Sunday, March 1, 2015

Artists In My Book / Jan Bell *Interview*

The music and art scene in DUMBO, Brooklyn, with it’s artists and indie bands and their offshoots has a vast history. Musician-Producer, Jan Bell, has been in the center of this history since the beginning. You can find her amongst the colorful artist cameos in my picture book, MERMAIDS ON PARADE. In fact, Jan’s character is wearing a skirt based on the first tail I ever made and wore in the Mermaid Parade.

Jan Bell in the book, MERMAIDS ON PARADE.

 Mermaid tail I wore in the parade.

Jan was kind enough to answer some questions. Her interview serves as a parallel back story to my painting process during production of MERMAIDS ON PARADE. Listening to many wonderful music CDs by my favorite local bands was great for channeling moods and colors which reflect the Coney Island spirit. Jan's comments about Woody Guthrie really hit home to a theme of the book, Coney Island’s sense of democracy. Thank you, Jan Bell! XO

MHG: Why do you march in the Mermaid Parade? 

Jan Bell: Biggest fancy dress party of the year for me and my friends. I usually march with other old time and folk musicians and like to bring my guitar or banjo with me. I've met a lot of brilliant people playing music in the parade.


MHG: What does Coney Island represent for you?

Jan Bell: Well, I always think about the folk hero Woody Guthrie, who spent his last years living in Coney Island. That's where Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Bob Dylan both went to visit him in the 60's...both of whom have names they made up. Woody was born in rural Oklahoma and used to hop freight trains across country singing true story songs about the people he met during the Great Depression of the 1930's. Billy Bragg did a tribute album to Woody Guthrie called “Mermaid Avenue” in the 1990's. Guthrie’s spirit and his belief in equality for all are there for all to hear in his songs. “This land is Your Land”, “Pastures of Plenty” and hundreds more.

This CD has a song called "Coney Island Seaside Band"

 MHG: How do your music ventures connect the NYC arts communities?

Jan Bell: I am fortunate to work with quite a few small business establishments that ask me to book live music on a regular, often weekly basis. At one time, I traveled a lot all over America and Canada with a folk musician who was a young bright lad. He played venues and festivals everywhere, and I got to meet thousands of amazing musicians and presenters and people in the folk music community. Since returning to live in Brooklyn again, I've kept in touch with people so am able to 'bring the road to me' so to speak. Lots of bands from New Orleans, Austin Texas, Portland Oregon, Nashville Tennessee and Europe and Australia know how to find me and I can book them a couple of shows. They meet new fans and friends in a very supportive environment, rather than being exploited by 'pay to play' conveyer belt stages. This city can be a tough place for a band on tour here for the first time. I'm very happy to play a positive role in their experience instead. As an artist, I go home and play in the UK every Summer, and I tour a little here in the USA, but not as much as I used to. I help run the music at the places where I present the bands, and that helps supplement my income for sure. But I'm happy to play for a good cause, and fund raiser events are always a great time bringing folks together that otherwise may not cross paths.

Pasqalina Azzarello's CD cover art

MHG: What are you currently working on?

Jan Bell:  I'm launching Brooklyn Americana Music Festival 2015. My goal is to connect the two waterfront neighborhoods I've lived in and loved since the late 90's. DUMBO and Red Hook. I'm also writing and re-writing all my songs about living here for the next album 'Moonbirds in Brooklyn'. I’m also gearing up to teach a Spring songwriting class series again at the Fabulous Jalopy Theatre. My class is for grown ups but they have an extensive and very fun music program for kids.

Photo Credit Debbie Kline (who was watching the Maybelles broadcasting live on Concert Window)
Check out more of Jan Bell’s music
Concert Window
Facebook Band Page
Official Website

Art: Copyright Melanie Hope Greenberg

Friday, November 21, 2014

More Q&A with Elementary Students

One wonderful morning I Skyped from my cozy studio in Brooklyn with students at the Passow Elementary School in Franklin Park, Illinois. Thanks to Reading Specialist, Elizabeth Drasutis, who set up the visit, for sending a packet of the student’s sweet notes, plus a list of questions to answer.

