Meet the Illustrator: Judy Schachner

by the Brightly Editors

In today’s Meet the Illustrator feature we chat with Judy Schachner, an author and illustrator who is best known for her Skippyjon Jones series, The Granny-Man, and Bits & Pieces. Judy discusses the artists who have influenced her work, how collecting oddities can provide everyday inspiration, and the importance of supporting children’s enthusiasm for learning, even when it gets a little messy. Judy’s new book, Dewey Bob, arrives September 2015.

What first made you excited about art?
A pencil and sheet of white paper.

What illustrated book from childhood has stayed with you over the years?
As a child, I loved fairy tales. The art of Arthur Rackham enthralled me but not quite as much as the fashion illustrations in the newspapers. I loved the smudgy charcoal lines and glamorous clothing. I wanted to be a fashion illustrator long before I ever thought about being a book illustrator. My early art was all about glamour, convents, and badly behaved women.

Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?
Like most illustrators, I draw inspiration from a wide variety of things — animals, children, nature, my collections of textiles, buttons, toys, and various other oddities … even the patina of an old painted chest can get me thinking of the color and texture in my own art. Then there are the bookmakers whose work I always keep close at hand … Alice and Martin Provensen, Ezra Jack Keats, Trina Schart Hyman, Evaline Ness, and Nancy Ekholm Burkert. I usually keep their books out on my desk while I work. It’s like a having a silent chorus of voices telling me to slow down, be more patient, and do it better.

What materials do you most like to use?
I love mixed media — gouache, acrylics, watercolor, colored pencils, charcoal pencil, pastel, stamps, and collage.

What does your workspace look like?
It looks like this.JudyWorkspace


What design resources would you recommend to young artists?
The library, independent bookstores … start collecting now.

I am addicted to magazines — Selvedge, UPPERCASE, and The World of Interiors are but a FEW of the mags that I collect.

And of course it goes without saying that the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a wonderful mentoring source. The monthly magazine alone is worth the cost of joining.

How do you get your kids excited about art?
When we as parents show enthusiasm for something — whether it be about art, books, music, science, nature, space, hugging — chances are, children will desire to share in the excitement too. But it has to go both ways — let’s say your 9-year-old daughter happens to bring home a dead crow for its perfect bones. No matter how difficult it may be to demonstrate head over heels excitement at the sight of yellow foam boiling over your best soup pot and onto your stove top, try. You just may be witnessing a future paleontologist at work.

What have your kids taught you about books and reading?
Great question! I learned that very often the books adults love for aesthetic reasons, books that are the ultimate in design and use of “white space,” are not always the books that children choose to return to again and again. Reading to my own daughters taught me to write and illustrate not for my peers, not for adults, but for children.

What’s the best name for a color that you’ve ever heard?
I am fascinated by the names they choose for paint colors. There is actually a contest each month in House Beautiful magazine which invites readers to name a new color — you can win up to a hundred dollars for coming up with names like “Wisterious,” “Haute Pink,” “Decisive Yellow,” or “Strachan” … My favorite this week is “Violet Crush.” But just for this week.


Best known for her Skippyjon Jones series, Judy Schachner has illustrated many of her own stories, including the much-loved The Granny-Man and its companion book, Bits & Pieces. She has also illustrated stories by others, including I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Alison Jackson and How the Cat Swallowed Thunder by Lloyd Alexander. Her new book, Dewey Bob, lands in bookstores September 2015. She lives in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.