Interview with illustrator Limor Schnurmacher, by Liora Grossman
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself: Who you are, where you went to school, and how you got to be an illustrator?
I guess my very first strong suit was my ability to draw. I started drawing at a very early age, probably in kindergarten, and I never stopped. At school I felt conflicted about the “artistic” label, and I volunteered for the science committee, so I wouldn’t have to work on art and decoration projects. But by the time I got to high school, I had come to terms with what seemed to be my destiny. I didn’t go to art classes as I was growing up. There was an artist living on our street who advised my parents against sending me to art classes. He believed artistic talent should develop naturally. I don’t know if that was good or bad advice, really. My formal training as an artist, however, began when I was accepted to WIZO Haifa Academy of Design and Education. Initially, I wanted to go in a different direction and become an art director at an advertising company. But later on, I discovered the art of illustration through the classes given by artist Dana Shamir, and that was it. I was hooked.
Tell us a little about your journey as an illustrator once you graduated from art school. What were the challenges you faced after you embarked on your new path as an artist?
After graduating, I worked as a commercial illustrator and a graphic designer for quite a while. It took some time to discover who I was, as an artist, and in the meantime, at least I was earning a living. Three years ago, I decided to go freelance, giving me a perfect opportunity to focus on my art and develop it. I wanted to develop my art by myself, without interference from anyone else, like editors, etc. That’s why I never tried to get an illustrating job with a formal publishing house. Ultimately, I chose to work on my own terms as a part of a joint project with a small group of artists I had come to admire.
For Tel Aviv’s annual Illustration Week 2016, you participated in a group exhibition, Around the Samovar—Illustrating Chekhov, held at the Russian Cultural Center in Tel Aviv. How did all of you arrive at the concept for that exhibition?
As difficult as it is to admit, that exhibition actually represented a quick solution for a problem we all faced at the time. We formed a group of female illustrators which included myself along with Rachel Stoleru-Haim, Marina Grechanik, Doron Sohary-Shemesh, and we set about creating a book based on old Russian folk stories. We received a grant from Mifal Hapais Council for Culture and the Arts (the Israeli national lottery) and started working. But then, one of us – Doron – was diagnosed with a terminal illness. After her passing, we just couldn’t deal with the project, and we postponed it by a year. The book of Russian folk stories we had illustrated was supposed to be launched at an exhibition, to be held at the Russian Cultural Center in Tel Aviv. We booked the space in advance to coincide with Tel Aviv’s annual Illustration Week in 2016, and so, like it or not, this time we had to deliver. We didn’t want to deal with a children’s literature-based theme at that time, so Chekhov made a good alternative.
Can you tell us a little more about the Chekhov exhibition? Who were the other participants?
Once we settled on the theme of Chekhov stories, our core group approached three artists we had previously encountered professionally: Yana Bukler, Hilla Noam, and Ksenia Topaz. We each picked a story and started creating art for it. We tried to achieve a combination of art and text that would work with the space we were given. Hilla already had a comics project ready to go. Ksenia painted on actual books, which were displayed hanging from the wall. Rachel made huge comic strips, which were hung down the walls, and I explored the evolving of framed illustrations to freestyle drawings, “dripping” down the wall.
After the surprising success of the Chekhov exhibition, you finally started to work on the book of Russian folk tales. What was that process of collaboration like?
After disassembling the Chekhov exhibition, we regrouped, and finally resumed working on the book of Russian folk tales. We wanted it to be as professional as possible. Marina chose six stories she had loved from her childhood in Russia. She and Rachel worked very hard translating them from Russian into Hebrew. Once the stories were translated, we approached Tomer Kerman to be our literary editor, Ruth Klein for language editing, and Michal Magen, one of Israel’s current rising forces in graphic design, to design the book for us.
The grant from Mifal Hapais (which we didn’t really expect!), allowed us to really invest ourselves in this project. After we started working on the stories each of us was assigned to illustrate, we discovered that we had a problem. The sad demise of Doron Sohary-Shemesh had left us with an artistic imbalance. We wanted to achieve the right balance between freestyle line drawings and fully-colored stylized drawings. Also, by this point, we were on a tight schedule. We reassigned the stories, and asked Marianna Raskin and Yana Bukler, with whom we had collaborated on the Chekhov exhibition, to join us. We had a very active WhatsApp group, along with a secret Pinterest board, and that enabled us to share thoughts and ideas. Michal Magen actively served as our art director and managed to get the best out of each double spread. The book’s launch party was scheduled for the first day of Tel Aviv Illustration Week 2017, along with an exhibition of art we had created for the book. The first copies of the book sold out, and a new edition is on the way.
The book and the exhibition that launched it were critically acclaimed. Unlike the Chekhov exhibition, that didn’t get much PR, yet managed to draw many viewers, this exhibition was covered by many blogs and magazines. What were some other differences between the two exhibitions?
As I mentioned, the Chekhov exhibition wasn’t carefully planned in advance. It showed a few excellent pieces, but it was mostly a solution to a problem; a means to an end. The second exhibition, “Back from the Cold,” was based on elaborate art that we had created for our book of Russian folk tales. We strove for perfection, and I think that showed both in the book and in the exhibition that followed.
It seems you made a great personal decision: you took your fate into your own hands, in terms of choosing your projects rather than parading your portfolio around to local publishing houses, and waiting for an opportunity. I know you’re working on a personal project at the moment. Would you care to elaborate on that?
After working for two years on these group projects, I finally felt like it was time to go solo. I’ve worked with various teams and groups in my life, and while mutual projects can be very gratifying, in terms of team spirit, I find working alone to be very liberating, actually. Although, obviously, if a good text comes along… 🙂
As an illustrator, how would you say you have benefited from your membership in SCBWI?
One of my favorite things, really, is meeting and learning from other artists. I like to see what motivates them, how they approach projects, and how they think. Being a member of SCBWI’s Israel chapter allows me to meet and get to know great artists. Not to mention the information we receive all about the international children’s-book market, and opportunities to meet professionals such as artists, agents, art directors, and commercial editors, who offer us invaluable information and advice.
More about Limor Schnurmacher at her website and Facebook page.