Thursday, December 17, 2020

Q&A with Evan Turk


Evan Turk is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book A Thousand Glass Flowers: Marietta Barovier and the Invention of the Rosetta Bead. It focuses on a Venetian glassmaker in the 15th and 16th centuries. Turk lives in the Hudson River Valley.


Q: What inspired you to write this book about Marietta Barovier and the Rosetta beads?


A: I was inspired to write about Marietta after reading a brief snippet about her and the rosetta bead in the book Murano: The history of Venetian glass-blowing by Alessandro Marzo Magno in preparation for a trip to Italy my husband and I were taking for our honeymoon.


I had always loved Murano glass, and particularly millefiori glass, with its incredible color and intricacy, and I was fascinated by Marietta’s contribution to this artform.


Q: How did you research the book, and what did you see as the right blend of history and imagination as you wrote it?


A: The research process for the book took a lot of searching for little snippets about Marietta from various articles. It even took some translation from Italian academic writings and Renaissance primary sources (using the Italian I know, and Google Translate to fill in the gaps), which was a fun challenge. It was an ongoing process to find little bits and pieces about her, since there wasn’t much.

The rest of the book was fleshed out with research about Venice and Murano glassmaking during that time period, and kind of filling in the gaps.


There has been a fair amount of fiction written about Marietta over the years, usually centering around imagined romantic entanglements. But I liked imagining what really drove this woman, who never actually married, and is mostly documented through her professional work.


I thought it was interesting that some of the only historical records of her were the decree from the Doge that she be allowed to open her own workshop, and a legal dispute where male glassworkers conspired to have this permission revoked. It really showed what she was up against as a woman in a male-dominated industry.


Q: What was it like to create illustrations involving glass?


A: Glass was such a fun challenge to illustrate! Because it is all about shine, light, and color, I knew I would have to use layering to be able to convey that translucency. So I layered oil pastel and colored pencil over a watercolor background, allowing it to shine.


There are also many different opacities of glass, including its hot liquid form. The rosetta bead is actually opaque, which is not necessarily what a person thinks of when imagining glass, so it was interesting to try and show all the different textures and properties of glass.


Q: With this book, did you work on the text and the illustrations simultaneously?


A: For this book, I had the idea and a rough outline, which I then used to create some samples of the style I might work in for the illustrations. I then wrote the manuscript, and crystallized the story with my editor, Reka Simonsen.


Then came a longer period of visual research for the illustrations. I looked at many different artistic inspirations, such as Renaissance painting and Murano glass itself, but also at more modern painters like Sonia Delaunay and Pierre Bonnard who dealt so much with light and color.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have just finished the illustrations for a lovely book called Color the Sky, written by David Elliot, that will be out in spring of 2022 (Little Brown). It is a poem about birds and colors, and although it’s very simple, it ends with a beautiful feeling of freedom and self-acceptance that really resonated with me as a gay man.


I have a book called The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought For Justice with Art written by Cynthia Levinson coming out from Abrams in April 2021, which I am thrilled about. Ben Shahn is one of my favorite artists, so it was a privilege to be able to help bring his story to life.


I am also working on a few other projects, including a beautiful poem by Matthew Burgess called The Red Tin Box (Chronicle, Spring 2023) and a picture book biography of David Hockney that I am writing as well called To See Clearly: A Portrait of David Hockney (Abrams, Fall 2022).


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Evan Turk.

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