Q: How can you imagine all of the sea creatures?

A: It was easy. By using the photographs I took of the public and of my friends at the actual Mermaid Parade. They made the costumes. I just channeled their great creative energies into my picture book. They made it easy to illustrate 100 + characters featured in the book.

Q: How do you get picked to be the illustrator?

A: I send samples of my illustrations printed on postcards to art directors in the juvenile publishing field. The art is kept in their files. They match an illustrator with an author’s manuscript the publisher had purchased. Or, an agent represents your art and makes portfolio rounds to the publishers.

Questions from the older students:

Q: What do you find challenging about being an author and illustrator.
Art is always fulfilling so I’d say it’s the business end that can be challenging. Such as waiting in-between books. Having to prove my talent at all times to new people. Or, being very organized tracking the constant flow of new people and changes within the field.

My Studio

A: How many days does it take to make a book or an illustration?
Some illustrations are simple and some are complex. It took one month to finish my first book, AT THE BEACH. The art was simple to fit the text.

It can also take two weeks to illustrate one scene. The maps I love to create take a long time to finish.

Detail from a map I illustrated for A CITY IS

All art and images are Copyright Melanie Hope Greenberg except the student art.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Author-Illustrator Visits - Teacher Guide and Video

School Season has started again!

"CLASSIC" MERMAIDS ON PARADE selected by New York City's Official Marketing and Tourism partnership organization, New York And Company.

As MERMAIDS ON PARADE gets more popular in New York City and beyond, I presented at a fun event for a children’s museum in upstate NY. That’s where I met writer and mom, Kimberly Kunkel. What a wonderful surprise when she wrote a blog post review with a teacher guide for MERMAIDS ON PARADE. Thank you Kimberly!!

Last but not least, here is a link to a video taken after my author-illustrator visit with second graders at Brooklyn Central Library's Dweck Center.

Please contact me to learn about my in school/library or Skype author-illustrator visits at

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

New Interview

I was interviewed over at Kathy Temean's Blog for her Illustrator Saturday series. Enjoy! Here's the link.

Monday, July 8, 2013


A while back the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art interviewed me but never published the interview on their blog. I've decided to post it here.

1. What's your favorite thing that you've ever seen in a museum?

MHG: Botticelli's art in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence Italy. I've been loving the art and only seeing small copies of the originals in books for many years. The real art was electric, memorable, and overwhelming to drink in.

                Detail from Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus"

2. What book have you recently given to a child and what made you pick it?

MHG: Whenever I've judged a picture book award, the Cybils Awards or the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, I received the many books in the competition. When it's all over, the books are given to school libraries so that many children have the pleasure of reading these books.

3. What kind of music, if any, do you listen to while you work? OR what does the view look like from where you work?

Part One: I listen to jazz, rock, pop, local bands, alt country, and folk. I listen to the news or radio shows that feature the arts or something that I can learn from.

Part Two: I live on the top floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. I have a wonderful view of open sky, back yard gardens, buildings from the 1800's, and there are glorious birds and bird song.

4. Give us five adjectives that describe your work.
a) brightly colored
b) child-friendly
c) detailed
d) stylized
e) prolific

5. If you ever find yourself with writer's block or in an artistic funk, what do you do to get yourself out?

MHG: Take a break. Work on other things until the muse returns. Go inside myself to see if the answers lie deeper. Go out and forget about art and be around others. Clean my studio, that old idea put away in a draw can look great again.

6. Tell us a secret about how you work. (Promise we won't tell). 

MHG: I love to research my books. Most of the information I find doesn't make it into a story or is described in the art. However, I know my research is part of the layers which created the book.

7. Have you dabbled in any other careers before finding children's books?

MHG: I started out designing custom framing for works of art. After that, I was a graphic artist for audio visual studios, magazines, and newspapers. I've illustrated for magazines and had over 200 greeting cards published with my art. I've also illustrated posters, coffee mugs, games and housewares. Last but not least, I've been a professional Tarot Card reader since 1988.

