Author and Illustrator Interview: Maria Knier

The BezertTHE BEZERT BY MARIA KNIER

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
 The Bezert is a unique, imaginative and poetic parable about the value of trust. The main character, Bezert, has never left the safety and comfort of his island home. But when a box magically appears below his window, it proves too tempting not to take a look. By entering the box, the Bezert begins a journey of self-discovery in a dreamlike world of unknowns and mysterious inhabitants. Ultimately expanding the view of himself, his world and learning the value of trusting himself.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
I was working as a freelance editorial illustrator when I created this book many years ago. At the time I also had just begun studying Ayurveda, a timeless   healing philosophy and sister science to Yoga. This book was inspired by a combination of other books I was reading at the time based on universal truths. I first created 8-10 illustrations based on these concepts, spread them on the floor of my studio and sat down to write about each one of them. The end result was the outline and origin of  The Bezert.

3) Why did you pick this genre? How did you come to be a children’s picture book author?
I have always considered myself to be a ‘conceptual communicator’. In other words, I love to take words, stories or verses and bring them to life in a visual way. This book is the result of the interplay between my own writings and my own visual interpretations. I really decided I wanted to be ‘an artist” when I was about 4 or 5 years old so that has been a pretty solid path for me, but although I have always enjoyed writing, I never really considered myself to be ‘a writer’. Now in hindsight, the combination seems perfectly appropriate! I also consider this book to be appropriate for “kids of all ages”. Although it appears to be for children, adults sometimes need colorful illustrations and poetic verse to help tap into their creative side as well.

4) Tell us about the illustrations. What is your style and how did the artwork come to be? What inspired you?
I have always been drawn to a mixed media type style. Collage was my medium of choice in art school and the more I worked, my style morphed into a collage/mixed media combination. I like to use as many tools as I can get my hands on. It keeps things fresh and interesting for me and I doubt that will ever change. Most of my work is still done by hand because it wouldn’t feel right if I couldn’t get my hands dirty and work with paint and pencils, but I also enjoy the polish of digital media and the ease of integrating pictures and images into hand rendered work.

5) As a child, what books and/or authors influenced you the most and why?
I have always loved C.S. Lewis/Alice in Wonderland, Roald Dahl/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, L. Frank Baum/Wizard of Oz and especially everything by Madeline L’Engle. A Wrinkle In Time is one of my all time favorites! All of these books opened up my world and conjured a certain special magical quality within me. It is what has inspired me and has helped me to create a healthy creative process.

6) Tell us about your audio book campaign for The Bezert.
As of October 21st, 2015 we have officially released the audio book version of The Bezert! It has been a long road to get here as we started work on the audio book shortly after The Bezert was published one full year ago. I had no trouble finding a brilliant narrator almost immediately. He was an artist ‘friend of a friend’ from Santa Barbara with the perfect voice, great character skills and a strong desire to narrate a book. We began work in the studio shortly before I learned that my publisher was going out of business and needed to close their doors. Needless to say, I then ran into some challenges with the many other extra financial expenses necessary to keep The Bezert promotion alive. After just coming off of winning 2 indie book awards in NY, and a fantastic book tour event in CA, I realized I was tapped out and needed to start an Indiegogo campaign in order to raise enough funds to complete the Audio Book project. I humbly asked 30 friends and supporters to play small roles in a video I produced and we pulled together a fabulous campaign earning over 60% of the necessary funds to complete the project and finalize the music & studio contracts. Through this process I wholeheartedly learned the importance of support, collaboration and trust.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
I really love the opportunity to go to schools and read to classrooms. Each experience is unique but always inspiring. I have yet to come home without being artfully challenged in some way by the kids, their fabulous questions and their insightful comments.

I also have really enjoyed each of the different creative events we have put together to bring The Bezert further in to the public eye. We have had dramatic readings by kids wearing masks, circus type events with actors miming along with the audio version, social media campaigns with people taking pictures of Bezert all over the world, and someday I’d love to create an interactive art experience where people can walk through an installation of the book and be fully immersed in the sensory experience through sight, sound, scent and touch.

8) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book/s?
I hope this book inspires children (and adults) to dig deep into their own creativity. I hope it challenges them emotionally and gets them to think about concepts bigger than themselves. I also hope it gives them the reassurance that they too can write their own story and share it with the world in their own special way. And in the end maybe they will learn to trust just a little more, in both themselves and the greater world.

9) What advice do you have for aspiring author and illustrators on how to navigate this world of publishing?
Although it is a nine month process in itself, the actual act of publishing a book is just a very small part of the picture. The bigger job comes when you need to tirelessly promote yourself and your book at every given opportunity for as long as you possibly can. The thing I have found to be helpful is to use as much creativity as you can when you do this. To try not to seek out the way that your book fits in, but rather find out how it stands apart from the rest and market yourself from that platform. If it is a book filled with flowers, market to unique gift stores and garden shops, if it is about animals, find creative ways to talk to businesses who work with animals, humane society events, farms etc. In a bookstore you are just one book among thousands, but standing alone you can get much more positive attention and help build awareness in the process. And then never, never give up. Make the book your passion. Embrace it and intuitively follow every possible opportunity that presents itself.

10) What are you working on now?
I always have a few irons in the fire, but my main project after nearly a year of promoting The Bezert, is getting back in the studio and illustrating a second book in this series. Many years ago when I wrote The Bezert, I also penned a sequel. My next project is to illustrate and publish the second part of Bezert’s journey. As I said at the end of the first book…”Not The End” now I need to follow through on that promise.

