Author/Illustrator Interview: Elizabeth O. Dulemba

Today, I gleefully grill Elizabeth O. Dulemba, author and illustrator of the English and Spanish picture book Soap, Soap, Soap / Jabón, Jabón, Jabón (Raven Tree Press, 2009)! (The book also has an all-English version.) In Soap, Soap, Soap / Jabón, Jabón, Jabón, Hugo's mother gives him some dinero and tells him to go to el mercado to buy jabón. Hugo takes the looong way to el mercado, gets into trouble, and forgets what he needs to buy. ¡Ay caramba!

Welcome to Into the Wardrobe, Elizabeth!

Who are your favorite artists, graphic designers, and children's book illustrators? How have they influenced your work?

The one I credit for planting the seed of the dream to illustrate children's books is Garth Williams. I used to devour his work as a kid. Other big influences while growing up were Chris Van Allsburg, Brian Froud, Maurice Sendak, and Paul O. Zelinsky. Of course, I always want to evolve as an artist so I'm always looking at variations on the style that has become mine. Lately, I've been soaking up the work of Diego Rivera and Thomas Hart Benton. All of these amazing artists have inspired me to reach for new things and experiment with new ideas.

The really fun illustrations for Soap, Soap, Soap were colored digitally. What are your thoughts on traditional art versus digital art?

When I went digital I grew wings, so I'm a huge fan. Coming from a background of graphic design, I never really learned how to mix colors, but with a computer I have the entire rainbow available to me. The downside is, I don't have an "original" piece of art in the traditional sense - only the printed page or prints. No matter what the medium though, they are just tools for the artist to achieve their vision. And the printed book IS the final goal.

What inspired and motivated you to write Soap, Soap, Soap? What's the story behind the story?

I illustrated Paco and the Giant Chile Plant ~ Paco y la planta de chile gigante for Raven Tree Press in 2008. It was an adaptation of the classic Appalachian Jack Tale, "Jack and the Giants" - originally "Jack and the Beanstalk." So, when Paco did so well that Raven Tree wanted me to do another book for them, it seemed only natural to stick with a Jack Tale. I looked through my own library (I've been a long time fan of Jack Tales) and came across SOAP. The story had to be completely overhauled for a modern, bilingual audience, but that's where I got to play.

I personally prefer the bilingual edition of Soap, Soap, Soap - because I am trying to learn Spanish! What do you think is the importance of bilingual children's books?

In Europe, it's common for people to speak more than one language. But in America we've been sheltered and cut off from other influences until recently. Our world has changed. Cultures, races and people from various backgrounds are more integrated than ever. It's unrealistic to expect everybody to speak the same language, eat the same foods, wear the same clothes and look the same - and frankly, who would want it? It's the mix that makes our world exciting and interesting. But it does require flexibility on everybody's part by learning other languages so that we can interact and function with all the people in our society.

Can you guide us through the creative process you used for Soap, Soap, Soap?

Once the manuscript was nailed down, I started doing character sketches. Lots of them. I drew and drew until Hugo showed up saying, "This is me!" I broke up the text and sketched thumbnail ideas of what the individual layouts would look like and then slowly built them up. Each spread got about three rounds: thumbnail, larger sketch (about 4" wide) and full size. Each version was bigger and more detailed. When I get to the largest version, I drew the elements separately - all wonky all over a page - then scanned them into Photoshop to arrange the compositions. Once all the final sketches were finished and approved, I went through and did flat color studies for all the pieces. That was for consistency so I could make changes easily before moving on to the next and final stage. I rendered the pieces in Painter, adding in all the highlights and shading and touching every inch of the canvas with texture and color. Voila!

What do you hope children will experience or take away from the book?

Ironically, a lot of teachers have been using SOAP to teach their students about general hygeine and hand-washing - very important in this swine flu season. I'm thrilled that I've created a book that encourages participation, repetition, and laughter. So, I guess what I hope they will take away from it the most is a smile (and maybe some Spanish vocabulary).

Soap, Soap, Soap certainly put a big smile on MY face, Elizabeth! And yes, I learned more Spanish words because of it.

I've watched a video of you during a school visit. I love your energy! How do you do it? Where do you get all that energy? What will your school visits using Soap, Soap, Soap be like?

Y'know, it's funny, I'm a bit of a hermit at home. But you put me on a stage and I become a complete ham. I'm quite comfortable working an audience to participate, react, and laugh. And I soak up the energy from a good audience like chocolate. It's an odd and unexpected facet of this career, but I love it.

I presented SOAP for the first time at the Decatur Book Festival when I opened for Judy Schachner and the tent was overflowing - wowsa! I read SOAP (with lots of audience participation), gave a quiz at the end (with rubber duckie prizes), then drew the rubber duckie from SOAP and did a Q&A. I received some wonderful compliments afterwards and plan to do some of the same things during my school visits (and three more festivals coming up this Fall). Of course, in schools I also include my slide show about my work method.

Honestly, if I wasn't a writer/illustrator, I'd probably be a teacher. So I adore the chance to share what I do with kids and adults.

What is it like to be the Illustrator Coordinator for the Southern Breeze region (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi) of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (USA)? What kind of work do you do for this role?

It's a lot of fun, but a lot of behind the scenes work as well. My first event in my new position was a gallery show for our illustrators. It got picked up by the Southern Arts Federation to travel the South for two years as "Storybook Look: Illustrations by Southern Artists." That's a hard event to follow! We're about to have the other event I created - our 2nd annual Portfolio Workshop. Beyond that, I've set up a blog for our illustrators as an online critique resource and I help with the illustration side of the conferences and festivals. It's a big commitment, but it's been amazing. And I was actually awarded a scholarship to attend the SCBWI Summer conference in LA this past summer for my efforts - what an honor.

Your current work in progress is The 12 Days of Christmas in Georgia. Christmas is my favorite holiday and I love Christmas books. This sounds fabulous! Can you tell us a bit about it?

Sterling Publishers is doing one of these for each state and they're tons of fun for the lucky authors and illustrators who get to work on them. And it's given me the opportunity to explore my own state and discover new things - Georgia is pretty cool! Sketches are awaiting approval right now, so I will probably be going to final (color) art soon.

Having one of those books for each state sounds awesome!!!

What else are you working on now?

Right now my focus has been marketing to make sure SOAP kicks off in a BIG way. The next squeaky wheel is the Portfolio Workshop on October 3rd. But I'm also working on a storybook app for the iphone, writing a novel, and waiting for word on a new picture book I have with my agent - along with 12 Days. Lotso, lotso stuff.

Wow, a storybook app for the iPhone . . . and a novel? You are busy indeed! I can't wait to see what you have in store for us, Elizabeth. Thank you so much for stopping by Into the Wardrobe to answer my questions!


Lori Calabrese said…
I always love hearing what Elizabeth has in store for us. She's so talented and I continue to be amazed at her beautiful artwork!

Great interview!
Tarie Sabido said…
Hi, Lori! I totally agree. Elizabeth is muy talented. I am really curious about her storybook app for the iPhone and her novel.
I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth's work and I'm so excited to follow her tour to learn about amazing sites like this one! Love it!
Tarie Sabido said…
Aww, thank you so much, Vicky. :o)
Patricia Cruzan said…
It's interesting to hear about how you carry out your projects and how you teach children. Your blog tour serves as a means of inspiration for other authors and students.
Tarie Sabido said…
Thanks for stopping by, Patricia! I agree. Elizabeth is inspiring!!