Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

INTERVIEW: Rebecca Guay

Hello Illustration Friday community!

We caught up with Rebecca Guay this week and she has tons of gems to share in her interview below. Rebecca is a hugely successful illustrator, fine artist and educator. She has done more Magic cards than anyone on the planet (pretty sure), multiple books and graphic novels, held her own gallery shows, and founded both the Illustration Master Class and Smart School. She is also one of the nicest most kind-hearted people I have ever met. I am very excited to share this interview because Rebecca has helped me immensely with my own career, and I think her words below will be useful to many of you.

Rebecca GuayRebecca also just launched a Kickstarter for her Very Fancy art book, Evolution: the Art of Rebecca Guay. The book contains everything from her Magic card work to illustration to fine art. The books will be beautifully bound with red or gold dyed page edges. It is already funded, so buy with confidence.

And now, Rebecca Guay!

 

 


 

rgHi! Thanks for joining us on Illustration Friday, where we sketch to new words/topics every week. We like to draw on Fridays.

1. What do you do to keep up your chops when not working on client work?

This is a challenge for everyone! Most people don’t even consider that it is actually really really emotionally hard to sit down and work sometimes – and that more often than not you just have to put your butt in the chair and DO. I’ve often mentioned that quote by Picasso (I think!) “there’s such a thing as inspiration but it must find you working”  that could not be more true!!

Sometimes i just sit down with a book on tape and start – sometimes I set artificial deadlines – whatever it takes to get me working. Sometimes I take a week off too!!

2. Why did you become an illustrator? Why art, why not fine art, why not a designer?

I thought I would major in painting at Pratt but found out really quickly that in the late 80s the only teachers TEACHING  anyone how to paint something figurative or narrative in any way were the illustration professors! So I went into the COMD dept and majored in illustration. I know that the lines are ( gratifyingly) much more blurry across the genres now- illustrations and gallery- but they weren’t then. If you wanted to paint ANY kind of narrative or figures in any way at all with some real serious skill- it was only the illustration programs that seemed to produce the solid foundations. I have loved doing illustration over the last 21 years- adored so much- and I am equally adoring where artists can go within the gallery world – its an intoxicating time to create work.

I never ever wanted to be a designer- so that was never in question- My mom was one for the Boston Globe and she adored it- but I knew early it wouldn’t be for me. My helpless dramatic heart needed an outlet in paint.

3. How did you find your first client, or how did they find you?

My first real client fount me in an industry paper that used to get sent to publishers- I was a senior at Pratt and was chosen to have a small feature as an “up and comer”. Ron McCutchan from Cricket Magazine called and I did my first peace for cricket in 1992.

4. What were the biggest mistakes you made early in your career? What did you learn?

Even though I started to work pretty quickly and went fully freelance within 8 months of graduating I still regret that I did not have the social confidence to talk more and get to know my illustration community. Even when I was going to big parties when I was a penciller for DC comics -I wish I had spoken more – asked more questions of the great artists I was meeting. I was so nervous when I was introduced to Frank Miller at a DC party they I spilled a drink on his shoe and blurted an apology and ran away. So many missed opportunities! I was at small parties with everyone you could think of: Chris Claremont, Dave McKean, Neil Gaiman, so many others- I could have easily had more than one valuable chat with any of them MORE than once! But I was truly painfully shy – I did not discover myself socially within my artistic community until I was about 35!

Be inquisitive, ask questions, let people get to know you, and be  truly INTERESTED in THEM.

Oh yeah- and don’t book yourself up so heavily when you start to get busy that the work suffers. We ALL seem to do ihat early on– but try not to.

5. What advice would you give to up-and-coming illustrators who want to break in?

First- be really serious about where you need to beef up your portfolio and skills – do GREAT work. Go to all the industry shows all the events where you can meet people face to face, set up table give out cards sell prints at these shows, and go hang out after with the other artists. Always remain strong with your traditional paint skills – don’t  go all digital – it is cutting yourself off from a major source of income if you can’t sell paintings.

Get back to people promptly and very briefly. Beware of an email to an AD or editor that is longer than a well done paragraph.

