The Power of Pictures: A Visit with Bryan Collier
By Rocco Staino
The prolific and award-winning illustrator and author Bryan Collier
is known for his unique style of artwork that combines watercolors with detailed collage, featured in such titles as Rosa Holt, 2005 by Nikki Giovanni, for which he was awarded a Coretta Scott King CSK Illustrator Award and a Caldecott Honor; Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave Little, Brown, 2010, for which he also was awarded both the CSK and a Caldecott Honor; and Uptown Holt, 2000, the first book that he authored and illustrated, for which he was awarded both the CSK and an Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award.
On the heels of being named the recipient of the CSK Award yet again for his latest book, I, Too, Am America S & S, 2012, Collier invited School Library Journal into his home and studio in Hudson Valley, NY—where CSK Award-winning illustrators James Ransome and Charles Smith also live—for a tour and interview about his life, his art, and the creative process.
You’re known for using detailed collages in your illustrations. Are you a collector of various items that you can use for this purpose?
Well, I am always on the lookout, but mostly I just use old fashion magazines for their patterns and inspiration for creating mood or light. I will see a pattern on a dress and also see the color schemes. I incorporate the collage in my work; there is no real rhyme or reason on how. There isn’t more watercolor than collage or collage than watercolor. It just has to feel right.
Do you storyboard your books before beginning to create the artwork?
I do a quick storyboard [but] I drive editors crazy because when I bring in the original artwork it doesn’t look like the storyboard. Something else happens in the process of making the art and the collage. New ideas come into play that seem to be more important to me or more profound to the text. I follow that. The storyboard just gives me a semblance of where I think I am going but I really never know until I start putting it together. I leave that door open to make sure it happens. I don’t want to be steadfast to any ideas I had a month ago. I want to see what happens on the fly.
You have used the lives of real historical figures as the basis for some of your books. What type of research do you conduct before creating your artwork?
For Dave the Potter, I was so intrigued by this brand new history that I went to the plantation in Edgefield, SC. I needed to go there because there really wasn’t much on the Internet or the libraries about Dave. I wanted to see the ground that Dave walked on and the sky he walked under and I wanted to be in his presence and I wanted to hold the pots that he had signed and did poetry on. I had to figure out, Where do I go? How do I get there? Who do I talk to? You feel your way through. I just started to talk to people and the story started coming through.
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