“Books can be great entertainment, but also so much more. You can learn so many new things and see the world as it once was or as it might be in the future, as well as gain many different perspectives by seeing through the eyes of a book’s characters.”
Meeting Phyllis at an SCBWI Illustrators’ Night in Dallas was a treat. Her artwork drew me to her. I was enthralled with the cozy worlds she creates in each picture. She kindly sent us copies of the Princess Madison Trilogy. They are among our top favorite children’s books, primarily because her quote above is fleshed out in the characters of Madison, Evangeline and their father, the King. We’ve gained a great deal of perspective from these characters. I’m so excited for you to meet Phyllis Hornung:
Kidsbook Friends Exclusive Illustrator Interview Questions:
What experiences, people, and/or books were influential in your life, leading you to illustrate children’s books?
Well, like most artists, I’ve been drawing since I was a child. I was a fairly decent artist during my childhood years, but didn’t take it very seriously until high school when I started thinking about college and a future career. At that time, I loved fantasy art (I still do!) – book cover art by Michael Whelan, Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee, and a number of other fantasy artists. I was also very influenced by the Disney animated movies that were coming out back then – Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, etc. and considered pursuing animation at the time.
I ended up attending art school where I initially started as an advertising design major, later switching my major to illustration. I met my husband (who was also an illustration major) there and he taught me a method of acrylic painting that became my primary technique. My interests and style just naturally gravitated toward work oriented toward children. Some of my favorite artists from that time were Trina Schart Hyman, Mary GrandPre, and husband-wife team Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.
When did you begin illustrating children’s books?
I illustrated my first book in 2001, a couple years after I graduated from art school, but I had done various illustration work prior to that.
What was the first book you illustrated and with which publishing agency?
The first book I illustrated was a short, sixteen page book geared toward the educational market called The New House for Mondo Publishing. It was about animals who, under the direction of a rather distracted lion, build a very shoddy house.
How many books have you illustrated that are published?
Which of your books is your favorite and why?
I think I’m still partial to The New House, probably, in part, because it was my first book and also because I particularly enjoy painting animals. I think it turned out reasonably well considering my inexperience at the time.
Where do you draw inspiration for your characters in your books?
Inspiration for my character designs comes from many different sources. In one of my books I based the mom and dad characters on my parents when they were in their thirties. Two of my books were set in ancient Greece, so I researched Greek art and clothing from that time period. Some of those characters were strongly influenced by the illustrations found on ancient pottery.
Where do you get your ideas for your artwork?
My ideas come from almost anywhere, though I would say I draw a lot of inspiration from nature and other contemporary illustrators’ work.
How long did it take you to illustrate your first book?
I think my first book took about ten weeks to illustrate. I had a day-job at the time and painted into the wee hours of the morning in order to make my deadline. That was a pretty short project. Usually a full-length 32 page picture book takes a bare minimum of six very full-time months if I’m using acrylics.
What advice can you share with children reading your books?
Books can be great entertainment, but also so much more. You can learn so many new things and see the world as it once was or as it might be in the future, as well as gain many different perspectives by seeing through the eyes of a book’s characters.
What advice can you give to those of us who are working to write and publish children’s books?
Keep reading, writing, and illustrating. Do your homework and learn about the industry. Join the SCBWI – it is a tremendous resource. Patience is a virtue – be prepared to work on improving your skills while waiting for that first project (or second or third project for that matter.) Also, be prepared to take criticism and don’t take it personally.
What are three hobbies/interests you have besides art?
Hiking, reading, and the occasional video game.
Please leave us with a quote.
I first heard this from illustrator Tasha Tudor, who was quoting Henry David Thoreau: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
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