Here’s the next in our series of profiles on CWILL members.
Hi, Karen! Please give us your quick bio.
I am a freelance illustrator who draws on a long career as a visual artist. I studied fine arts at Guelph University (BFA) and later at Concordia University (MFA). I’ve illustrated picture books for Planète Rebelle (Montréal), Annick Press (Toronto), Portage & Main Press (Winnipeg) and Les Éditions du Soleil de Minuit (Saint-Damien-de-Brandon). I also do editorial illustration for magazines.
I have been teaching art courses for ten years at the University of Victoria.
How long have you been a member of CWILL?
Ten years. I’m currently serving on the Executive Board as the Membership Coordinator.
Tell us a little about yourself. What led you to writing and/or illustrating for children? Was it a lifelong passion? Something you discovered later on in life?
As a child I loved being read to from a picture book by my parents. It really felt special as we navigated a “new world” together. And I do have three siblings, so finally I got some “alone time.” I naturally was attracted to drawing and painting and any type of arts and crafts activity. Making things, learning techniques and exploring materials continues to be a passion of mine to this day. My activities were encouraged early on by my family. I also read a lot and continue to do so to this day.
As a young adult, I majored at university in visual arts. As an adult, I began to exhibit and participate in any art scene I was ensconced in. Around the age of forty, illustration appeared on my radar, and I began approaching publishers and editors about work. I am self-taught in illustration (with a few courses under my belt) and had to learn the industry along the way! It is different than visual art, which stands on its own. Illustration serves the text often and illustrating a story requires a different set of skills. I do write children’s verse but so far have only succeeded in being published as an illustrator. Maybe one day I will publish one of my stories!
Tell us about your latest publication.
My latest publication was a 2021 picture book Dessine-moi un Traineau, written by Louise-Michelle Sauriol. It is a bilingual book, in French and Inuktitut (translated by Nutaraaluk Jaaka). The story follows Émile, who strikes up a unlikely friendship with an Inuit Grandmother on a chance encounter. She teaches him about her life in the Great North. She speaks Inuktitut which Émile doesn’t understand. Luckily, she is able to draw and her tales come alive on the page. Inuktitut is striking looking! Very beautiful. Even if you don’t understand it, you will love the design of the language’s characters.
Describe a favorite or fun moment from your career. Was it from a book signing or a school visit? Was it at a conference or panel? Or finding out about a particular contract or award?
I’ve done workshops in libraries for both children and adults. The workshops for children involve making Artist Books, like flip or accordion-style formats. I love the imagination and creativity of children especially. I did a workshop in Winnipeg, which was unique. The organization was set up by the visual artist Wanda Koop and is called “Art City.” It’s an after-school program and in a rough neighbourhood. Most of the participants choose to be there and dinner is served after the workshop in which all commune, gathering in a circle on little stools and eating spaghetti from colourful plastic bowls. It was amazing to see children choose art over TV and games. These kids are quite exhausted by life experiences, and can still concentrate on their own ideas and make something out of nothing. We made Artist Books that day which were inspired by sounds and onomatopoeia using the accordion-style book format. And we had fun! They have a great staff of young up-and-coming artists, art students from the University of Manitoba that facilitate the activity.
What are you currently working on? Anything you can share with us?
I am currently painting in my studio. I have a UVIC faculty show exhibition coming up that I am part of at Legacy Gallery, 630 Yates Street, Victoria, BC. It opened on April 20th, and is from 6-8. Everyone is welcome! I plan to get back to writing my children’s stories in the summer!
What is your favorite book that you’ve created?
Do you do school or library visits? Tell us a little bit about what teachers, librarians, and kids can expect during one of your visits. Feel free to link to your website, or photos/videos of past presentations.
In the not so distant past, I have done library and museum or gallery workshops for children. Often these are studio workshops and encompass image and text as well as various formats. Inspiration may be self-directed or if the organizer desires, based on a desired educational theme. There are lots of ways to make Artist Books and I can adapt a workshop to a particular group or facility. For example, without a sink or access to water, the materials used are “dry”. Also Artist Books are ideal for adaption to content and can be made from and with any material and by any technique.
Normally, I teach young adults in a university setting-printmaking, drawing, painting, photography—I am used to Powerpoint lectures and cooperative studio spaces. I also can bring in samples as a one-hour workshop requires fast turnaround on the part of participants. I have lots of approaches to teaching and art-production in my bag of tricks.
And I have done workshops for adults that are lecture-style about illustration/publishing industry.
Tell us a fun or interesting fact about yourself.
One day, returning from Concordia in Montréal, I noticed my duvet, wrapped around my computer, sitting on the sidewalk by my neighbourhood café. The thief came out of the café, finishing up his croissant and began to haul my stuff away. I told him in broken French that it was my stuff and to return it to my apartment. People gathered around while we argued. After, a bit of convincing, he gave in and returned my stuff across the street to my waiting apartment. I gave him a five-minute start before calling the police. This story goes on . . . as it was considered to be a lovers’ quarrel by the witnesses and I couldn’t make myself understood by the police and he was the second thief, my neighbour scaring off the thief that actually broke the door down and then frightened off, had left the stuff behind. The second thief found it (is he a thief?) and needed a coffee first before planning to haul my computer away!
Recommendations: What do you Love?
I really love great literature because it’s got it all! There’s humour, drama, romance, social interaction and dialogue, beautiful use of language, violence (Victor Hugo, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens . . .). It requires all my attention, but it’s worth it.
Otherwise, I recommend going to galleries and museums either locally as well as when you travel. Private galleries are free everywhere.
If you could be one character from a children’s book, who would you choose and why?
I always loved the chutzpah of the character Pippi Longstocking, created by Astrid Lindgren. I read her as a kid but to this day, I wish I was as gutsy and independent as Pippi. A very inspiring character who must rely on creative problem-solving to survive this world as she finds it.
If you could go live in one children’s book, where would you choose and why?
Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows (with illustrations by E.H. Shepard) depicts a world where characters have their eccentricities, are accepted nonetheless, and help one another out of all sorts of mishaps. I find it wondrous that there is an imagined complex world mirroring our own with concessions made to allow it. How can a tunnel-dwelling character host visits from other characters of various sizes and species? I think I would like to visit as myself, knowing that, E.H. Shepard could manage to illustrate that! Beautiful line drawings of anthropomorphism mixed with some human folk.
What’s one piece of advice you want to share with young writers and aspiring authors or illustrators?
Go ahead and explore illustration any way you wish! It doesn’t have to be the usual suspects- drawing/painting or digital. Some illustrators use plasticine or fabric or mixed media or photomontage. The idea is to try different approaches and see how you can manifest a story visually, especially for yourself and thereby the reader.
Where can people find you online?