Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why we can’t talk about diversity in kidlit without talking about money


There’s a lot of talk in kidlit about the need for more diversity, and often we struggle to talk about this problem in a way that feels productive or helpful. One possible way of thinking about this issue is through the structural lens of financial access to the industry. “Making it” in kidlit certainly requires hard work and talent. It also requires time and money: how many thousands of unpaid hours have you spent creating your portfolio and book dummies? How many thousands of dollars have you spent trying to get your work in front of the right people? Money dictates our ability and capacity to make connections, or even have the time to make books to begin with.

For this blog post I contacted over 100 creators (some have multiple books, others don’t) and asked them about how they make ends meet. Many people I asked didn’t respond (for many reasons, I’m sure). A few people who weren’t quoted in this blog post mentioned that they’re able to do kidlit full-time because they’re independently wealthy. And that’s fine, it’s actually great to contribute your time and energy towards making a positive impact on your communities and to the field at large. But I’m wondering what would happen if we were to collectively shine a light on these issues of access and think about the impact it has on diversity in our field. If money is critical to success in kidlit, who can’t afford it and who can’t? Perhaps kidlit being a cost-prohibitive industry to begin with is one of the contributing factors to the lack of diverse books and diverse creators.


In a lot of ways, money governs our identity as kidlit creators. Simply saying that you want to be an illustrator, or an author-illustrator when you haven’t published anything can be an intimidating identity to claim out loud. You have to justify your your economic value to people like your parents, family, partner’s family, etc., without having any evidence that you can be financially valuable.

I’ve barely ever made money off of art. I’ve probably worked over twenty part-time, full-time, and temporary jobs mostly without benefits, from a minimum wage part-time job at a bookstore, to signing packages at an organ bank, to being an art janitor (informal title), to working at the Free Library of Philadelphia. In some of those jobs I’ve felt like I needed to hide the fact that I was an artist because I was worried that my bosses might think I wasn’t fully invested in my day job. In other jobs, like the one I have now with the National Writing Project, I’m open about what I do and am supported by colleagues. With the security of a steady paycheck and health insurance, my hustle is now primarily focused around how I manage my time: at my most productive I work all day, come home, and work all night. I justified my art practice before I made money off of it by working really, really hard.

Sarah Jacoby (Forever or a Day, Chronicle Books, 2018) was saddled with student loans upon graduating with an MFA from the Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art. She moved to Brooklyn and started a full-time job during the day at an app company, doing editorial and book illustration work at night and on weekends. “That was very difficult,” she says, “I know people who enjoy this kind of lifestyle, but for me it was draining and, frankly, depressing. I certainly didn't thrive in that situation. I can't imagine sustaining that.” Making books is an unreliable source of income, which can be challenging if you’re barely scraping by to begin with, and are in debt. “It can take years to build a portfolio, get an agent, and then finally sell a manuscript or idea. And then, even at that point, it can take a long time for contracts to clear and for advances to arrive. I cannot imagine making my career work without the support of my husband, Timothy. We both have income at this point, but his is regular and that is crucial.”

Other people in kidlit do various things to make ends meet. Cindy Derby (How to Walk an Ant, Roaring Brook, Winter 2019) takes on commissions, paints pet portraits, sells limited edition fine art prints in her online shop, and teaches kid art classes two days a week. Jeslyn Kate sells illustrations of homes for presents and real estate listings. Ana Aranda (The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017) teaches illustration classes at the Academy of Art University, takes commissions for pieces, makes original art for shows, creates murals and sometimes works for greeting card companies. She recommends “having several sources of income that can also translate into different professional opportunities for growth and exploring new mediums.” Jen Betton (Hedgehog Needs a Hug, Penguin, Summer 2018) was an adjunct professor for art/animation students. Debbie Ohi (Where Are My Books?, Simon & Schuster, 2015; Sam and Eva, Simon & Schuster, 2017, and more) supplements her income primarily from skype visits to schools. Tracy Subisak (Cy Makes A Friend, Boyds Mills, 2017), Shawn Loves Sharks (Roaring Brook, 2017), and Grizzly Boy (Sasquatch, 2018) does freelance illustration-storyboarding and design work. “Doing this gives me the freedom to make time for kidlit work, but I’m often working on freelance projects in tandem,” she says. She has to maintain a schedule and process-oriented approach to all her work, otherwise she'd “be a pile of sludge on the floor.” What do all of these people have in common? They piece together many forms of work outside of the writing and drawing stories they’re trying to sell. They hustle outside of the time they spend making books. That takes a lot of time.

