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Behind the Book Art with Alexis Kandra

Updated: May 6



Welcome to our new blog series: Behind the Book Art. We want to use this space to introduce you further to the group of talented artists, illustrators, graphic designers and photographers we are proud to work with. They are a vital part of the collaborative publishing process and we all share the same motto: Children's books deserve great art! We are happy to start the series with an interview with Alexis Kandra who created the art for 'Redwood Tree and Its Friends' and 'Unicorns in Gymnastica' - our new title which is coming out this spring. Here's what she has to say!

1. Can you tell us more about your paintings for The Redwood Tree and Its Friends and who is your favorite character?

I loved working on the paintings for The Redwood Tree and Its Friends. This project really pushed me creatively because there were so many characters and ideas to include on each page. I worked the compositions and added elements to show an ecosystem rich with life. My favorite character is the squirrel! When I was a kid, we would feed the squirrels in our backyard. I loved watching their antics as they climbed, jumped, and buried nuts all over the yard. I love how this squirrel is a bit forgetful, because I think some of the squirrels in our yard forgot their hiding places too! 


2. What was it like to work with Eira, Emilee and the family?


It was wonderful to work with Eira, Emilee, and their family. I've never been to the redwood forest yet, so their stories and experiences really informed the illustrations. I wanted to include other animals and plants so the illustrations would reflect their memories. Creatures like the mountain lion, steller's jay, and the moss and lichen on the trees came from their stories. It was fun to listen and show them my work as I was making it.


"This project really pushed me creatively because there were so many characters and ideas to include on each page."

3. Did you learn anything new?


I learned many new things about the redwood forest as I worked on this project. One basic fact that I didn't know before is that there are actually three species of trees we call "redwoods", and they each live in a different environment. This book features the coast redwood, which lives along the damp coastline of northern California. Moisture from rain and fog coming off the ocean is very important for these trees and all the other creatures that live with them.


4. Can you tell us more about our new book you have been working on? 


I've been working on a new book with Eira, Emilee, and their family.  It's called "Unicorns in Gymnastica", and tells a story about how all animals were once unicorns. It follows birds as they use their horns to weave nests, penguins using their horns to play ice hockey, and bats as they use their horns to make cave-paintings.  Each animal is also using a gymnastics move as they stretch and leap across the pages. A twist in the story comes with the explanation for why we don't see so many unicorn animals today. I was drawn to this story because it's very whimsical and active. I wanted to incorporate Emilee and Eira doing gymnastics in the illustrations, so I used a technique of xerox-transfers to embed photos of the kids into the art. I also got to play around with showing movement over time, and made illustrations inspired by Muybridge's early photographs of animal motion.


"I was drawn to this story because it's very whimsical and active."
Work in progress: Preview of our new book 'Unicorns in Gymnastica' featuring Alexis' sketches

5. Do you have any upcoming shows or exciting news you’d like to share?


I currently have over a dozen small pieces in a show at Deep Space Gallery in Jersey City. It's their annual "Gigantic Miniature" group show, and this year they extended the show through February 6th. Everything is a small work, so I made a series of tiny 3.5" X 3.5" paintings of fantastical animals like unicorns, phoenix, and dragons. I was inspired from working on the Unicorn's in Gymnastica book! I'm always working on new things, and look forward to more shows in 2020.


Alexis lives and works in New York City. Born in Pittsburgh PA, she grew up with a passion for making art and the natural world. As a child, she took art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History, which fostered her love of dioramas, biodiversity, and searching for our place in the universe. She received her BFA in painting from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. You can learn more about Alexis and her work here as well as follow her on Facebook and Instagram. Image credit: All images of Alexis working in the studio were taken by Maverick Inman for Lucas Lucas Gallery. 

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