Bryan Collier - Illustrator
Bryan Collier is an accomplished artist and illustrator who lives in Harlem in New York City. He grew up in Southern Maryland and began painting as a teenager. Now with several books under his belt, his work has won the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award.
RIF: At what point did you know you wanted to be an illustrator?
Bryan Collier: I started doing art at 15. I decided to be an illustrator a couple years after college. I just started seeing and noticing children’s books. Then I could see the possibilities about what it means to tell a story. I could see what storytelling is and how powerful it can be.
RIF: What's your favorite part of being an artist and an illustrator?
BC: The best part is the discovery of telling a story visually and that challenge. I pride myself on telling a story a different way every time. There are no formulas or rituals. Every book feels like the first one, because of how I approach it. They all feel scary. I always ask myself, “Am I really up to this challenge?” Then the more I research and get into the story, I can surrender and let it happen.
RIF: Growing up, you were a football and basketball player. How did you choose art?
BC: I was supposed to play college football, but chose art at the last minute. It was a scary decision. I had football recruiters coming to talk to me at school. At the time, I knew in my heart I didn’t really want to do it. I knew I wanted to be an artist and be in New York. That’s all I had in my sights.
RIF: What's your favorite book that you've done?
BC: I have several favorites. With Uptown [Collier’s first book, which he wrote and illustrated], I was discovering how to tell a story. I was telling about something I knew about, Harlem. I was discovering and rediscovering it.
Martin’s Big Words is another one. The story of Martin Luther King’s life has been told so many times. When I got into the research and as I tried to understand it as a person, it was really magical and inspiring. I went to the cities where Dr. King was during the Civil Rights movement. I got out of the car and just stood. I went to the churches that he stood in and preached in. I sort of walked in his shoes in a way.
RIF: You spend a lot of time visiting kids in schools. What do you like about that?
BC: I love going out to visit. I try to do as much as I can. I’m just amazed at the kids’ reaction to the projects that I’ve done. I’m interested in knowing how the story impacted them and if they got what I was trying to tell them. They usually do get it, and even more so. They see things that I didn’t realize.
RIF: What do you talk about with the kids?
BC: I talk about what they hope for. I ask if they’re dreaming, and if they are, what about. I try to dispel that whole thing about power and fame. I think today everyone wants to be famous for no reason.
I talk to them about purpose. I get incredible responses because they’re right there questioning the same thing. As you become an adult, things jade you and change you. But I want them to hold onto that feeling about purpose, because there’s something much more important than fame and riches. If you do something and don’t have any purpose, you find yourself lost.
RIF: What advice do you have for kids who want to be artists and writers?
BC: Pursue it. Know that sometimes even if you see yourself as an artist, you may find yourself doing something totally different. You’ll find a connection between the two things. There’s a common thread that connects it all. At some point you have to discover your purpose with art. It has to be more than something saying that you’re good at it.
Note: Bryan Collier is illustrating two books that are coming out this year:
- What’s the Hurry, Fox: And Other Animal Stories, written by Zora Neale Hurston, April 2004
- A book about John Lennon with author Doreen Rappaport, fall 2004
Write to Bryan!
c/o Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
115 W 18th Street
New York, NY 10011