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You ever have that moment when you discover an illustrator YOU LOVE…?
At last year’s NJ-SCBWI conference, I listened to Nancy Brennan, Associate Art Direction at Viking, speak about how much difficulty they had finding just the right illustrator for a spin-off chapter book series. The ELLRAY JAKES character had run his course and they were hoping to develop EllRay’s little sister, Alfie, into a whole new property–ABSOLUTELY ALFIE.
They wanted illustrations to appeal to a young audience, but the art had to be a distinctly different look than EllRay. If Alfie was going to step out on her own, she deserved a whole new style.
One illustrator’s style caught their eye, but she was European and caucasian—not exactly someone who could bring life experience to a female African-American character. They wanted an illustrator who could identify with Alfie’s childhood.
And then they found Shearry Malone.
Not familiar with newcomer Shearry, I immediately looked her up. And WOW. I nearly screamed, “She’s a modern-day female Quentin Blake!” (Although she will probably prefer to be known as a modern-day Shearry Malone.)
ABSOLUTELY ALFIE makes her debut this summer and I hope to get you acquainted with her. In the meantime, let’s get acquainted with Shearry!
Shearry, when did you discover your passion for drawing?
I’ve been drawing since I was a kid and I always had a passion for it. I started by mimicking comic book art and later discovered that I really liked portraiture. I’ve always felt that there’s something really fun and challenging in trying to capture the essence of a person in a drawing. I never expected children’s art to be my foothold into the illustration world but life can be funny that way.
So if you never expected it–how exactly did you get into it?
It’s kind of an odd story. I answered an ad on Craigslist for a guy who was looking for an intern in his art studio. Turns out he was a local children’s book illustrator with 30 years experience in the field. I was supposed to help run his office, answer phone calls, learn the ins and outs of the business side of things, etc.
I did that for free for the first 3 months and then it became a paid office manager position. During that time, he was curious to see if I could do children’s art, so he gave me little assignments to do at home and we’d discuss them the next day. I’d add the images to a website we built together and he’d look them over on the weekends when I wasn’t in the office.
Long story short, I eventually showed that website to my sister, who happened to take a yoga class with a friend of hers who also happened to be in the book publishing business. She liked what she saw and passed the website over to a few agencies she was familiar with. That lead to a few offers for representation and eventually I decided on the CATugeau Artist Agency.
So, I feel like I fell into this line of work by complete happenstance. Children’s art still doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s always challenging. But I can’t help but think I’ve been given this opportunity for a reason and I intend to follow it through!
Wow, what a story. How did Viking find you? How were you approached for ABSOLUTELY ALFIE?
I received an email from my (very excited) agent Christy, the day after I signed with CATugeau saying that one of the art directors over at Viking was interested in working with me on a new series of chapter books. I didn’t even know what chapter books were! She happily explained and advised that I should strongly consider the opportunity. It didn’t take long. I said yes, and I’ve been working on ABSOLUTELY ALFIE ever since!
I should clarify that I don’t really know how Viking found me and so quickly—other than that maybe they happened to be looking around the CATugeau agency website? Right time. Right place?
Most definitely. Perfect timing. What else are you working on?
I’m basically focused on Book 3 of the ALFIE series right now. I’m hoping (fingers crossed) for a second round of books in this series and for more doors to open up for other illustration opportunities in the future. Having so little experience, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with projects and deadlines so I passed on a few other book offers after accepting the series with Viking. Time will tell, but nothing would make me happier than to do this kind of work full time for a living.
So what was your original intention with your art career? Do you see yourself moving in that direction, or sticking with kidlit?
Honestly I didn’t expect to have one. I jumped at that Craigslist ad because even with no pay, it’d still give me a chance to be in an artistic environment. My thinking was that I may not be creating the art but at least I’ll get to wear jeans and a t-shirt and be surrounded by it!
I always saw myself having a typical job, like most, and if I were lucky enough I’d carve out time to pick up paint brushes again. Believe me, no one is more surprised by how things have turned out than I am! I still love the smell oil paint and turpentine so it would be wonderful to get back to that in my spare time. It’s still a goal, but it’ll probably be awhile.
Has anyone ever told you that your art is reminiscent of Quentin Blake?
Yes. And I’m honored! I’m a fan of his work. Loose, quirky and timeless! I’ve got a quirky eye myself. It’s hard for me to recognize proper proportions for some reason, so a lot of times a leg will be longer or wider than another or a head is too big or too small for a body. I rely heavily on others to point it out to me because I just don’t notice it! I’m drawn to Blake’s work because he doesn’t seem to care much about those things at all either and it gives his work a certain looseness and a lot of life and personality that I truly admire.
