Alexxandra and her friend Nathan the Dragon

Illustration by Lon Levin

In 2006 I decided to transform myself from a Creative Director at Warner Bros Worldwide Marketing to an illustrator of children’s books. I studied illustration at Art Center and never really committed to it. I ended up taking jobs as an art director, creative director, VP advertising and marketing and all sorts of other titles. By 2004 I was planning my exit. I put together a portfolio of work and took a flying leap. I ended up going to the Bologna Book Faire in 2004. It was my good fortune to meet Tony Ross, the fabulous British illustrator of children’s books.

illustrator Tony Ross's artwork
Illustration by Tony Ross

He looked like an aging british rocker with his long whitish-grey hair and his straight legged jeans. I showed him my portfolio and my dummy book. He said, “You’re an illustrator. Get jobs illustrating first then work your way into writing your own work. I spent the rest of the day showing my work and absorbing all I could about the children’s book world. I was hooked. On the plane ride back home I thought about Tony’s words and realized he was right. I only had seven portfolio pieces so I started working on more.

Sir Armando De Tortuga
Illustration by Lon Levin

Since I knew next to nothing about what style of illustration was selling and what wasn’t I did what I wanted to do and figured I’d go with the flow when I got feedback. Sometimes this can work out sometimes it doesn’t. In my case it worked for a while and my work started to morph into a very different look than I anticipated. My first two jobs came from two very different sources. At BEA 2005 in New York I was introduced to Harriet Ziefert, a prolific children’s book writer. She looked at the art I had with me and asked me if I could illustrate like Jack E. Davis

Bedhead by Jack E. Davis
Illustration by Jack E. Davis

I said “Sure” not even knowing who he was. She told me she contact me after the show to talk about a book assignment. I was elated, it was my first children’s book and I now thought this career may have legs. I went home after the conference and looked up Jack E. Davis and realized this would be a good fit for me. A few week later harriet called and we made a deal for $5000.The book was to be delivered in two months. I had no way of gauging how long it would take me but I thought I could do it. At the same time I was offered another book deal by Lisa Willever of Franklin Mason Press which gave me more rights but no money upfront. The book was yet to be written but I agreed to do it. Lisa later wrote a wonderful book entitled “There’s A Kid Under My Bed” and I created the characters from her prose. This all happened while I was still the senior director of art at Warner Bros. So between my job and two books I was busy day and night.

Illustration from Harriet Ziefert’s Small Potatoes Club

But it didn’t matter I was on my way to illustrating children’s books. In the process my painting skills and drawing skills got better. However, without an art director to guide me I made choices that were not always the best. Despite the fact I had been a seasoned art director I soon realized I could not direct yourself as well as someone else could.

End of Part One