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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Special Interview with Edwardian Taylor

You may have heard some internet rumblings about a new picture book It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk. Well, I do think it is a really fun book. Both in its creative fracturing of a fairy tale and use of speech bubbles, and its lively and imaginative illustrations.

So I am very happy to have the opportunity to talk with the other half of the creative team of this amazing picture book - Edwardian Taylor.

Edwardian, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about illustrating and It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk.

Thanks for having me!

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you draw? How long have you been illustrating or drawing? What is your favorite type of children’s book to illustrate?)

EDWARDIAN: I live in Texas with my four dogs, my two parakeets and my flock of 10 chickens. I strictly work from the comfort of my own home and most of the time in my pajamas. Not a bad gig. I draw pretty much every day for a large chunk of my day. I absolutely love it!

Like most people, I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a crayon. So pretty much all my life. I’ve only been working as a professional children’s book illustrator a little over two years now. But honestly I didn't even imagine that one day I would be illustrating children’s books for a living. No one in my family that were artists and I didn’t know anyone at the time that worked in any fields related to art (this was before the internet). I loved reading comic books growing up, so I figured I could be a comic book artist.

So I ended up going to college for art, then a few years later I went to grad school for 3D visual effects for animation/ video games. But after finishing with my Masters, I decided to go back to 2D art and started taking online classes for Character Design and Visual Development for Animation. Eventually I started meeting people who were working in the animation industry like me who were also illustrators and figured that I could do that too. Learning about what is possible, led me to seeking an illustration agent, which I was fortunate that it didn't take long. And now I’m represented by the wonderful agents at Bright Group USA. So it's been a very long journey to becoming an illustrator for children’s books.

I’ve always loved fairy tale/ folk tale themed books, and I was so happy that my first one was with Josh Funk on It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk. This opportunity allowed me to throw in some of my favorite characters into this book. But I’ve also love scary stories, so I’m hoping that one day I’ll get to work on either a scary story children’s book or Halloween themed children’s book. I know these tend to be a very small niche in children’s books so not many are made.

Sounds like you found your dream job! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

This is a great question. Well, I originally went school for Chemical Engineering along with Art. I was in AP Chemistry and was chosen to intern at several chemical plants when I was in High School, and really enjoyed it. So going to college, I wanted to be a chemist and be an artist. But I was receiving more scholarships through art, so I ended up dropping chemistry to focus on art. Which is funny that art paid for my education. I did end up double majoring in Psychology so I have a BS in Psychology. Another random fact is that I love Meatloaf. Not the meal (which isn't bad itself), but the musician. Imagine me as a little kid rocking out to Meatloaf while drawing comic books. lol My friends make fun of me about it. lol I regret nothing. Apparently he lives in Dallas too, but I’ve yet to bump into him. Maybe one day . . .

How interesting, I would normally assume Engineering would offer more in scholarships. You were really meant to be an illustrator. If you could share one thing about illustrating with your younger self, and/or kids today, what would that be?

To pursue what you love. If you wake up every day wanting to draw, then that's what you're meant to do. But like all things, you need to work on it every day and to continue challenging and pushing yourself to get better. My parents were always supportive with me pursuing art, so if I had kids, I would support them in any endeavor they were passionate about.

What is the hardest thing about illustrating children’s books?

Starting. It's always so hard to stare at a blank tablet screen or a blank piece of paper when you're starting the rough sketches for a book. But once I get into the zone, things seem to come so much easier. I also find when I’m working on my own personal work, that it helps to generate ideas I can use for the books I’m illustrating on.

In that, we have lots in common, those dreaded blank pages/screens. What was your favorite part of It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk to illustrate? What is your least favorite part?

I’m a character designer for animation, so I absolutely love how character driven the story is. I got to explore Jack in his numerous expressions, so often I’d find myself laughing when I would come up with his reactions during the story. He’s quite the character. But I also enjoyed putting other characters in the story that weren't written in. Which created a whole world that Josh and I could always explore further. So the large restaurant spread at the end was probably my favorite (and longest, time wise) to work on.

My least favorite part . . . it’s when I finished the last bit of artwork for the book. Something I’ve learned is to not get attached to projects, because there’s always another to work on. But after finishing this book, I was sad it was over. Which was short lived with the announcement of It’s Not Hansel and Gretel.

I was enthralled by the expressions of Jack & Bessie in the opening scenes and laughing along with you as Jack dealt with the beans. So, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

This one is easy. I loved Halloween as a kid and it was the time of year I would always check out books from the library. One of my favorite books as a kid, that stuck with me as an adult (because it was pretty scary for a children’s book), was the controversial In a Dark Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz. Apparently it’s the most banned book from schools and libraries in the US today. Also, I was a huge Garfield fan, so when we would get our Scholastic book order forms every year, I always got one of Jim Davis’ books. I still have my original books from when I was a kid. Coincidentally, Garfield was the first cartoon character I learned to draw. But it was really X-Men comics that got me to want to be an artist.

