This month’s we catch up Atlanta-based illustrator Ebony Glenn! Her bright and colorful illustrations have landed her a spot with the Bright Agency, as well as her first picture book, Mommy’s Khimar (by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow/ Simon & Schuster). We catch up with her to discuss her work and her plans for the future!
Hi Ebony! Welcome to PictureBookers! What are you up to today?
Thanks for giving me this opportunity! I’m currently working on some sketches for a new picture book, and I’m also getting ready to launch my new Etsy shop, artsyebby.
Tell us a bit about your illustration journey! Did you always want to be a children’s illustrator?
I’d be more than happy to share my illustration journey; Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve always known that I wanted to make art for a living. Drawing has always been my solace, my way of escaping reality to an imaginary world. Yet it wasn’t until after college that I began to explore the idea of turning my passion for illustration into a career. While working a part-time job in the day, I worked on my portfolio at night. I believed in my ability to create compelling imagery for children’s books, so I sought out ways to improve my skills and gain knowledge of the publishing industry. I studied the artwork of many successful illustrators, experimented with different artistic mediums, read plenty of books on the subject, and joined the organization SCBWI to help me meet other like-minded folk.
In 2016 I was fortunate enough to be approached by the Bright Agency for artistic representation, and it’s been a blessing ever since.
That’s exciting! You said the Bright agency approached you – can you tell us more about that? How did they find you, and what convinced you to sign with them?
Sure! At the time I was working as a bartender when I read the email from my (now) agent, Anne Armstrong, of her interest in my illustration work. I’ve heard of the Bright Agency before from doing my research on different illustration agencies, but I didn’t think my portfolio was strong enough to seek representation from them or any other illustration agency. So, you can imagine just how joyful I became when I received that email! It’s one of the best moments of my life.
Congratulations with your debut picture book, Mommy’s Khimar! Can you tell us a little more about the story? What was the highlight on working on this project?
Thank you! The author, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, has written such a wonderful story, and I’m so grateful to have illustrated it.
The picture book Mommy’s Khimar is about a little, Muslim American girl who loves to wear her mother’s khimars, another word for hijab or headscarf. When she wears her favorite yellow khimar, she imagines herself as a queen, a superhero, and even as a shooting star all the while feeling closer to her mother and the love they share.
One of the highlights of working on this book was the very first time I held the finished copy. There are so many revisions, sketches, and spreads that don’t make the final cut, but it’s such a marvelous feeling to see all your hard work come together in the end.
The final book does look gorgeous – the colors are so vibrant! Did you have to do a lot of research for the book, and did the research help you to choose specific colors for the story?
Yes, I wanted to learn as much as possible on Muslim American culture for the book. As someone who does not practice Islam, I wanted to get a better understanding of the religion so I can accurately and respectfully illustrate Jamilah’s story. As for the colors, I chose such vibrant ones to depict the protagonist’s happy, sweet, and sunny personality. She’s such a vibrant character, herself!
Many picture book illustrators go on to write and illustrate their own books. Do you have any plans for your own stories?
I’d definitely love to write and illustrate my own picture book one day, but at the moment I’m perfectly content bringing other writers’ stories to life with my illustrations as well as improving my skills as a visual storyteller.
I love your digitally illustrated work, but I also adore the little paperart pieces you have posted on Instagram, like the fairy girl and the winter cabin. Do you see yourself illustrating a whole book in this way?
I think that would be a great project for me to explore in the future, thanks for the idea! In my spare time I enjoy making these paper art crafts. It’s a nice change to work with my hands and get a little messy every once in a while.
It is nice working with real media for a change when the majority of one’s work is digital. One of the nice things about working with real mediums is that they do get messy. Paper slips, paint flows unevenly, yet these imperfections can result in ‘happy accidents’. It has been said that it is harder to achieve ‘happy accidents’ with digital media, since we have so much more control (and Undo). Do you agree? Why?
Well, I kind of disagree because I’ve also experienced happy accidents while working digitally. Sometimes they’ll occur when I play around with color or filters, mix and rearrange layers, or when I accidently press the wrong button on my keyboard (seriously, that program has so many features). I cannot say for sure if I experience less happy accidents by working digitally, but at least I still have the opportunity to experience them.
What’s your advice to aspiring picture book illustrators?
These words are not mine, but it’s such a valid piece of advice: Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality. – Les Brown
When I was starting out, I met a lot of resistance and discouragement from others about my dreams to illustrate children’s books. It’s not easy to fight your own feelings of self-doubt and insecurity when you’re also combatting the harsh opinions of others who believe that they know your inherent value and worth. Therefore, I highly recommend tuning out those negatives thoughts, and to trust in yourself that you can make your dreams a reality.
Also, I highly recommend joining SCBWI (The Society of Childrens’ Book Writers & Illustrators).
Since you mention SCBWI – how have you benefited from being a member? (Interviewer’s note: I am also a member and volunteer with the SCBWI)
That’s awesome! I definitely would like to volunteer for one of their many opportunities in the future. SCBWI has enlightened me on so many wonderful facets of the children’s book industry as well as helped me meet other like-minded people. Without it, I wouldn’t have learned about the trends and needs of the industry, nor would I have made the friends I have now who also share my love for illustration.
Are you working on anything new that you can share with us?
Yes! I’m getting ready to launch my new Etsy shop, artsyebby, with some of my personal artwork. I also can’t wait for the release of my latest illustrated picture book, Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins, on January 8, 2019! Written by Michelle Meadows, Brave Ballerina is a picture book biography of the first African American prima ballerina, Janet Collins, who performed at New York Metropolitan Opera House in mid-twentieth century.
Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful work with us Ebony! Be sure to check out her website at EbonyGlenn.com