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Friday, September 21, 2007

Blog Book Tour for Karen Lee!


     It's Fall and that means a wave of new book releases. Once again I am surrounded by talented friends with new creations for you to drool over. Today, I'd like to introduce you to my bud, Karen Lee.
     Here's a pic I got of Karen on our recent trip to the SCBWI Portfolio Show at the Society of Illustrators in New York. (You can read about our trip here.)

Me: Congratulations on your latest release, My Even Day, which paired with One Odd Day has just won the Learning Magazine’s Teachers’ Choice Awards for 2008!! Wow!
Karen: Thanks!

Me: Your artwork adds so much to these zany stories, adding all kinds of fun elements that weren’t in the text. How did you come up with your ideas?
Karen: I start with some simple brainstorming and develop my ideas like a hungry spider in the middle of her web – building out from the middle and adding threads, following them as far as I can. Ultimately I can end up with ideas that are so far of the center of the web that they seem unrelated – but by my logic they are. To belabor my analogy - whatever ideas fly into the web for the next few days I offer up to the hungry spider “How bout this one?” What about this?” then I see what gets chomped on. I work that way for both writing and art.

(Note: Karen is also one of the top illustrators for Highlights Magazine and illustrated their recent 60th anniversary issue cover!)
Me: What was your method and do you feel like you’ve had to stretch yourself as an illustrator with these books?
Karen: I start the illustration process with super scruffy rough thumbnails in ball point pen. This keeps me trying new ideas and layouts and view points - if I don't like what I've done I am forced to start over.Once I've narrowed it down I redraw in larger storyboard format, revise, then a draw at full size.Once I've had approval and am ready to paint I transfer the least amount of line I can to maintain the layout. I work in watercolor and don't like the way line shows through where you least want it and I don't want to inhibit the spontaneity of the process by trying to color in the lines. It gives the work a much fresher feeling than I used to get when I did follow outlines more.
     This series of books has been synchronicity for me and I hope for the authors and publisher as well. The stories are absolutely wonderful but they needed the right artist to really pull off the wackiness. Donna German at Sylvan Dell saw this potential in my work when she offered the first book to me and it started me down an avenue that has opened up my whole focus. I always liked doing funny, silly images but there is a fine line before it crosses into a more cartoonish approach. I can hardly do a piece of art now with out having some wry or humorous elements in it.

Me: Do you have a favorite layout or element in any of the illustrations? Or have you hidden any personal jokes, like the family dog or somesuch?
Karen: My favorite is the breakfast scene in My Even Day where the two headed mom is flipping pancakes. It was pure fun for me to paint and the bees I put in where a last minute inspiration. I do find myself adding some of the same things in my art over and over again but not one specific thing.
     I do add some very personal things to the art sometimes. Each of my kids has done the childish artwork on the dedication page of One Odd Day and My Even Day. A heart with my husband’s initials and mine are carved into a tree in ABC Safari (note: Karen is both writer and illustrator of this beautiful book.) and the trees on that page are inspired by the view from his grandma’s front porch. It seems like the more personal things I put into an illustration the more keenly I feel connected to the art, then the more delight I feel. When this happens during the process the pieces are always pointed out to me as my most successful works. I think they resonate more with the viewer because they resonated with me and I put details in that convey that feeling.

Me: Will there be another book in this series?
Karen: Yeah – I am painting on My Half Day (about fractions) right now. It will be released in 2008. After that – maybe time?

Me: What other projects can your fans look forward to?
Karen: My fans – ha!
     I don’t know what will see the light of day but I have one story that I’d like to collaborate with my husband on the finished paintings with – it’s a silly, creepy Halloween story – perfect for the two of us to work on together. I have a few other writing projects in progress. Other than that – pick up a copy of Highlights For Children and sometimes you’ll find something I did in it.

     To learn more about Karen Lee, visit her website and get the latest news at her blog.

     Karen is also on tour the rest of this week, so to get more in depth information, follow her to the blogs of other talented friends (links will be updated to static as the tour continues):
Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Kim Norman
Ruth McNally Barshaw
Barbara Johansen Newman
Dotti Enderle
Kerry Madden

     To visit tours I've hosted for other talented friends, click on the category "BlogBookTours" to the right or go here.

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