Véronique Lefèvre Sweet
Associate Art Director, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Where did your passion for children's publishing begin & what's been your career journey to date?
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, as soon as I learnt to write, I was making my own little books inventing stories and illustrating them. In my youth, my dream was to become an illustrator, but then I discovered graphic design, and I happily switched path. When I moved from Paris, France, to New York City in 2003, I had a chance to reevaluate my career choices, and it became clear that children’s publishing was the perfect place for me, as it would give me an opportunity to combine my love for graphic design and typography with my love for books and art. I started as an unpaid intern at FSG, and got my first job as the assistant to the creative director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. I spent about nine years at Henry Holt/Macmillan, and then I became a senior designer in the licensing team at LBYR, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers where I moved to the picture book team three years ago.
As Associate Art Director for picture book at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, how many different titles do you typical work on at a time? Could you give us a glimpse into some of the exciting stories you're currently developing?
I work on about 15 to 20 books per year. Our work is seasonal, so while we’re wrapping up the proofing process of the previous season, we are jumping in on the new one, and laying the ground for the following.
At the moment, I am working on the second title by author/illustrator Wallace West, a wonderful new talent I was lucky to discover at a portfolio review. I designed and art directed his first book, Mighty Red Riding Hood, that will be published in the fall of 2022.
What's the most visually stunning book you've ever art directed?
I worked with Bryan Collier on his gorgeous Music Is a Rainbow, which will be published in the Fall of 2022. Bryan created his art at a large scale and some pieces were even created on canvas. Reviewing the proofs against the actual art was an amazing experience: one time, I was so overwhelmed by the power and beauty of the art, I was moved to the point of tears.
What ingredients make a picture book internationally successful?
I would say a simple yet compelling concept that is beautifully told.
For Childrensillustrators.com members looking to appeal to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, what should they look to include (and avoid) in their portfolio?
One thing really important to include in a portfolio is art that shows storytelling: we want to see something happening, whether it is a tension between two characters, a funny disaster about to happen, an emotion, or a playful moment.
It is also important to show consistency in style: it is perfectly fine to explore various styles, but if you do so, you might want to have a least a handful of pieces created in each style, to show that you can work in a consistent manner.
As to what to avoid, my advice is to try to edit your portfolio as much as you can. You might be attached to that piece of art you created three years ago, but if you’ve made a lot of progress since then, it might not be at the same level of quality as the rest of your art. It is important to be selective because when we browse a portfolio, we want to see art that is at a professional level; if there is suddenly a piece that is questionable quality-wise, it can make us doubt about the artist’s actual level.
Describe the process of working with a fresh new illustrator talent.
Creating a picture is a very collaborative process, even more so with an artist new to the craft. Before sending them off to create sketches, we’ll give some general advice (for example, it is better to avoid 2 full bleed images facing one another because this kind of layout could be confusing for the reader, so ideally, we prefer to have one page with a vignette facing a full bleed page).
When we get the sketches and we place them in the layout with copy, we review them and we then share directions and suggestions that go from the characters appearance, to the compositions, to the pace/rhythm of the storytelling.
Once the sketches are approved, the artist can work on the final art. We might ask for a handful of sample spreads first, to make sure we are on board with the overall color palette and rendering of the final art.
When the final art is in, it will get reviewed and we will most likely ask for some changes and adjustments. This long process might be difficult for some artists, but it can also be rewarding: we sometimes hear artists thanking us for helping them push themselves, and helping them take their art to the next level.
From an illustration perspective, what are some of the main differences between the French & US picture book markets?
I have never worked in publishing in France, but every time I go back there, I make sure to spend time in bookstores to see if there are any exciting titles I could share with my coworkers when I’m back home. There are definitely some styles of art that are published in France that would be too edgy and would not find a market in the US.
Select 5 projects to share with our audience that you are particularly proud of.
This is such a hard question! Here’s a selection from my work at LBYR:
Music Is a Rainbow by Bryan Collier, that I mentioned earlier.
Sail by Dorien Brouwers. It is such a gorgeous book!
That’s Life by Ame Dickman, illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld. This is one of my all times favorite, so cute, funny and touching. Cori did an amazing job creating a whimsical, endearing character personifying Life.
Legendary Creatures by Adam Auerbach: The art is stunning and it was a wonderful title to design.
If You Laugh, I’ll Start This Book Over! By Chris Harris, illustrated by Serge Bloch. A hilarious picture book that relies heavily on design, it was a fun project to work on. I was so happy when Serge Bloch, a French illustrator I have loved and admired for a very long time, said how pleased he was with the design of the book.
Tell us about a time when you were completely awe-struck by an artist's response to a brief.
I can’t think of an example that would answer this exact question, but I can share one time when I was blown away by the final art: When I worked on Wombat Underground, by Sarah L. Thomson and illustrated by Charles Santoso, I was a little worried at sketch stage because we had to have so many spreads with more than half the page showing underground soil, and I was concerned this was going to look dark and dull. When the final art came in and I opened the files, I was in awe of how Charles rendered the soil: the texture was lovely and he had added small specs of color—including blue!—here and there that make the soil look interesting and rich. Just gorgeous!
Here is a close up showing Charles Santoso's wonderful soil texture:
What would your dream project look like?
I can’t think of a dream project per se. One of the things I love in my job is the variety of projects: from hilarious, to poignant, to poetic or historical… Every book is its own world and it is such a pleasure to dive into every single one of them.