VSS Illustrator Interviews

In doing these interviews, we hope to give you a glimpse into our artist members' unique personalities, a new perspective on their wonderful work, and the opportunity to know what inspires them!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Samuel Kirkman

This week our featured artist is Sam Kirkman. Sam is always so full of energy and enthusiasm for his artwork. He has an amazing eye for detail and a strong pioneering spirit that combine to create some very cool comics! Check out more of his work at his website.


How did you get started in illustration?
The short answer? I never did. Er.. well... I mean I haven't yet, that is professionally. Unless you count the time YYYEEEAAARRRS ago when I designed a line of monster cards for a friend, back when Dungeons & Dragons was just catching on. Or perhaps it was the time back in 4th grade in Old Lady Wakefield's class (you had to have an imagination or go crazy). She was a tyrant of a teacher. She would march down the aisles between our desks, book in one hand reading, a wooden ruler on the other hand swatting. She'd  stomp our toes if our feet were sticking out in the isle. This was a time before corporal punishment was a no-no. I remember the giggly gross-outs we kids would have at her expense joking about the hairs on her legs sticking out through her stockings. ITCH! Anyway, where was I going with this? OH yea, illustration. One of the first serious projects I can remember doing as a boy was a little comic of Old Lady Wakefield going on a vacation to a tropical island with a palm tree on it. I drew her sitting under that palm tree and had a coconut fall on her head. Oh the joys of childhood vengeance through creative expression. Yep! Thats how it all began.                  


What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
That would have to be Professor Marvel in the Wizard of Oz. Oh! you mean artistic medium. Well, I have to confess it is digital. I still appreciate the classic mediums and I guess if I'm painting it would have to be oils, and I do love watercolor, but digital has stolen my heart. The main reason? Speed. Speed and versatility. With the new generation of media emulating software, such as Corel Painter 11, you can achieve effects and techniques that look convincingly real. And with the use of a digital stylus and pad, such as the Wacom intuos and Cyntiques, in application, they feel "real" as you use them and without the mess!
I work in Comics and classically one person would "Pencil" the pages on bristol, another would ink over the pencil sketches and another would apply the color. Another still would then do the lettering and another the cover, and sometimes the writing would be handled by a sixth person. I was shocked at first to learn this. My naivety led me to think that one person did it all. The big comic book companies had to crank out a new issue every month. Most of the titles they produced were serial in nature with a cliff-hanger at the end of every issue. So the artists and writers had to really push to accomplish what they did. Working digitally, I get to be a one man show. I do it all, and the new digital medium allows me to do this.
My process follows the same general sequence. I use a pencil tool with a medium grey to get the basic sketching and drawing done. Then on another layer I "apply" the digital ink. I like to ink with the scratch board tool. It gives a similar effect to using a nib or crow quill.  Then I simply delete the pencil layer. To color I use the "Oil pastel" emulating tool. it allows for a bit of natural variation in color. I do this on a layer under the inked layer. To further build up and render the image, I alternate between using the burn and dodge tools, and various blending tools. The burn tool deepens, darkens, and intensifies the color. It leads to unexpected and unusual color variations as well. The dodge tool works just the opposite by highlighting and brightening the color towards a white point. This affords the "Happy accidents" that my High school art teacher led me to appreciate. This is all done on what is called the "canvas" layer, the base layer below everything. I then lift the canvas layer to a watercolor layer, making the color layer transparent. This is where I can do some interesting underpainting. Sometimes just the application of shadows brings depth and presence to the image. What is wonderful about digital media is that at every step, every layer, you can adjust the values, hues, opacities, saturations, textures, add lighting... you can't do that with physical media and easily reverse it if you don't like it. The next step, I drop all layers, then select the negative spaces of the image and then reverse the selection, Copy and paste. I could use some help here because this usually means a lot of working around the edges to reduce that pasted look that this can give. Backgrounds are painted independently and used over and over leading to easily achieved continuity. Hope that's not all too dry and boring.                       


