Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (and an interview with illustrator Christian Robinson)

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinsonwritten by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

(Published 2014 by Chronicle Books.)

Have you seen the buzz flitting about this book yet? Allow me to flit a bit more. It’s a spectacular collaboration, a spotlight on an unforgettable lady. I have to believe that Patricia Hruby Powell’s dance background fueled the sparkle in her words, and Christian Robinson’s connection to Josephine is electric in his art.

Have you seen the trailer? (The music is by Patricia’s husband’s jazz band!)

breakerBefore you enjoy my chat with Christian Robinson, be sure to check out this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Initial cover and color sketches? Yes.Christian RobinsonAnd this interview at Seven-Imp from 2012 is where I first fell for Christian Robinson. Also, more swooning over at Design Mom, where I covered Harlem’s Little Blackbird.

Perhaps you saw his art at Google last week in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?Christian Robinson's MLK Google DoodleGorgeous.

Here he is. So happy to have him visit. (Click any image to enlarge.)breakerHi, Christian! Can you tell us a bit about your process, both the physicality of creating and it’s origins?

I like to do my research. I’d describe the start as cultivating curiosity for the characters and setting in the story. I go to the library and absorb all the visuals and facts that will influence and inspire the work.

Then I start sketching, sometimes rough concepts; other times, more polished work. I basically work on creating enough art to share my vision with the art director and editor.

Then layout sketches — I like to use Post-its. These are great, because I can easily switch out sketches that aren’t working.

Then, once approved by the editor and art director, I create images in Photoshop, tying down shapes and colors. Then, final art collage and acrylic.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonHow would you describe your studio in three words?

Sunny, quiet, magical.

Now how about a little more. It seems like it would be a magical place to capture the spirit of your work. What do you think?

The creative process in general is pretty magical. I imagine that magic must rub off on any space ritually used to make stuff. Josephine was illustrated in my studio/bedroom. It’s a sunny, warm and small room in a big San Francisco Victorian home built in 1891. I like creating in bright spaces, with lots of natural light, I also like being able to look out a window and take in any inspiration the city has to offer in the moment. Now I work in a larger shared artist studio, which is also nice. Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonI am crazy about your short, What is Music? Can you tell us about the inspiration behind that? Could you ever have anticipated those golden kid-responses?

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! Well, I was inspired by the work of John and Faith Hubley, who created animations to home audio recordings of their daughters playing together as children.

(Moonbird is one of the many award winning shorts they made together.)

I could only cross my fingers and hope the questions I asked would get such responses!

The story about Josephine Baker being in your early awareness of art is remarkable. What does the magnitude of that feel like?

It feels unbelievable, like I’m I might wake up at any moment. This was a dream project for me, but it also carried a lot of self-imposed pressure, this is Josephine Baker we’re talking about! I had to constantly remind myself to just trust the process, and not have a panic attack every time I couldn’t illustrate something as well I would have wanted.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonWho are your creative heroes?

Honestly, Beyonce – ha! Kind of true though. Josephine Baker, Ezra Jack Keats, Hayao Miyazaki, Ray and Charles Eames, Sade, Yuri Norstein. Pretty eclectic list, but it’s what’s coming to mind at the moment.

What memories of picture books do you have from your much younger years?

As a child I struggled learning to read and write and needed a little extra help to keep up in class. I remember being intimidated by reading and not being very attached to books without pictures. My love for books came later. Although I totally remember feeling like a champ in elementary school if I was able to get to Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar first during reading time.

If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, and across form or genre, who would it be and why?

Picasso, because he’s Picasso! I’m sure I could learn some things from one of the world’s most celebrated and inspiring artist.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonWhat’s next for you?

Currently illustrating a picture book loosely based off my childhood experiences of riding the city bus with my grandma. Written by the amazing Matt de la Peña.

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Raise your hand if you’ll join me first in line for that collaboration? Seriously. And Beyonce! As if I needed one more reason to be crazy about this guy. Thank you, Christian! And thanks, too, to Patricia Hruby Powell for writing words that dazzle. This one is spectacular. Check it out!

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Thanks to Chronicle Books for the images in this post, and also for a review copy of Josephine. All thoughts (and gushing) my own.

12 thoughts on “Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (and an interview with illustrator Christian Robinson)

  1. The artwork is amazing! I am looking for an illustrator to do some commissioned work for my non-profit and I would love to get in contact with Christian Robinson! Can you help me with that? How can I reach him? Thank you for your help!

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