Anne and Banjo
I met Anne Vittur Kennedy somewhere that I don’t remember but have run into her hubby, Jack, a bunch of times when walking my doggie…he and Banjo have said hi to us on numerous occasions. I had no idea that Anne was an artist and author until during one of these conversations with Jack! Ever since then, I have been trying to get it together to do an interview with this lovely lady.
Jack and Banjo
As she puts it, she has been known to the IRS as Anne Kennedy Illustration/Design fo 33 years. “I suppose it’s time to change that, haha. Anne Vittur Kennedy, author/ illustrator? I guess my business is just me!”
She was born and raised in Upper Arlington (Columbus Ohio),high school was at River Valley in Marion, Ohio, and college was Otterbein. She was a vocal music major and theatre minor, and taught in public schools as a choir director for 5 years. Her art training began as a child since she and her sisters always sketched on any scrap paper her dad would bring home from work. That was the paper era, so he would bring stacks of correspondence and they drew on the backs of the letters. Her first paying job as an artist was in the fourth grade!!! I had a little box in my desk labeled “The Anne Vittur Shop”. In it were little paper stand up animals I created, which I sold for 3 to 6 cents each. Business was great! But, she does remember that the teacher didn’t appreciate her scribbling at her desk all the time…LOL!
In the studio
First, Anne states that she is basically a shy, private type. Although she never took an art class at Otterbein, but she’s always been a doodler. As a teacher, she was the one that everyone came to for a drawing or poster. Eventually she realized that while she loved the students and music, her heart was with art. That led her to take the big leap into freelance illustration, leaving teacher. When her husband was transferred to Connecticut, she met an art agent named Frank Crump (a real character) who told her she couldn’t do kids’ books after seeing her work in a small 3 ring binder. However, she felt sure she could and asked if he would see her again if she created a few new samples. He said “Sure, I’ll see you again. You’re nice to look at.”
That ticked her off enough that she did do more samples and went back to him. Frank gave her the opportunity she needed to break into the business and they became good friends. She only lived in Connecticut for 3 years but that was enough to give her foothold with New York publishers.
Anne states that the art gene has been in her family for generations. Her great grandfather, Joseph Vittur, and her grandfather, Robert Vittur, were from Austria in a region now in the northern alps of Italy. When they came to the states, they were both muralists, painting beautiful murals, ceilings and portraits in churches mostly in the Midwest, NE Ohio and Chicago area,including the dome of the church of Notre Dame there. She laughingly states that she ‘cheated’ by inheriting the gene. But in her, the art comes out as squirrels in pants or hippos in gossamer skirts. I don’ think the cathedrals would hire me!
Notes from children
She is an illustrator of children’s books, in particular younger grades…preschool through about 4th grade. her art is most often animal characters featuring lots of humor and action. She thinks she has a specialty in animal movement and expression but in a stylized manner. The work has been well-suited to her “hermit personality” because she likes working in the quiet of her home and setting her own hours that allows her to travel with her husband and dog and her other passion, horses! Some day she would like to enjoy just splashing around with paint for fun instead of fleshing out a book and meeting a deadline!
Animals are her greatest inspiration, her delight and art instructors. They have inspired the books she is now writing. After all these years, she says it is just heaven to finally be writing and illustrating her own books. Another great inspiration is her father, Art Vittur. He was a fun and funny dad, constantly playing with clever word inventions and voices…like growing up with a Muppet for a father! He sparked in her a love of wordplay that has helped her write with a childish sense of play. Her mom was her musical influence and is often the sweetness in her art. She is so grateful for them both. She is also grateful for her hubby, Jack, who helped her make a business plan and follow through with her dream of self-employment. Oh, and besides the humans in her life, her rescue mutt, Banjo, has been a blessing…he is her current assistant, visiting her in her home studio and always letting her know when the national news starts…time to quit for the day!
For sketches, she still likes a plain old number two pencil. For painting, she likes soft bodied acrylics bu Liquitex and Golden. The texture is like very soft frosting and the colors are such fun, much more forgiving than watercolors. This suits her raucous splashy fun illustrations. She is self-taught so learning techniques and materials is a constant challenge. As she states: I never really landed on a single style that is just my one and only approach. After years of guilt about that, I gave myself permission to mix it up and just go with it. Someone once commented that my color palette is my recognizable style, and I suppose that’s true. I’ve recently found that my writing is most productive if I do the same thing there, mixing up my approach. I must have a short attention span or something. If I try to force myself to write a book from beginning to end in however many sittings, I get bogged down. What’s working for me now is to have a bunch of ideas in the works and I pick one up from time to time when it speaks to me, and work on that one for a while. The ultimate torture for me would be to have to stick with one character in one style for life. Since I haven’t come up with a Charlie Brown or a Wimpy Kid yet, I guess that’s ok!
People usually want to know where her ideas come from. Illustration ideas usually pop into her head like movies when she’s reading or writing a manuscript. The stories on the other hand, are pretty elusive. Often what appeals to her is not the ‘flavor of the day’ that publishers are after at the moment. Nevertheless, everything goes into a file or her idea drawer for future use. She likes to write when she’s comfy…preferably on the couch in soft clothes, her legs tucked under her and Banjo snoring! Of course, she’s rarely that lucky when an idea strikes so she keeps little tablets all over the place and scribbles on whatever if available (I think all authors do this!). Once the juices get flowing, she is a crazed maniac , writing like mad for days and then rewriting, rewriting, rewriting!! She says when she is productive like that, it’s pretty much torture and keeps her awake at nights, an itch that needs scratched!
Her studio is in one of their bedrooms and is nearly always in a state of complete explosion. Her husband says that shows a genius at work and she says she’ll go with that explanation!
Anne has also been exploring the idea of selling some of her originals or some prints or just paint for fun, finding a place that wants to sell them. In April, she signed books at the Ohioana Book Festival in Columbus. Her book, The Farmer’s Away! Baa! Neigh! has been selected as an Ohio Choose to Read book and will be promoted for 2 years by Ohioana. She also states that it has been an honor to be listed as a Notable children’s book by the American Library Association for 2015. Both that book and her most recent book, Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook are in the Ohiana Library. Besides that, Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook is doing really well: it is a Junior Library Guild selection, a Charlotte Zolotow ‘highly commended’ title and was one of 4 finalists for the Irma S. Black Award.Candlewick Press sent her to NYC (gratis! woohoo!) to receive honorable mention for the award. The Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature welcomed her and provided a lovely day. I am always surprised and so pleased for my books to get special attention. It is humbling and also a great responsibility to continue trying to produce good work for my reading audience.
A few other things to know about this talented lady… she suffered a stroke in 2005 and considers herself lucky to be here doing what she loves. Despite that setback, she still rides in the local foxhunt club (yes, with horns and hounds… the whole bit… but no foxes are harmed!). She loves movies that are well done, anything but gore and horror, she’s a Buckeye football fan and a fan of Ohio in general. ‘And I can’t live without a dog in my life!’
Aroon’s buddy Banjo
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