           
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
As I mentioned before, I'm a one man band. As my influences and inspirations will show, I value most highly the singular voice in sequential art. The work done by a sole individual. I'm not saying that the collaborative methods of the pros are not without merit, but for me personally I'm drawn to work imagined, written, drawn, inked, colored... by the artist with the guts to do it all. And it's not that I look for this to be the case when I find inspiration, it just simply has worked out that way. So for me, it usually starts with the story. As in the case of my all-age comic Ouwangalaymah! The "Tail" Of The Name Of The Tree. I've been hammering away at the story for years now. Even now, as I work on its final expression, I find myself rethinking things and making adjustments as I go. Being the somewhat benignly rebellious and free-thinking soul I am, I would never say it has to be that way. Looking back at the history of the arts, I find that whenever someone tried to apply a "LAW" or strict "Rule of procedure" to artistic expression a dulling, or stagnation set in. The antithesis of this can be just as vacuous though, leading to the "Emperor's New Clothes" syndrome that the fine arts are suffering from today. But one never knows where inspiration will come from or lead you. My other major project is following a very different course.  It began from a lingering dream image I had one morning. I immediately, upon awakening set it to paper and from that initial sketch the story of GREW has developed. This story is evolving in a way. Major themes and elements reveal themselves during the process and one day I feel the whole thing will congeal and "grow" into what I hope others will appreciate. And in both cases, I want people to have an emotional response to my storytelling. If an audience connects emotionally to a story then I feel it is successful. It may be that only a handful of people will ever see it or experience it, but I feel it is none the less successful.             



Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
Living as we do, in a world that values the dollar over most everything else, I find myself tied to the grindstone. I work as a Live Nursery Sales Specialist for a hardware store on steroids. Teaching customers to plant things green side up.  Obviously I find inspiration there. I love plants and gardening. But I must say, after 15 years of retail I'm wearing thin. The only thing that keeps me going is a firm hope for a better world and a sketch book in my apron. Since my work there is driving forklifts, loading landscape block and bags of manure for folks, my mind is free to mull over my stories. Having a sketch book near by allows me to catch those fleeting thoughts that I can either use or discard later. When I get home I can set my attention to my REAL work. I do have a family, my wonderful wife Melissa has put up with me for over 20 years now, and our two beautiful boys, Ethan 19, and James 5. They keep me going and are very supportive of my aspirations in the arts. It takes a tremendous amount of time to do what I am doing. I try to minimize the amount of time taken from family by waking up early usually at 4:30ish. I do need to achieve a balance though, because my days of are usually heavy into my books. I hope this time isn't wasted, but then that is the plight of the artist. You have to have faith in yourself and in your vision, and trust that
in some way the hard work will pay off someday.               



Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio and include some photos?
We live in Fresno California. We've been here for over ten years now and we love it.  My "studio" is a sitting room behind a pair of french doors off the main hall of the house. It's right in the middle of everything, allowing me to still feel a part of what's going on, but apart enough to be a rather pleasant work space. It's the warmest room of the house too so it is very cozy. My garage isn't for cars either. I do stained glass work out there and that's where I have my easel for oil painting.         


Tell us about your education and training. 
I've had close to three years of college. Most through the University of Texas at Austin. I had a wonderful summer in the south of France, Lacoste in Provance. I studied under Bernard Pfriem, the founder of the Lacoste School of Arts which was in conjunction with the Sarah Lawrence College and the Cleveland Institute of Art. I think I learned more that summer than all of my schooling combined. There is still a school there directed through the Savannah College of Art and Design
If you can afford it, GO! In the end, I think we indeed teach ourselves. We need schooling, and I would recommend looking into an art school, just do your research. Know where you want to go with your art and pick accordingly.


Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
So far I have finished the first issue of Ouwangalaymah! The "Tail" of the Name of the Tree  It
 is now available at indyplanet.com. I am currently working with a group of comic artists on a series of anthology projects. our first  "8" a Kids Book Anthology is also available through indyplanet.com. The next, an anthology of 8 Steampunk inspired stories will be available in the spring 2011. I would encourage everyone to check out what we have going on over at illopond.com. It is a Word Press forum we have set up to collaborate and build on our combined efforts. We hope it will become a place where other creatives can gather to work on similar projects. I could go on forever about the importance of online collaboration, but for now you might enjoy a podcast we put together at The Process Diary. You can find out more by visiting my blogs Samkirkman.blogspot.comOuwangalaymah.blogspot.com, or web.me.com/samuelkirkman
Hopefully  we will be debuting our current Steampunk anthology at next year's Wondercon in San Francisco. I will have my first two issues of Ouwangalaymah! there and at least an eight page promo of my story For the Public Good, available. Please come by and say Hi! I would love to meet everyone there! 

