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Elizabeth Sayles (1956-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1956, in Brooklyn, NY; Education: Attended Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts), 1974-77, and School of Visual Arts (New York, NY). Religion: Jewish.


Agent—Cornell and McCarthy, LLC, 2-D Cross Highway, Westport, CT 06880.


Children's book illustrator. Graphic artist with design studio in New York, NY; School of Visual Arts, New York, NY, adjunct professor of illustration. Exhibitions: Society of Illustrators, New York, NY; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; Edward Hopper Art Gallery, Nyack, NY; Every Picture Tells a Story Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Chemers Gallery, Orange County, CA; New York Public Library, New York, NY; Rockland Center for the Arts, West Nyack, NY.


Illustrators' Partnership of America.

Honors Awards

Best Book designation, Parents' magazine, 1995, for Not in the House, Newton!; Book of the Month designation, American Booksellers Association, 1995, for The Sleeping Porch; Best Books for Reading and Sharing citation, New York Public Library, 1999, for Five Little Kittens.


(And illustrator) The Goldfish Yawned (picture book), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2005.


Chuck Thurman, A Time for Remembering, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.

Pegi Deitz Shea, Bungalow Fungalow, Clarion (New York, NY), 1991.

Janice May Udry, What Mary Jo Shared, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1991.

Louise Borden, Albie the Lifeguard, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.

Susan Tews, Nettie's Gift, Clarion (New York, NY), 1993.

Connie K. Heckert, Dribbles, Clarion (New York, NY), 1993.

Libba Moore Gray, The Little Black Truck, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.

Mary Pope Osborne, Molly and the Prince, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

Karen Ackerman, The Night Crossing, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

Karen Ackerman, The Sleeping Porch, Morrow (New York, NY), 1995.

Judith Heide Gilliland, Not in the House, Newton!, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.

Kathi Appelt, The Thunderherd, Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.

Tom Paxton, The Marvelous Toy, Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.

Pam Conrad, This Mess, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.

Mary McKenna Siddals, Millions of Snowflakes, Clarion (New York, NY), 1998.

Nancy Jewell, Five Little Kittens, Clarion (New York, NY), 1999.

Pat Mora, The Rainbow Tulip, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

Mary McKenna Siddals, Morning Song, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2001.

Caron Lee Cohen, Martin and the Giant Lions, Clarion (New York, NY), 2002.

Mary Bryant Bailey, Jeoffry's Christmas, Farrar Straus (New York, NY), 2002.

Terri Cohlene, Won't Papa Be Surprised!, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Mary Bryant Bailey, Jeoffry's Halloween, Farrar Straus (New York, NY), 2003.

Billy Crystal, I Already Know I Love You, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

Sayles's illustrations have also appeared on dust jackets for recorded media and in magazines and newspapers articles.


Elizabeth Sayles left a successful career in graphic design—with clients including the Whitney Museum of American Art, UNICEF, and Arista Records—to turn her artistic hand to illustration, specializing in children's book illustration and book jackets and blending her artwork subtly with story text. Noted for her warm and somewhat soft-focus pastels, Sayles has illustrated over a score of children's books, several of them award winners, and in 2005 also created her own text, producing the self-illustrated picture book The Goldfish Yawned.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1956, Sayles grew up in Nyack, New York, in a family that encouraged her early artistic endeavors. "I come from a 'book' family," Sayles once told Something about the Author ( SATA ). "My father, a designer and illustrator; and my mother, a writer and editor, produced books together. My father also worked for a children's-book publisher and brought lots of books home. He set up drawing tables for my brother and me right next to his in our attic. So, I always drew. My favorite illustrator then and now was Garth Williams."

Perspective was always an element Sayles enjoyed playing with, even as a child. During her later training at the Philadelphia College of Art, she began learning about other artists, and one of her favorites, Edward Hopper, was actually born in Sayles's home town. Sayles also enjoyed the art of American muralist Thomas Hart Benton, and Benton's work has been a strong influence in her books, especially in The Little Black Truck, a story set in the 1920s and 1930s. In college Sayles was also introduced to pastels, and she has continued to use them for her artwork.

"After college," Sayles explained, "I did a few different jobs before establishing a design studio which I had for about ten years before mustering the courage to concentrate solely on illustration. For a short while I did both design and illustration, but happily the illustration jobs took over." At one point Sayles set up as a freelance illustrator in her hometown of Nyack, moving into the very house where Hopper had lived. "His use of light and shadow has always had a big influence on me," she explained.

Sayles's picture book debut came in 1989 with A Time for Remembering. Written by Chuck Thurman, the book focuses on a boy and his dying grandfather. Patricia Pearl, writing in School Library Journal, praised Sayles's "double-page spreads of soft, hazy, warmly colored illustrations of the grandfather and the boy at the hospital and during happier times."

More of Sayles's signature "soft" artwork is served up in Bungalow Fungalow, written by Pegi Deitz Shea. This book finds a young boy visiting his grandparents' seaside bungalow. As Ellen Fader observed in Horn Book, "Sayles's art is full of the pale, sandy color of the beach; softly focused drawings shimmer with intense heat." Also reviewing the book, School Library Journal contributor Andrew W. Hunter noted that Sayles's illustrations "are realistic yet impressionistic in style, and capture the boy's enjoyment."

In 1993, three books illustrated by Sayles were published: Albie the Lifeguard, Nettie's Gift, and Dribbles. In Dribbles the title character, an old cat, dies, leaving three housemate cats behind. Virginia E. Jeschelnig observed in School Library Journal that "Sayles's rich pastel illustrations, with their subtle, painterly compositions, are the ideal accompaniment to [Jeschelnig's]… thoughtful text." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly concluded that "Sayles's full-page pastels, in soft ambers and creams, offer a gentle, cat's-eye view of friendship, love and loss; her illustrations of the three bereaved cats gazing out the window is particularly moving."

For Nettie's Gift, by Susan Tews, Sayles created fall landscapes that were widely praised. Writing in Booklist, Kay Weisman noted that the book's illustrator "makes effective use of browns and oranges in the quiet autumnal story," and went on to comment that "her artwork—with its indistinct faces and fuzzy, faraway look—lends a tranquil atmosphere to this mood piece." A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded a review of the book by stating that Sayles's "autumn pastel illustrations lure readers into a wistful late-afternoon light where sharp edges are blurred and fading forms catch bits of sun in luminous patches."

Sayles's work for the The Little Black Truck by Libba Moore Gray, which is set in an idyllic, rural past, was also appreciated by many critics. "The pictures," noted Mary Harris Veeder in Booklist, "in which landscapes almost always dominate, are soft-edged images that blanket rural life and the little black truck with an aura of affection." Writing in School Library Journal, Cynthia K. Richey compared Sayles's "impressionistic, full-color illustrations" with their "soft, sculptural shapes and rounded use of line" to the work of Jumanji creator Chris Van Allsburg.

Not in the House, Newton! tells the story of a young boy and a magical crayon. Booklist reviewer Susan Dove Lempke called Sayles's illustrations for this book "cozy and intimate," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that the illustrator's "softened pastels create the right mood for the adventure." Her pastel illustrations for The Sleeping Porch, a story about a close-knit family and their new home, are "rich in hues of purple and orange [and] convey the warmth and closeness the family shares," noted Booklist reviewer Kay Weisman. Jane Marino commented in School Library Journal that "Sayles's appealing pastel illustrations are dominated by various shades of purple that serve as warm backgrounds for the comforting glow of the porch's light."

In her many illustration projects, Sayles has depicted a variety of images ranging from thunderstorms to snow-flakes to mysterious toys and secret Father's Day presents. Her illustrations for Kathi Appelt's The Thunderherd were dubbed "dreamy pastel paintings" by Booklist reviewer Kay Weisman, while her artwork for Mary McKenna Siddals's Millions of Snowflakes was called "evocative" by Kathy Piehl in School Library Journal. Illustrating the lyrics of a popular folk song by Tom Paxton published in book form as The Marvelous Toy, Sayles "creates a satisfyingly unique 'marvelous toy'," according to Lisa Dennis in School Library Journal, citing illustrations with a "combination of cozy charm and unpredictable whimsy." Sayles's drawings for Won't Papa Be Surprised! "are joyful and warm," Martha Topol commented in School Library Journal, "with a smooth and soothing flow of color and action." These "soft, dreamy pastels," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "perfectly complement the [book's] gentle and reassuring theme."

Sayles has also illustrated two books by Mary Bryant Bailey about a kind-hearted cat named Jeoffry. In Jeoffry's Christmas "the cat is drawn with plenty of personality and an almost human expression," Mara Alpert commented in School Library Journal, while Wanda Meyers-Hines, also writing in School Library Journal, praised the book's "painterly artwork done in soft, autumn-hued pastels" that appears in Jeoffry's Halloween. Sayles's work also appears in I Already Know I Love You, a book written by actor Billy Crystal and addressed to the comedian's unborn grandchild. A Publishers Weekly critic noted that while Crystal's text is found lacking, there is merit in Sayles's "softly focused, emotion-filled pastels."

