Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Leanne Franson: A Final Taste of Snow

This will be the last “taste” of snowflakes for the Robert's Snow benefit auction for Just Like the Nut, as we welcome illustrator Leanne Franson and her delicious flake, “Gretchen’s Snow.”

By now, you know the drill.

First, the snowflake:

Here’s the front:

And the back:

Next, Leanne’s bio:

Leanne Franson was born in 1963 in Regina, Saskatchewan. She says she started drawing earlier than she can remember: “My father brought home leftover paper from his drafting job, so I had unlimited supplies. We also always had books, with bedtime stories every night, shelves of books to read ourselves and a public library card. I filled my notebook pages with drawings, and read books in class when I was supposed to be reading textbooks. Even though I got great marks in math, science and English, I frustrated my academic teachers by going into fine arts in university.”

She graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with a BFA in 1985. She says her degree was, “weirdly enough, in ceramics and lithography, as my painting teacher told me my drawings were illustrative and narrative, which were very bad words in art school. I stopped drawing for years!”

After graduating and holding a series of odd job, she met a mentor, Francis Back, who was a previous president of the Association of Illustrators of Québec and who introduced her to the world of children's book illustration in 1991. Since then she have illustrated numerous school books, and more than 80 trade books including both picture books and novel covers. In 1997, “L'Ourson qui voulait une Juliette” (written by Jasmine Dubé) was nominated for the Canada Governor General's award in illustration, and in 2005 “The Girl Who Hated Books” (by Manjusha Pawagi) was chosen to be given to all Canadian children in grade 1 for Toronto Dominion Bank's Canada Children's Book Week.

Leanne is am currently on maternity leave as she has recently adopted a son, Benjamin Taotao, from China. She and Benjamin share their home in Montreal with lots of books, art supplies, two cats and their Saint Bernard, Gretchen.

And, the interview:

What inspired you to pursue a career in illustration? And why for kids?

I wanted a better job than selling paint brushes at an art supply store for barely minimum wage. I wanted to settle down and have kids, have a stable job. And with a fine arts bachelor's degree (which I was still paying for), I wasn't qualified to do much else other than draw and couldn't afford to go back to school.

People had been telling me I should illustrate children's books since I was perhaps ten years old, but I am contrary and went into ceramics and unfired clay sculptures, concept art and environmental art. I was young and didn't want to do "over the sofa" art, or anything that was "for sale." After being broke for years I changed my ways and listened to their wisdom. The cool thing about children's books is that they are on-the-sofa art, and don't need to match the sofa at all!! They are functional items that are used daily (like a ceramic mug or bowl) and loved to death rather than a precious decorative object. They're hands on.

I have always loved books, read books, collected books, so illustrating them came to me naturally. And my style lends itself to children's books. I love the stories, the large number of illutrations needed per text, the audience. I also do comics for adults, which I write and illustrate myself, which is a very different thing. Sometimes I think I would love to be like Edward Gorey or Charles Schultz and create something that appeals to children and adults alike, but that is a lofty goal I will likely never achieve.

Why did you decide to participate in the Robert’s Snow fund-raiser?

I heard about it on the group emails and wanted to join in. I jumped at the chance to do something that was again, a three dimensional functional object, and something where what I created was directly in the hands of the user (unlike children's books, where my originals are in drawers in my studio and the public gets printed reproductions). And I especially liked that it was for a fundraiser for a good cause. I was happy and excited to be able to contribute.

Why did you decide to illustrate your snowflake the way you did?

When I think of snow, I think of Saint Bernards. My beloved Muesli, who figured in many books, was a passionate devotee of snow. She died last fall at nearly 11 years old, and I have a new puppy, Gretchen, whom I got at Easter. She also loves snow, so it is her I put on the snowflake. And being as it has two sides, which would normally be equally seen on a tree as it twirls, I painted both sides equally. I wanted something wintery and fun, with a little wink.

What’s your favorite thing about snow?

That we have it. With global warming, it is coming later each year and staying less long, and it is very sad. I grew up in Saskatchewan where we had snowbanks big enough to build forts and tunnels my father could go through, and you could tell how cold it was by how high-pitched a squeak the snow made under your boots. It was so cold the snow was like sand and didn't make you wet, so you could play all day. Then the warmer days you could mold it into balls and snowsculptures. In Montreal where I live now, the snow is often almost rain, or it melts two days later so it doesn't accumulate. I feel very nostalgic about snow, and I feel incredibly sad that my son may never see snow like I have known.

They say there are no two snowflakes alike. Name something that makes you different from anyone else on earth.

My, my. I so seldom have the feeling that I am not different from everyone else on earth, that is a hard question. Even in my own family, we were all different colors, ages, races, genders, with such different personalities. I am a western anglophone prairie Canadian living in a francophone eastern Canada. I am a single mom with a Saint Bernard and a little boy from China and I could go on. I think we are all unique collections of our origins, experiences, thoughts, likes, dislikes, feelings and hopes and that sometimes we need to look hard to find our similarities, what brings us together as people, our common aspirations and interests. But OK, I finally thought of something that may be unique: I have a tattoo of an onion on my head. But even if someone else has a tattoo of an onion on their head, the collection of who they are will be so very different from me.

I guess the short obvious answer would have been "my genes" (cuz I am not a twin).

And finally, the pitch:

Leanne Franson’s "Gretchen's Snow" will go up for bid in an online auction next week ... November 19-23!

To check out the other snowflakes and illustrators featured on kid lit blogs this week, see the sidebar at the right of your screen. For a complete schedule of the snowflake auctions and to learn how you can purchase a unique piece of art while also supporting a good cause, head on over to the Robert's Snow site now!


TadMack said...

WOW, what a privilege to have a book she's illustrated chosen to be given to every first grader!! How very cool.

Great interview, and I LOVE the expression on the dog's face on the back of the snowflake -- extremely "illustrative and narrative" and entirely charming. I'm so glad she found her place illustrating children's books!!

Liz in Ink said...

"on the sofa art"
I LOVE that...

jules said...

"my painting teacher told me my drawings were illustrative and narrative, which were very bad words in art school" --

YIKES! That's too bad. Glad she overcame that and found her niche.

Thanks for this feature, Linda. That is a very happy snowflake. Love that blue, too. And I gotta find a copy of The Girl Who Hated Books. Sounds intriguing.

Sara said...

Ditto what all of you said. I'm too busy admiring that fabulous St. Bernard to type much. So ditto, ditto!

(Love your questions, Linda)

LindaBudz said...

Tad, Liz, Jules and Sara, appreciate your reactions ... this has been a world of fun.

Jules, thanks especially to you for all the work you did on this campaign. I can't wait for the auctions to start!