Betsy Lewin attributes her passion for children's books to her mother, a kindergarten teacher, who read to Lewin and her brother every night. She is the Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator, along with author Doreen Cronin, of "Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type" and its sequels "Giggle, Giggle, Quack," "Duck for President," "Click Clack Quackity-Quack," "Click, Clack, Splish, Splash" and the latest, “Click, Clack, Surprise!” (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy). She lives in New York.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2008 National Book Festival
What sparked your imagination for your newest book – Thump, Quack, Moo: A Wacky Adventure?
Doreen's stories never fail to spark my imagination. I love animals, and Doreen gives them wonderful voices. I love adding gesture and expression to those voices.
You have worked with Doreen Cronin on several of your books. Can you tell us how you go about collaborating with an author?
There are as many ways to collaborate, as there are collaborators. In our case, I'm given Doreen's story to read, and then I make rough sketches, which I show, to our editor who in turn shows Doreen. We're all good friends, so we can discuss any questions or problems that come up and agree on the best solutions. For instance, I might feel that a particular situation in a story isn't quite clear to me, making it difficult to visualize. We discuss it, and some revisions may be made. Or it may be decided that Duck's expression isn't quite right, needing to be tweaked here and there. We all have one thing in mind, making the book the very best it can be.
What challenges do you face in your illustrating process? How do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge for me as an illustrator is getting started - facing that first blank page. I know it takes time to get the creative juices flowing, and that I must be patient, but relentless in the effort. But the whole process of illustrating a book is full of challenges. What's the best composition for this page? What's the most important action on that page? What's the best expression to convey this character's emotion? And so on.
What artists have inspired you?
Ernest Shepard, the illustrator of Winnie The Pooh, was the first artist to influence my work. Beatrix Potter, Garth Williams, James Stevenson and Quentin Blake all inspire me. I'm also inspired by the preliminary sketches of old masters like Rembrandt and Tiepolo. They're so immediate and full of life. It's as though I were standing behind them as they worked. You can see the artist's hand in those quick impressions. I keep discovering new artists that inspire me, so the list is very long.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start illustrating?
Draw for yourself, in your own way, from the heart. It's great to call on the work of other artists who inspire you, but don't copy. The world doesn't need two Rembrandts. Be diligent. Don't be easily discouraged. Everyone suffers rejection once in a while. Know what field of illustration you're interested in and gear your portfolio to that. For instance, don't mix commercial advertisements with picture book pieces. You'll only confuse the editor/art director, as they won't know where your true interest lies. Successful illustrators have what I call "fire in the belly" that fuels their artistic nature and will not allow them to quit.
Can you suggest a fun drawing exercise to get them started?
Try contour drawing. This is done by looking only at your subject, never glancing down at your paper, and drawing what you see in a continuous line, never lifting the pencil from the paper. You are "feeling" your subject onto the paper. It will most likely be disappointing at first, but it will force you to stay loose and not be intimidated by the subject. It will build confidence and eventually, you'll be happy with the results.
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
This is always a tough question. Winnie The Pooh, Wind In The Willows, The Little Engine That Could, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Dr. DeSoto, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Charlotte's Web, Tales of Uncle Remus, Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, The Story of Ferdinand, Tarzan of the Apes, Call of the Wild. That's only some of them.
If you were not illustrating books, what do you think you would be doing?
I can't imagine.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Teach by example. Let your children see you reading. Make sure they have plenty of books to choose from. Tell them to stop reading a book if it bores them, and to pick up another. Sooner or later they will find one that they can't put down.