The time to fix the problems with your portfolio is before you hand it to someone for their opinion – don’t apologize for failings that you know are in it while the AD is looking at it – if there are problems that you know are there then then fix them – apologizing for your portfolio in the moment is a baaad thing.

Be open to constructive critique.

Be fierce, friendly, sincere, KIND, do not trash people (dish a little maybe- but don’t trash anyone!!) and be diligent diligent diligent.

 

rgks

Rebecca’s Kickstarter book cover. There is still time to get your copy.

Rebecca Guay

Rebecca Guay

Rebecca Guay

“Tiger Tiger”

Posted by Thomas James on 02/11/14 under Interviews
5 Comments

IF Interview: Victo Ngai

The polls were unanimous, and interviews have been missed. So we’re back!

This week we caught up with Victo Ngai. Only five years out of art school, Victo is no longer a “rising star.” From Tomb Raider to the official NYC MTA poster, she not only has a broad client base, she has more gold medal awards than most industry vets. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. Enjoy the interview, and enjoy a few of Victo’s wonderful illustrations below.

Victo Ngai

  1. Hi! Thanks for joining us on Illustration Friday, where we sketch to new words/topics every week. We like to draw on Fridays. What do you do to keep up your chops when not working on client work?I love playing drawing games with my friends such as the exquisite corpse and paper telephone. There is this game I came up with during Art Hist class in RISD which is still my favorite: one person doodle random marks/shapes on the paper while the second person complete the drawing into something meaningful with as little strokes as possible. I find games like these really fun and helpful in working out my creative muscle.
  2. Why did you become an illustrator? Why art, why not fine art, why not a designer?One of my RISD professors told me this back in freshmen year “Fine artists like to create problems for themselves while illustrators like to solve problems given to them.” I love drawing and I love problem solving, hence illustration.
  3. How did you find your first client, or how did they find you?My first client was CD SooJin Buzelli. She is the wife of my RISD teacher and mentor Chris Buzelli. I did a piece in Chris’s class which SooJin saw and liked, that’s how I got my first published piece. Very lucky, I must say.
  4. What were three mistakes you made early in your career? What did you learn?1- Acting too much like a scared student in social events. It made it hard to carry normal human conversations with other illustrators and art directors.
    2- Thinking ADs are above illustrators in the illustration ecosystem. Now I learnt the best working relationship is an equal and respectful one.
    3- Afraid to ask for more budget. It’s a business, if you think your work deserve more money, there’s no shame in asking.
  5. What advice would you give to up-and-coming illustrators who want to break in?“It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.” – Paul Arden.
Sweet Dreams by Victo Ngai

Sweet Dreams by Victo Ngai

Jack and Queen at the Green Mill by Victo Ngai

Jack and Queen at the Green Mill by Victo Ngai for Tor.com

Treacherous Water by Victo Ngai

Treacherous Water by Victo Ngai for Plansponsor Magazine

 

Posted by Thomas James on 02/05/14 under artists,Interviews
No Comments

Interview with Art Director Loraine M. Joyner of Peachtree Publishers

Loraine_M_Joyner

Childrensillustrators.com, the premier online resource for the children’s illustration market, has published this great interview with the Art Director of Peachtree Publishers, Loraine M. Joyner. Loraine has art directed and/or collaborated on about 300 books over her career, and shares some unique insight on her experiences in the industry.

Check out the interview here.

Posted by Thomas James on 08/06/13 under Interviews
33 Comments

Children’s Illustrators Interview with Sharon King-Chai

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 2.12.05 PM

As part of their inspiring and educational interview series, ChildrensIllustrators.com has just released their latest Q&A with Sharon King-Chai, Macmillan Children’s Books.

Here’s a sneak peek:

As an illustrator, It’s really important to know your craft. Spend the time and dedicate yourself to learning your medium(s) and really experimenting, pushing boundaries. 

Be good at what you do. We love to see new fresh illustrators who have their own signature style which is unique to them. It really is important to take time out and be patient and develop your skills and art.  Being passionate about what you do comes through in your work too. We love enthusiasm and originality!

Read more of this insightful interview here!

