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, April 26, 2011

Laura Diehl

This week's featured artist is Laura Diehl. Laura joined the VSS not too long ago and we are thrilled to have her with us. Get ready  to dive into the beautiful artwork she sent along! When you are done reading her interview, there's more to see and read on her website www.LDiehl.com.
How did you get started in illustration?
Well, I’ve been drawing practically my whole life. I’ve wanted to be an “artist” since early elementary school. This dream was later refined as “illustrator” in high school. I ended up going to college for art. When I graduated, about 5 years ago, I just dove right in, freelancing, taking whatever work I could get… As you can imagine, in the 5 years since, I’ve better honed in on the types of work and assignments that bring me the most joy.
What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
My favorite medium is digital: Photoshop and my XL Wacom Intuos, which I’ve been doing for 13 years now. As I love painting bright colors and vibrant light sources, it’s the perfect medium for me, because it is quite literally painting with the colors of light! My process starts with thumbnail sketches (in Photoshop), the best is selected to make into a rough and then tight sketch, the sketch is colored (this is where I try out a number of light and color schemes) and then comes painting time -where I go in and individually paint each element- painting comprises the largest amount of time and work!
 
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
They tend to be split between snatches of ideas that come to me (so, story first), bits of visual that I come up with in my sketchbook, or the two being so linked that it is hard to draw the line where one ends and the other begins. I love how each tends to call forth and inspire the other.
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, but currently more for the general fantasy and sci-fi market (though I have been doing more and more YA fantasy covers lately). I therefore have the double-edged sword of having to draw from my creative well for a living and also as my hobby. I continually struggle with and re-examine the balances between the art I am doing for pay and the art that arises purely from within me. Currently, as I am focusing more on writing as my personal art time, I try to spend at least a few hours writing every morning before I start my freelance work day. 
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio and include some photos?
I live in Virginia, not too far from Washington D.C. My studio used to be our dining room, but was reclaimed to house my giant custom computer desk and a drafting table. It has eastern facing windows, which is one of my requirements for lighting –given that I am a morning person. It also has a “blue wall” decorated with Miyazaki characters!


Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
Even though I went to school for art, I feel that 95% of my learning took place outside the classroom. I started digitally painting personal pieces when my family first bought a computer, mid high school, this continued and grew as a hobby throughout college. Through the later part of college I took numerous Independent Studies in Illustration.
Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
Though I’ve done a ton of book covers, most are for individual clients, small presses, or overseas, so it’s hard to direct anyone to them. I do have a portfolio of my current work at: www.LDiehl.com and a blog: ldiehl.blogspot.com
Tell us about your current project.
My current project involves seeing if I can translate and expand a picture book plot I’ve had for years into a MG/YA chapter-book like format, while still keeping it well illustrated. I’m also contemplating more direct ways of sharing my stories with the world; I find the trend toward e-books/e-graphic novels especially fascinating as a digital artist.
Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
Chris Van Allsburg is very high on the list. When I first discovered Polar Express, in elementary school, I knew I wanted to do what he does: make magic with words and pictures! I also really enjoy the whimsical fantasy illustrations of Mary GrandPre' and the colorful realism of the Brothers Hildebrandt. Author-wise I love the works that bridge the gap between children’s and fantasy: the late British author Diana Wynne Jones comes to mind.
 
If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
I’d be the boy from The Snowman. Because he gets to take a magical flight to the North Pole to see Santa and dance with snowmen!

What inspires you?
Nature. Sunshine. Snowstorms. Long walks. Other artists’ art. I love reading fantasy and children’s books, watching movies, playing video games.
 
What did you want to be when you grew up?
An artist. I actually can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else…

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
Relax with a good book, movie, or video game. Have adventures with my husband Chris: whether to the grocery store or a nearby park.
What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
If I weren’t an artist I’d be a writer or maybe a photographer or some other creative but distinctly different discipline. Or perhaps a lumberjack…

Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
Create only the type of art that you are most passionate about. Keep doing that until your portfolio is brimming with that type of art. Never stop. Never try to mold yourself to a trend, instead remain true to the art that comes naturally to you: do this enough and ways will open for you to do more of it.
 
