February 7, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #235: Bryan Collier

I'm so happy I got a chance to catch up with legendary, award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier about his illustration process! Today we're talking specifically about We Are Here, written by the amazing Tami Charles, which serves as an ode to the Black and Brown people who have made notable societal contributions throughout history. Enjoy our inspirational chat!

About the book:
Lyrical, affirmational, and bursting with love, We Are Here is a poignant story about Black and Brown heritage and community. Full of assurance, tenderness, and triumph, this much-anticipated follow-up to the New York Times bestselling picture book All Because You Matter offers an equally inspirational and arresting ode to all of the Black women and men throughout history who have made momentous contributions from the beginning of time.

Let's talk Bryan Collier!

LTPB: What intrigued you most about Tami Charles’ manuscript for We Are Here? What were some of the more challenging moments?

BC: The most intriguing part about Tami Charles' manuscript for We Are Here is that it gave me a chance to celebrate a hand-full of accomplishments made by Black and Brown people. The challenge is editing the ones due to a lack of space.

LTPB: What differences have you found between creating a picture book on your own (text and illustrations) versus illustrating someone else’s text?

BC: Clarity and musicality are the two major ingredients that I desperately struggle to capture when I both write and illustrate my own book. When I illustrate a text by an author, the clarity and musical bounce is the very thing that draws me to the text.

LTPB: You’re in pretty high demand as a creator! How do you keep your process fresh with every new book? Is there anything in particular you’re still hoping to explore in the future?

BC: I think you stay fresh by constantly seeking new ways to use your medium, changing your palette and color choices, exploring little subjects, and having fun with storytelling. In the future, I'd like to get into doing a long version of storytelling in a picture book format as well as animation.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? What do you love most about the medium you use?

BC: I paint in watercolor and collage. It's my favorite medium because I like the idea of putting together materials that have no relationship to one another and creating something totally different and brand new. I let the flow and cadence of the text determine the balance of watercolor in the collage.

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

BC: I can't show it, but I am currently working on a book called Freedom on the Sea (The Robert Smalls story) about someone who stole a Confederate steamship called the Planter and skillfully navigated it through a series of security checkpoints in Charleston Harbor and delivered it to freedom and Union territory.

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

BC: I would like Chris Van Allsburg to do a book on me. I think he would have the perfect combination of realism, mystery and magic to get the job done. Tom Feelings's The Middle Passage and all of Chris Van Allsburg's books have inspired me.

A million thanks to Bryan for taking time to answer some questions about his incredible career so far! We Are Here published last month from Orchard Books!

Special thanks to Bryan and Orchard Books for use of these images!

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