Christopher Lyles has illustrated numerous books for children. Inspired by vintage graphics and antique surfaces, he uses collage and mixed media applications to create his art. He lives in a quiet New England town surrounded by wilderness. When he is not creating picture books, he enjoys spending time with his family and hiking the surrounding woods.
Chris shared with us his personal creative journey and also how Grow Happy blossomed from sketches into a vibrant book.
Tells us a little about your background. What led you to become an illustrator?
Since I was old enough to hold a pencil or crayon, I fell in love with drawing. My grandmother was an artist and she would paint and draw with me almost every weekend. She taught me how to hold a brush, how to paint, and most importantly, how to clean up!
I mostly enjoyed drawing cartoons, especially Warner Brother characters and Disney icons, such as Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Pluto. I was fascinated with the way artists were able to anthropomorphize these characters with so much believability. It was about this time that I began to realize that I could use my own characters to tell the stories that I wanted to tell. I soon began to carry around a sketchbook everywhere I went, filling them with all kinds of characters and doodles. It was an obvious decision to attend art school and it was one of the best decisions I have made in my career. This is where I started to learn about the world of illustration and began to understand the many possibilities an artist can have in this field. I indulged myself in every medium, subject matter, and technique, until I finally discovered a style I felt most at home with. I began using oil paint, collage, and pencil to create illustrations for children’s literature. It was so freeing and spontaneous. I loved the feeling of cutting with scissors, creating textures with my hands, and applying paint over all of it. This is still the method I use today with the addition of a few digital tricks.
Upon graduating from art school, I was lucky enough to secure an agent. She helped me to solidify my portfolio and I soon began receiving work from many top children’s book publishers and related clients. From that point on , I have been lucky enough to make this a career.
How were these illustrations (for Grow Happy) created? What materials did you use?
The illustrations for Grow Happy were created with a variety of materials and techniques. Because the story setting took place in a garden, I was able to use all sorts of handmade papers, textures, and collage scraps. Most of the spreads in the book were hand painted and collage was added digitally. In some instances, I was able to use my own children’s scribbled papers for added detail.
Tell us about your process.
My process is pretty simple.
It involves research, lots of doodles, and thumbnail sketches. I repeat this process a dozen times until I feel satisfied. It is crucial to work out all of the “kinks” ahead of time. I also enjoy using a good old-fashioned photocopier to play around with size and scale. I love the look of photocopies and the inconsistencies within the black ink. Sometimes I will directly use the images in my final illustrations.
What was fun or surprising about the illustration process?
The most surprising aspect of creating the illustrations for this book was that each piece took on a life of it’s own.
I relied very minimally on sketches and allowed for the materials and process to take over when creating final artwork. This allowed for many “happy accidents” and unpredictable results. This is what keeps me energized throughout the process and makes every page a new adventure.
What was your favorite book as a child? Do you have any favorite illustrators?
My favorite book as a child was Walt Disney’s Storyland. It is a book, which contains a collection of stories adapted from Walt Disney Films. The artwork is brilliant and reminiscent of the 1960’s style of illustration. I can remember reading that book before bedtime and now, I read that same book to my two boys many years later. I even found one of my first drawings of Donald Duck buried inside the pages.
As far as my favorite illustrators, there are so many. The first ones that come to mind would be Oliver Jeffers, Mary Blair, Beatrice Alemagna, Melissa Sweet, Jordin Isip, Calef Brown, Lane Smith, and Brian Rea. There are many, many more!
Thank you for your beautiful work, Chris!