Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 27, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Emilie Boon

Born in the Netherlands, I spent most of my childhood in California and Mexico. It was during the ten years living in Mexico that I discovered my artistic eye and love of color. I graduated from high school in Mexico City, and returned to Holland to study at the Royal Academy of Art at The Hague. Here I developed my signature crayon and watercolor technique.

After graduating with a degree in graphic design, I moved to London, where I had the opportunity to work with wonderful editors and wrote and illustrated my first two children’s books. I’ve worked both as an illustrator and author/illustrator and published over 20 books. My books have been translated into Japanese, French, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Dutch and Spanish.

Each year I visit many elementary schools teaching young children about the process of writing and illustrating picture books. I also teach workshops and conduct picture book making classes for children.  Besides teaching young children, I’ve taught at RISD (CE) and am inspired by my students work no matter what age! I make my home in the Boston area and have a studio in an old mill filled with fabulous artists and designers.

HERE IS EMILE DISCUSSING HER PROCESS:

Here are the steps for creating one illustration for We Want Snow: A Wintery Chant

Exploratory work starts in my sketchbook. I need to know who my characters are before I can do any work on the book! I liked this sketch of the three friends and it became my guide. It was scanned directly from my sketchbook.

 

Here’s another sketch scanned directly from my sketchbook. It’s fun to get an idea what the characters will look like in action!

 

Figuring out the color palette for the characters and the overall color scheme for the book is an important process in the early stages. I wanted the characters to be unique and different from each other, but still work cohesively as a group.

I scanned the sketches above and printed them out on watercolor paper. That way I can quickly do a lot of studies using different colors in watercolor.

Once I figured out the characters, I tried to get a feel for the setting and color scheme. The setting for this book changes a lot… but this page seemed to be the quintessential scene of the winter wonderland that the friends were imagining. I wanted the setting to have that magical quality immediately after snowfall when the sun shines and the snow sparkles.

Even though I did the final artwork traditionally, to quickly get an idea what the spread could look like, I put together the scans of the characters and the snowy setting in Photoshop. This also became a reference for the overall color scheme of the book.

At this point I sent character work to the art director for approval. They loved the characters and the color palette. So it was time to start on the layout and sketches for the dummy.

Once the dummy was approved, I started the final line work. I did this in a similar way to my original sketches. I scanned the graphite line and printed it out onto large pieces of watercolor paper. Most of the trees I planned to do directly with crayons and watercolors.

Even though the final painting was the next step… I practiced first to warm-up and fine-tune the technique. For this spread I used, white crayon, salt in wet watercolor and colored pencils for extra texture.

The final painting!   

BELOW IS MY INTERVIEW WITH EMILIE:

How long have you been illustrating and

I’ve been illustrating since art school, almost 40 years.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

While still at art school, I was invited to create illustrations for a puzzle. That was my very first paying job creating art. Soon afterwards I illustrated a book of Dutch nursery rhymes for the same educational publisher.

What made your family move to California and to Mexico from the Netherlands?

My parents were adventurous and my father was accepted to attend an American university to finish his graduate studies in economics. We left our home in Holland, crossed the Atlantic to America by ship, and made our way to California. Later my father got a job with the United Nations and we moved to Mexico. We drove from the Bay area all the way down to Mexico City, our new home. My parents loved Mexico, the people and the culture and we ended up staying for ten years. We crisscrossed the countryside visiting beautiful places, archeological sites and small town markets when we weren’t exploring the vast city. It was a very influential time in my life both personally and artistically.

How old were you when you moved?

I was three when we moved to California and seven when we moved to Mexico.

Did you choose to return to Holland to study at the Royal Academy of Art at The Hague because of relatives living over there or did you want to attend the oldest school in the world founded in 1682?

My parents decided to return to Holland for the children’s education since the Netherlands had a very good education system that was almost free. I applied to the Graphic Design Program at The Royal Academy of Art while still in high school in Mexico. Luckily, I was accepted because it was the only school I applied to! It’s not the oldest school in the world… but I attended about three hundred years after it was founded!

 

What type of work did you do right after you graduated?

The program I attended was a five-year program and our last year was working as interns at a design studio. I did all kinds of graphic design jobs before I graduated. Afterwards I did freelance work designing book covers.

 Did you stay in Holland after you graduated before moving to London?

I moved to London a couple of months after graduating.

 What made you want to move to London?

At the time I had an American boyfriend, who later became my husband, and when he got a job transfer we moved to London together.

With living in so many countries, how many languages do you speak?

I speak English, Dutch and Spanish with distant memories of high school French.

 When did you decide that you wanted to illustrate books for children?

While working on assignments for my favorite illustration class at art school, I started using black crayons and watercolor which seemed well suited for the children’s market. For my final project, we had to choose a company or institution and create the “house style” for all the graphics. I chose something that actually existed in Holland––a library for toys! My portfolio naturally filled up with work focused on the children’s market and I decided that I’d love to illustrate books for children.

