BABYBUG reader Saffron has been best friends with her dog Turquoise for her entire life. Saffron goes by Saffy, and Turquise? Quoisie, of course.
Happy children, leaping dogs, friendly bugs and birds—the cover of the April issue of BABYBUG offers a peek into Jill Dubin’s imagination. The New York native/Atlanta transplant told us about the childhood experiences that inform her work, and the beautiful materials and landscape that inspire her.
Tell us something about your background, and your path to becoming an artist.
I grew up in Yonkers, New York. Since we were very close to New York City, I went to lots of wonderful museums. Although as a child I thought they were a bit stuffy, they have stayed with me as an entry to other worlds. I think back on time spent wandering The Cloisters, The Museum of Natural History, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can get lost in the detailed designs found on each suit of armor in the Hall of Armor and the intricate work on the jewelry in the Ancient Egyptian wing.
I’ve been drawing since I was a little girl. My parents always encouraged both my sister and I in our creativity. There were many afternoons we sat on the floor of our bedroom, drawing or making paper dolls or tiny box villages. From this childhood play, I began to think this was what I’d like to do all the time. Whenever asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was in the minority that actually knew. My answer was always, “I’m going to illustrate children’s books.”
I studied at Pratt Institute. The classes offered a variety of creative and challenging projects. The faculty opened our eyes to the possibilities before us, and by the time I graduated, the allure of children’s illustration had grown. My mother attended classes there, too, and my daughter graduated in recent years, so we are a three-generation family of Pratt alumni.
I worked for Fisher Price Toys, where my art appeared on lots of toys and baby items. When the winds of upstate New York got too cold to draw without wearing mittens, I moved to Atlanta to warm up. My husband, Clark, and I have stayed in the sunshine, though our son and daughter have grown and found vistas of their own.
Your cover artwork for the April BABYBUG is so dynamic and joyful! What inspired it?
There’s something magical about the image of gardening. Wheelbarrows just add to that with their timeless look and feel. The idea of loading up a wheelbarrow with plants and tools and going to the garden to dig in the dirt, just as the weather warms into spring, is appealing to both young and old. I played on that idea to create the cover. With that as inspiration, I began to sketch. The child running to get to the garden was the starting point. I always like to add some fun details, like birds and bugs and (of course) a few pets.
Though I love the image of the dogs running alongside the wheelbarrow, in truth my dogs would wander off into the neighbor’s yard if left to their own devices.
Can you describe your illustration process?
I go through piles of rough sketches while I develop the illustration. I’ll try lots of different ideas before I come up with one that I like. My finished piece is a collage of cut paper using colored pencil and pastels for details. I’ve collected all sorts of wonderful paper over the years and am always on the lookout for more. I use my sketch as a pattern and cut each piece and glue the picture together. It’s like a puzzle as I assemble it.
Do you have any favorite picture books?
I have a lot of picture books on the shelves in my studio. One artist, who I loved as a child and continue to admire for his lively and whimsical art, is Hilary Knight. He illustrated the Eloise books as well as many others. I get lost in the fantasy worlds that he created, and that’s something I try to bring to my art.
Tell us about your other artistic interests.
With all this beautiful paper around me, I go back to my days of building paper villages. I make fantasy houses: some become ornamental birdhouses or mobiles, and others become part of a village, perched on a piece of wood. I find details in the patterns on the paper that become architectural details on the houses.
Along with my vast paper collection, I have another vast collection of wonderful fabric. Whether I’m constructing a paper sculpture or sewing a fabric purse, I enjoy getting caught up in the process of combining colors, patterns, and textures to create something interesting.
What would you do on a perfect spring day?
I love springtime. In Atlanta, spring comes early with the abundance of trees sprouting bright green leaves and bursts of colorful azaleas. My perfect day would be to plant some new flowers and then sit back with my sketchpad and draw. Since this is my ideal day, I’d have my dogs laying by my side and not digging the newly planted daylilies.
Do you have any sage words for other artists, young or old?
Let your imagination run wild, there are no rules, just enjoy the process.
Spring is coming, and BABYBUG readers are making the most of the warmer weather!
We asked readers to show us how their little babybugs are enjoying the winter, and Erica and Joe shared this photo of their daughter, 15-month-old Genevieve, on a trip to their town library. We hope she found some good books inside!
