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!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bas Waijers

This week we have an interview with children's illustrator Bas Waijers. Alex Colombo talked to our special guest, Bas who tells us how he turned a publisher's reject into an opportunity and eventually became a published illustrator.

1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?  What first drew you to art and especially to children’s illustrations? My name is Bas Waijers and I’m a Brooklyn-based illustrator. I remember drawing as long as I remember dreaming, and I’ve wanted to tell stories ever since I saw Fantasia as a 10-year-old kid. My professional career started in 1996 when I began freelancing as a graphic designer and illustrator. Four years ago I started to focus more on becoming a children’s book illustrator, and this year my first illustrated book was published for the iPad.

2. What challenges have you faced in developing as an artist? There are always challenges on many different levels. Some are very obvious, others are more personal. I set creative goals and I continuously challenge myself to become a better artist. I want to reach a certain level of quality that I see in the work of people that I admire. I’m self taught and I’ve had to work through a lot of trial and error. It’s also a challenge to judge your own work. To take a step back and look at it objectively. Fortunately my passion for storytelling and self-discipline help me to stay focused and motivated.
Then there is the practical challenge of being able to support yourself as an illustrator. My commercial illustrations became my bread and butter. I always make time to create personal work. It’s hard to do that with a very busy schedule, but it’s important to me because it’s the only way I can really try to find my own voice.

3. What other artists would you say have either inspired or influenced your own work? I’ve always been inspired by animations from Disney, Pixar and Studio Ghibli. Amongst many others, they are a constant source of inspiration. An artist that recently became my virtual mentor is Pascal Campion. I wanted a more spontaneous and expressive technique. I also really wanted to get rid of the line art in my work and work in a more painterly way. But I didn’t know where to start or how to go about it. One of the problems of being self taught! I was basically holding myself back. I looked at Pascal’s work until I understood his technique. At least I think I do! And I wanted to try something in that direction. So finally, last February, that’s what I did. I have much more freedom now that I’m not constrained by my old technique anymore. No more coloring within the lines...

4. In your view, how does knowledge influence an artists work? Technical knowledge gives you a set of tools that you can build with. Design, layout, color, perspective and lighting are some of those basics that anyone can learn. Emotional knowledge is much harder to define. What works, what doesn’t, and why? How can you give your work heart? When is a character appealing? I think it starts with being able to recognize a good idea when you are looking for something new. The right knowledge helps to define good ideas and will determine how to actually bring them to life.

5. How important is experimentation with media in developing ones craft? Working with different media, in a variety of techniques, gave me a broad level of experience on many levels. Every project comes with a challenge that needs to be solved. And every finished project adds a new layer of knowledge and experience. Some problems and solutions will overlap. Knowledge can gain an artist creative freedom. If you don’t have to figure out how to do something, you can just create!
I push vectors and pixels around in 2D and 3D applications. I draw with pencils and ballpoint pens and I currently “paint” in Flash. I’ve learned a lot from my days in animation, especially in making the transition to interactive storytelling for the iPad. And I’m still learning something with every drawing. You never get worse, only better.

6. What is your view on the development of an artists style? Is it something that one should consciously strive to develop, or does it evolve naturally from hard work? I don’t know if I actually have my own style, or if I’m in the middle of developing one. Whatever it is, it’s been in the making for years and it has taken a lot of hard work! And a lot of trial and error. I never consciously tried to develop a “style” because I don’t think it works that way. It would feel too contrived, too forced. However, it’s something to keep in the back of your head: having a personal style is important because it makes you stand out from the pack. And your work is easier to recognize. I’m always going back and forth between things that I know will work and things that I think can work.
When it comes to my own personal style, I think that I’m on to something with my new work. About four years ago, I decided to go completely with what I like personally. This was right about the time that I began to invest in my illustration skills. It’s closest to my heart, and that makes it easy to trust my instincts.

7. You have worked as a freelance artist for many years. What was your experience as a freelance? My experience has been mostly very good. I’ve worked on great projects for a wide variety of clients. I worked in different industries, wearing many different hats. I built experience as an illustrator, art director, graphic designer, animator and story artist. Being a generalist has worked well for me, and it has been key to being successful. As a freelancer you have to be multi-skilled, since there are so many artists that you compete against.

8. What have you published so far?  – If you self published, what influenced your decision to self publish? I’m really proud of “It’s About Life,” my first illustrated book that was published on the iPad this year. I illustrated it for my father when he fell ill a couple of years ago. I was able to show it to him two weeks before he passed away. It was my way of telling him how much he had meant to me throughout my life. I shopped it around to publishers and agents but nobody was interested. I then looked into self publishing and became interested in iPad apps at the same time. An independent publisher approached me because they were interested in publishing it as an app for the iPad. I went back to the drawing board to further develop the book and add new drawings to it. It became a great interactive experience and I’m really proud that it’s on the AppStore now.

