I’m a freelance illustrator, graphic designer, and visual artist living in Reston, VA with my husband, two small kids and one large, furry cat.
Born a fourth-generation New Yorker, I spent my formative years in Arkansas, my teen years back in New York, and my twenties in Los Angeles.
I earned a BFA in theatrical design from Syracuse University in 1993 and completed continuing studies in children’s illustration at UCLA in 1997.
How’d you get into art and decide to become an artist?
I’m not sure I ever wanted to be an artist. I think it’s always been what I am, how I move through and deal with the world. Bad things happen, good things happen, and I’m driven to create. It’s a mode of communication and self-expression. Having a creative outlet helps me to get through the things I can’t control in my life.
I come from a professional but creative family. Being a creative was supposed to be a hobby. That might have been the smarter career choice, financially.
What kind of art do you do? What materials do you use?
Story is at the heart of my work. It’s illustration, really.
I love having control over the little worlds I create — each little image in each little story. I create vignettes and slices of life the way I want them to be.
Right now my primary medium is colored pencil, but I love experimenting with everything. The medium is a part of the story too, and can enhance or detract from what I’m trying to communicate.
What is your approach for creating a work of art? What is your inspiration?
Sometimes I start with detailed sketches which I digitize and composite on the computer. If I’m using dry media like colored pencil, I’ll print in light k-tones directly onto art paper. If the media is wet, like inks and paints, I’ll use a light box. Sometimes I don’t sketch or digitize at all but just jump right in. Each medium requires a different approach.
Is it cliché to say that inspiration is everywhere in the world around us? To be honest, I can be inspired by anything at random if I’m in the right mindset. I tend to have too many ideas at once and too many projects in the works at any one time. I’m scatterbrained. I’m not yet sure if that’s a bug or a feature.
What do you hope viewers of your art experience upon seeing the exhibit?
Art has the power to change and influence people’s moods and how they relate to the world. If I have that power at all in my work, I’d like to think I use it do to good. This is why my work is mostly colorful and peaceful. I hope some of it is thought provoking in its own way. Nothing big and grand, but I’m aiming to add a little more light into the world.
Below are all three images from my 2018 SCBWI Narrative Art Award entry. The theme is “Misunderstood Monsters” in honor of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
I had no intention of using my experimental charcoal sketches AS the finals. I’d bought the charcoals as part of my 100 Days Project, experimentally messing around with media and techniques. I thought the charcoals might be a step for loosening up my drawings and ideas before doing the finals in a more likely medium– colored pencil or inks. I don’t think I’ve actually worked in charcoal in earnest since I graduated high school. But I saw that I was running out of time and personal projects always have the lowest priority.
Also, I’m pretty sure I bent the rules doing panels instead of single illustrations, and my image dimensions are woefully out of the standard. But I think that’s ok because I really did this for myself. I’ve had this story rattling around in my brain since February when it popped out of my head in Susanna Hill’s “Making Picture Book Magic” class.
Inspired by Caliban and Prospero from Shakespeare’s The Tempest but set in the middle of the 20th century, this story is decidedly NOT a picture book. It’s probably better suited, at least, for middle grade. Since it’s about a boy who draws but doesn’t really read, I envision it formatted a little like Brian Selznick’s, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, interspersing images and story text. I hadn’t tried doing panel narrative illustration in, probably, about 20 years, so I wanted to see what I could do in a graphic novel format.
It was definitely a learning experience. I can see many things “wrong,” and things I’d like to neaten up or do better. I kind of feel like I’ve turned in a draft. But deadlines are deadlines. In general, I’m pleased with the results and what I learned from the process and that counts too.
Several times each year, my friend and colleague Terry Jennings organizes a CritiqueFest for the MidAtlantic chapter of the SCBWI.
This is a free event and is described by Ellen R. Braaf, our Regional Advisor, as “… an opportunity to meet with other writers, get feedback on a work-in-progress, learn about the critique group process, and perhaps even find a few kindred souls with whom you can continue to meet. ”
Once-again, Terry asked me to facilitate the session for a group of illustrator-authors. Like last time, several participants submitted book dummies, however there was one woman who planned to attend as an illustrator-only. In the past, I’ve used my own cobbled-together versions of various picture book manuscript checklists to help me with my reviews, but these checklists deal with the manuscripts and not the art.
I went looking around the interwebs for information about book dummies and found several posts on what should or shouldn’t go into a portfolio, several on promotional postcards, and some helpful advice about the technical aspects of creating book dummies—but only one post that addressed the art of the dummy, and I couldn’t find a critique checklist at all.
I tested my worksheet out in my reviews this week and I think it worked pretty well, so I’m sharing it here in case you’re working on a dummy and need some reminders for self-review, or your illustrator critique group members are adding dummies to their portfolios, or any another reason, really.
Although I included a section on individual image composition, it is meant to address the individual sketches specifically as part of the whole book, and is not intended for robust single-illustration critiques. I did not include critique etiquette guidelines in my worksheet because many good resources already exist. Remember to play nice in the sandbox, and make good art.