Maria Knier

THANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Maria Knier and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Maria Knier
Where to purchase her book: Indiebound, Amazon and Barnes & Noble
Maria’s social media connections:

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Illustrator Interview: Alison Edgson

Alison EdgsonPROFESSIONAL BIO:
Alison Edgson was born in County Down in Northern Ireland. She worked in the computer department of a bank before studying Visual Communication at the University of Ulster in Belfast. After graduating with a First, she and her husband Jeff moved to an old chapel in the Usk Valley in Wales where she now paints and illustrates children’s books and greetings cards. She spends most of her free time trying to tame the tangle of Welsh hillside that is her ‘garden’, indulging the cat and walking her two energetic Labradors, and loves running and generally getting involved in village life.

1) How did you become an illustrator of children’s books or similar works?
It was a career change after 15 years working in the bank in IT – I got voluntary redundancy and took the opportunity to fulfil a long held dream to go to Art College. I completed a foundation year, followed by a 3 year honours degree in Visual Communication at the University of Ulster, graduating with a first in 2000. After that we moved to Wales and I started to pick up illustration work here and there until my agent Advocate offered to represent me. I’ve illustrated lots of children’s books since then and still love what I do – I’m very lucky!

2) Describe your illustration style and creative process. What makes your illustrations unique and different?
My work is colourful and usually quite atmospheric and I also hope it’s humorous – that’s what I strive for. I work in acrylics with coloured pencils at the moment but am always trying to develop and try new things and am currently working on a new style which is really challenging me as it is very different and fresh and right out of my comfort zone!

3) When did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
Really not until I began to get real offers of work – before that I hoped I could but never felt confident that it would work out as I knew there was a lot of competition in the field.

4) Has technology changed your trade and the way you work?
I’ve always used a computer to some extent with my work although it is painted in a traditional way. My work is reproduced digitally and I am comfortable with using traditional methods as a starting point for an illustration that can be worked on further in Photoshop if necessary. Coming from an IT background I’m okay with that and technology is useful for me in other ways too – simplifying the early stages of a project and reducing the need to dash to the post office with bundles of artwork every week!

5) Who are your biggest influences in your artistic career and why?
My family were all artistic especially my Mum who was able to draw horses beautifully – such a tricky subject! My Dad used to do big funny posters for his am-dram society too.

6) When collaborating with an author or a client, how do you ensure you are able to translate their words into art and convey the message they are trying to portray?
Once I’ve read their words (and I nearly always love the stories and get very excited when I read them for the first time) I try to  trust my instincts as I can usually visualise the story as I read it. Getting it down as I see it is the challenge!

7) Tell us about the proudest piece of work you have done.
I was very chuffed to win the Picture Book category of the Red House Children’s Book Awards for Yuck, That’s not a Monster – it was especially nice as the winning books were chosen entirely by children, and I got to meet Michael Morpurgo at the award ceremony!

8) What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators?
Try to find out as much as you can about the industry and keep up to date with what’s popular – there’s lots of good information in the annual Writers and Artists yearbooks, and the Association of Illustrators is well worth joining to get free portfolio consultations and they run workshops and offer useful publications on the business side of things as well.

9) Please provide a short brief of each of the pictures you have submitted.
This is a spread from Waiting for Santa – I loved painting this atmospheric scene where the friends settle down in the snow and hope that Santa will see their tree and bring them presents

Waiting for Santa

This illustration is from I Want my Mummy, the challenge here was to make an interesting, warm and colourful bedroom scene and as it was the opening spread for the book to introduce the characters of Arthur and his mummy. Adding the little details – the toys and the décor are the fun part!

I Want my Mummy

Should you wish to know more about Alison, here are her pertinent details.

Website: Alison Edgson
Alison’s social media connections:

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Author & Illustrator Interview: Carin Bramsen

Just A Duck by Carin BramsenJUST A DUCK? BY CARIN BRAMSEN

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
Duck has decided to be a cat, and tries to show his good friend, Cat, that he’s just like her. He strives gamely to climb a tree, but when his best efforts fail him, his confidence begins to ebb. In an attempt to cheer him, Cat accidentally lands in deep water, where they both learn just how lucky they are that Duck is a duck. This book is a sequel to Hey, Duck!, told in rhyming dialogue.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
A mental image of Duck trying to slink like his friend, Cat, was the first spark for Just a Duck. I already had a strong sense of Duck’s character from my previous book, Hey, Duck!. He is wildly enthusiastic, inclined to silliness, but with some instinctive wisdom, too. I could imagine his giving his all to being a cat, and struggling to prove it when challenged. I sympathized, suspecting this new goal might not serve him well – and that’s when I thought there might be a story in it.

3) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I’d love to help kids understand there are many, many different ways to shine, all eminently worthwhile.

4) How did you come to write and illustrate and why did you pick this genre?
My first picture book project was illustrating The Yellow Tutu, by my sister, Kirsten Bramsen. From then on, I was hooked on the possibilities and demands of the picture book form: the dance of words and images to tell a story, and the challenge of doing so in such a short space.

5) When you have an idea for a new book, what comes first? The words or the illustrations and what is your process of putting them together?
So far, my books have all started with a nascent sense of a scenario and a feeling for the characters involved. That might come to me with some words or an image attached, but at first it’s more about the general dynamics and where they might lead.

From there, words, images and plot ideas arrive, higgledy-piggledy – during a walk or shower or some household chore. I usually jot or sketch whatever pops up, knowing the selection and sorting will come later. At some point early on, I set up sixteen two-page spread templates in Photoshop. This will become my working dummy: the sketched version of the book. I scan sketches in, alter or move them as the story evolves, or sketch directly into the computer with a digital stylus and tablet. I can type right on the Photoshop dummy page – that’s sometimes where I write and rewrite the story. Words and pictures continually change and inform each other as I develop the book.

