All artwork Elizabeth Sayles 1998-2013 work may not be used without permission from the artist.
DM: Hi Liz! Thank you for joining me. Talk a little bit about your background and why you decided to become an illustrator.
ES: I always drew, on my walls, sheets, occasionally paper. I went to art school to be an illustrator, but didn't like the program and wound up dropping out after 3 years. Eventually, through a series of fortunate events, I became a designer, and then an art director, and then the stock market crashed, photoshop was invented, and all hell broke loose. So I finally decided it was time to dip my toes back in the illustration world. And I was again met with a series of fortunate events that led to many wonderful books to illustrate, as well as other projects.
ES: Many artists have influenced me. Garth Williams in particular, Degas, Gaguin, Kunyoshi, Maurice Sendak…
DM: Why did you choose pastel as your primary medium?
ES: I was in art school (college) and a girl next to me had a box of Rembrandt pastels, and I asked to borrow one. It was love! I ran to the art store after class and bought my own box!
DM: What type of pastels do you use, i.e. soft, pencils?
ES: I use all types of pastels for different effects, but I use the pencils to get detail and also they are a lot less messy.
DM: I started with a toothy paper but now I like the sanded Senelier paper for my pastel work. Many pastelists I know use Wallace. What paper do you use?
ES: I use Stonehenge paper mainly, but lately I've been priming paper or board with Golden Pumice gel (fine) and it gives it a nice sandy surface. I like to use it on top of an acrylic underpainting.
DM: Some pastellists use a watercolor underpainting, others none at all. Why do you use acrylic?
ES: I use watercolor or acrylics mixed with acrylic medium. I really use whatever is at hand. I use the acrylics like watercolor, not opaque.
DM: Do you use the computer at all?
ES: Yes, I size up my art, piece together sketches in Photoshop. Sometimes I scan in a work in progress, fix it up, print it out and work on top of that. I also send all art to the client digitally.
ES: Well those are my favorites as well. Probably because I tried something new and it worked, or they are pictures that worked despite having to fit a storyline.
DM: You work in the general illustration market with a concentration in the children's book market. I’ve heard many illustrators say that the illustration market has shrunk considerably. What are your thoughts?
ES: I think it has shrunk in certain areas: books, magazines, for instance. Other areas have disappeared (record jackets, etc). And other areas maybe have grown, such as licensed products, animation, games. Illustration is in flux, as is nearly everything right now due to technology.
ES: Draw a lot, and look around you. Don't stay cooped up in your room, and quit staring at what someone else did last week and posted on line. Go out in the world, explore, open your eyes, be inspired by what you see, and also go to museums and study artists who have come before.
DM: Your father is also an artist. How has that influenced you?
ES: I grew up with a father who was an artist (an illustrator and a designer) and a mother who was a writer/ editor, and then they produced books together. Besides the obvious influence of learning how to use some materials, I grew up having no idea about holding down a 9-5 job! Seriously! I thought that was normal. My parents worked all the time, and were around a lot… that is what I wound up doing as well.
DM: You have curated an exhibit about the ghost army of artists in WWII, currently on view at the Hopper House Art Center. Who are they?
ES: Yes its an exhibition of original works by soldiers in the 23rd HQ Special Troops aka "The Ghost Army" of WWII. They were a camouflage and deception unit that happened to be loaded with artists. This top-secret group of GI’s helped win the war with inflatable tanks, sound effects and illusions. But that's only half the story. As they travelled across the battlefields of Europe they documented everything with watercolors, ink, and pastel, creating a vast array of artwork. Artists in the unit included fashion designer Bill Blass, painter/sculptor Ellsworth Kelly, and wildlife artist Arthur Singer.
DM: Your father was one of these artists. What does it mean to you to be able to celebrate his participation in such an important program and honor his and his colleagues’ service to the country?
ES: It's such a great story of the melding of two things that don't seem to belong together: Art and War. And a heck of a lot of imagination.
DM: What did your father tell you about his involvement?
ES: He told crazy stories about inflatable tanks and dummy artillery, and how they would drive in circles around villages to make it seem like there were thousands of them when there were just a few hundred. And how Bill Blass, the future fashion designer, re-sewed his uniform so it fit better. They were just crazy stories. There were a couple of pictures on the wall that he did then, but I didn't realize it till later. Then my brother searched through his studio and found a lot of sketches.
DM: You are a member of Illustrators Partnership of America. Tell me what they do and why it’s an organization artists should know about.
ES: It is an organization whose main purpose is to advocate for illustrators' rights.
ES: Yes, everything I know I've learned from teaching. I have to stay on my toes, stay up to date with what's going on, and I also have to figure out what I do so I can explain it. This semester I'm teaching Color & Design at Queens College. To prepare I had to research color theory, and I realized how much I hated color theory in college, it had no relevance, so I taught the class so it would have relevance. I think they got a lot from the class. I know I did.
DM: I took your illustration portfolio class years ago at SVA and it was great. Everyone should take it and more than once (I plan on taking it again sometime). Where can people take a class or workshop with you?
ES: I try to keep my website updated with the classes I'm teaching. I still teach Illustration Portfolio at SVA. I also teach at other colleges in the area, SUNY Rockland, Queens College, Mercy College, and Rockland Center for the Arts.
DM: What are you working on now?
ES: I am writing a novel (of course), and clearing out my studio so I can begin some big paintings. I think I've been working too small lately. Mostly to hit deadlines. I would like to start showing my work in galleries.
DM: Do you have any books coming out this year?
ES: Yes, In September: "Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree" will be published by Random House. It is a Step-into-Reading book, fully illustrated in color.
Click on the following links
View/purchase Liz's books
see more of her work
About the Ghost Army
Artists of Deception: The Ghost Army of WWII Exhibit - click on Exhibit to view info at Edward Hopper House in Nyack, NY through June 9th. Curators: Elizabeth Sayles and Rick Beyer. Check your local PBS station for the schedule for the documentary - airing in NY on May 21st at 8pm channel 13. NEW: the exhibit travels to Salmagundi Club, NY in June 2015.
Next up - Part II of my interview with Arvind Garg, photographer. Click here to read Part I