When she participates in the 21stannual Connecticut Children’s Book Fair this weekend in the Rome Ballroom on South Campus as a member of the Art Department faculty, Alison Paul will have come full circle in her involvement with the event.
She first arrived at the Book Fair in 2007 as the author and illustrator of her first book, The Crow (Houghton Mifflin), when she lectured to attendees as one of the many authors who are invited each year to Storrs in November for the event. Cora Lynn Deibler, professor of illustration in the School of Fine Arts, heard Paul speak that day and asked her to return to campus to critique students’ work in illustration classes.
“That started a nice working relationship, where she would have me come once a semester to give a lecture and give a critique,” says Paul, who now is an instructor in illustration in the School of Fine Arts and is teaching the illustration class of students who made submissions for the Raab Prize, the illustration competition awarded during the Book Fair.
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Paul at the time was an art director for children’s books at a Boston company that worked with a variety of publishing houses. She also was working on her second children’s book, Sunday Love (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), and critiquing student work at her alma mater.
“I’d be working with about 30 books at a time, overseeing their process,” Paul says. “As an art director you have these intense critiques with the illustrator, talking about art and what’s working.”
When Diebler later invited her to teach an illustration class in Storrs as an adjunct professor, Paul would drive to campus from her home in Rhode Island. She continued to teach each semester and when Diebler took a sabbatical last year to teach in Italy, Paul added additional classes.
“Quite honestly, from the first day, I felt it was right,” she says. “This is where I’m supposed to be.”
However Paul’s path to teaching art was not so direct. Growing up in California as the daughter of parents who met in a painting class, Paul saw her mother struggle trying to establish a career in art. She started college, spending some time as a theater major, before leaving college briefly. While taking an art class at a community college, her portfolio was reviewed by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and she headed east to major in illustration, with a minor in English.
“I always thought I wanted to write the stories that I would illustrate,” Paul says. “I think that’s every illustrator’s desire to some extent, to have full control over the story.”
Recently, Paul wrote a children’s book that will be illustrated by another artist, the first time she will collaborate on a book in that manner. “It didn’t feel like my art would go with it,” she says. “I gave it to my editor and she gave it to another illustrator. It will be interesting to see how that will come out.”
In addition to her children’s books, Paul has done other illustration work and has also developed animation. She works not only with drawing, but also uses collage in creating illustrations, as well as utilizing digital technology. It is something she encourages with her students.
“You can be a photographer who illustrates; you could make whole three-dimensional dioramas and photograph them,” Paul says. “It doesn’t have to be watercolor filling in the lines. As long as you are getting across a message, whatever medium you use is fair game. I’m pretty old school in that I still like to cut paper out and glue it by hand. I like to think of the computer as just one more tool. I try to get my students to understand that it can be part of it. You don’t have to create the whole thing digitally.”
Paul continues to seek new ways to explore ideas in her work. Teaching a basic drawing class has caused her to think more about her own drawing skills and technique when she returns to her studio.
“Sometimes just explaining something to someone else makes it clearer in your head,” she says. “I’m also aware when I’m making my own work that I’m trying to think about things I’ve noticed that a student will really benefit from, that you should be trying some methods that will take the work to a higher level.”
Paul is in the process of developing ideas for a new animation that she will work on next summer as part of preparing for a class in animation she will teach. She is also hoping to create ideas to collaborate with the Puppetry Program in the Department of Dramatic Arts.
“I also feel the need to be more well-informed about what’s going on in illustration today, to get out of my bubble,” Paul says. “I’m well-informed about what’s going on in children’s illustration, but I want to broaden my knowledge to other avenues.”
The Connecticut Children’s Book Fair is free and open to the public and will take place Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 10 and 11, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Rome Ballroom on UConn’s South Campus. It is a project of the UConn Co-op and the UConn Libraries to benefit the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. For more information visit the Connecticut Book Fair website, or call 860-486-5027.