Vanessa Brantley-Newton – Illustrator Interview

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I have been drooling over Vanessa’s artwork for years, and I will be reviewing her recently published picture book as author/illustrator, Grandma’s Purse, this Friday for Perfect Picture Book Friday.





[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[VBN] Since I live with a learning difference, Dyslexia, I am always feeling my way for what feels comfortable to me in the creation process. Sometimes the words come first and then the picture and sometimes the pictures come first.  While creating my new book, Grandma’s Purse, the pictures came first which made it so much easier for me to write the story. The pictures told me what the story was about.  

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[VBN] I was born in Elizabeth, NJ and have lived in Newark, Irvington, Hillside and East Orange, NJ. Now I live in Charlotte, NC and I LOVE IT! So city people and country folk are different. Its very interesting. I am a people watcher and what I have learned is the city people talk and move so very fast. Southern folks ask you how you are doing and they really want to know. LOL!!! It’s slower and yes it does influence my artwork. Living in the city there is a different energy and vibe. Its fast paced and musical if you will. The south has a slower pace, but it’s picking up now that so many people are moving to Charlotte. It’s alive and green with promise.      

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[VBN] I have been drawing since I was three years old. My parents knew something was different when I began school. My attention lacked badly in school because of the dyslexia. I felt different while in school like I never fit in. I was bullied really badly and teachers and student scared me. I expressed myself through singing and the art. Singing because I stuttered so bad. Drawing because I knew it was something that I was good at.

 I was such an awful student and the only subject I was good at was art! My art teachers knew it. They pushed me to look into studying illustration. They took me to F.I.T. NYC and I fell instantly in love. I worked hard to get into The Fashion Institute of Technology. I went for 3 years before I had to drop out to work. I worked as a Phlebotomist for 25 years. I was one of the best at the hospital that I worked for. Got awards for it and while working there I would explore different art supplies and styles. I would meet many amazing children and adults that would come in and out of the hospital and some that would pass. I had all these people in my heart and spirit and I had to find some kinda way to memorialize them. So I would draw them and put them into my sketchbook. They would take on a second life through my illustrations.So while working in the hospital, I would do small jobs for family and friends and I would make greeting cards or doing a simple drawing for a friend, but nothing on a professional level. Got married to a wonderful man. Had a couple of miscarriages and a stillborn and then finally we had Zoe. My husband lost his job after 9/11 and there was little to no money coming in. I really started thinking about what I could bring to the table. I got laid off as well so both of us were collecting unemployment and worried for our future.

Started doing a vision board and just daydreaming about what it would look like if I could work as an illustrator doing what I loved. So, I would take any job I could get so that we could eat and have a roof over our heads and so that I could take a course here and there in Children’s book illustration. I would take courses at SVA in NYC for Children’s books illustration. I worked really hard on my portfolio and read all the children’s books new and old. I was determined to get my foot in the door somehow. There is much more to this story, but, let’s just say, It wasn’t easy. It cost everything, but I am here by the grace of God and hard work. I am here.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[VBN] I love collage and mixed media. It’s my favorite, but I also love working digitally.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a work in progress, and the process of creating them?

Jada Jones

[JM] Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?  

[VBN] It was a book on how to draw. I forgot the name. LOL!

[JM] Do you have themes or characters that you keep returning to?

[VBN] Not really. New characters find me and I find them and we play together and then they keep moving forward.

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your home? 

Clone of Grandma

Girl transformation

The Gift

[JM] I adore these girls! What are you excited about in children’s literature at the moment?

[VBN] Since my hearts cry is diversity, I am so excited about some of the new books that have been coming out about diverse characters such as Jason Reynolds Ghost, Derrick Barnes’s Crown and even my own book Grandma’s Purse.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? 

[VBN] Central Park NYC

[JM] I lived 2.5 years in spitting distance of Central Park, and love it.       Cats or dogs?

[VBN] Cats

[JM] Please recommend a coffee shop or restaurant for me to visit in your city!

[VBN] Tupelo Honey Cafe

[JM] What was your first paid job out of high school?

[VBN] Working at a store called Casual Corners

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices? 

[VBN] Almonds and water Red grapes and Vermont Cheddar cheese.

I love me a good strong cheddar! Thank you for sharing your journey, both the highlights and the challenges!



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8 Responses to Vanessa Brantley-Newton – Illustrator Interview

  1. Dow Phumiruk says:

    Wonderful interview! Thank you. You are an inspiration, Vanessa!

  2. So much pain for you in school. You had a different genius and way of seeing life and it comes through very eloquently in your artwork. Love the cover of your book and all of the illustrations you shared. Inspiring interview!

  3. The best piece of advice I ever received was from Vanessa: “Never be afraid to let your light shine. Don’t dim your light for someone else. Shine, shine, shine!” She’s a role-model for me and so many others! Thank you for sharing your interview! Love you Nessa!

  4. Vanessa’s energy and vibrancy is reflected in her art and in her life. Her renderings are beautifully poignant and expressively compelling. They draw you in with beauty and make you think about their messages at the same time!

    She is, without question, using her God-given abilities to the fullest, and she is an inspiration to any child (or even an adult) who has been told, over and over again, that you cannot amount to anything. Her expertise transcends beyond diversity. She reflects living proof of every man or woman who had to overcome adversity–to never give up on hope for the future. Her success comes from the power of God and His loving grace. It’s a witness and a lesson for each one of us.

    Many blessings to her as she continues to be a living testimony for Jesus Christ!

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