Nancy Poydar is one of those FB friends I feel I have known a long time. Maybe it is true that when one loves an author-illustrator’s work, there is a sort of meeting of souls through their books. I know you are going to enjoy the thoughtful, seasoned responses Nancy gave to my questions.
[JM] Illustrator or Author Illustrator, and if the latter, illustrations or text first?
[NP] I began this second career in children’s books as an illustrator. I realized that I was drawn to a certain kind of story, so I began to write as well. For a long time, I disciplined myself to have a satisfactory manuscript completed before I illustrated, but lately, I’ve let myself play with picture first, and, by golly, it works that way too!
[JM] What’s your nationality and which and how have certain cultures/regions influenced your work?
[NP] I am of Scottish and Irish descent. I think my Irish side makes me want to use, Mum for mother, but I try to use Mommy because kids seem to relate to that more. Nana also sounds best for grandmother. Any humor I convey is probably Irish, though I have to rein in the dark humor. I have fond memories of relatives slapping their legs and laughing until tears ran down their faces, even at wakes! Maybe, if I ever write older fiction, I could use that.
[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.
[NP] I still have the desk I had as a child. It has four little drawers in a removable ‘top’. Anyway, I kept crayons in those drawers, sorted by color, and I can still smell crayon in those drawers, though they are empty now. I was an only child and very able to entertain myself, drawing, making my own paper dolls and clothes, decorating a big bulletin board I had in my bedroom. I even gave drawing lessons to my neighbor friends. The first story I remember writing and illustrating was The Little Star That Didn’t Shine. (I only remember the title and how I drew the star.)
I was a sixth grade teacher for fourteen years, and though I was teaching history and English, I managed to use lots of art in those lessons and I tried to encouraged my students to express themselves in a variety of ways. I used historical novels to teach history and was intrigued with the illustrations, usually one per chapter. That’s when I sought out courses in book illustration for myself.
[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?
[NP] I began working in watercolor and eventually gouache. As I grew familiar with how originals looked when printed, I wanted more intense color. I also wanted to be able to change my mind without starting over! Lately, I’ve fallen in love with plain pencil because it goes everywhere with me and offers so many textural possibilities.
[JM] What does your workspace look like?
[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?
[JM] Do you have any tips for any of my blog readers trying to break into this challenging industry??
[NP] Beyond the obvious, be persistent, I suggest believing you are a writer and artist even before that first contract. The fruit that isn’t picked is still fruit! In this social media world there are many ways to share work and get feedback. Also there are conferences everywhere, all the time. I went to many as an unpublished writer/ artist and found it encouraging. Especially since, for me, it was a second career and I was older than other beginners.
Being an illustrator(author) can be very isolating , how do you combat this?
[NP] I do not feel isolation needs combating. It is delicious to me. I have always been at home with myself and my work. That being said, I have regular critique group meetings. I belong to Penwomen, which has an active local branch made up of artists and writers. I belong to SCBWI and attend and occasionally present at New England events. School visits are part of the job for me as well. But the best weeks are those with nothing on the calendar! Of course, there is social media, which has become, for me, a supportive and informative community that’s always there.
[JM] You have been publishing books since 1991, Nancy, how have the changes in the industry over the years influenced your work?
[NP] When my first books were published, it never occurred to me to ‘market’ them. I only did signings when I was invited. There were a few school visits. I sent postcards to friends. The postcard was like an announcement, not an ad. More recently, I ‘released’ book news to all the folks on my website mailing list and a host of other folks too, I placed ads in Shelf Awareness and I elicited magazine and online interviews. With help I made a trailer. I had cookies made featuring the book for signings. I encouraged schools to have kids order books when I was presenting there. I featured the title on my website. I visited local libraries to thank them for adding my titles to their collections. I even had professional photographs taken. I don’t feel adequate in the marketing department, but I’m ‘getting over it.’
My first books, which by the way are still alive and well in school curriculums, were the result of being poured over by their editors, line by line. Art was equally scrutinized. Later, I wasn’t a beginner anymore, and I felt editors needed manuscripts that were already close to perfect, before taking on the project. The early editing of a manuscript seems to be the venue of agents today, which is why we need them.
In my view, illustrators are selling a service, not a product and especially need representation.
[JM] Which artists/illustrators have been a great inspiration for you?
[NP] I fell in love with the work of Chris Van Allsburg, Maurice Sendak, Lisbeth Zwerger, and Trina Hyman. But I am most inspired by Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbs, Marge’s Little Lulu, and Disney.
Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What word best sums you up?
Possessed (in a good way)
[JM] If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?
I’d live in Brooklyn if I could live anywhere for a season. I have two very important little people living there and I can’t get enough of them. [JM] We are so meeting up next time you visit!
[JM] What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing?
When I’m working I forget to eat, or drink.
[JM] Cats or dogs?
I have the cutest dog in the universe right now. Presently I am catless, but I adore cats. I also like drawing cats.
[JM] If you could spend a day with one children’s book illustrator, dead or alive, with whom would that be?
Well, I am drawn first to comics, but if I had to pick a book illustrator, maybe Mo Willems. I’m sure I could learn a lot from him!
[JM] Where can we find/follow you and your work?
There are sixteen picture books that I have written and illustrated and more chapter books and picture books that I have illustrated. Many can be found in libraries and Amazon has the covers. My website, which I am updating will be a click away from new artwork in a newer style. It will also point viewers to Facebook and probably Tumblr. I have been posting art on my Facebook profile page, which I believe anyone can access, as well as on a Facebook group page called Children’s Authors and Illustrators on Facebook.
[JM] Thank you so much for sharing so openly with us. I especially valued your advice to those reading who are just staring this journey. Congratulations that your early books are still in print, this is a big achievement in the publishing world. To your continued success, Nancy.