7. Q&A: Why do you illustrate? Why not just make art pieces to hang on a wall?

Illustrations can be
hung on a wall.
A: While I do enjoy making traditional paintings for viewing on a wall, there is something so enjoyable about creating pieces that tell a story.  I enjoy being a story teller and not necessarily depending on words to do it.  Don't get me wrong, I love it when the words and pictures "dance" together but each illustration needs to be strong enough as a stand-alone without being the handmaiden of a description beside it. I also apply this theory when making work for serious subject matter, such as when news articles or educational books call for title or cover art.  The most gratifying challenge is to make an illustration that says everything it needs to and leaves the door open for some interpretation.

FUN FACT: When I was a child I used to read a bunch of stories and then make my own sequels to the stories I read, ie: Madeline goes to the USA!  (I'm sure I have some of my homemade books somewhere in my parents' basement). I also played with legos, action figures and stuffed animals and then would get really excited about the story line I had just created.  I would become so ecstatic that I would basically document what I had just done through a hand crafted children's book. Playing is important! I find it amusing that I can still remember how I felt when I played with my toys and the excitement it generated, leading me to do something creative on paper following my playtime.  It is just as gratifying when others who look at my work express that same sense of enjoyment and delight.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: Illustration is a highly collaborative endeavor.  Many of the writer/illustrator teams that have inspired me the most have had long term collaborative relationships, which is another element of illustration that draws me specifically to this field.  More to come on collaboration and crafting your own unique voice within the context of a team in future posts!

6. Q&A: Do you have any routines that help you stay productive and focused?

Coffee, Harry Potter series, music - Ready, Set, Draw!
A: I certainly do have routines to help me stay productive and focused. Some artists have a hard time focusing when it comes to background noises or when their computer is around them.  Personally, I love to have either a selection of soundtrack music or a good movie that I have seen many times before on my computer.  Having something familiar and pleasing in the background brings me to a comfortable and productive place. Another nice benefit of having a movie on the computer, is that it helps me from getting distracted by surfing the web.  Throughout the years I have kept a small library of photo references, but of course there are those times when I do have to surf the web for something specific, but even so, I like to do all my research before I begin my drawing and painting process.

5. Q&A: What's the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

A: There are quite of few pieces of advice I have been given over the years and I am happy to list a few of them and explain a little about each one.

1. Push Your Darks: I had a high school teacher who passed on this helpful bit of information that was passed onto her as well. When I began drawing and introducing shading methods into my work, it was crucial for me to learn how not to make my work look muddy.  This is especially critical when working in black and white. When beginning to draw it is typical for young artists not to use their full grayscale but rather hang in the middle.  When you use the full grayscale spectrum your drawings will come out much richer.  Because I love to work in color most of the time, it is easy to forget this piece of advice.  I like to sometimes take a xerox copy of my color work and see if it holds up in black and white form.  If it doesn't, then I know I have more room to push my light and dark spectrum. Remember, if you can't push your darks anymore, then push your lights.

2. Don't Use Your Handwriting:  My handwriting is absolutely atrocious and I used to use it all the time when illustrating titles or making text bubbles.  My professor told me and I quote, "Don't you ever, ever, ever, EVER, use your handwriting again!" With this advice in mind, I would have to expand my typographic skills by opening my font list in my computer and learning how to correlate the mood and manner of the fonts to the mood and manner of my artwork. Later, when I was working as a graphic artist, I worked with font books and this enriched my illustration skills even further, especially when scanning in work and applying fonts to it from a computer program such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop or InDesign.  Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.  One of my weaknesses happens to be my handwriting.  By taking my professor's advice seriously, I was able to avoid banging my head against a wall and wasting time "working on" my handwriting when I should have been working on my art.  Instead, by accepting that weakness, I was able to open my eyes to a great new set of tools as well as to put the focus back where it belonged - on my work, which now includes the element of typography in a more considered and fully synthesized way.

3. Be Able to Handle Rejection:
This was easy advice for me to take because when I was younger I always tried out for sports teams, music competitions and art awards, and I was virtually never selected or even given an "honorable mention."  These experiences helped me learn to push myself and to never give up. Stay positive and focus on the bigger picture.

4. Research, Research, Research: Illustrators need to do research on their projects, especially when working with either realistic or serious subject matter.  For example, typically it wouldn't make sense for certain mammals or birds to be illustrated in a region where they do not live, unless of course it was a crucial element of the story line (ie: a penguin who waddles through NYC).

5. Don't Color, PAINT:
This piece of advice sparked what was to become my "process style."  I used to draw my layout and then fill in the blanks from the outline.  My work was very tight and even though I thought I was mixing colors well, the feeling of the piece was too controlled and I was having trouble executing my concepts in a way that gave my finished pieces the character and sensibility I was going for.  Eventually, through much trial and error, I found that I can achieve these goals in my work better when I start bigger and use multiple layers.

4. Q&A: Is it necessary to have a college degree to be an artist?

A: Short Answer:  No, it is not imperative to have a college degree to be an artist.

A: The More Important Answer: It is strictly a personal decision whether or not college will suit you. I went to college because I felt it was really important for me to learn more about my specific field of interest as well as getting a well rounded education.  I have made long-lasting friendships with fellow colleagues as well as with my professors.  This has been quite beneficial for my creative process, career, and my mental well being.  Admittedly, it is tough to know at seventeen or eighteen what the "right" program or school will be.  But your college years are the beginning of your adult journey as a person and as an artist, and no "mistake" in your college choice is irreversible.  If you're on the fence about college, or about what school will be the right "fit," here are a few things to consider: does the school have a portfolio review?  These can be intimidating, but are generally an indication of quality instruction.  More on this to come in future postings.  Are there other artistic resources in the area, i.e. museums, galleries, artistic communities?  Look at the faculty profiles online.  Do any of their bios excite you about meeting them?  What have they published or produced?  And of course, what is the cost?  Cost should not necessarily have to be a deciding factor in going to college.  But as an artist, you probably won't be rolling in cash right after graduation.  At least, not if you're continuing to pursue your artistic goals.  With that in mind, your college choice needs to include a price tag that will be manageable, where you can see yourself paying off your loans while still pursuing your dreams.