What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite or hardest?

Because of the ease and cost effectiveness, I do most of my art digitally in Photoshop. Since now brushes easily can mimic traditional mediums.

Every year I participate in Inktober, so during this time I do a lot of ink drawing. I haven't painted anything since undergrad, so I’ve been wanting to get back into water colors and gouache. But with time constraints with work, finding personal time to paint has been difficult.

The Bright Group, Bright USA and Inktober)

What is the best thing an author can do to help an illustrator? The worst?

I think that when authors put in their manuscripts their idea of what can be happening in an illustration it is nice. It helps to establish a base for the illustrator to work from. Also for authors to be open for collaboration and change is awesome. It makes the artist feel like they contribute more than just the art.

The worst . . . well I haven't experienced it myself (fingers crossed I never do), but finding out that the author didn't like the illustrations you did for their book. I would feel awful, if that ever happened. lol

After all, picture books are a pas de deux - a dance of two. Who determined Jack, Fred, and Cindy would have speech bubbles? How much of the type setting and speech bubbles did you design? Or is that the art director’s job?

Since the book is so dialogue heavy, my editor and art director both came up with the idea of the speech bubbles. They had an in-house designer come up with the designs and the text to use to help differentiate the different characters. In the beginning we were trying to find another way to do the dialogue, but the speech bubbles made the most sense.

I love your creativity and ingenuity in lacing other fairy tale characters throughout the story. Especially in the restaurant spread. It is so fun to figure out, and then find, all the characters you included. Did you pick the fairy tale characters you wove throughout It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk?

Yes! Before I had started on the book Josh and I had talked about the possibilities of there being a sequel or a spin off. At the time they had announced the sequel to Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast. So I wanted to leave the possibility open for us to get to come back to Jack’s meta fairy tale world. Josh revealed to me that he did have some stories cooking. So we discussed who for sure he wanted me to include in this book, in case we did get a sequel/spinoff. So it became a kind of game for readers to figure out who in the book will possibly be seen again in their own story. Plus I wanted people to want to go back through the book and examine the pages and spend time with the artwork as well, so hiding characters was an idea I had to keep people invested in the artwork as well as the story.

Do you have any advice for beginning illustrators? Perhaps something about illustrating or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or anything you’re glad you didn’t know about in advance?

Oh goodness . . . I didn't go to school for Illustration, so these are just some of my personal thoughts:

First thing that comes to mind is to not focus so much on style, but more on your voice as an artist. The content and quality of the work you do speaks more than what type of style you have. You’ll always be growing as an artist, so something like style evolves and changes, so no point in stressing out about it.

In terms of work, create illustrations which tell a story all on their own. I know when I was little, before I could read, I was always drawn to books where the illustrations told the story without the text. So when I work on my own personal art, that's something I try to keep in mind.

More of a business related note, know how long it takes you to create an illustration from rough sketch to final art. Time yourself. It will be important to know that when you take on illustration work so you can calculate if a project is worth the time it will take to work on it. A misfortune of being an illustrator, is that not all projects pay well or fair, and illustrators need to be aware of that. Ask themselves, is the cost worth the time? So if illustrators want to be taken as professionals, they need to be business savvy as well.

The one rule in publishing (I’ve heard) is that it's not preferred for the illustrator to talk with the author. Well I’ve broken that rule with every author I’ve worked with, Oops lol. I apparently wasn't aware of it, but personally for me it makes for a better book when I get to know not just my art director and my editor, but also the author who came up with the story. I guess collaboration is something I’ve learned from working in a studio environment.

Some of the best books come from breaking the rules! Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Well, I just wrapped up the first book in a series through Scholastic called, Toy Academy: Some Assembly Required Book 1, written by Brian Lynch. It debuts Jan. 30, 2018. Also just finished my first pop up board book with Cottage Door Press. I’m not sure if it's been announced yet, but it's super cute! Recently announced was Josh Funk and my second book together, It’s Not Hansel and Gretel. So far next year will be pretty exciting.

What is your favorite animal? Why?

Just one?!? lol I love animals, hence all the pets. If I had to choose one, I’ve always loved otters. They’re like this strange combination of a dog and cat . . . that loves to swim. lol Plus who wouldn't want to spend all their time floating on their backs in the water?

Thank you, Edwardian for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.

Thanks for having me Maria!

To find out more about Edwardian Taylor, or get in touch with him:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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