New South Bergenite Column: Interview with Tom Yezerski

Tom illustration-1

Jim Wright, who keeps this blog, also writes a twice-monthly nature column for The South Bergenite. Here's his latest, an interview with "Meadowlands" author Thoms F. Yezerski.

The last time we checked in with children’s author/illustrator Tom Yezerski, his marvelous book “Meadowlands, A Wetlands Survival Story” had just been published. Since then, the former Rutherford resident’s book has been named a notable book of 2011 by both The New York Times and the New York Public Library.

The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission is pleased to host Tom’s first gallery show of the paintings from the book, including a talk and signing by Tom, followed by a reception, on Sunday, Feb. 5, in the Flyway Gallery in DeKorte Park.

We caught up with Tom again recently to talk about subjects ranging from having his first show in the Meadowlands to his advice for aspiring illustrators.

How is the book doing?  Very well. The book has gotten great reviews from as far away as Los Angles, which gave it national attention.  All the kids I have shown it to seem to love the animals and the comeback story.

How fitting is it to have your very show in the Meadowlands? I’m just ecstatic about this show. In a way, the show will be a new work of art in itself because you can see the paintings right next to windows that will be showing the actual landscapes.IMG_2508-1

Did your illustration style for the book come naturally, or was it part of a plan? When I think about what kind of book I want to do, I try to think of subjects that fit my style, and the Meadowlands was perfect because watercolors capture the water, and the kind of pen work that I do captures the energy and the “busy”-ness and even some of the humor that can be found in our very complex landscape.

When did you decide you wanted to be an illustrator?  I think I wanted to be an illustrator even before what I knew an illustrator was. Most of my drawings, even as a kid, told a story. I loved reading books and imaging what the pictures would be. I’d sit there for what seemed like hours working on one drawing, kind of playing out a story as I drew it.

You lived in Rutherford for a dozen years – what was that like?  I moved to Rutherford after growing up in Pennsylvania, so I was kind of an outsider. It helped me to see the Meadowlands itself as an outsider to NYC, which is a story that kids can relate to. It’s the classic New Jersey as underdog story, but as a place.

What advice do you have for someone thinking of becoming an illustrator?  The best thing you can do is look at a lot of other illustrations, see what has been done, and what has been done well and not so well. After you’ve found some heroes to emulate, think of how you can do a better job than they did. Mostly, you have to get out and live, and not sit inside and draw all the time.

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