Posted by Thomas James on 06/06/13 under Interviews
29 Comments

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

Name: Ryan O’Rourke
Website: ryanorourke.com

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

1. Tell us about yourself / What makes you tick?
I received my BFA and MFA from the University of Hartford in Illustration. I taught at The Hartford Art School for seven years before I moved to New Hampshire in August to teach illustration full-time at The New Hampshire Institute of Art. I started my career doing editorial work then gradually moved into other markets. Over the last four years most of my work has been for children’s books. However, I still do a fair amount of editorial illustration.

I love the mix of teaching and doing illustration. I go a little stir-crazy if I spend too much time in the studio. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to share my knowledge of the field with my students. Teaching core concepts about working with different medias and how to build effective narratives with an image or series of images has helped me improve my own work. I feel that since I’ve started teaching illustration consistently I’ve made some giant leaps and bounds in my own work. I have to give a fair amount of credit to my students and co-workers for the amount of progress I’ve made. I feel blessed to be a part of an amazing illustration community.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

2. How did you get your start in illustrating for children?
I credit my start in children’s illustration to luck, timing, and hard work. Between 2006 and 2008 I had a great opportunity doing a weekly spot illustration for The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. The exposure my work received during my time with The Globe proved to be invaluable, leading to a number of different projects outside of editorial illustration.

Susan Sherman, an art director at Charlesbridge Publishing saw my work and approached me about illustrating a book of poems about rain. A year later, the book, One Big Rain, was released. Since then, I’ve been consistently working with different publishers on a wide variety of projects.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

3. You illustrated Lisa Loeb’s Songs for Movin’ and Shakin released by Sterling Publishing. Can you tell us about this project? What was your creative vision for it?
First of all, I can’t say how great it’s been to work with Lisa and the good people at Sterling Publishing on Songs for Movin’ and Shakin’ and the predecessor to this book, The Disappointing Pancake and Other Zany Songs. When we started the project, my wife and I had just gotten married. We created a wedding cookbook full of recipes from our family and friends. We laid out text and I created lots of little drawings, hand-lettered text and design motifs in the negative space. I sent the cookbook out to clients for promotions. My first art director at Sterling, Merideth Harte, thought it would be fun to approach the Lisa Loeb books in the same manner. She created a smart, clean design, then I created my illustrations around the text. I was able to bring all of the elements from the cookbook to Lisa’s terrific, catchy songs. I had Songs For Movin’ and Shakin’ playing on repeat while I was working on the book. I walked around for three weeks whistling the tune of “Going Away” and some of the other songs.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

4. Can you tell us about your creative process, mediums, etc?
My process has changed a lot over the past few years and it’s still evolving. I do all of the hand-lettered text, design motifs, and patterns in pen and ink. I paint all of the figures and other objects in oils. Then I use acrylics, oils, or a mixture of the two mediums to create my backgrounds. Last, I merge everything together digitally. Before I start sketching for each book I do a lot of research. I print out reference material and post the images on my bulletin board to use as inspiration.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

5. Do you ever get stuck on how to illustrate a particular scene or character? How do you move past that?
I think every illustrator occasionally gets stuck. When I feel blocked, I try to step away and do something that doesn’t involve too much brain power like cleaning my studio or doing laundry. It gives me some time to think about the problem without trying to force a solution. Eventually, I look through books and images I’ve saved on my computer for inspiration. When I go back to the problem, I do lots of thumbnail sketches and try to explore every option.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

6. What were your favorite children’s books when you were little? Why?
I remember loving Harold and The Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, Shel Silverstein’s book were also a big part of my childhood. I still remember laughing hysterically when my first grade teacher would read his books to the class. I loved to draw when I was a kid which is why I think I loved Harold and The Purple Crayon. I loved the idea of creating a new, imaginative world with my own drawings.

7. What is a typical work day for you?
One reason why I love being an illustrator is that no day is really typical. I love having a new, different challenge every day. I often stick to a similar routine but the work I do varies depending on the projects I have on my plate. One good thing about teaching is that it offers a little bit of stability to my schedule. I wake up early, prepare for class, teach all morning, grade or handle administrative duties, then paint or draw the rest of the day. My wife is good about getting me to stop to take breaks. I usually try to relax around 8 or 9 at night.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

8. Best / most fun part of illustrating for children:
The rewards of illustrating for children are many. However, there are two that automatically stick out in my mind. First, I love being able to create something that people will remember as part of their childhood. I have two nieces and two nephews, they have all of the books I’ve illustrated. I love seeing them interact with the books, especially the Lisa Loeb sing-along books due to the songs and activities throughout the books.

