Hello readers! As part of my endeavors to learn more about the children's book market and the commercial art industry, I will be starting a new segment on my blog, interviews! These exciting new blog posts will feature various illustrators, writers, artists, and creative minds and how they make their work. I will also be talking about their respective industries, highlighting the current demand, and discussing any advice they might offer.
My very first interview is with children's book writer and illustrator, Eliza Wheeler. After seeing her first book Miss Maple Seeds and flipping through the colorful pages filled with charming hand-drawn illustrations, I connected with Eliza for a school assignment. While that first meeting was about two years ago, I have since revisited our discussion for this interview. Eliza focuses on traditional illustration with some digital touching-up and illustrates (and sometimes writes) picture books like Miss Maple Seeds and This is Our Baby Born Today along with creating covers and chapter illustrations for middle-grade novels like Doll Bones and Spirit's Key. She has also won awards from the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
What is your background with writing and illustration? (job, education, life experiences)
I went to the University of Wisconsin-Stout to study graphic design, and my school required many studio art classes as well (drawing, painting, etc). I worked in the graphic design field after college, doing in-house and freelance jobs. I began pursuing illustration on my own, and started attending SCBWI conferences and workshops. I have no formal training in writing or illustration, so everything I've learned comes from independent study, attending conferences and workshops, and also through experience.
What technologies (if any) do you use for your work?
I work primarily with traditional drawing techniques, using a lightpad to trace sketches onto the final watercolor paper to be painted, once they've been approved. For some projects I use some digital collage, so will use a scanner, wacom tablet and photoshop for that kind of work.
When and how often do you write, illustrate, or make art? When are your deadlines? What role does time/time management play in terms of your work?
I typically illustrate 5-6 days a week, for 8-10 hours a day. I've had frequent deadlines and have been juggling many projects for the past 4 years, and am beginning to slow the pace down later this year so that I can focus on one thing at a time, and commit time to work on new projects of my own. I'm also looking forward to experimenting with new techniques again.
Where do you like to write and illustrate? Is there a specific place you have to do your work?
I've just moved to a new home in a new city, and for the first time I have an entire studio space to myself! It's very exciting. It's a sunroom with nice big windows. I also like to work in coffee shops for sketching or writing.
Why do you write and illustrate?
Because I love visual storytelling -- because I love ink on paper and watercolor washes. I love chasing an image that I have in my head and trying to translate it onto paper. Finding new ways to compose an illustration is always exciting.
How do you create your work? Are you inspired or methodical in your process?
I start with a story (sometimes mine, usually someone else's), and begin looking for inspiring images from other artists as my bouncing off place for coming up with new ideas. Many illustrations often involve reference photos as well, gathered online. Then I create rough thumbnails, and gradually go from small loose sketches to larger, more detailed sketches. I trace my sketch onto final drawing paper, and then ink and paint it. My process is methodical because my work is for clients who want to approve sketches before the final piece is begun.
How did you get your work published?
I attended SCBWI conferences, revised my illustration portfolio, and my portfolio was eventually chosen for a mentorship critique at the SCBWI National Summer Conference. One of the mentors was Cecilia Yung, art director at Penguin Books, who invited me to submit picture book dummies to her. I created a picture book dummy for a story idea I had, sent it to her, and she liked it enough to share with her editor, Nancy Paulsen. Nancy Paulsen contacted me about the dummy, gave me suggestions on how to improve it -- which I did, and resubmitted it to her, and she offered me a book contract for that story, which eventually became MISS MAPLE'S SEEDS. I got an agent after getting that first book contract and have had steady work in children's publishing (so far) ever since.