edwardeurekaI love picture books with a touch of magic, so I was thrilled to speak with Patricia Storms, illustrator of the whimsical Edward and the Eureka Lucky Wish Company by Barbara Todd. Edward wishes he could fly, and by chance he gets three wishes–but he doesn’t use them wisely.

What a fun challenge to illustrate the Skyhopper 2000, a flying bike! Patricia, how did you land the contract to work on this book?

I’ve been very fortunate when it comes to getting book illustration jobs. Most of the time, publishers have approached me. If memory serves me correctly with the Eureka book, I had sent off a pamphlet of my recent work to various publishers in North America, and as luck would have it, Kids Can Press just happened to be looking for a humorous illustrator for this project. I believe they had been considering my work, since they were already familiar with my art (it’s a small world in Canadian publishing). My portfolio pamphlet just helped to seal the deal.

How did you get started illustrating children’s books?

Well, it was a very slow process for me. I always enjoyed drawing (especially cartoons) and took art all through high school, but for various reason (fear of failure being the big one) I initially took a different path, and studied to work in libraries instead (being a bibliophile and all, and settling for more ‘secure’ work).

But I continued to draw when I could, and slowly started selling art on the side, while working full-time in libraries. I ended up working for the Toronto Public Library cataloguing of all things–children’s books! That’s when I started dreaming about how it would be so much more enjoyable to illustrate the books, rather than catalogue them. Eventually in my mid-30s I went back to school and became a graphic designer, still selling the cartoon/humor work on the side.

About 6 years ago my freelance work really started to increase, mainly because I began putting my work online. My first few picture book illustration jobs were work-for-hire jobs, doing illustrations for the educational kid’s book market. In all those cases, I was approached by the publishers. I enjoyed doing the educational illustration but I really wanted to get into trade book illustration, because I knew I would have a much wider audience.

My first trade illustrated book was 13 Ghosts of Halloween, published by Scholastic Canada. Once again, they approached me. My upcoming illustrated picture book, The Pirate and the Penguin, which is completely my creation, will be my third trade picture book, and I hope I can do more in the future.

This job, more than anything else I have ever done, feels so right for me. Because for me, it’s not just a job. It is who I am. I view myself as a bit of a ‘late bloomer’ in this field. I still feel like a newbie in the kid’s book industry – there are many people my age (45) who have been doing it for 20 years or more. I have so much to learn. I hope I can continue to learn and grow in this industry, if the gods will allow it.

patriciastormsWhat is the biggest challenge when translating someone else’s words into pictures? How much input does the editor have? Do you ever speak directly with the author?

I guess finding that perfect balance in which the editor and author are happy, but also where I get to add my own personal flavor without completely taking over the story…yet at the same time, where I’m not just being a “hired hand” doing grunt work.

How much input the editor has in developing the art for the story really depends upon the publisher and editor with whom you are working. Some editors will give some basic guidelines and then just let you fly, while others are much more hands-on, giving lots of direction and feedback. It’s never been the exact same experience for me.

The only time I’ve spoken directly with the author is when I have been illustrating the story written by me. It’s actually kind of hard to get away from myself. 😉

Generally, editors prefer to keep the author and the illustrator apart until the project is done. I’m not entirely sure of the reasons for doing this, but I suspect it is because they fear a) the author and illustrator will conspire together to give the editor and publisher grief or b) the author and illustrator will hate each other with a passion and disagree on everything and kill each other thus giving the editor and publisher grief.

It’s a tough, time-consuming (and expensive!) job creating a picture book so the last thing anyone working on the project needs is any added emotional stress.

The way I understand the process is that once the story has been accepted, the editor will work with the author to fine-tune the words, and then when the story is pretty much polished, that’s when the artist comes in to illustrate said words. By this point, the editor and art director work together to communicate with the illustrator concepts for the vision of the story, and of course the illustrator provides feedback, too. The script may still get edited a bit at this point, because once the pictures come into the equation, one discovers that very often the images can take the place of any extraneous words.

Once rough sketches are satisfactory for the editor and art director, they are shown to the author, just to make sure that the author doesn’t totally hate the artist’s vision. I’m pretty sure that if the author really were upset with the art, that something would have to be done, but once again, it all depends upon the publisher working on the project.

I only met the authors of my first two trade picture books AFTER the books were complete. Thankfully, both authors were happy with the final product. I do find it a stressful, worrisome experience, wondering whether or not the author is happy with my art. But I am a bit of a neurotic worry-wart, so I tend to let these things eat away at me.

piratepenguin1How and when did you make the decision to morph from illustrator to author-illustrator? Can you tell us about The Pirate and the Penguin, your first book as both author and artist?

Well, I’ve always enjoyed writing as well as drawing. As a kid I wrote and illustrated many comic strips, some of which were quite detailed, chock full of numerous characters. English and Art were my two favorite subjects all through school, and well, they still are! I think as soon as I realized that it was possible for me to get work in children’s book illustration, I knew in the back of my mind that I would eventually want to write my own stories. A lot of this stuff has been bouncing around in my head for a long time, and I really needed to let it out! That’s one of the reasons I started a blog a little over 4 years ago.

I became more determined about becoming an author/illustrator about two years ago. I began reading a lot online and in books about writing picture books, and of course, I read lots and lots of picture books that I brought home from the library. Around this time I joined an online critique group which was very helpful. Then about a year ago I took a “writing for children” course, which was also very helpful in teaching me about what worked in my writing, and what didn’t. During this time I would meet up with a wonderful writer friend of mine, Liam O’Donnell, from time to time. He writes pictures books and graphic novels and he’s just a really cool guy.

I was in one of my crabby moods, and I was kvetching to Liam about how tough it is to get published in the kid’s book biz. I made a flippant comment to him, something to the effect of, “If someone really wanted to cash in on two popular icons in kid’s books, they would write a story about a pirate and a penguin!”

Liam, being much smarter than me, actually thought it was a cool idea for a story, and urged me to write this crazy idea. I didn’t follow up on his suggestion right away, but every now and then he’d ask me “how’s that Pirate and Penguin story going?” So I figured I’d better do something.

When I finally thought of the story idea, I thought it was just too silly, but I mentioned it to Liam, and he loved it, and encouraged me to pursue it. So I did. And that’s how my upcoming picture book The Pirate and the Penguin came to be.

Of course it’s a fun story, because pretty much everything I write and draw is somehow touched by my wacky sense of humor. It’s a silly version of the classic The Prince and the Pauper, except that it involved a Penguin who hates the South Pole and a Pirate who can’t stand life on a pirate ship in the Caribbean. When they meet, lots of interesting stuff happens! And that’s all I’m going to say about the story for now, other than to say that I owe so much to Liam O’Donnell, and I’m eternally grateful to him for his guidance and encouragement.

There are many factors that come to play in getting published–knowledge, talent, perseverance, luck and patience. But it sure doesn’t hurt to have friends who are right there behind you, pushing you, rooting for you, and guiding you towards your dream.

That’s terrific advice! Thanks, Stormsy! (You don’t mind if I call you Stormsy, do you? No? Thanks.)

edwardeureka1Patricia is generously giving away an autographed copy of Edward and the Eureka Lucky Wish Company!

Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing.

Blog or Tweet about the interview and get another two entries–just let me know here or on Twitter. Winner will be picked by Random.org one week from today! Good luck!