We had the opportunity to interview the illustrator of Bear Is Never Alone, Jeska Verstegen. She began her career in 1990 as an illustrator for magazines and children’s books. Jeska and Marc developed Bear Is Never Alone in close collaboration, considering both words and art as they created Bear’s story.
EBYR: What made you decide to illustrate books?
Jeska Verstegen (JV): My publisher loved a little bear I drew. She asked me: “Will you make a book with this little bear as a leading character?”
So I did it with a friend of mine, Marc Veerkamp, and we created this book.
We deliberated and thought we ought to talk about a delicate subject matter: the difficulty of feeling lonely and wanting to be alone.
EBYR: Who has been a major influence on your illustrating style?
JV: I love all sorts of illustrators: Fiep Westendorp, Alice and Martin Provensen, Ben Shaw, William Heath Robinson, and many more.
EBYR: What characteristics do you think illustrators need most?
JV: You have to be real in your work. Emotions have to seep through so the viewer is able to feel the atmosphere. Maybe you have to be a bit like an actor, but on paper!
EBYR: Do you have a favorite place you go to create and illustrate?
JV: My desk in my own home is my little entrance to my creative world. I love to be surrounded by my things. It feels comfortable. I need that feeling.
EBYR: What would you say is your most used art supply or tool?
JV: A pencil… Everything starts with a line, just a sketch or an original drawing. You name it. Everything begins with that dancing pencil on paper.
EBYR: What is the process of illustrating a book; how does it go from an idea to a finished work
JV: I always start with creating the main character. Then I pick out the most essential moments of the story. and create little scenes. Slowly the illustrations evolve in a book.
EBYR: Were there any pieces that almost made the cut but didn’t make it into the final book?
JV: In this book everything fell right into place! Each illustration was used as I planned it!
EBYR: Is there a particular art spread that is your favorite or maybe challenged you the most while creating it?
JV: I personally love the spread with the bear and the butterflies. I like the contrast in it. The strong bear versus the delicate butterflies. The shape of the piano comes back in the shape of the wings. Everything is balanced in the right sort of way somehow.
EBYR: Do you each have a favorite moment in the book?
JV: I love the MORE MORE MORE part, it made me smile.
And it has a hidden layer…
Because in this day and age people crave constantly: MORE MORE MORE! There seems to be less of a balance in our society…. It’s such a shame.
Written by Marc Veerkamp
Illustrated by Jeska Verstegen
Translated by Laura Watkinson
HARDCOVER; Releases: 4/3/2023
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A stirring, thoughtful story about the pressure to perform and the support of a true friend.
When Bear sits down at the piano, he makes beautiful music, and the other animals can’t get enough. “More, more, Pianobear!” they shout. But sometimes Bear just wants to relax. Even when he tries to escape to a quiet tree branch, the voices follow him: “More! More! More!” Finally Bear snaps. No one seems to understand why he’s so upset—except Zebra. Zebra loves Bear’s music, but she doesn’t ask him to start playing again. Instead, she brings over a book…
This moving story is the perfect companion for social-emotional lessons about choosing solitude, respecting boundaries, and building interpersonal awareness. Illustrated in striking shades of black, white, and red, Bear Is Never Alone encourages young readers to notice others’ needs and care for them with kindness.