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, May 24, 2011

Bethanie Murguia

I'm really happy to present Bethanie Murguia as our featured artist this week.  Bethanie's picture book, Buglette, the Messy Sleeper, has just been released by Random House. It's about a little bug who tosses and turns while dreaming big dreams. I can't wait to read it! Bethanie has sent along some art from the book as well as other fun illustrations. Be sure to check out her website www.aquapup.com and her blog Bethanie Murguia: Sketchpad for more art and news!

How did you get started in illustration?
I have always liked to make pictures. As a young child, I spent hours constructing makeshift books and filling the pages with words and drawings.
What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
I love watercolor. I stretch 140# paper onto boards (either hot or cold press, depending on the project). I begin my sketches as thumbnails and gradually increase the size and detail. I transfer sketches to the watercolor paper with transfer paper. Then, I do line work with a speedball nib and waterproof black ink. I paint with Winsor & Newton, Holbein and Daniel Smith watercolor paints. I have favorite colors from each. I really love to do big, juicy washes. I continue to be surprised and amazed at how the colors and water work together. For better or worse, it’s different every time. 
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
Yes, I do both. I suppose the ideas come first. Then, they tumble out of my head in a mess of words, sketches and thumbnails.

Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
I am a stay-at-home mom. I have a few hours of childcare each week. In addition to those precious hours, I write and illustrate at night and on the weekends. It is difficult with children because their schedules are always changing. Just when I think we’ve found a rhythm, summer vacation comes along or someone starts at a new school with different hours. I think the key is to balance the “planning” and “doing” time. Planning time is essential, but it’s also really important to be 100% present during “doing” time, no matter which hat I’m wearing. I do not have this mastered. Yet (always the optimist).
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio and include some photos?
I live in Sausalito, California, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I am about a block from the beach and bay. My studio is one corner of my kitchen. I do most of my writing at the local coffee shop.
Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
I followed various paths during my undergraduate days: engineering, architecture, psychology and statistics. After graduating, I moved to NYC and found a job in publishing. I became very interested in the MFA in Illustration program at the School of Visual Arts and enrolled. My SVA education was not exactly what I had expected—I had anticipated more formal art training. Instead, it taught me how to think visually and how to find my own voice. The amount I had learned wasn’t obvious to me at the time. With each year that goes by, I am more and more aware of how that education prepared me to be an illustrator. I’ve learned plenty outside of school too; I spent many years working as an art director.

Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
My website is www.aquapup.com. My picture book, Buglette, the Messy Sleeper, has just been published by Random House Children’s Books.
Tell us about your current project.

I am working on a book for Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic for the summer of 2012. The working title is Zoe Gets Ready. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to reveal at this point. I’ll just say that I’m super excited about this one! (Perhaps that is always the case when I’m in the middle of a project.) As well, I am beginning on a companion book for Buglette that will be published in 2013 by Knopf.
Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
Lisbeth Zwerger, Jon Muth, Sergio Ruzzier, Ian Falconer, Mo Willems and Grace Lin to name a few.

If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
Olivia (Ian Falconer). I love the world that she—and she alone—lives in.
What inspires you?
Writing is a great way to get your aggressions out. Is it better to stew over having to make the messy bed every day or to write a book about it? My kids along with my kooky sense of humor provide plenty of inspiration.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
An actress, an architect, a scientist, a diver, a ballerina, a gymnast, a calligrapher, a city dweller, a mountaintop dweller, a treehouse dweller. And, of course, I wanted to make books.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I ride bicycles. For now, I just have an old beater that gets me around town. I also love to walk around Sausalito. It feels like a mini-vacation to go out and get lost amongst the tourists.

What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
I’m pretty happy with my other job: Mama. Someday, I’d like to go back to school to study neuroscience.
Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
It seems that people get very hung up on style in the beginning. (I definitely did). However, I think it’s much more about figuring out what you want to say than about how you want it to look.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know? 
Yes! The pronunciation of my last name: it’s mer GEE ya (with a hard “G” as in “glee”). I think having three vowels in a row really throws people. It is rarely pronounced correctly. On the upside, it helps me to weed out telemarketers very quickly. There is a small town in Spanish Basque country named Murguia.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Michelle Henninger

