January 10, 2011

Children's Author-Illustrator: MONICA WELLINGTON

Monica Wellington has been writing and illustrating children's book for over 20 years. Her first book, Who Is Tapping at My Window? was published in 1988, and she has since published about 35 books here and abroad. From Crepes By Suzette to Apple Farmer Annie and Mr. Cookiebaker, Monica’s books are filled with brightly colored illustrations and fun, relatable characters for young audiences. Monica has been teaching at the School of Visual Arts in New York City for over 10 years, and classes she took there in 1986-7 helped launch her illustration career. As a child, Monica’s family lived in Europe before settling in the United States, and after studying pottery, painting and printmaking at the University of Michigan School of Art, Monica traveled widely and has now lived in NYC for about 30 years.

Monica’s diverse life experiences have inspired an array of characters and subjects for her books. She passes on insight and skills to her students at SVA and she continues to develop her creativity as she works on each new book.

How did you get your start as a children’s book writer and illustrator?
A lot of luck. I was working hard on my portfolio and some book ideas, and then I had the good fortune to meet some people in publishing when I was taking classes in Japanese and chemistry. This was at a time in my life when I was trying a lot of things in New York—the city where anything is possible!

How is this genre different from others?
A lot of people think children’s books must be easy to write because they’re short, when picture books are actually more like poetry—every word counts. A manuscript typically has 200-500 words. I agonize over every single word right up until the end, when I finally finish painting the pictures.

What do kids like best?
My guess is that children like humor, although that is not one of my strengths. So I compensate with bright colors.

How do you form insights into children’s minds?
I really don’t. I think about what I want to paint a picture of. I might want to paint a purple monster because I love purple and it’s a fun character. When my daughter was little I used to ask her questions, but now that she’s 21 I don’t have anybody to ask. So I just go with that purple monster.

Your favorite fairy tale:
Hansel and Gretel. When I was little we lived in the Black Forest in Germany. The dangers of the forest were fascinating to me. One day a black panther came out of the forest and fought with our beautiful Siamese cat. He had a slit in his ear for the rest of his life to show for his battle. And of course I loved the idea of a house of candy.

Favorite fictional character?
For children’s books it’s Babar. I’ve loved Babar the Elephant since I was a child.

Favorite character that you’ve created:
Suzette from Crepes by Suzette. This book has a lot of meaning to me because it is set in Paris, and I took many trips there with my daughter when she was little.

How do you start writing a book?
With difficulty.

Color that describes your personality:
Blue. It ranges from green-blue to purple-blue, so it’s not just a peaceful color.

What authors inspire you?
One of my favorite author-illustrators is John Burningham from Great Britain. I love how he explores the imaginative world of children versus the concrete, logical world of adults. His artwork is very loose and spontaneous—kind of the opposite of mine. Sometimes you admire opposites.

The best part of teaching your craft?
When I feel that I’m helping my students do their best work.

Indulgence that helps your creative process:

Your greatest achievement?
Raising my daughter to be a strong, healthy, and creative young woman who is pursuing her dreams and passions.

The best perk of your career?
As a freelancer, you don’t really get any perks. You don’t get that free car or an upgrade into first class. But you do get to wear the same clothes two days in a row without anyone noticing.

Your idea of happiness:
Reading a good book with my two cats laying on me at the same time and both purring.

Where do you go to think?
I seem to do good thinking when I’m swimming, when I’m bicycling, and when I’m taking walks in nature (i.e., Central Park).

Favorite bookstore in New York City:
For children’s books, Bank Street Bookstore at 112th Street and Broadway.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Monica,
    I really enjoyed reading this interview and I loved the picture of you working. My cat, Suka, does the same thing although she is often on top of the work. Also enjoyed the other posts on your new blog. Congratulations on your new book as well. All the best, Annina