Continuing our artist features, today we meet Phyllis Saroff illustrator of Maggie: Alaska’s Last Elephant. The story, written by Jennifer Keats Curtis, is the emotional journey that took Maggie from Alaska to California making human and elephant friends along the way.
When did you know that a career in art was for you?
I can’t remember a specific time when I knew being an artist was my plan. As a child, I was always drawing on the accordion fold computer paper my father brought home from his lab. One side was full of printed equations, and the other side was blank. I created illustrated books that were stapled together as young as age seven. Later, my father told me to concentrate on what I was good at and what I liked, and the rest would fall into place. I might have realized I could be an artist when I painted backdrops for theater productions in college, or the first oil painting I sold.
Where do you start when taking on a project like Maggie?
After reading the manuscript, I do tiny, messy, drawings in my sketch book. I choose the ones I like and they gradually get bigger and more refined even if they stay very scribbly. Then, I start to look for elements in the book that might be all around me. For instance, the color of the sky, open fields, or the texture of trees and tires. In this book, the emotional flow of the story was very important for me to capture. I wanted the pictures to help convey how Maggie was feeling through composition and color.
Who inspired you as an artist?
There are so many artists who have inspired me the list would be extremely long. Illustrators, fine artists, portrait painters, and mural artists have all inspired me. My problem is reining myself in. I find myself getting excited by work I see and wanting to try another discipline or medium.
What is your favorite animal?
The list of my favorite animals would also be too long to print. Animals were all I drew on the blank side of my father’s computer paper, and I am so lucky to draw animals now as an illustrator. I love all the domestic animals that share our homes with us. I love their faces, patterns and textures from a visual view point. I love the same qualities of the wild animals outside our homes. I even admire the shapes, colors and patterns of insects and invertebrates and I take time to look closely at them-except for ticks!
Do you have a project that you are most proud of?
The most recent work is always what I am most proud of. Each painting or illustration shows me what I could have done differently as it gets older. I have recently experimented with mixed media paintings that I sell through a local Annapolis gallery. I am proud of the result.
Maggie is Phyllis’ fourth book with Arbordale, readers can travel the world through her other titles! Check them out!