Before I signed with Erica Rand Silverman at Stimola Literary Studio, I saw her speak at SCBWI LA 2016. The way she talked about the economic realities of trying to “make it” in kidlit resonated with me, surfacing the economic realities that come with being someone who’s trying to make a career in kidlit. Her advice: don’t quit your day job. “Keeping your day job or other primary source of income when you start out gives you freedom - freedom to choose projects that really speak to you, freedom to take your time, freedom to explore, all without the stress of bills piling up. As you begin to get work, you may be able to scale back on your hours, or move in to consulting or freelancing while still keeping one foot in the door. Ideally, eventually you'll find that projects have lined up and on signing, D&A, and on pub monies are laid out for years in advance. Then, of course, the hope is that those books will begin to see royalties.” She added, “I realize this can be easier said than done. It can be a long road for some and a short road for others. Either way, it’s always a balancing act.”


This isn’t the way it is everywhere. In other countries, artists have an easier time being artists, for various reasons. When I was doing an artist residency in Iceland last year, I talked with Bjargey Ólafsdóttir, about what it was like to have a creative practice there versus the US (culturally and economically). The definition of being an artist in Iceland has a lot more latitude: Bjargey’s CV includes environmental painting, performance, film, and drawing. Icelandic artists and writers are eligible to apply for government funding; it’s enough where you can get by with a few jobs here and there (she’s spending a few months this winter as a park ranger in a lighthouse on the southern coast, for example). And health insurance for you and your family is covered by the government, not through your job. The economic support the government provides, it seems, has a cultural impact: you can afford to exist as an artist, if you’re willing to put in the work.

There are opportunities to get funding that can offset the time spent working on a manuscript. SCBWI offers various scholarships and awards you can apply for, including the annual Don Freeman grant which offers a $1,000 grant to a published illustrator for a work-in-progress; the Work-In-Progress grant; the Emerging Voices award, and the Multicultural Work-In-Progress grant (though it’s hard to figure out if these are different on the website). Many local SCBWI chapters also offer local scholarships to attend SCBWI conferences (an example is the Kansas/Missouri chapter and New England, from a quick google search). There are also excellent opportunities like the We Need Diverse Books mentorship program, and Lee and Low’s New Voices Award.

When I tell people I write and draw picture books, the person usually tells me enthusiastically that they have an idea for a book. I think this is great, and I always tell them that they should write it. Then the conversation quickly turns to their questions about the industry, how they don’t have time, etc. I think this says a lot about how, culturally, we think about picture books as intertwined with money and how little free time we have to be creative. If you think about books then immediately think about how to make a career out of them, you’re missing out on all of the fun and joy of writing just for the sake of writing.

There’s a study by Heather Stuckey at Penn State and Jeremy Nobel at Harvard Medical School about the connection between art, healing, and public health. The researchers, who looked at music engagement, visual arts, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing found, “positive outcomes for the potential of using art to promote healing.” What would our society would look if we encouraged all people to cultivate a creative outlet, for its own health benefit? In the US, the people who can participate most in the forms of expression outlined in the study by Stuckey and Nobel are the ones who have the economic freedom to do so: children, seniors, and adults who either have money (financial privilege) or are scrappy enough to make it happen (piece together multiple jobs, rely on their partners). At any SCBWI conference you’ll meet a lot of talented people who have a lot of hustle. You’ll also meet a lot of people who, talent aside, are economically poised to succeed. You will also notice that the attendance is mostly white women, which seems to reflect CCBC statistics (in 2015 there were about 12.5% of books published that were written or illustrated by people of color).

One way we can talk about diversity as we all struggle, hustle, and pay a lot of money to get noticed by editors and agents, is to remember why diversity is a good thing. Chris Jackson, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the One World imprint at Random House described it masterfully in a piece he wrote for Literary Hub called “Diversity in Publishing” Doesn’t Exist—But Here’s How it Can:
"When we expand the range of the industry’s gatekeepers, we expand the range of our storytelling, which expands our ability to see each other, to talk and listen to each other, and to understand each other. It allows more people to see themselves represented in literature; and it allows the rest of us to listen in, to understand our neighbors and fellow citizens, their lives and concerns, their grievances and their beauty, their stories and ideas, their language. The empathic bridges this creates between us is one of the essential functions of literature in a democracy. But it can only happen if we widen the gates of literature and diversify the gatekeepers."
If we, as a society, had the economic structure to support health insurance for everyone, or a universal basic income so people wouldn’t have to work multiple jobs to make rent or pay off loans and could put energy towards writing and drawing, perhaps we’d see a more economically and racially diverse attendance. And perhaps our bookshelves in stores and in libraries would be more representative of the diverse country we live in.



