Cheshvan 5773 / November 2012
Behind the Scenes:
An interview with Illustrator Shiri Cohen
Torah Temimah Publications has made a large investment by publishing two fully-illustrated children’s books in a series of Izzy and Ezzy books. The first title was released in the beginning of September and tells about two boys and their friends who play basketball together in a friendly fashion. The second is due to be released in the middle or end of November and is about the same two boys and the way they spend their day off school due to a big snowfall.
In order to give you a taste of the value we placed in the high quality illustrations in this series, we are recording a portion of an interview with the illustrator herself, Shiri Cohen from Bnei Brak.
TTP: At what age did you realize you were artistic?
SC: I think from the time I learned to hold a pencil and a crayon. I always loved to draw, and my family encouraged me very much to spend time on this hobby. Illustrating fictional stories was one of my favorite pastimes when I was a young girl. At that stage I wasn’t thinking about a career—but I repeatedly heard the idea from the adults around me until it penetrated my mind as well.
TTP: Does the talent run in the family?
SC: Absolutely. My grandfather, z”l, whom I was not fortunate to know, was famous for the books he illustrated with his golden hands. My mother is a painter. She doesn’t do it for a living nowadays, but in the past she had a gallery filled with paintings that were bought by enthusiastic customers. As a young girl I often used to draw together with her.
TTP: Did you ever take art lessons?
SC: My main education in illustrating was via R’ Yoni Gerstein, the well-known chareidi illustrator, who with humility and patience allowed me to sit with him in his studio to learn and progress with my illustrating. At the beginning, I really despaired of reaching the high standards of perfection that characterized his drawings, but without a doubt it was a surefire ladder to rapid progress.
Mothers of daughters, or daughters themselves, ask me whether one needs to have previous experience before coming to me for drawing lessons. I tell them that anyone who studies illustrations in a book by a good illustrator and attempts to imitate the manner in which he drew—already has experience! This was one of my central learning methods: by studying the work of great illustrators.
TTP: How long have you been illustrating professionally?
SC: Baruch Hashem, for six years already. My first illustrations, which were published in the book Amiti, were drawn by hand and colored with water colors. Subsequently, I worked for a couple of newspapers and dabbled in painting wall murals, but ultimately, I deal mostly with book illustrations.
TTP: What famous books and projects have you worked on so far?
SC: Izzy and Ezzy, of course! I illustrated a wonderful book that came out this past year called Mister Picture, which is an English-Hebrew comic dictionary for children. Another one is Adventures from Around the World by Ruth Rappaport, which is a comic book featuring a group of cows that travel to various countries. Conversations on the Edge of a Lake by Shiffy Tzoren is a book about a group of ducks on the topic of communication and proper speech. I also illustrated a few books for very young children, as well as various educational booklets. At the moment, I’m in the middle of a comic book on the topic of healthy living according to halachah that is being published as a serial in the Hebrew Mishpacha magazine under the name Avigdor’s Courageous Journey.
TTP: What was special about illustrating Izzy and Ezzy?
SC: A few things. Firstly, the style of illustration—American—was relatively new for me, and I very much enjoyed doing that. The biggest compliment I received—and therefore I knew that I hit the “bull’s eye”—was when I showed the book to one of my Israeli, illustrator friends, and she cried “Whoa, so American!” Even the landscapes were new to me. I was happy to draw something out of the ordinary, especially in the second book where snow fell—something I’ve seen only once in my entire life!
The second aspect I enjoyed was the final product! The book was laid out and published in the most beautiful manner possible. One of the fears of an illustrator is that even if her illustrations are beautiful, the publisher may use graphics that are not so nice, or try to economize when it comes to printing or binding, and then the illustrations appear pale and not comparable to how nice they appeared on the computer screen.
Here the production brought out the illustrations so that they were even more beautiful! The level of the graphics, printing, and the investment in all of the minute details were fantastic. And working with the publisher was one of the best experiences I’ve had out of all of my projects.
I became very attached to the illustrations in the book, both because of the many hours I invested in them, and also because of the warm treatment I received via email from the entire supportive Miller family. My hope is that this love will also pass on to the children who will read these excellent books!