Illustrator Spotlight: Andrea Skyberg



We welcome Andrea Skyberg, author and illustrator of several children's books. Her illustration process is fascinating, based on collaboration with school children and giant sculptures.

Tell us about how you came to be a children's illustrator.

When I was seventeen I wrote a children's picture book called SNICKEYFRITZ in one of my high school classes that was based on a word my Grampa used when I was a kid. I knew one day I'd publish it. 

Then I left for college in Baltimore and studied Fiber art, creating a lot of costume and wearable pieces. After graduating from the Maryland Institute, College of Art, I traveled to Nigeria under a Fulbright grant and spent a year working with NGOs to educate people about the harmful practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). 

When I returned to the states I went to graduate school and pursued a focus in Museum Studies. I was the manager and curator of an art gallery for a number of years before having my first daughter. 


Spread from SQUIRCLE, appliquéd fabric mural

After she was born I weighed the cost of working full-time and paying for childcare, or taking some time off and pursuing my passion of writing and creating picture books while raising my young daughter. I figured I'd give myself four years, until Evey started school, to make it work. My plan was to use my curatorial and visual arts background mixed with my creative writing to create children’s picture books that blended fine art with poetic storytelling. 

My first book SNICKEYFRITZ (the one I had written when I was seventeen) resurfaced, and after making a lot of revisions to the original - basically rewriting it, I started creating the artwork and the book was published in 2009.

I spent the next two years touring around the Midwest, visiting over fifty schools for author visits and art workshops. My experiences within schools became broader and soon I was conducting large-scaled artist in residencies in a number of schools. 

When it came time to create the artwork for my second book SQUIRCLE, I decided to collaborate with students to create the artwork for the book. During this time I gave birth to my second daughter, which bought me four more years of trying to pursue my dreams before she went to school :) 

SQUIRCLE photo shoot
Over the last two years, I've continued this unique book-making process, in which I enlist students from local schools to help me create the artwork for my books. It helps me fulfill a desire to collaborate and build community with art and books, and inspire young people to live a creative and self-expressive life. 

It also brings in an income and keeps my schedule pretty flexible while raising young kids. I have an amazing husband who helps make all the books come to life. He handles all of the photography, editing, and layouts. He's also an author and artist of a mid-grade novel, THE EYES OF INDIA

I've taken a windy road to get to the place I currently am, but I've sure loved the ride.

You work in very large sizes. How did this come about, and what are your materials of choice to work with?

Throughout undergrad and graduate school, much of my work was wearable sculpture, so I'm used to working to human-scale. When I decided that I was going to work with students to create the artwork, I knew it would have to be large enough to allow for a number of people to contribute her/his work to the final piece. 




This method worked out well, because the schools keep the finished artwork after the project's been done and it's been photographed for the book. The larger pieces help beautify the school and remind the students about their contributions to the project and book. 

I love experimenting with mediums and I like to jump around with each new book. I try to figure out the best medium to tell the story in, as well as what the scenes and characters should look like. For instance, my first book SNICKEYFRITZ is a book that uses old-timey language and has a strong connection to my grampa, who carved a lot of wood figures. I wanted to make something that looked liked carved wood dolls, so I used masking tape to create the giant size dolls, which were then photographed in scenes around my home.


Andrea's family with the SNICKEYFRITZ family, made from masking tape

They are meant to look like folk art or outsider art, so they do exist on the fringe of mainstream. My second book SQUIRCLE, which is about interconnectedness, uses the symbol of a spool of red thread throughout the book. I decided that the best way to tell the story would be with appliqué fabric murals. 


Spread from SQUIRCLE, free motion embroidery with inlaid appliqué 

For that project I also got to teach kids how to hand-sew, which was really fun. They created embroidered and appliqué pieces that I assembled together to become 5' x 8' fabric murals, which were the illustrations for the book. 

COMMUNITREE was created in collage because the students who participated were from two schools that were merging into one new school, and collage seemed fitting for the book and experience. 
Spread from COMMUNITREE, created by 1st graders



My newest book SHIMMERLING is about a magical creature that is part bird, part tree. It has beautiful sparkling feathers and I thought that metal tooling would be the best way to make the Shimmerling come to life. Students created original engraved designs in metal feathers, which I then assembled into a five foot sculpture who is the main character in the book.



I watched your video about making SHIMMERLING. How long have you involved kids in your art process? What has been the most interesting or surprising part of the process for you? What do the kids think about the finished products?

I've involved students in 3 of my 4 books and it definitely takes patience, because before I can even begin working on the finished images for the book, I spend about 2-4 months teaching and guiding students in art creation to complete an aspect of the larger piece. 

Because I develop my own residencies and have amazing non-profits, like Arts@Large, who help fund my projects, I'm able to incorporate much more into the making of the art, such as writing, yoga, meditation, and music. 