6) As a child, what books and/or authors/illustrators influenced you the most and why?
My first book love was Dr. Seuss. Oh, the places he drew! I felt he threw the world wide open with his wild spaces and infinite invention. I still want books to do that for me.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
The most fulfilling by far is hearing that a child enjoys my book, and feeling that maybe I’ve added a little happiness to someones life. I also relish the first stages of writing and sketching a book – that primal buzz when something new begins to take shape.

8) Describe your illustration style and when did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
My published illustrations so far are brightly colored, with tangible-looking textures and volumes. Recently, I’ve been playing around with a more linear style. Regardless of style, I love most to show character through expressions and movement. As to the second half of the question, I’m still trying to figure that out.

9) What are you working on now?
I’m now working on the third Duck and Cat book for Random House, as well as some other seedling projects.

THCarin BramsenANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Carin Bramsen and would like to purchase her book, here are all her pertinent details.

Website: Carin Bramsen
Where to purchase her book: Amazon, Indie Bound and Barnes & Noble
Carin’s social media connections:

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Illustrator Interview: Stephan Lomp

Stephan LompPROFESSIONAL BIO:
Stephan was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, where he studied visual communications at the University of Applied Sciences. Stephan has been drawing for print and web agencies, publishing houses and event marketing companies since 1996 and is very fond of the diversity of his profession. Stephan published his first children’s book in 2011 which became the starting point for his new found passion, to write and draw his own stories.

1) How did you become an illustrator of children’s books after having a professional career drawing for print and web agencies, publishing houses and event marketing companies?
Wimmelbücher are picture books with crowded scenes and are very popular in Germany. I was very fascinated with them at a very young age and the images of artists like Ali Mitgutsch are branded in my mind. Comparable to these books outside of Germany are probably only the Where is Waldo? books. I saw that a befriended illustrator published a wimmelbuch at a brand new publisher which was specialized on these books. So I wrote a quick email to the publisher and got a chance to do a 4 spread book. It became a success and 2 other books followed. These books gained the attention of a UK Agent and after signing up with them I got the chance to do 3 more books for the UK market. The books took over my work time until I basically do only books now.

2) Describe your illustration style and creative process. What makes your illustrations unique and different?
It’s hard to describe what you do subconsciously. I would say it’s colorful, bright, joyful and a bit edgy. The form of the characters are stylized and abstracted. I try to mix my influences of 50s and 60s flat shape illustrations with my personal twist.

3) Has technology changed your trade and the way you work?
My pencil drawing are very different to my digital art. I could not do my digital style analogously. My work is much more clean and crisper, which I try to break up again and make it look more handmade lately.

4) Who are your biggest influences in your artistic career and why?
This changes through the years. It used to be Comic Books from Europe as well as the US, artists like Möbius and Frank Miller, then Chris Ware and now it’s old school children’s books from Alain Gree as well as contemporary artists like Marc Boutavant.

5) When did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
This was always my intention to live from my talent, so I took every job I could find, even during my studies. And that includes everything in Graphic Design,  Webdesign and Programming.

6) When collaborating with an author or a client, how do you ensure you are able to translate their words into art and convey the message they are trying to portray?
It is key to talk to the client via telephone or in person. Only that way you can fully understand what they want. A lot of things can be misunderstood if you only communicate via email.

7) Tell us about the proudest piece of work you have done.
There is one image of a walking tree and a small boy walking through a dark forest. The illustration was done pretty quickly and without much thinking, but the reaction was huge, because everybody can see a story in there. I am currently working on it and hopefully this will be a book one day.

8) What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators when first dealing with a publishing house?
If they have a script for you ask yourself if you really like it and if you really want to tell the story through pictures. If you have your own story, they will try to tweak it here and there. This can be a good thing and it can improve your work. But always ask yourself, is it still fun to draw and is it still your story at heart. Lastly take a close look at the contract. Do you get enough out of this? And do not work without getting royalties, because that’s your real payment in the long term.

9) Please provide a short brief of each of the pictures you have submitted
Follow That Car – the mouse following the gorilla on a big red background is a eye-catching image I am really proud of.

Follow That Car

Find The Frog – the park scene is a lot more colorful than my work before.

Find The Frog

Mamasaurus – this image was done just as a quick scribble and gained enough attention from a publisher so that I did a whole picture book around it.

Mamasaurus

Should you wish to know more about Stephan, here are his pertinent details.

Website: Stephan Lomp
Stephan’s social media connections:

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Illustrator Interview: Paul Kidby

Paul KidbyPROFESISONAL BIO:
Self taught artist Paul Kidby was born in West London in 1964.  He left school at 17 and worked as a commercial artist before becoming a freelance illustrator in 1986. He is best known for being the ‘artist of choice’ for the award winning writer Sir Terry Pratchett, and has designed the ‘Discworld’ book jackets since 2002 and has illustrated many ‘Discworld’ publications including ‘The Art of Discworld’ and best-selling ‘The Last Hero’.

Paul has also increasingly built himself a reputation as a sculptor and his limited edition bronzes are collected worldwide. Kidby original artwork and bronzes have been exhibited in London, Paris and widely around the U.K. Today Paul balances his output between Pratchett and his own projects and lives and works in the New Forest with his wife Vanessa.

