Illustrator Spotlight: Amy June Bates

© Amy June Bates

May 10, 2019

Today we are pleased to feature illustrator Amy June Bates and her recent picture book, GITTEL'S JOURNEY: AN ELLIS ISLAND STORY, by Lesléa Newman (Abrams Books for Young Readers Feb. 2019). Enter to win a copy!

Tell us about yourself and how you came to illustrate for children.

I have always loved drawing and reading. I have always wanted to be an illustrator. I love narrative painting, art of all kinds and I am a sucker for a story. I always will be, I imagine. I also just love that art form of a book.

After school I found an agent and went freelance. That was 17 years ago. I have made over 60 books.

Congrats on your recent book, GITTEL'S JOURNEY: AN ELLIS ISLAND STORY. Tell us about it and what research you did for this project.

This is the second book I have illustrated for Lesléa Newman. The first was KETZEL THE CAT WHO COMPOSED.  

I love history and I love diving into a new subject and discovering ways to bring a history to life. For this book while I was doing research I fell in love with the architecture that I saw in old carved wooden windows and casements in Poland and Russia. I made a bunch of wood block prints in this style to echo the windows that Gittel would have been familiar with. I love the symbol of a window into another life being like a book.

© Amy June Bates

Probably the biggest challenge was that there was no time, country or city mentioned specifically in the text, and there are probably good reasons for that, one being that what is now Poland was then something else and wars and boundaries changed everything so it is simpler to be nonspecific. However when you are dealing with visual history, things have to happen somewhere. So in this case I made a sort of fake history for Gittel and followed that. For example I decided that she was from somewhere in what is now Poland around 1906, and that she left on a boat from Libau, and I looked at old pictures of the immigration office there. I found records of particular ships that left from Libau and went to Ellis Island and found pictures of the different decks and types of berths on that ship. Anyway I want to emphasize that I am not a historian. I do my best, but I am sure I make mistakes. I was most interested in the feel and emotion of the events rather than the exact type of light shade or wall color or whatever. 

Was your road to publication long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?

I have been illustrating for a long time, 17 years. Recently I decided to try writing. My daughter and I wrote a book together called THE BIG UMBRELLA.  That was so much fun, I want to write a lot more books. It took me a long time to get to this point, but it has been a fun ride.

What is your favored medium and illustration processs?

I usually work in watercolor and gouache. Recently I have been doing some wood block printing  and egg tempera on board. I love all mediums really. Anything that I can scribble with, sploosh on or squish together. I am allergic to oil paints. But all the others, just bring them on. I am not as keen on digital art. I just like to get my hands messy.

© Amy June Bates

What projects are you working on now?

Right now I am working on a book that I wrote about drawing and imagination and not giving up called “How to draw Pandas” which will come out next year. It is SO MUCH FUN! 

© Amy June Bates

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

Buy (my) books and draw all the time. Pay attention to what you love. Collect weird things. Make 100 mistakes. 

© Amy June Bates

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

I hate to draw dolphins

© Amy June Bates

Where can people find you online?

When Amy was a kid she loved to draw and read. She spent the time that she wasn't reading and drawing trying to keep her six brothers and sisters from drawing on her pictures and losing her place in whatever book she was reading. She loved the mountains quite a bit.
She grew up and learned to draw a lot better.

She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her three children and husband. She reads and she draws quite a bit.

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  1. What whimsical illustrations! I'm glad you're getting recognized for your wonderful work.

  2. I have been a fan of Amy's art for years! And now of her writing! I would LOVE to win this book to add to my collection of books illutsrated by Amy!

  3. I love your artwork and have seen it so many times, especially on Kate DiCamillo's book covers.

  4. I love, love, love Amy's artwork and her writing. My 2.5 year old daughter's favorite right now is "Bear in the air". My favorite is "The Big Umbrella."

  5. You do beautiful work, Amy. I loooove Gittel's Journey! Absolutely gorgeous art and lovely story.

  6. I love all of Amy's illustrations and I'm looking forward to reading The Big Umbrella."

  7. So beautiful! Now I want to track down everything she's illustrated.

  8. This is a heartwarming story with beautiful illustrations.

    Suzy Leopold

  9. I love Amy's illustrations! Can't wait to read Gittel's Journey!

  10. This style of illustration reminds me of the books that I enjoyed as a child.


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