Blog Tour! Make way for Elizabeth Dulemba, author of Soap! Soap! Soap! Jabon! Jabon! Jabon! Elizabeth’s actually the author and illustrator of a lot of books; you can find out more about her here on her Website. She’s also a good friend, and when I saw her demonstrate her pastels technique to a rapt audience of kids at this year’s Decatur Book Festival, I wished even more that I could draw.
E’s touring the Interwebs – and the real world – with her new book, and she’s pulled up a virtual chair here at Swimming in the Trees.
Before we start, I’ve got to say that “Soap, Soap, Soap” has made it into my own adult life. Just last week, M. and I packed everything we’d need for the beach, and when we got there, we realized we had forgotten one thing. Soap! So we went to the tiny IGA in the undisclosed beach town and asked for – you guessed it – “Soap, Soap, Soap!” The clerk was unfazed, but I enjoyed it.
So, heeeeere’s E!
J: Where did you get the idea for “Jabon, Jabon, Jabon?”
E: Paco and the Giant Chile Plant (my first book, as illustrator, with Raven Tree Press) was doing well and my publisher wanted something else. Since Paco is an adaptation of “Jack and the Beanstalk” it seemed only natural that the next story should be a Jack tale too. Luckily, I happen to be a big fan of those. I read through my anthologies and books on folklore, and while most would now be called politically incorrect and inappropriate for today’s audiences, I saw something in SOAP that I thought could be adapted well. So I tackled it and presented it to my publishers and they loved it.
J:. Why bilingual, and why Spanish in particular?
E: I adore languages and was an exchange student in Paris in college. But here in Georgia, Spanish is the other main language and I’ve always wanted to learn it. Raven Tree Press specializes in bilingual picture books, so when they approached me to illustrate Paco I saw it as a wonderful excuse to finally learn Spanish. I took two intense years of lessons at the Latin American Association.
J:. You’ve got a recurring character in all your books – Bernie. The idea of
recurring visual image is a common touchstone with artists – when did you
start doing this and will we see him in everything you do?
E: Yup – Chris Van Allsburg hides his pitbull, Fritz, in his books too. It’s a long-standing tradition.
All my fuzzies have made appearances in my book dummies. Bernie [has] become a bit of a good-luck dog. So, I’ve been able to hide him in almost all my work (sometimes as a toy or label). I’ll keep including him as long as I can! (Although I imagine I’ll have to get more creative about hiding him as time goes by.)
J: Who are some of your artistic influences?
E: Well, Chris Van Allsburg is one, and Thomas Hart Benton, Arthur Rackham, Diego Rivera and many others. I’m finding inspiration in some new voices too, like Alison Jay, Brandon Dorman, Mike Wohnoutka, John Rocco, and Richard Johnson. There’s so much talent out there, it’s like candy.
J: What do you suggest kids do – or parents – who are learning a new
language and don’t have the opportunity to use it every day?
E:There are many ways to bring another language into your life if you’re wiling to bend some habits. For instance, listen to Spanish (or other language) radio stations, and watch other language news and tv programs. Sprinkle other languages into your daily usage and try to talk to speakers of other languages whenever possible, even if all you can say is ‘hi’. (And if you don’t know – ask them how to say ‘hi’ or ‘thank you’ in their language.) It’s fun, and people tend to appreciate the effort immensely. It’s nice when somebody steps out and tries to blend back a little.
J: People say “I can’t draw a straight line but I’d love to draw” – what do
you say to them?
E: “Everybody gets something.” And I truly believe it. But I think many people go a lifetime without ever figuring out what that ‘something’ is. It’s important that people try to figure out their passion/talent in life. It gives us meaning.
J: You learned Spanish to write this book; what was that experience like? Do
you plan to learn another language, too?
E: I hope so! Truly, I am fascinated by the ways people communicate with each other. Taking Spanish lessons at the Latin American Association in Atlanta was a real eye-opener for me. I must admit I walked in naively thinking ‘I’ll take lessons, no biggie.’ Well, it changed my life. The people there (Spanish speakers from ALL OVER the world) were so warm and friendly. I felt more like I was being adopted into a new culture. But I also learned so much about our world – the different attitudes people have towards different countries, how wealthy we are in America (even those of us who don’t think we are), the vast differences in accents, and the fear that immigrants face when moving to America. Their expectations are so normal, and so humble, that it seems ludicrous to not share what we can.
J: What is your favorite media to work in, and why?
E: After years of experimenting, I am happy to claim that I am a digital artist. In graphic design, everything was ‘get it done yesterday.’ So I worked with quick media like markers and colored pencils. I never really learned how to mix colors or paint. Ironically, in my digital programs (Photoshop and Painter) I often use the oil brush settings. And having the entire color spectrum to choose from is completely liberating. I adore it.
J: What’s on the horizon for you?
E: Good things I hope! I’m currently illustrating “The 12 Days of Christmas in Georgia” for Sterling (Holiday 2010) and have a picture book dummy with my agent. I’m writing a new young adult novel, working with developers on a possible iPhone picture book app, and am in the middle of celebrating the release of SOAP, SOAP, SOAP. I’m speaking at four book festivals this Fall and other events. I’m also Illustrator Coordinator for the southern region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (am busy putting together our Portfolio Workshop on October 3rd) and am on the Board for the Georgia Center for the Book. In other words, I have my fingers in lots of pots, but it makes for an exciting career!
J: Y uno mas… ¿qué usted quiere decirnos? (What do you want to tell us?)
E: To go read Jessica’s book, Invisible Sisters! LOL! (I loved it – truly.)
Something interesting has been happening with SOAP. I knew the bilingual aspect, the touch on bullying, and light graphic novel format (a good segue for reluctant readers) would be draws for the book. What I hadn’t counted on was the whole concept of getting muddy and getting clean. Especially during this season of Swine Flu, teachers are starting to use SOAP as a launch to talk about hygiene with their students. In fact, SOAP has been picked up by the Alliance Theatre’s Teaching Artists to use in one of their main programs this year. It’s ironic, since I was just trying to tell a good story.
Also, I give away free coloring pages on my website. I do a new one each week for parents, librarians, booksellers and teachers to enjoy with their kids and it has grown quite popular. People can even sign up to have it delivered to their email in-box each week. I love seeing the registrations. My coloring pages are being used by libraries, schools, childrens’ hospitals, even nursing homes. It does a heart good!