Wednesday, December 22, 2010

SCBWI TEAM BLOG Interview with Art Director Lucy Ruth Cummins

We're only a month or so away from the 12th Annual Winter Conference, can you smell it?

Illustrators, we have some fabulous art directors speaking at this year's conference (not that we've ever had a non-fabulous one.) Lucy Ruth Cummins, associate art director at Simon & Schuster was kind enough to do a wee interview before the new year:

Jaime: Hi, Lucy! Word at the Caldecott meetings is Justin Chanda is a real bear to work for. Rumor has it he keeps the Art Directors chained to their desks for 20+ hour work days. What's your average day like?

Lucy: I tend not to have an average length of work day - some run long and some finish on the dot. Often if I'm totally "in the zone" working on a book, I'll have a hard time checking out the moment the whistle blows. Really flowing with a project is such a wonderful feeling, and squandering that flow is something I try never to do.

Jaime: Okay, I can read between the lines. Justin is in your office, isn't he? I'm going to ask you how many books you are currently art directing/designing. If you answer "six picture books," we'll know he's listening in on things.

Lucy: I'm currently actively working on approximately six picture books, and about twelve novels. Many other projects are at various final stages - once we've sent them off to the printer, picture books generally return for proofs (and occasional corrections) over the course of another two or more months. Same goes for novels.

My executive art director Lizzy Bromley does a wonderful job of pairing her staff's talents with projects, so generally as a new season comes up, she and I will meet and she'll give me a slate of new titles that will be at the very beginning stages - frequently just a manuscript (for both novels and picture books) - and often there are no illustrators attached at this stage for picture book projects. Then I'll meet with the editor of each project to discuss directions and possible artists and move forward from there. When we are developing our projects, we often have meetings which include all the other designers within my imprint, and other times meetings which include all designers and editors from my imprint. These are great brainstorming sessions and it's neat to have feedback from fresh eyes.

Jaime: Oh, man, Chanda's in the room?!? I'm going to ask you about your favorite working snack next. If you want us to send help, mention a Coca-Cola product.

Lucy: I could never choose just one favorite working snack, but I'd have to say I'm frequently munching on something delicious that's been baked by someone on the editorial side of things. That field seems to be a magnet for wonderful bakers! I am a big coffee drinker in the AM and I'd be nothing without a Diet Coke (preferably bottled) in the afternoon.

Jaime: Okay, help is on the way. In the meantime, I'm having my people send Justin a bunch of emails so he'll be distracted and hopefully you'll be able to answer a few more questions. Illustrators will definitely want to know if you are currently acquiring?

Lucy: We are always acquiring new talent. I'm always keeping my eyes peeled. Even if I can't place someone on a project immediately (and it is true that some parts of publisher's lists are shrinking!) I'll often keep them on hand waiting for the right project. An example of this is the debut book from illustrator Jon Klassen, CATS' NIGHT OUT by Caroline Stutson - Jon just received the Governor General's Award for this project, and I had had his work on hand for several years before I was able to pair him with the perfect project. Although we may not always be able to immediately put the rubber to the road with new folks, good artwork makes a strong impression and the quest for a winning collaboration is always on my mind.

As for what I'm looking for - there's never anything specific. I love such a range of things, but I'm mainly looking for things I'm touched by. I love cute. I love simple. But I also love creepy and detailed! There's no one thing I'm looking for and I'm always happy to be surprised.

At this point in the conversation, I could hear a commotion coming from the Simon & Schuster end. Justin Chanda was taken into custody by the Newbery Committee and we were able to conduct the rest of the interview in relative privacy.

Jaime: Oh, I'm a huge Jon Klassen fan. And that CATS' NIGHT OUT cover is lovely, it reminds me of 1930's romantic comedy opening titles. What's your favorite children's book cover of 2010 not done by your publishing house?

Lucy: Nothing made me giggle more than the cover for CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS by Peter Brown (designed by Patti Ann Harris.) There's so much to love about it, and the title is so grabbing.

Jaime: Kill, kiss, or marry: Helvetica, Baskerville, or Comic Sans?
Lucy: I suspect you'll get the same answer from every one who's ever graphically designed - kill: Comic Sans, kiss: Helvetica, marry: Baskerville. (Although maybe Comic Sans is so darn unlovable that it would make a really grateful spouse...?)

Jaime: Favorite Pantone color?

Lucy: Pantone Red 032 PC - a poppy red color with no hint of blue. Divine!

Jaime: The Winter Conference brings in lots of out-of-towners. What is your favorite thing to do in late January in New York?

Lucy: There are so many wonderful things about January in New York - hot chocolate from Jacques Torres (so thick it's nearly solid, worthy of a last meal), post-holiday sales at all the stores, and just walking through Central Park while well bundled up.

Jaime: Any illustrator-centric activities?

Lucy: I feel so spoiled by this city - there are so many epic cultural institutions that I feel I could visit one a day for the next 100 years and not run out of options. Despite the steep price, the Museum of Modern Art is not to be missed. It's free on Fridays but I think it's worth the price of admission to avoid the crowds that form that day and go any other time.

The Metropolitan Museum is fun to walk around and recall scenes from FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. 

The American Museum of Natural History has always been one of my favorites - the dioramas are breathtaking and they have a life-sized blue whale replica that will stun you on sight.

And the Whitney currently has a well-reviewed retrospective of Edward Hopper that I'm dying to check out.

Jaime: Wow, awesome suggestions, thanks, Lucy! One final kicker and then you and all the other art directors can run free: The format of this year's art show has changed, can you tell us how this change positively impacts your experience with the art show?

This will be my first SCBWI (and I'm beyond excited!) so I can't speak to the previous structure of reviews. I can say, however, that I think really trying to hone in on one stunning piece is a great way of developing one's ability to edit work and presentations. I can't wait to see illustrator's personalities oozing out of the piece they've selected for this purpose - it seems like it will be very telling!

Check out Lucy's site to see more of the books she's worked on—including her own—THE TAKING TREE.


Lee Wind said...

Great interview! I loved the kiss, kill or marry feature... poor comic sans! And it was fascinating to hear about things from an Art Director's POV! Thanks Lucy and Jaime!
Oh, and Happy Holidays!

CocoaStomp said...

Thanks, Lee!