What are your plans for the future?
For the immediate future I plan to finish the two remaining books in the Alfie series and keep an eye on how the first two do once they’re on the shelves. After that, I just hope some awesome person out there wants to give me more work! Artistically, things are still very much up in the air for me but that keeps things exciting.
In the meantime, I dabble in website design. I finally got around to finishing my own—shearrymalone.com. I’ll continue playing around with some of that until my next illustration opportunity arises!
Shearry, thanks for answering my questions and best wishes with ABSOLUTELY ALFIE and your somewhat accidental kidlit career!
Keep up with Shearry on Twitter @InkPaint_Repeat.
Let me introduce you to one of the hardest working illustrators in kidlit. I have known Wendy Martin for years, and during that time she has been drawing everything in sight and refining her style. Her diverse range spans from mandala coloring books to art nouveau maidens to the bright watercolors of her illustrative picture book debut, THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS. This charming bi-lingual tale features a determined group of students who discover the power of story.
Wendy, were there any unique challenges to illustrating a bi-lingual picture book?
I received the manuscript in English only. According to the paperwork from the publisher, the text would be translated later. Piñata Books has a fairly standard format for their picture books. Both languages of text on one side of the spread with the English and Spanish separated by a vignette, but the art notes I received wanted art to run across the border. In most cases, when I’m doing my thumbnail sketches, I leave room for text while designing each spread. In this book’s case, I had to allow for a bit more than twice the space of the English copy, because Spanish usually has more words. It’s a good thing the text is very short, since my illustrations take up a lot of space.
How have you gone about marketing and promoting this book as an illustrator rather than an author?
THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS is a wonderful book for classroom usage. But with the release date being May 30, schools have been closed for weeks already here in Missouri. I plan to use the summer months to create a contact list of school resource librarians about coming to area schools to talk about what an illustrator does and how a book is illustrated. I already do this kind of appearance via Skype school visits around the world. The author, Diane Gonzales Bertrand, is an accomplished speaker and teacher. She is promoting the book in Texas at book fairs and local children’s events. She says she is pretty uninvolved in the digital arena, so that’s where I’m focusing my marketing efforts for now. This blog tour is part of that.
Why are picture books with diverse characters important?
I remember as a child always feeling like an outsider at story time, mainly because the characters in the books were never like me. It’s difficult to be a minority, whether it’s by culture or because of skin tone. The United States is a melting pot, where there are many, many cultures, skin tones, religions, lifestyles, what have you. No child should be made to feel as if their families, their cultures or their race are “less than” any other. If they don’t see kids like themselves, in books, doing the things that they do, in the way they do it, it is harmful to them, as well as to the children outside of that group of people. One of the reasons I was so excited to work with Piñata Books is precisely because their editorial focus is inclusive of many cultures. They do tend to lean toward the population breakdown of the Houston, Texas public school area, but since they are located there, that’s understandable.
I have kids of multiple ethnicities in my made up classroom. I loved giving each one of them a personality. I do that a lot. My characters all have backstory (in my head) as to who they are, and how they’ll act in all my books. They become “real” to me, for the length of the time it takes me to create the book. It’s always a little bit sad when I send them out into the world. Just like a mom sending any of her children off on their own.
Thank you, Wendy, for sharing your new book–and for giving away a copy to one of our blog readers!
Leave one comment below to be entered in the random drawing for THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS. A winner will be selected in approximately two weeks.
Good luck and happy reading!
Two years ago at NJ-SCBWI, someone mistook Tory Novikova for my daughter.
Eek! Am I that OLD? No, really, Tory is quite young, so let’s just say that if I were a teenage bride, it could be a possibility. I mean, look at those eyes and hair! Totally plausible.
While Tory’s definitely not my daughter, she does work with her mom, and that’s pretty cool.
Her mom played a heavy role in inspiring the styles for Tory’s own fashion company, Torynova Couture.
“The woman had me drawing as soon as possible, so kudos to that child-rearing dedication. She’s a fashion designer, graduated from Moscow’s Textile Institute and had worked for the top fashion houses there and also made costumes for theater and ballet. Even my great grandparents worked on costume and stage production for the Bolshoi Theater, so one could say appreciation for the classics runs through my blood.”
