I met Laurent Linn several years ago at the SCBWI National Conference and I was struck by his kindness, generosity and humor. He is a great friend to the SCBWI, participating in portfolio reviews, workshops and roundtable discussions. I am also a great admirer of his work as a designer. It gives me great pleasure to interview Laurent Linn.
When and why did you start art directing for children?
My entire career has been involved in children’s worlds. I didn’t set out to do that, it just evolved that way. Perhaps because I’ve never grown up (and don’t plan to), so I’ve basically worked on projects that interest me.
That has grown into an intense goal of hopefully helping make the world a better place for kids. I started in puppetry with the Muppets, which has led to so many varied art projects and jobs. Being an illustrator myself, I’ve always loved children’s books from all angles, so stepping into the design and art direction world was quite natural. I’ve been art directing books for kids since 1995, and love it.
What is the most valuable advice you can give to a newly published writer/illustrator?
I’d say that you have to think of yourself as the creative artist you are, as well as a business person. Meaning that, in today’s crazy publishing world, you’ve got to figure out how to promote your work, and having a published book is a great way to do that. Being published says that you’re a professional, and that you have experience collaborating and working with deadlines. Another piece of advice is to take some time to sit back and realistically look back at your experience with the project you did that was published. What surprised you about the process? What feedback was most valuable? Assessing, with unclouded eyes, how you can improve and seeing where you need to rethink how you work can help you to step up to a new level with your work.
What is one of your favorite children’s books that you'd like to recommend?
A book that I had the pleasure of designing a couple of years ago is called MASTERPIECE, so creatively written by Elise Broach and beautifully illustrated by Kelly Murphy. It’s a magical middle-grade novel that has the charm of a classic - it’s all about the creative process and truth in art. But also about a boy and a beetle that can draw.
What are you looking for in a portfolio?
Well, in addition to gorgeous and skilled art (of course) . . . I’m always looking to see how an illustrator uses his or her own unique vision and style in illustrations that could truly apply to children’s books. In other words, not portraits or landscapes or still lifes, but art that really illustrates a captured moment. The two main aspects of art that separate children’s illustration from other types of art is STORYTELLING and EMOTION. Art in every book needs to tell a story (on many levels) as well as emotionally draw the reader into the book, so we identify with the emotional state of the main character.
What are you working on now?
I work on picture books and middle-grade novels as well as teen novels, so it’s a fun variety. One book in particular that I’m having a great time art directing and designing is a picture book called THE SCARECROW’S DANCE, by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. It comes out this fall, and is a gorgeous poetic story of a scarecrow who decides to break free, but comes to realize his importance to his world. Truly a stunning book.
What is your favorite dessert?
What isn’t my favorite dessert?! I guess the winner would be anything with peanut butter, just because.