Student Interview: Starting Out, Picture Books, and Style

Pencil

I was recently interviewed by Danielle, a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She asked some very interesting questions that made me think about my career and why I took some of the steps I did, and how I work today. Here’s the full interview…




Starting Out as a Professional Illustrator

    How did you get started in illustration?

    I’ve always been interested in art, so when I entered college I enrolled in a few drawing courses. I wasn’t intending to pursue a career, and even after I declared myself as an art major, I dabbled with other fields like computer science and business. However, after a couple years, it became quite clear to me that art would be the only thing I would be happy doing, so I dedicated myself fully to an illustration degree in my junior and senior years. I’ve been going forward ever since.

    How long have you been illustrating professionally?

    Since 2005.

Choosing the Right Market

    Why did you choose children’s books over other book markets?

    It was not the area I had in mind when I first started in illustration, and I probably even avoided it for awhile. However, I had a few teachers in school who were very enthusiastic about picture books, and over time I realized that I really enjoyed it myself. Working in children’s illustration really fits my style and sensibilities, and I’ve come to really love the picture book industry. That has been a great discovery, because when you go into such a competitive field such as art, it’s good to find an area you can really be enthusiastic about.

    Did your style influence your decision?

    My style fits in really well in the children’s market, but that wasn’t my biggest concern when I entered the field. I decided to take the children’s industry head-on because it was a market that I really and truly enjoyed working in. And because I enjoy it so much, my style continues to evolve and fit better within the market. So, to me, it’s not a matter of finding an industry that fits your style, or creating a style to fit an industry. It’s finding what you enjoy doing and pursuing it. Style will come naturally as a result, your work will get better, and the you’ll eventually settle into the right markets for your art.

Working in Picture Books

    What’s the most challenging or most difficult part of doing book illustration?

    With picture books, you have to learn to be consistent. With something like editorial work, you create a single image and move on. But with books, you not only have to learn to draw well, but also to draw well enough to show the same characters at different angles, emotions, sizes, etc. Another element unique to picture books is storytelling. A picture book artist needs to know how to use narrative elements to keep the story exciting and moving forward page after page.

    What’s your process for a commission (deadline, communicating with client, contracts, pricing for different work, etc.)

    When a publisher is interested in my work, I will usually be contacted by the art director and that is who I work with for the duration of the project. They will give me the manuscript, from which I have to lay out the pages and create sketches. Usually, the manuscript is not separated into pages, so I have to figure out how to split up the story to best fit with each spread. I will submit my sketches for the entire story to the art director, who gives me feedback before I move on to the final paintings. The entire process for a full picture book will take months and even up to a year.

    In the contract for a picture book, it will outline the schedule, rights, and payment. Payment for a trade picture book is done with an advance and a royalty. The advance is the amount that is paid up front with the creation of the book. Usually, illustrators receive 1/3 upon signing the contract, 1/3 with sketches, and 1/3 after finals. The royalty is a percentage of the book’s sales.

Promotion

    What advice would you give to an inspiring illustrator trying to break into book illustration? How do you handle promotion? Is it ongoing or sporadic?

    Create work that is unique and strong. Make sure your art is appropriate for whatever field you are interested in. Lots of beginning illustrators fill their portfolios with student work, made up of random assignments, figure drawings, still life paintings, etc. Show work that is both outstanding and relevant. That will get you the jobs.

    For promotion, I will send out an occasional postcard. The key to a postcard is to put a really killer image on it, and your web address. My website is my main source of promotion. I include it on everything. It is the easiest way for an art director to see your full portfolio. I think it is necessary for every illustrator to have one. I usually try to send out at least 2 or 3 postcards a year. Sometimes, I will also do a more extensive promo such as my Three Pigs booklet that I send to a smaller list of people. It is a step up from a postcard and better targeted. A lot of promotion is also done by my rep, who also sends out regular mailings and visits with clients personally. My job there is to always keep her updated with my latest stuff.

Digital or Traditional?

    Most of your work I’ve seen is digital. Do you prefer this to traditional media? Is time a deciding factor when choosing?

    Digital media is what I am personally most comfortable with, create my best work in, and work faster with, so yes I prefer to create my work on the computer. It is not, however, because I dislike working traditionally or think digital is better. In fact, I would love to work traditionally more often and I admire artists that do. I just think my work comes out better when I work digitally.

    For artists trying to figure out the digital thing, keep in mind that it’s not necessary for everyone to learn how to paint digitally. A lot of illustrators seem to be under the impression that if they can’t work digitally, they are handicapped in some way. Although I think it is necessary that all artists learn how to edit, scan, archive, and format their work for display on the web or delivering to a client, artists can and should still work in whatever medium they are most comfortable with and are most skillful in.


Also, if you haven’t yet, read my previous post/interview Advice for Art Students.