Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Super Star Interviews: Christopher Lyles

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I’m pleased as punch to be catching up with the delightfully talented Illustrator & Fine Artist, Christopher Lyles. I have long admired his artwork and am honored to be a fellow Tugeau2 artist alongside him. Christopher earned his MFA in Illustration and works in a variety of media. His artwork has appeared in children’s books & publications, greeting cards, editorial media and galleries. You can view more of Christopher’s artwork here.

Let's go on an ADVENTURE!!

Q: I’m a BIG fan of your fabulous mixed media style! (Collage is near and dear to my heart – in case ya’ll had never noticed!) Dish with us about your process: how you find your materials, how you decide whether to invite paint or pencil to the party, how much sketching do you do, how do you know when you’re finished—you know, all the good stuff!

A: Thank you, Jane! Every assignment is unique, and as an illustrator, it’s my job to decide what medium or combination of materials will work best. For me, I am always looking for ways to mix things up. Maybe because I work with children all day and see the way they move from one thing to the next with bewilderment and excitement. It’s that energy that I try to harness with each assignment while striving to convey a sense of playfulness in all of my work.

As far as which materials to use, it really depends on the overall feel of the story.  Sometimes it can be as simple as loose line work paired with washes of watercolor.  Other times, I might combine collage, paint, pencil, and printmaking techniques. There is always a fine balance of knowing how much to employ in any given piece, but for me it’s always about maintaining a handmade quality. That is really important to me. I want the viewer to be engaged on every level and to want to touch and feel every texture. Besides, working in this way never gets old!

Ooo! Can you say adorable Hanukkah present?!

Q: You are having a superstar picture book year!! Give us the scoop on your latest titles: Meg Goldberg on Parade (October 2015), Lucy and Lila (March 2016), and what is coming next!

A: So far this has been a great year. I have been fortunate enough to have illustrated two picture books for two wonderful publishers. Each of them has been created in a different style and both were a lot of fun to work on.

Meg Goldberg on Parade is a wonderful story about a little girl who imagines herself taking part in NYC’s annual Israel Day Parade. It was written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum, and she has created great rhyming verse and depicts the spirit of the event in a most authentic way. I love New York City, and I spent a lot of time visiting the locations described, getting a sense of perspective. I decided to use collage for this book because of all the tactile elements of the city as well as depicting a playful quality to support the text. Besides, I’m a sucker for scissors, glue, and paper.

Lucy and Lila came about completely unexpected.  I had drawn a little elephant character for my newborn niece and my wonderful agent, Nicole Tugeau (who we both share) used it to promote my work. It was soon after that Little Bee Books expressed interest in building a story around that character. I was shocked! The story is about a little girl named Lucy and her drawings of a pink elephant named Lila. It stresses the importance of having your own vision and encourages thinking outside the box. It supports all of my beliefs and I was able to work from a very personal point of view. I used colored pencils for the illustrations because of the soft delicate way they illustrate the emotional rhythm of the story. You never know when something will happen like this so I am a big supporter of creating personal work. No matter how big or small, it forces you to grow while helping to strengthen your artistic voice, which is so important in this field.

Christopher's studio—also know as "where the magic happens"

Q: Let’s talk inspiration! Who, what, where do you draw your inspiration from?

A: That’s a difficult question. There are so many sources in which I receive inspiration from. Perhaps the greatest would be children. I suppose that I am in a fortunate position working with elementary students all day long. Each of them has such unique qualities and I always look to them when determining a certain character or personality trait. They inspire me in so many ways. Children have the ability to work from the inside out without judging themselves too harshly. As adults, we can be our own worst enemies and place a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves to do things “right”. It’s as if we forget how to have fun. Drawing should be fun and the minute you lose that feeling you are just going through the motions.  Whenever I hit a rut, I look to nature to rejuvenate me. A long walk through the woods can do wonders for the soul!

Now THIS is beach beautiful!

 Q: Characters are a key piece to creating a picture book that connects with young readers and your characters are very sweet and light and relatable. Take us thru how you translate a written character in a manuscript onto the blank page.

A: Character development is the most exciting part for me when illustrating a book. I spend a lot of time exploring line, shape, and form in my sketchbooks until I arrive upon a drawing that I like. I always look to capture the character’s spirit in as little as possible and I suppose that is the biggest challenge for me. To make this process more enjoyable, I use a variety of tools to experiment with. For example, I might start sketching a character with an ebony pencil and select one or two colors to apply a wash on top. In this manner, I can keep the looseness and spontaneity of the character without becoming overly concerned with rendering. The challenge for me is to keep the consistency throughout 32 pages. Tracing paper and light boxes are my best friends!

What a gorgeous view!!

Q: What is your dream project?

A: My dream project would be to have my illustrations appear on children’s apparel, bedding, wall art, etc. I love the idea of an illustration having a life outside of the page. Licensing has been a big inspiration to me and I am beginning to explore that side of the field. Also, I would love to create a wordless book. These types of stories can be translated in so many different ways and it challenges the illustrator to communicate clearly and precisely. 

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Watching football all day and eating spicy homemade chili.

Thank you for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm, Chris!! It was a hoot!