Spowart, Robin 1947-
Spowart, Robin 1947-
Born August 14, 1947, in Martinez, CA; son of James Cambell (an oil refinery worker) and Violet Louise (a homemaker and artist) Spowart; married Jeanne Modesitt (a children's book author), September 16, 1978. Education: Attended Ventura City College; University of California at Santa Cruz, B.A., 1981. Politics: "Independent." Hobbies and other interests: "Taking long walks in quiet places."
Commercial artist, 1975-85; children's book illustrator, 1985—. Exhibitions: Work exhibited at galleries, including Elizabeth Stone Gallery of Original Children's Book Art, Birmingham, MI, and VA; Mazza Centennial Collection, University of Findlay, OH; and Dromkeen Collection of Australian Children's Literature. Military service: U.S. Army.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
American Booksellers' Pick of the Lists, for Latkes and Applesauce and Sometimes I Feel like a Mouse.
Inside, outside Christmas, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1998.
Ten Little Bunnies, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
Clement C. Moore, The Night before Christmas, Dodd (New York, NY), 1986.
Charlotte Zolotow, A Rose, a Bridge, and a Wild Black Horse, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1987.
The Three Bears, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
Jeanne Modesitt, Vegetable Soup, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1988.
April Halprin Wayland, To Rabbittown, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1989.
Christine Barker Widman, The Star Grazers, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1989.
Jeanne Modesitt, The Night Call, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
Nancy Larrick, compiler, Songs from Mother Goose, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1989.
Fran Manushkin, Latkes and Applesauce, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1990.
Jeanne Modesitt, compiler, Songs of Chanukah, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992.
Jeanne Modesitt, Sometimes I Feel like a Mouse, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1992.
Jeanne Modesitt, Mama, If You Had a Wish, Green Tiger Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Jeanne Modesitt, Lunch with Milly, Bridgewater Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Lynn Manuel, The Night the Moon Blew Kisses, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1996.
Jeanne Modesitt, Little Bunny's Easter Surprise, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.
Jeanne Modesitt, It's Hanukkah!, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1999.
Susan Heyboer O'Keefe, Love Me, Love You, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2001.
Jeanne Modesitt, 1 2 3 Valentine's Day, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2002.
Jeanne Modesitt, Little Bunny's Christmas Tree, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
Jeanne Modesitt, Mouse's Halloween Party, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2004.
Susan Heyboer O'Keefe, Baby Day, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2006.
Jeanne Modesitt, Little Mouse's Happy Birthday, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2007.
The endearing animals created by illustrator Robin Spowart are beloved by fans of the stories by Jeanne Modesitt, Susan Heyboer O'Keefe, and others. It is no surprise that Modesitt and Spowart have produced such effective picture books; they are, in fact, husband and wife. Their collaborations, which include Sometimes I Feel like a Mouse, Little Bunny's Easter Surprise, and Mouse's Halloween Party, have great toddler appeal due to Modesitt's gentle texts and Spowart's smudgy pastel-toned illustrations that feature tender, loving relationships. In praising his work for Fran Manushkin's Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story, a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that "Spowart's soft, blurred pastels give the story an added sense of warmth and security." Carolyn Phelan viewed his work for Little Bunny's Easter Surprise in a similar way, noting that Spowart's "soft-edged crayon drawings in spring-hued pastels" pair with Modesitt's story to "personify the comfort and joy that children find in loving families."
In addition to his work for other writers, Spowart has also created several original text to pair with his artwork. Inside, Outside Christmas uses a rhyming text to describe a mouse family's preparation for the holiday season. Sledding, baking cookies, and collecting toys for young mice in need are among the activities depicted in Spowart's colorful images, in which "strokes of overlapping lines in rich hues create their own rhythm of repeated shapes and graceful movements," according to Phelan. In Ten Little Bunnies the author/illustrator creates a cumulative tale that moves young listeners from one to ten while describing young bunnies engaged in a variety of playful, toddler-type tasks. Reviewing the book for School Library Journal, Bina
Williams deemed Ten Little Bunnies "a good choice for bedtime reading."
Spowart once told SATA: "I enjoyed drawing as a kid (what kid doesn't?), and much preferred it over any other type of school work (I was a pretty normal kid). Did I dream of being an artist when I ‘grew up’? Nope. I knew I liked drawing, but the idea of being a professional artist never occurred to me. No one—no adults, as far as I can remember—ever encouraged me to continue to draw. If any kid artists are reading this, please allow me to say something VERY IMPORTANT: If you like drawing, keep at it, no matter what anyone else says (or does not say).
"I first considered the idea of illustrating children's books when I was in the U.S. Army, stationed in Germany. To relieve some of the monotony of army life, I had put together a couple of sketches I had drawn—sketches of imaginary places and people—and shown them to a German couple I had recently met. The couple liked my work and suggested I try my hand at children's book illustration. The seed was planted! After I was discharged from the army, I went to Ventura City College and took some art classes. I really enjoyed those classes, and my art instructors encouraged me to keep on doing my art! I'll never forget them for that.