With Tory’s talent and drive—she also illustrates for video game, comic and apparel companies—I knew picture books couldn’t be far behind for this Pratt Institute 2010 BFA. Flash forward to NOW and her book TUKE THE SPECIALIST TURTLE is swimming your way!
Tory, how did you land the job illustrating TUKE?
I was approached really out of the blue (for me, anyway) by Jim Ritterhoff about illustrating this children’s book he had written and meant to publish through his company, Chowder Inc. Profits were to benefit CCMI, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute and the Central Reef Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to sustaining coral reefs in the Caribbean. He seemed really dedicated to the marine ecology of the reefs, being a diver himself. So I came on board and drew him Tuke.
Your illustrations for TUKE are so vibrant and fun. They really bring the ocean and Tuke’s personality to life. Could you give us a little background on your process for creating the art?
I think there is a natural juiciness to my color palette and aesthetic, no matter how far I try to run away from it. It must be a side effect from having my eyes stuck to the TV, growing up watching too many cartoons for it to be healthy. Thankfully, it came in very handy with Tuke because the story takes place in the Caribbean Reef. Though I’ve never seen it in person, I’ve researched enough about it to know that it’s riddled with colors beyond imagination. In fact, the very first spread I finished in full color was the entire reef, which comes in right after the introduction. The reaction I got from Jim, who is an avid diver and knows the reef so well, was pretty much like—YES! This totally works! So after that point, there were no doubts about color constraints. Though, I did get to play around with different depths of blues, which was lovely.
As far as my process goes. The entire book, 60+ pages, was laid out in clean pencil sketches like a storyboard. And for me, clean is a relative term…since my lines are pretty gestural and loose (I really dislike the look of pencil lines that have been traced over lovely loose sketches). Anyway! After each page or spread was drawn, I went over it with an ink brush, picking up and adding textures that I could snap up and use later for the finish. Eventually these were all scanned and saved for later. Then came the flat vector shapes. I really enjoy drawing freehand in Illustrator – is that strange? There is a satisfying gravity about a solid mass that contorts to form the daintiest of details. The expressions of the animals were probably my most favorite parts to draw!
And finally, the image is completed in Photoshop, all the bits are assembled, and the color is fully applied. It may be a little tedious of a process, but it lent itself a lot to the look of the book, and Tuke! And of course there were many moments of going back into inks, rescanning, and altering the finished pages by administering bits of texture for the final polish.
So, what’s next for you, Tory?
Hmmm…what IS next?!?! Well for starters, I’m about as knee-deep into education and new media as I’ll ever be. In fact, I’m currently involved in the creation of an entire educational game world revolving around children’s books and characters due for release in 2014. So I’m definitely still deep in pursuit of creating for kids—video games, books, products, cartoons—you name it! But it’s always been a dream to illustrate picture books. So I’m very much looking forward to the next opportunity that comes my way! 🙂 Any takers?!
Well, I’ll bet there will be plenty of takers for our special TUKE giveaway!
One lucky blog reader will win a custom sketch of Tuke made especially for them! You can even enter twice!
Comment or leave a question for Tory here on the blog for one entry, then Tweet or Instagram an image of the book with hashtag #TuketheSpecialistTurtle and tag @torynova for another entry. Contest ends September 21st and a winner will be announced shortly thereafter.
For more about Tory and her various projects, visit ToryNova.com.
You probably know the talented illustrator Ryan Hipp—he’s the guy who designed the first PiBoIdMo logo. Well, now he’s got a cool sketch service to check out. You want something drawn? A robot eating a cupcake? A cupcake eating a robot? Or, even more awesomer—a cupcake robot? He’s your man! Check out his very cool site www.SketchRequest.com!
Ryan told me he’s a world-class procrastinator and we battled a little over who was better at putting off things. I think I won. I said I’d continue the argument tomorrow.
But I did ask Ryan to guest blog about his New Year’s resolutions and how to turn procrastination into pro-magination. Take it away, Ryan!
by Ryan Hipp
The New Year is upon us all, and along with all the diets and promises to give up vices, many of us set resolutions and battle with the evils of procrastination in our professional lives. This is no different in the business of children’s literature. Take it from me—someone that really knows the sinking, overwhelming feeling deep in the pit of the stomach—someone that often doesn’t even know where or how to begin.
People ask me all the time, “So when’s your next book out?”. Wow, its, the worst question to get. Lately I say, “Oh yeah, I’m totally working on this awesome thing that I totally can’t talk about because its like on the verge of blowing up big time and I don’t want to unveil it too soon and stuff, you know?” But in secret, I haven’t sat down to work on it in weeks in some cases.
