My first introduction to this talented artist was on the 7 Impossible Things website. I was mesmerized by the post. His art could be described as Ezra Jack Keats meets Eric Carle, yet Christian maintains his own unique style. No doubt this young man has a bright future. Here is Christian’s story in his own words:
By Christian Robinson
Oh, I like this story.
I had just graduated college (CalArts’ character animation program) and was interning with Pixar Animation Studios in their consumer products department. Long story short: I found myself in a meeting with Pete Doctor, director of Disney Pixar’s Up. My internship mentor, Ben Butcher, had invited me to be a fly on the wall and observe how meetings with directors and the consumer product department go. Ben also asked me to prepare a few sketches and illustrations before the meeting, demonstrating how I might interpret the film’s characters in my own style.
Pete Doctor noticed my illustrations pinned to a board, placed off in some dark corner of the room. He turned to the film’s producer, Jonas Rivera, and said, “Wow, we should have this guy make a book for the film.” And, just like that, I received my first book-illustration gig. I think my mind just exploded in that moment. It was so unreal, the kind of stuff you’d daydream about happening to you — but couldn’t imagine it happening for real.
There are so many artists who inspire me, where do I begin? Roger Duvoisin, Bruno Munari, Ezra Jack-Keats, Abner Graboff, Tomi Ungerer, Paul Rand I could keep going. What I love about each of these artist is their very distinct style and unique point of view. I’d also say they are unified in their ability to create work that I think is authentic and true to themselves. They inspire me to create work in which honesty and sincerity are my policy.
The Back Story
Let’s see, how far back should we go. So after my Pixar internship ended, I was just sort of wandering for a while. I knew I wanted to continue illustrating, just wasn’t sure how. I took on all sorts of small gigs to pay the bills, Including leading after school art workshops with kids. I also blogged about whatever I was creating, a habit I picked up in college. One day I get an email from a guy who had come across my blog asking if I had an agent and if I did to just consider the message fan mail. His name was Steven Malk who is now my agent and friend. I credit Steve with helping me make my dreams come true. Soon after that life changing experience I received the manuscript for Harlem’s Little Blackbird. The name Florence Mills was completely foreign to me. Reading Renée’s beautifully written manuscript was like being a child discovering some lost treasure. Florence’s story is powerful she was a real hero. Immediately I felt very fortunate just being considered as a potential illustrator for this project. How could I not want to be apart of sharing this inspiring story with young readers?
• New York Times says: “Robinson’s energetic, appealing illustrations allow [Florence’s] voice to be Watson’s charming and evocative biography, carefully pitched to younger readers, and Robinson’s energetic, appealing illustrations allow her voice to be heard.”
• Booklist, Starred Review, says: “Another element that will draw readers to the book is Robinson’s art. Simple collage shapes with a folk-art appeal capture everything from the warm relationship between Mills and her mother to her decision to forgo the Ziegfeld Follies for a show that introduced young black talent.”
• Kirkus says: “Robinson’s big-eyed portrayal of Florence and her work is terrific: jazzy, geometric and lively. The city scenes, stage moments and glimpses of Florence on- and offstage are sweetly retro; 20 blackbirds on stylized, blooming branches on both front and back endpapers add charm to the work overall.”
• Newsday features HARLEM’S LITTLE BLACKBIRD in a round-up of “Kids Stuff for Black History Month”
• EW.com reviews HARLEM’S LITTLE BLACKBIRD in a round-up of “10 Great New Historical Books for Kids”
“Watson’s lyrical prose is the real treat in this stunning children’s biography of Florence Mills.”
• HuffingtonPost.com has featured HARLEM’S LITTLE BLACKBIRD in a slideshow titled, “Mesmerizing Non-Fiction Children’s Books”
Here’s a look at HARLEM’S LITTLE BLACKBIRD:
Here’s a look at his next book, RAIN, written by Linda Ashman (Houghton Mifflin, 2013):
And don’t forget, Christian visits schools.
–Interview by Don Tate