1. Q: How did you become interested in illustration?
I've always been interested in becoming an illustrator. I grew up around authors and illustrators of children's books and was an avid reader, so it was a part of my life from a very early age. I used to read the "About the Author/Illustrator" bios on the back flaps of my picture books as a toddler, so as the story goes, I first told my mother that I was going to grow up to be an illustrator at age 2 - she was shocked I could even pronounce the word!
2. Q: What was your training like?
I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn as a Communications Design major. But because of my early interest in art, my training began before college - with involvement in the Kimball-Jenkins Community Art School in Concord, NH, the RISD Precollege program, and all the art classes I could take. In the COMD program at Pratt, I focused heavily on children's book illustration, but also became interested in graphic design and a career in publishing. So to prepare myself, I took more design classes as electives than the typical illustration major.
3. Q: What part of your skill set did you learn in school, from your teachers, and what did you find you had to figure out for yourself?
When it comes to technical drawing and painting skills, I can attribute everything I know to one influential teacher or another. After-school instructors and my favorite high school art teacher taught me to observe and recreate what I see from life. One pre-college professor at RISD broke down that dependency on realism, and pushed me to draw loosely, with energy. All my professors at Pratt refined those skills and gave me the tools to put them in context. I learned from them how to be an illustrator and designer.
Drive and creativity, on the other hand, can't be taught. I've been single-minded in becoming an artist my entire life, so I always knew I would work as hard as it took to make it my career. And I love it so much because I innately think in a visual and narrative way. I have all these ideas in my head, and the way I express them is through pencil, paper and paint!
4. Q: Who would you count as the main influences on your work?
(Aside from family and teachers) As a kid, I loved the work of Impressionist and Fauvist artists, so my favorite painters have always been Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, and Vincent Van Gogh. Some of my major children's book influences are: Chris Van Allsburg, Patricia Polacco, Ted and Betsy Lewin, Steven Kellogg, Kevin Henkes, Barbara Cooney, Mordecai Gerstein, David Wiesner, and many, many others. My more recent favorite illustrators are Maira Kalman, Sophie Blackall, Peter H. Reynolds and Renata Liwska, to name just a few.
5. Q. How did you begin your career in art? As you were finishing your training in school, do you feel as if there was one moment that really jumpstarted you?
During my sophomore year in college, I applied for summer internships, and ended up working at Star Bright Books, an independent children's publisher in Queens. Because of the company's small scale, I got a ton of hands-on design experience, and the opportunity to freelance illustrate two board books and design another non-fiction title. Being published at a young age gave me an edge and took my experience to another level. I'm also eternally grateful to my professor, Pat Cummings, who introduced me to my second internship at Penguin, under art director Cecilia Yung. Without those two, I wouldn't have my job today!
6. Q: How much has your style and your processes changed over the course of art school?
When I started at Pratt, as with most kids coming out of high school, I had no idea what my illustration style would be. I took freshman and sophomore year to experiment with different mediums and drawing styles, learning a lot but not really producing anything consistent. In my junior year, I decided to concentrate on one medium - watercolor - and I was lucky to study in the first class under master watercolorist Frederick Brosen. Once I learned technique from him and fell in love with watercolor, the rest evolved organically from there.
7. Q: Do you have a consistent method of contacting clients and securing jobs?
Not yet - this is something I still need to work on! One of the drawbacks of working at a full-time design job is that my freelance career falls on the back burner, so I have to make a conscious effort to find time to paint and promote myself. The upside is that when I do decide to put my work out there more, I'll have industry connections - the editors and art directors I'll be contacting won't be strangers. I also have a much better idea of what impresses clients and how best to contact them, since I'm the gatekeeper myself at work.
8. Q: Could you describe for me an example of your usual process, when you make a piece?
I start by gathering photo reference, then make sketches using a hard pencil. I'm awful at keeping sketchbooks, so usually I work on whatever size loose paper feels right! When I have a detailed outline of the image, I either redraw it on an Arches cold press watercolor block, or trace it onto a single sheet of heavy paper using a light box. Then, I plan in advance which order I'll layer the watercolors. The trick is to paint one color at a time, starting from the lightest, broadest blocks of color (initial washes, sky, and highlights), to local color, to the darkest and most detailed areas. Once I mix each color in individual ceramic nesting bowls, I grab my brushes and two big jars of water, and get painting!
9. Q: If you could give one single piece of advice to a a class of aspiring illustrators, what would it be?
In developing your style, it's great to experiment, but don't spread yourself too thin. Many young artists try to be good at a lot of different styles to please everyone, but the truth is, you're never going to be what every art director/project calls for. Instead, be the best at what you already LOVE to do, and thoroughly research the clients who are doing type of work that already suits your style. You'll waste less time knocking down doors that aren't hiring you, and you'll love the work you do end up illustrating!