I have known Iza several years and enjoy following a really consistent strong book career. We also share a love of hiking and covered bridges! And Iza is not the first Polish illustrator I have had on my blog!
[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?
[IT] As both author and illustrator, I always think of the pictures while writing the words, but the words come first. In my case, since I extend nursery rhymes, I already have the first verse. The next step is to come up with a plot (the hardest part.) Once I have a storyline, I make rough storyboards. This helps me to pace the book, see how many verses I will need, what lines will go on what page and what pictures will accompany the words. And I make many adjustments in my writing to be sure that the words evoke good imagery.
[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?
[IT] I was born in Poland, immigrated to the states at age seven, lived on Long Island, NY until I graduated high school, then settled in the Hudson Valley of New York, where I attended college. This question has many answers: In Poland, I fell in love with rhyming verse by hearing the poems of Jan Brzechwa. I would call him Poland’s Dr. Seuss. His poems are preposterous and hilarious—poems about arguing coat sleeves and whining vegetables, about animals debating why Swiss cheese has holes, till a crow comes along, eats the cheese and leaves only the holes. I vividly remember how tickled and amazed I was by that poem. How could the holes possibly be left behind? It blew my mind! My first book in America was a Mother Goose collection, and I learned English reading the rhymes (not realizing that someday I would retell many of them!) The playful sounds and rhythms facilitated my learning and sprouted a love for language. Another influence for my work is the beautiful area I live in- rich with hiking trails and nature preserves, with cliffs, mountains, rivers and wildlife. While I may not specifically write about these places, they are a source of inspiration and a backdrop for my illustrations.
[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.
[IT] I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember, have loved poetry and always dreamed of making books for children. While I didn’t finish with an art degree ( midway through college, I switched majors for fear of not being able to make a living as an artist :-)), I continued to draw, paint, write and take painting and illustration classes. I had a portfolio filled with art suited for children’s books and I made some attempts to find a publisher- but it was discouraging. I felt I needed to have stories to go with my art, but I had no stories for children. I just didn’t know how to tap into that part of my brain. So I began researching children’s books, really studying them. I also read books on writing and illustration. With the help of Uri Shulevitz’s book, Writing with Pictures, I learned how to make a book dummy. Still, no story ideas. Then one day, I was mountain biking and a turtle crossed the trail. I made up a riddle about the turtle and it spurred an idea and became my first children’s book, What Am I? An Animal Guessing Game. And after that, stories just kept coming. Back then, most children’s writers didn’t have agents. but I was lucky to find one who felt I had potential. But, to my credit, I had done my homework and was prepared. I had put together a black and white book dummy for What Am I? and included some painted spreads. And the agent found me a good publisher.
[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?
[IT] I’ve worked mostly in watercolor, but lately have started using some Acryla gouaches and Pan Pastels. I am also switching to a finer-toothed watercolor paper, as it seems today’s scanners are picking up too much of the papers’ texture.
[JM] I understand your husband is a creative too. How does he support your passion?
[IT] As a furniture-maker and sculptor, Rob (www.robhare-furnituremaker.com) has a great sense of space and perspective (which I often struggle with). He’s also great at architectural drawing. So, if in my books you find scenes with dramatic perspective, foreshortening, or architectural or mechanical details, you can be sure he helped me with them!
[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?
[IT] I like to include my pets, or friends’ pets in my illustrations. I also like to sneak characters from past books into my new ones. For example, in my latest book, Old King Cole, you will find the itsy bitsy spider and the little teapot. Ironically, I have several books that feature spiders (I am terrified of them!) When drawing people, I try to include diversity. In Old King Cole, I made Little Boy Blue African -American and Little Bo-Peep Asian.
[JM] You have been published since 1992, how has the publishing process changed for you during that time?
[IT] As we know, there has been a big change in publishing in this digital age. Publishers, faced with the question of whether printed books will survive, have cut back and consolidated. Authors are expected to do much more self-promotion. Back in the 90s, it was the rare children’s book writer who had an agent. Now, most aspiring writers need to find agent representation. I think this has to do with the advent of digital submissions and the need for agents to ease the load for publishers by screening manuscripts. Through social media there are many more resources and opportunities for aspiring writers/ illustrators these days- a huge Kidlit community, a wealth of blogs and information and exposure to agents, editors and publishers.
[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of your summer release, and the process of creating them?
[IT] Here are some sketches from GABE and GOON (coming July 5, 2015/ Charlesbridge Publishing). It’s a story about fears and friendship and the little boy is modeled after my stepson Gabe (who is now 35- and fearless!) The entire book takes place in one room, so I did a scaled architectural model and clay figures to refer to as I sketched— to maintain consistency as viewpoints and perspectives change. It was very helpful!
[JM] What does your workspace look like?
[IT] My studio is a large room in our house. Rob built my desk and drafting table. Fun toys and puppets (many gifts from loved ones) sit on shelves or dangle from the ceiling. I have bulletin boards crammed with favorite photos and memorabilia. Large windows offer views of fields and wildlife and our two boarded horses. It’s a good place to be!
[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?
[IT] Most of our art pieces are paintings, photographs and ceramics done by artists whose work we admire. Many of them are our talented friends. We have some inherited Chinese art and pottery and Native American prints. Over the years, we have collected African masks, sculptures, wall hangings and a somewhat intimidating but whimsical African headdress that stands in our entrance foyer. Some art from my picture books hangs on the walls in my studio and a few other rooms in the house. And, of course, Rob’s furniture and sculptures grace our home.
Five Fun Ones to Finish? [JM] What’s your favorite park (state, urban or national) in the world?
[IT] Oh, do I have to? Ok, Yosemite National Park.
[JM] Cats or dogs?
[IT] Ok, I admit it- dogs. But we are currently dog-less. Here’s a picture of our kitty, Sneak. She is much loved too 🙂
[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?
[IT] When I was in my twenties, I was a double (and stunt person) for a lead actress on the TV soap opera, One Life To Live! They were shooting some rock-climbing episodes in our area, and needed a female rock climber who was short and blond. I was glad to oblige!
[JM] First paid job after high school?
[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?
[IT] Nuts and/or dark chocolate
Where to find me:
Thank you so much for this interview, Joanna.
You are so welcome, Iza, and I very much look forward to reading and reviewing Gabe and Goon (whose names’ I adore!)