VSS Illustrator Interviews

In doing these interviews, we hope to give you a glimpse into our artist members' unique personalities, a new perspective on their wonderful work, and the opportunity to know what inspires them!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Penny Weber

This week we are lucky to get to see Penny Weber's wonderful illustrations. Penny works hard and accomplishes so much. I was really happy to read that her recent picture book release, One of Us written by Peggy Moss just won the book of the year voted by school librarians! That's awesome! 
How did you get started in illustration?
I started in illustration about three years ago after visiting the LA conference, taking a look at what other illustrators were doing and basically deciding to go for it. I spent a few months working on a portfolio and then I attended the Spring Conference at the Society of Illustrators. It turned out that it was the last time they would have that conference but I was able to get an agent out of the day and then my first job in children’s books which was “The Jungle Book” for Compass Publishing.
What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
I work mostly in acrylics. My process has changed so much and is still changing I’m sure- but for now I start out sketching from photos and painting layers of very watered down color. I treat the acrylics like water color until I’ve built up some good values and then I begin adding more opaque color. I usually finish off the illustration with markers and colored pencils for more definition.
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
So far I only illustrate although I have a bunch of stories of my own that I’d love to do. Mostly my story ideas are picture driven with minimal words so I do definitely think visually first.

Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job? How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
I illustrate full time- when my third and youngest child went to kindergarten and my husband vigorously hinted that I should get a job,(I was painting murals part time but wasn’t really loving it), I made it my mission to be able to earn enough to work full time at home and it’s worked out great! I do need to have early work hours so I am able to be available for the kids after school, especially when I am on a deadline but it works for me. (Who needs sleep!)
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio and include some photos?
I live on Long Island in New York. For now my studio is the little room downstairs at the back of the house and it’s a little cramped. We hope to buy a new home in our area soon- my 15 year old son is 6 feet tall, (takes after his dad thank goodness!) and is still sharing a small room with my 11 year old but I’ll make sure the new house has a huge and bright studio for me! I’ve attached a couple of photos for now- excuse the mess! I am finishing up a rush job which I will be sending in later today! You can see that I’ve hung some strings around where I can clip the paintings so I can easily make sure I am keeping my characters consistent.

Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
Well in art I am basically self taught. The sad story is that my twin sister went to Cornell and they could not afford art school for me. But it actually worked out better because I was able to focus and learn on my own very quickly when I was ready. The toughest part is getting started but I actually learn so much after each job.
Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
My website is www.pennyweberart.com.
There is a list of books there- I’ve done a lot of educational and independent projects. The latest ones by more main stream publishers are “One Of Us” by Tilbury Press (which just won the book of the year voted by school librarians!), “Amazingly Wonderful Things” which will be out early 2011 by Raven Tree Press, and “Growing Up With a Bucket Full of Happiness” which has just been released I believe by Nelson Publishing.

Tell us about your current project.
Right now am working on another project for Compass Publishing- they are educational and have very fast deadlines. It is called “What’s That Smell?” about a meeting between a skunk and a little boy’s toys.

Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
Well I loved Maurice Sendak as a kid but lately I have been inspired by so many illustrators. Dinotopia’s James Gurney is a favorite of mine and I study his illustrations all the time. I met Marla Frazee at the LA conference and just love her approach to illustrating chapter books which is something I’m shooting for. I also would love to do more cover art like Mary GrandPre’ and so many others- too many to name!
If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
Well, I’m a big Harry Potter fan so I have to say Hermione Granger.

What inspires you?
My kids inspire me- I love painting people and faces and happiness and I always use my children as inspiration and models!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was always an artist but I did also want to be on TV as a weather girl.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I love to read and go to the movies. On Fridays we all watch the dvr and catch up on our shows- that’s fun. I do love to travel and hope to take my first cruise this year!
What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
The weather girl would be fun but my voice is horrible so I might like to be an art teacher.

Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
Don’t give up- don’t listen to nay sayers- draw and practice every day- work at a professional level and believe in yourself. Also, for me working as an illustrator first has worked well. I have stories of my own like I’ve said and now I believe I am more ready to do both then I was before.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Thank you for reading this!!


  1. Great interview. I adore your work. You do children so well. I also like your drafting table. It looks just like might. :)

  2. Fantastic interview Jill! Penny’s work always grabs my attention. Love her style and eye for detail. Penny you are Amazing!!