In the Spotlight: Illustrator Paul Johnson of Penelope the Purple Pirate



It seems like yesterday when Paul and I spoke for the first time about the possibility of working together on a story I had written about an adventurous little redhead. My father-in-law knew Paul’s wife, Maria, from work and had put me in touch with him as he knew I was looking for an illustrator for a story I wrote called Penelope the Purple Pirate.  Paul was a recent transplant from England and told me he had always wanted to illustrate a children’s book.  It took us a few tries to get Penelope “just right” but it sure was a fun journey watching Paul bring Penelope and her friends to life.  Every time he would send me a new illustration I would just smile from ear to ear as it was my dream to create a children’s book as well!

This month we are celebrating Penelope’s 2nd birthday as she was released as a storybook app through PicPocket Books January 2011. I remember the first time I read Penelope on the iPhone and saw all the cool animations that Lynette of PicPocket Books had included in the storybook app.  This was a whole new world for me so I was so ecstatic.  It took me a few weeks to realize that in order for more people to find Penelope I would have to do some serious marketing.  I think I sent out no less than 50 emails to app review sites that first month.  But the two moments that stood out to me that maybe – just maybe – we had a story that people really enjoyed was when Digital Storytime chose it as a Top 10 Educational iPad app and lilsugar of chose it as a Top 10 eBook. I don’t think Paul or I could have imaged how well received Penelope would become with her mates – but all the support has been so heart-warming for both of us! All the comments and stories about how much your children like Penelope are really appreciated. I am so excited to be able to share this wonderful illustrator and friend with all of you!  See what he has to say about his journey as an artist and illustrator.

Tell us how and when you knew you wanted to be a graphic artist and illustrator?
I guess I couldn’t have ever imagined doing anything other than art. I started drawing when I was very, very young and never stopped, I’m still learning stuff too – it’s a never-ending process. People regularly ask “How long did that picture take for you create” and the simple answer is “A bit over fifty years.” because, no matter how much physical time is spent on any given picture, it’s got all those years of practice behind it.
 What was your favorite part about bringing Penelope and her friends to life?
Actually getting to be one of the first to read the story is a treat, but one fun part was, and still is, the dialogue with you Melissa. I remember sending my first sketch and being asked to make Penelope younger, and then younger again and again until I hit the right age for her. The evolution process is just great and because it was a time-consuming I got to know Penelope better for it. Dreaming up the look of the pirate crew was fun and if I have to have a favourite part of them I think it has to be the oar that Teddy has in place of his flipper. I also enjoy simply sitting on the sofa with a sketchbook and pencil for the concept ideas. Music, cup of tea, pencil and paper makes for quite the time machine… I start work in the morning and then, suddenly, it’s late afternoon and the tea’s cold.
 Did you imagine Penelope would resonate with so many kids?
Adults too! Many of my friends describe her as adorable. We’d all, young and old, love to have adventures like Penelope does, so I was sure that everyone would like her. Besides, she beats all the superheroes out there. Clark Kent is only ‘Superman’, Bruce Wayne is only ‘Batman’, Pater Parker is only ‘Spiderman’, Diana Prince is only ‘Wonder Woman’ and so on; but Penelope can the be ‘The Purple Whatever She Becomes’. How cool is that?!
Any news you want to share?
Well I could use some fancy words like Geology and Ecology but let’s just say that her friends in her new adventure are land(and sky)lubbers and that there’s still some treasure to be found because “There’s gold in them thar hills pardners…”

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