K-Fai Steele is a writer and drawer based in San Francisco. She’s publishing A Normal Pig with Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in Summer 2019, and Noodlephant, written by Jacob Kramer, with Enchanted Lion in 2018. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Read her Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast interview, or watch a filmed interview with her on Hello, Studio!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Interview with Irena Freitas, 2017 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2017 Summer Conference. Please welcome Irena Freitas to the KidLitArtists Blog! 


About Irena Freitas:

Irena Freitas is an illustrator from Manaus, Brazil. She recently graduated from an MFA Illustration program at SCAD at Savannah, Georgia, but she is already back in her home country. As a kid, she wanted to be a full-time TV critic and an artist on the side, turns out life had other (and much better!) plans and she became a full-time illustrator and only rants about TV on her Twitter feed.



Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?

Yes! I love doing picture book illustration, but I'm also interested in the editorial market as well, so most of my mentors suggested me to have separate sections on my portfolio for these two markets, and this is something that I'm currently working on.



What kind of projects are you working on now?

I'm mostly working on new pieces for my portfolio, but I'm also taking editorial jobs and sending my portfolio to art directors in publishing houses.

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

Hopefully, a picture book that I could illustrate!



Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?  Any one piece of bad advice?

Don't do work just to please the market, illustration is naturally a commercial art form but still need to ring true to you.

I don't really believe in bad advice, you learn something about yourself or the client you are working with even on your worse interactions (maybe especially on those).


What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

I'm HORRIBLE at taking notes and quoting people! But the overall lesson that I learned is: people are different and it's impossible to please everyone, maybe one rejection can be a glowing approval in the future.



What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

Surprisingly I was not very much into picture books as a kid, I really loved Little Women, Matilda, big chapter books with selected folk tales, The Secret Garden and travel books in general.

Where can we learn more about you and your artwork?

My portfolio: irenafreitas.com

My instagram: @irenafreitas

And my twitter (mostly in Portuguese): @irenafreitas



Thanks, Irena! Welcome to KidLitArtists!


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Interview with Heidi Sheffield, 2017 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2017 Summer Conference. Please welcome Heidi Sheffield to the KidLitArtists Blog! 


About Heidi Sheffield:

Heidi Sheffield's favorite memory is of her mom giving her a crayon and letting her draw all over the wall (just before wallpapering it). Her world has been about words and pictures ever since. In a previous life, she worked as an Art Director for Young & Rubicam, but is ever-happy now illustrating for children. Heidi looks forward to the day when a child will hold one of her books. You might find her walking down the street, staring at the ground, taking a picture of some cool texture in the cement. It's sure to be seen in one of her collages.


Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?

The feedback really helped me confirm the direction my art has been headed in. In general, the mentors were enthusiastic about my work. Collage can get overly busy really fast and the mentors suggested simplification in some of my pictures. I was also told the emotion captured in my characters was good. They mentioned that’s the part that’s often lacking in most collages they see. Sometimes collage art can swing more toward the decorative, rather than the narrative. 

The pictures of mine that seemed most successful were those that were the most organic and loose. (And also the ones I had the most fun creating!) That’s part of why I do collage. It mutes that perfectionistic inner critic chick. When I do it right, it surprises me every time. That’s when I know I’m on to something good, when a piece is full of life, all wonky and wonderful. It makes me feel five again and I love that.


What kind of projects are you working on now?

I am refining two of my picture book mockups, with the hope of submitting them soon.

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

While I love fiction, I'd also like to try my hand at illustrating an nonfiction piece. There are so many cool ways you can run with nonfiction these days!



Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?  Any one piece of bad advice?

A friend of mine who worked at Hallmark said, "Sometimes you gotta paint a picture to paint a picture." If something's not working, try a different angle. Don't let your work get so precious that you can't let go of something that's not going well and start again. Just because you made it doesn't mean you have to stick with it. 



