Q&A with Elizabeth Zunon, artist and children’s book illustrator


Melissa Seymour: Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for speaking with us today. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Elizabeth Zunon: I am a children’s book illustrator, working mostly in oil paint and collage. I love bright colors, funky patterns, and hearing stories about people and their passions. I lived in the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), West Africa, where my Dad is from, until I was twelve years old, and many of the books I have illustrated take place in Africa.

MS: When did you know you were an artist? Did you draw as a child?

EZ: I think I always knew I was an artist- I’ve loved to draw, paint, color, create, and use my imagination ever since I was a child. I knew I was an artist maybe the first time that I drew something and felt very proud of it.

MS: How did you get involved in illustrating picture books? What do you love about them?

EZ: I studied Illustration in college at the Rhode island School of Design. After that, I submitted my portfolio to book publishers in New York, all the while attending author/illustrator conferences and events. Eventually I met my agent, who has helped me get published! I’d always loved the format of picture books, having being read to by my Mom and grandmother as a child (and loving to watch “Reading Rainbow” on TV!). I love that the images in a picture book often tell a story all on their own without the words, and the words of course tell a story, but when you use both words and images together, the depth of the story is reinforced into one complete and very unique package.

MS: What’s your favorite type of picture book? Why are you drawn to it?

EZ: My favorite type of picture book is non-fiction, because I love learning about real places and real people I might never get to experience in person.

MS: What’s your process for creating picture book illustrations? Do the characters appear in your mind or does it take some work to create them?

EZ: The characters are usually the first thing to appear in my mind when I read a manuscript. I feel if I can see them, if I can draw them, it helps me get to know them and try to put myself in their shoes. I plot out the picture book into a storyboard first, where I doodle and play around to figure out which images will go on which pages. Next, I look for reference images of certain things in the story, like clothing, houses or animals. Sometimes I take photos of myself to use as reference, posing in various situations from the story. Then, I create larger drawings, one for each page of the book, with more detail, and transfer my drawings on to the final paper I will paint them on. Finally, I break out the oil paint and get to work! Sometimes, once my paint is dry, I will add collage elements of cut paper onto the illustration.

MS: What motto do you live by?

EZ: “Don’t worry about it. Just do what you do- And do it good.”- Bill Withers

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

EZ: Hmm… I admire many different people, artists, musicians… I would say my hero/heroine is anyone who pursues their passion.




Check out more of Elizabeth Zunon’s work here: http://lizzunon.com/



Q&A with Dr. Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall is best known for her dedication and work around endangered species, particularly chimpanzees. Currently, she travels 300 days per year giving lectures all over the world. This year, Dr. Goodall celebrates her 80th birthday and the release of her most recent book, “Seeds of Hope”.


Melissa Seymour: Hello, Dr. Goodall! Thank you so much for joining us! What was it like seeing a chimpanzee in the wild for the very first time? What was running through your mind?

Dr. Jane Goodall: The first chimpanzee I saw took one look and ran off. As did they all for the next few months. What was running through my mind? If this goes on and the money runs out, this will be the end and I’ll have let Louis Leaky down.

MS: What has working with chimpanzees taught you about life?

DJG: That we humans are not the only beings on the planet with personalities, minds capable of rational thought, and above all, emotions. Now we know many other animals have intellectual capabilities once thought unique to us.

MS: How do you think people should treat our environment and world? Why is this so important? 

DJG: We are using the planet’s natural resources as though they are infinite. They are finite. We cannot go on like this if we care about our grandchildren and theirs. We are stealing their future. We must change our attitudes. Also, animals need us to respect them. The way we abuse them is so terrible. The billions of animals raised for food around the world—this process is destroying the planet. Vast areas of forest are cut down to make space for growing grain, or grazing. Vast amounts of methane gases are produced—a worse greenhouse gas than C02.

There are also the problems of poaching, sport hunting, puppy mills, animals exploited in entertainment—circus, advertising. Pollutants from agri-business, industry, households, golf courses, leaching into rivers, and the sea. Oceans are becoming less able to absorb C02, loss of species, climate change—what does this mean for those to follow us?

MS: What makes Gombe National Park your favorite place on earth? What is it like? 

DJG: A rain forest. All life intertwined. Home to the chimpanzees we have studied since 1960. I sense a great spiritual power and feel part of the cycle of life.

MS: Was there ever a time in your career when you weren’t taken seriously? 

DJG: When I went to Cambridge University for my PHD, with no college experience of any sort, I was told I had done my study all wrong—I should not have named the chimps for numbers were more scientific. I could not talk about them having minds, personalities, or emotions—they are unique to us humans, I was told. Luckily, my childhood dog Rusty had taught me that the professors were wrong. And so I carried on, but learned how to write about it in a scientific way. And I got my PHD!

MS: Congratulations on your new book! Why did you decided to write “Seeds of Hope”?  

DJG: I wrote a long section of plants for my previous book “Hope for Animals and Their World”. However, it became too long and the publishers suggested that my coauthor, Gail Hudson, and I cut it out. I was sad because so many botanists had helped. I decided to do a whole book—and what a fabulous journey it has been.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

DJG: My mother. From the start she supported me. When everyone else laughed at my dreams of Africa, she said, “If you really want something you will have to work hard, take advantage of opportunities, and never give up.” She found books for me to read (about animals), thinking that I would then learn to read more quickly. When the British authorities of what was then Tanganyika British Protectorate, refused permission for a young girl, straight from England, into the forest with potentially dangerous animals they finally gave in to Louis Leakey. However, they said I had to have a companion. My mother volunteered. Money for six months and she was there for the first four months—she helped boost my morale when the chimpanzees initially ran off at first sight. Pointing out those things I was learning, albeit from a distance. For the rest of her life, she was my best friend.

Photo credit:  © Michael Neugebauer