Sunday, June 4, 2017

Europolitan Mentor Interviews Part 3: Bridget Marzo

by Patti Buff

Welcome to our interview series with the Europolitan Mentors! The Europolitan Mentorship program pairs qualified, inspirational mentors with aspiring authors and illustrators, who write in English, to help bring them closer to publication, or to publication at a higher level. Each mentor will select one mentee from all applicants.

This six-month online one-on-one program provides mentees the opportunity to work personally with and learn from a successful professional with teaching experience and a proven track record in children’s literature.

In this series of articles, you will get a closer look at the 2017 mentors; who they are, their writing journey and what potential mentees should know about them. For more information about the program and how to apply, visit the website. 

Our next interview is with Bridget Marzo. Bridget is mentoring author/illustrators and illustrators.

Bridget Strevens Marzo is an award-winning children’s book illustrator and author of over 20 children’s books published in the UK, US and France and co-edited internationally. She has also had a long experience of inspiring adults in their own creative ventures, as the first ever SCBWI International Illustrator Co-ordinator, mentoring at the SCBWI Summer conference in LA, and running picture book workshops across Europe. For over a decade in addition to illustrating, she taught children’s book illustration and design at Parsons Paris. Since her move back to London from France, she has resumed writing alongside illustrating, under her author name Bridget Marzo.

Bridget began by studying art history then fine art. Copying old master paintings and translating art books helped her develop a range of techniques around her own love of lively character drawing and bold use of colour. Her versatile, child-centred illustrations range from the mark-making of her latest picture book story, TIZ AND OTT'S BIG DRAW (Kirkus starred review) to the graphic BIG BOOK FOR LITTLE HANDS (PW starred review) and character-driven perennials like Kirsty Dempsey’s MINI RACER (SLJ starred review) and Margaret Wild's KISS, KISS!(PW starred review and SNCF book award) She has also exhibited in personal and group exhibitions including at the Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators, New York.

Bridget sees the content of each book or project as more important than sticking to a single brand or style. She has learnt from her critique group, her work as a features editor for the UK Association of Illustrator’s magazine Varoom!and in mentoring others, that what matters in the children’s book world is finding enough confidence in your own ‘voice’ to outlast stylistic trends – to say what you want you want to say, with what you love doing most.

Publishers include: Tate UK/ Abrams US, Bayard Jeunesse France, Bloomsbury, Harper Collins, Little Hare Books, Simon & Schuster.

New events and books:

Illustration and book archive:

Welcome to the blog, Bridget! And thank you so much for being Europolitan mentor! I always like to know about how people became creative so could you share with us your path to illustrating for others and then writing and illustrating your own books. Was this something you’d always done or did you pick it up along the way?

I’ve always drawn and painted – and had ideas for characters which I took into stories. I must have been around 5 when I made my very first ‘book’ with lots of scribble-writing and drawings of a mad professor.

At university I started getting commissions to illustrate posters for plays, the odd poetry magazine and cartoons for student newspapers but after several jobs in Paris, I begun to earn a living as a translator of art history books. Through that connection I heard that a well-known US publisher was about to start a UK imprint with a children’s book section.

Since illustrating and writing for yourself and publishing are two different beasts, could you share with us how you first became published and what you’ve learned over the years about publishing?

Developing your own stories is the easiest way in to a career in picture books. And that’s how I first got published. If you think in pictures and stories, and create your own visual worlds, that is a great help. And since I didn’t know about SCBWI, but did have a collection of picture books, I studied them. I sketched out every page of my favorite books in storyboard form to learn how and why the story worked across full spread, half page or vignette illustrations.

Then I heard through my translation network about a US publisher that had just started a UK branch. I sent off a very detailed storyboard (almost as developed as a dummy with lots of clear, highly detailed black and white pictures corresponding to each double page spread) for a picture book adventure set in Paris and inspired by my own 5 year old son. They liked the idea I had of including food and local color in the story along with a few foreign words and they asked me to develop the story some more, which I did.

What is your preferred medium to work in?
A glimpse of Bridget's work in progress

Ah ha – that’s a tough question! My story, Tiz and Ott’s Big Draw, is all about how Tiz draws and Ott paint their way through a story - they are both ‘me’. Every time I start a project I want to experiment. I love trying out new techniques. Though I particularly love a 3B Tombow pencils, I find drawing directly in ink with a Pentel brush pen or fine line pen, keeps me focused because any mistake shows. I also love the strong color of gouache and colored inks. Being able to scan work in and correct the odd line or color on screen adds a new level of freedom to experiment.

What role did mentors, critique groups or an MFA program play in your creative career?

Like many illustrators, I like working to a deadline and in a team and feedback is important to me. That’s why my SCBWI critique group is important to me. It keeps me on track each month, even when I don’t present anything to the group myself. It’s good to know I am not the only one obsessing on why a character behaves in a particular way or why a picture should be darker or spread out across several pages. Each of us has strengths – I really appreciate the global view of plot structure that some of the writers have.

And every time I start a new project it feels like I’m starting from scratch.

I hate to say it doesn’t get any easier once you are published.

A critique group is therapy too. We share our successes and more publishing frustrations and disappointments.

What excites you most about being a mentor for the SCBWI Europolitan Mentor Program?

I’m always excited by other people’s work – however different from mine. If my own experience of what works and what doesn’t can help them get to the next level then I’d be more than delighted.

What else should potential mentees know about you? 

I am a ‘details’ person – be warned!

Tate Publishing May 2015
Tiz and Ott are drawing themselves a house. With the scritch scratch of her crayon, Tiz busily plants some seeds for the garden. Meanwhile Ott lies back lazily and makes a huge splodge for the sun. Then Tiz has a big idea. With a zig, a zag and a crash, she jolts Ott awake with a huge bolt of lightning! Together Tiz and Ott whip up a storm but as they soon find out, a storm isn’t just lines on a page.

Get carried away with Tiz and Ott as they use their imaginations to brush and doodle and scribble and scrawl and splatter their way out of trouble and safely back home.

Kirkus starred review.

Bayard Jeunesse, France
Follow a funny furry family going through their ordinary day from breakfast, to school, a birthday party and finally to bed. Discover over 200 nouns English words and lots more surprises under 30 flaps including dad under the shower curtain singing Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes. There are plenty of observation games for children to play in the supermarket or on the way to school. They can count pencils, crayons and rulers hidden under the books in the classroom and name all the colours on the bottles of paint hidden in the cupboard… Fun even for English-speaking children who might learn a few words of French from the glossary at the back.

For samples of Bridget's illustrations, visit her website.

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