Wednesdays are my day to blog here at the Brown Bookshelf and yesterday, I realized I had less than 24 hours to come up with something. I had nothing. And I was too busy to even think about it. I wanted to post an interview. Pie in the sky, Nancy Devard, illustrator of the book, The Secret Olivia Told Me, written by N. Joy (Just Us Books, 2007).
But that was out of the question, I figured. After all, it’s only been a week since Nancy became one of the recipients of a Coretta Scott King Honor award, one of the greatest honors bestowed on an African American children’s book creator. She wouldn’t have time for me.
I was so wrong. Nancy responded to my interview questions and put the biggest smile on my face since the new year rolled in. So today, I present Nancy Devard. Enjoy!
Don: Sometimes I imagine myself getting the call, you know, from the Coretta Scott King folks. How did you learn the news of your Coretta Scott King Honor award?
Nancy: I received a telephone call around 7:10 to 7:15 A.M. in the morning of January 14th. I was recovering from both a nasty cold and tooth pain (root canal, tooth extraction, infected tooth! yikes!!!) and had a large dose of NyQuil the night before. I was a little tired and groggy when I received the good news. I heard the words,”Congratulations” from one librarian from the Coretta Scott King Awards Committee and many other voices cheering in the background. Then I heard that “The Secret Olivia Told Me” was selected as the Coretta Scott King illustration honors book. I was very happy (but still groggy and stuffed up).
Don: Well, I’ll bet that phone call chased your cold away. And I’ll bet you haven’t slept since! How did you feel winning this award, this being your first trade picture book?
Nancy: I was excited. But the significance of this award really hit me when they told me that The Secret Olivia Told Me was a co-honor selection along with a book (Jazz) illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Okay, now they really had my attention! Oh, my gosh! I share honors with the Dillons!!! They are among my favorite illustrators; I own quite a few of their books and use them for inspiration. Their artworks/illustrations are just plain beautiful! My high beams were on thereafter.
Don: Tell me, what drew you to the field of children’s publishing, and how did you get your first book contract?
Nancy: Formerly, I worked as an artist at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri, and I can honestly say that I had never considered working in illustration (let alone children’s book illustration) until I worked at Hallmark. They had one of the best and most inspirational art/reference libraries that I had ever seen. I regularly took out children’s books for inspiration for my Hallmark artwork assignments, and discovered art and artists (children’s book illustrators) that I never heard of, but whose work was fabulous.
I’m a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where students were trained as a fine artists, but not as a working artist/illustrators. Your training is all about developing/honing your skills in as a painter, sculptor or printmaker, and not about using these skills to earn a living. In other words, they train the people who work in services industries by day (waiters, salesclerks, customer services, etc.) but are incredible fine/gallery artists at night or whenever they have free time. (Darn those pesky bills for rent, food, medical care and clothing!)
Anyway, one of my fellow artists at Hallmark, Cathy Ann Johnson, who is herself a lovely children’s book illustrator, gave my name to Bernette Ford, an editor and packager who was creating a line of early reader books for African-American children, for Scholastic Books. (I think that Shane Evans
[a fellow former Hallmark artist, turned illustrator and CSK winner] also tossed my name out as an illustrator who was looking for a break; I am very grateful to both of them). Ultimately I was selected to illustrate two books for the “Just for You” line of books, A Mom Like No Other and The Mystery of the Missing Dog. Interesting, after I talked to Cathy, I discovered that the author of “A Mom Like No Other” was another former Hallmark employee living (like I was at that time) in Kansas City. She is Christine Taylor-Butler who was starting out her new career as a children’s book author.
Don: Nancy, your artwork is truly beautiful! How would you describe your illustration style and technique?
Nancy: Okay, that a hard one. My academy training stressed using only one style, one medium and sticking with that style and medium. At Hallmark, it was just the opposite: versatility was valued. Art/cards projects were needed in the styles of other artists that were currently and formerly on staff at Hallmark. Learning to use different media for card product (computers, alkyds, water media, pastels, colored pencils, sculpture, etc.) was encouraged, which I enjoyed. I would say that my style is primarily figurative and realistic, but not exclusively realistic (there’s that wishy-washy Pisces in me again). For The Secret Olivia Told Me which was created using Adobe Illustrator, the kids had large heads and feet and
comparatively delicate necks and gangly limbs. I created/proposed a card back when I was at Hallmark comprised of three silhouettes of black women on a three panel card. I think this card helped me win my first illustration assignment from Just Us Books.
On other illustration projects, I have used more realistic proportions.
Honestly, I am open to just about any kind of project in children’s book illustration because I Love a Challenge Right now I’m thinking a children’s fantasy book with imaginary would be fun.
Don: What’s on the horizon for you?
Right now, I am working on four new titles for a new multicultural imprint, Marimba Books. They will be published in the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009. The main characters are 2 to 5 years old and the books are geared towards toddlers and early readers. I’m really enjoying working on this series. Right now everything is so new for me in children’s book illustration that each project has been a pleasure and a learning experience.
Incidentally, I’m also in the same boat as you; I’m also considering looking for an agent to help guide my future assignments. That way I’ll have more time to focus on the execution my creative work.
P. S. Two of my fellow Hallmark alumnae are participating in your 28 Days Later lecture series: Shane Evans and Kyra Hicks. I did some illustration work for the adult versions of the children’s story (biography) that Kyra wrote about Martha Ricks and Miss Martha’s visit with the Queen of England (Queen Vic). I have attached artwork that I painted for the project for Kyra. Kyra’s quiltwork is awesome!
Thanks, Don, to you and Brown Bookshelf for giving me an opportunity to share some thoughts about my work and this incredible honor I’ve just received for my first trade picture book.
Don: Thank you, Nancy, for taking the time to share your work and experiences. This was such a treat for me.
This is a first in a series of artist to artist chats I plan to conduct at the Brown Bookshelf.