"After Ventura College, I took on both art-related jobs (illustrating for newspapers, etc.) and non-art related jobs. Neither were satisfactory. I went back to school— this time the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC)—so that I could devote myself full time to art. While at UCSC, I did many ‘fine art’ paintings, that is, figure drawings, portraits, and landscape paintings. While doing such paintings had certain enjoyable aspects to them, it still wasn't right for me. I graduated from UCSC and began doing art work that was closer to my heart: imaginary images for greeting cards. This work proved to be satisfactory for me, at least for a while. Then it became boring, not challenging enough. And if that wasn't enough of a kick in the pants to get me to start something new, the fact that the greeting card companies stopped commissioning me to do work was! In my eyes, there was only one thing left for me to do: pursue my secret dream of illustrating children's books.
"The first book I illustrated was The Night before Christmas by Clement. Moore. (I had to pick a story that was in the public domain as I can't write worth a hill of beans and my wife, Jeanne Modesitt, wasn't writing at the time.) Seeing that it was the ‘Year of the Teddy Bear,’ Jeanne came up with the idea to illustrate all the characters in the book as teddy bears. We thought we had a sure seller on our hands. Wrong! Thirty publishers turned down the (very amateurish) dummy I had put together, saying that the teddy bear idea was ‘cute,’ but not right for their list. Boy, was I discouraged. But then, a miracle occurred. An editor from one house, who had seen the dummy, moved to another house, and decided that the second house would be the perfect publisher for the book. The lesson I learned from all this was: DON'T GIVE UP. No matter how many rejections you receive, keep at it until you drop.
"Getting a book to illustrate was never as hard as that first book. Publishers weren't breaking down my doors to get me to illustrate their manuscripts, but there was
interest on their parts once they saw The Night before Christmas and some other individual pieces of art I had put together for my portfolio. I have illustrated several books by my wife. These include The Night Call, Vegetable Soup, Sometimes I Feel like a Mouse, Songs of Chanukah, Mama, If You Had a Wish, and Lunch with Milly. Jeanne and I work together very well. We're not envious or jealous of each other's work; on the contrary, we honor and respect each other's creative impulses.
"I seem to be drawn primarily to stories that have some sort of magical quality to them. However, I try not to make a rule of this. I'm open to illustrating all types of manuscripts. The only thing that matters is whether a particular story interests me. If it doesn't (no matter how good the story is), then it's best for me to turn the story down because it's agonizing (and boring and tedious) for me to work on something that my heart is not into.
"When I first started illustrating books, I had a lot of self-doubt. ‘Can I really do this?,’ I kept asking myself. I would rush through each one of my paintings just to see that, yes, I CAN do it! What an exhausting process that was! Today, I still have feelings of self-doubt when faced with a new story to illustrate, but I don't act on these feelings like I used to. As a result, the process of illustrating books is much more enjoyable to me (and much slower too!).
"Each story calls for its own medium. In illustrating books, I have used watercolor, acrylic, pastel pencil, and colored pencil. Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out which medium would be best suited for a particular story. For example, with Lunch with Milly, I tried acrylic, watercolor, and pastel pencil, but none of them seemed to fit the book just right. At last, I settled on colored pencil, which seem to be the perfect medium for this story (and my response to the story).
"The most important piece of advice I can give to aspiring artists is to follow your own inner guidance. This can be difficult at times, at least it is for me. Sometimes, when following my inner guidance on how to illustrate a particular story, I run into people who think the story should be illustrated altogether differently. Such disapproval can be a hard thing to face, but in the end, it hurts more to disobey one's own inner guidance than to receive disapproval. Surrender to the story—that's what I keep telling others, including myself."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, July 15, 1993, Kay Weisman, review of Mama, If You Had a Wish, p. 1975; September 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Inside, Outside Christmas, p. 134; February 1, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of Little Bunny's Easter Surprise, p. 982; April 15, 2001, Lauren Peterson, review of Love Me, Love You, p. 1566; January 1, 2003, Diane Foote, review of 1 2 3 Valentine's Day, p. 908; August, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Mouse's Halloween Party, p. 1943; March, 2006, Carolyn Phelan, review of Baby Day, p. 100.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2002, review of 1 2 3 Valentine's Day, p. 1699; March 1, 2006, review of Baby Day, p. 237.
Publishers Weekly, October 30, 1987, p. 67; January 29, 1988; September 14, 1990, review of Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story, p. 123; May 31, 1993, review of Mama, If You Had a Wish, p. 52; January 2, 1995, review of Lunch with Milly, p. 76; July 15, 1996, review of The Night the Moon Blew Kisses, p. 73; September 28, 1998, review of Inside, Outside Christmas, p. 45; January 22, 1999, review of Little Bunny's Easter Surprise, p. 70; September 27, 1999, review of It's Hanukkah!, p. 52; February 5, 2001, review of Love Me, Love You, p. 87.
School Library Journal, October, 1987, p. 120; January, 1990; October, 1998, Lisa Falk, review of Inside, Outside Christmas, p. 45; April, 2001, Lisa Dennis, review of Love Me, Love You, p. 119; August, 2001, Bina Williams, review of Ten Little Bunnies p. 162; January, 2003, Liza Graybill, review of 1 2 3 Valentine's Day, p. 106; October, 2003, Lisa Israelson, review of Little Bunny's Christmas Tree, p. 66; August, 2004, Linda Staskus, review of Mouse's Halloween Party, p. 90; March, 2006, Gary Lynn Van Vleck, review of Baby Day, p. 200.