In today’s Meet the Illustrator feature we chat with Hannah Harrison, award-winning author and illustrator of Extraordinary Jane, Bernice Gets Carried Away, My Friend Maggie, and the brand-new book, Friends Stick Together. A mom of two, Hannah talks about how her daughters influence her work, the materials she uses to create her beautiful illustrations, and shows us her awesome (and impressively organized) workspace.
What first made you excited about art?
Oh my goodness — when was I ever not excited about art? I can’t really pinpoint the exact beginning, but I do remember that, as a kid, drawing always felt like an amazing adventure to me. I felt like Mary Poppins jumping into the sidewalk chalk pictures. With my crayons and paper I could go anywhere, be anyone, and do anything … and so could my pets! I spent countless (and I mean countless) hours having adventures on paper. Truth be told, I still feel that way when I illustrate books — I think that’s why I love it so much!
What illustrated book from childhood has stayed with you over the years?
I still have my Helen Oxenbury’s ABC of Things. I love love love that book! Talk about great storytelling through pictures! And the characters are fantastic — so much personality (you can’t beat the letter B!). And there’s sly humor, and lots of detail — basically everything I strive for in my own illustrations. It’s alphabetical perfection!
Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?
I am inspired by so many things — people, animals, nature, architecture, paintings, history, music — you name it! For Bernice, I didn’t have to look too far — she was inspired by my cat, Annabelle Toodles. But I would say that, as a stay at home mom, my biggest inspirations are probably my two daughters. It would be impossible to look at those sweet little faces all day long and not have them find their way into my paintings.
What does your workspace look like?
My workspace is in a corner of our dining room. Fortunately, my painting style is so detailed that I don’t need a whole lot of room to paint. I have this neat cabinet with a fold-out desk in it. So when it’s time to paint, I open the desk, pull up a dining room chair, set my palette out on an old TV tray that was my grandmother’s, and get to work!
I use the shelves to house some of my children’s books, research materials, inspiring doo-dads, and any illustrations that I might need to refer to as I paint. The drawers contain my art supplies and finished paintings. I tape the illustration I’m working on to a piece of foam-core, and rest it on my lap as an easel. At the end of the day (or when it’s time to eat), it all folds up again. It’s not fancy, but it does the trick! And painting in the center of the house allows me to keep an eye on the kiddos, too, which is nice.
What materials do you most like to use?
I use acrylic paint on hot-pressed Bristol board. I love the immediacy of acrylic paint — no need to waste time waiting for things to dry. I love that it can be opaque or transparent depending on how much water you add. Plus, with a teeny tiny brush, it lends itself beautifully to painting details like fur and whiskers.
What design resources would you recommend to young artists?
I love Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang. It’s a great resource for illustrators of all ages!
How do you get your kids excited about art?
My youngest is just 7-months-old, so right now all she wants to do is eat the art. But my 5-year-old loves to draw. I like talking with her about her pictures. I ask her questions about the characters — Who is this and what are they doing? — she’s got quite the imagination! And I make sure to point out all of the things that I like about what she’s drawn. I encourage her to add more details sometimes — Where is this dinosaur? Can you draw something next to the dinosaur so that I can tell how big he is? My desk is completely overrun with drawings that she’s given me, and they’re always presented as gifts and with great earnestness. It’s very sweet.
What have your kids taught you about books and reading?
I don’t think I fully understood what an important job creating children’s books was until I had my own kids. I never realized how much books really do influence the way they see the world, and what a huge responsibility it is to be entrusted with such a calling. Kids are smart, and they are paying close attention, so you had better do your best to create a story that is going to leave a positive lasting impression … and make them laugh.
Books by Hannah E. Harrison
Hannah E. Harrison is an award-winning illustrator whose critically-acclaimed debut, Extraordinary Jane, received three starred reviews and was a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year. She lives with her family in Oklahoma, where she always makes sure there are plenty of frosting roses to go around at her birthday parties. Visit her online at www.hannaheharrison.com.