"The Gift" by Lee White
available for auction: November 26-30
available for auction: November 26-30
ABOUT LEE WHITE:
According to his website, Lee White's foray into illustration happened by chance. That's hard to believe because his dream-like style is so obviously well suited for illustration. His colors are bright and eye-catching, yet the mood is soft and inviting...even comforting. His characters and landscapes are strange and mysterious, yet humorous and very likable. Every illustration not only tells a story, but then takes it to the next level. In his most recent book, Brewster the Rooster by Devin Scilian, the farmer isn't just startled by the rooster's crow, he is startled sky-high, flung off his ladder, paint flying, legs splayed, nose red with embarrassment (and probably a little anger). This kind of illustration doesn't just move the story along, it brings it somewhere else entirely.
Lee White studied illustration at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He has created illustrations for huge clients such as Apple Computers, Disney, United Airlines, and has illustrated eight children's books. House Takes a Vacation and Brewster the Rooster both came out this year, and are definitely worth the read.
Lee was kind enough to answer some questions for me:
How did you get started as an artist?
I started as a photographer working for an ad agency in Atlanta, Georgia. I learned all about lighting, composition and color through this medium which has helped tremendously in illustration. I went from photography to graphic design where I eventually started my own company. I gradually drifted from graphic design to illustration and haven’t looked back since!
What inspires you?
So many things. I really love landscape painting, although I don’t get to do it very often because I’m so busy all the time. The colors and light that occur naturally are so amazing that I often ache because I don’t have the time to capture the image with paint.
I’ve been teaching at the college level for the past two years and really love that. College is an ideal situation because you are dealing with ideas and concepts that you can’t explore in the commercial art world where there are budgets and deadlines.
I’d say the most inspiring thing to me above all else is stories. A good narrative is all I need to really get my brain working and I love that feeling. That’s why the beginning of a project is always the most fun for me. Just sitting down and exploring imagery and ideas is so exciting to me. The hard part is the actual production of the ideas once the “newness” has worn off.
Who are your favorite artists?
Luckily I happen to be friends with some of my favorite artists and they always keep me focused on constantly improving. People like Chris Applehans, Catia Chein, Khang Le, and Yoko Tanaka are some of my favorites. In children’s books I’d say Shaun Tan is really doing some amazing work. He’s really pushing boundaries which I think is always good.
What is your ideal workspace?
My ideal workspace is actually my current workspace. I share an old Victorian 4-square with another illustrator and we work on book projects all day. Portland winters are great because it’s rainy outside but our studio is nice and warm. We are on a commercial street with lots of funky shops and cafes so the coffee is always close by. Working in a studio with another person is one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’m a very social person so sitting in my house alone all day makes me a little crazy!
In your newest book, Brewster the Rooster by Devin Scillian, the funny, colorful illustrations bring such flair to the story. For instance on the first page, the words read “His championship cries won the blue ribbon prize/each year/at the Kansas State Fair,” and the illustration shows not only Brewster proudly receiving his first prize ribbon, but also a disgruntled pig who won second place, and the pig’s owner (a man with a villian’s moustache and top hat) leering jealously at Brewster’s family. As an illustrator, how much leeway do you have with the story? Do you always have room for improvisation?
I’m glad you noticed that! One of the best parts about book illustration is that you get to tell other parts of a story that might not be written into the book. In your example the text focuses on Brewster wining the blue ribbon, the next question I ask is “what was that like for the other contestants?” Then I come up with a disgruntled pig who had to settle for second place. Some of the stories in children’s books are so extreme that it’s fun to put people in the illustration reacting to what’s going on.
My publishers have normally given me a tremendous amount of freedom when it comes to making the art. This is partly because some of the stories I get are so, um, weird. Like the book Stop that Nose!, it’s about a guy's nose that flies off in a monster sneeze. It would be hard for an editor or art director to be too strict when it comes to the art because there is no clear way to handle imagery like that.
How did you come up with your snowflake design for this year’s Robert’s Snow?
I didn’t want to do a traditional scene with a snowman or christmas theme. Although these scenes are great for the intended use, I wanted to put a little more personal spin on mine. I wanted to make it mean something in relation to why “Robert’s Snow” exists in the first place. My dad died from cancer a few years back and so I’ve seen the battle with that first hand.
I began thinking about what it’s like to live with someone knowing they have such a great battle ahead. The feeling that you may lose them was always around with my father, so that seemed important to me as well. My imagery is symbolic of that feeling.
The girl in the boat is in less than ideal surroundings, but is holding tightly to the gift. That gift represents life. We all have to have faith in that gift when someone we love is battling the disease. She has her eyes closed to represent the blindness we have in not knowing how the situation might turn out. I know this snowflake deals with difficult ideas and imagery, but I didn’t want it to come across as depressing, so that’s why I chose a warm/bright color palette.
I like how the piece turned out because hopefully it makes people think and come up with their own meanings and interpretations.
Once you began, was there anything especially interesting, challenging, or surprising about the project?
Working that small is always a challenge. I really like working with such a weird shape. It changes the way I design and was very fun to do. I also like the fact that I get to be somewhat abstract in the imagery which is something that’s a little hard to do with a book because you are trying to move a story forward.
What advice would you give to young people interested in becoming an artist?
The most important advice I can give is to come up with your own interpretations on stories and narratives. Why bother making another “average” piece of art when you can make something unique and special? This idea is why I’m trying to slow down my output some on the professional level and make pieces I’m really proud of.
I would also recommend learning the technical side of drawing and painting. It’s alright to end up drawing loose and painting abstractly, but having the solid background goes a long way. It gives you choices that you might not otherwise have. For instance, If you can REALLY draw and paint you have your choice with how an image is painted. You can paint really tight and lifelike, or you can stylize the characters (which I like to do!). You want the choice to be yours versus being limited by your ability.
Lastly, I’d like to say that keeping a balanced life is very important. If you focus only on art, there is so much you could be missing. The extra things in your life can contribute greatly to your art. The world is a beautiful place with all it’s color and texture, people and cultures. Really try and soak it all in and let your art reflect it!
Here are some great Lee White links:
- View 5 illustrations from House Takes a Vacation
- View 4 illustrations from Brewster the Rooster
- See Lee White's online portfolio
Here are the other snowflakes featured today:
- Cynthia Decker at The Silver Lining
- Cecily Lang at Kate's Book Blog
- Jane Dyer at Whimsy Books
- Gutierrez at AmoXcalli and Cuentecitos
How you can help Robert's Snow:
- Thank Lee White for donating his time and talents and let him know what you think of his snowflake, "The Gift."
- Check out the other Blogging for a Cure snowflake features: a schedule is updated weekly on the sidebar to the right, and previous posts can be found at Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast (Thank you, Jules & Eisha!)
- Visit Robert's Snow to view all the snowflakes (not all the snowflakes were ready in time to be featured by Blogging for a Cure, so be sure to visit the official site so you don't miss any)
- Bid on your favorite snowflakes during the three auctions held Nov. 19-Dec. 7
- Spread the word! Tell your grandmother, your neighbor, your postman. Send them a link to this post or to any Robert's Snow post.