1) How did you become an illustrator of children’s books or similar works?
I became an illustrator of books by working at various jobs in the commercial creative industry that gradually edged me another step on the ladder closer to my goal. My journey began at the age of 17 and included making false teeth, painting roller blinds, designing rice pudding and lightbulb packaging, creating greetings card designs and finally over 200 magazine covers – which paid the bills but was not  exactly creatively satisfying.  My life changed in 1994 when author Terry Pratchett was doing a book signing in the city of Bath, I queued for a few hours to meet him and handed him an envelope of my Discworld character designs.  Terry phoned me when he had completed his signing tour to say he liked my drawings and that we might work together.

2) Describe your illustration style and creative process. What makes your illustrations unique and different?
My style is traditional. I use old techniques and processes and don’t create my work digitally.  I use hard leaded pencils on smooth white paper or board and for colour I work in oils or acrylics, which I build up in thin layers.  I enjoy working tonally and my style is rather meticulous and detailed. I am inspired by The Golden Age of illustration when beautiful books were adorned by the works of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and their skilled contemporaries.

3) Has technology changed your trade and the way you work?
It has not changed the way I create my work but I scan my work and send digital files these days rather than sending the original artwork to the publishers.  Social networking has also changed my working habits, I now feel part of an online community rather than an isolated artist!

4) As a self-taught artist, when did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
I have always made a living from my talent since the age of 17, through hard work,  determination and my choice to initially settle for lower paid creative work rather than higher paid uncreative work.  I was, and still am, lucky to have a supportive family.

5) When collaborating with an author or a client, how do you ensure you are able to translate their words into art and convey the message they are trying to portray?
One of the best parts of illustration is the design process where the text is interpreted into line; I find this the most fun and also the most challenging aspect of the work.  I read the text carefully, make notes and, as a starting point, I often think of an actor who might play the character. Good communication with the client is important at this stage too, for example I originally drew the Discworld character Ponder Stibbons to look like John Lennon but when Terry saw my sketch he told me he imagined him to look more like Bill Gates, so I redesigned him accordingly!

6) Tell us about your collaboration with the late Terry Pratchett and what opportunities did you gain from such a partnership?
The chance to visualise the Discworld was a life changing opportunity for me.  In the early years I would meet Terry often to discuss ideas and show him my sketches.  We shared a fascination for history, folklore and a slightly off the wall sense of humour which enabled us to connect our mediums in a happy union.  The chance to illustrate the book jackets and internals for so many of his books was an amazing privilege for me and I will always be grateful to him for allowing me to wander his world with my sketchbook.

7) Who or what continues to inspire your work from painting to sculpturing?
I am inspired by the natural world: the flora and fauna of the landscape around me and the folklore of The British Isles. I enjoy and take inspiration from attending galleries and exhibitions of all sorts of art. I have a large collection of art and reference books and I enjoy watching  films to see how others have created characters, costumes and environments for the big screen.

8) What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators when first dealing with a publishing house?
My advice is to maintain good polite communication and be punctual with schedules and deadlines. It’s also important to remember you are working as part of a team, therefore you must expect your work to be critiqued, changes requested and digital alterations with colour tones etc made by the design team, it’s part of the process and not a reason to take umbrage!

9) Please provide a short brief of each of the pictures you have submitted
Colour artwork for the book jacket of The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett.

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

Colour artwork for the book jacket of Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville.

Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville

Discworld Massif, a large scale painting featuring over 70 favourite characters from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

Auld Goggie, a character from The Charmed Realm book by Paul & Vanessa Kidby.

The Charmed Realm book by Paul & Vanessa Kidby

Should you wish to know more about Paul, here are his pertinent details.

Website: Paul Kidby
Paul’s social media connections:

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Illustrator Interview: Ben Sanders

Ben Sanders IllustratorPROFESSIONAL BIO:
I’m an Australian family man. I have a charming mid-twentieth century single car garage converted into a studio where I used to illustrate, stare blankly out of the window from my swivel chair and stroke my chin. But now I have a new studio in Bolivia, South America 
in the Spanish colonial city of Sucre, where I volunteer part-time while continue to illustrate for clients in Australia, USA and the UK. 
I’ve been an illustrator since 1987 but in that time I’ve completed secondary school, university and defected to the design and advertising industries from time to time.

1) How did you become an illustrator of children’s books or similar works? Did being in the advertising industry equip you to make this transition?
Yes my background in advertising and design was a big influence my return to illustration. I really enjoyed my time as an Art Director and Designer, and during that time I incorporated illustration into as many projects as I could. So it was inevitable that I would find a way back to full-time drawing. Having been on the ‘other side of the fence’, I knew what I needed to do to give freelance a good crack. I found out where to be found, and how to promote myself well enough to gain the work I wanted to do. I’m thankful that it worked out.

After establishing myself commercially, I had time to write children’s books and was fortunate enough to have a great agent who was able to connect me to publishers.

2) Describe your illustration style and creative process. What makes your illustrations unique and different?
The creative process for me is actually quite simple. If an idea enters the brain an attempt should always be made to scribble it down, no matter how bad I think the idea may be. After a while there should be quite a few badly drawn but reasonably good ideas on the page. I then need to recognise which idea will work best on the page, as well as deliver the story in the right ‘tone of voice’. I then work up a pencil sketches that will provide enough but not too much detail. 

Once the sketches have been given the thumbs up it’s time to apply colour. I recreate the drawing on my Mac in a vector format, and devise a simple, muted scheme. I then create a new file for each colour the same way a screen printer would build a new silkscreen for each ink. The separate colours are imported into Photoshop in individual layers and multiplied on top of each other. Often the intersecting of these layers will create new colours similar to letterpress. I then mess up the crispness of the vector shapes by erasing details and applying texture. 