9. What were some challenges in publishing your work? I think that it depends on how and where you want to get published. If you want to illustrate books for a publishing house, then the challenge becomes finding an agent with the right connections. Otherwise you have to connect with them directly. In my experience it’s almost impossible to find the appropriate art directors and/or editors within these publishing houses. And sometimes they only want to work with agents in the first place.
After my book got rejected by the publishers I had approached, I decided to go a different route altogether. This way I turned the challenge into a new opportunity.

10. What would you say are the benefits of self publishing and what are the negatives involved in it? Two of the major benefits are having creative freedom and being able to choose who you want to work with. A negative is that you’re creating a brand new property that nobody has ever heard of. The marketing strategy becomes essential in getting your app noticed in a sea of thousands of apps. 

11. Do you have any upcoming projects that you can share with us?  I’m working on “The Wonderful Colorful World,” my second app for the iPad. It’s a great children’s story that spans 22 pages. I built a small and passionate team around me, and we are hoping to release before the holiday season. I’m really excited about it because it will be a rich reading experience, with original music, interactivity and narration. And great illustrations :)

Another ongoing personal project is evolving around my character Keiko and her spirit. This series is the result of my attempts to work in a brand new style. I’m giving myself the creative freedom to do what ever I want! I’m working without a preconceived notion of what this story should be. Instead, I just have an idea of what the story can be. I improvise as my inspiration unfolds. It’s a great creative outlet and I’m curious what it can lead to. Another app, a book?

12. What encouragement can you give to our illustrators out there who wish to grow as artists in their abilities in digital children’s illustration? Strive to be as good as you can be. And draw as much as you can draw. Each and every drawing makes you better as an artist, never worse. Always keep learning more and absorb the world around you because anything can inspire you. Sketch and save your ideas. And then sketch some more! Put your work out there in the world for people to see. Don’t keep it to yourself! Have a strong and clear online presence. Be objective and only show good work.

Define what you are most passionate about and focus on that, whatever it is. Because that’s most likely what makes you unique.

And most important: Make Believe!

Website Apps: http://baswaijers.com/apps/
Website Illustration: http://baswaijers.com/
FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/baswaijers.makebelieve

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Matthew Gauvin

This week we have an interview with Matthew Gauvin. In addition to working hard on his children's books and other illustrations, Matthew is a really nice and helpful guy. On his blog, he's always posting tutorials, taking readers through his artwork in easy to understand steps, and discussing interesting illustration topics. Thanks for stopping by to meet Matthew! 
How did you get started in illustration?
       I would have to say my illustration career started in high school. While I did do lots of drawing much before this point, it is during high school that I really started to draw with an illustrator's mindset, drawing and painting holiday cards for the relatives, designing elaborate posters for class presentations and really going the extra mile in my art classes. The first time I realized I could make money for such art was when I drew a Christmas card for a class assignment and had another student offer to buy the card for a family member. It depicted a guy with a cat clinging to his face, Christmas lights wrapped around him, one of his feet stuck through a present and I think I even went as far as to have the tree on fire, and of course the words Merry Christmas sprawled across the top. I’ve since learned that the fellow who wanted to buy the card has become a comedian. So who knows, maybe I inspired him as well!
      A clearer push towards the world of illustration came from my high school art teacher who was the first person to ever inform me that art colleges exist. What a revelation for me! He then proceeded to enter my work into various competitions on the statewide, national and international level which eventually lead to my acceptance in Mass College of art, as I won a couple of the competitions. My art portfolio alone was rejected until my teacher called up with the news about the art competitions results.
         My first gig that really got me going in children’s book illustration came when I responded to a fellow wanting a children’s CD cover illustrated. I commuted over an hour outside of Boston to meet with him and another fellow in a police department. I soon found out they needed someone to illustrate a whole book, not just a CD cover. They had developed an entire character for the children’s safety course for the police department and needed me to bring him to life. I never would have applied to illustrate a book at that time in my career because I knew I wasn’t ready for that yet, but the circumstances worked out perfectly to get me past my insecurities and take the leap.
What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
         At this time my favorite medium is mixed media with watercolor, gouache and colored pencils and even a bit of Photoshop thrown in. I used to work exclusively in oils until I found that watercolors allowed me to work cheaper, paint much better faces and expressions at  a smaller size, they are a bit faster, and were easier to store, ship, scan etc. There are things I love about both worlds but I’ll focus on my mixed media approach.
        Regardless of the medium for children’s books, I always start by breaking the story into pages trying to make it fit the basic 32 page layout if possible. I then start extremely rough thumbnail sketches for each page of the story while getting client input. I generally give them between five and ten options to choose from. At some point I begin work on character designs which sometimes involves making clay models and always involves finding tons of reference photos for hair, clothing, body type, poses etc. Often if I can’t find a good reference for the pose or lighting I need to capture, I will strike the pose myself. Then onto rough drafts which eventually get worked into final drafts. Sometimes I do B&W value samples. Throughout this process I plan room for the text of the story.
        One of the hardest tasks I find is the color sample stage. At this point I usually have a pretty good idea of what colors I imagine and how they will look in my style of painting. But the tricky part is trying to relay those color ideas to the client in an accurate manner without doing all the work of actually painting the final art. More than once at this stage I have had clients nearly decide to walk away or have someone else paint my drawings because of how bad the loose color samples look to them. I usually work with self publishers. SO this process has changed a lot over time for me. Now, I generally print the drawing small on a heavy duty paper and use rough quick watercolors going into some detail to put the client at ease and of course the final paintings will be done in watercolors. Sometimes I use Photoshop color adjustments to get other variations on color and come up with ideas I may not have thought of on my own. I generally do about five to ten variations on color for each image for the client to choose from.
        In the final stage I print the final drawing onto heavy watercolor paper and paint on top of it, which surprisingly covers the ink the way I paint. I have a couple long sheets of Plexiglas with holes in them that I use to tape a few images to at one time. Then I work on a few images at the same time, side by side so I don’t have to keep remixing colors for elements that are the same color in each image. There are good things and negative to this approach as I did manage to spill a large bowl of water over about five images all with one quick miscalculated movement. Luckily the water was clean and somehow didn’t efect any of the images which were all half painted at that point. I can’t say I wasn’t seriously considering a switch to digital art that day,LOL.
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
         I’ve always wanted to write my own stories and have jotted down plenty of ideas that come to me. One day I definitely expect to write and illustrate them if I ever have money and time to do so.

Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
         I’ve illustrated full time for the past five years. While I don’t have a day job, I do have plenty of other aspects in my life to try and balance while trying desperately to build my small illustration business. I won’t go into all the specifics of that, but to answer the question, I find it quit hard at times to balance my social life, faith life, and home life with my art career which is soo demanding. When I first graduated from college I actually slept overnight in my studio whenever and just worked good long twelve hour days whenever I wanted, with no major interruptions. I actually had a studio in an old abandoned convent. Working 60 hour weeks on nothing but my art was quite easy. These days I may still occasionally get in a full 60 hours but a lot of time in between is spent working on other tasks that God has scheduled for me.
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio?
       These days I’m back in Vermont living in the mountains. My studio has evolved over the years, going from a corner of my bedroom to a full blown area fully dedicated to making art. In the photos you can see I’ve got windows filling a couple walls as the space is an old sun porch that I claimed. Another wall is filled with a peg board full of sculpture tools for making maquetts, tapes, tacks, yardsticks, tripods, papers, drawing tools etc. Throughout the studio I hang various illustrations I’ve done and a few prints from favorite artists. My main work area is a decent size drafting table I got from a good friend about seven years ago and a computer with an eight year old monitor. Above all of that is a large work light.
Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
         I went to Massachusetts College of art and design for four years of study and graduated with a BFA in Illustration. I do think that time was important for giving me the basic structure I needed to be successful as an illustrator but also feel much was lacking. College taught me a lot about meeting deadlines and taught me a lot about how to make art. However, very little was taught on the business side of things and on the specific details of how to illustrate children’s books and almost nothing was taught in regards to digital illustration, despite how extremely important that is in today’s world of illustration.
         I learned the basics of color theory but didn’t learn what sorts of colors to use in children’s books. I learned how to draw the nude model but didn’t learn to paint and draw children and how to design characters or how to draw folds in pants and clothing or how to draw various facial expressions and body language or basically how to invent a character and poses from scratch and make them look believable. I learned how to paint individual images that were harmonious in color and mood and atmosphere but we didn’t learn how to create an entire book filled with images that seemed as though they belonged in the same book and that lead from one to another. we learned how to work with teachers and other students but didn’t learn how to work for a client or how to get clients in the first place. I learned how to make art but we didn’t learn how to create a business from scratch. I learned how to make postcards and business cards but we didn’t hear much about websites except that we should probably get one. I could go on and on with examples but my point is that four years simply isn’t enough time to learn everything one needs to know about illustration. I do feel four years of time devoted to studying art is helpful to getting the ball rolling at least. It was also particularly important to spend time in Boston living and working as that in and of itself taught me a lot as well as all the great people I met through college.
Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
         My publications are available through my website at www.matthewgauvin.com  or through the links on the side of my blog at http://matthewgauvin.blogspot.com/ Over my five years of being a children’s book illustrator I have illustrated six children’s books and a bunch of other smaller stuff like cd covers, a chapter book and a couple book covers and logos. Of those books, the only two currently in print are “The Caterpillar and the Express Train” and “The Little Boy Without a Name and Without a Birthday”. Both are done with author Jeremy Foster-Fell. I just finished “Allegra Friend of All Monsters” which will be published by the end of September.
Tell us about your current project.
         I’m currently working on a chapter book called “Samantha Looses the Box Turtle” which will also be published for the kindle and nook by the end of September. This is part of a series of books to come by Daisy Griffin. More info about the books can be found at http://www.samsanimals.info/
Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
         There really are too many to list them all. If you asked me that question back in college I generally just didn’t have any answers as I didn’t really study the work of other artists. These days I feel like every time I go on another illustrator’s website, I love their work more than my own. I have found many more artists whose work I love while reading these interviews with the VSS artists. I’ve also found that changing mediums from oils to watercolors has opened a whole new world of artists to me that I wouldn’t have given much thought to before.
    I think one of the most influential illustrators that I have followed for the longest time and who has taught me tons over the years, is James Gurney of the “dinotopia” series of books. His blog and books are invaluable! Another whom I’ve followed for a while is Holly Hobby who wrote and illustrated the “Toot and Puddle” series of books. Recently I’ve come to love the work of Brenda Clark in the “Franklin” series. There are just tons of artists whose work I will never get tired of looking at like Drew Struzan, Tony Diterlizzi, David Palumbo, Phyliss Hornung Peacock, Dan Dos Santos, Richard Jesse Watson, Gregory Manchess, Scott Burdick and Brad Teare to name a few.
If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
       I’m going to have to go with Garfield on that one. I know he’s primarily a comic book character but he has a couple children’s books too.  Why? Because he gets to eat all of that lasagna, stays in bed whenever he wants, a couple of things I don’t have the pleasure of doing. He also knows how bad Mondays can be for your health.

