We interviewed Christian Robinson, award-winning illustrator of children's picture books, including Leo: a ghost story, his collaboration with author Mac Barnett, which won the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2015. Last Stop on Market Street was a 2014 New York Times bestseller and Christian was honored with the 2014 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator award for Rain!
As a child, was there a particular teacher who recognized your talent and encouraged your creativity?
I've had many teachers and positive forces helping me along the way. My high school art teacher, Elizabeth Kim, was my greatest influence. Liz encouraged me to trust my creative voice and consider applying to art college. She placed every art contest and design scholarship application in front of me. She helped me build a portfolio and even drove me to campus tours and interviews. I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for Ms. Kim, which is why I dedicated the book Gaston to her.
Your cut paper style is distinctive in your published work. How did you arrive at that as your signature style? Is there a new medium you are planning to experiment with on a future project?
So many things influence me: children's book illustration and graphic art from the '50s and '60s, nature, simplicity, cities, children's art, animation, fine art, music . . . I could keep going. I love working in collage. Leo: a ghost story was produced using a mix of paint and collage.
Other books I've illustrated, like The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, written by Justin Roberts, were created in colored pencil. I have the most fun when experimenting and trying all sorts of different mediums and techniques. I'd love to work more in stamps and print making.
We love that you use interviews with kids in your videos and book trailers. On your book tour for Leo: a ghost story (with author Mac Barnett) has there been a reaction or comment by a kid that surprised you?
Thank you! I'm very lucky to be dating a 4th grade teacher, many of the kids voices I've recorded are from my boyfriend's school. I'm always surprised by the things kids say. I remember when doing interviews for the Leo trailer in which I asked many kids questions about ghost. One girl shared that she believed in ghost because her grandfather is a ghost and used to visit her when she was a baby.
Early designs for the cover of Leo.
Tell us how you chose "The art of fun" as the title for your website.
The art of fun came about when I asked myself what sort of work do I want to create. The art of means the mastery of a skill, so I liked the idea of pairing it with fun. The mastery of having fun, that is something I aspire to do in my work. It's important to make sure I'm enjoying whatever I'm doing. Hopefully that experience of joy is contagious and can make others feel good as well.
In Leo you chose a color palette limited to just blue and black. Yet you are known for your vibrant use of color in your work. How was the experience of restricting yourself to two colors on this project?
It was fun! I was inspired by illustration of a different time, when limited color printing was more so an economic necessity as oppose to stylistic choice. I looked at the work of illustrators like Roger Duviosin and Abner Graboff.
Limitations can be very helpful to creativity. Because I was less concerned about color, I could focus more on characters, design, setting and other parts of visual storytelling.
On your book covers, only one says "illustrations by," all others say "pictures by." Is there a specific reason you made that choice?
Pictures just looks and sounds more appealing to me. I typically like to have "words by" or "written by" for the author credit as oppose to "story by."
Because as my good friend Mac Barnett once told me "In picture books, story is what happens when the words and pictures come together."
I like thinking of story as being more so a collaboration between author and illustrator in a picture book.
Do you keep an inspiration board in your current studio space?
What is a favorite childhood book and do you still have a copy of it?
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman.
I don't have a copy, but I'm content with my fond memories of it. I also enjoy coming across it every now and again in bookstores and flipping through the pages.