A member interview with Claudette Lambert PetersonWho are you?
Right now I am a person wearing many hats, struggling to balance it all. I am an illustrator, (or a painter), a mother of three daughters, ages 9-13, a wife, an occasional art teacher and an ambivalent writer (to go along with my artwork), aspiring to do more publishing work. I studied illustration at RISD and have worked at many jobs since then, always trying to find quality time to make the art that I want while working to get by. In the past I have worked in the giftware, stationery, and shoe industry, among other things. Although at the time these jobs were not exactly what I wanted to be doing, in hindsight I can see how each of them strengthened my art or opened up doors in some way. I’ve learned a lot and made some lifelong friends. Like many people who have a need to make art, I get frustrated by wanting to be better at everything, feeling spread very thin. I am frequently torn by guilt over being the mother that I want to be while still being the artist that I aspire to be.
What are you doing with these illustrations?
These illustrations, called Annalise’s Moods 1 and 2, are little portraits of my youngest daughter Annalise, created as a study of various expressions on the same person’s face. I decided to make these before attending a recent SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference, and Annalise was a very willing model. I have yet to illustrate a picture book, and would really like to. Many people have told me that it is helpful to show the same character with different expressions, since this is something that usually occurs in children’s books. I especially like drawing and painting faces, mostly because it is so hard to get a person just right. You can’t fake anything in the drawing. If something is off, it’s very obvious. I like this challenge and find it deeply satisfying to eventually get it. It’s as if there is an exact moment when the painting goes from being a series of lines and shapes to becoming a recognizable person. It can take a really long time for me to reach that point but when I do, it just clicks.
Why do you do illustrations of children?
I guess the reason that I make many paintings of children is because they are such a fixture in my life. Over the years I have worked with kids as an art educator, but the artwork that I made before having kids wasn’t primarily about children. Since becoming a parent, I look at the world differently. I see children through the eyes of a caregiver, whereas before, seeing children was more about my relating to them objectively. It’s great to be surrounded by all of these moments in childhood because over the years, as my kids have moved through the various stages of their respective ages, I’ve witnessed their different characteristics emerge in their personalities, and I’ve learned about the specifics of age-related behavior. This has helped me to better understand why certain books for kids work better than others and I consider this more than I would have before. I’ve always loved children’s books but before having my own kids I think that I related to them more in a strictly aesthetic way or only in responding to things in them that reminded me of my own childhood. Now I also think about how real they are in terms of my own experiences that I’ve had with my kids. I also remember how my kids responded to particular books and the experience of reading them together. I might find something funny in them that I can relate to as a parent that in the past might have not struck me .
I have always been inspired to draw and paint from nature, but now this is even more true. I also feel much more interested in depicting kids interacting and discovering nature, since I have kids. This could be coincidental, because I live in a much more rural area than I did before having kids, or it could just be that being a parent has brought me out into the natural world more. If nature is in your back yard and you spend lots of time with your young kids in your backyard, then there’s time to really look at things you might otherwise pass by if you’re only focused on yourself. I have always been intrigued by the visual aspects of nature; its patterns and colors and how many similarities and parallels there are among things, despite the differences in size and scale. As much as I’ve always loved to paint and draw insects and birds and underwater creatures, I now find myself wanting to know more about them, not just what makes them visually interesting. Maybe this is about my evolving interests as I get older, or maybe it’s also about being a parent and how being responsible for others makes me so much more aware that I am connected to all of this. This in turn renews my interest in it. I feel the need to expose my kids to opportunities of learning and discovery and I think that the outdoors is the best place for this. Last summer I found a huge horseshoe crab on the beach on Cape Cod and I brought it back home ( with the car windows wide open) and cleaned it and dried it and I now have a near-perfect specimen. I haven’t yet drawn it, but every time I see it I think how great it will be to finally draw it or bring it to an art class to share with kids so they can draw it, and really look at how interesting it is. I’m always excited to see some strange new creature in a book, or outside while looking around. I hope that my fascination with all of this stuff comes through in my artwork and makes whoever is looking at it want to learn more, or just take a moment to appreciate it.