Acclaimed author and illustrator, Bryan Collier is family at the Museum. So of course, we were excited to have the chance to speak with him about his celebrated illustrations. In 2013, Collier collaborated with popular poet, Daniel Beaty on the picture book, “Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me.” The book is a touching and sensitive depiction of a young boy grappling with love, loss, and faith following the disappearance of his father. Complementing the text is Collier’s realistic yet poetic illustrations of everyday life through watercolor and collage. For his work, Collier won the Coretta Scott King 2014 Illustrator Award. We chatted with Collier and discovered how an HBO show inspired the creation of the book, the process of working with a real family as models, the fact that he creates all his illustrations by hand and more. Imagine that!
It began with a poem performed on HBO
“I saw Daniel Beaty perform the poem ‘Knock, Knock’ on HBO’s ‘Def Poetry Jam’ and I immediately called him. We then took the whole project to a publishing house and we got it done. The biggest challenge was that the book scares people because we left the father’s disappearance so open-ended. People don’t know if it was death, incarceration or an obligation that took him away from his son. But once people got it we won awards and so forth. The story fills a void in the marketplace and is a very important piece of work.”
Two locations, three models, four hours and 1,500 pictures
“For this book I used a family to pose for it. I worked with the mother, father and their son in Maryland and Brooklyn. I knew this family since we all lived in Harlem together. The little boy in the family had posed for a book I worked on about seven years earlier called, ‘Welcome, Precious’ by Nikki Grimes. At that time he was a baby and in ‘Knock, Knock…’ he is much older. We had one full four-hour modeling session. I created a storyboard and explained the situation to the models. Then I had them do whatever they normally do as I took pictures passively. I took up to 1,500 pictures as I snapped every little moment because I was not sure of what I would use. That’s why I like to use complete families as models because they are comfortable with each other and they do stuff I never guess they would do.”
Four to six months later
“After I reviewed the photos I started sketching for the final art. Then I painted it in watercolor and infused it with collage. This book is 70% watercolor and 30% collage. I didn’t do any digital work at all. It was all made by hand. Once I finished that process of painting and collage, the publishing house had a photographer scan it and that information went to the printer. I take between four to six months to create a book. It involves a lot of research, traveling to actual locations, finding the heart of the book and thinking of ways to visually tell a story.”