Copies may be shared and printed for personal, educational, and non-commercial use. If you share this worksheet I’d appreciate the credit, and if you use the worksheet, I’d love to hear your feedback!
You are unique and you have a voice – Sarah Davies
Let’s talk about the VOICE (not the TV show, although it’s probably relevant, I just don’t watch it so I wouldn’t know). I’ve been pondering this topic long before it was on the roster at the 2017 SCBWI Mid-Atlantic conference this past autumn. Here’s a brief synopsis of two presentations, one geared towards illustrators and one towards writers. I believe both presenters assumed that we are already vocalizing and seeking to fine tune our voices.
Mr. Castellano began by discussing style (he hates that word) as “informed interpretation” and what that means in an illustration — how do we use our experience of [what we are attempting to illustrate] towards successful execution. We talked about finding the concept behind the illustration and did a few exercises to work on finding the base concepts. These exercises reminded me of a game we used to play back in college that we called “Metaphysical Win, Lose, or Draw!” If you’re familiar with the original home game, it’s basically the same except that the concepts we had to successfully convey couldn’t be nouns. Essentially you have to figure out how to draw “cold,” or “abundance,” or “spiritual,” (you get the idea).
Mr. Castellano also showcased examples of successful illustrations that represented both a focus on the concept, as well as successful crafting techniques. He explained that skill in drawing is the foundation of illustration, but the choices you make in conceptualizing your illustration with regard to the structure and layout, and the techniques you chose to employ will ultimately determine how effective your final work will be. He discussed conveying a message using clean techniques in gesture, directional stroke dynamics, and line weights; positive and negative spaces (particularly negative); choice of color palette; and how “pops of color” stand out from a limited color palette.
Final words of wisdom: Draw with conviction. Have faith in your abilities and your work. Don’t worry about what you think something is “supposed” to look like or let self-doubt show. The simplest decisions ultimately tell the best stories.
I really wish I could have recorded Sarah Davies’ presentation on Saturday morning because I wasn’t fully awake. I’m not sure why – perhaps it’s because I’m still halfway still in dream territory – but I find that whomever gets that 8:45am slot at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference always delivers the most fascinating presentation. Anyway I really hope Ms. Davies gets tapped for a TED talk because her presentation would just be so perfect for it!
Ms. Davies jumped right into the use of voice with comparisons to (and demonstrations of!) her own experience as a singer to illustrate how an author can find their narrative voices as well as those of their characters. She gave well-structured point-by-point suggestions so I’m going to bullet some of them.
“Develop your ear,” by reading outside your comfort zone – including and especially genres you wouldn’t necessarily personally like.
Really listen to the artistic choices other authors make in their choices of words such as using repeats for emphasis, cadence, and phrasing.
Think about how you can effectively bend or break rules, for example using double negatives to define a character’s voice.
Teach yourself to listen to your characters’ voices by telling (not reading) your stories out loud, acting out the parts using different voices for and from your characters.
Get to know your characters well enough to be able to speak with their voices.
Consider how different characters, for example a child and an adult, speak about the same thing from different points of view?
Ms. Davies also showcased examples of successful writing and discussed techniques for crafting an effective finished piece. One example was a flow of abstract to concrete concepts in entering a narrative which, to me, is exactly like a gradient of negative to positive space shown in abstract to concrete terminology! Other techniques Ms. Davies discussed were in finding the silence between words (hmm negative space again!); being concise and clear with word choices to convey a sensory or emotional experience; finding different ways to show and not tell – to paint a picture with words; adding rhythm; and sharing the storytelling with other voices.
Ms. Davies also gave the usual recommendation of daily practice – she called it playing or sketching – for 20 minutes each day. But specifically in order to help find and fine-tune our voices, she suggested experimenting in writing everything from every conceivable genre and from every conceivable perspective in order to explore what approach we would take to it.
Final words of wisdom: Write without restraint. Take Risks. Give yourself permission to fail. Write with passion. “A strong voice helps you stand out in a snot green ocean of boring”
So What is Voice? How do I want to use my voice? What do I want to say and how do I say it? How can you tell that voice is mine?
In my last post I’d said that VOICE was going to be a blog post unto itself. What I really meant was that I’ll have to kick it off in a blog post unto itself but as it’s my creative word of this year, I’m going to talk about finding my own voice in my own art frequently throughout 2018. I think that in order to find and fine-tune my voice, I’m going to have to snap my perspective and approaches like a glow-stick – to break out of what it’s SUPPOSED to look like, sound like, be like – shake things up a bit and see what shines #snapshakeshine.
About the illustration. Originally posted December 14th 2017 on Instagram: Sketching before coffee today. No graphite. I envy folks who can make the time and have the focus to draw everyday. 🎨 My work is good but it’s not where I want it to be yet. Still, I’m always learning and growing, and hoping to push that snowball to the next level in 2018. #snapshakeshine