Interview with Julia Denos, Illustrator Just Being Audrey
What a treat to conduct this interview with illustrator, Julia Denos! Walk through a children’s bookstore and you’ll quickly spot this young artist’s work on many different shelves. Julia stays busy illustrating book covers, picture books, early readers, and with a variety of projects outside of children’s literature. Her work is so recognizable and, to me, is both feminine and feminist, fresh and nostalgic, and evocative of the reality and innocence of childhood. [Here's a cool fact I learned about Julia: she lives in Quincy, Mass, the home of my best-boyfriend, John Adams.] GA
Do you remember your first encounter with Margaret Cardillo’s manuscript for Just Being Audrey?
Yes, I remember the feeling of being introduced to Audrey via Margaret’s words. I felt thrilled to be stepping into another time, Audrey’s “time” and I enjoyed the simple, honest voice of Margaret’s story.
Did images just start filling your mind?
Actually, the strange thing is no! I started wondering about who Audrey Hepburn really was first. Her image is almost ubiquitous at this point in our culture, and I actually had only known of her by association, movie posters, etc. So I felt on a mission to truly “meet her” if I could first.
When I remember Audrey Hepburn, I think Hollywood, fashion, philanthropy, and, of course, the musical Gigi. Were you ever at all intimidated by her as your subject?
For sure! How could you not be! She is a world-wide icon. So I started small, and set out to find her beneath the glossy celebrity of Audrey Hepburn, and I met her as a little girl first, studying her childhood in war-torn Holland. Her strength as a girl and teenager made me understand a new and deeper facet to her beauty! The pictures she drew during Nazi occupation, which are up on her website, reminded me that she was just a little girl too, who wished and dreamed.
The illustrations in Just Being Audrey are a feast for the eyes for so many reasons. In addition to capturing the personality and iconic moments of Audrey Hepburn’s life, the book feels like a high-fashion magazine. Were you excited about illustrating all those gorgeous clothes? Have you worked on other fashion-oriented projects?
Thank you so much! Gigi, if you could have heard my inner monologue while I was painting her “looks” it would have been months of “weeeeeeeeeeee”! I was having a pastel-colored ball. I played around a lot with the overall style of that book, I wanted an older more vintage palette. It was fantastic to get to look at Givenchy and Edith Head’s work in the process. It was heaven to get to draw all of those dresses, hats and scarves! Fashion is a love of mine, maybe for its character design angle, and narrative qualities. Yes, I do work on fashion-oriented projects. You can see more on my new fashion blog: www.juliadenospalette.blogspot.com.
I imagine you must have just immersed yourself in all things Audrey? Did you do any research or study of Audrey Hepburn and her life to help you bring such rich detail to the pages?
Yes, it was super fun homework! I watched every movie I could get my hands on. Most of the details come from her well-documented life as seen on her official website run by her loved ones, where her charity work for children continues: www.audreyhepburn.com I also read many books by other authors, but the best one was written by her son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, called Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit.
From all that you learned about her, what would you say made Audrey Hepburn a strong girl?
Audrey’s fearless giving: of herself, of her life, of her talent, even though much had been taken away from her so early on as a girl. It made her impervious to being broken by hardship in a way as a woman, and she seemed to use hardship as a catapult to shoot even farther, give more back, grow as a person. She was tough! Like a little star that would just shoot forward again with renewed light from a dark spot…and always in style, always with grace, always with kindness. True star quality, I’d say!
What are you working on now?
I’m finally writing the book I’ve been meaning to write since I was a girl. It’s YA. It’s historical fiction, and I’m eyeball deep in research for it. It’s another world to enter, just like Audrey’s was, and it’s a fun adventure.
Complete this sentence: strong girls are like shooting stars, blazing trails in the sky.
Thank you! Gigi…p.s. What “Gigi” were you named after?
The story I’ve always heard is that late in my mom’s pregnancy my parents were still couldn’t decide what to name their first child (me) if I arrived a girl and that over a game of bridge my paternal grandmother suggested they name me Georganna Gregg and call me Gigi. That worked for everybody and it’s the only name I’ve ever been called. [Except for every year on the first day of school. ]
Julia Denos grew up near a range of hills in Connecticut called the Sleeping Giant. She lives and works in Quincy, Massachusetts now, which is just a short trip on the T into Boston. She has illustrated teen book covers, picture books, math text books, movie intros, coloring books, and fashion blogs. Just Being Audrey recently garnered the Florida Book Award Gold Medal for Children’s Literature and a Texas Bluebonnet Award nomination. If you can’t find her drawing or writing, she is probably cuddling barnyard animals or in a musty corner of the nonfiction section reading as fast as she can.