I'm very happy to introduce Michelle Henninger this week. Michelle's expressive lines tell so much about each of her characters. You really feel like you know their stories and their problems and maybe even their names! You can see more of her work at her website www.michellehenninger.com or her blog michellehenninger.blogspot.com
How did you get started in illustration?
I've always loved drawing.  When I was little I would draw all the time: Ziggy, Snoopy, Tipsy the Turtle from the Art Instruction School, you name it.  However, when I went to college I double majored in Russian and Sociology, and my art took a backseat.  It was when my eldest daughter started Kindergarten, that art found it's way back into my life.  She was a shy little girl, so I would send her to school with little drawings to cheer her up.  Her teachers told me that I should seriously think about drawing for children because all the kids in her class loved seeing what I'd drew next.  It was my Ah-ha moment.  I haven't stopped drawing for children since.
What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
My favorite medium is pencil and pen.  I sketch directly onto my watercolor paper.  Depending on how messy the sketch is (I have a tendency to drag my hand across the paper), I will either ink it, or light-box it first and then ink.   Next, I scan the illustration in B&W.   (Just in case I need to print it out again during the painting process.)  Then I begin painting.  I'm still learning the ins and outs of watercolor.  Sometimes it can be tricky, but I think I'm getting better at it.  By far my favorite part of the process is the sketching/inking part.  I love capturing a character's gesture/expressions!
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you? 
I am working on a picture book dummy.  Mainly as a vehicle for my illustrations; however, I really do love the story.  It's simple, but heartfelt.   Typically, I see the pictures in my head first, then the words follow.  But occasionally, something one of the kids says works it's way into my head and the words force their way out before the illustrations; but that's rare.
Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life
I'm fortunate that my husband has a job that supports our family. And now that our children are both in school full-time, I can devote my day to drawing/painting.  Prior to that, I would find time to draw where I could, usually after the kiddos went to bed, or before they woke up in the morning.
It's easy to balance the two now that I have the day to work. It's great because when the kids come home from school, I can focus on them completely (unless there's a deadline or big project that needs finishing).
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio and include some photos?
We just recently moved from New Hampshire to Colorado.  It was a  big move for us.  I've always been an east coast girl, and the west is quite different from what I'm used to, but I know that soon Colorado will feel like home.

I have a studio, but I'm rarely in it.  It's in the basement.  I prefer sitting on the comfy couch: listening to music during the day, and watching TV with my husband after the kids have gone to bed.  I love the sunlight that fills the living room and the company of our black lab/border collie Lucy. The basement just doesn't do it for me.  Although, it is a great place to keep all my art stuff organized.


Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
I didn't go to art school.  I've learned everything I know about art from looking at  the work of illustrators whom I admire.  I studied their use of line,  their application of color, and mashed it all together until I developed my own style.  Part of me wishes I had gone to art school, but my experiences have made me who I am, and I wouldn't trade that for the world.




Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
My work can be found in the SCBWI Bulletin, Stories for Children Magazine, New Moon for Girls, as well as touring around the country with The Sketchbook Project.  My portfolio can be found at http://www.michellehenninger.com and my blog can be found at http://michellehenninger.blogspot.com



Tell us about your current project.

I'm currently working on a picture book about a girl and her four-legged best friend.

Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
I love this question!  There are many, but my favorite illustrators are: Matt Phelan – He has such a gorgeous style.  He is the king of capturing the quiet moment.  I just adore his line.  He's definitely my number one fave.  I am also a huge fan of Marla Frazee's work.  She has such a gift for capturing gesture.  If only I could absorb some of her talent via osmosis!  I also love R.W. Alley, and LeUyen Pham's artwork.  They also capture personality wonderfully.
And as far as masters: I love the work of N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, and Norman Rockwell.
If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
Hmmm. I think I'd probably be Calpurnia Tate from “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.”  Set during the turn of the 20th century, when women were expected to enter young womanhood with its trappings of tight corsets, cookery, and handiwork, Calpurnia prefers to read Darwin, and Dickens, and to embrace the scientific method in observing plant species.  I love her close relationship with her grandfather.  I love that she follows her dreams despite societal pressure.   I love a spunky protagonist.

What inspires you?
My kids, snippets of conversations I overhear, experiences I've had, illustrators I admire.
 
What did you want to be when you grew up?
In Kindergarten, I wanted to be a doctor. For a really long time after that, I wanted to be a psychologist.  Then after college a CIA spy.  I wish I could clone myself because there are so many cool jobs out there.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I love learning opportunities: going to museums, historical sites (LOVE history!!!), getting involved with our kids' research projects, going to the library and coming home with loads of books (I love historical fiction, or biographies!  If you haven't read David McCullough's John Adams, I highly recommend it!)   I also really love gardening (flowers, my husband does the vegetables), and going for family hikes (Colorado has so many great trails!).


What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
Hmmm.  I still think the CIA operative job would be pretty cool, but probably too hard/dangerous with a family.  Maybe a National Park Ranger.  Or maybe a historical re-enactor.  I need those clones.
 
Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
I think the number one most important piece of advice for illustrators is to believe in yourself.  It can be really tough being rejected.  You need that belief in order to dust yourself off (indulge in an Oreo or two), and do it all over again.  The second piece of advice is to get your work out there.  No one will hire you if they haven't seen what you can do. Remember: postcards, on-line portfolio, blog, FB, Twitter.
 
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
I have the most supportive and wonderful husband in the world, and we have two brilliant and beautiful daughters.
My parents and brothers are awesome!
I love SmartWool socks.
I love drinking black tea – specifically a big ole cuppa PG Tips, with two lumps of sugar and a splash of milk.  Especially while nattering with my best friend Haylebopp.
John Adams is my favorite president, and I can't for the life of me understand why there isn't a gigantic memorial to him in Washington DC.

Wow- Thanks Michelle!