What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

Laurent Linn: "When you can put two contrasting emotions in a picture, there's a story there."



What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
  • A HOLE IS TO DIG, by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
  • HILARY KNIGHT'S ABC, 
  • THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats
  • Little Golden Book art
  • GO DOG. GO! by P.D. Eastman
  • the WINNIE THE POOH series by A.A. Milne and illustrated by E.H. Shepard
  • A BEAR CALLED PADDINGTON by Michael Bond, illustrated by Peggy Fortum
  • the VELVETEEN RABBIT by Margery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson.


Learn more about Heidi and her work on her website, Twitter, and Instagram pages!

Thanks, Heidi! Welcome to KidLitArtists!


Monday, October 2, 2017

Interview with Amber Alvarez, 2017 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2017 Summer Conference. Please welcome Amber Alvarez to the KidLitArtists Blog! 


About Amber Alvarez:

Amber Alvarez grew up on a white strip of sand bordering the Pacific Ocean. While other kids had cats and dogs, she had a pair of green sea turtles. Amber holds a BFA in film from Pratt Institute in New York City. Now she lives and makes art in Utah, under a mountain, but above a railroad track. Her steamy chef husband lives there too.



Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?

It is remarkably confirming to hear the same things over and over again by a group of people you esteem. The mentorship critiques got me laser-focused on one of the paths I have been cautiously edging my way down. Abandoning the other paths has been the best part of summer.

Each mentor picked the same pictures from my book as their favorites. Of course, I like those pieces too - but seeing them pulled out, again and again, was a wild sensation. 

My favorite criticism of the pieces left behind was that the children in those scenes were not as authentic as my other kids. One mentor recommended I draw imaginary siblings of kids I know in real life. This trick is proving a great formula for genuine characters! 

Seeing my portfolio the way the mentors saw it, reintroduced me to my work. Here's something I realized later, they only chose pieces I'd sketched a lot of times before I'd started painting. All the pieces were mixed media with rich colors and loose details.  Strangely enough, they picked every piece in my book that I made during the daytime, in streaming sunlight, after a good night's sleep.




What kind of projects are you working on now?

I'm working on a few stand-alone manuscripts inspired by character art before moving on to full-blown dummies. When I write, I like to pretend I'm a children's author instead of an author/illustrator. I want to make my words good enough to stand alone. One of my favorite PBs I'm working on right now is about a group of monsters that CANNOT GET IT TOGETHER - they have no chill.

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

I most want to make picture books. *squeezes eyes shut and crosses fingers



Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?  Any one piece of bad advice?

I've been drawing every day since I was old enough to hold a crayon. A few years ago it started to seem futile. I've always made my living as an artist, but it felt like making picture books was still so far away. I started debating getting my master's degree or going to coding school. My dad intervened. He said I just needed to keep trying. I could go back to school, or work as a UX designer - but dreams on a shelf, don't go away. Instead, I should stop wasting time trying to talk myself out of the "song of my soul." That helped so much. I went back to drawing every day, and I stopped vacillating on Plan B.

The worst advice I ever heard was via a college professor who used to lecture non-stop on the evil waste of spending money on high-quality paper. While there's some merit to the idea that tools are only as good as their master, the sentiment is plain wrong when it comes to Arches 300lb cold press. That stuff can make just about anyone into Rembrandt.

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

Sean Qualls beautiful keynote was exactly what I needed. I find myself revisiting his simple guidance, "let your art be your constant."


What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?


  • LITTLE BEAR, written by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak was the picture book that I carried into adulthood and re-read most often.
  • WHAT DO YOU DO, DEAR? and WHAT DO YOU SAY, DEAR? written by Sesyle Joslin and illustrated by Maurice Sendak were favorites that stand the test of time. I remember laughing until I couldn't breathe over them. I cherish all of Sendak's line-art. I'd read OPEN HOUSE FOR BUTTERFLIES over WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE any day. 
  • THE PAIN AND THE GREAT ONE, written by Judy Blume and illustrated by Irene Trivas is comedic gold. 
  • I'm always disappointed when someone tells me they don't know Syd Hoff. His I CAN READ books were my ride-or-die. I carried them everywhere.
  • The GEORGE AND MARTHA books by James Marshall were pure genius. Everyone loves THE STUPIDS, but they had nothing on G&M.
  • I spent Sundays plastered to my bedroom floor with every scrap of Bill Watterson's CALVIN AND HOBBES I could get my hands on.
  • A few years ago I was lamenting a book I'd loved as a child but could never find again. I didn't know the title but I described everything I remembered about it on my blog. To my utter delight, a total stranger sent it to me that very week, MOUSE TALES by the great Arnold Lobel!
  • I loved THE B.F.G written by Roald Dahl, with my whole heart. I used to sit at my window late at night, absolutely sure The Big Friendly Giant would come find me too. Above all, Quentin Blake continues to be an inspiration.