BABYBUG turns 20 in January! We’re throwing a big bash in the January issue, helping toddlers understand birthdays on our website, and most importantly, inviting YOU! You can celebrate BABYBUG’s birthday by telling us about your first issue, or by sending us a photo of your little party animal to post here on the blog! Stories and photos can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tatjana Mai-Wyss, who illustrated the story “Animal Hats” in the January issue of BABYBUG, can usually be found working in her sunny studio in South Carolina. She lives with her professor husband, two daughters, a dog, and a cat — plus two dwarf bunnies, who camp out in the back yard. She was born in a small town in Switzerland, which often inspires her work; it’s airy, playful, and full of movement. We chatted about how she developed “Animal Hats,” the urge to create, and the best ways of introducing children to art.
We see a lot of adorable BABYBUG artwork, but your illustration of “Animal Hats” may take the cake! What inspired the artwork? Can you describe your illustration process?
The first step of the process is, of course, to read and reread the story. I also like to read it to my kids, who are a little old for BABYBUG at this point, but are still full of good ideas. My younger daughter Nora actually drew a full set of illustrations for “Animal Hats” while I was still thinking about my approach. This project was a bit unusual in that as I read it, I imagined the girl growing older and out of each hat. As I sketched out the scenes, the idea kept rolling and it wasn’t until I was ready to submit the sketches that I realized I hadn’t followed any of the editorial guidelines. I made another set of sketches according to the instructions, and surprisingly the editors chose some from the first set and some from the second. They fit together nicely in the end, and the result was maybe a bit more unexpected. I still make my final art the old fashioned way; I transfer the sketch to nice paper and work with pencil, watercolors, and sometimes collage.
When did you first become interested in art?
I’ve always loved making things. When I was little, one of my favorite possessions was a large box my mom made me (covered in red and white gingham paper). I could store all my collected treasures in it (match boxes, ribbons, yarn, tin foil, and paper scraps) and pull them out when I felt the itch to make something. My other passion was books, and illustration combines reading, drawing, and making perfectly. I love being an illustrator. I still collect all kinds of treasures and am compelled to make something every day (even if it’s just a loaf of bread).
What role did your hometown play as you grew as an artist?
I grew up in Switzerland (and New Jersey) and moved quite a bit as a child. Maybe coming into new situations made me notice details others might take for granted, but I have a lot of very clear, happy memories of childhood, and I think that comes out in my drawings.
What do you like about illustration for children?
I think children and I share a love for details and a desire for accuracy when it comes to the story. I love picture book illustration because of the possibility of creating a whole new story with pictures, one that complements the words but may lead them in a new direction, introduce other characters, or even create a small parallel narrative in the pictures.
In your opinion, what’s the best way to get a child interested in art?
I think it’s important to give kids opportunity and supplies to make art, and help and instructions only when they ask for them. Exposure to books, pictures, nature, and the outdoors will help develop their creativity.
Did you have any favorite picture books when you were a child? How about now?
Some favorite books I remember are all of Richard Scarry’s books, A Bell for Ursli (A. Carigiet/S.Chonz), Zeralda’s Ogre (Ungerer), The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Carle), and Bread and Jam for Francis (Hoban). My family jokes that my favorite books are all food-related. I could never decide on a current favorite. I love having access to books and amazing illustrators from all over the world through the internet, though the variety is a bit dizzying. Some classic family books we’ve happily been rereading for 10+ years are Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, as well as Goodnight Gorilla and 10 Minutes till Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann.
How will you celebrate the new year?
We will probably take the dog for a long walk, make a fire, eat fondue, and set off sparklers on New Year’s Eve.
“More,” said Annelise, after she finished paging through the latest BABYBUG. So her mother went to the family “library” and picked out a few other issues. Her aunt, who shared this photo with us, tells us that twenty-one-month-old Annelise is not only excited about her magazine collection, but about sitting in a real chair!
Readers explored a pumpkin patch in the October issue of BABYBUG, and some, like 15-month-old Shilo Isobel, decided to get their hands on a real pumpkin (or two). Happy fall, everyone!
Our little magazine will turn 20 in January! We’re getting a special issue ready for the celebration, and you’re invited to join us. Does your child love birthdays? Send us a photo of your little party animal, and we’ll post it here on the blog. You can email your photo to email@example.com.
We would also be delighted to hear from those who remember reading the early issues of BABYBUG with a child. Were you surprised to discover a magazine especially for babies and toddlers? What did your little one think of this very first magazine? Please send your memories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What a big girl! Twenty-one-month-old Madeline peacefully reads her BABYBUG as her mother prepares dinner.