Illustration West 58 Judges’ Interview #7: Sharismar Rodriguez by Co-Showchairs Chuck & Wendy Grieb
Associate Art Director
Houghton Mifflin Harcurt Books for Young Readers
All artwork © and cannot be used without permission of the artist and/or publisher
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself or how you got started?
As a child my favorite pastimes were coloring and making dresses for my dolls, which evolved to sketchbooks full of dresses and doodles. So naturally, by the age of fourteen I was determined to go to art school, specifically for fashion design. Little did I know that by the end of my foundation year I would discover that everything I loved about fashion design was contained in graphic design, minus what I didn’t like (cutting patterns and sewing).
Now the jackets I design are for books, not humans. I’ve been working in publishing for over a decade, where I’ve had the amazing opportunity to art direct and design award-winning books and work with some of the most talented and respected people in the publishing world.
Who or what inspires you?
I think everyone and anyone can teach and inspire us, professionally and in life. There isn’t ONE person who has ALL the answers, and if they say they do, RUN!
I also draw inspiration from the great masters of art and graphic design. I like looking at the past and adapting those concepts and styles for the modern-day audience. For this I go to my design bibles: The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, Meggs’ History of Graphic Design by Philip B. Meggs and Alston W. Purvis, and PANTONE: The 20th Century in Color published by Chronicle Books. I have consulted at least two of these books for every project I’ve worked on.
What are some favorite projects that you’ve had the opportunity to work on?
The projects that I enjoy working on the most are picture books, nonfiction titles that have illustrations/photography, and novels where the interior design is part of the storytelling.
Victoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef is still one of my all-time favorites; not only was this a fascinating read but also, I had the fortune to work with excellent archival photos and full-color painting reproductions, which allowed me to create a lush package from cover to cover. Every inch of it was meticulously planned. It was awarded Best in Category (Young Readers) in the 61st New England Book Show and Second Place in the 32nd New York Book Show.
Most recently I worked on a novel in verse by David Elliott titled Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc. It’s a blessing when a designer has a powerful manuscript to work from and this book was no exception. The poems were the “voices” of different characters, including Joan’s and those of inanimate objects; the author envisioned some of these poems taking a concrete form and so my work began. I created numerous concrete poems: a flame, a crossbow, a dress, a tunic, etc. A Wall Street Journal review praised my “illustrations,” and that was such a flattering compliment! I would never have dared to call myself an illustrator. That’s a title I’ve yet to earn, but it was very satisfying giving shape and life to the words in this book. The cover wouldn’t have been possible without the spectacular portrait of Joan of Arc by the brilliant Charlie Bowater.
Nya’s Long Walk by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Brian Pinkney, two luminaries of the industry, is one of the most heartfelt picture books I’ve worked on. The words, based on the same true story as in Linda Sue Park’s bestseller A Long Walk to Water, describe the journey the Nya and her little sister Akeer must endure to fetch water for their family. Brian Pinkney brought this text to life in ways that I would never have imagined. His gorgeous, purposeful brush strokes and transformative color palette takes us on an emotional journey.
Lastly, I feel very proud about working on some great novels that have characters with strong, unique voices that represent a beautiful range of diverse backgrounds. I’m honored that I got to collaborate with equally talented and unique artists to create these covers.
BROWN GIRL GHOSTED by Mintie Das, art by Samya Arif
RUNNING by Natalia Sylvester, art by Alex Cabal
PRAIRIE LOTUS by Linda Sue Park, art by Dion MBD
A PLACE AT THE TABLE by Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan, art by Anoosha Syed
MAYA AND THE RISING DARK by Rena Barron, art by Geneva Bowers
What advice do you have for illustrators, beginning and pro?
Be yourself, draw/paint/create what you are passionate about. When you work on something that you are not connecting with, it shows, and it’s a disservice to your creative flow. Always try to find an outlet to exercise your creativity.
What do you love about your job and what do you find challenging about your profession?
What I love the most about this job is being able to work with so many gifted people, new to the industry and well known, from all over the world. Collaborating with others is a marvelous and enriching experience.
My biggest challenge is finding the right project for the right artist at the right time. I have an infinite wish list of people I’d love to work with someday.
As you look to the future, what are you excited to explore, create, etc.?
Believe it or not, I just started using a tablet a few years ago. I don’t know why I resisted it for so long. I’m really looking forward to exploring all of its capabilities and seeing what new skills I can develop. I really want to be more fluent in hand-lettering.
What question do you wish people would ask when you get interviewed?
Perhaps to talk about my other passions in life. I LOVE books, reading them, making them . . . but I also love movies. If my path hadn’t led me to publishing, I think I’d be making movies, or designing the posters at the very least.
Please provide a link(s) to the site(s) you wish us to include.
The one project that’s been haunting me since I finished college is my personal website, I just can’t seem to get to it. But I retweet at lot of the books I’ve worked on, does that count?