If I’ve done a good job, we’re all satisfied. We exchange heart-warming emails about how we both enjoyed working with each other and vow to do it all again sometime soon.

3) When did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
Well, my dad was in the printing trade (and an excellent artist in his own right). One of his regular clients was a small local publishing outfit who needed a bunch of illustrations for a sheet of kids’ stickers. I was twelve years old, and in the late 1980’s child labour laws were easier to ignore than they are these days, so my dad encouraged me to submit a few drawings for consideration. 

During that summer I illustrated 32 stickers – things like elephants riding bicycles, walruses smoking pipes, apples with bites out of their bottoms – the usual stuff. Each summer holidays throughout secondary school I illustrated a new set of stickers. They were quite popular and the publisher found overseas markets for them, so it was nice to know my work was getting out there. It also meant that I didn’t need to get one of those summer jobs as a spotty-faced supermarket trolley-boy. So it was pretty early on that I got a taste of working as a professional illustrator.

It wasn’t until 2004, while working as an Art Director at an advertising agency that I made the decision to become a full-time illustrator. I was hiring illustrators for ad jobs and became a little jealous of their freelance-iness. I quit and started promoting myself as an illustrator.

4) Has technology changed your trade and the way you work?
Oh yes, technology has changed EVERYTHING. I couldn’t have imagined as a twelve year old watercolourist that I would be relying so heavily on technology for both communicating with clients as well as the execution of the illustrations themselves. These influences are obvious, but there is an even greater affect. Location. I live in Bolivia, South America now, volunteering, creating books, and illustrating for my commercial clients in Australia, the UK and the USA. None of these things would be possible for me without my computer, its applications and the reach of the internet all the way up the Andes Mountains. Ahhh … technology!

5) Who are your biggest influences in your artistic career and why?
My dad is the greatest influence. Our styles are completely different but nobody has influenced me more in this department. He was the one who got me my first freelance gig while I was still pre-teen.

My first full time job was at a place called Paul’s Signs. The owner Paul van Gaans is one of the most creative people I know. While we worked on signs in the mid-1990s we spurring each other on creatively. Paul taught me not to settle for less – to keep striving. That’s why we no longer make signs. Paul is now a hugely successful 3D Animator with a brilliant body of work.

In the recent past I worked collaboratively with a couple of other illustrators and friends in Ballarat. Both Travis Price and Sam Harmer have been influential in bringing me out of my creative shell.

6) When collaborating with an author or a client, how do you ensure you are able to translate their words into art and convey the message they are trying to portray?
On a weekly basis I’m reading stories and attempting to pick up on the right tone. That’s something that I’m used to now after illustrating for hundreds of magazine articles. For me it’s not so much interpreting the words or message, it’s more about what else I can contribute to the story. What can I add to the piece? Can I approach the subject in a different and complimentary way?

With picture storybooks, so far in my career I have only illustrated the books I have authored, so it’s a far easier process to understand where the writer is coming from. As I’m writing the books I’m often imagining the pages completely illustrated.

7) Tell us how you came about creating the Ben Sanders gift store and the products that you sell.
The Ben Sanders Shop on RedBubble is a fun side-project that has exceeded my expectations. I decided to utilise a bunch of out-of-use illustrations that I felt would work well as household and stationery items like cushions, journals, phone covers and even bed spreads.

8) What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators about being true to themselves and how to navigate the big bad world of publishing?
Well, the publishing world can seem big and bad at times, but I think that’s only a perception. There’s so much competition that you really need to have a unique voice in order to be heard, that’s the tough part.

When you have the opportunity to publish your work take as much advice as you are given by wiser and more experienced people in the industry. My books improved greatly during the development process, due to listening intently to editors and publishers. At the same time don’t be afraid to have your input and express your vision for the project. A good publisher will appreciate your enthusiasm, and take into consideration your ideas.

9) Please provide a short brief of each of the pictures you have submitted
Cover of I’ve an Uncle Ivan children’s picture book.

I've An Uncle Ivan by Ben Sanders

Cover of I Could Wear That Hat! children’s activity book.

I Could Wear That Hat by Ben Sanders

Buck gets his gut stuck in his truck, limited edition print of a character from I’ve an Uncle Ivan.

Buck Stuck Truck by Ben Sanders

Should you wish to know more about Ben, here are his pertinent details.

Website: Ben Sanders
Ben’s social media connections:

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Illustrator Interview: Keika Yamaguchi

Keika Yamaguchi

PROFESSIONAL BIO:
Keika Yamaguchi is a children’s book illustrator of Sick of Being Sick written by Justin Sullivan, and Puddle Pug written by Kim Norman. Her newly illustrated book that came out this June is What About Moose? written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca Gomez. She is a graduated from Pasadena Art Center College of Design with honors. She studied Entertainment Arts, and work for clients including Walt Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney Publishing.

1) How did you become an illustrator of children’s books or similar works?
A friend of a friend, Justin Sullivan, was looking for an illustrator for the story he wrote. He owned a children’s app company, and at the time, there were only few companies that specialized in phone apps for children. I enjoyed the story that he came up with since it allowed me to illustrate variety of environments. While working on that book, I rediscovered my passion for children’s books. After self publishing that book, I was going to bookstores to see if people will be interested in having my book in their stores. I was then referred to checkout Society of Children’s Books for Writers and Illustrators. I went to one of the events and there, I was immersed into this industry.

