Today I get to introduce you to a very special book by interviewing the ILLUSTRATOR. Yes, you heard me right. I won’t be interviewing any authors of this book (though technically, I have already done so with one of the writers in a previous blog about a different book).
Jeanette Bradley is an illustrator I’ve admired for years. Ever since her debut picture book “Love, Mama” came out a couple of years ago, I’ve been wanting to get her on the blog. Today is that day! Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. Jeanette lives in Rhode Island with her wife and kids. You can learn more about her at her website.
“No Voice Too Small” is a collection of poetry by G. Neri, Charles Waters, Nikki Grimes, Lindsay Metcalf, and many more poets whose names you would recognize. This book honors young activists in a time when it is becoming more and more courageous to speak out, but more importantly it helps young readers to recognize that they CAN make a change. You are never too young to make an impact on the world around you. What an amazing book!
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing and/or painting?
Jeanette: Like most children, I started drawing before I wrote – as soon as I could hold a crayon I was scribbling on old computer paper (the kind with the green bars!) that my father brought home from work. I remember my first time painting at an easel in preschool when I was three. Sometimes illustration can be really frustrating and I try to re-center myself on that pure joy of playing with color.
Me: Can you talk a little bit about the process you used for this book? Was it traditional media, digital, or a combination of both?
Jeanette: NO VOICE TOO SMALL was drawn entirely in Procreate for the iPad using an Apple pencil. I drew initial sketches on paper with a real pencil, but the entire final art process was done digitally. I am always trying to create the sense of a hand made mark in my digital work, and this combination of software and hardware is the best I have found so far.
Also, a funny story about the cover. There was a miscommunication and I thought that I needed to get all 14 activists on the book cover wrap – quite a challenge!
However, because this is a nonfiction book, we couldn’t place the activists in an invented scene like this. What was intended was that I put one activist on the cover, and the other 13 in silhouette. But, after seeing this idea, the Charlesbridge team wanted me to keep four young activists fully rendered on the cover and suggest the rest. So, I redrew it with 3 invented kids plus Mari Copeny. Mari’s pose is based on photo journalism of her leading marchers at the March for Science in DC, bullhorn in hand, on various adults’ shoulders.
Me: Wow! I imagine that it can be difficult to illustrate such a diverse group of writers’ work, especially poetry! Was it a challenge? What drew you to this project?
Jeanette: It was a bit intimidating to illustrate the work of some of my kidlit heroes! I hope that my art lives up to the beauty of their words.
This project is a true collaboration between myself, Keila V. Dawson, and Lindsay H. Metcalf. My desire to participate came from my own daughter’s love of picture book biography collections. One day when she was six she said to me that she wished she was born in the past so that she could make a difference in history. I wanted to work on a book that showcased contemporary young people who are shaping our world, to show kids that they can make a difference and that their voices matter.
Me: I love that! What is one thing that surprised you in illustrating this book?
Jeanette: This was my first time illustrating a book where the book design was done before the illustration. Because there are so many elements on each page, they needed to lay out the pages in a way that worked for all of the different poems, and then I had to create art that fit into the remaining space. That is how book illustration used to work before layout went digital, but I had never had to work that way before, and it was an interesting and fun challenge.
Me: Wow! That’s definitely a fun challenge. What is one of your favorite illustrations from the book?
Jeanette: Nza-Ari Khepra is one of my favorites. She has this quiet, yet intensely powerful, stage presence when she speaks. I felt this image captured that part of her personality. There are others that I really love as well – these kids are all so inspiring, that I often found myself profoundly moved while researching them and trying to capture their likenesses.
Me: I love that picture! I love the textures in your work with this project. Any advice for other picture book illustrators?
Jeanette: If you don’t already have one, find a critique group! Connecting with other artists is how you grow. You also need the support for the inevitable rejection that is part of publishing.
Me: Do you have any other projects that you’re currently working on or that we will be seeing in the near future?
Jeanette: I have several works in progress, some in the process of submission, but nothing that I can talk about yet!
Aww! No worries. Thank you for stopping by Jeanette. Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to read this book yet, take the time to track it down. These are the times this book was written for.