Everything about picture books appeals to Julian Hector. Writing and illustrating utilize all the things that he loves to do as a creative person: creating settings and costumes, exploring family and a sense of wonder about the world, conjuring anthropomorphic bugs, and of course, telling stories.
His latest book is a lovely collaboration with author/editor Arthur A. Levine. Monday is One Day (Scholastic, 2011) which, in touching rhyme, celebrates the special relationship between working parents and their children. Julian has graciously stopped by to share his work and enthusiasm with us.
AB: Congratulations on the publication of Monday is One Day! I love that the illustrations show many iterations of families. That pleases me to no end. Could you talk about how you decided upon your illustration content?
JH: Hey Amy, thank you for having me on your wonderful blog! The decision to have a diverse group of families was made when Monday’s third editor came on board the project. After reviewing my first dummy, which felt very dry in its depiction of only a father and son, she consulted with Arthur, and we all agreed that the book should be universally appealing. We wanted children with working parents of any arrangement to find themselves in Monday is One Day. For me, the book sprung to life when this decision was made.
AB: Could you talk about your process for creating the illustrations for Monday is One Day?What medium/ media do you use? About stylistic choices?
The paintings in Monday consist of watercolors and charcoal over a block of Arches hot pressed watercolor paper. I start by doing a graphite transfer of the sketch onto the paper, which leaves a very light outline, then I fill the shapes in with color. For this book,I wanted the colors to be as bright and saturated as possible, so I used several layers of paint, and ample white space to help the colors pop even further. When the paintings were complete, I went over with charcoal, outlining and shading everything. Stylistically, I wanted the book to be as friendly as possible, and the illustrations of H. A.Rey where my principle reference. Not that I actively researched his books; they’re all ingrained in my head. The limited palette of primary colors was crucial for this book: most picture books have a main character that you can follow across the narrative, but with Monday, each of the six main spreads features a different group of characters. It was important that color be used to maintain consistency across the pages. This is how I consider color when illustrating: it’s just another tool to help make the book work.
AB: How did you and Arthur become paired up on this project?
JH: I was contacted by Arthur’s editor at Scholastic, after Arthur viewed and liked the F&G of my first book, The Little Matador (Disney-Hyperion, 2008), at ALA in early 2008. I received the email while temping at American Banker during the Bear Stearns collapse. I was probably the only happy person in the financial district that day.
AB: I suspect you're right about that! Who are some of the editors/ art directors you’ve worked with?
I just finished a fourth book with my editor Namrata Tripathi at Atheneum. She and I started working together when I was a student at Parsons, and she was an editor at Disney-Hyperion. For Monday is One Day, the project had three total editors, but I was only on board for two of them: Kara LaReau and Andrea Davis Pinkney. They were both absolutely wonderful. The art directors that I’ve worked with are Ellice Lee (The Little Matador - Disney-Hyperion), Roberta Prussel (This is the Firefighter by Laura Godwin- Disney-Hyperion, 2009), Elizabeth Parisi (Monday is One Day - Scholastic), Ann Bobco (The Gentleman Bug, C.R. Mudgeon 2012 - Atheneum), and Martha Rago (Happily Ever After 2013 - Harper Collins).
AB: What sorts of things inspired you to write and illustrate? Did you always want to do both? Did you want to do this when you were a kid? If not, what did you wish you’d be doing?
JH: I’ve been writing and illustrating since I was very young. I had a lonely childhood, and created characters and narratives as a way of keeping myself entertained. I really am a product of my environment. I don’t feel that I have any natural talent. I definitely wanted to do other things growing up. I wanted to be an inventor, a paleontologist, a marine mammal biologist, and I entered Parsons wanting to be an architect, but quickly realized that my career should involve the set of skills that I acquired in order to survive my childhood.
AB: Do you stay in touch with any of the teachers or students from your time at Parsons? How have they (either teachers and/or students) helped teach you how to write and illustrate for kids? What were the major lessons that you took away from your time at Parsons?