2) Describe your illustration style and creative process. What makes your illustrations unique and different?
It’s hard for me to identify what exactly makes my work mine and how it appears different from other people’s artwork. I enjoy placing my focus on characters, the layout of the pages, and the amount of details I place in each page. Perhaps that makes my illustration distinct.

3) When did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
When I was in highschool I have done multiple art competitions and won few awards. That games be confidence that maybe I can get somewhere with this talent. A  teacher outside of my school made living out of doing art, so convinced me that it’s probably possible to make a living pursuing art.

4) Has technology changed your trade and the way you work?
Yes, technology has changed the way I work. It has added few short cuts for me compared to illustrating traditionally that been coming in handy when under tight deadline. Sending my artwork to clients became much easier when painting or drawing using photoshop. I do not have to scan my work and alter the colors in the scanned image to match what I have in my traditional artwork. I don’t have to go to the post office, wrap my work, then send my originals to my client in NY.

5) Who are your biggest influences in your artistic career and why?
At the moment, my biggest influences are my peers at my coworking place–Kleverdog. People there are either self employed, small business owners, trying their best to maintain their business. They’re full of passion and we share openly of what’s working for us what isn’t. Every time I talk to someone I feel inspired to work harder and keep going.

6) When collaborating with an author or a client, how do you ensure you are able to translate their words into art and convey the message they are trying to portray?
Usually, before getting hired to be the illustrator, the publishing company that I would be working for would ask to draw or paint the main character in the book. The feel of the book is usually determined at that stage. If there are details that they would like for me to depict in the book, there are usually artist notes included when they provide me with the final manuscript so I make sure I put in what they asked.

7) Tell us about the proudest piece of work you have done. Did you enjoy working on Puddle Pug and its subsequent book by the same publisher?
Each illustrations within those books had it’s own challenges that I had to solve. Knowing that I’ve done my best with all of them, I’m proud of all the pieces I‘ve illustrated. I enjoyed working on all of the books I’ve illustrated too!

8) What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators?
I always feel weird giving advice since I feel like I’m still learning…Perhaps “Don’t forget to have fun! And do it for you.”

9) Please provide a short brief of each of the pictures you have submitted
A spread of Sick of Being Sick by Justin Sullivan

Sick of Being Sick

A spread of Puddle Pug by Kim Norman

Puddle Pug

A spread of What About Moose by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez

What About Moose

Should you wish to know more about Keika, here are her pertinent details.

Website: Keika Yamaguchi
Keika’s social media connections:

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Illustrator Interview: Stephen Macquignon

Stephen MacquignonPROFESSIONAL BIO:
Stephen Macquignon has illustrated eleven picture books. The first one he worked on was Angeline Jellybean published in 2008 by 4RV Publishing and a chapter book called The Art of Science. He was a contributing illustrator with Berry Blue Haiku Magazine and also Stories for Children Magazine, working alongside some very talented editors, art directors, and writers. More recently he illustrated Tea with the Queen an eBook/ paperback for Xist Publishing.

He has had the privilege of working for Michael Sporn Animation Inc. on many different titles including, The Little Match Girl, Ira Sleeps Over, Abel’s Island and many more. He also has a Bachelor degree from The School of Visual Arts NY and is a proud member of SCBWI.

1) How did you become an illustrator of children’s books or similar works despite never having read a picture book when you were a child?
Well I did look at the pictures. It happened while attending The School of Visual Arts in NYC. I was planning to be a cartoonist like Charles Shultz, but I was short on credits in my last year of college and a class on creating art for picture books fit into my schedule. And that was it

2) Describe your illustration style and creative process. What makes your illustrations unique and different? 
I have been told that my ink line is unique that it’s easy to pick out my artwork because of it. I like to think it’s a classic style using brush on watercolour paper, India ink, watercolours and Photoshop.

3) When did you realise you could make a living from your talent? 
I still work full- time as a New York State licenced massage therapist. It is not easy to make a living from your artwork.

4) Has technology changed your trade and the way you work? 
I have been moving away from creating art digitally and have been embracing more traditional mediums. I still use Photoshop on the production end; cleaning up or adjusting the size, splicing images together, maybe adding some kind of text or effect

5) Who are your biggest influences in your artistic career and why?
It all began with my High School art teachers. I can say with 100% certainty that without them I would not have even gone to college, let alone pursued a career in art. At SVA, Will Eisner was a huge influence. My first job as an artist was working with Animation Director Michael Sporn; both taught me how to tell a story using images. Maurice Sendak and Dr Theodore Geisel Seuss are early influences.

6) When collaborating with an author or a client, how do you ensure you are able to translate their words into art and convey the message they are trying to portray?
Trial and error! I sketch, sketch, sketch, submit, feedback, sketch, sketch, sketch…

7) Tell us about the proudest piece of work you have done.
Not an easy one to answer. It is usually the most recent piece.  However, I was a semi-finalist for the 2014Tomie dePaola award. I was one of fifteen selected for the semi-finals. It was an unforgettable moment .

8) What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators who are trying to break into a highly competitive market?
Keep trying and don’t give up. Don’t go chasing trends; they come as quickly as they go.

9) Please provide a short brief of each of the pictures you have submitted
Mouse Falling Down the Waterfall was chosen for the Tomie dePaola semi-finals. Pen and ink, watercolour and Photoshop.

 Mouse Falling Down the Waterfall

Winter Has Come. First of three illustrations I did with the fox and rabbit theme. Watercolour and India ink and Photoshop.

Winter Has Come

Found Red Mitten is part of the same fox and rabbit theme. Watercolour, India ink and Photoshop.

