It's the first of the month so we have a new banner and Illustrator Spotlight on Cheryl Pilgrim and her new middle grade, THE LITTLE VOYAGEUR by Margi Preus (Margaret Ferguson Books 2020)! Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about your background and how you came to illustrate for children.
I’ve been drawing and painting as long as I can remember, but my degree is in Elementary Education with an art certification. I taught 20 years in the public schools. I’ve always loved creating stories and pictures, so as I was nearing my 50’s, I decided to take the plunge and try my hand at getting published. TCU Press took a chance on me, and I illustrated my first picture book, HOUND DAWG, written by Patricia Vermillion.
After that, I was able to get my amazing agent, Essie White, and she sold my next picture book, BIG AND LITTLE: A STORY OF OPPOSITES, to Holiday House. I also illustrated THE LITTLES VOYAGEUR, a middle grade book by Margi Preus, published by Holiday House which just came out this past spring.
Congrats on your design for the Kidlit411 banner. Tell us how you approached the project.
I wanted to show a bird’s-eye view of children with their haul of books from the library. I imagined this is how the Kidlit 411 birds on a wire would view the scene.
Congrats on your recent book, The Littlest Voyageur. Tell us about the story & how you approached the assignment.
Newberry honor winner, Margi Preus wrote The Littlest Voyageur, and I fell in love with the characters the first time I read it. The book is based on a group of voyageurs traveling from Montreal to Grand Portage in 1792. The story begins when a curious squirrel, Jean Pierre Petit Le Rouge, sneaks on their canoe and joins in an adventure loaded with humor and drama.
Since the illustrations needed to be accurate to depict events from late 18th Century Canadian history, the first step was research. I’m a Texas native, so I had quite a bit to learn. I read lots of articles and stories and collected pictures of period clothing, birchbark canoes, landscapes, voyageurs, squirrels, and more.
When books and the internet didn’t have the references I needed, I had to get creative and reach out to an expert. Stephen Veit with the Grand Portage National Monument was a great resource and took pictures of a model of Grand Portage I couldn’t find anywhere else. He explained for this time, the dock would have been shorter than what is shown in the model.
The interiors for The Littlest Voyageur are pencil drawings. The cover is an acrylic painting. You can find out more of my process and hear me read a chapter of the book at this video:
You have a lovely and distinctive style. Who or what are your influences?
I have always been a fan of Norman Rockwell and how he tells stories through his illustrations. I saw an art exhibit last year and was so impressed with his meticulous use ofreferences and his keen eye for detail. I’m also a fan of John Singer Sargent, N. C. Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Sorolla, Remington, and Russell. As far as illustrators, I’m mostinfluenced by Brian Floca, David Wiesner, E. B. Lewis, and Chris Van Allsburg just to name a few.
I start with rough thumbnail drawings. Then using references, I draw larger, tighter sketchesof the compositions I think work best. Developing the initial drawing is the hardest part forme. Here are some examples of the different compositions for the cover ofThe LittlestVoyageur. We decided to go with illustration #5, but in the final, I adjusted the squirrel to facethe viewer.
IfI’m doing the final art in pencil, I scan my initial drawing and print it lightly on smoothBristol paper. I draw directly on top of the print. This way I don’t have to start the drawingfrom scratch again, and I don’t lose the fresh feel of the original.
For a painting, I transfer the image by rubbing a light layer of graphite on the back of thedrawing then trace it onto smooth multimedia board. I use acrylics, watercolors, and inks.Sometimes I add an oil glaze or tweak it in Photoshop to darken, lighten, or brighten an area.
I enjoy working at home alone, so not much has changed for me work-wise during Covid. Since my kids are grown, I’m not dealing with online learning.I’m working on a couple of personal picture book dummy projects. I’m also developingteaching materials and lessons for teacherspayteachers.com. This is a great educationresource. Teaching is such a time-consuming, exhausting occupation, there’s no need toreinvent the wheel if someone has already developed the lessons.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I love to hike. I just recently returned from Colorado and completed my second “fourteen-er.”
Cheryl Pilgrim is an author/illustrator and former public school teacher living in the Houston area with her husband and a menagerie of rescue cats and dogs. She works mainly in acrylics, pencil and some digital. Cheryl has always loved drawing, painting, and writing, but didn’t become serious about the kidlit world until she was approaching 50 and her two children were nearly grown. In addition to illustrating The Littlest Voyageur by Newberry Honor winner Margi Preus (Holiday House, March 2020), she also illustrated Hound Dawg by Patricia Vermillion (TCU Press), and wrote and illustrated Big and Little: A Story of Opposites (Holiday House, 2019).