In celebration of the Million Man March 15-year anniversary, author Kelly Starling Lyons embarks on a two-week virtual tour, which will highlight her book ONE MILLION MEN and ME (Just Us Books). The tour includes interviews about the book, information about Kelly’s writing life, guest posts and many other surprises.
Today I have the pleasure of hosting the tour here on my blog with an interview of Peter Ambush, the illustrator for ONE MILLION MEN and ME.
Peter is an award-winning fine artist and illustrator. His portfolio includes artwork for newspapers, greeting cards, book jackets and children’s books. While I’m a fan of his commercial art, it’s his fine art – specifically his portraiture work -- that blows me away. They are simply stunning.
I’m honored to host this interview with Peter:
Don: The Million Man March came to symbolize unity, atonement and brotherhood among African American men. Can you talk about how these principles manifest in your own life?
Peter: Being an African American man, a lot of things that have happened to our race affect me in some way or another. But, I'm a Christian first and I have been most of my life, so my principles and values have been based on God's Word long before the Million Man March. My goals have always been to love God and then love my fellow man, whatever color that may be.
Don: My favorite image from ONE MILLION MEN and ME is the cover. It features a tender moment between father and daughter. Please discuss how you went about capturing the emotion in that scene.
Peter: I'm more of a realist artist be nature, I tend not to exaggerate too much in my art. The emotion that I get comes from interacting with whomever I'm working with. It's a push and pull relationship. I asked for something and they give me what I want or something unexpected.
The main challenge was finding the right models to represent Nia and her daddy. At first, I thought of using my daughter for the part, but she was a little older than the little girl in the book. A fellow choir member at my church and his daughter agreed to be my models. As far as research is concerned, I get it from everywhere I can, from Kelly the author or the publishers or just searching online.
When I start reading a story, images come to mind and then I sketch them out with somewhat of an idea of what I want to convey. But, then I'll start shooting my photos for references and wonderful unexpected things happen that sparks new concepts. The model will look a certain way or have a great expression on their face that works a lot better than what I originally thought of.
Don: A School Library Journal reviewer noted how you successfully varied the scenes to include both warm close-ups and wider views. What challenges were presented in creating large crowd scenes, and how did you solve the problem?
Peter: Well, as far as book illustrating goes, I kind of let the story tell me what it wants to be. Like I said before, images will come to me but I try to vary each from another to keep it exciting.
Don: When did you first realize you had an interest in art?
Peter: Back when I was about 5 or 6yrs. old. I think it started when I saw a pastel drawing my father had done of a nativity scene for our church. After that I started drawing cartoons like Mighty Mouse and Bambi all the time.
Don: As a child, how did your parents and family support/encourage your artistic endeavors?
Peter: My parents never stopped me or said anything against me drawing. But I was not necessarily influenced or inspired to make it a career. I don't think they — or myself for that matter — thought I would make being an artist my choice in life. I really didn't decide to go to art school until my senior year in high school.
Don: Do you consider yourself a fine artist, commercial artist, how would you characterize your artwork?
Peter: I would say I'm an artist first, and then depending on what I have to do that day, I could be a computer graphic artist, a portrait artist, an airbrush artist, the list goes on. I love a lot of different styles and mediums of art, which gets me in trouble sometimes. There's so many different things that I would like to experiment with that it keeps me from focusing on one thing. It's the "Jack of all trades and master of none" scenario.
Don: Your comment about styles hits a nerve with me because I tend to use more than a few styles, too. Do you think having several styles hinders or hurts an artist?
Peter: I've heard that having a lot of different styles in your portfolio can hinder an artist, because if you're showing it to a gallery, they want to be sure you can be consistent with creating the same thing over and over again. I've spoken with other galleries that love for you to have different styles to keep having new things to spark excitement with their customers. Really, for the most part, the most successful artists I've seen out there have one or maybe two styles of working. I think the key is to use that one or two styles in many different genres. I think it's best to discover that one thing you love to do, that totally comes from your spirit and seems natural to you. When you're happy with what you do, it show's in your work and people will recognize it. I love to airbrush. I use it in fine art, portraits, illustration, T-shirts and the list goes on. It's something that I've done for many years and I believe it's something that I was born to do. I still have plenty to learn, but I'm having fun doing it.
Don: What do you enjoy most about being an artist?
Peter: I love being able to create something out of a thought that I have or some outside influence and being able to talk to people about it. My wife calls me a social butterfly. I just love talking to people.
Don: What advice can you give to aspiring children’s book illustrators?
Peter: Well, this is something I wish someone had told me early in my life. Learn to draw and keep drawing. Draw from life and take extra classes when you can. It's the foundation to all representational art. And, I don't know if this is good advice or bad advice. I spoke a little about it earlier. I have found it to be somewhat good to be able to do a lot of different types of art. Sometimes people are looking for computer graphics, newsletters, logo designs, fliers or a pencil drawing, painted portrait or even their Winnebago airbrushed painted. With my background in working in a lot of different fields of art, I'm able to flow with tides, so to speak. I'm not stuck in one place waiting for winds to blow my way. Also, when working on a project, think about it, make a plan and stick to it.
Don’t miss the remainder of the tour:
October 12 – Scribbly Katia
October 13 – Mitali’s Fire Escape
October 14 – Kristi’s Book Nook
October 16 – 15th ANNIVERSARY OF THE MILLION MAN MARCH — 11 a.m. Storytime & Reading Hour at International Civil Rights Center & Museum
October 18 – 6 p.m. March Anniversary Program at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture