Bryan Collier is an American writer and illustrator known best for illustrating children’s books. He won both the Coretta Scott King Award, as an illustrator, and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award for Uptown (Holt, 2000), the first book he both wrote and illustrated. He has won six King Awards as an illustrator and he is a four-time Caldecott Honor recipient.
For his lifetime contribution as a children’s illustrator, Collier is U.S. nominee for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2014
Bryan Collier was raised in Pocomoke City near the southern border of Maryland Eastern Shore. As a child, he had a great collection of quality children’s books that his mom, a Head Start teacher, would bring home. Some of his favorites were, Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats, Snowy Day by Keats, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. He said that he wouldn’t read the books at first; he would only look at the images to tell him the story.
Collier started working with watercolors and photo collage when he was 15 years old. He said it was something that sort of clicked in him overnight and the next day he starting painting.
While in high school he won first place in a Congressional Competition and his painting was displayed in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. for a year.
Collier received a scholarship through a national talent competition through the Pratt Institute in New York City, one of the leading art schools in the United States. He later graduated from Pratt with honors.
While at Pratt, he was a volunteer at the Harlem Horizon Art Studio located within the Harlem Hospital Center. The center is open to the children of the hospital as well as the children of the community. He later became the Program Director, a position he held for twelve years.
Collier said that one of the biggest reasons for wanting to become a part of children’s books was because of an experience he had in 1995 at a book store where the books he saw did not look or feel or sound like him or his children. He thought that he could do better, so that’s what he worked towards.
Today Collier continues to be active at the Harlem Horizon Art Studio but now as a volunteer. He believes it’s important to be a positive role model for kids. He says, “It gives the community, the schools, the kids, and the parents the opportunity to come together for a very positive uplifting cause—the building and re-building of self-esteem, teaching the appreciation of art, and keeping the kids connected and involved and away from negative influences.” He also spends time visiting schools to talk with teachers, librarians, and students about books and art.
Collier uses a unique technique of combining watercolors with collage.
The first thing he does before creating the illustrations is a photoshoot of either his family or friends acting out the story. Sometimes he uses up to ten rolls of film. He believes that by having people act out the story, it shows him the important gestures that illuminate the scenes.
Next, he carefully selects some of the photographs that best fit the text and begins sketching. After the sketching is complete, he begins painting in watercolor and the college follows. He gets pieces for his collage mostly from magazines like Elle.