Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Interview with Author/Illustrator Carin Berger

Have you ever seen a book cover and fallen in love with it? That's what happened the first time I looked at Carin Berger's picture book, OK GO. The bright, whimsical characters made me want to pore through the book and see what it was about. I wasn't disappointed.

Carin is an award winning illustrator, author, and designer. Her latest book, OK GO, was published by Greenwillow Books this spring. It is a beautiful book about going green, full of wonderful images made with recycled materials and inspiration for kids (and their grown-ups) to do their part to help take care of the environment. Carin has stopped by today to talk about her writing and her beautiful collage illustration style, and I am so happy to have her!

Which comes first for you, the story or the art?

The story or at least the idea for the story almost always comes first.

I love your quirky collage illustration style. How did you develop it?

When I first started playing around with illustrations for a set of poems that I had written [what was to become Not so True Stories and Unreasonable Rhymes], I thought that I would make paintings. But then a friend, who knew I had a passion for ephemera, gave me a box from an old barn that was brimming with a half century’s worth of old papers. It was an absolute treasure trove calling out to be used and it set me on the path to collage.

How does your process of collage work?

I start by making thumbnail sketches and then tiny dummies of the book. Once everything is working I do very tight full size final line drawings which look very different than the final collages. I then make each section of the collage and put it together almost like a puzzle. I might cut five different cars out before I have the one in the color and gradation that I’m happy with. The materials that I use are very pedestrian. In addition to the ephemera [which might be something old but could also be the receipt from the dry cleaner with great printed numbers on it], I use old magazines and catalogs. [Clothing catalogs are a great source for buttons!] I also use plain white glue and scissors and my trusty x-acto knife. Sometimes I add a bit of paint to the background.

Are there any artists whose work inspires you?

Oh yes! There are so many it’s hard to know where to start. I look at absolutely everything for inspiration. Paintings, textiles, furniture design, architecture, folk art, photography, old scientific inventions…

I love the work of Hilary Knight, Charley Harper, Bill Peet, Jonny Hannah, Calef Brown, Lane Smith, Sara Fanelli, Maurice Sendak, Mary Blair, Takei Takeo, and Helene Guertik, to name a few favorites.

About how long does the process of writing and illustrating a book take you?

It varies. Ideally I like to have 5-6 months for a project.

You illustrated BEHOLD THE BOLD UMBRELLAPHANT by Jack Prelutsky. Can you give us some insight on how illustrators are paired with manuscripts?

That’s a bit of a mystery to me. The art director at a publishing company is responsible for making those decisions.

When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator? What drew you to children’s books?

I’ve always been smitten with children’s books. I love how the words and pictures work in tandem to tell a story. I made my first picture book for my cousin when I was 10. And I started collecting them back then as well.

Have you had any artistic training? Any training for writing?

I studied graphic design and illustration at college, and I have worked as a designer in London, New York City and San Francisco. For the last decade or so I have designed book jackets, which I still enjoy doing along with making picture books. Writing is something that I have always done for my own amusement.

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

I think it’s important to do what you love, and to allow yourself to experiment and to find your own “voice”.

Your first picture book, NOT SO TRUE STORIES AND UNREASONABLE RHYMES, was published by Chronicle Books in 2004. How did you break in to the market?

I was tremendously lucky. I had a set of poems that I wrote and illustrations that I made to go with them, but I didn’t really know what to do next. A writer friend suggested that I send them to an agent that he knew. She generously took the project on, and, miraculously, managed to sell it. That became my first book, Not so True Stories and Unreasonable Rhymes, Chronicle Books, 2004. It was a very fluid process, and, I now realize, atypical and extremely fortunate.

What inspired you to write your latest book, OK GO?

Remember “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” from the 70s? I do. That early message to be responsible for the environment somehow resonated deeply for me. I think that kids have a very strong moral compass and an intuitive connection to nature. It’s great to reinforce that. Plant the environmental message early!

What are you hoping readers will get out of the story?

First, fun.

Second, the opportunity to start a discussion about taking care of the planet, and, hopefully, some passionate young green advocates!

What are you doing to support the publication of your book? Where can we find you?

I find visiting schools and doing readings very rewarding.

Also, I have a website: www.carinberger.com

and a fan page on facebook: Carin Berger

and I’ve met all sorts of interesting people on twitter: http://twitter.com/CarinBerger

What’s next for you?

I do have a new picture book coming out early in the new year that I am excited about. It’s called Forever Friends and it’s about enduring friendship. It’s kind of a companion book to The Little Yellow Leaf. [Hint: look at the front and back covers of The Little Yellow Leaf and you will find the two friends in Forever Friends!]

That's exciting news, Carin. You have a definite Little Yellow Leaf fan here at my house. My little guy loves tracing the path of the yellow leaf and his friend as they dance through the sky. We'll be waiting for Forever Friends.

Want to know what else Carin is up to? Stop by her blog: carinberger.blogspot.com


  1. Wow, it's great to learn about the woman behind those inventive and wonderful illustrations. I love the illustrations in Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and will have to check out Caren's other books now. Great interview, Heather.

  2. I just found another great interview with Carin if you want to know more about her illustration techniques: http://ephemera.typepad.com/ephemera/2009/07/graphic-designer-carin-berger-interview.html