Where can we learn more about you and your artwork?


You can see my illustration portfolio work at http://AmberAlvarez.com

I'm most available on Instagram, where I post a daily sketch.


Thanks, Amber! Welcome to KidLitArtists!


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Interview with Diandra Mae, 2017 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2017 Summer Conference. Please welcome Diandra Mae to the KidLitArtists Blog! 


About Diandra Mae:

Diandra Mae has a love of stories as big as the Lone Star State. Thanks to a steady diet of  comics and cartoons while growing up, her work is full of emotion and humor. She is currently exploring what it means to be a storyteller through a variety of media. Diandra lives in Houston, Texas with her family.

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?

The feedback confirmed that a new path I had just started on with my work was the correct one. I had several brand new pieces (black and white work) in my portfolio that were held up with delight over and over again. I remember thinking, "I had so much fun making those. I need to make sure I keep having fun going forward."


What kind of projects are you working on now?

I have these two characters that I couldn't figure out what to do with. I recently realized that's because their story is wordless. Nothing like a challenge, right? I'll be dummying up their story this month.  Once I see that through I'm going to explore the story possibilities for a group of young characters. I'm really looking forward to that. 

Beyond that, I'm taking a creativity workshop online and I'm really enjoying the exploration of media and techniques without worrying about the final outcome. Process can be its own reward.

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

I feel like the more I create, the more I want to try! I currently have sitting on my drawing table, outlines or sketches for a) a board book, b) a webcomic, c) a picture book, d) early reader/early chapter book. And that's not to say I wouldn't mind illustrating a middle grade book. I would! I love it all!

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?  Any one piece of bad advice?

The advice that really resonated with me was, "Why are you the one to tell this story? What makes you stand out from all the rest?" It's made me dig deep and figure out the kind of illustrator I want to be, and the kinds of stories I want to tell. It's turned my work in a completely new direction.  

Bad advice: In a portfolio critique, I was told several things that went completely against the grain of who I was as a creator, and what was presented in my portfolio. That was one of those times where I considered what was said for about a minute before I realized that they didn't get me, and that was okay. Even bad advice can help you stay on your path.

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

I got so much out of the Illustrator Intensive. I enjoyed the exercises and there were so many fantastic points made that entire day. However, I think overall the lessons shared by LeUyen Pham at the SCBWI Summer Conference were some of the most concrete take-aways I've received in years. She is an amazing presenter/teacher. The message I got from her (and the one that thrilled my gardener's heart) was, "GROW."

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

When I was little, the details and world building in both Mercer Meyer's Monster books as well as Richard Scarry's Best Ever books completely fascinated me. I cut my teeth on the "I can Read" collection published by Harper Collins. (Hi, eighties kid!) I would spend my allowance on the Uncle Scrooge comics you could buy at the grocery store. When I was older the humor of Sideways Stories From Wayside School completely sucked me in and I read my copy to tatters. The mysteries of Bunnicula helped build my love of the mysterious and weird, as did Roald Dahl's James & The Giant Peach and The Witches.




Thanks, Diandra! Welcome to KidLitArtists!

Find more about Diandra on her website diandramae.com, or on Instagram and Twitter.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Interview with Shannon McNeill, 2017 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2017 Summer Conference. Please welcome Shannon McNeill to the KidLitArtists Blog! 


About Shannon McNeill:


Shannon is an illustrator from San Diego. Her fate as a young artist was sealed when she took on The Drawing Book of Animals by Ed Emberley and made it all the way to the dragon. The creative momentum that followed led to a degree at Art Center, a stint at Disney Interactive, and lots of freelance work including several picture books. Two countries and two children later, she is back in San Diego doing what she loves best: working with shapes, line, nature, and books.


Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?

