Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Interview With Kristen Nobles

Kristen Nobles is the Art Director at Candlewick Press, based in Somerville, MA. One of my favorite publishers, just based on the beautiful children's and middle grade books I see them putting out.

Interview With Kristen Nobles

Describe a project you have worked on recently, taking us through the key stages.

Recently I designed and art directed The Flint Heart by Katherine and John Patterson, and illustrated by John Rocco... After several discussions with the editor, we came across some promotional pieces for John Rocco’s Fu Finds the way and, with further research, his Percy Jackson series jackets. When Katherine and John agreed he was the man for the job I designed pages and estimated an art count. John was enthusiastic from the start, thrilled by the challenge of so many characters and the historical relevance of the book. He provided a list of possible illustrations that he would be excited about creating. We discussed these editorially for content and logistically for pacing. Meanwhile John was researching steampunk and art nouveau aesthetics to inform the three worlds he was creating – the human world, the animal world, and the fairy world. We discussed palettes for each world and looked at early character sketches. We worked closely to develop a framing device for chapter openers and debated how to render them differently from the main scenes. John created over 60 exquisitely luminous illustrations, working digitally to colorize after scanning in approved pencil sketches. 

After reading a manuscript, do you instantly have a sense of the illustration style which would bring it to life?

I do, though it’s not necessarily a style but rather a quality. Generally I write down three or so adjectives when reading a manuscript and I’m looking for those same qualities in the artist’s work.

Who has been your greatest mentor in the world of children's publishing  to date and what pearls of wisdom have they imparted?

Kristine Brogno... taught me the importance of page turns, the consideration of composition as well as perspective, and the craft of a writing a persuasive art directional letter. She also taught me a lot about having a vision and being able to back up that vision with reason. 

At Candlewick, Creative Director Chris Paul... has instilled in me her nuanced affection for typography and the ability to work on a project with gravitas.

What general advice would you give an illustrator looking to improve  their children's portfolio - what should they include/not include?

First and foremost unique characters with a variety of emotions – children, adults, animals. Some example of environment, either indoor or outdoor. Unusual perspectives. A range of color samples and palettes and black and white work. Give yourself an assignment each day and share it with others. These days blogs (such as those featured on Childrensillustrators.com) are a wonderful way for art directors to get a sense of an illustrators range, working style, and personality. Most importantly, imbue your work with what drives you – illuminate your passions. Don’t draw a preconceived notion of what you think children’s book art looks like.

Love this last reply! Of course, most art directors and professionals will tell you some of the same things: draw a variety of characters. Show multiple environments and perspectives. Use color well. Draw good. Etc.   But I really like the comment of making work that inspires you, of doing things in just your own way. Sure, not everyone will love your work if you have a very different style than what they expect, but it's pretty likely that no one will love your work if you don't. Deep thoughts.