8. You must get a lot of fan letters. Let's hear one of your own. Please write a 3-sentence fan letter from your 8-year-old self to your favorite author or illustrator.

MHG: Dear Anna Elizabeth Bennett, Thanks for writing "Little Witch". I love your book. I've read it over and over and the pictures are beautiful. I like how the little witch refused to be mean and she helped others.

9. Could you send us a favorite doodle or sketch?  

MHG: Sketch of Cecilia Yung, the MERMAIDS ON PARADE Art Director from Putnam/ Penguin 

10. What do you see as the most exciting thing on the horizon for picture book publishing?

MHG: Paper books are not going away. They remain strong in the public eye, in a child's development, and in sales.

We'd also be grateful to receive following images, if you have them:

* A photo of you or self-portrait

                  Signing my book at the Brooklyn Museum 

* A photo of your studio/workplace 

* A photo of you as a child or a drawing done when you were a kid 

                  From my 16 year old hands, still love it.

* An early draft of an image and an image of the finished piece

                        Sketch and Finish from A CITY IS 

Thanks Eric Carle Museum!! xoxo

Images and photos are copyright Melanie Hope Greenberg (except Botticelli)

Monday, February 11, 2013

PS 310 BX Students Send Letters / Q&A

I had a really sweet visit with first and second graders at PS 310 in the Bronx last month. A few weeks after my visit a packet of sunshine arrived on a cold gray snowy winter day. 

Beverly Manasch, the school librarian, sent a note, since the visit my books have been circulating in and out of the library. That is music to my ears. I also received a thick stack of colorful thank you notes from the students who asked me great questions.

I love my mermaid legs

Question: How do I make the lovely paint?
I buy tubes or jars of paint called gouache. They are thick paints and they glow. They also vibrate when certain colors lie side by side. I mix hundreds of colors. I use small plastic bins or even aluminum foil or tins to mix the paints. I label each tin with the colors they were mixed with. Once they dry the paint gets hard. With some water on a brush the dry paint comes back to life as a honey mix of pigment to spread on watercolor paper.

Inside my studio

Question: How much time does it take to make a picture book?
That depends how complex the art is. It normally takes 6 months to one year to create the art for the book. Then the art goes to a printer and the pages are sewn and bound into the covers of the book. That process takes another year before you get the book on your bookshelf.

**More student letters from PS 250 BK.
**Click this link to learn about my school visits.
Autographed books can be purchased here.

Art by the students of PS 310 BX
Photos copyright Melanie Hope Greenberg

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My Art with CDF + FREE Coloring Page

My professional relationship with the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) began in 1993.

I sent a newly released autographed copy of my published picture book, IT'S MY EARTH, TOO (Doubleday) to then First Lady, Hillary Clinton. I sent a book to Tipper Gore, wife of the Vice President. And, I sent a book to Marian Wright-Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund. CDF was the original "Leave No Child Behind - Stand for Children" organization.

I also included a note with each book to please consider a stand for environmentally friendly publishing. IT'S MY EARTH TOO was published in an environmentally friendly way.

I received two thank you notes in the mail.

A few weeks later CDF called on the telephone. Gulp! Not only did they thank me for the book, Marian Wright-Edelman wanted to publish my art on their greeting cards. She felt my art style aligned with the spirit of CDF. I sent a few images and two were chosen.

Around the same time I had also published a poster using the cover art from IT'S MY EARTH, TOO. I sent the poster as a gift to Marian Wright-Edleman who loved it. She re-published the poster with the CDF logo.

"Everyone Belongs" was reprinted several times and was published for 10 years. The illustration was also published as coffee mugs

A bookmark for Marian Wright Edelman's book titled, "GUIDE MY FEET".

Stamps, and many other greeting cards.

Best of all I got to meet Marian Wright-Edelman.

FREE Coloring Page! Color the sketch from my Children's Defense Fund greeting card. I do at least one sketch for every finished illustration. Download my monthly FREE Coloring Pages at the What Do We Do All Day Blog.
Art: Copyright Melanie Hope Greenberg