The second reward is seeing all of the images come together in one cohesive package. Compared to editorial illustration, children’s books are more of a marathon than a sprint. I get a lot of pride out of seeing months of hard work come together. I’ve been very fortunate to collaborate with art directors and editors who have helped me create books I feel proud to show off.

9. Worst / most difficult part:
For me, the hardest part is the waiting game. After I finish each project I’m excited to share it but I usually have to wait a few months until it hits the shelves.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

10. Are you working on any new projects?
I have a number of projects coming out soon. Along with Songs for Movin’ and Shakin’, I have another book, Alphabet Trucks, written by Samantha Vamos that will be coming out in August. I also just finished the final art for Bella: Lost and Found, the first book I’ve written and illustrated for HarperCollins. The pictures provided are progress shots of art from the book. It’s the first book of a two part series. I’m currently writing the second book. I’ve also been hard at work on a series of hand-drawn patterns that I plan on marketing for licensing. Along with editorial, it’s been a nice break from working on books.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Ryan O’Rourke

5 things inspiring you/your work right now:
-Edward Hopper Landscape paintings
-Leyendecker skintones
-Charley Harper animals
-Tad Carpenter’s amazing work
-Downton Abbey

3 constants in your day:
-Drawing
-Catching up on the Red Sox
-Chai Tea Lattes

Your #1 art tip or words of wisdom:
In my experience I have found that faith in your vision, a willingness to learn, hard work, persistence, and a little bit of luck are the keys to success in this business.

* * * * *

Thanks, Ryan!

Posted by Thomas James on 04/09/13 under artists,Interviews
26 Comments

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho of Chicken Girl Designs

Name: Jannie Ho
Location: Boston, MA
Website: chickengirldesign.com
Blog: chickengirldesign.com
Primary Medium: Digital/vector

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

1. Tell us about yourself / What makes you tick?
Hi, my name is Jannie Ho (pronounced Jane-nee) and I’m an illustrator specializing in children’s books and products. I went to Parsons School of Design with a BFA in illustration. I’m also known as Chicken Girl. Because who doesn’t like a chicken or two?

2. How did you get started as an illustrator?
After I left school, I worked as a designer and art director, before deciding that illustration was my true passion. I think I had a lot of years of self doubt, and when I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and she talked about “shadow artists,” it really hit home. So while I was working at the full time design job, I slowly went back to build my illustration portfolio while taking continuing education classes at School of VIsual Arts. I signed with a rep and was working the full time job and doing freelance illustration on the side. Eventually I made the transition to being a freelance illustrator full time.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

3. How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?
When I started to learn Adobe Illustrator, I felt like that medium lends itself well to what I imagine my style would be like. It took years of being out of school before I found my style. But with that said, my style is always changing (and should change.) It has changed a lot since I started 7 years ago. Lately I feel a big shift coming over me and there is a huge hurdle I have to overcome. The style I can imagine in my head is not the way it is on paper at the moment. But so it goes — that is part of the process.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

4. Can you briefly explain your creative process, mediums, etc?
I work 99% in Illustrator. I use to do pencil sketches, scan them in, and draw on top of my sketch. But since a lot of client work has quick turnarounds, I began doing grayscale vector art as a sketch, straight on the computer. If the project calls for a certain subject matter or theme, I like to do some image searches just to get the ideas flowing. And for fresh color palettes, I like colourlovers.com for inspiration. It always gives me something new and prevents me from using the same old palettes.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

5. How do you come up with new ideas? Do you have a process?
I have to say I don’t really keep a sketch book for ideas. However, I always have various digital files I started with different little artworks. I listen to podcasts and free play, building a scene, making characters. My ideas flow this way.

6. Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?
Yes, of course! Switching projects always helps. I try to stagger projects to keep the creative juices flowing. I really do believe in having time away from a creative problem and trust your subconscious do some work. When I get back to it, there are always new and fresh solutions. I understand this may not be optimal for client work and short deadlines. But even going for a short walk helps.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

7. Best / most fun part of your job:
Creating a world of my own. I can be an interior designer, fashion designer, furniture designer, etc. in my illustrations. I get to draw all day — sometimes I work on projects that I would do on my own for free… but don’t tell the client that!

