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Helen Borten A chance chat with a famous Children’s Illustrator.

September 12, 2012

I’m so excited.


No this is not a cue for the Pointer Sisters to burst into song ! lol  Do you remember a blog in july about Helen Borten, the creator of some amazingly wonderful children’s illustrations from the 1960’s ? Well I managed to track her down and she kindly answered some questions exclusively for you, the readers of Fishinkblog ! WOW !

Ok let’s get started. Helen do you know how many books you may have actually worked on ?

” I wrote 9 but I can’t give you an exact number of those I illustrated for other authors–between 20 and 30 is my best guess ”

How did you start as an illustrator ?

” I went to art school from high school on a 4-year full scholarship; got my first children’s book assignment after 3 years of book jackets, record album covers, adv. design, all freelance, all gotten by showing samples of my work. ”

What was life like working as a female illustrator in the 1950’s and 60’s ?

” Funny you should ask that.  Trudging my portfolio around in NYC from art director to art director there were some flitations but only once was I chased around a desk!  (I escaped)  The second escape was from a sofa in an apt. “meeting” I was stupid enough to go to.  That was more traumatic because this guy (a famous Italian designer) had promised me the cover of “Interiors”, the foremost interior design magazine of the time, and I had just delivered the sketches he’d asked for and that I’d agonized over for two weeks! All, as it turned out a ploy to get me in bed  !! ”   (Oh dear, so the series ‘Madmen’ isn’t that far off the mark then !)

How did you first get ‘discovered’ as an artist ?

” The first childrens’ book I illustrated, “Little-Big Feather”, wound up on the NY Times Ten Best-Illustrated Childrens Books of 1956.  From then on, other publishers took notice: my work was included in the AIGA (Am. Institute of Graphic Arts) show; 2 or 3 times in the international mag “Graphis” including its big annual, and then, another biggie: the first book I wrote and illustrated, “Do You See What I see?” , which was on the NY Times Ten Best Childrens Books of 1959″.

Who did you look to for inspiration or was your style purely your own ?

” Antonio Frasconi, a wonderful woodcut artist, was my inspiration.  He may have done only one childrens book but when I saw it I not only loved it but realized here was a field open to “non-commercial” art.  Other fine artists were entering it at that time, Leonard Baskin comes to mind,  and it sort of resolved an inner conflict (I had wanted to be a painter).  My styles were my own.  But “purely”?  That’s a claim–considering how unconscious so much influence is, no one can make. They evolved because experimenting with something new was more interesting than repeating myself. ”

Did you have ideas of your own for the books ?

” Yes I was given the text, size of book , number of pages and number of colors.  All the layouts, print size, type face, the entire design of the book was my own. I never met, spoke to or heard from Branley or any other author.  (Ditto for any other illustrators.) Based on my own experience, unless you were doing your own pictures, the field was completely compartmentalized; art directors chose the artists and authors had no say in it. ”

I wish to thank Helen for the time she spent in replying to my long list of questions, I think I got a little carried away with the number I asked !

How fab to be able to find Helen through the internet. I feel like I’ve ‘met’ one of my heroes today 🙂

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter Borten permalink
    October 1, 2012 5:38 pm

    Thank you for recognizing this wonderful artist—who happens to be my mom! We are all kvelling here.

    • October 1, 2012 5:55 pm

      Peter hi there. I love your mum’s work hence the contact and exposure. If you can twist her arm to show us any more images of her work that we haven’t seen, or you have any yourself then I’d be happy to show them here too. Glad the post has made you smile too. Thanks for letting me know. I had to look up ‘kvelling’ lol

  2. Karl permalink
    February 21, 2013 10:48 pm

    And if you look at the dedication of my aunt Helen’s book, ” Do you hear what I hear” you will see my name! Thank you to my Aunt Helen for creating such a great collection of childrens books, which expanded our fantasy world and creative experience through writing and illustration.


    Karl, your nephew

  3. James permalink
    July 16, 2014 8:00 pm

    Hi there – does anybody have an up to date contact for Helen Borten? Hopefully someone does, i’m trying to get in touch regarding her images!

    • July 16, 2014 8:18 pm

      Hi James, I have an email address for her and would be glad to pass on anything you wish to send to me, I’d rather not give it out if that’s ok.

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