I am thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Monica Wellington today.
Monica was born in London and raised in Germany and Switzerland until she moved to the United States at age seven. As a child she loved to draw and paint, but it wasn’t until she attended college that she realized she wanted to be an artist. She earned a BFA at the University of Michigan’s School of Art, where she studied pottery, painting, and printmaking. After art school, while traveling through and living in France, Spain and Italy, she had various art-related jobs that prepared her well for writing and illustrating children’s books.
Monica has illustrated over 40 books (and written most of them)! Her most recent book, Colors for Zena (Dial Books for Young Readers), is hitting bookstores this month. Since 1994, she has taught illustration at the School of Visual Arts. She lives in New York with her daughter, a dancer with the New York City Ballet, and her two cats, Lola and Zoe.
Monica, many thanks for taking the time to do this interview.
Let’s start at the beginning. When did you realize that you could illustrate and write books for a living? And how did your first book come about?
I worked as a potter for a few years after art school. It was not all I had dreamed of and I started looking for a different creative outlet.
I took a very inspirational children’s book class at SVA with Bruce Degen–illustrator of the Magic School Bus books. We worked on building a portfolio and making a book dummy. After his class I went straight out and showed my work to publishers. One of my portfolio pieces was an illustration assignment from class, to a poem Who is Tapping at My Window? by A. G. Deming. This became my first book in 1988. I was very naïve in the beginning and thought I could make my living from doing books right away–it took awhile!
Are there any illustrators and/or picture book writers who have influenced your work?
There are many British writers and illustrators I admire: a favorite writer and illustrator is John Burningham. Matisse is my favorite painter of all time.
Can you give us some insights into your creative process? How do you develop a book from beginning to end? Do you work in Photoshop?
I usually start a book visually, with an idea of pictures I want to paint. I begin making sketches before I even write any words. Both the pictures and words go through many revisions, and I am often still working on the final words after I finish the final full-color pictures. I don’t use the computer at all for my art work. I sketch on paper, I paint on paper and when I do collage, I use scissors and glue.
Can you also give us the scoop on some of your current projects? Do you ever collaborate with other authors?
Most often I write the words for my books but sometimes I have illustrated books written by other people. I always have a project going. Right now I am in the sketching stage for a new picture book about leaves in the fall. I don’t want to jinx it so I won’t say more!
I am also working on making one of my out-of-print books Crêpes by Suzette into an app. I’m not doing the technical end of it but I am providing a lot of additional material to go with the book: I went to Paris and collected sights, sounds, voices and music. I’ve become a sound editor! There will be narrations in English and French, plus four additional languages, and lots more. I’m excited about bringing this book back to life in this new digital form.
I so love your illustrations, and especially your use of vibrant colors. Can you tell us how Colors for Zena came about?
In the book, Zena’s world starts out black and white and then she discovers how the three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) mix together to make many more colors.
The idea for this book came from some color games my daughter and I used to play when she was little. For example, walking down the street, we would pick out everything that we saw that was red, and then yellow, and so on. We would notice how there were many shades of each color. Was that blue or was that purple, we would ask? At home we always had many different art materials and my daughter loved mixing and discovering for herself how colors worked. I think the book started there.
Being a foodie and having lived in Paris and Normandy as a child, I love that you wrote Crêpes by Suzette. What was the inspiration?
I love France of course! After high school I was an au pair for a family near Paris, and I have traveled there often. All while I worked on the book (about 1 ½ years) I imagined I was in Paris! Actually, I really would love to live there again for awhile!
How can your fans get a hold of you if they would like you to do a school visit?
Come to my website http://monicawellington.com/ and contact info is there.
And where can they buy your books?
At a local bookstore or online. And at the library you can usually find many of my books, both current and out-of-print.
One last question. Do you have any advice for up and coming illustrators and writers?
Immerse yourself in the field in every way you can. It is tough breaking in, so it is important you enjoy the process. But if you have talent, work hard and are persistent, and have some good luck come your way, it will all come together!
Monica, thanks so much for doing this interview. All the best and much success with your books.
p.s. Colors for Zena is already available for purchase online at:
p.p.s. You can catch Monica at BookCourt (one of my favorite bookstores!) in Brooklyn on August 3rd at 11:00 a.m.