8. Worst / most difficult part of your job:
The feast and famine of freelancing life can be tough. Working from home can be a lonely thing, even for those of us who enjoys solitude. Thank goodness for the internet that illustrators can connect with each other through social media.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

9. Do you have side projects you work on?
I always like to have something going on the side. I started an ABCs series which started as a promo card but then it was so much fun that I continued with them. I also enjoy writing and illustrating comics and this is something I feel I can get more personal with. As much as I enjoy children’s publishing, it is nice to work on something more “grown up.”

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

10. What’s on your horizon? Any current/future projects and plans/dreams you can share with us?
I have a wonderful board book series coming out with Nosy Crow, called Tiny Tabs. The first 2 titles, Teeny Weeny Lost His Mummy, and Bunny Boo Lost Her Teddy, is being released in April 2013. I also have a pop-up gift book coming out in the fall, published by Campbell Books.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Jannie Ho

* * * * *

 5 things inspiring you/your work right now:
Texture
pattern
my daughter
lighting
limited color palette

3 constants in your day:
coffee
baby
podcasts

Your #1 art tip or words of wisdom:
It will always be an uphill battle, so just enjoy the process and the journey. Take time to celebrate achievements along the way. Believe in your work. Never give up.

* * * * *

Thank you so much, Jannie Ho!

Posted by Thomas James on 03/13/13 under cartoon,children's art,children's illustrators,digital,IF Kids,Interviews
8 Comments

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Raul Colon

Name: Raul Colon
Location: New York City
Website: morgangaynin.com/colon
Primary Medium: colored pencil and watercolor

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Raul Colon

1. Tell us about yourself / What makes you tick?
Art and music make me tick. Tick, tick, tick. I didn’t realize it then but as a child I was interested both in music and art beyond the norm. As far back as I can remember I always had pencil and paper in hand. I usually filled my Composition notebooks with drawings and ran out of space to do my homework.

I also read quite a bit. Especially comic books. “Spiderman” and “Sgt. Rock” were two favorites. I read my sister’s school books (She was four years older) and found that the stories in her textbooks were a lot more interesting than what I was reading in second grade. That’s when I read “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” which became my favorite childhood story.

I cared for music too. I remember watching some movies and TV shows just because I liked the theme music (usually instrumental music, not the silly sing- alongs…).

As I got older, the British music invasion took place and for a while I tried my hand at rock stardom, but illustration won out, to my mother’s delight.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Raul Colon

2. How did you get started as an illustrator?
I was working in the graphics department of a TV Educational Center in Florida, and we used to get all the illustration annuals every year. By looking through them I learned what was needed to become a freelance illustrator. I spent a year putting a portfolio together in my free time — I payed my bills, saved some money, printed half a dozen postcards, made a list of clients, mailed my cards and eventually quit my job at the Center and took the plunge into the New York market. I steadily made cold calls to every art director I had mailed postcards to and showed my portfolio all over town. That’s the way it was done in those days — you actually met art directors. After a few months of consuming extra loads of peanut butter sandwiches I slowly got enough work to make a living. The New York Times Book Review, BusinessWeek and New York Magazine were among my first clients.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Raul Colon

3. How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?
My “style” developed through time. I was always experimenting with different mediums. That led to a breakthrough of sorts when I picked up an “etching” instrument that was supposedly used for scratchboard art and decided to implement it with my colored pencil and watercolor pieces.

4. Can you briefly explain your creative process, mediums, etc?
I start a piece by covering my watercolor paper with a light wash of Aureolin (yellow). I then pencil in the image. I add halftones and darks usually with multiple browns and sepia washes. I etch lines onto the paper using the “scratcher”.  Finally, I put layers of prismacolor pencils and lithograph crayons. The paper’s texture allows the layers of color underneath to show through, giving the piece a certain warm glow. The etched lines also allow more color to show through.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Raul Colon

5. How do you come up with new ideas? Do you have a process?
For ideas I can look through magazines, watch MTV videos, movies, play music or stare at the sky. Putting things together that are seemingly unrelated helps you think out of the box and formulate unusual concepts — what is called vertical or horizontal thinking.

6. Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?
Creative slumps mean I leave the studio and do something totally unrelated to what I’m supposed to do.  Go for a walk, read the newspaper or play the guitar. I still keep these activities related to something that require some form of creativity.

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Raul Colon

 

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Raul Colon

7. Best / most fun part of your job:
When you wake up from the trance and you find that what you’ve been working on turned out better than you thought, or at least as good as you imagined it. This doesn’t happen all that often though.

8. Worst / most difficult part of your job:
Dead, dead, deadlines!

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Raul Colon

 

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Raul Colon

9. Do you have side projects you work on?
I do like to work on my own personal art which I hope to exhibit someday.

10. What’s on your horizon? Any current/future projects and plans/dreams you can share with us?
I just wrote a story for a wordless picture book which I’ll be finishing for a major publisher in the next couple of months. I have another original picture book in the works.

Hopefully I’ll record some music with friends. 

IF Interview :: 10 Questions with Raul Colon

* * * * *

 5 things inspiring you/your work right now:
Rock music/ classical music.
“2001 A Space Odyssey”
Impressionists.
Beauty.
Family.

3 constants in your day:
Coffee.
Drawing.
Deadlines.

* * * * *

Thank you so much, Raul!

Posted by Thomas James on 02/05/13 under Interviews
34 Comments

Children’s Illustrators Interview with Lee Wade

Lee Wade founded her own publishing company, Schwartz & Wade Books, one of Random House Children’s Books’ family of imprints. ChildrensIllustrators.com just posted a great interview with her! Here’s a snippet:

Can you tell us about your professional background including how you came to found your own publishing company, Schwartz and Wade Books.

I was an English major at Skidmore College but I always admired the art majors so when I graduated and was offered the position of assistant to the Art Director/Adult Trade Publishing at St. Martin’s press, I jumped on it. I spent 4 years at St. Martin’s designing book jackets and then became the Art Director at MacMillian Publishing. I spent the next 10 years running adult trade art departments and taking on more responsibility and overseeing more and more people. I always liked my jobs.

Find out more about her company and read her thoughts on building your children’s portfolio in this super interview at ChildrensIllustrators.com!

Posted by Thomas James on 12/05/12 under children's art,Interviews
31 Comments

10 Questions with Calef Brown

Name: Calef Brown
Location: Vancouver BC Canada
Website: calefbrown.com
Primary Medium: Acrylic and gouache. Sumi and india ink.

1. Tell us about yourself / What makes you tick?
I’m an illustrator, writer, and teacher, and love all three aspects of what I do. I moved from the east coast to LA in my early twenties and studied illustration and painting at Art Center in Pasadena.

I lived in Los Angeles until 2007 when my wife Anissa and I moved to Maine, and just recently we relocated to Canada.  I have taught illustration at Otis, Art Center, Maine College of Art, and now Emily Carr University here in Vancouver. It’s a wonderful and inspiring school to be a part of, as is the city. I really enjoy having a varied career and I bounce around between writing and illustrating children’s books, doing all sorts of freelance work, participating in gallery shows, and teaching.

We have two young kids and I feel lucky that I can work at home and they’re so close, although I have to sequester myself too to get work done. Two cats. A bunch of guitars and a banjo that Anissa and I have much less time to play these days. Exploring a new city, which is great for getting around on a bike. Reading lots of bedtime stories– some of the same ones I was read. Not getting enough sleep.

2. How did you get started as an illustrator?
When I graduated I was pretty focused on doing editorial work. I moved to New York for a year, then went back to LA and started getting some magazine assignments, as well doing freelance jobs for the record companies there. For some of my first gigs I was hired to do illustrated hand lettering, something I didn’t really expect, but is fun and I’ve always liked doing hand-drawn type.

I just gradually built up a mailing list and would do small edition promotional pieces whenever I had time. I got a rep after about 4 years. In 1996 I tried my hand at creating a children’s book – something I had always wanted to do, and in ’98 I had my first one published by Houghton Mifflin – Polkabats and Octopus Slacks. I have written and illustrated a bunch more since then. Most recently Boy Wonders and Pirateria: The Wonderful Plunderful Pirate Emporium for Atheneum Books, and a drawing activity book for Chronicle that I talk about later.