Do you do another other type of illustrating? Such as greeting card textile design, etc.?

From the beginning my illustrating was focused on creating children’s books. Occasionally my illustrating included puzzles, educational books, and magazine illustrations.

 It looks like you have written and illustrated seven books. How did you get the contract with William Heinemannin Englandin 1983 to publish your first book, Peterkin Meets a Star?

Including Ella & Monkey at Sea, it’s eight books that I’ve written and illustrated.

Publishing Peterkin Meets a Star in England included a little luck and some drama. Shortly after arriving in London I met a children’s book editor at Chatto & Windus. The editor loved my portfolio work and especially the little character who became Peterkin. In our first meeting she encouraged me not only to illustrate, but also to write a story for Peterkin.  When I expressed doubts about writing, she suggested creating a wordless book. That was all the encouragement I needed and on my way home, I came up with an idea and quickly started working on it. When she saw the dummy she immediately suggested creating a companion book, which I did. Not long after we signed the contract she called to tell me that the children’s division was closing down. This was really bad news just as we were packing up to go back to Holland. Now I had less than a month to find another British publisher! In the end I connected with the editor at Heinemann and she encouraged me to add words. We signed the contract for Perkin Meets a Star and Peterkin’s Wet Walk, right before I moved back to Holland. I only had six months to finish the artwork for both books before my next move. It was a stressful but ultimately satisfying time.

 

How did it get sold to Random House a year later?

Random House must have seen the proofs, or the British edition of the Peterkin books at Bologna. I lucked out because after our brief stint back in Holland my boyfriend and I moved to New York. Within a short period of time after moving to the city, I had two books published by a U.S. publisher. I went on two create two more Peterkin books directly with Random House.

Did they buy all the rights or just North American rights?

Random House only bought the North American rights. A Japanese publisher also picked up the Peterkin books. I continued to work on books long distance with my UK editor and she also sold the rights to Knopf and later Orchard Books in the US. All of the UK books had foreign rights sold and were published in foreign languages such as Japanese, French, Norwegian and a couple of the other Scandinavian languages.

It looks like Daddy, Can You Play with me? (Lift-the-flap book) published in 1988 was the first book where you illustrated someone else’s book. How did you connect with Harriet Ziefert to illustrate this book?

There were two picture books I illustrated for Heinemann with British authors. But yes, Harriet Ziefert approached me to illustrate Daddy, Can You Play with me? and Mommy Where are you? that were companion lift-the-flap books.

Amazon says Daddy, Can you Play With Me? is a 208 page book for children 2 years to 4 years old. Is that correct? Seems like a lot of pages for that age group.

Funny typo! These lift-the-flap books were short…. only 16 pages.

I see you have illustrated many of Harriet’s books. How many have you illustrated?

Harriet and I worked on eleven books together. My first child was born in 1988, and illustrating Harriet’s books was a fun way for me to balance work and home while my kids were small. But my passion has always been to write and illustrate my own books in addition to other author’s work. So I returned to that when the time was right.

Have you taken any digital graphic design classes to help you learn Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.?

While I was teaching at RISD CE, one of the perks was being able to take other classes so during that time I took one of each… Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

What inspired you to move from London to Boston?

After London, and briefly Holland again, I lived in New York for fifteen years. Both my children were born there. I loved the city but as the kids got older it was sometimes difficult with no family living nearby. We decided to move up to Boston so they could be closer to their grandparents.

In 2018 you wrote and Illustrated Ella and Monkey at Sea published by Candlewick. What was the inspiration for this book?

This book was inspired by my own childhood experience leaving my home in Holland behind and traveling by passenger ship to America. Just like Ella I really had a toy monkey, I really was sad to leave behind my beloved grandmother, Oma, and I really boarded a ship that encountered a hurricane at sea! In the middle of this stormy journey, while my mother was seasick, I spent time in the onboard “playroom”. Since I was only three, I felt a lot of emotions that I couldn’t easily express in words. Just like Ella, I drew a picture of the sun, which we had not seen the whole trip. I never mention this in the book… but in real life I won first prize for my sun picture even though it’s mostly yellow crayon scribble. But clearly the adults were charmed by this positive message…. it may be stormy now… but the sun will shine again! I changed some details in the book to make the story more satisfying, but in its essence it’s true.

 How long did it take you to write and illustrate this book?

This whole project took over a year. Besides characters sketches and a few key images, the story was written and sold first. Then I was able to go to Holland to do research, and last of all I created the dummy and final watercolor paintings.

 Do you think you will write and illustrate more books?

Writing and illustrating children’s picture books is my passion. I hope I’ll continue to have opportunities to inspire children to love to read!

 When did you start doing school visits?