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
It really helps to think about what unique art/writing gifts you alone can give the world… and then do everything in your power to give them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Scott Nelson

I'm excited to introduce Scott Nelson this week. His artwork is witty and fun and his characters are full of, well.... character! He has a couple of neat projects going on right now that you should definitely check out. Here'a a blog about the adventures of an original painting of Captain Claude De Mouse. captainclaudedemouse.wordpress.com 
Read the blog from the bottom to the top to get the full story.
Scott is also collaborating with Jannie Ho on a picture book about a daredevil chicken. You can watch the process as they figure out the book together! daredevilchicken.blogspot.com
How did you get started in illustration?
Like most artists start off saying, I honestly think I’ve been drawing something since I was roughly two years of age. Or basically the time one starts to color.  A bit later my older brother showed me how to draw Snoopy and within a few tries I’m told I was rendering a better beagle than my sibling instructor. When you’re young and horrible at baseball but adults are noticing what you’re creating, that’s a powerful motivator for a kid to keep at it. So a big thank you goes out to my brother for giving me direction so early in life.  I of course drew at home and attended lots of art classes while I went through public school. 
After graduating high school I then enrolled in a two year illustration intensive program that allowed me to literally draw Monday through Friday from 7:30am to 3:30pm!  I was in heaven. In 1987 the late great instructor Alex Gazonas was so sure that I was going to be a freelance illustrator and cartoonist, he actually took me studio shopping during our lunch hours. What a inspirational teacher he was for me! By age 19 I was already done school and up and running with my own business. I’ve never looked back. 

What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
Great question. When I first started illustrating professionally I used magic markers 100% of the time.  I’ve since swapped over to watercolors, inks, acrylic paint, gouache, colored pencils and now digital (specifically Corel using a Wacom tablet). Still haven’t mastered Photoshop and Illustrator but the nice thing about working as an artist exclusively is there is always time to be inspired by a new medium when I’m ready. Sometimes I do feel pressure to switch over now so my work has a “slicker” look. I recently lost a customer because I didn't create vector based art.  I just think I’ll switch when I want to. Not because I have to keep up with what everyone else is doing.  For now I still feel very fond of the time tested tactile experience of simply putting brush to paper. Had you asked me back in 1987 if I would be painting as much as I do; I’d have said “no way.”  Figured I’d be an “AD marker” artist the rest of my life.  So to go back to my actual process, often I will completely paint an image and that will be that.  Sometimes I paint an image and add to it digitally.  Finally sometimes I completely paint digital and never print it out.
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
Oh Yes!  I love to write.  Although I didn’t hang onto my stories from when I was a child, I believe I wrote numerous adventure novels. Think Rumble Fish, The Outsiders or Blubber but my characters were cats, dogs or bears.  I didn’t put much value in these stories at the time because nobody read them but me. I also never took a writing class and my English grades were at best a B-. I was just focused on becoming an artist and never correlated the two creative outlets as possibly needing to merge someday.  
Years later when my art studio was up and running, I learned pretty quickly that I could double my paycheck while creating greeting cards if I could also write them.  I’ve since written thousands and thousands of cards and have had hundreds of my jokes (gags) published.  The transition into the children’s book market was literally born because I really enjoy writing funny or whimsical cards. I can’t tell you how many book ideas started off as a card concept.  Had I known that my career would go this way during my Sophomore English class, I certainly would have tried to bump that B- to an A-

Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
Lets go back to the part of this interview in which I mentioned my time in art school. I was drawing every day from 7:30am to 3:30 and then doing art related homework. What I failed to mention is I’d often leave class and work at McDonalds from 4:00pm to 1:00am “almost” every night. Crazy hours! I believe it wasn’t until 1996 that I finally said, “I’d had enough” and gave my notice to the fast food industry for good. I’ve been drawing full time ever since.  Only my time as a teacher/art instructor slows down my studio hours these days.
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio?
I live and work in Millbury, Massachusetts. If you call my studio I try to tone down my Boston(actually Worcester) New England accent. Try as I might, I can never say “car” correctly.  It’ll always be “cah” to me.  As for my studio, my first studio location was on the 9th floor of an office building in downtown Worcester, MA. Imagine lots of lawyers, accountants and dental offices.  Then plunk a cartoonist’s office right in the middle of them all. It wasn’t creatively helpful location but I loved that environment anyway.  At the time it really helped me get my name out too.  In 1995 my son was born so I had two choices. Either go out of business so I could earn more income and provide daycare by hiring someone else to babysit him OR relocate to my home and be a work at home father.  I choose the second. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.  Sure, it had a few rough moments. Trying to hit deadlines and provide care for a newborn for example was very trying.  Yet so many great memories came from this experience and now that my son is 15, I can’t imagine my life being any other way. It’s truly been awesome and I recognize each day that I’m blessed.
Here's a video tour of Scott's studio!
Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
I attended a two year program at which we studied illustration, a bit of art history and photography. I loved my instructor and my time there was phenomenal. But this was the exact time computers were starting to be used by artists. I graduated and we literally hadn’t covered the direction the industry was heading. Thankfully they did provide internships though so while attending that school I worked at an add agency for one semester.  I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t for me. My next internship was at a caricaturist studio. I didn’t learn a lot as far as how to actually caricature but I did discover that the life of a freelancer seemed more cut out for me.  Once I opened my own studio it was a kind of a “learn as you go” experience from that point on. In fact back then there was no internet so just to get your name listed in the phone book took over six months.  Lots of looking at my drawing board twiddling my thumbs waiting for the phone to ring. Funny how things have changed.  You can open a business then social network to thousands in a matter of minutes.  Announce pretty quickly that you’re taking orders.
Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
I believe I’ve done freelance greeting cards for well over twenty card publishers.  The most recognizable names being Hallmark UK and American Greetings.  My largest customer for many years was Paramount Greeting Cards. They kept me busy for many years and I’m forever thankful to the opportunity they gave me.  At the time I started designing cards in 1993, they actually allowed me to learn how to draw cards while paying me.  Looking back, many of the first cards I submitted were dreadful.  Yet somehow they kept giving me work and I learned each time. Heck, I’m still learning. In addition to greeting card work I’ve also illustrated a handful of children’s books. The largest publisher being Golden Book’s for Children.  I’ve also author/illustrated a number of books too.  If you have a moment, please stop by WWW.ScottNelsonandSon.com  and look around. Lots of card and book samples to check out.  Once there you can also see the caricature and portrait work I do. Fun stuff!  Currently my largest book project is a collaborative effort I’m VERY excited about.  You can read all about it here…  http://daredevilchicken.blogspot.com
Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
I wouldn’t say that I have one favorite children’s book artist.  I love all books for what they offer. One book I might be floored by its color and line work while another I might be fascinated by the characters or plot. I like them all.  If I had to say which book inspired me the most though I’d have to say Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. As a youngster, I was fascinated by the fact a steam shovel could somehow be alive.  I was then equally terrified that once the foundation hole was dug in this story, they couldn’t get our hero out.  Even though it was published 72 years ago, I won’t spoil it for those who don’t know how the tale concludes. A great book with wonderful illustrations.
  
If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
SNOOPY!  I will always and forever love that character.
What inspires you?
Other artists inspire me.  I love humorous illustrations so when I see a style or a technique that jumps off the page for me I just love it.
  
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Always wanted to be an artist. Never a doubt in my mind.  If I wasn’t going to be an artist I had hopes of being a motorcycle stuntman, a police officer or maybe an architect. And I’m not kidding about the motorcycle stuntman thing either.  OK sure, I didn’t own a motorcycle until I was 18 but I must have jumped my bicycle over everything and everybody in my town by age 12.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I race mountain bikes, ride dirt bikes with my son, surf, jog (have actually done a few marathons), coach my son’s soccer team, paint and spend as much time with my family as possible. I love my family!!

Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
Well it sounds simple enough but never give up.  There will be many bumps in the road along the way but that road is soooo worth traveling. Oh yes… market yourself, market yourself and then market yourself some more.
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
If it’s OK with you, I’d like to P.R. a little project I’m doing just for fun.  I recently sent an actual original children’s book painting out into the world with some simple instructions stuck to the back of its canvas board. My hope is that this image of a pirate cat will float all over the world and basically write its own story via the children and families it comes across. It could certainly disappear, be destroyed or thrown away but that’s part of the charm. Each time I get word that someone else has it, it’s like Christmas morning for me. Check out where it’s dropped anchor so far at  http://captainclaudedemouse.wordpress.com
Thank you for talking today! It’s been fun.  And oh yes..happy painting!