Who are your favorite  illustrators or authors?
Jeff Smith the author/artist of Bone.  
www.boneville.com  He is the perfect example of what getting your stuff out there on your own can mean as far as finding success.
David Petersen of MouseGuard  
www.mouseguard.net  He is another initially self-published artist who, because he stuck with it and had something of substance to offer has found success.
Shaun Tan
shauntan.net an incredible Australian artist/author who's work on The Arrival has been a major inspiration for me.
And David Smalls Stitches 
stitches.davidsmallbooks.com is a sterling example of how powerful this medium of storytelling  can be.

If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
Probably Pugsly Adams. Or Willy Wonka. I don't know, just because. :o)

What inspires you?
The Truth.


What did you want to be when you grew up?
An adult but I'm still working on that one. No Really, I guess I just wanted to be an artist from as far back as I can remember.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
Sleep :o)

What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
My dream job would be to work for PIXAR or be an imaginer for Disney. I guess if I couldn't do something creative I wouldn't really want to be anything.

Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
Don't waste time. It is a priceless commodity and a nonrenewable resource. Whatever you are doing, go at it as if it meant your life because it does. I woke up to this reality very late in life, just around four years ago. Otherwise I might be where I want to be right now. Don't give up. Don't ever think that you know everything because I promise you, you don't. If you are going to make advancements in your art you have to listen to the knowledge and experience of others which brings me to another extremely important bit of advice. Surround yourself with supportive and positive individuals. The only way to achieve this is to return the same in kind. Be that for others. Which means seriously taking their concerns to heart. We have to be so self-oriented in this business by putting ourselves out there, tooting our own horns... It is really easy to loose perspective and become obsessed with our own work and vision. So open up. Have the self-confidence you need and faith in your own work, but be willing to sincerely reach out and be of assistance to others. You have to be the kind of person others want to be around. People have got to want to work it you if you are going to find work. The days of the rock star artist are dead. Very few if any, can rest their success on their talents alone. 

One of my favorite movies of all time has to be Mr Holland's Opus. That kind of puts everything in perspective for me. And people say I look like him.   :o)
 Also be willing to give up the "precious." I mean that you have to get to the point that your work is no longer sacred to your thinking, especially in a collaborative venture. You might spend hours on a piece, but if you don't let go of the "preciousness" of it you probably wont make it. You will be crushed each time a design is rejected. So think of it all as process. To the storyteller all must yield to the story.
Lastly just don't give up! Keep working at it. Don't loose heart if you have to keep a day job you hate. Be thankful that in this economy you are working! What you do to pay the rent or the mortgage is not what defines you. As soon as you have convinced yourself that you are an artist then others will know it is true.  



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Penny Weber

This week we are lucky to get to see Penny Weber's wonderful illustrations. Penny works hard and accomplishes so much. I was really happy to read that her recent picture book release, One of Us written by Peggy Moss just won the book of the year voted by school librarians! That's awesome! 
How did you get started in illustration?
I started in illustration about three years ago after visiting the LA conference, taking a look at what other illustrators were doing and basically deciding to go for it. I spent a few months working on a portfolio and then I attended the Spring Conference at the Society of Illustrators. It turned out that it was the last time they would have that conference but I was able to get an agent out of the day and then my first job in children’s books which was “The Jungle Book” for Compass Publishing.
What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
I work mostly in acrylics. My process has changed so much and is still changing I’m sure- but for now I start out sketching from photos and painting layers of very watered down color. I treat the acrylics like water color until I’ve built up some good values and then I begin adding more opaque color. I usually finish off the illustration with markers and colored pencils for more definition.
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
So far I only illustrate although I have a bunch of stories of my own that I’d love to do. Mostly my story ideas are picture driven with minimal words so I do definitely think visually first.


Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job? How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
I illustrate full time- when my third and youngest child went to kindergarten and my husband vigorously hinted that I should get a job,(I was painting murals part time but wasn’t really loving it), I made it my mission to be able to earn enough to work full time at home and it’s worked out great! I do need to have early work hours so I am able to be available for the kids after school, especially when I am on a deadline but it works for me. (Who needs sleep!)
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio and include some photos?
I live on Long Island in New York. For now my studio is the little room downstairs at the back of the house and it’s a little cramped. We hope to buy a new home in our area soon- my 15 year old son is 6 feet tall, (takes after his dad thank goodness!) and is still sharing a small room with my 11 year old but I’ll make sure the new house has a huge and bright studio for me! I’ve attached a couple of photos for now- excuse the mess! I am finishing up a rush job which I will be sending in later today! You can see that I’ve hung some strings around where I can clip the paintings so I can easily make sure I am keeping my characters consistent.

Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
Well in art I am basically self taught. The sad story is that my twin sister went to Cornell and they could not afford art school for me. But it actually worked out better because I was able to focus and learn on my own very quickly when I was ready. The toughest part is getting started but I actually learn so much after each job.
Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
My website is www.pennyweberart.com.
There is a list of books there- I’ve done a lot of educational and independent projects. The latest ones by more main stream publishers are “One Of Us” by Tilbury Press (which just won the book of the year voted by school librarians!), “Amazingly Wonderful Things” which will be out early 2011 by Raven Tree Press, and “Growing Up With a Bucket Full of Happiness” which has just been released I believe by Nelson Publishing.


Tell us about your current project.
Right now am working on another project for Compass Publishing- they are educational and have very fast deadlines. It is called “What’s That Smell?” about a meeting between a skunk and a little boy’s toys.


Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
Well I loved Maurice Sendak as a kid but lately I have been inspired by so many illustrators. Dinotopia’s James Gurney is a favorite of mine and I study his illustrations all the time. I met Marla Frazee at the LA conference and just love her approach to illustrating chapter books which is something I’m shooting for. I also would love to do more cover art like Mary GrandPre’ and so many others- too many to name!
If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
Well, I’m a big Harry Potter fan so I have to say Hermione Granger.


What inspires you?
My kids inspire me- I love painting people and faces and happiness and I always use my children as inspiration and models!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was always an artist but I did also want to be on TV as a weather girl.


What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I love to read and go to the movies. On Fridays we all watch the dvr and catch up on our shows- that’s fun. I do love to travel and hope to take my first cruise this year!
What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
The weather girl would be fun but my voice is horrible so I might like to be an art teacher.


Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
Don’t give up- don’t listen to nay sayers- draw and practice every day- work at a professional level and believe in yourself. Also, for me working as an illustrator first has worked well. I have stories of my own like I’ve said and now I believe I am more ready to do both then I was before.


Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Thank you for reading this!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Penny Noble

This week we have bright happy artwork from a bright happy lady. Don't miss any of Penny Noble's illustrations- they will definitely make you smile!

How did you get started in illustration?
I painted and drew constantly as a kid. My family has always had artistic talents. My mother majored in art and both grandmothers painted a picture or two. My dad was a draftsman and inventor and just missed getting his patent for the push button safety belt. I took art in high school and when I attended  Junior College I took a Graphic Design class. In that class my instructor mentioned to me I should be illustrating children’s books as I seemed to have a talent for it. He was right. I loved it and now try to draw as much as I can. Someday I hope to be illustrating on a full time basis.

What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
I enjoy working with acrylic paint. I find they dry fast and I can overlay them as much as I want to. I think the colors are bright and happy. I never have tried oils. I don’t feel I could be patient enough to wait for them to dry. When I start a project I usually have a topic, or get an idea. I just think about it subconsciously for a while. I call it putting it in my memory bank. Then when I feel it is developed and has become clearer to me I put pencil to paper. I trace the final idea in pencil and then transfer it to heavy Bristol board. I outline it in ink and then comes the fun part, the paint. When I’m using the black backgrounds I do them first. Then the colors seem to fall into place.
 
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
I have written and illustrated one book, still in the works, and have drawn several pictures for book ideas. I don’t have the confidence to write the text as I have so many questions about grammar and composition. The ideas come easy and I tend to be all over the place with many topics and sketches. Maybe I should just work on one at a time and charge ahead unafraid. 

Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
Right now I find myself painting and trying to work on my own ideas. I usually free lance for toy companies designing toy prototypes and concept ideas. With the economy being slow the jobs are not consistent but I love them when they show up. I have sat in on some brainstorming meetings and have been amazed at the talented people that can take the project from idea to market. My son and daughter are grown so they are busy on their own. But my 91 year old mother does need some help and attention so that is pretty much where my time is spent. When the days are rough I find myself running to the drawing board to hide and relax.
 Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio? 
I live in Southern California. Both of my parents' families came from back east. I think they were searching for a warmer climate which we have. I have lived in a town called Manhattan Beach for most of my life. We have the beautiful ocean and a pretty terrific pier. I have a route that I drive almost every day, over the hill to see the ocean and what I call “My Pier." My heart always skips a beat or two when I see the first glance.  I feel centered when the pier comes into sight. I try never to take for granted how fortunate I am to have what I call the end of the earth so close. Nothing for miles and miles and that blue, blue water and dolphins so close you can carry on a conversation with them. Wow, what could be better!
 
Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
I always took art in school but my Graphic Design teacher Mr. Bluske taught me so much. Not all about art, he exposed us to Opera, books and other things he thought would make us better human beings. He had a quote that I try to live by today. “Do the best you can with what you have, in terms of what you believe in." I’m not sure who wrote it but I think it makes so much sense! I’m still learning about art by participating in online sites like Illustration Friday, Watercolor Wednesdays and a few others. Of course Visual Storytellers Studio is very informative and fun.  I learn something every time I read the comments and see the creations of the wonderful artists. They seem to know so much about the illustrating business and are willing and eager to share what they have learned sometimes the hard way.
 
Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
My artwork has been published in Jerboth Weaves a Song, a story written and published by my friend.
It is about an elf and how his stories are like tapestries that weave together into one. I also designed the tags on the Knickerbocker toy company flower fairy bears many years ago. And I have designed many collectable Teddy Bears sold by toy companies that are mass produced with my name on them. I have sold my Teddy Bears directly on e-bay for many years under the title of Penny Bears. I hand-made each one of them. I especially enjoyed recreating animals done in the flavor of Steiff, a German toy company. Their old and vintage animals are quite collectable. I've made similar ones for those that couldn’t afford the originals. 
I now maintain a blog pennynoble.blogspot.com.
 
Tell us about your current project.
I have been working on a large canvas painting of a mermaid and tropical fish. She is almost finished but just isn’t right as of yet, so she is patiently waiting for completion. I want her to be mysterious and beckoning. I sometimes find the larger works harder for me to complete as I like to get the art done while it is still fresh in my mind. I also make what I call “Moveable Greeting Cards”. They are patterned after the cards of the 1930’s. Parts on them move with the help of metal brads. I have a store I sell to that loves anything with Mermaids and Fairies. So I keep busy designing new ones. I still on occasion make a Teddy Bear or two and have a small fairy doll I want to pitch to a toy manufacturer.  I also enjoy participating with the fun inspiring sites on the internet.
 
Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
I have quite a few Illustrators I admire; Michael Hague has done many wonderful books. I especially liked The Velveteen Rabbit. David Kirk has written and illustrated the Miss Spider series. His characters are so full of personality. I also enjoy N.C. Wyeth and the art work of Thomas Nast especially his vision of Santa Clause. His pen and ink work is done so well and is fascinating to view.

If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
I think I would be Winnie the Pooh. I could eat honey all day and run around exclaiming “Oh Bother” and no one would question what I was talking about. How great would it be to have a little pink pig, a funny tiger and a silly donkey for best friends? While having a wise old Owl to guide me through life! And I can’t forget Christopher Robin, he would be my knight in shining armor to come to my aid in times of trouble.
 
What inspires you?
I get inspiration from many places. I love magazines and sometimes something very small or colorful will trigger an idea in my head. Often the item has nothing to do with anything I’m currently working on. I just tear it out of the magazine (not Victoria, or La Vie Claire or any other special ones) and save it. On slow days I thumb though the pictures and then I’m reminded of what I was thinking of. Other times something silly like the shape of a rock or tree or a cloud will light the bulb in my head and start me off again on another project. 
  
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I never gave much thought past getting married and having a family. I was from that generation. I always made things and entered the local art shows but my family is and always was my main concern. After my marriage slipped away I turned to my talents. I can’t say it has been easy but I skim by using my art to bring home the bacon. I’m not trained at much else and really wouldn’t want to do anything else! Besides I have no intentions of “Growing Up” can you think of anything worse than not wanting toys for Christmas?
 
