Next week will be my one year anniversary as a children’s book illustrator.
Wow-wee, where did that year go?!
So I thought to mark the occasion, I would write a little something about how this year has been. How I started, how I got here, where I might be going.
Maybe I’ll even end it with some stuff I’ve learnt.
Some stuff I’d like to learn.
How about I just start typing and see what happens…
In the beginning…
A thousand years ago I studied illustration at university but, back then it was all about illustration for the advertising and graphic design market, never once in my three years of study were children’s books mentioned. Kind of sad really because, had I been pointed in that direction all those years ago, that’s exactly the area I would have pursued. Instead, I became a graphic designer, and I loved it, I did it for 10 or so years, but I was always the graphic designer in the studio who illustrated most of their design jobs…the pull to draw pictures was always too strong!
Needing a break from computers, I owned a Florist for a while. I just taught myself how to do it, jumped in and had a ball! It was lovely to be creative in a whole new way with whole new thing, but again, I sort of ended up drawing a lot of pictures…that pull was just too strong! My shop was well known for the paintings I had done and had hung on the walls (I even sold a few), and my window displays were almost always paintings or something made with paper. Flowers played a part too, I guess.
Then, when I had my son four years ago I gave up the florist (too many weekend weddings for my liking) and just did the mum thing until I discovered a certain little book … If you’ve been following my blog long enough you’ll know that a few years ago I bought Noah Scalins “365 - A Daily Creativity Journal” and started my own 365 project where I did one illustration every day for 365 days. Now, I say “illustration” but it was really a mix of any kind of drawing - I drew on paper, on food, on me, on wood, on bricks…I may have even, one time, drawn on my child. As long as I drew or created something everyday then I was within the rules I had set myself.
It was a brilliant year of being creative and towards the end of it, as I became more familiar with illustrators and what they did and who they were, the whole world of children’s books opened up to me. AMAZING. I wanted in!
I went searching the internet for local illustration groups and found SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Initially I wanted to join purely so I could enter the Tomie DePaolo award (the prize was a trip to NYC, hello!) but then as I kept researching the group there was no question, I had to join SCBWI because I had to join SCBWI! And joining SCBWI was one of the best things I’d ever done because shortly after joining I was off to Rottnest for the Rottnest Retreat and I was meeting authors and illustrators and publishers and editors and it was the best thing in the world.
I came back from Rottnest ridiculously giddy and inspired.
A couple of weeks later, sitting on the sofa one night in my pyjamas, I was scrolling though Twitter and saw a retweet of a Tweet from Vicki Lebrecht – Founder of The Bright Agency in London. Her tweet said something along the lines of … “Looking at folios right now if you want to send me a link”. Now, I’m not one to wait around so I tweeted Vicki a link to the gallery page of this blog immediately. She saw it. Told me to email her and later that week documents were signed and I had agent representation!
I was a Bright Artist!
And I drank champagne to celebrate.
And I started to write. Not on the same day, just kind of around that same time.
The first story or two I wrote were terrible! Awful! (But one day I might go back and revisit them because perhaps they aren’t as bad as I remember them, maybe, we’ll see). I wrote fast and furiously, day and night, until I wrote something that I actually thought probably wasn’t so bad and then I spent the next six months editing and riding the “I’m so great at this / I’m so bad at this” roller coaster.
In the meantime, I was getting some lovely work coming in from The Bright Agency… a chapter book to illustrate, an educational book to illustrate, a colouring-in book to draw, a whole bunch of samples were requested, another colouring-in book, a science book…books books books and the Rottnest Retreat came around again. This time I was designing the t-shirts for it!
It’s been a busy twelve months, thats for sure, and it’s only getting busier.
A few months ago I got my own work-in-progress (a children’s book) to a point where I was happy to start showing people. I dummied it up roughly and sent it to The Bright Agency who found a publisher that wanted to publish it within about a month of them having it (thank you, James Burns!!). So right now I’m smack bang in the middle of working on my own author/illustrator picture book which will be out next year :)
So, what have I learnt about becoming a children’s book illustrator (and do I have any tips)?
Yes, I probably do.
• I’ve learnt to just go for it! If there’s something you want to do, do it. Throw yourself into it. Meet the people you need to meet. Get in there! Make yourself known. What’s the worst that can happen, honestly? Nothing all that bad.
• Don’t be afraid of hearing NO. NO is not a bad thing, if anything it’s a way to make yourself more creative. Challenge yourself. A chance to look at what you want, or what you’re doing from a different angle. A chance to plan new strategies. NO is just a chance to try again, thats all.
• SOCIAL MEDIA! Get on it. No one is going to know who you are or what you do if you don’t tell them!
• Research. Buy, read, live and breathe children’s books. Learn who’s doing what. How they do it. Why they do it. When they did it. What they’re doing next. All of that stuff!
• Draw!! Every day. Seriously. If you want to be good at drawing, do it every single day. At the last SCBWI Rottnest Retreat, author/illustrator extraordinaire Alison Lester said the one thing she wished she’d known when she first started illustrating books was that drawing everyday would make her better at it.
I couldn’t agree more. I did it every day with my 365 project and I was amazed at how my style developed and at how much better I got at it.
• Don’t be overly precious with your work and be open to ideas and input and constructive criticism. It’s only going to make you and your work better.
• DON’T MISS DEADLINES! I try to get work in usually at least a day before the deadline. I’d much rather be remembered for being super prompt than horribly late. Plus it’s very unprofessional.
• Talk to other illustrators. Again, social media! Follow illustrators on Twitter, join drawing groups or critique groups or SCBWI. We illustrators spend a whole lot of time working alone, our heads buried in a sketchbook or glued to the Mac. It’s important to open up your world. I can’t imagine you learn too much when yours is the only voice you’re hearing. Talking about my work with other illustrators has been one of the greatest things, if only because I found other brains that work like mine!
I think that might be it!
I think that’s all I have to offer for the moment.
To be honest, I still haven’t done as much as I’d like to do as far as throwing myself the industry is concerned…but I’m getting there. Iv’e made some pretty good leaps so far.
Oh! Last tip… HAVE FUN!