Life-Lessons from an Illustrator

On the morning of October 15th, author and illustrator Carolyn Fisher visited our class, sharing her journey and her experiences as an illustrator of 18 years. But let’s back up a minute… How did an illustrator of 6 beautiful books happen to walk through the door of the MAC class? It’s all thanks to Cindy Jensen-Elliott who arranged this meeting with the illustrator of her story Weeds Find a Way. It’s interesting to note that though Mrs. Elliott’s and Mrs. Fisher’s works are published together in a lovely book, they’d never met until now.

The class was spell-bound as Mrs. Fisher presented her journey as an illustrator. With the help of one of the students, she reenacted what it’s like to submit work to publishers and get rejected (time after time after time). The drawings whose journeys do end in publication have been through countless iterations and tracing paper. Simple sketches in a notebook evolve and change and improve with tracing paper and what Mrs. Fisher calls “draft drawing.” We’d love to try our hand at her version of drafts; using multiple colors to layer the drafts on top of each other rather than erasing. “I make a lot of mistakes,” and it’s OK to make a mistake,” Ms. Fisher shared encouragingly. “My brain is a very messy place,” she went on. “Tracing paper helps me to ‘lift’ the good parts and keep drawing.” It took over two years of iterations (and requests from the publisher) to finalize the iterations for Weeds Find a Way! Good thing Ms. Fisher thinks drawing is really fun!

Thanks to great questions asked by the kids, we found out that Ms. Fisher uses mixed media to create her illustrations for books like Snow Show and Weeds Find a Way. Her sketchbook is an amazing place filled with nature, street corners, portraits, stressed out robots, and even ripped up paper glued on the page without looking like anything in particular.

To share her colorful “draft drawing” process, she did a performance drawing right in front of our eyes! Sadie was selected to be her muse because Sadie’s birthday was the closest to her visit. Sitting still for minutes on end, Sadie emerged on paper via lines—first in yellow, then layered with blue and finally red detail. Ms. Fisher narrated as she sketched telling us what she was thinking and seeing. As we saw in the video Austin’s Butterfly, Ms. Fisher reinforced the importance to looking closely when drawing.

As teachers, we were thrilled to hear that Ms. Fisher doesn’t use erasers, but rather folds “beautiful oops-es” into the final product. She also drove home the idea that published illustrations are an end-result of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of iterations, and persistence and perseverance are the main name-of-the-game. Her performance drawing of Sadie is hanging in the classroom if you’d like to come see! We’re hoping to have some time in the near future to try this strategy as a class and love that kids have reported trying it at home…

One thought on “Life-Lessons from an Illustrator

  1. Hi, it’s Käthe Andranian, former MAC student!

    I like the fact that Ms. Fisher explained that you don’t just draw a picture and get it published! There’s a lot of rejections from publishers: even J. K. Rowling, the author of the world-famous, bestselling Harry Potter series got rejected 12 times with her first book!

    It was great to hear about the illustrator that I’ve heard so much about from my brother and his little friends. Thank you!

    -Käthe Andranian

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