Meet the talented author/illustrator, Sarah Brannen!

Portrait of children's author-illustrator Sarah Brannen
Sarah Brannen

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!

Cover of the picture book "The Very Beary Tooth Fairy" by Arthur Levine, illustrated by Sarah Brannen. A bear is sitting up in bed, holding a teddy bear.

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.

Cover of the picture book "Feathers, Not Just for Flying" by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah Brannen. The cover shows six feathers of different shapes, sizes, and colors.

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?

Cover of the picture book "Uncle Bobby's Wedding." The cover shows two adult male guinea pigs dressed in tuxedos, and a little girl guinea pig in a pink dress holding a bouquet.

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!

A layout from the book "Feathers, Not Just for flying." The picture shows a peacock with its tail raised and a closeup of one tail feather.

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.

Cover of the picture book "Madame Martine." The cover shows an older woman chasing a smiling dog beneath the Eifel Tower.

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/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SarahBrannen

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sarah.s.brannen

8 comments

  1. Sarah, thanks for sharing your journey as a writer/illustrator. You’ve had the chance to work on a range of projects, fiction and nonfiction, cute and controversial (and both cute and controversial). I’m guessing you’ve never been bored.

    Like

  2. Sarah, I’d say you were right! Your work is stunning and charming. Thank you for writing Uncle Bobby’s Wedding. An important book, at the right time. Best of luck with all the goodness I know the future will be bringing you!

    Like

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