CAROL GORDON EKSTER: Can you tell us a little about your journey of becoming an author/illustrator?
SARAH BRANNEN: I always knew I was going to be an artist – I guess I could say I always was an artist. My father gave me drawing lessons before I could write. I was showing prints and paintings in galleries, but I became increasingly unhappy not just with the gallery scene but with my work. I had always thought I would like to illustrate children’s books and one day I just decided it wasn’t too late. I hope I was right!
I started writing to learn more about illustrating, and I discovered that I love to write. Somehow, all through high school and college, I was never one of my writing friends – maybe because I was “the artist.” I pigeon-holed myself. I’ve been playing catch-up for the last twelve years, trying to learn how to write picture books. I still can’t believe I’m a published author!
CGE: Sarah, you’ve been an author/illustrator as well as illustrated other people’s manuscripts. Can you tell us how working on your own story differs from working on another author’s book?
SB: Illustrating my own stories is supremely satisfying. The whole book is my own vision – it’s a very organic creation. Illustrating someone else’s book can be a great challenge, and sometimes a lot of fun, but I’m usually not quite as invested in the end product. Feathers: Not Just For Flying was an exception; because I saw the manuscript very early in the process, I felt very connected to the project and I was deeply dedicated to my vision of the book.
CGE: You graduated from Harvard University. Pretty impressive! And then you followed that up with a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania. How did your college days influence the artist you became?
SB: I had some great teachers at Harvard, particularly Will Reimann, who taught me the fundamentals of drawing, including tricks I still use today; the sculptor Dmitri Hadzi, who taught me never to settle for “good enough,” and Flora Natapoff, who taught a brilliant year-long composition course. I think I’m quite good at composition and I credit her.
The greatest thing I took away from Penn was my friendship with fellow student Alexa Schulz. She’s a genius and she inspires me every time I see her.
CGE: Do you have a day job, or are one of those lucky artists who can do writing and illustrating full time?
SB: I don’t have a “day job.” I do have a part-time job as a journalist (I cover figure skating) which helps pay the bills.
CGE: Your book Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008 has gotten extensive publicity and was the eighth most-challenged book in the US in 2008. Can you tell us what publishing this book was like for you?
SB: It was interesting, that’s for sure. I’ve gotten enough hate mail, and read enough horrible things about myself, to have developed a thick skin. That’s a useful thing in this business. I also heard some very touching and moving stories from people who loved the book and connected to it personally. And I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of the librarians who had to deal with the challenges first-hand. Librarians are my heroes.
CGE: Was there a book that you worked on that presented challenges you can tell us about?
SB: Feathers: Not Just For Flying was tremendously challenging because I was so passionate about it, but I’m not the author. I fought all through the process to bring a whole additional layer of meaning to the book. The editor, the art director, and the author (Melissa Stewart) liked my concept a lot, but I pushed them really hard. They’re all still speaking to me, and the book has been very well-received, thank goodness!
CGE: What does the future hold for Sarah Brannen?
SB: My next book comes out in September: Madame Martine, which I wrote as well as illustrated. It’s a charming – if I do say so – story about a little old lady in Paris and a lost dog. I haven’t seen the printed book yet and I can’t wait! It was really fun to draw the beautiful streets of Paris, and of course the Eiffel Tower, on which the second half of the book is set.
CGE: Thanks for visiting Writers’ Rumpus, Sarah, and best wishes for continued success as an author and illustrator!
Connect with Sarah here:
Her website: http://sarahbrannen.yellapalooza.com/