It was a search for quality Eastern Christian children's books that began my conversion to Orthodoxy. Many of you may be familiar with Potamitis Publishing and their beautiful full color books for children. I am pleased to introduce you to the illustrator and half of the author-team, Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis. Currently, the best place to find these gorgeous books is on their website.
Svetlana: Where are you from? Have you been Orthodox your entire life or are you a convert? Was your family very religious growing up?
Egle: My roots are from Eastern Europe. Having said that, I must admit that it takes me a few seconds to answer the question where I am from, cause I very truly feel Greek. My family was not religious at all, though I do remember my grandmother whispering the Lord's Prayer at my bed every evening. I became a Catholic at 19 years of age , but soon after I found out Orthodoxy, which has genuinely fascinated me since.
Svetlana: Did you always want to be an artist or an illustrator? What inspired you to illustrate children's books?
Egle: Absolutely. I've been holding a pencil since I can remember. However, my graduation paper says that I am a foreign language teacher, though I always wanted to study art. Ever since I graduated, I had an urge to draw which eventually developed into the urge to draw for children. My husband always stood by me with ideas or text. We have no less than ten fully developed and illustrated children stories in the drawer still waiting to see the daylight. It took six years from the beginning of my first try for a picture book to our first published book.
Svetlana: How long have you been writing icons? What is your favorite medium?
Egle: I started writing icons some twelve years ago with the blessing of our family's spiritual father. However, lately there was absolutely no spare time in my daily life, so there are some five pieces of beautiful, ready to paint on wooden desks on my shelves, patiently waiting for that big moment. I prefer egg and pigment mix over any other kind of medium for icon writing.
Svetlana: Who or what are some your favorite artists, authors, and children's books?
Egle: I'm absolutely crazy about picture books and children books in general! There's never too many of them at our house and we really do have tons of them. My favorite illustrators vary from classic to modern ones. I am in love with classic old ones, such as Brandywine school illustrators (Jessie Wilcox Smith, Maxfield Parrish), Beatrix Potter and old Russian fairytale illustrator Ivan Bilybin. My top five modern picture book illustrators would be Gennady Spirin, Anthony Browne, Vladyslav Yerko, Pavel Tatarnikov and Leonardas Gutauskas. My absolutely number one author is swedish Astrid Lindgren, though I suppose she is not so well known in the US.
Svetlana: What was the inspiration of Potamitis Publishing?
Egle: Our own kids. And the gap that we felt at the time for good orthodox material for kids. So we tried as good as we could to provide what we thought was appropriate and needed first of all for our own flock.
Svetlana: You and your husband, Dionysios, often collaborate on your books. Who does what?
Egle: Usually we collaborate on the text, which, from the first draft to the final pro - edited version, changes loads of times, is trimmed, cropped, discussed over and finally agreed on. Then come the illustrations, this being my field ( but with kind suggestions from my husband and even the kids). All the credit for the graphic design, scanning, pre-posting, etc. goes to my husband.
Svetlana: How did your books gain the attention of His All-Holiness, Bartholomew I?
Egle: His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, wrote some very kind comments about my humble illustrations to the book "The Fairy tales of the Island of Imbros" (by Evi Tsitiridou and "Akritas" publishing house, 2004).
Svetlana: Your books are published in 7 different languages, which is amazing! How have your books been received in traditionally non-Orthodox countries?
Egle: We usually concentrate on Greek and English editions of our books, but with our last publication we expanded the language range a bit. Thus, the set of twelve small books "The Paterikon for kids" is now available not only in English and Greek, but also in Spanish, Italian, Russian, Romanian and German. The books are, thank God, received very well even in so called non- Orthodox countries, but, then again, they are purchased by the Orthodox living there.
Svetlana: You clearly love your faith very much. What is your favorite part about being Orthodox? Any favorite traditions?
Egle: Yes, I do, as Orthodoxy feels authentic, ancient and very deep. I really do love everything about being Orthodox. We try to keep all the main Orthodox traditions.
Svetlana: Do you ever illustrate for other authors?
Egle: I did illustrate the fairytale book for Evi Tsitiridou "The Fairy tales of the Island of Imbros".
Svetlana: What advice do you have for others, particularly mothers or fathers who would like to write or illustrate a children's books?
Egle: Take a sketch pad and a pencil! Write down your ideas, make tons of sketches and drawing. Look for a theme that fascinates not only you but also your or others kids. Do not stop with the first obstacle.
Svetlana: You just released The Story of the Vasilopita. Any future projects in the works?
Egle: There are too many projects simmering in the pot. However, being realistic, I should just mention that there is a sequence for "The Paterikon for Kids" being prepared, as well as there are more coloring books to show up soon, God willing.