Sayles has worked with a score of different authors, creating her subtle pictorial effects to work in tandem with text. However, as she told Melissa Myers in the Rockland County, New York Journal News, "the pictures are the most important. The illustrator can definitely make or break the story." Sayles is picky when it comes to choosing manuscripts to illustrate: "I look for good stories," she told Myers. "When I read them I get pictures in my mind. Children's books do not have a lot of words, but every word is important." Having a child has also been a strong influence on Sayles's art. As she told Myers, "I have one daughter who critiques my work and inspires me now. I can see the work differently."

"I am very disciplined when I work," Sayles once explained to SATA. "I am in my studio from about ten a.m. to five p.m. Monday through Friday unless I have a meeting or have to go to the library for research or whatever. I work with pastel on paper, but before doing a final painting I do lots of sketches which must be approved by the editor and art director. A children's picture book—from the time I get the manuscript through thumbnail sketches, final sketches, and final art—can take a couple of years, but probably just three months of actual work."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, February 15, 1993, Hazel Rochman, review of Albie the Lifeguard, p. 1066; March 1, 1993, Kay Weisman, review of Nettie's Gift, p. 1239; March 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of The Night Crossing, p. 1346; June 1, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of The Little Black Truck, p. 1837; March 1, 1995, Kay Weisman, review of The Sleeping Porch, p. 1246; December 15, 1995, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Not in the House, Newton!, p. 708; May 15, 1996, Kay Weisman, review of The Thunderherd, p. 1590; April 15, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Mess, p. 1450; April 14, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Martin and the Giant Lion, p. 1407.

Horn Book, July-August, 1991, Ellen Fader, review of Bungalow Fungalow, p. 473; July-August, 1993, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Nettie's Gift, p. 431.

Journal News, November 29, 1998, Melissa Myers, "Hopper House Book Fair Points Spotlight on Local Authors."

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1995, review of Not in the House, Newton!; March 15, 2003, review of Won't Papa Be Surprised!, p. 463

Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1993, review of Nettie's Gift, p. 87; May 24, 1993, review of Albie the Lifeguard, p. 87; August 9, 1993, review of Dribbles, p. 478; April 11, 1994, review of The Little Black Truck, p. 64; April 25, 1994, review of The Night Crossing, p. 79; August 15, 1994, review of Molly and the Prince, p. 94; August 12, 1996, review of The Marvelous Toy, p. 83; April 20, 1998, review of This Mess, p. 65; December 3, 2001, review of Morning Song, p. 58; March 15, 2004, review of I Already Know I Love You, p. 72.

School Library Journal, January, 1990, Patricia Pearl, review of A Time for Remembering, pp. 90-91; June, 1991, Andrew W. Hunter, review of Bungalow Fungalow, p. 98; June, 1993, Liza Bliss, review of Albie the Lifeguard, p. 70, Ann Stell, review of Nettie's Gift, p. 90; November, 1993, Virginia E. Jeschelnig, review of Dribbles, p. 82; July, 1994, Louise L. Sherman, review of The Night Crossing, p. 100; August, 1994, Cynthia K. Richey, review of The Little Black Truck, pp. 131-132; September, 1994, Heide Piehler, review of Molly and the Prince, p. 190; May, 1995, Jane Marino, review of The Sleeping Porch, p. 81; January, 1996, Ronald Jobe, review of Not in the House, Newton!, pp. 83-84; August, 1996, Carol Schene, review of The Thunderherd, p. 115, Lisa Dennis, review of The Marvelous Toy, pp. 127-128; April, 1998, Lisa Dennis, review of This Mess, p. 97; September, 1998, Kathy Piehl, review of Millions of Snowflakes, p. 182; December, 2001, Sally R. Dow, review of Morning Song, p. 111; October, 2002, Mara Alpert, review of Jeoffry's Christmas, p. 56; July, 2003, Martha Topol, review of Won't Papa Be Surprised!, p. 88; September, 2003, Wanda Meyers-Hines, review of Jeoffry's Halloween, p. 168.


Elizabeth Sayles Home Page, http://www.elizabethsayles.com (July 15, 2005).

HarperChildrens Web site, http://www.harperchildrens.com/ (July 6, 2005), "Elizabeth Sayles."

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