MARGARET CHODOS-IRVINE comes from a long line of craftspeople, so she approaches her work as if tailoring a suit or cobbling a shoe. It all has to fit and look beautiful at the same time. To do so, she uses a variety of techniques to create innovative patterns, vivid colors, and uniquely textured imagery in her work. She has illustrated 13 books for children and has been recognized with starred reviews and other honors, most notably a 2004 Caldecott Honor Award for ELLA SARAH GETS DRESSED, which she both wrote and illustrated. Margaret lives in Seattle, Washington with her crafty family.
Margaret participates in a group blog–Books Around The Table–with the members of her children’s book critique group, Laura Kvasnosky, Julie Larios Bonny Becker and Julie Paschkis. In this blog you will find inspiring imagery, thoughts and tidbits of helpful information.
A More Personal Story:
When I was young, my father made up stories for me at bedtime, and often I would draw pictures about them. After I learned to read, I spent hours illustrating my favorite fairy tales. When I was a teenager, I illustrated the school newspaper and magazine. To my classmates I was an illustrator, but I never dreamed I would make pictures for a living.
Instead, I wanted to be a professional dancer and studied dance seriously until I became an adult. I drew a lot of dancers during that time, trying always to communicate the movement, emotion, and beauty of dance in my drawings. As an illustrator, I try to choreograph the figures in my compositions, to make them appear to move within the pictures, even though they are still.
Then there was my love of fabrics and crafts. I didn’t have any siblings to play with, so if I was bored, I would make things. I created little outfits for my troll dolls; often using fabrics from my mother’s scrap basket. Both of my grandfathers worked in the garment trade after they immigrated to North America, so a love of textiles must be in my blood. In seventh grade, I learned to sew. I have been sewing clothes for myself ever since, and now I sew clothing for my two daughters and enjoy “making” the clothes for the children in my books as well.
When it was time for me to go to college, I thought I needed to prove myself academically. So I went to the University of Oregon to study anthropology, but I soon added art as a second major. Surprisingly, it was anthropology that led me back to illustrating. While I was still a student, I was hired by Ursula K. Le Guin to illustrate her book Always Coming Home, an anthropological study of a culture in the future. She was looking for someone who understood both anthropology and art. That was my first real illustration job, and it made me consider the idea that I could perhaps make a living with my art.
I worked for many years as a commercial artist and my illustrations have appeared in magazines and on book covers, posters, note cards, bottles of water, and elsewhere. I had always hoped to someday illustrate a children’s book, and in 1998 I got my first children’s book contract; BUZZ by Janet Wong. In fact, I found out I was going to have a second child around the same time I got the contract, and the due dates were the same. There’s nothing like having a baby to keep you on deadline!
Having children of my own has taught me so much about how children can delight, defy, and confound adults. They have provided inspiration and have been models for the children in my books. Arguing with my elder daughter about what she would wear was the spark for Ella Sarah Gets Dressed, the first book I both wrote and illustrated; and my second child’s friendships provided the inspiration for Best Best Friends.
To create my illustrations, I like to build up of layers of overlapping shapes and forms. Color, pattern, and texture—the qualities that I enjoy in textiles—are dominant elements in my work.
As I look at the characters dancing through my books, consider the stories I can tell with color and form, and think of the children who enjoy my books, I feel very fortunate that my diverse interests have somehow led me here.