Found Red Mitten

Should you wish to know more about Stephen Macquignon, here are his pertinent details.

Website: Stephen Macquignon
Stephen’s social media connections:

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Illustrator Interview: Hazel Mitchell

PROFESSIONAL BIO: Hazel Mitchell
Children’s author and illustrator, Hazel Mitchell is originally from England and now lives and works in Maine. Her childhood was spent in a seaside town in Yorkshire. She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t drawing, and still can’t be left reliably alone with a pencil. When she wasn’t creating art, she was riding horses or rambling along the beautiful Yorkshire coast. She attended art college in the UK and then spent several years in the Royal Navy. She worked as a graphic designer for many years. Now she’s doing what she always dreamed of – creating books for children. Her first trade book was published in 2011 and latest books include Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl and 1,2,3 by the Sea. Her first book as author and illustrator, Toby, will be published in 2016 by Candlewick Press. Her work has been recognized by Bank Street’s Best of Children’s Books, Society of Illustrator’s of Los Angeles, Foreword Reviews, Reading is Fundamental, Learning Magazine and Maine Libraries ‘Cream of the Crop’ 2015. She is represented by Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown, NYC. See more of her work at http://www.hazelmitchell.com or online in all the usual places.

1) How did you become an illustrator of children’s books or similar works?
My route to children’s illustration was winding. I was always interested in illustration, and writing, from an early age. Unfortunately, back in the 1980’s when I attended art college, courses in children’s illustration were thin on the ground or, rather, non-existent. It seemed to be a career you just ‘fell in to’. So I studied fine art and then had a long career in graphic design until I moved to the USA. I was working in commercial illustration at that time, as well as painting fine art pieces, and wondering how I could enter the field of children’s illustration. In 2009 I attended my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators) conference and began to put together a portfolio specifically directed towards children’s illustration. I began to mail postcards to editors and art directors in publishing. In 2010 I was offered my first book contract, which was for a non-fiction book about autism, and I’ve been illustrating for children ever since. I’ve just written my first book for children about a poodle, ‘Toby’, to be published by Candlewick in Fall 2016.

2) Describe your illustration style and creative process. What makes your illustrations unique and different?
The first thing that people say about my style is that it’s ‘very English’!  I guess there’s no denying my roots. M style is quite traditional. I think my line work is the most recognisable. It’s like my handwriting. It took me a while to realize that my line work identified me, now I’m developing that and becoming looser and freer. I think my drawings are a little ‘quirky’. When you begin to illustrate I think you try to cover up your ‘quirks’ but really, those oddities are the things that make your work individual. So now I embrace them!

I’m quite disciplined in my creative process, I think that comes from years working to deadlines as a graphic designer and from being in the military. I usually begin by writing some written notes about an illustration project. What it embraces, what springs to mind, connections … all kinds of things. I write in a sketch pad. Alongside, I’ll start to noodle around with sketches, characters. I think about the setting. The age of the reader. The characters. Is it black and white or colour? What’s the mood of the book? It’s a synthesis that starts to come together. I may start by researching place, people, animals – depending on the story. Maybe I’ll take some time to look at other books along the same lines. After I’ve sketched for a while I’ll dive straight into thumbnail layouts of the book, see how the words and pictures might work together. What the arc of the story is and the climax points. Sometimes I’ll make a grid of this, with the pages, emotions, situations and feelings listed. This is the exciting part. Anything can happen and most things are possible! I think I enjoy this stage the best.

Then I’ll get into larger page layouts, working out composition of the pages and where the ‘page turns’ will happen. All this is building towards that final page which will tie the story together. I often work in different styles and mediums depending on the content of the story. I love to draw in graphite, add water colour washes and colour on the computer (photoshop, usually). I also like mixed media and pen and ink. I’d love to do some work in oils, but haven’t as yet! It makes it fun and interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever be the kind of illustrator who only works in one style – discovery makes the work fun! The longest part of the process for me is the drawing stage. Getting everything right before moving on to the final images. And the hardest part is keeping the vision you had in mind at the beginning of the project fresh in the final art.

3) When did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
Hmmm. I don’t think there was ever a choice for me. It’s all I was good at! So as soon as I left college I earned my living from art somehow, although not always in the field I wished for. I wish that there had been more choices when I left art-college, but the path I followed led me to where I longed to be in the end. I am lucky to make a living from doing what I enjoy … mostly I have always worked as a freelancer. It’s not an easy life. But I wouldn’t change it!

4) Has technology changed your trade and the way you work?
Yes, like most of my generation I started out doing a lot of mechanical art, especially in graphic design. Cut and paste etc. I was lucky to be able learn how to use computers back in the late 1980’s. I have always used computers throughout my career. In my illustration work, though,  there has always been a hand drawn element and I think that gives it my ‘style’. I love to incorporate the use of computers in my work. I don’t think I can work without them now! From the ease of changing compositions in the beginning of a work, to adjusting the final images they are so useful. And I use digital colour a lot. Of course, the ease of creating full colour images is huge in all visual industries these days. Plus the ease of proofing and submitting finished work makes life easier for all. But maybe one day I will just send my publisher a big crate of canvases to scan!