For example, when I worked with students on SHIMMERLING -- which is a story about a magical creature who has characteristics of both a bird and a tree and struggles with self acceptance when it doesn't know what group it should belong to -- I had students explore how they felt when they were left out, or didn't belong. They wrote about their emotions and worked at coming to an understanding of why they felt the way they did. The goal of the exercise was for them to heal themselves through writing and to come a bit closer to accepting themselves. 


We also did a number of guided meditation exercises, which the kids really enjoyed. I could see all the tension from the day leave their body as I guided them through the meditation. By the time we were ready to work, they were relaxed and feeling brave enough to express themselves in front of their peers. That's really the best part for me -- watching them come alive through their self-expressions.

I have some videos of the making of these books:

The making of Squircle:

Who or what inspires you?

So much inspires me! My husband is the kindest and most patient person I know. He inspires me to be a better person every moment I'm around him. 

I love folk art and visionary artists, such as Emery Blagdon, Calvin and Ruby Black, Della Wells, Mary Nohl, and Dr. Charles Smith. SHIMMERLING was inspired by the artwork of Chicago artist, Nick Cave, and by Mexican tin art, and Milagros.

 I love African Art, especially from the Yoruba and Ndbele. I'm always inspired when I travel somewhere where I'm immersed in a language and culture I don't quite understand.  

Books inspire me (of course) and I just finished reading MISSING MAY by Cynthia Rylant, THE WONDER OF CHARLIE ANN by Kimberly Newton Fusco, and I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST ME by Brene Brown. I listen to a lot of audio books while I create my artwork.

What advice do you have for aspiring artists or illustrators?

Take risks. Really, take lots and lots of risks. Don't feel compelled to do it the way it's always been done before. 

You're a unique spirit and you were put on this earth to navigate it with a very authentic direction and perception. 

Try to stay true to that as much as you can. Take the time to listen to your inner voice and experiment with lots of art forms. 

Be vulnerable -- it's probably going to hurt at times, but it's the only way to get to the good stuff. 

Create from your moral compass. 

Bring the world art that it needs, not just the art that it wants. 

Your work will find its audience when it's ready. Just keep making it, and the rest will come.

Where can we find you online?

http://andreaskyberg.com and @andreaskyberg on Twitter. I'm new to Twitter, but I'm liking it so far!


Andrea Skyberg is an award-winning author-illustrator of the following titles published by Wooden Nickel Press; CommuniTree (2013), Squircle (2013), and Snickeyfritz (2009). Her books have been honored with the Mom's Choice Award Gold & Silver medals, a Moonbeam Award, and a Next Generation Indie Book Finalist Award. Andrea and her husband Michael Greer own Wooden Nickel Press, an independent publisher that specializes in books with high artistic creation blended with engaging stories. Many of the books published by WNP were created through collaborative projects, which has an artist or writer working with schools and other public organizations to develop a portion of the writing or the artwork for the book. The artwork for Andrea's newest book Shimmerling is part of a co-art exhibition with the work of renowned author and artist Faith Ringgold at the Gallery@Large in Milwaukee, WI. Andrea is a member of SCBWI and an active participant in the writing and illustrating community. Her books are available in bookstores and libraries, at Amazon.com and at Barnes and Noble.com. You can also find her books through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Quality Books, and Follett. 



11 comments:

  1. What an inspiration you are, Andrea, both for students and author/illustrators. I love how you orchestrated the complete project into a large-scale collaboration with fascinating results. Collage and mixed media are my go-tos and you employ them with delightful results.

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  2. That is such an ingenious idea to involve school kids in the creation of your art, Andrea! It makes a book that much more special to a lot of people and empowers kids in a unique way. Thanks for sharing how you work and what went behind the scenes on the final products!

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  3. What a great interview! Thank you, Sylvia and Andrea for a fantastic interview!

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  4. Wow wow WOW! What an incredible idea. LOVE this - so very special!

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  5. I love the entire process you go through with the school kids to achieve such great art and something lasting for the schools and students.

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  6. Amazing and inspiring! What a wonderful way to involve students! Fabulous books.

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  7. Thank you so much, everyone! I'm happy I had the chance to share what I do. I feel like I've been working away in my own little bubble for the last few years, and this year I discovered a very supportive and rich children's book writing/illustrating community through SCBWI, 12x12, PiBoldMo, and of course Kidlit411. It's so nice to have peers to share with :)

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  8. So wonderful to get an insight in your background and process. I love how you work collaboratively with children. Though I do wonder how you fit all of that in while having little ones at home :-) Thanks for an interesting interview, Sylvia.

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  10. I'm totally in awe by the story of your stories and totally envious of the kids who now have their own stories to tell. Their lives have been forever changed. Thanks for this wonderful interview. Cindy Engler

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