Saturday, October 27, 2007

Robert's Snow: Abigail Marble Interview

It is nearly time for this year’s Robert’s Snow for Cancer’s Cure Auction! If you are new to the Robert’s Snow buzz…children’s book illustrators from around the planet have donated one-of-a-kind snowflakes to be auctioned off online beginning November 19th. The snowflakes are stunning, and all proceeds will benefit sarcoma research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

As part of Blogging for a Cure, I’m happy to feature Abigail Marble’s snowflake, “Making Snow."

"Making Snow" by Abigail Marble

available for bidding: November 19-23


It only takes a quick look through her portfolio to fall in love with Abigail Marble’s watercolors. Her use of light and shadow add a dimension of wonder to her illustrations (for instance, from a current project, the gorgeous images below of moonlight on a sleepy baker vs. the warm light of the kitchen). Abigail studied at Brown University and at Rhode Island School of Design and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. Her first book, My Secret Bully (written by Trudy Ludwig), is designed to help kids who are victims of emotional bullying. She has also illustrated Galmamadak the Great by Tamim Ansary.

Abigail was kind enough to answer some questions over email. Here are her thoughtful and delightfully funny answers:

How did you get started as an artist?

I tagged along to my mom's watercolor classes starting when I was about 6 years old, and painted whatever she and her classmates were painting. Or tried, anyway. My family was always supportive, and I drew and painted all the time, as far back as I can remember. In grade school I was labeled the 'arty girl.' I used to give drawing lessons at recess, teaching other girls how to draw unicorns and princesses. There was an arty boy who took care of the boys who wanted to draw guns and machinery.

I took art as my main elective throughout high school, and majored in art in college. From first grade on, my plan was to write and illustrate children's books, but when I graduated from college, I wasn't sure how I could make a living in illustration, and detoured into the graphic design field. That in itself has been a good education and foundation for my illustration work, but it has also been very consuming, and it involves way too much time on the computer. Over the past few years I have been able to focus more on painting and pursuing illustration work, and it feels great!

What inspires you?

I live in Portland, Oregon, so luckily I am inspired by rain. Maybe because I grew up here, I think of a rainy day as a good work day. By my standards the dark rainy fall we're having is perfect weather. When I leave my house these days, I can see thick, juicy, purple-gray clouds and white fog against evergreen hillsides with splashes of orange vine maple leaves.

I'm also inspired by other people's art, by great novels, and by paint itself.

Who are your favorite artists?

I have so many, it's hard to choose. This month I have been in love with Ben Shahn, Toulouse-Lautrec, Leonard Baskin and Richard Diebenkorn. I don't know if you'd guess that from looking at my illustrations, though. Illustrators I love include Helen Oxenbury, Lisbeth Zwerger, Evaline Ness, Leo Lionni...I could go on and on. As a kid I used to pore over Carl Larsson's "A Home" and the Gnome Book.

What is your ideal workspace?

I have a great studio space, that is pretty ideal in that it is fairly large, has decent light, and I can leave my stuff everywhere and no one complains about it. And it's cheap! Of course it would be even better if someone magical elves came along to tidy it up now and then. And in my fantasy world it would have picture windows with a view of water...

You recently illustrated My Secret Bully, a book designed to help children cope with “emotional bullying”--the kind of bullying that doesn’t leave bruises, but hurts just as much. What was the most interesting thing about working on this book?

That was my first published book, so everything about the process was new and exciting. I was able to meet the author, Trudy Ludwig, because she also lives in Portland. She was so enthusiastic and inspired about the subject of the story that it was inspiring to me as I worked on the art.

Since the book was published, the most interesting thing has been the responses of the women and children who have read it. Almost every woman I shared it with remembered being caught up in emotional bullying in some role-- bullied, bully, or bystander. It's a big deal, and traumatic enough to stand out in their memories decades later. I personally feel like my school experience from 4th through 6th grade was completely dominated (and tainted) by this kind of social stuff.

And sadly, that hasn't changed -- if anything, it's happening with younger and younger kids. Parents I know who've shared the book with their 1st and 2nd graders have told me that they had no idea their kids were having these hurtful situations at school until the book started the conversation about it. I know many schools, libraries, and school counselors have bought the book, so I hope it is helping start that conversation for lots of children.

How did you come up with your snowflake design for this year’s Robert’s Snow?

My snowflake is sort of a self-portrait from my childhood. My mom taught us how to make 6-sided snowflakes one year, and my sister and I went nuts making them. Our house had big picture windows, and we filled them all with snowflakes. This may reflect the fact that children in Portland, Oregon are usually deprived of snow. Slush, sleet, and freezing rain we get. Snow, not so much. So we had to make our own (insert tiny tragic violin melody here!).

Once you began, was there anything especially interesting, challenging, or surprising about the project?

I had no idea that the actual snowflakes were so small! I tend to work big when I paint with acrylics, so scaling down was a challenge. I loved doing both sides as a tiny little narrative.

What advice would you give to young people interested in becoming an artist?

Oh, gee...the usual, I guess: draw all the time, look at other people's work as much as you can, find good teachers. That's not very helpful, is it?

I can do better:

Learn to hear your critics and glean the useful seeds from the criticism.

It's easy to write off all criticism, but the right insight at the right time can change your work for the better. Also, persevere -- that's a big one for me, as I have a lot going on and get sidetracked easily. I have a quote up on my wall from Ariel Schrag, the graphic novelist, that says, "Finishing is really underrated and an important part of the creative process." Yes. Yes!!! I try to remind myself of that often.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with readers?

I'd just like to say that Robert's Snow is a wonderful cause. The project was developed by two really beautiful people whose hearts were big enough to think of others even at their lowest moments. I hope readers will take a moment to read about the auctions and look at all the beautiful work donated by many, many talented people. It's a testament to what can happen when people lead with their hearts. I am very proud to be associated with the project.

Here are the other snowflakes featured today:

How you can help Robert's Snow:


Anonymous said...

Thanks, you all! I love that Abigail is inspired by paint itself, and I love that Ariel Schrag quote. Hoo ha, so true!

And she's right that it's really neat to see those snowflakes that manage to have a narrative on two sides of a small, 5-inch piece of wood.

What a great feature, Josephine. Thank you!

jama said...

Enjoyed the feature. Love her painting of the baker/pastry chef :)!

Josephine Cameron said...

Thanks, Jules & Jama! I love that baker painting too...and the Ariel Schagg quote is something I should carry in my pocket every day. :)

tanita✿davis said...

Just the sense of movement that somehow manages to come through make this artwork so neat. I really love My Secret Bully; the claustrophobia of the dark background, just highlighting the child and their nemesis -- lots of impact there.

And I love "Making Snow" -- as a native Californian, that's often the only way we get it!! Great post!

Josephine Cameron said...

True...I'm married to a native Californian. When we went back for Christmas last year, people had spread cotton batting on their lawns as "snow." :)

Helen/Spike and Drusilla OK Citizens said...

Wow what a great interview. I love reading the background behind all these great snowflakes. I love the Ariel Schrag quote, I should have it stamped to my forehead.