September 13, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #40: Christian Robinson

By this point, Christian Robinson hardly needs an introduction. He has won a Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honors (plural!), a Sibert Informational Book Award Honor, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor . . . the list goes on. So, without (much) further ado, I'm proud to showcase my interview with Christian about his latest picture book When's My Birthday?, written by Julie Fogliano, which captures the spirit and energy of the age old question, "When is my birthday?"

About the book:
when’s my birthday?
where’s my birthday?
how many days until my birthday?

i’d like a pony for my birthday
and a necklace for my birthday.
i’d like a chicken for my birthday.
i’d like a ball to bounce and bounce.

i’d like a big cake on my birthday
with lots of chocolate on my birthday
and lots of candles on my birthday
1,2,3,4,5, and 6!

Peek underneath the dust jacket here.
View the not-so-official, but totally adorable book trailer here.

Let's talk Christian Robinson!

LTPB: The trim size of this book is awesome! And you use it well with the giraffes, tall candles, and over-sized party hats. What new challenges did you set out to explore with this book? How did you use the unique trim size to your advantage? 

CR: Thanks! I really wanted to have fun with this book, trying new things like illustrating a vertical book was a fun challenge. I like to think of the book illustration as a painting and the book design (trim size, bookcase, jacket and flaps) as a frame for the art.

The tall trim influenced what and how I could illustrate on the page, it plays a role in the storytelling, most importantly I think it lends to the story and book itself. The height makes the book feel more like a large greeting card or some kind of fun object.

LTPB: The text is fairly redundant (which fits the theme well — we’ve all been there!), so how did you approach Julie’s text when it came to interpreting it visually? 

CR: I saw freedom in the repetitive rhythm of Julie’s words. It meant that I had many chances to express the same idea visually. It’s kind of like being giving the assignment of drawing a horse 10 different ways, which I would find to be another fun challenge.

LTPB: How did you work to make each spread feel independently dynamic and energetic, yet connected to the others?

CR: This is one of many places I have to give credit to the book editor, Neal Porter. I can sometimes get so caught up in the joy of creating and get away from making sure everything created is cohesive, communicates strongly to the reader and lends itself to the story. That’s when the direction of a trusted and skilled book maker like Neal helps keep the book feeling like a book.

LTPB: You’ve totally blown up in the last few years, publishing several books each year (congrats!). What do you do to keep your process feeling fresh with every new manuscript? 

CR: Thanks! Hmmm, I think each story is different, and each author inspires something different. With every book I learn something new, but I feel like there is still so much to learn. The process is still mysterious to me, I’m always curious and looking to grow with each book. 

LTPB: What medium do you use for your illustrations and why? 

CR: Acrylic paint and collage. I think these mediums are like my comfortable/uncomfortable spot. I take comfort in working with paint and collage because they’ve been my go-tos for awhile, and I feel I have some understanding of how to work with them. But there is also an unpredictable quality to the medium that allows me to improvise and make it up as I go along that I find exciting.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

CR: Currently working on illustrations for a new book with Matt de la Peña., but I can't show anything just yet. In other news I’ve been working with Red Cap Cards to create greeting cards and wrapping paper and gift bags that come out just in time for When’s My Birthday?

LTPB: If you could have one illustrator (alive or dead) illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

CR: Ooh that’s a good one, I’d go with Roger Duviosin. He’s just one of my all-time favorite illustrators. I love how he works with very little sometimes in terms of color and materials and creates so much. 

Christian was busy moving as we put this together, so many, many thanks to him for taking some time to answer questions and share his process! When's My Birthday? published last week from Roaring Brook Press! 

Special thanks to Christian and Roaring Brook Press for use of these images!

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