I attended the Eastern NY SCBWI conference on June 7th and met fellow writer, Stephanie Hoina. We bonded immediately and during our conversations throughout the day she mentioned illustrator, Lee Harper. With the descriptive detail Stephanie used to describe his immense talent and Lee as a person, I knew I had to interview him. Read on for a personal glimpse into Lee’s vibrant world.
Donna McDine: What inspires you as you begin a new project?
Lee Harper: I never know where the inspiration is going to come from. It’s always different. When I get a manuscript I just start looking into everything related to the manuscript and hope that inspiration strikes. With WOOLBUR I was really inspired when I got to the point where the characters started walking around the page on their own.
DMc: Was there a person from your childhood who encouraged you to pursue your artistic talent?
LH: Yes, my mom.
DMc: What was the best piece of advice you received when you started your career as an illustrator?
LH: When I was starting out, I heard Peter Catalanotto speak at a SCBWI conference. The thing he said that stuck me was, “just do the work”. It is simple but true.
DMc: Who are some of your favorite children's illustrators?
LH: David Catrow, Peter Reynolds, Ponder Goembel, Ian Falconer, Dr. Suess, Charles Shultz, Chuck Jones to name a few.
DMc: Please describe your path to success in becoming an artist?
LH: I drew a lot when I was a kid and I was one of those kids that got to be known as the class artist. I went to college for fine art but didn’t end up making a living as an artist. I ran a picture framing business for about 15 years. But eventually the art bug came back and I started painting again. At first it was abstractions, but I soon became drawn to children’s books. It seemed like a natural fit since I have four kids of my own, I am very immature myself, and I don’t really like the pretentiousness of fine art!
DMc: Where there any particular obstacles that you needed to overcome?
LH: Not making much money while pursuing my crazy dream was the main obstacle! And it was hard to keep believing in myself while seeing so many talented people all around me with the same dream that weren’t making it. You have to be egotistical enough to believe that you have something special to offer, and optimistic enough to believe that against all odds someone will notice!
DMc: How long have you been working as a freelance artist and
LH: It’s been about four years now.
DMc: Do you have a favorite medium or style?
LH: I love watercolor. It is the most basic way to paint. A piece of paper, a pencil, an eraser, water, paint, and a paintbrush are all that is required.
DMc: How long does it take to illustrate a picture book?
LH: I have just completed my second book, so I haven’t established a pattern yet, but it seems that for me, from start to finish, one school year is a good amount of time. I know artists who work faster and some who work slower. I work when my two boys are at school, that’s why one school year works for me.
DMc: Please describe the collaboration involved between you, the publisher, and the author.
LH: I get a manuscript from an editor and they ask me if I’d like to illustrate it. I say yes!!! I have three months to hand in a dummy. I send in my dummy and then after a few weeks I get a letter back explaining to me everything that is wrong with my dummy. I make the requested revisions and resend. I get another letter back and this time there are only a few things wrong with my dummy!
I asked my art director and my editor questions all along the way, especially with my first book, WOOLBUR which was very collaborative. On my second book, TURKEY TROUBLE, I tried to be more efficient with everyone’s time. I asked a lot of questions in the beginning then did all the painting without having a lot of contact with the publisher. When I was working on WOOLBUR I used to email the author directly to ask her questions along the way but I soon learned that that isn’t a good idea. Now I ask the editor or art director when I have a question. It takes a little longer to get an answer but it seems to be the accepted procedure. I have been told that it can get very complicated if the author and illustrator develop too close a relationship.
DMc: Do you conduct school visits? If so, how is a typical visit structured?
LH: I do. I introduce myself, present a PowerPoint about how I made WOOLBUR, do a drawing demonstration, and then I finish up with a question and answer session.
To learn more about Lee Harper visit: http://www.leeharperart.com/
Also, be sure to check out Lee's illustration portfolio at: http://www.leeharperart.com/Illustration_Portfolio.html#1