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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  .

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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