For me, the irony is that the rigors of being a kidlit professional means I spend a ton of time trying to secure school visits or sending out mailings, and not doing the very thing that all of that work stems from—the writing and the drawing. I am often feeling underwater with all the business that goes along with making books, that I have trouble concentrating on…well…making books!
And then there’s just normal life getting in the way. We all can relate to that, excuse or no excuse.
But here’s an indefensible excuse—the other embarrassing reality is that when I do actually have time to be creative and productive, I still sometimes don’t . I’ll get easily swayed by a call from friends to go out to a movie, or whatever. I’ll have full intentions of turning a free 24 hour Saturday into a work day, then find a way to completely blow it on fun and frivolity.
I’ll say, “I can just do it on Sunday”. But do I? Nope. Encore performance.
I find myself making every excuse in the world to keep away from my desk. Its as if I have a subconscious mental barrier that won’t allow me to begin writing or drawing if my office is cluttered or if I have other things on my mind. And then when I do sit down, sometimes it is a battle to stop goofing around watching cat videos on YouTube.
So here is what I have been doing to combat this of late:
Slow & Steady for the Win
Every little bit helps. 15 minutes a day for a week is still better than failing your intention to sit down for 2 hours on the weekend and then not doing it.
Get Out of the House to Get Work Done
A quiet coffee shop or restaurant away from distractions at home. (Tara: I spend at least one day a week at the library. Otherwise the fridge calls me too often.)
Turn off Phone/Computer
The battle for me is my computer is a tool for research and design—but also a distracting temptation. So I draw my thumbnails away from my desk, and I scribble my notes away from my computer. Then I bring that stuff back home when the momentum will keep me on-task.
Ask Someone Else to Keep Accountability
When you are your own boss, nobody will get on your case if you didn’t write today. So schedule someone to critique your work on a set schedule so you have regular benchmarks to shoot for.
But, when I do get an urge to goof around on YouTube, I cut myself some slack, and remind myself to watch the one thing that usually puts me in the right mood to get productive immediately afterwards. It’s an episode of the Babar animated series titled “To Duet or Not Duet” and it’s a wonderful lesson in procrastination and setting realistic goals. So the next time you are distracted or frazzled, I give you permission to take a break to watch it here:
So what are my resolutions for 2012? I am going to defeat another battle I have—submitting. I am TERRIBLE about sending my work out. But it is really the most important part. I am going to make a better effort at sending out my queries and samples—because all that diligence and hard work means nothing unless it gets discovered.
Be Good and Work Hard!
What are some of your tricks for getting the BIC—butt in chair?
“A small sketch, a small donation, each small act helps. Together we can cause a ripple in the oil-soaked waters of the gulf.”
Most sketches are just $50 each. You must be the first to email RIPPLE to claim a particular sketch, wait for confirmation that you are the first, then make a donation to a gulf non-profit and provide receipt proof within the hour. The schedule of illustrators is posted so you can be ready to pounce!
This is the second art gallery by illustrators who participated in November’s 30-picture-book-ideas-in-30-days PiBoIdMo challenge. You can see ideas taking shape–in the form of characters. (If you didn’t already know, editors are keen on character-driven picture books these days.) And just think, once these stories are published, you can say “I knew them when…”
“This is a sketch from my story about going to Nana’s house. I’m entitling it ‘Two Kids in a Sandbox’ until I evolve the story more. I sketch, then I ink using a light table. I scan the piece into Photoshop where I color with a Wacom Tablet.”
“I have not taken lessons as an illustrator. I am a ‘wannabe’ and this is the first year I started adding drawings to my story ideas. So as simple as they are, I am showing them to you. I am, you could say, ‘A work in progress.'”
“Regarding the first sketch, this is how I brainstorm sometimes and I figured I’d try it for PiBoIdMo. As you can tell, um, my sketches are VERY rough.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the juxtaposition of cute and scary. The monster guy in the second drawing was inspired by Little Nightmares, which I’d eventually like to include in a picture book. The girl is a character I came up with for my Snarkface cards and she demanded to be included in the drawing as well.
“The third sketch looks drawn on paper, but I actually did it in Corel Painter. I find that experimenting with different virtual media is fun, plus I enjoy trying out different styles. I did this sketch to accompany a text picture book idea. One of the reasons I enjoyed PiBoIdMo so much was because it not only inspired me as a writer but also as an illustrator.”
One more gallery to come, kidlit fans! Stop back soon for more insight into the illustrative process.