Bryan Collier Discusses Inspiration, Process for SLJ's Best Books Cover Illustration

The illustrator of Best Books 2020 selection All Because You Matter by Tami Charles expanded on that picture book's theme of youthful wonder for the cover of the December issue.

Photo by Filip Wolak

llustrator Bryan Collier ­(pictured) created this month’s cover for SLJ’s annual Best Books issue. The image is an expansion on the idea of place and identity at the heart of Tami Charles’s All Because You Matter,
a Best Books selection that ­Collier ­illustrated.

“I liked that whole idea of expanding where you are,” Collier says. “The stars represent all the possibilities. That’s the promise. They are all the promises.

“I love the fact that the kids are gazing at all that they have [at] their disposal—all the stars that they can gather, that their hands can hold.”

He wants readers who view the magazine to get that childlike sense of wonder when they look at the cover and to remember no one is too old to feel it.

While the boy on the cover of All Because You Matter stares right at the reader, the girls on the SLJ cover are shown from behind. Somehow both images manage to communicate the same feeling.

“It’s the wonder of the gaze,” Collier says. “It’s the wonder of youth. It’s the wonder of us being in the universe. It’s just that feeling, that lofty feeling
of wonder.”

The girls in the cover illustration have their arms around each other as they look out at the stars. The posture and embrace convey a universal message of familiarity, love, and support.

“You never walk alone,” Collier says. “that’s the big deal, that’s the takeaway.”

He was talking about All Because You Matter, but it’s the feeling that he’s imbued in the magazine cover as well.

[Read: Best Picture Books 2020 | SLJ's Best Books]

The image was created in collaboration with Patti Ann Harris, creative ­director at Cartwheel and Orchard Books at Scholastic, who has worked with ­Collier for years.

“As a book designer, I am inspired by Bryan’s process and find that his collage methods encourage me to take chances with the layouts, to work with and complement his art in a surprising way,” she said via email.

“I learn so much from seeing him develop and create his artwork for each book we work on together.”

For Collier, the partnership is one of collaboration, idea exchange, and trusting each other to help create the best end product.

Check out the Best Books 2020 home page.

“Patti is just this wonderful artist and designer who gives me space to create, even if it’s in the 11th hour,” he says. “I’m about options. ‘Okay, this works, this kinda doesn’t.’ We’re not going to move on it until we all touch and agree that this is it. She gives me the space to do that.”

Harris describes Collier’s approach as that of a jazz musician. “He boldly creates the visual pacing of the story and allows room for improvisation, as he is a master collage artist,” she said. “In creating his artwork, he weaves together different and unexpected elements to create something fresh and new.”

The collage of faces and images on this month’s issue mirrors the cover of All Because You Matter, where they also appear.

“I was painting faces on these little leaves, randomly painting,” he says. “At first, they didn’t look like leaves to me, they were just shapes. Then they kind
of morphed into leaves, and I put them ­together and, aesthetically, stuff started happening.”

Collier’s process involves exploring every option and seeing where it leads.

“I tease everything out until I exhaust everything,” he says. “Then I bring it to [Harris], and we look at it, and most of the time it works. It’s just the freedom we have with each other. I’m open to every suggestion she has.”

It doesn’t matter if he thinks he is almost finished.

“I’ll change everything to get to that good idea,” he says.

While a prayer that hangs in Collier’s workspace asks that he find the best idea to tell the story, he says his “bigger prayer” is that someone shows up with a better concept and shakes him up.

“To show up with a mind-blowing idea that can really elevate the work, ­elevate the process and the product, that’s the prayer I have for everything I do,” he says. “Please, somebody show up with a better idea that blows me away. I’m open. I’m always waiting.”

Author Image
Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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