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I love decorating my loft when I’m not working. I collect pottery and am crazy stupid for a good pottery bowl. I hold and feel it and wonder where it came from and what it was used for. They feel good in my hands and the colors are always beautiful and clean. I have two sets of mixing bowls that were both of my grandmothers. One of my favorites has apples in the design and is a beautiful shade of green. Laughing and spending time with good friends and family as much as I can is important to me too. Being as silly as I can get away with also makes me smile. I feel good when I’m making others smile too. In fact last night my sister and daughter were making fun of me because I said I opened a banana from the top away from the bottom where the handle is. They said the handle was to make opening it easier. I found this so funny I laughed until I cried. Of course they were wrong, how do you open a banana? The debate still continues in our house. I laughed because I thought it wasn’t really open for discussion. It just was what it was!
 
What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
I can’t think of anything else I would want to do. Being able to create something from nothing seems so special to me in any form. When I am painting I go somewhere else in my mind. Away from the everyday happenings, I feel calm and at peace. My son is also an artist. I used to have a hard time punishing him when he was small because sending him to his room was a treat. All he needed was a piece of paper and pencil or clay and he was happy. To this day I try hard to get my house work done first and reward myself with the time to paint or draw after I’m finished.
Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
I think I need advice from others because I still have a long way to go before I can compete with the fantastic artists that I have seen on the internet. I am inspired by them and enjoy reading their advice to others in the same profession. We are all so much alike yet still different. But I think we all make the world a better place with our talents.
Anything else you’d like our readers to know? 
I guess I would like the readers to know that I’m happiest when helping others to feel better. Making someone smile unexpectedly and forget their sadness for just a moment is my goal. I love walking around the supermarket with a smile on my face. It is amazing how a smile and a little “Hello” can change someone's whole day.  They wonder what I know that they don’t and it's great to keep them wondering!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Michelle Munger

This week's guest is Michelle Munger. She's a busy lady so I'm really glad she took the time to share some of her detailed portraits and illustrations with us!

How did you get started in illustration?
I was a portrait artist for a few years, which is why a lot of my art has a strong human figure. But I had never really thought about illustrating until I had kids. I began writing stories about them, and stories that might help teach them. I was trying to teach them astronomy, and came up with a Guinea Pig character. (This was right after we had two sweet little Guinea Pigs given to us.) I wrote a little story and then put it in a power point presentation. Then I drew the illustrations for it on my little tablet. I enjoyed it so much, I decided that I would give real illustrating a shot. I’ve always loved writing, it just felt natural to try to illustrate the stories I came up with. There are so many, I don’t think I could ever illustrate them all in my lifetime though.
 What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
My favorite medium by far would be digital. There are just so many things you can do with digital. Especially the ability to erase just what you want without having to start the entire project over again. I really like how traditional art illustrations look, so I try to aim for that when I draw them on my computer, sticking with programs that will give me a traditional art feel. ArtRage is my favorite. It gives you layers like photoshop while also giving you the “feel” of real paint, watercolor, crayon and chalk, to name a few, on surfaces as diverse as watercolor paper, canvas, and tile.
After I sketch some thumbnails on paper, I usually open my art program and begin drawing rough sketches in one layer, then if I’m satisfied, I lighten the layer, open a new one and redraw. I might have several ‘junk’ layers until I have just what I want. But because I usually don’t have outlines in my art, even the final sketch gets deleted. Once I have something to follow, I paint it in whichever medium I think fits the story. Sometimes it’s mainly watercolor, sometimes oil. It’s always mixed though. One painting might contain watercolor, oil, pencil, marker, crayon and glitter.
 
