Melanie Hope Greenberg has illustrated 16 trade published children’s picture books; six of them she wrote. Greenberg was recently an artist in residence for the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art’s National Endowment for the Arts grant. Her original picture book illustrations were exhibited in a solo show and as a part of the “Drawn in Brooklyn” group exhibition at Brooklyn Central Library-Grand Army Plaza.
Greenberg was also the selected artist for the Texas Library Association conference’s Disaster Relief Fund raffle. SCBWI NY Metro steering committee member. Keynoter, panelist, workshop presenter, picture book manuscript / dummy / portfolio critiques for SCBWI regional conferences.
Judge for the 2005 SCBWI Golden Kite Award, 2006 SCBWI Magazine Merit Award. Judge for the 2010 Cybils Awards.
Here is Melanie talking about her process:
Muriel Feldshuh was kind enough to invite me to participate, for a second time, in her traveling children’s picture book artist quilt project. She sent a kit containing a lovely note, a blank square of muslin, packing, and a self addressed, stamped return envelope. How could I refuse?
The first muslin square I painted is in the red quilt above. Feldshuh’s quilts exhibit in galleries throughout the United States.
For the new quilt, consisting of Brooklyn based illustrators, I chose an icon that both represents Brooklyn and my picture books. This is a sketch of a book cover test for MERMAIDS ON PARADE. The publisher thought it was “too old” for the age level of my book.
I still love this sketch and I’ve wanted to use it somewhere else. So, I did.
I work with a copy machine. I cut out extras and fixed some lines. Then copied again. There’s my outline.
I copy once more, and experiment with paint on the paper first. I discovered my glitter nail polish made a quick drying sparkle over the paint. Yippie, no glitter mess.
Using a lightbox, I trace the mermaid’s outline onto the muslin square with pencil. I lay down shapes of pure colors.
Now I add some details to the under layers of paint.
I add purple pen out line and carefully brush in the glitter. I do not want paint or glitter to spill onto the muslin outside the mermaid outline.
Remember to always ventilate while using the nail polish in large areas. I painted by an open window.
How long have you been illustrating?
Before kindergarten. I cannot remember not coloring or drawing. Here’s a painting from my teenage years living in Co-op City in the Bronx.
What was the first art related work that you did for money?
UNICEF greeting cards was my first professional illustration job. I also worked in a frame store and in graphic art studios.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate a children’s book?
When I met a picture book art agent. Finding her was random luck as I pounded the pavement with my portfolio and illustrating for the gift industry.
Greeting Card published by Michel & Co
Did you do freelance before you got into children’s books?
Yes. I still freelance. I’ve published hundreds of illustrated images on greeting cards, coffee mugs, posters, gift items and more.
What was your first book you had published? What year was that and who published it?
AT THE BEACH which I wrote and illustrated for Dutton Children’s Books 1989
How did you get that contract?
Through the agent. We worked for about 6 months crafting a dummy and writing. Then I got the job!
What spurred you to write your own book?
I always liked to write and my agent encouraged me to write a story.
How did you find a home for that book?
Through the agent. I was incredibly green.
Is there anything you can point that ratcheted up in your career to the next level?
Understanding the vast scope of our business and how it all connects. Marketing my art and books with an individual vision to a target audience.
What book was your first big success?
When I saw my illustration from AT THE BEACH in Publisher’s Weekly with a lovely review. I was on an interview at Publisher’s Weekly for a freelance graphic job. When the art director flipped through the magazine there was my painting! The review made me realize that books were more than a freelance gig which is what I thought about my first book deal. Had no idea about picture book reviews.
PS: I got the freelance job at Publisher’s Weekly, too!
Since then, which book do you feel is your biggest success? Which book is your personal favorite?
A big success is DOWN IN THE SUBWAY which is still in print and has received several honors and became a New York Time Great Children’s Read. MERMAIDS ON PARADE is my personal favorite because it’s a personal story that came from real life. And the story in the book manifested in real life, too. We marched with a little girl who I met at my Eric Carle Museum program. She and her mom came all the way from Massachusetts to Brooklyn to march with my friends in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. She won a medal for Best Little Mermaid. Just like my book!
Have you won any awards for your books?
Yes, notables, honors, a New York Times Great Children’s Read, and state awards.
Did you do the original cover of Lizzy Logan Wears Purple Sunglasses by Eileen Spinelli or the latest cover or both?
Great question! I illustrated the first cover in my folk art style and I have no skills to illustrate the new cover. LOVE that they used the same hair style, I’m honored!
I see you have done a number of books with Henry Holt. How did you make that happen?
Agent connection to editor, Nina Ignatowicz. I published THE WIND’S GARDEN and A CITY IS with Henry Holt.
How many picture books have you published?
16 trade picture books. Six of them I’ve written.
Do you plan to write and illustrate more books?
Always trying. I have polished projects which I submit and various new projects in different stages.
Are you open to working with self-published authors?
I’m not seeking it out, however if I am paid well I’d consider it as a freelance job. Because I am considered “hybrid” I might self-publish my own previously published books now out of print. These books have a track record with the public library system and with schools.
Do you feel your style has changed since when you started out?
Yes, from a decorative cartoon style to a painterly style. That evolution was challenging. In retrospect, it was breaking out of barriers (black lines) into a light filled open field (no black lines). The art mirrored my psychology at the time. Learning to expand interior spaces and how to illustrate with moods and symbols.
What materials do you use to paint your color illustrations?
Gouache, pens, pencils. Ballpoint rainbow colored gel pens rock my world for fine detail work.
Do you use Photoshop or Corel Painter with your illustrations?
No. Ten fingers are my digital age 😉
Have you done illustrations for any children’s magazines?
Yes. I had a monthly job with Scholastic’s Instructor Magazine for many years before their illustrations changed to photos. My first assignment with Scholastic was for poems edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. He and I are currently Facebook Friends! Also, worked with Children’s Television Workshop, and teacher magazines.
Have you done any books with educational publishers?
Yes, A SCARY THING IN THE KITCHEN with McGraw-Hill. I AM with Scholastic. And many more black and white illustrations for textbooks.
What types of things do you do to find illustration work?
Postcard mailings. Submitting proposals. Online presence. Networking.
Do you have an artist rep.? If yes, who? If not, would you like to have one?
I did have a 23 year year long good relationship with an agent who is not as active. I went on my own but would LOVE an energetic rep. It’s a lot of work to meet the art directors and editors, do the paperwork and contracts. Definitely worth the commissions.
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
Totally! My platform has ballooned. I meet people at events who say they see my name everywhere.
How did you get your first school visit?
I cannot remember, almost 22 years ago. Probably local, I sent mailers to the schools.
Do you actively look for school visits? Or do they find you through word of mouth?
Both. I have a booking agent now but I still must market on a consistent basis and do so with personal lists I’ve built up over time.
Do you have any tips on how to get invited to a school for a presentation?
Marketing to the target audience is always best.
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
Yes, and lots of paperwork! However, deadlines shape a timely art production. I paint better and more efficiently when I am eating.
What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
Yes, I LOVE to research! I have files of research before I sketch, write, etc. Especially if I am not clear on what info to convey in the art or story. If I can take photos I do, but I use my own visual files and the internet to search for images and other research.
Jay Asher, author of 13 REASONS WHY, on left standing next to Melanie and the Disco Mermaids from the SCBWI party was research for MERMAIDS ON PARADE. They appear inside the book as well as on the flap jacket. )
Have you ever thought of getting back the rights to your out-of-print books and self-publishing them?
Yes! At this point I am hybrid, books in and out of print. I sell my remainder copies. I’ve learned how to sell to bookstores and the public via experience, the events I do and through social networking. Again, because I am “hybrid” I can self-publish previously published books now out of print which have a track record with the public library system and with schools.
Retire properly with financial security.
What are you working on now?
Submitting, submitting, submitting. I have a new Ebook being released with Random House. It’s the reincarnation of IT’S MY EARTH, TOO, originally published by Doubleday, released in 1992. It went out of print around 1995 when Doubleday merged with Random House.
Do you have any material type tips you can share with us?
Play with whatever excites your imagination and experiment.
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
Work your butt off. Stop waiting for others to do the heavy lifting. Keep trying. Present your creativity with an authentic individual voice.
Melanie thank you for sharing your journey, talent, expertise, and process with us. Please keep us informed of all your future successes. We’d love to hear about them.
All art and photos are the copyright of Melanie Hope Greenberg.
Please take a minute to leave Melanie a comment. It is always nice to hear your thoughts and I am sure Melanie would appreciate it, too. Thanks!