Friday, July 12, 2013

SMA Interview Series: Illustrator / Painter, Lynne Avril



Lynne Avril grew up in Montana and got her art degree from the University of Montana. She has lived in Arizona, though, for the last 30 years. 

She has illustrated over 80 books for children, and when she's not drawing or painting, she plays bass in local Phoenix blues bands. 

She now divides her time  between Phoenix, Polson (MT) and Paris, where she spends 2 months of the year for battery-charging her creativity.





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Q: What is the first thing you do when you receive a manuscript? Do you ever write as well as illustrate?

The first thing I do when I get a new manuscript is make a pot of coffee, then curl up in my big white chair, start reading, and make little sketches in the margins of the paper with the ideas that pop into my head as I read. If one or more of the characters don't come to me at that time, I go out with my sketchbook over the next few days and watch for them! 

A lot of times, I'll use friends and relatives as my characters. Amelia Bedelia's dad is my son-in-law! The main character in "Underpants Dance" was a little girl I spied in Safeway. She had all the characteristics I was looking for, and I loved her hair!  I try to get a sense of the mood of the story and what style of artwork I'm going to use to convey that mood effectively. I might use gouache, or watercolor, or pastels used with acrylic medium in a series of washes. When I read the story, I try to get a sense of the energy, the rhythm, the humor, and the palette that I am going to use. 

I have not written any books yet, I have been too busy illustrating everybody else's!

Underpants Dance,  written by Marlena Zapf / illustrated by Lynne Avril
(April 2014 - Dial Books for Young Readers)






Q: Many of your books involve a lot of action! How do you reference your drawings and keep them feeling so fresh and alive as you paint?

That is a really good question, because that is one of the things I strive for - freshness and energy. I think one thing that helps is that I start with small thumbnail sketches  - a double page spread may be a sketch only 1 1/2" x 2 1/2". Then I enlarge that sketch on my copier and finesse it. I think composition is so important and that's one way to start out with a good composition without getting involved in the details too early. 

I also like accidents and spontaneity, so I don't have things too pre-planned before I start and I just follow my gut feeling. I always lay down the color first and do the line work over the top of that - I don't believe in staying in the lines much!




Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? How is it helpful for you? 

I LOVE to keep a sketchbook!  Especially when I am in Paris - there is so much to draw there - people, architecture, copies of great masters, statues, more interesting people!  Besides recording good ideas, it is just good practice for your drawing skills. 



When you're drawing moving people or animals, you learn to make good gesture drawing and how to capture a feeling in just a few lines. You're going for the essence of what you're drawing. When you look at a person you're about to draw, you think - what is it about that person that makes him look the way he does, and then you emphasize that feature. I have drawn pictures of musicians playing in clubs for years - I have stacks and stacks of bar napkins with little portraits or figure drawings on them.





Q: A common theme on our blog is how to get "unstuck." How do you get yourself out of a creative rut?

I do it by changing styles from one book to the next. I do a lot of Amelia Bedelia books, where I use gouache paint with a black prismacolor pencil outline. So, for example, at the moment I am working on a book by another author, and I am using pastel chalk that I smear onto the paper and then cover with  acrylic matte medium. I am really enjoying it, because I created a layout for the book that has large areas of color, not a lot of small detail, and it is like a breath of fresh air. Then I enjoy going back to the gouache again!

I also look at the work of other illustrators to get inspiration and new ideas. I particularly like the work of many European illustrators that have a strong sense of whimsy and humor.

One of Lynne's oil paintings, a 3'x4' commission, "Starla"



Q: What are your favorite tools? Is there any part of your process that lends itself to using a computer?

Well, I like good old-fashioned paint and paper. I don't have anything against computer art, but I never have gotten into it. I didn't start out wanting to be an illustrator. I was a painter and still am, and going back and forth between the two has been good for both. One influences the other. My favorite tool, I think, is the toothbrush, that I use to splatter paint with. If you look closely at my work, you will see lots of little splatters, and that is done by mixing gouache paint with acrylic matte medium and flicking it onto the paper with the toothbrush.

For me, the only time I use the computer is when I scan and send my sketches or artwork. That can be really useful in another way too, because when you first scan the artwork and see it up on the computer screen, often you will see it in a different way and you see little things you want to change before you send it off.



Q: Would you mind giving us a peek at your workspace? 

I have three places I work during the year - one studio at my house in Phoenix, Arizona. 


