock star, practice the golden rule, treat editors and agents like human beings, develop a thick skin against rejection—but you can read that anywhere. The most important thing I can say is this: As much as possible, get deeply into an analog life! Artists are often loners by nature. Mix that with the addictive and time-sucking nature of devices and screens, and you've got an artistic dilemma. (Lest you think me a Luddite, I use all of the Apple devices, often!) Many illustrators work digitally, and I don't disparage anyone's medium. But as artists, we are primarily sensory creatures, and that just has to be nurtured if you're going to do work with depth. It's not optional. Some ideas might be: cooking from scratch, baking your own bread, getting out into the woods or to the ocean, knitting, embroidering, playing records instead of MP3s, or volunteering with kids, animals or the elderly. Feel the scratch of a real pencil on paper, not just Photoshop and a sterile tablet. We can become so solitary that a lot of time can go by before we realize that we literally haven't *touched* the world around us, held a living person, or been held ourselves. Especially for those doing children's work, it's vital that we nurture and nourish ourselves with healthy sensory living, and that will come out in our art!


For more about Vesper Stamper, check out these links:

Twitter: @vesperstamper

COMING UP, DECEMBER 2013: Doris Ettlinger
Pop back on the last Wednesday of next month for an interview with NJ SCBWI Illustrator Doris Ettlinger. Doris brings more than 20 years experince to the table and some stunning picture belts tucked beneath her belt!