I serve on the SCBWI Western Washington Advisory Committee with Rebeca Van Slyke. At a meeting earlier this year I was thrilled when I was handed an FnG of her terrific new book MOM SCHOOL to find it was illustrated by Priscilla Burris. It was a perfect pairing of author and illustrator. Perfect, I tell ya.
I first met Priscilla Burris 17 years ago in Los Angeles at my first SCBWI conference. She was then as she is now, a wonderful, welcoming, enthusiastic force. I’ve been a fan of her and her work since then. She is an author/illustrator and the National Illustrator Coordinator & Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (scbwi.org) as well as a member of their Board of Advisors.
She is the illustrator for The Heidi Heckelbeck Series, Humphrey’s Tiny Tales Series, Maggi and Milo, Edgar’s Second Word, Isabelle & Isabella’s Little Book of Rules, among others. She lives in Orange County, California. Quite a number of years ago I was honored that she had me do (I believe) the first illustrated cover of the SCBWI Bulletin back before they had full color covers.
When we were planning Rebecca’s Launch Week for MOM SCHOOL here at EMU’s Debuts I knocked people over to volunteer to interview Priscilla as part of it. Recently I was able to pose some questions to her.
1. I know you studied fashion design and illustration; when did you decide you wanted to illustrate picture books and how do you think your fashion training has helped you?
After graduating from FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising), I went on to be a Preschool Teacher (yes, unrelated to Fashion). While teaching, I attended East Los Angeles College for my Early Childhood Education. The final project was to “Write and Illustrate A Children’s Book”, that made the light bulb click for me and helped me focus on working towards the field of Children’s Book Illustration.
There is much I still glean from my FIDM experience and training! Colors, Color Combinations, Patterns, and How fabric folds and falls, are just a few of what comes to mind when I illustrate. I love to share whether characters are human or animals – they need to be in whatever fashion is appropriate for the story!
2. When you first read the manuscript for Mom School did you take some time to decide if you wanted to illustrate it or did you know right away?
Oh, I knew RIGHT AWAY that this was going to be a wonderful and delightful – and hilarious journey! Rebecca is SO clever and wise, and I am SO thankful to have been matched up with such great writing!
3. Can you go through your process in creating the illustrations for this book?
I first draw the images onto plain white paper, with #2 pencil and my trusty – and most beloved – Pink Pearl Eraser. Then, I do something rather childlike and fun; I smudge each drawing. This is to enhance the texture, as well as to give me an excuse to get messy and have to wash my hands like a real Artist. (half kidding)
Truth be told, I asked the editor and art director which of my art samples they preferred, and once I knew that answer, I knew this would be my process for MOM SCHOOL.
4. On Facebook you post so many charming illustrations with evocative tidbits of text that I am certain there are whole stories you’re keeping from us. Are there? Hmmmmm?
Thank You! and WHAT a great question! I’d say the characters I illustrate ‘tell’ me what their names are, and their stories. By this, I mean I may have a holiday or inspired idea in mind as a start. It’s when I go to roughing out a sketch of the character(s) that ‘they’ begin to come to life for me. Truly, the answer is Yes and No because while I have notes for full story possibilities on some images, others I don’t. At least, not yet. Guess it just depends on what the characters want, after all. Some can be quite bossy, but in a good way.
5. a. Sketchbook? Yes or no.
Yes. Whether it is a real-life, hold in your hand, or grab-a-slip-of-paper-to-add-in-later Sketchbook, or digitally created, Yes!
b. Sketching in public?
Sometimes, yes. Especially if I catch something happening that I’ll reference later for an image. Not ‘in’ public, however. I don’t want anyone noticing me sketching. Probably because it feels like I’m thinking out loud, and who wants to hear that?
6. What’s up next? Will we be seeing a Priscilla Burris penned picture book soon?
What a kind question! Yes, there is something in the works, and I am thrilled! However, at this date I cannot share more.
7. Favorite doughnut?
Plain Cake Doughnut with Pink or Orange Icing!
Thanks, Priscilla, you’re the best! And congratulations to both you and Rebecca on MOM SCHOOL. I am sure it is going to be a big hit!
If you’d like to see more of Priscilla’s work, check out her website here: http://www.priscillaburris.com. Follow her on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/PriscillaDesign. Or like her page on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Priscilla-Burris-Illustration-Writing-Design/110784668957953