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!

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.




Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Marsha Riti

Marsha Riti's illustrations glow with playful energy. She is currently working on a Halloween book for Pelican Publishing and I'm bummed that I'll have to wait another full year to get a copy! You can see more of her work at marshariti.com.

How did you get started in illustration?
I have always loved to draw, but until recently, I was unsure about what I wanted to do with it. What got me hooked was a class I took through the Austin Museum of Art. The class was all about children's book illustration and Mark Mitchell taught it. The class really helped me visualize what it takes to get into the market.

What is your favorite medium?
I use a lot of watercolor, but I wouldn't say that it's my favorite. I would like to get back into painting with acrylics. 
Can you describe your usual work process for us?
I am always experimenting. Currently I am doing my original finished drawing on Bristol board. I then scan the drawing and transfer it into Photoshop. There I use Photo Merge to put it back together, clean it up and use levels to adjust the contrast. The cleaned-up digital image is then printed out full size with room to spare onto 90 lb. hot press watercolor paper. This whole process allows me the freedom to create a detailed image without the worries associated with tracing. I also feel freer to experiment while painting, if I make a crucial mistake all I have to do is print out another "drawing". 
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? 
I have done some writing. Pursuing illustration and writing is really difficult. You have to hone both crafts at the same time. Currently I am taking a class at ACC (Austin Community College) with Liz Garton Scanlon. She is really great and the class is super informative. 

Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job? How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
I have a day job checking at Natural Grocers. I really enjoy working there because my co-workers and customers are awesome, and most importantly it's a low key position with very few responsibilities. I only work part-time so the rest of my time is spent on different aspects of the business of illustration and bettering my craft. I still need to write out an illustration schedule but my day job's schedule is still not quite set, making the former difficult. 
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio and include some photos?
I live in Austin, Texas, and yes, it is awesome here. I have a shared studio with my boyfriend. In it sits my wooden desk, completely surrounded by reference materials and inspiration. Also in the room is a computer equipped with Photoshop, a scanner, and a large format printer. During this time of year, I like to work with the widows open listening to the local classical station KMFA streaming off the internet. When I am not tethered to my desk or computer I make Flight Path coffee house my studio. This is a great way to keep myself from cleaning house instead of creating.


Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences? 
I have a BFA in studio art and I have continued my education though local resources. I also do a lot of self-education though reading, observing, and doing research on the internet. Here are some good websites: Zero 2 Illo, How To Be A Children's Book Illustrator, and Illustration Mundo. I also feel very strongly the act of doing is one of the best forms of education. If you want to be an illustrator then illustrate. I think that all learning builds upon itself; my formal education and self-education are reliant on each other, neither better than the other. 
What is your website?
My website is marshariti.com

Tell us about your current project.
I am currently working on a Halloween themed book for Pelican Publishing. I am really excited about it and I hope all of you see it next Halloween! I'll keep you informed. I am also in the middle of revamping my website, which will have a brand new portfolio and other fun amenities. Lastly, I am constantly working on my own book tentatively titled "The Pottery Lesson". I can't help but keep fussing with it, rewriting and redrawing the entire thing every couple months. It just gets better every time I revisit it.
Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
I am a big fan of William Steig for writing. As for illustrators (these may not necessarily be for children): Katrina Kopeloff, Lucy Knisley, Israel Sanchez, Adam Quest, Luc Melanson, Andrew Bannecker, Dan McCarthy, Jay Ryan, Tracy Bishop, Gary Taxali, Jim Bradshaw, Matthew Scott, Laura Perez, Steve Purcell, Hank Ketchem, George Herriman, Walt Kelly, Winsor McCay, and I could keep on going...

What inspires you?
Everything.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I love eating bagels! I could eat bagels all day long. I also enjoy gardening, sewing, doing ceramics, cooking, cleaning, riding my bike, taking walks, watching Hitchcock movies, playing video games, and hanging out with friends. 

What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
If I were more proficient with math, I would love to be a mechanical engineer. I am very methodical, and problem solving is one of my favorite things to do. I also love figuring out how things work.

Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
"Learn to make 'memory sketches.' That is of wonderful advantage to any artist [...] Why? Simply because I have studied these things with my eyes; I have put them up here in my cranium, and they'll stay there till I need them."                   
--Winsor McCay from a newspaper interview, Atlanta Constitution, June 11, 1911. Reprinted in Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend by Ulrich Merkl, page 135.

Another piece of advice: Satisfaction will be your downfall. Everything can always be improved upon!