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CA Nobens

CA Nobens

CA Nobens Interview

CA Nobens

Children's Illustrator

Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?

When I was a little kid, my Mom used to tell me that when I grew up, I could draw pictures in books. I'm pretty sure that I thought she meant that I'd be able to draw on the books that I already owned, which was a no-no at the time. But something imprinted itself on my outlook of the future, and I think that, from a young age, I just assumed that illustrating books was where I was headed in life.

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Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?

I wanted to attend the Minneapolis College of Art and Design from the time in high school that they sent me a brochure showing Dorothy and Toto on the yellow brick road to that school. My parents had other ideas and I wound up going to Hibbing Junior College, Denton Women's University and Mankato State College for short periods of time before I finally quit school in frustration. My folks relented and I graduated from MCAD with a major in Graphic Design and Illustration.

Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?

I grew up in northern Minnesota, on what is known as the Iron Range. I went to an extremely rigorous high school, a beautiful place to be every day with amazing teachers, paid for by the now much diminished iron ore mining industry taxes. I now live in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, an inner suburb of Minneapolis, in my almost-100-year-old house.

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Which books from your own childhood really stand out?

The book from my childhood that has made the biggest impact on my style is one I inherited from my older sister. It was a bit out of date, stylistically, but shadows of its images, created by the sensitive draftsperson Eulalie, peer out of my own drawings to this day. I also loved all the Little Golden Books. I vivdly remember choosing one from the rack in the grocery store, every week, while my mother tapped her foot. Riches!

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Do you have a favourite picture book or recall one of the first picture books you saw?

My favorite picture book, as of today, is my own recently self-published one. "Snow Day! A Story Told in 24 Poem Forms" was a work of love from the first poem I scribbled off while sitting on my back porch in the snow, to opening the first box of printed books.  I poured myself into it for about five years.

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Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.

Of course, my process is different with the different variations in my style, which I choose to fit the project that I'm working on. But let's say that I'm working on a painterly illustration.

1.    I start out by sketching the characters. I have an idea in my mind of where they will be located and in what background. But if I don’t have the characters right, nothing else will work. So they come first. If I’m lucky, they will jump out onto the page. Sometimes that happens. Other times, I really struggle. Recently, I spent an entire day trying to draw this fox for another piece, and only sort of had him when I went to bed. The next day, I walked into my sketch studio and drew him perfectly right in about 10 minutes. After the characters come to life, I draw the background on another sheet of paper, so that I can move them around on it, if I want to. I work pretty large, so I have to scan the skeches in several pieces and puzzle them together in Photoshop. Then, with my Wacom, I use a textured airbush to lighten the line here and there and give it some character of its own.
2.    I’m showing you the next steps as if I actually did them in this orderly a fashion. But really, I worked all over the place, as I added color. This is one of the best things about working digitally, as compared to painting in watercolor, as I used to, when I had to start with the background and work toward the foreground. I might have finished the whole fox, or one of the trees and then thrown in the background color. That lack of rigidity is the heart of making a piece of art, I think. But to show how the color builds up, let’s pretend I did it one complete layer at a time. This one is basic, base watercolor-style colors; nice and loose and airy.
3.    Next, I added more depth of color and details such as the plaid on the lining of the little girl’s raincoat. I play around with the modes of layers a lot and get surprising and delightful results. I use a LOT of layers. I don’t try to commit much of anything to final until the very end. I like to have the option to turn a layer off or reduce the opacity or change the mode, right up to the last minute. This is again the magic of painting digitally, which I love.
4.    Lastly, the background color pulls everything together and creates the mood. The light beams and the rain are made with Photoshop brushes that I bought on the internet. I love how many such effects are available, usually for only a couple of bucks. I don’t feel like it’s cheating to use someone else’s tool in this way (as long as I pay for it) because no-one else would use it exactly as I have, or make anything like the same image.

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Do you offer more than one style, if so – talk us through the different approaches and the audience you are targeting for each.

I approach every project individually, and the style varies to best illustrate the story or activity. Overall, of course, my work looks similar, and maybe most people wouldn't point out a lot of differences. I do choose a level of complexity, a tighness or looseness of detail. For a book showing how a child and his dog inject insulin, for example, the image needs to be clear and exacting, whereas a picture of kids running through a backyard sprinkler allows for more looseness of depiction. Art for reproducible activity pages requires distinct black and white line, while a moodier piece doesn't need that.

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Outline your dream project.

My dream project would be this: someone would come to me and say, "CA, I know you have a bunch of stories rocketing around in your brain that you don't have time to write down and draw out, because you're illustrating other people's dreams, to pay the bills. I know this because you already have a dozen book dummies in various stages of development that you are trying to get written down and drawn out. I'm going to pay you a salary for the next ten years, so that you can let all this creativity out and come alive." I'll consider all offers!

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Are you an author/illustrator?

Yes! I have four books in print that I've written and illustrated, including the most recent, "Snow Day! A Story Told in 24 Poem Forms". I love the integration of story and pictures. That being said, I also love the experience of bringing another author's characters to life. To have somebody say, "It's exactly what I wanted!" really makes my day.

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