3. How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?
I found my initial style from doing a lot of experimenting after I got out of school. The portfolio I had when I graduated was kind of all over the place, and i didn’t really have a way of working or a medium that clicked with me. There was some collage, pastel, ink drawings…

I think that once I found a process that suited my interests and temperament I was able to focus and make a few leaps. With acrylic paint I could revise and layer paintings and was much more comfortable with working the paintings up, making adjustments, rather than a more step-by-step process or using a less forgiving medium. There was room for improvisation, and finding color schemes as I went.

4. Can you briefly explain your creative process, mediums, etc?
Well, I try to draw and write a lot in sketchbooks. My children’s books come out of playing with language and spending as much time as i can just brainstorming and sketching.

For creating final art, whether for books or freelance jobs, I work sketches up to a place where I feel the composition and elements are worked out, then quickly transfer the sketch and dive in. I usually have a pretty good idea for a color palette in my head – and like to let it develop, but sometimes I’ll do color studies beforehand. I usually work with the flat areas, and larger shapes first, pull the basic color scheme together, and work towards linear detail last. Basically painting with large to small sizes of brushes as I go.

A while back I started doing pen, and brush and ink drawings that were about line, rather than the silhouette-shape and color qualities of most of my work. I love sumi ink.

In my third children’s book – Flamingos on the Roof, I started integrating graphic line work in, along with the full color paintings. I’ve illustrated four of Daniel Pinkwater’s great novels, and did small ink drawings for the chapters. I enjoy having assignments that involve quick direct drawing, as well as longer projects with full color art that takes more time and a different kind of concentration.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with gouache and watercolor, and am interested in mixed media approaches. This year I had a drawing activity book for kids published by Chronicle. It’s called Dragon, Robot, Gatorbunny, and it’s one of the most satisfying and enjoyable things I’ve done. This is because I was able to take the fun process of creative messing around in a sketchbook and transfer it over to a book for kids that’s about the same thing: drawing freely, creating new characters (or versions of my characters), letting the mind and pen or pencil wander, playing with words to go with the images. Along with the print version, it’s just been published in an electronic edition for for the iPad. The viewer can draw with their fingers or a stylus. I’ve been noodling around with it the past couple of days– a lot of fun.

5. How do you come up with new ideas? Do you have a process?
I can’t say that I have a set process. For writing I do a lot of free association exercises, then try to extract ideas that seem to want to be explored further, and work on those.

I seem to get some ideas from overheard conversations, or phrases, song lyrics. I’m a fan of making lists, and a lot of the stories and poems in my books have started with writing all the phrases and words associated with a subject that I can think of, then following connections – like putting together a puzzle that’s forming as you solve it.

For art and illustration, I like to look to lots of sources for inspiration – painting, sculpture, architecture, music, design, photography… I think it’s good to be aware of what’s happening in the realm of illustration and the wider art world, but you have to be able to come back to your own ideas and interests and be rooted there. Sometimes that’s difficult.

6. Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?
I do. Usually due to being tired, and by extension, feeling less inspired. I just do my best to relax and not be too self-judgmental about it. Try to recharge. It helps to shift gears too, if I’m feeling stuck with drawing, I move to writing, or try a new medium.

7. Best / most fun part of your job:
I guess just being able, daily, to be creative in one way or another.

8. Worst / most difficult part of your job:
The business side of it, along with promoting myself and all that.

9. Do you have side projects you work on?
I do have some side/pet projects including  a few books that may be too odd for the picture book market that I would like to publish myself in one way or another. One is a sleepy time/anti-sleepy time book for kids called Snoozefest!

10. What’s on your horizon? Any current/future projects and plans/dreams you can share with us?
I have a book coming out in January that’s inspired by the theme of love and friendship. It’s called We Go Together! The concept of the book was suggested by my editor Margaret Raymo at Houghton Mifflin. It was a challenge to try to write and illustrate some verses in that mode that were not too cute or corny. I wanted it to be heartfelt and genuine — but also funny, offbeat. As with all of my books I tried to make it have appeal for both kids and grownups.