When my kids were little and attended a NYC public school I did my first classroom visits.  At the time I was quite shy, and not too happy when my daughter’s kindergarten teacher insisted that I MUST share my books and talents with not only her class, but also all the other Kindergarten classes at the school. In the end I absolutely loved it, and once I moved up to Boston I began visiting schools frequently. It’s incredibly rewarding and satisfying for me to work with young students. Encouraging them and watching them create their own books is truly inspiring to me!

How did you get the job to be an instructor at Rhode Island School of Design in 2011?

The classes I taught at RSD CE were part of a Certificate Program in Children’s Book Illustration. The head of the program, a fellow illustrator and now friend, offered me the position when they had an opening. It was a really wonderful program that sadly doesn’t exist anymore.

Do you have an artist rep or an agent? If so, who and how long have you been with them?

I’m delighted to be represented by Jennifer Laughran at the ABLA agency and signed with her at the end of 2015.

I just featured WE WANT SNOW: A WINTRY CHANT by Jamie A. Swenson and published by Sleeping Bear Press on Writing and Illustrating. How did you get the contract to illustrate that book?

Sleeping Bear Press contacted my agent and offered me the opportunity to illustrate Jamie’s delightful text for WE WANT SNOW!

Do you take pictures and do research before you started illustrating a book?

It depends on the project. For my book ELLA & MONKEY AT SEA I did lots of research both in person and online. I discovered that the hurricane we encountered was actually called “Hurricane Ella”. That’s how my character got her name! Another delightful discovery was that the S. S. Rotterdam had been salvaged after over 40 years of sailing the seas, completely renovated, and turned into a museum in Rotterdam Harbor! It’s anchored in the same harbor the ship had sailed from all those years ago when I was little. I was grateful to be able to travel to Holland to visit relatives and board the ship once again. I took many reference photos and it was an incredibly rewarding experience. Just to bring my whole story full circle…. after the book was published, the museum gift shop on board the ship began carrying the book!

Has your style changed over the years?

My style has evolved. It’s softer and more detailed then it was for my first books. Now I like thinner softer lines and use graphite for the outlines instead of black crayon although I’ve been experimenting with ink lines too.

And are crayons still your favorite medium to use?

I‘ll always love crayons, but nowadays I prefer to use different colored crayons, along with colored pencils, to add textures. In WE WANT SNOW, I also had fun adding textures to my watercolors.

 

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would consider?

I can’t imagine that right now. I always have my own stories to fall back on and I usually only take on work through my agent.

 

What do you think is your biggest success?

Any time that one of my books inspires a child to read and love books would be a big success, but unfortunately we don’t always hear about those successes! Besides getting a first book published, which is a huge success for anyone at any age, Ella & Monkey at Sea has been the most satisfying of all my books. It was lovely to return to that story and those earliest memories of creating art.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

For Photoshop work I use a Wacom tablet. I often scan sketches into Photoshop and then print out onto watercolor paper.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

It depends on what stage I’m at in an illustrating project. There can be intense periods of painting when that’s all I do. Otherwise, something daily, either writing or sketching or both, is my ideal. Working in my sketchbook has always been an inspiration.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I love what I’m doing. I’d hope twenty years from now to still be writing and illustrating books and that they would inspire young readers.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a dummy for a story I’ve written about the friendship between an elephant and a chicken. The inspiration came from a trip I took to India in 2018 which was an amazing experience. One of the highlights was visiting an elephant sanctuary and interacting with elephants.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

I always keep a sketchbook for sketching and playing with dry media, but sometimes it’s fun to get messier! It’s hard to find nice inexpensive sketchbooks that hold up to paint and ink and especially one made with your favorite paper. So I recently started making my own sketchbooks with watercolor paper. You can use any paper you love that is foldable. It’s not hard at all and there are many different blogs and YouTube videos out there. Here is a link to one that includes easy step-by-step pictures. https://citizensketcher.com/2016/03/14/make-you-own-accordion-fold-travel-journals-for-watercolor-sketching/ 

 

 

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

Keep and use sketchbooks regularly! Let yourself play and experiment without high expectations or worrying about mistakes. We all work with deadlines, rejections and pressures of all kinds… having some creative fun and just staying loose and free will produce all kinds of surprises. You start with a blank page and then you might discover a new technique or a new character will appear. And when it does…. it’s magical!

 

Emilie, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone.

You can visit Emilie using the following links:

WEBSITE:  http://www.emilieboon.com/

INSTAGRAM:  https://www.instagram.com/emilie.boon/

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/emilie.boon2

AGENCY:  https://www.andreabrownlit.com/

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. So much fun getting to know more about Emilie!

    Like

  2. These illustrations are enchanting. The little chicks made me laugh out loud, especially the one with the long scarf. So cute! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of We Want Snow. Thanks for a terrific interview and post.

    Like


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