3. Q&A: Do you have any words of advice to give to kids and young adults who want to pursue a career in the arts?

A: Yes, I have a few words of advice and this list could continue to grow.

"Whimsical Style" - even I continue to experiment with new
styles in my portfolio.
1. Be prepared to work hard! This is not just a reference to your artwork but on being able to schedule time to support yourself mentally, emotionally, and financially. It will take a lot time to develop a rhythm and style on how you approach and make your work. Attend local art classes and exhibits. Never stop practicing and learning new tips to help along with building your process and portfolio. 

2. If you are determined to pursue a career in the arts, then take what you do seriously.  What you do is not a hobby, but like I stated before, you need to work hard on all aspects of your life - your art, mental and emotional well being, and being able to financially support yourself.  Attend conferences to be around your peers and feel a sense of unity in what you do for a living.

3. Be prepared to take criticism from your professional peers.  You do not have to take and act on all the advice that is given to you but you should be able to open yourself to receive possible new ideas. At criticism's worst, apply it as motivation and a chance to explore what your critics might be referring to and see if you see any improvements in your work.

4. Be prepared to face rejection. It happens to even some of the best artists at times. Remember everybody has different tastes, so the most important person to love your work is YOU and to love and what you do!  The world is full of negative people who will scrutinize your work and not respect what you do for a living, but it is crucial that you keep your head afloat from all the negativity, work hard and believe in what you do is important.

5. The web and library are great resources to read up on how other artists are able to make successful careers as children's book illustrators, graphic designers, editorial illustrators, comic book artists, gallery painters, sculptors, medical illustrators etc!  Check out my resources page and your local library or bookstore for more information!

2. Q&A: Have you always wanted to be an artist, even when you were a child?

Little Jenny 1981, chocolate in hand
A: I have wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember, even when I was a child.  Of course, I also wanted to be many other things ranging from the President of the United States to a firefighter, mechanic, carpenter, architect etc.!

My aspirations to be so many different things were never belittled by my parents, who supported my creativity in every way they could, including by supporting my choice to be an Illustration major in college and to pursue my goals of becoming a published artist.  Of course, my first published cover illustration was in 2005, but that didn't mean that I had "achieved my goals," or that I was ready to put down my paintbrush.

I believe being an artist and an illustrator is about crafting a life that centers around and supports the continued development of my process and my ability to communicate through art.  Making art was always a constant in my life.  I always knew I was going to grow up to do something artistic, I just didn't always know exactly what. I am still exploring my artistic side in different ways today, from my creative "hobbies," like playing guitar and song writing,  to being a creative problem solver in my day to day interactions with friends, family, and others.

1. Q&A: What children's book illustrators have influenced your work?

A: There are quite a few illustrators that have made a big impact on me, both on my process and style.

I have been influenced by Quentin Blake's amazing ability to make loose whimsical characters that match perfectly with the author Roald Dahl.  In fact, for the longest time I thought Roald Dahl was both the author and the illustrator - for who else could concoct such crazy characters and have them look the way they do? Quentin Blake that's who! He has a great website that has step-by-step videos of how he creates his characters (watercolor painters would love this). It is a gorgeous process to watch!

Ludwig Bemelmans is another amazing storyteller and artist.  There is a great sense of simplicity in his paintings and drawings even though he is making something so beautifully detailed.  The background images from the books Madeline are gorgeously constructed scenes of Paris, France. 

Don Freeman is another author/illustrator that demonstrates simplistic and detailed work in his pieces such as Corduroy and Dandelion.  He also adds a dimension of great warm personal connections between characters in the story and how his characters are able to make the reader feel a wide array of emotions.

I love the stories, Jumanji and Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.  His illustrations are just so detailed and rich - not just in color but also in black and white.  I love that his illustrations take up the entire page and are not interrupted by text.  It is as if I am looking at a photo album and the words are supporting the images not the other way around.

Dr. Seuss is a master of imagination!  I love the fact that not only does he invent simplistic looking creatures, or personifies animals but he is able to connect the audience with social injustices and moral lessons without coming off "preachy."

I love to create personal connections between story characters and take the time to develop and build rich artwork. I love making my illustrations feel simplistic while highlighting complex characters and situations in a story. Quentin Blake, Ludwig Bemelmans, Don Freeman, Chris Van Allsburg, and Dr. Seuss have inspired me and influenced my process and style in those ways.

WORTH IT: 2013 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market

Recently, I had just purchased the 2013 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market.  The last time I purchased this yearly edition was about 5 years ago.  Every year I check out the articles and I have to say this year has some of the best interviews, query samples, and articles I have read in awhile.  I don't buy the market guide every year because as an illustrator the book doesn't always focus on illustrators trying to break in the industry.  One of my favorite market guides was the 2002-2003 edition.  If you can find it on Amazon or some other trustworthy store online, I would strongly recommend getting it, as it is jam packed with information on pursuing a career as an illustrator (contains visuals!!).  Because I have seriously considered dabbling into writing, I believe the 2013 edition has a nice blend of information for the author/illustrator - not to mention that it also focuses on the importance of blogging, even has a special section on that particular subject for illustrators.