JH: I keep in touch with two of my former professors; Pat Cummings, and Sergio Ruzzier. Pat teaches the Parsons Children’s Book making class, which I took my senior year of college, and where my first book, The Little Matador, was a class project. Pat acted as a mentor much earlier, though, when I expressed an interest in picture books during my first year in the illustration Department. She took me under her wing, taught me about the 32 page format, shared her publishing contacts with me, and cheered me on all the way to publication. I owe so much to Pat. My wish to become an author/illustrator materialized very quickly after meeting her.
JH: Sure thing. During my junior year of college, I finally had a completed picture book dummy and portfolio. My mentor, Pat Cummings, approved of both, and gave me a list of editor contacts, while helping me polish my query letter with an important emphasis on getting a face-to-face meeting.
Initially, only Namrata Tripathi, of Disney-Hyperion replied and agreed to meet with me. Nami (Namrata’s nickname) was the warmest person and we got along immediately. She liked my work, and saw potential in my dummy (it was eventually turned down at acquisitions), but most importantly, Nami saw an image in my portfolio of a matador giving a bull a flower, and made it clear that she would love for me to give the scene a
story. When my senior year rolled around I did just that, and wrote The Little Matador, which, after a revision or two, was bought by Nami in a two book deal.
After finishing the Illustrations for The Little Matador in 2007, Nami had me Illustrate This is the Firefighter (Laura Godwin), while I wrote The Gentleman Bug. Then I was contacted by Scholastic, and Harper Collins, regarding Monday is One Day and Happily Ever After (a bilingual fairy tale anthology), respectively. I finished The Gentleman Bug, followed by Monday is One Day, then Nami offered me C.R. Mudgeon (Leslie Muir - 2012), which I completed last month. Currently, I’m finishing the Illustrations for Happily Ever After, which is due later in the fall.
AB: What did you read as a kid?
JH: Dinotopia, Are You My Mother, No Fighting No Biting, Corduroy, In the Night Kitchen, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, Babar, Stellaluna, Trouble for Trumpets, David Macaulay’s books - City, Cathedral, Castle, The Way Things Work, The Little Engine that Could, Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher, The Far Side comics, Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons, Edward Gorey’s various anthologies, and The Story of Ferdinand. There are only a few exceptions where I branched out and read a picture-less book.
AB: Which artists have influenced you? What did you like looking at as a child? What impressed you?
JH: Trouble for Trumpets was probably the most impressive book that I experienced as a child. I found it to be completely immersive, and I had it in constant check-out from the school library. It informs a lot of what I do as an illustrator, too. I owe my desire to have a map in all of my books to Trouble for Trumpets. Dinotopia was another book that I couldn’t get enough of. Both Trouble for Trumpets and Dinotopia feature thorough world-building, and that’s an element that I try to bring into my work. I usually don’t begin to write a story until I have a fully realized sandbox that I can play in.
|C.R. Mudgeon by Leslie Muir, Atheneum, 2012|
JH: Shaun Tan, Peter Brown, Sergio Ruzzier, Stephen Savage, David Ezra Stein, Suzy Lee, Renata Liwska, Jen Corace, Carson Ellis, and more Shaun Tan.
AB: If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning illustrator/ writer, what advice would you offer?
JH: I would have told myself to mind the deadlines!!! Not only is it healthy to meet your deadlines in the professional sense, it’s creatively healthy, too. Sidelining your sense of perfectionism to complete a book on time and get it out to the world, then move on to your next idea, is a wonderful cycle to maintain. I put far too much weight on making ‘perfect’ illustrations when I began. I think that I repainted the first scene in The Little Matador close to 20 times - bad!
AB: What is your best tip for book promotion? How do you balance your creative life as a writer-artist with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, contracts, etc.) of being an author-illustrator?
AB: Monday is One Day hit the shelves on April 1st. Will you be doing any signings that I could mention?
JH: I don’t have any signings planned, but Arthur will be speaking and signing this weekend in the Twin Cities.
AB: Minnesotans- don’t miss out! Here’s Arthur's book trailer to get you excited, followed by info on Arthur's two book signings and one conference keynote:
Friday, April 29th at 6:30pm
2720 W 43rd St
Minneapolis, MN 55410
Saturday, April 30, 10–11 a.m.
Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conference
Welcome and Keynote Address with Arthur A. Levine
Sunday, May 1st at 2pm
The Red Balloon Bookshop
891 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105