"Bright," "cheerful," and "bursting with light" are words that many reviewers use to describe Melanie Hope Greenberg’s picture book illustrations for children.
Her books offer a colorful view of life in Brooklyn and New York, taking children on exciting excursions to laundromats, luncheonettes and supermarkets, as well to more adventurous sites like the beach and the subway.
“Most of my books portray various views of urban life in a snapshot,” Greenberg says. “The ordinary becomes extra-ordinary when captured in art.”
But her books capture the fanciful side of life, too, as in Mermaids on Parade, which describes an actual mermaid parade in Brooklyn marking the opening of the beaches for the summer. (This year’s annual Coney Island “Mermaids on Parade” takes place on June 20th.)
It’s a costume ball, beach party, summer extravaganza, all wrapped into one, that ends happily for a young girl marching in the parade for the first time as it makes its way toward the sea.
Self-taught, Greenberg first began playing with brushes and colors during a stint as the manager of a small print gallery.
Since then she’s created more than sixteen books for children, as well as hundreds of illustrations for magazines, greeting cards, posters, wrapping paper, t-shirts, stationary, magnets, stickers, and puzzles. Some of her illustrations have been reproduced as cards for UNICEF’s popular greeting cards..
“I'm currently exhibiting twenty original picture book illustrations from seven of my books at the Brooklyn Central Library’s Youth Wing, ” Greenberg says about the free exhibit on display until June 13th. “You can learn more about the process of making picture books, so it's educational as well.”
Greenberg was kind enough to take a break from her work to share her thoughts on writing and illustrating picture books with Wordswimmer.
Wordswimmer: How do you get into the water each day?
Greenberg: I dive into the ocean of consciousness. I meditate in the mornings to submerge within, to watch my mind at work, watch my thoughts, visions and feelings that arise. The color palette for Good Morning Digger came from a short vision in meditation. Submerging keeps my awareness open during the day to catch the world around me and record what I experience with words or colors. My books are for very young people who are highly instinctual. Being submerged helps me see the world in a childlike way with constant wonder and spontaneity. Submerging helps me to trust my imaginings.
Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?
Greenberg: I need an anchor in order to stay afloat. One anchor is having a strategy. I use a "map" or a 32-page thumbnail grid. Then I can envision the overall sequential form of the book I’m creating. Once I see it, the words flow. Research is another anchor. While researching Coney Island's history, I kept extensive notes which kept feeding me more ideas.
Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?
Greenberg: Years of living a certain lifestyle keeps me swimming in a constant creative stride. Ideas for books do not come easy for me. Sometimes librarians or teachers tell me what is missing on their shelves and that sparks my imagination. Also, in these days of publishing I need to be my own publicist. A lot of writing goes into that. It's actually great for picture book writing, to get to the essence of what I want to convey in a short amount of time.
Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?
Greenberg: This business requires constant training and retraining. The competition is fierce and goal posts move and keep changing. Trends come and trends go. New editors and new art directors need to become aware that my career exists. It’s constant hunting with no guarantee of a contract. One needs to know not only how to surf the wild waves but how to become a thoroughbred (seahorse)! I’ve developed a leather ego.
Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?
Greenberg: Persistence. Discipline plays a big role. I keep working my craft with the belief that my ideas have value. I also work every aspect of this career. Publicizing my books, presenting workshops, and an ongoing blog keeps my book career alive while treading water in between book contracts. I’d rather swim in a school of fish than stay too isolated. I communicate with other professionals in my business who have it hard, too. That knowledge makes the whole publishing process and the rejections less personal.
Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?
Greenberg: Transcendence of time, space, location. True devotion that is positive and expresses what I see, think and feel when submerged within. Sometimes my ideas become a published book. I find my career is my spiritual path and learn many inner philosophies with each book I paint. I love swimming with all types of artists in various disciplines. Most of these artists are not commercial and some just do art for passion. Their influence keeps me on my toes to be true to
myself, my visions, to be original and not go trendy.
For more information about Melanie Hope Greenberg and her work, visit her website:
Or take a look at her blog:
To read her exhibition statement for her current show at the Brooklyn Public Library, visit: http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/events/exhibitions/2009/ordinaryextraordinary.jsp
And for additional info, check out: