“Having a certain style narrows you, confines you,” says artist and children’s book illustrator E. B. Lewis. “I decided I wasn’t going to let the public direct my art—I let the words be my only guide and my only focus.”
Even a brief glance at E. B. Lewis’s illustrious career proves that this formula has been a success. The “artistrator”—as he terms himself—won a Coretta Scott King Medal for Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman and has no less than three Coretta Scott King Honor Books to his credit. His achievements have been chronicled in Barbara Bader’s history of American picture books, and his work is displayed in galleries across the U.S. Pushing his creative boundaries is like “learning a new language,” he says. “It’s still my voice, but a different voice.”
E. B. Lewis’s philosophy of artistic exploration is gloriously showcased in a stunning series of paintings for When You Were Born, Dianna Hutts Aston’s celebration of a baby’s birth. Different from all his previously published illustrations, the radiant, Chagall-like images that resulted from using watercolor and marker on existing paintings “were created out of a desire to capture the essence of the magnificent experience of welcoming a new child,” explains the father of two. “I wanted the images to be powerful and emotional but have an innocence to them.” The biggest challenge E. B. Lewis faced as he began to work on When You Were Born was not getting used to the unusual technique, he says, but “trying to go deep in myself to find the child. I approached this work with a childlike reckless abandon.”
E. B. Lewis lives in New Jersey and currently teaches illustration at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. In his spare time, he enjoys fishing and bike riding with his two teenage sons.