Author-Illustrator Opens the Book on His Creative Process   

Author-illustrator Bryan Collier signs copies of Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for boys in My Brother’s Keeper program. Photo: Claremont School

As third-grader Sabastian Rios stood in line for author-illustrator Bryan Collier to sign his copy of Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” the connection dawned on him.

“Wait, did you make this book?” the Claremont School student asked. 

“Yes,” said Collier, who illustrated the biography, Doreen Rappaport, with his distinctive watercolor and collage style. 

Afterward, Sabastian said it was “mind-blowing” to meet Collier. “We read it last year. It was a very good book.” 

Bryan Collier, who has worked on nearly 40 books, visited Claremont School in Ossining earlier this year to speak with children about his career.  

“We picked this illustrator because he writes really deep stories, he illustrates really deep stories and he works with people who write really meaningful stories,” STREAM teacher Micki Lockwood said. 

Collier graduated from the Pratt Institute and was in graduate school for film when he walked into a bookstore and did not see any black or brown kids in the books.  

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, I want to make a book,’” said Collier, who is African American. “That was the lightbulb moment, when I started chasing the idea of making books.” 

It took seven years for him to get his first book deal. Uptown, which he wrote and illustrated, was published in 2004. The book is about the flavors, colors, sounds and cultures of Harlem as seen through the eyes of a young narrator, whom he modeled on his nephew. 


It takes Collier 4 to 6 months to illustrate a book 

Collier also spent time talking with boys in the My Brother’s Keeper programs at Claremont and Roosevelt schools. A number of students had a chance to ask him questions, such as what inspires his work and how long it takes to draw an illustration. 

He said it takes him four to six months to illustrate a book. “That’s doing it and making changes, because you don’t get it all right the first time,” he said. 

Fifth-grader Christian Pollard said meeting Collier was a special experience that he would share with his family. “I’ll tell them that I got to meet a famous illustrator and I got a book,” he said. 

Author-illustrator Bryan Collier signs copies of Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for boys in My Brother’s Keeper program. Photo: Claremont School 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recommended For You

About the Author: River Journal