Thursday, March 9, 2017

Awesome People Doing Awesome Things - Meet Illustrator Claudia Marie Lenart

I am so happy about today's interview. A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing and blurbing a wonderful book called, "Prince Preemie". The author, Jewel Kats, wrote the book inspired by her nephew who was a preemie.

I love books that give a communication tool for others to help raise awareness and understanding for children and family living with special needs.

Sadly, Ms. Kats passed away before we had a chance to invite her on the blog, but her extremely talented illustrator, Claudia Marie Lenart, was kind enough to join us to talk about the book as well as her career as an illustrator (for those of you out there interested in breaking into that arena).

Enjoy our chat, and please check out both the book as well as Claudia's webpage and social media.
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Welcome to the blog, Claudia! Please share a bit about your background with us.

I am a former journalist turned artist/illustrator and soon to be author. I live in the Chicago suburbs. I worked as a community journalist for more than 20 years, both on staff and as a freelancer while my son was young. My second career as an artist began 5 years ago when I discovered needle felting. When I was laid off from my media job due to downsizing, I decided to pursue art full time.

Wow! You certainly have a lot of experience.What or who inspired your current profession as an illustrator? 

My career as an illustrator was the coming together of bits and pieces of my life. I always loved art and I was always creative. I spent a lot of time drawing as a child and teenager. I especially liked to draw people’s faces, eyes, and of course, horses.  In college I liked to paint in watercolors and as an adult I dabbled with colored pencil art.  I found my artistic passion about 5 years ago when I discovered needle felting. I love taking a pile of wool and transforming it into a little animal that seems lifelike.

While I had long daydreamed about some day writing and illustrating a children’s picture book, I had not made any steps in that direction. But by providence, Jewel Kats found me through my Etsy store. She asked me if I would illustrate her next book. I read the book, and cried. Jewel’s writing is emotional and I agreed to the project. I illustrated three books for Jewel.

My style of illustration is influenced by illustrators of the “Golden Age” of illustration. I collected and sold antique children’s books for some time and love the vintage look. However, since I illustrate with wool as my medium, my work is truly original.

That is so fascinating. I'd never heard of needle felting before. That's fantastic! And the end results are just beautiful. Speaking of Jewel, I had the pleasure of reviewing and blurbing the book, ‘Prince Preemie’. Sadly, she isn’t with us any longer. What was it like working with her, particularly on this project?

Jewel was a light in my life. She trusted my artistic instinct and gave me free rein with the illustrations. She was also very positive and encouraging. Prince Preemie was special for her because it was written for her sister and nephew, who was born prematurely.

That is so wonderful. It is refreshing to work with people who not only love what they do but truly care about those around them, particularly those working with them on a project close to their heart. What was your favorite part about working on ‘Prince Preemie’?

I especially enjoyed putting together the nursery scene with the teeny tiny teddy bear and the tiny bluebird/cloud/crystal mobile. And it’s all blue and I love blue.

I loved that scene too. And blue is my favorite color. Take us through your process for creating the right illustrations for the books you work on?

After reading the book, I consider each page and what is the most interesting/emotional aspect of that page. Then a scene pops into my head and I draw a very rough draft.

Once I start creating the characters and the backgrounds with wool fiber (which I hand dye) the illustrations evolve. I also spend a lot of time searching for inspiration on Pinterest and Google. For instance, with Prince Preemie, I spent a lot of time looking at photos of castles, both the interior and exterior.

Brilliant. Pinterest is really good for visual inspiration. I venture over there from time-to -time myself. Do you do any other sort of artwork aside from children’s picture books? If so, please tell us about it.

I create realistic animals from wool – bunnies, squirrels, dogs and more. I also create wool paintings of children and animals. The process I use is needle felting, which is taking a clump of wool roving, rolling it and then poking it repeatedly with a barbed needle. It is like sculpting with wool. The wool paintings I do are also 3D, but it is more like painting with wool.

That sounds so interesting. I think I might have to look into that. What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing this career?

It is hard for me to give specific advice as to how to pursue illustration, since my path was not typical. However, I do think you need to follow your passion and don’t try to copy someone else’s art. Be true to yourself. And always aim to keep improving your technique.

Great advice, thank you. Do you do any writing as well, or do you just stick to illustrations? Would you create your own book from start to finish if you had the opportunity?

Yes, I do have some children’s books in various stages of becoming. My first book as author and illustrator will be published by Loving Healing Press in April. It is, “Seasons of Joy: Everyday is for Outdoor Play.” The illustrations are wool paintings of animals, flowers and trees paired with verse that expresses the joy young children experience playing outside in nature’s seasons. The book was inspired by Waldorf schools where the kids play outside every day. I have fond memories of my son, now a young adult, and his school mates doing all the outdoor activities the children do in the book.

Your book couldn't be in better hands. Tell us what you do in your spare time for fun.

I love nature activities like hiking with my dog in the forest preserves and kayaking on my neighbourhood lake. I love gardening, both flowers and edibles. I also play guitar and fiddle with photography.

Wow! You are so multi-talented! The last question is one I put out to everyone who joins us here on the blog. Do you have any Pearls of Wisdom we can take home?

It is never too late to learn new skills. If you always wanted to do something, go for it.  

Those are fantastic Pearls, Claudia. And thank you for joining us here today, sharing your talent and wisdom with us. You truly are very influential. I can see why Jewel was so drawn to you. Please come back when your book comes out. We'd love to have you back.

Be sure to check out Claudia's website and catch her on one of her Social Media connections. You won't be disappointed.
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Claudia Marie Lenart is a fiber artist from northern Illinois. She experimented in the arts and handwork since childhood and while pursuing a career as a journalist. She finally found her true muse when she discovered needle felting. Her soft sculpture characters are created by repeatedly poking wool and other natural fibers, like alpaca, with a barbed needle. Claudia pioneered a distinct style of illustrating books using needle felted wool to create illustrations as well as a variety of other techniques including wet felting and pressed wool painting.
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