The feedback confirmed much of what I had suspected, which was that my work needed to show a stronger representation and range of narrative situations. What I really appreciated were the very specific notes on ways to approach solving this problem, boiled down in a way that may have taken me a long time to get to on my own. For instance, even the simple concept of "action, reaction, interaction" is something that I can easily keep in mind from now on. There were many many other useful tips, this is just a small example.




What kind of projects are you working on now?

This portfolio is a first stab at showing new work after a long hiatus raising family. At this point in time, I am focused on technique refinement, narrative and storytelling practice, and exploration of personal points of view. Now I have a chance to take that even further with the mentorship feedback I've been given, so this opportunity could not have happened at a better time for me.


Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

In the past I loved working with the stories by other authors, which I want to continue. But lately I also have a growing interest in non-fiction, especially related to the natural sciences or historical biography. I would also like to write my own book one day, although that will take more time and practice to successfully sort out. Illustrating poetry could be really great. The musical and rhythmic qualities of language gives me goosebumps, ever since I was a kid.





Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?  Any one piece of bad advice?


  • Some good advice, that I find repeated and validated over and over again: To accept as artists that we already have innate style, not worry about it, and just get on with making things that resonate.
  • Some bad advice, from college days: That no one is interested in sketches or personal work. I find this to be consistently untrue!



What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

When Vanessa Brantley Newton said that kids do look for themselves in books. Everyone wants to feel seen.


What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

I have ONE MILLION favorites but two that go straight to my child heart are: The Drawing Book of Animals by Ed Emberley because of how long I stared and studied those elegant and delightful shapes, and In a People House by Dr. Seuss and Roy McKie, because I hear my mother's voice every time I read it.





Thanks, Shannon! Welcome to KidLitArtists!

Find Shannon's work on her website at www.littledrawings.com, or on Instagram and Twitter.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Interview with Alexandra Thompson, 2017 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2017 Summer Conference. Please welcome Alexandra to the KidLitArtists Blog! Read on to learn more about her artwork, what she learned from her SCBWI mentorship, and what she has planned for her next steps as an illustrator.



About Alexandra Thompson:

Alexandra is an illustrator and maker based just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. She's been making pictures since she could wield a crayon. As a child she was always inventing imaginary worlds and dreamed of illustrating picture books one day. After graduating with a BFA in Fashion from MassArt she spent several years in the apparel industry as a print designer. She decided to go freelance and happily discovered SCBWI along the way. She currently spends her time creating prints and graphics for children's apparel and illustrating her own cute and whimsical characters just waiting for their stories to be told.


Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?

Yes.  My most current piece was the most well received, which made me feel like I have grown as an artist and I'm headed in the right direction.  



What kind of projects are you working on now?

I'm working on revisions as well as new work based on the feedback from the portfolio critiques.  They also encouraged me to develop dummies based off of a couple of my illustrations.  It's been fun exploring these characters and imagining what stories they have to tell.



Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

I would really love to illustrate any kind of magical enchanted story.  Those were always my favorite as a kid.



Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?  Any one piece of bad advice?

Make lots of art! Good art, bad art.. doesn't matter.  You're not going to learn and get better by just sitting around THINKING about the art that you should make.  Even if a piece of art is garbage, you probably still learned something from it.  Make art for yourself.. no one has to see it! Always good to remember in the days where we feel constant pressure to share on social media.

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

Just one?! There are two from Lucy Ruth Cummins that were so applicable to my daily struggles as an artist:
  1. Don't leave fixes until later..fix the sketch!! (I've done this many times, and find I almost always struggle in the final art stage and end up having to go back and fix the sketch anyway)
  2. Don't hold onto a mistake just because it took a long time to make. (So much yes!!)


What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

  • A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce was my absolute favorite.  My dad knew it by heart and I can still hear his voice reciting it every time I read it.  Still cracks me up! 
  • The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N Munsch - another funny one.
  • We had a beautiful pop-up book of Cinderella with gorgeous illustrations that I loved to look at.
  • Dinotopia by James Gurney - dinosaurs were my favorite and for a short while I wanted to be a paleontologist until I decided all the bones would be gone by the time I was a grown-up.



Where can we see more of your artwork?

You can find me on the interwebs at www.alexandraco.com
I'm most active on Instagram- @alexandraco_illustration
Facebook - /alexandracoillustration
and new to Twittersphere @AlexandracoArt

Thanks, Alexandra! Welcome to KidLitArtists!