March 17, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #136: Elizabet Vukovic

It was such a pleasure to chat with Elizabet Vukovic about her newly illustrated picture book An Ordinary Day, written by Elana K Arnold. We talked about some of my favorite topics, including the mechanics of portraying death in picture books and the joys of using only complementary colors to convey tone. Enjoy the read!

About the book:
It’s an average day in the neighborhood—children play, roses are watered, and a crow watches over it all. But then two visitors arrive at two houses, one to help a family say hello to a new baby and one to help a family say goodbye to a beloved pet. This sensitive picture book takes a gentle look at life, death, the bonds of family, and the extraordinary moments that make ordinary days so special.

Let's talk Elizabet Vukovic!

LTPB: What did you envision when you first saw the manuscript for An Ordinary Day? What images popped into your mind? 

EV: From the first time I read the manuscript I loved the symmetry Elana used, how two things seem alike but represent the opposite. So my first tool was using symmetrical/mirrored compositions throughout to portray the sameness but slight differences.

Early on I had an idea of starting with one color and ending up with another. It was tricky and I tried many different ways to fuse and move the story. The story starts unassuming with a quiet early morning from a distance, that fits a bluish tone. As people come out and go on their daily life, slowly activity starts to come alive, the sun comes out, the children play, the orange is spreading. Later in the day one family doesn’t go to orange but a bluish color does leave the page, and somewhat enters the next spread in an orange tone (I’d like to believe that represents Sally passing her love to the baby).

I saw limited colors within these families to separate them from the outside neighborhood and to separate them from each other (but not too much, I wanted to keep their similarities). I was illustrating someone else's manuscript, so I had to work with the manuscript, like the dog being a golden retriever (goodness do I love that breed of dogs!). Making the dog greyscale wouldn’t give her attention, and I had to keep her yellowish tone, so I decided to make the family members blue/grey (sadness). With the other family I flipped it, making the family members more yellowish/grey (anticipation) and giving mom focus with her blue skirt.

One thing I had planned was having both families be calm/bluish in the first spreads, and on the last two spreads have them both be peach/orange to represent love (in losing and in receiving), but decided not to because adding orange to the bluish family just looked odd to me.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book? 

EV: With all picture books (including An Ordinary Day) I’ve used mixed media because I can’t stick to one medium, I have to try it all ;)

The colors and texture I use depend on the mood I want to portray in the book, I love trying new things. Here are some explorations I made in my sketchbook to come up with colors, texture and mood. 

I start out with thumbnails, sketches and research reference. I make a lot of options.

After having a final sketch that’s approved I start picking colors and techniques to portray the scene, I never know what the actual look will be. I change things as I go along. I’ve been so lucky with the amazing art director Lauren Rille at Beach Lane Books who lets me make my changes. I try many different things. 

The way I work is in layering the elements I paint and draw. My scanner is an A3 size, so with larger images, that don’t fit totally I have to scan twice. Because I have to piece together two edges, I'd rather separate the background (atmosphere) and foreground elements. 

The biggest difference with this book is that I used pastel and charcoal on very soft paper that gives a nice soft texture that I haven’t used before.

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

EV: At the moment I’m actually coming back from a little time out, I was so overworked. So I cut myself some slack, took a break to experiment with art, have fun and live a little. Now I’m back and ready to take on new projects! If any publishers have some great stories, I’m available ;)

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

EV: Oh this is a difficult one, when you love so many illustrators! 

The one favorite that keeps coming back would be Fiep Westendorp. First because I grew up with books she illustrated and love them so much. And now I admire and see her genius in her shapes, colors, texture and characters. Her work is playful and humorous and radiates fun! I think I’ve had some pretty colorful characters in my life, and she’d have been familiar with the environments and cultural traditions I grew up with. Oh, she would have been magnificent.

Thank you so much to Elizabet for chatting with me! An Ordinary Day published last week from Beach Lane Books!

Special thanks to Elizabet and Beach Lane for use of these images!

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