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
I do write as well as illustrate my own. There are usually a million ideas jumping around in my head just waiting for their turn. Usually it’s a phrase that catches my attention and I think of a whole story behind it. Then I draw the pictures.
When I was fourteen, I wrote a story about The New Kids On The Block with myself being the love interest for one of the singers. About the same time, I drew my first portrait in pastel.
I’ve never had to really work at drawing though. It was one of those family traits that was passed down to both me and my sister. The writing has to be carefully coaxed. I’m not sure if I will ever be completely comfortable with my writing. Some days it’s absolutely miserable, some days it’s brilliant, but those brilliant days are very, very rare and I usually have to wait for them. My magic writing hour is around three o’clock in the morning when I can’t sleep. It seems to just flow better then. I had to find that out the hard way though. I had this story drifting through my head as I tried to go to sleep, and instead of getting up and writing, I opted to stay in bed tossing and turning. My muse left me for several weeks after that and I couldn’t write a word. Once she did find her way back, I told her that whenever she was ready, I would be as well.
Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
I do have a day job, or in my case, a night job. I’m a Paramedic in a children’s hospital. It pays the bills for now, but I’d rather be illustrating full time. I’ve done my research though, and I know how difficult it can be to break into illustrating so I won’t be quitting any time soon. Right now, my life seems hectic. Aside from working full time, I homeschool my three children during the day hours and take classes at the college in the evening. So my art is on hold until Christmas when my class is over. I try to draw or write with any extra time I might find, but time is getting sparse these days.
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio?
I live in the grand old state of Texas. Except for a year in California and another in New Mexico, I’ve lived here all my life. Aside from the heat and the allergens, I enjoy living in Texas--except for the summer months, and then I think I’d like to live up North.
My studio is a large art table in my living room. I have an even larger cabinet behind me filled with all my art supplies. I like to tell myself I might still find a use for them one day. My canvas nowadays is a 12 inch Cintiq tablet and a program called ArtRage. I don’t use anything else.
Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
I’ve been to five different colleges, but took art at none of them. I majored in Biology and have a Paramedic license. I am currently moving forward in my career by taking nursing.
As for art, I’ve learned mostly by doing, by experimenting, and by watching others. My mother was good in pastel and my father had a talent for pen and ink so I learned by watching them. I taught myself digital and really love it. It’s easier to set aside a Cintiq tablet when your child needs you than to set aside an unfinished painting.

Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
Unfortunately I am not published yet. I’m still ever hopeful though. My websites are www.simplybeautifulart.biz (my portrait site) and www.michellemunger.com (which is my illustration site). Both sites are due for some updates, so I’ll have to pencil that into my already jam packed schedule. 

Tell us about your current project.
My current project, aside from trying to pass Social Psychology, is a YA that I’ve been working on for the better part of six months. Can’t say anything about it though, it’s pretty hush-hush. The only people that know are my critique group, my husband, my kids and my sister. My art projects currently are sci-fi, but they tend to be rather macabre.


Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
I am a big fan of Golden Books, those are what I grew up reading when I was a little girl. The two the stick in my head for both their art and stories are, The Pokey Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey and The Tawny Scrawny Lion by Kathryn Jackson. Gustaf Tenggren illustrated both books. I also like Tomie dePaola’s art. His characters and drawings are so recognizable and so simple, he’s always been one of my favorites. Another favorite is David Wiesner for his beautifully drawn picture books. If anyone has the chance, look at his picture book “Tuesday.” It is the ultimate example of minimal words. I think there are five in it. 

If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
Anne Shirley. Without a doubt. I will never get tired of her character. If anyone has not seen the Anne of Green Gables movies or read the books, you’re missing out. She’s feisty, intelligent, and a red-head. How could anyone not love her?
 What inspires you?
Just about everything. You never know what situation can suddenly inspire a story.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I actually wanted to be a neurosurgeon when I was younger. The brain just fascinated me, it still does. I also wanted to be a singer, but my nerves always did me in whenever I got on stage to sing.
 What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I don’t think there are times when I’m not working. There’s always something I have to do. But, during those rare moments when I’m not working, I like to relax with my art tablet and draw for myself.

What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
That’s a hard question, because I’m working the job I’d like to have if I weren’t an artist. Although I am still moving forward by taking nursing. I’d eventually like to be a nurse practitioner. But if we are talking dream jobs, I’d like to be a published author/illustrator.


Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
Don’t give up. I think this business likes to put people through the wringer to see how well they react to pressure and how quickly they might fold. There’s so little in the way of recognition you get before you actually make it. Like the artists we see in museums. Most never made it big while they were alive. We’d prefer to make a name for ourselves in our lifetime but getting people to actually look is the problem. Illustrating in itself is just not enough. Don’t hope that someone will see your genius one day and offer you a six-figure job, put yourself out there. Send postcards, join groups, be as active as you can. The right person will eventually see you. I believe that because I can’t afford not to. Otherwise I would have given up a long time ago.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Yes, don’t ever tell someone they can’t do it. That breaks so many spirits. It only takes one disparaging word to make someone quit, don’t be that one.