Lynne's cactus garden in Arizona.

Another up at Flathead Lake in Polson, Montana.  My studio in Montana has a drafting table that my dad made. He was a very good artist himself, and my first and best teacher!


Lynne's studio space in Montana.

And the other is when I haul all my stuff to Paris for two months every year. I like to knit and I find that is a very good way to ease myself into starting to work. It helps make that transition into the "zone."


Lynne working in Paris while her son and grandson play on the couch!




Q: What is an unexpected thing you've learned in your career?

I've learned that everything you learn comes in handy at some point of time - it all adds up. Experience! I've learned never give up on a piece - sometimes when you say oh%$#@*, you just let go and then things really start to happen. 

Never crumple up anything. 

You might calm down and see it's really not that bad. I've learned that you can't wait for inspiration, you just sit down and start to work. Sometimes it is so hard. But if you just make the first obvious mark that needs to be made, then you will make another one, and then you'll be into the zone without even knowing it. It's the first step that's the hardest. I always go through a period of depression at the beginning of a book before I know what I'm doing. 

And sometimes toward the end, you feel like you've hit the wall. But you just keep going and boom before you know it, it's done.

Just keep going...like this cycling Amelia Bedelia!



Q: What's the most fun thing about being an illustrator?

The most fun thing is having the flexibility to work wherever and whenever you want. To be able to travel and work at the same time. To work with incredibly talented and creative people. To have fun with kids reading and talking about the books. To live in the world of my imagination. Wow, I'm so damn lucky!




Q: Do you have any upcoming projects or news you're excited about?!

Well, I'm keeping very busy with Amelia Bedelia. I am working on an Easy Reader right now and then will do a chapter book in the fall. I have finished a book called Underpants Dance that will be out next spring. 

I am working on final art for a book by Marilyn Springer called I'm Gonna Climb the Mountain in my Patent Leather Shoes. And I'm ready to start final art on the next Ruby Valentine book. 
There will be another Cowgirl book. 

In a month, I will be hiking in the French and Italian Alps, visiting Corsica, and going back to Paris for another shot of inspiration. Life is good and I'm happy to be alive and working.




Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your stories with us, Lynne! 

Find all of Lynne Avril's books on Indiebound.org, here.
View more of her work on her website



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Ok, so now you're wondering: What's the deal with this "SMA Interview Series" business?

Well...

We hope you enjoyed this change of pace, because to mix things up a bit on Simply Messing About, we have decided to open our internet doors! During the next few weeks, you can look forward to even more stories from super talented children's illustrators and publishing professionals!

There will be lots of inspiration, peeks into workspaces, tips on getting out of a creative rut, and more. 

It was a pleasure to chat with Lynne Avril, because not only is she extremely talented and inspirational, she's just an all around nice person. I can't think of a single person who wouldn't want to be just like her! For that reason, we are so glad to be able to share her story with you. Being an illustrator, especially for children, is all about loving life and truly "seeing" everything around you. 

Now, go forth and draw everything!

11 comments:

  1. Excellent post! I love Lynne's work..thank you so much for sharing this..it's inspiring!

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    1. We're inspired too, for sure. :) Thanks, Shirley!

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  2. Thank you for this! I really love seeing where and how other artists work :)

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    1. You're so welcome! We have a few weeks worth of even more interviews! :D

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  3. What a life! Three studios, one in Paris? Awesome. You go, Lynne Avril.
    Great post; looking forward to whatever else you guys have in store!

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    1. I know...a dream! I looove Paris. Thanks, Jen!

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  4. Wonderful Post! Sometimes I always learn something new about being Illustrator! This was much helpful for me! Brings me a lot of confident who I want to be.

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    1. Thank you, Coco! That's what it's all about!

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  5. Lynne does have a wonderful life, and she has earned every minute of it! Lynne is one of the hardest working illustrators I've ever had the pleasure of working with. She applies as much thought and energy into a one page illustration, as she does to a 32 page picture book. Plus, when the work is done, Lynne knows how to have fun. Hats off to a fun, amazingly talented, and creative lady:).
    Bernadette
    oxo

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    1. This gives me goosebumps in the best way possible. The best lesson - remember how to have fun! Thank you so much, Bernadette for your comment!

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  6. Excellent!!!! So inspiring to look into the work and though processes from professionals in the business. Best piece of advice from the article for me, was just starting thumbnail composition at the core of the illustration. It's so easy to lose sight of how important that is.

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