The Brooklyn Public Library is currently exhibiting Drawn a Brooklyn, a showcase of children’s book illustrations by local artists. It runs until January 23, 2011, at the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. We spoke to curator-illustrator John Bemelmans Marciano (Anonyponymous, Madeline and the Cats of Rome) about why the borough attracts artists, and about the unique challenges of drawing pictures for kids.
Is the number of illustrators living here really disproportionately high?
Aren’t there a lot in Manhattan or San Francisco, too?
There are some in Manhattan, for sure, but children’s book illustrators aren’t exactly making banker’s salaries. There’s a West Coast contingent, for sure, but if I was to say there was a second epicenter, it would be Western Massachussets. And there’s a lot of crossover—Mo Willems recently left the borough for the Berkshires, for instance.
How did you come to realize so many children’s book illustrators lived in Brooklyn?
My first inkling came from looking at dust jackets and seeing the line at the end that inevitably read, “lives and works in Brooklyn”. From there it was word of mouth. If there are six degrees of Kevin Bacon in the world, in the Brooklyn kid’s book illustration world there are two degrees of Brian Floca.
Did you identify some kind of unifying “Brooklyn style” to their work?
I don’t think there’s a “Brooklyn style” of illustration any more than there is a Brooklyn style of resident. It’s the diversity of the borough that makes Brooklyn—and its illustrators—so fantastic.
Why does Brooklyn appeal to illustrators?
Diversity, affordability, other artists, and that you can find almost whatever you are looking for right at home.
How does living in Brooklyn affect your own work?
More than anything, it allows me to leave my studio and go for a walk or bike ride and recharge my batteries.
What makes what you do different from illustrating a magazine article?
The most unique challenge about illustrating children’s books is that you are creating a shared experience between child and the person reading with them, as opposed to just reaching out to a single person alone.