Tuesday, December 2, 2014

INTRODUCING: TWO-QUESTION TUESDAY!

While I was at RISD, I contacted illustrators I admired eager to glean whatever I could about what life as an illustrator was really like. Answers to questions like "How did you discover your style?" and "How do you navigate the vastness of the children's book industry?" provided valuable insight to me as a new and wannabe illustrator. Now, nine years later, I have the humbling pleasure of sometimes being on the receiving end of some of these very questions from students and aspiring artists. Imagine that!

I thought it might be fun to have a weekly post themed around answering the kinds of career-oriented questions I've received. So I'm beginning "Two-Question Tuesday", in which I will post and answer two questions each week, one pulled from some of the actual questions I've been asked over the years., the other a playful question I'll ask myself. I hope it provides a bit of insight into who I am and how (and why) I do what I do!

If you have a question you'd like to ask me, post it as a comment below and I will answer it in a future post.

Here we go!
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Q1: How did you get your start in the children's illustration industry?


Getting a foot in the door as an illustrator can be remarkably hit or miss. My experience is not a very common one in that one of my first professional jobs was a legitimate picture book with a big publisher (believe me, I was just as surprised as you!). I graduated in 2006, and during that first post-grad year I spent a lot of time researching and learning about the industry I wanted to be a part of rather than actually being part of it. I created some sample pieces and spent 2007 prowling the RISD job board for illustration gigs. Eventually I got my first paying job that way, creating pencil drawings for a kind of paint-by-number kid's paint set.

Next I sent out promotional mailers to publishers (a packet of sample prints, postcards, the norm), but nothing came directly from it. Then I put my portfolio on the website childrensillustrators.com.  There were many artists on the site (and tons more now) but somehow (miraculously!?) my work was seen by an editor at Abrams Books. After creating a spec illustration for the manuscript, I was hired to illustrate a book called Ballots for Belva by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. (I hadn't done anything that big prior, nor have I since, really.)

The money from that advance was enough to allow me and (my then-boyfriend) Adam to move to Boston and get real jobs so we could live together. From 2008-2010 I worked full-time as a web/graphic designer and sought out small illustration jobs when I could. Illustration was relegated to late nights and weekends. At the time that was enough. It kept me busy, brought in some extra money, and served to remind me what I truly wanted to do someday.

After two years at my day job, I felt the itch to quit and try freelancing full-time. I also just so happened to have been contacted by an agent around that time. She'd also seen my work online and thought I might be good for the kind of work she often assigns. I came on as a Tugeau2 artist four years ago and have very much appreciated working someone so knowledgeable, accessible, and supportive as Nicole Tugeau.

But my plan to become a full-time illustrator hasn't quite worked out as I envisioned. At least not yet. 2010 was the same year I contracted Lyme disease, and it has been a bit of an unpredictable ride ever since. (Fortunately, I think I'm finally moving past all that now...)

Anyway---back to freelancing:
Most of the projects that come through Nicole are educational work. They pay well but sometimes prove challenging to the spirit. There usually isn't (in my opinion) enough time to explore in the initial stages before I have to pump out the final artwork. Generally after educational work wraps I'm completely worn out and frazzled. And I always wish I had more time to let the process breathe a little. I do the best I can with the time that is given, but with my part-time job sometimes it's very little actual work time. 

I'm 9 years out of RISD now but I feel like I'm still establishing myself. I still want to be a children's illustrator, but I'm realizing now what that really means to me: I want to make my own books and stories, and take on less educational work. Since I'm not relying on illustration to support myself, I don't really want to do work my heart isn't in fully---especially since I don't have to.

It's a big world out there and I've inadvertently taken longer figuring out who I want to be as an illustrator than I originally intended. But I'm ok with learning little by little and improving project by project. Everything is a chance to get better. To get closer to being the artist I hope to someday become.

Q2: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?


People often remark that my cat Miette looks an awful lot like me, thus I have been likened to a cat by those who know her. But if I'm picking for myself, I'd say I would like to be a deer. I feel a kindred spirit with these wild yet gentle animals. For being so commonplace, deer are wonderfully majestic and mysterious. When I see them appearing out of the tree line or standing stoically in a field at dusk, l feel connected. Connected to all of nature and to my peaceful animal brethren, silently taking in the sights, living their quiet lives, hoping to remain undisturbed.

Oh, and I, too, malfunction in the spotlight. So there's that

3 comments:

  1. What an unique back story... Lots of ups and downs...a roller coaster for sure! Thanks for sharing. In regards to satisfaction...have you ever thought about self-publishing your own books, or attempting Kick Starter? What better way to ensure your happiness and ownership in a project, then to create and control every aspect, right? ^_^

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  2. Hi Mike---thanks for the comment & questions!
    I might not make friends by saying this, but I am not a supporter of the self-publishing movement, at least not for picture books, and at least not right now. I respect the standards of publishing gatekeepers too much to automatically bypass them. If at some point I had a manuscript and sample illustrations I sincerely believed in, I would work with my agent to polish it and send it to publishers for whom I thought it well-suited. I like the old ways and rules, and I have extremely high standards when it comes to children's books. I'm thankful that there are curators dedicated to ensuring what appears on bookstore shelves is high quality. Sub par, low caliber offerings do not deserve to be on that shelf just because someone thought themselves a children's author. I want my book to be good enough to be published traditionally. Anything else wouldn't feel like I'd earned it.

    That doesn't mean I don't see the potential freedom of self-publishing, it's just that I've yet to encounter a self-published children's book that made me think, "Wow! This is so good, I can't believe it's self-published!" There's a reason why people have careers in art direction and editing. I trust the expertise and guidance of professionals in the industry, so if I really cared about the book I would do whatever it took to get it in the right hands. I'd want it to become the best possible version of itself, and to me that means it must be a team effort.

    As for Kickstarter, that's another story. If you can get enough backers you are already proving that your book has at least a some kind of audience that wants to buy it. To me, that's enough to justify raising the funds to make it---so longs as the backers are more than just friends and family!

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  3. Thank you for your honest reply. I guess I needed to hear that. Getting my ideas officially published has always been the end goal, but recently felt very far away and I've been starting entertain the idea of self publishing the books I've written and/or drawn so far, or just reading them to my 3 kids, while also creating fun impulsive stories that will help them develop a healthy imagination and have a good childhood.

    Perhaps I will still read and create new stories for my kids, but as you pointed out, my big/main stories would benefit far better by hanging onto them, polishing them up and then submitting them to publishers. I love working with Art Directors and Editors...and I love the feeling of collaboration, or overcoming an obstacle, and having something created as a team. I just need to be patient. Patient in my self and for what the future holds.

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