5) Who are your biggest influences in your artistic career and why?
I am still very much influenced by the illustrations I loved as a young person created by artists such as E.H. Shepherd, Pauline Baynes, Edward Ardizzone, Arthur Rackham, Raymond Briggs, Ralph Steadman, Quentin Blake, Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway, and so many Victorian and Edwardian illustrations that I used to pour over. In fine art I was a sucker for pre-raphaelites, the art and crafts movement, impressionism, fauvism. I loved detail and richness. I was also hugely influenced by children’s cartoons on the BBC. So much good work! I still love to watch them. Very different from American tv … but I did love Disney and Tom and Jerry, too! However, I now probably know more about the USA children’s illustration field, because I’ve had a crash course since moving here. My modern favorites include David Small, Garth Williams, Emily Gravett, Helen Oxenbury, Loren Long, Maurice Sendak, Marla Frazee, Ashley Bryan, David Weisner, Tony Diterlizzi to name a few.

6) When collaborating with an author or a client, how do you ensure you are able to translate their words into art and convey the message they are trying to portray?
I think that’s a kind of alchemy. Luckily I seem to have been creating something that fits the bill so far. I do feel quite responsible when I receive a manuscript and you know that that author has their own vision. But the publisher is hiring you to do a particular job as the  illustrator and you bring your own vision and ideas to the table. The art director is the person one relies upon to make sure the book is satisfying the translation of the text. I like the team work that comes with working on the making of a book. Sometimes you’ll receive a brief from the publisher, or guidelines, sometimes the artwork is totally up to you. A book is a sum of many parts – the vision of the author and the vision of the illustrator, brought together by the publisher. If there are too many constraints placed upon the illustrator, then it’s likely that the end result will not contain that ‘spark’. There has to be freedom to develop an idea and add that ‘something extra’ to the words. The author has done their job in creating their story and the illustrator must bring it life with the space that the author has left them. A good collaboration between words and pictures is where the magic happens for the reader – who of course brings their own creativity to the story by way of their imagination!

7) Tell us about the proudest piece of work you have done.
That’s a hard question! Often the work I am proudest of is the last project I worked on! ‘I did it!’ Sometimes, when faced with a new book or idea, starting it can be the hardest thing. (Can I do this again? Will it be any good? So much fear, in the beginning!). So, I guess I’ll say I’m very proud of ‘Imani’s Moon’ by JaNay Brown-Wood from Cahrlesbridge Publishing, (my lastest book) which is about the aspirations of a small Masaai child who wants to touch the moon. It’s my first book with a child of colour as the main character and I got to use a lot more hand-done techniques in it.

8) What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators?
Know this is a journey. Enjoy it. Don’t be in too much of a hurry. Practice your craft and be open to learning at all stages of your career. Read and feed your soul!

9) Please provide a short brief of each of the pictures you have submitted
One Word Pearl – Mixed media, created with layers of collaged paper scanned and type added, graphite line work and coloured digitally in Photoshop.

One Word Pearl

Imani’s Moon – Created using graphite and watercolour underpainting, coloured digitally in Photoshop.

Imani’s Moon

Seagulls – Graphite line art, digitally coloured in Photoshop.

Seagulls

Where Do Fairies Go In the Snow? – Hand drawn line work coloured digitally in photoshop.

Where Do Fairies Go In the Snow

Should you wish to know more about Hazel Mitchell, here are her pertinent details.

Hazel’s social media connections:

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Author & Illustrator Interview: Kurt Cyrus

TADPOLE REX BY KURT CYRUS Tadpole Rex by Kurt Cyrus

1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about
A prehistoric tadpole grows up in the footprint of a dinosaur, where he gets in touch with his inner tyrannosaur.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
My wife and I found frog eggs in our little backyard pond. I rescued them from the goldfish and raised the tadpoles in an aquarium. At a certain stage of their development, when their hind limbs and tails were large but their forelimbs were tiny, I noticed a resemblance to T. Rex. A little research confirmed that frogs did coexist with the dinosaurs, and this gave me the idea to write and illustrate Tadpole Rex.

3) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I hope their love of reading is somehow enhanced, or at least not diminished! And especially I hope that their curiosity about the natural world around them is piqued. I don’t really write lessons or morals into my books.

4) After bouncing from job to job, how did you come to write and illustrate and why did you pick this genre?
All that job-bouncing was getting really old. I had been drawing as a hobby for my entire life, and felt that it was the one thing I could do better than the average person. The writing aspect was something I developed just so that I’d have stuff to illustrate. Children’s books are a good fit for me because of the storytelling, both verbal and visual. My drawing has always leaned toward storytelling.

5) When you have an idea for a new book, what comes first? The words or the illustrations and what is your process of putting them together?
Often it begins with a visual concept, but the writing must come first. Toward the end of a project I’ll often tweak both the words and the pictures to get as perfect a flow as possible.

6) As a child, what books and/or authors/illustrators influenced you the most and why?
There’s no escaping the influence of Dr. Suess. McElligot’s Pool was the big one for me. But I think a guy named Carl Barks had a bigger impact on my style of storytelling. He wrote and illustrated the Disney duck comics for several decades, and spun some great yarns.

7) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
The joy of feeling something finally click into place after having struggled with it.

8) Describe your illustration style and when did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
My drawing skiils exceed my painting skills, so my illustrations are basically colored drawings. The first few books were illustrated in watercolor, oils, or scratchboard. Now I draw digitally. Earning a living from it began to happen after five or six books.

9) What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up a picture book titled Billions of Bricks, to be published next year, and starting illustrations for a picture book titled Shake a Leg, Egg! I’m also revising a middle grade novel. Variety is the spice of life!

THKurt CyrusANK YOU FOR LETTING US GETTING TO KNOW YOU!
Should you wish to know more about Kurt Cyrus and would like to purchase his book, here are all his pertinent details.

Website: Kurt Cyrus
Where to purchase his book: Barnes & Noble and Amazon
Kurt’s social media connections:

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