Milwaukee Talks: children's books illustrator Linda Bleck
Mequon-based illustrator Linda Bleck has done all kinds of work, from banners and shopping bags at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo to packaging for Microsoft to illustrations for Bacardi Rum adverts. But parents and kids will likely know her best for her series of books featuring the always-smiling, always-romping Pepper the dog.
Recently, she got what might be considered among the most prestigious jobs for an artist working in children's publishing. She was hired to illustrate a long-lost manuscript by Margaret Wise Brown, author of "Goodnight Moon" and "The Runaway Bunny," among many others.
The Illinois native settled in the Milwaukee area a few years ago and we caught up with her to talk about her background, her work and what it's like to collaborate, posthumously, with one of the most popular children's books authors of all time.
OnMilwaukee.com: Can you tell us a bit about how you came to be a "Milwaukeean"?
LB: I arrived here in Milwaukee eight years ago by way of, Madison, Marshfield, Chicago and New York. My husband took a job in the area as we discussed settling in the Midwest to be closer to family. I grew up in Waukegan, Ill., where my parents still live. We both feel that is very important to be near family when raising a family.
OMC: You grew up in an artistic house, didn't you?
LB: My father is an architect and my mother was trained as an interior architect, but after raising nine children all she wanted to do was be an illustrator. She embarked on her career at the age of 45 and became a Hallmark freelance artist.
OMC: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
LB: Many of my siblings were also in the arts. I was lucky to be the seventh of nine children. My oldest brother is a dentist and then follows a brother who is an industrial designer, sister that is an accomplished illustrator, another sister who is a graphic designer, a brother who is an architect, and my sister who s year older is a physical therapist. She takes care of our backs.
OMC: What was your first big break in the business?
LB: I didn't know that I wanted to be an illustrator. I thought I wanted to be scientist in grade school. I loved the science fairs! I think I liked doing the posters the best. By high school I knew I wanted to be a designer of some sort, especially after taking advanced chemistry and struggling with stoichiometry problems. I simple lost interest in becoming a scientist. I became obsessed with great design, drawing and painting.
OMC: Is having your own series, like Pepper, considered a prestigious accomplishment?
LB: My biggest break in the children's book market was having my Pepper Book concept accepted by Simon and Schuster. I had created some comps of pop up books with paper mechanics. I guess that's where my science interest came in. They had accepted "Pepper Goes to School" and before they could say no I created three other book concepts using Pepper as the main character. Then it started to roll after that. I received a four-book deal with Sterling Publishers and a three book series with Dutton. The work has been steady for six years now.
I should mention that I didn't just wake up one day and say I think I'll publish a book and then the next day I got a letter saying we like your idea. I had worked as an editorial illustrator for 15 years. I illustrated package designs, display posters, zoo signage and many articles on business, science, health, etc. Making the transition was hard work and sheer determination.
I'm not sure if I look at Pepper as prestigious, but in the world of publishing and looking back I say WOW what a break! This business is so hard to crack. I often take pause and thank my lucky stars. I think there is someone routing for me up there.
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