I’ve also just finished 2 manuscripts for picture books that my agent is sending out. I am creating some pieces for the yearly Post-It juggernaut show at Giant Robot in LA. And on the freelance side, I’m doing drawings for a series of animated commercials.

* * * * *

5 things inspiring you/your work right now:
Ben Shahn, Art Tatum, Mervyn Peake, Comics, Landscape painting

3 constants in your day:
Green tea, My kids, Music

Your #1 art tip or words of wisdom:
Be serious about enjoying making art.

* * * * *

Sketchbooks:

Life:

Many, many thanks for doing this interview, Calef! Your work is so fun and whimsical. We are all inspired!

Posted by Thomas James on 11/20/12 under Interviews
29 Comments

Artist :: Maria Carluccio’s Process

We recently featured artist Maria Carluccio’s lovely, lovely work here on the IF Blog. Well, there’s more inspiration where that came from! Maria was kind enough to share a video with us where she shows how she works and where those textures come from! I think you’ll love it:

http://youtu.be/jo6Z19EdTC0

Also to inspire you: a quick interview done with Maria by a student:

How did you establish as an illustrator?
I think my career as an illustrator really started to emerge when I began working at Hallmark cards. I started to build my confidence by working there and then after that I worked with a rep for many years to establish my freelance work

How did you put together your portfolio? Did you select your work based on the markets, subject matter, or style?
I select my favorite pieces first, then I always include other things that I think represent the market I get most of my work in. Since I do many different things I try to pick the top 4 categories  and focus on those. For me it’s books, stationary/gift, children’s decor, and adult decor.

Who are some of your biggest influences?
I love children’s book illustrators like: Robert Roth, Catia Chien, Jon Klassen. Plus artist like Paul Klee, Sonia Delaunay, Rex Ray and Nick Wilton. Just to name a few, there are tons more.

What were the most difficult aspects of illustration in school, after graduation, at the start of your career, and now?
Finding paid work that is creative. Just know when you get out of school that you have to show you know the technical stuff, that will help get opportunities to show off your creativity. 

What do you think of the current trends in illustration, and where do you think this field is heading?
I have felt for years that design and illustration are merging together more and more. Since I’m part illustrator part designer I love that. I think that technology is great but it’s a tool, we can’t forget that it’s ideas that make a real difference. It seems that to be well rounded, embrace technology but always challenge yourself creatively whatever way you are personally drawn to.

Please describe your process from getting contracted by a client to finishing the project.
That’s hard to pin point. I’ve been doing it for so long I think people see my work on a card or product and then they find me from there. I try to put my name is on everything I do.

How do you come up with ideas?
Sometimes I sit down and sketch but most of the time I just keep my eyes open all the time. I see what products I like and ask myself why I love it so much. Ideas always reflect the life your living I think. It’s where your at, what you keeps coming into your consciousness.  Certain themes resonate, I follow those themes weather I have a client to buy it  or not. I try to have faith if I love it others will too.

What do you think is the best way to promote yourself as an illustrator? Are book portfolios still in demand?
I guess promotion is an intuitive thing. I’ve tried many different things over the years (sourcebook ads, postcards, email blast, facebook etc.). I honestly can’t tell what has worked the best. I wish I could.  Right now, I am redoing my website, updating the art and all the overall functions. I think making your site as beautiful and easy as possible is the best promotion. After I finish the new site I plan to try to promote it a bit. I may advertise on line or do an email blast.

What is the most difficult part of being an illustrator, and what is most rewarding?
Most difficult- balancing the money. I make ends meet but most freelance illustrators really have to hustle a lot to keep the money coming in.
Rewarding- The freedom to execute a great idea you love. To see your images come to life. I love when I do something and I think “damn, I pulled it off, how did I do that?”

What advice would you give to an illustration student?
I just kept working year after year, doing things I thought could translate into products. I would do little calendars, cards and posters in my free time. Even when I worked jobs that were not super creative I always had the stuff I loved on the side. Always keep what you are inspired by alive, somewhere.

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View more of Maria’s work: Portfolio Site | Blog

Posted by Thomas James on 11/07/12 under artists,digital,Interviews,video
34 Comments

 

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