Author and illustrator Lily Williams asked Manhattan Middle School students if they ever felt small, powerless, scared or even too big, then urged them to use those feelings in their art.
“The coolest thing about being an artist is you get to channel all of your experiences into your art,” she said. “You never know where your art is going to end up, but you can really make a huge impact on this world.”
Williams, who lives in the mountains near the Loveland Ski Area, gave three presentations Monday at the Boulder arts focus school. Teacher librarian Retta Kelley wrote a grant to the school’s Parent Teacher Organization to cover the cost after teacher Melanie Crowder, also a published author, suggested Williams.
Monday’s presentations were the school’s first in-person author talk — and the first in-person school visit for the author — since the pandemic.
“We have a lot of kids who are really creative and love to draw,” Kelley said. “We wanted to show students how they can make art into a career.”
Williams told the students she grew up in northern California in a family of artists, with a mom who is a fashion designer and a grandfather who is a commercial artist.
“I was supported from a young age and encouraged from a young age,” she said.
But, she said, she wasn’t a great student, instead learning outside school by reading and researching. Along with channeling her energy into art, she was a swimmer, dancer and skier, all hobbies she continues today.
She was a senior in college majoring in animation when she created graphic illustrations on what would happen if sharks disappeared. She posted the illustrations to her blog, and, to her surprise, they went viral. Among the many emails asking about prints was one from an editor in New York proposing a children’s book.
Though she thought the editor’s email likely was spam, she answered it and ended up agreeing to illustrate and write the book. It’s since become a series highlighting different animals, including bees and African elephants.
“I was really inspired to make that series because I loved sharks,” she said. “I always wanted to get people passionate about things I’m passionate about.”
She described a labor-intensive process for creating illustrations, including printing pages, going over them with pencil, scanning them in and going over them with ink. She said she ends up redrawing each page three to seven times.
“When you become an artist, you have to love it so much you love it on the days you hate it,” she said.
Her first graphic novel, “Go With the Flow,” started as a cartoon about periods she created with co-author Karen Schneemann. Her interest in writing about periods came from living with debilitating periods for years before a doctor took her seriously and diagnosed her with endometriosis and fibroids. She said turning her experience into a humorous comic and sharing it helped make it lighter.
The graphic novel, about four friends navigating high school who advocate for access to menstrual products, has a sequel publishing in October called “Look On the Bright Side.”
Williams fielded questions at the end of each presentation, from her favorite shark species (long-lived Greenland sharks) to her creative process (chaotic and not always linear) to how she develops characters and if they’re based on people she knows.
She said two of the four main characters in “Go With the Flow” share some of her character traits, while the other two share traits of her co-author. To develop characters, she starts with a list of their likes and dislikes, then the character evolves as she writes and draws.
“I feel like I’m hanging out with them,” she said. “You’re very involved in who they are.”
Students also asked about her next projects, which include a novel inspired by her own experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“I really want the world to be a little bit of a kinder place about these issues,” she said.
Boulder Daily Camera
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