This morning, world-renowned picture-book illustrator and artist E.B. Lewis edged his car out of my driveway, rainwater splashing from under the tires as he drove away.
I waved goodbye and then I quieted.
The way I think about picture book illustration had changed.
During a three-day workshop taught by E.B., illustrator friends streamed into my home, plunking down their portfolios, sketchbooks and pencils, laughing and talking, and ready to learn.
In addition to having illustrated more than seventy children’s books and exhibiting his fine art paintings in galleries around the world, E.B. has thirty-five years of teaching experience, making him a phenomenal instructor.
So, from the moment steam began rising from our coffee cups in the morning, attendees leaned toward him, eager to hear what he had to say about the picture book industry.
"You're storytellers. Not illustrators," E.B. said, elaborating that P.B. illustrators write using "visual language".
Good isn’t good enough when you’re trying to work in the field of picture-book illustration. And because of this, E.B. doesn’t pass out compliments like valentines in grade school; He says what he thinks you need to hear. Whether you’re published or unpublished, he wants to help you bring your work to the next level.
So, when attendees gathered together for a watercolor demonstration E.B. called out, “Now, where’s Shirley? She needs to hear this, because this is her problem!”
I had left a jar of clean water for washing paintbrushes on the table. My grandmother had once stored her garden vegetables in that jar and E.B. was pointing to it. “This jar contributes to your muddy colors,” he said.
I laughed and looked up to heaven. “I forgive you, Grammy.” And I laughed for three days straight while I learned how to make my illustrations better.
What else could I do? Get frustrated? Cry? No. I kept going, sharpening pencil after pencil, working on everything from how to make good thumbnail sketches (using composition, shadow, and form) to practicing exercises that pull out unexpected ideas.
Before the workshop concluded, E.B. challenged attendees with a one-word homework assignment: illustrate the word “Lost”. Using everything we learned, we are to sketch past our good thumbnails to find our best ideas. We may send our best thumbnail to him and he’ll provide us feedback before we move on to our finished sketch and piece.
Tomorrow, I’ll start sketching my thumbnails in a new way, by looking at a scene from different angles, and using E.B.’s components of good story telling to find my BEST compositions and ideas, because someday I would like an art director to look at my work and ask, as E.B. says they do, “Is there a story to go with this piece”.
For information about EB’s Visual Mentee Program visit his website.
(A few of this workshop’s attendees have already signed up.)
I'll conclude with this behind the scenes photo, taken shortly after E.B. arrived on the evening before the workshop.
I had just greeted him in the driveway, saying something like "Hi E.B. and welcome but before we go inside you should take off your, very nice, suede jacket, because my kids might, accidentally, wipe frosting on it, during my husband’s birthday celebration tonight. By the way it's my husband's birthday. And if my 11 year old stares at you when you're singing Happy Birthday to my husband, whom you haven't met yet, it's because I've been pushing the vacuum around our house for two months yelling, "E.B. Lewis is coming! E.B. Lewis is coming," and, although my son thinks you're an AMAZING artist, he did not want to clean his room."