Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Telling Stories in Layers: A Workshop with Illustrator Ellen Weinstein

Event Wrap-Up

Post by Mari Boyle, Tokyo, Japan

On November 18, 2018, I spent a lovely afternoon with fellow SCBWI Japan members and other like-minded folk, playing with paper. This came about through a workshop event with award-winning New York illustrator Ellen Weinstein, visiting Japan for author visits to schools. Ellen’s illustrations can be found on book covers, posters, advertising campaigns and many prominent magazines. Recently Ellen has celebrated publication of two books: the picture book biography, Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity, written by Sarah Suzuki and illustrated by Ellen, and Recipes for Good Luck: The Superstitions, Rituals, and Practices of Extraordinary People, written and illustrated by Ellen.


Ellen Weinstein talking about our collage work


The Sunday afternoon SCBWI Japan workshop session began with Ellen showing us examples of her work and sharing some of her illustration techniques. Using collage in much of her artwork, Ellen finds that the medium enables her to play with light, shadow, size and space, allowing you to “work out your mistakes,” and when the result is not what was intended, you may still find yourself with “happy accidents.”


Ellen Weinstein discussing process for the Yayoi Kusama book


Ellen uses humor in her work to grab the attention of the audience and make a connection. Animal characters, too, loom large in her illustrations. “I know it’s a good day when as an illustrator, I have to decide what kind of pajamas would a rooster wear!” she commented. Her much loved dachshund, Fritzie, is frequently inserted into many of her works, even making an appearance in the Yayoi Kusama biography.


Focusing on some of the illustrations from the biography, Ellen explained how the book developed, after she’d successfully pitched the idea to MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). Immersing herself in Kusama’s work and life story, Ellen found it a challenge to “capture the essence of Ms. Kusama’s work without losing my own voice in the process.” Having been given the all clear from Ms. Kusama herself, the book was approved, printed and released within a year, garnering critical praise.


Collage making–playing with Paper


Collage making–playing with paper


Following Ellen’s talk, she challenged us to “create a portrait of yourself or someone you know, and to capture the essence of the person through color, texture and objects.” Our group, a mix of writers and illustrators, set to work with paper, scissors and glue sticks. Soon we were all lost in bits of paper, and the initial chatter waned as everyone focused on their portraits.

After about 45 minutes, we gathered to unveil our portraits and give brief explanations. It was surprising how much the exercise revealed, and one or two members were clearly surprised at what they had discovered about themselves.


Sharing our portraits


Sharing our portraits


Sharing our portraits


Ellen commented on the array of ideas and styles, and what can be achieved through the simple act of “moving stuff around and playing with paper.” I think I may have even discovered my own ‘happy accident.’


Ellen Weinstein with SCBWI Japan members and friends


Find out more about Ellen Weinstein here.

Mari Boyle is a writer and teacher.