What inspires you? 
        Basically I feel as though I have two lungs that I breathe with each day, my life as an artist and my life as a Catholic. So my faith is a HUGE inspiration in my life. God has brought me through a lot and continues to guide me. My faith inspires me to get up each day and encourages me to be the best artist, son, friend, etc. that I can be. I’ve known many artists who didn’t make it far simply because they didn’t have the drive or motivation to pursue their dreams. I get inspiration from other artists, from friends, family etc. but I can’t stress enough what my faith has enabled me to do with my life.  

What did you want to be when you grew up?
       I really can’t remember many things I wanted to be when I was growing up. A good deal of my younger life I ran around riding bikes all over town, playing baseball, playing GI Joe in my really early years and building tree forts. I always enjoyed creating and designing things and working with my hands. I had amazing tree fort ideas, had creative problem solving inventions that I often drew or even made from scratch. I built some three wheel reclining tricycles for adults before I even knew they were being created elsewhere, I designed my own computer desk and made a full size French easel while others were building bird houses and gun racks. Later in life I really enjoyed working on houses doing siding and roofing, painting, sheet rocking etc.  So I guess I probably wanted to be an inventor or a builder, contractor of some sort. I also remember ever since I was a kid I’ve had it at the back of my mind to be a priest. I did some pretty serious discernment for that in my college years.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
        I enjoy being outdoors whenever possible because my work unfortunately keeps me inside more than I would like. I love to plain air paint alla prima style, I love hiking, bike riding, and various other outdoor sports if and when the opportunity ever presents itself but I’m not one of those folks who has favorite teams or who watches sports on TV. I also still love building stuff and working with my hands so I love the opportunity to help build a maple sugar house, go haying at the farm, paint a house, garden, fix stuff around the house etc. As you can probably tell, I’m more of a summer guy and yet I Love Vermont!

What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
        Hmmm, kind of goes along with the question about what I wanted to be when I was growing up. Being an artist is all I’ve known and strived for over these past nine years so it’s really hard to imagine what I would want to be if I wasn’t an artist.
Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
          Get your work onto a website or blog of some sort so you have a concrete place to send folks to see your work. Don’t expect people to open images in their e-mails when they probably have dozens of folks replying to their ads. There are plenty of free options out there. If they can’t see your work, they won’t hire you. Also as important as it is to make good art, in order to be hired to make art, it’s even more important to be good at social networking, marketing and promotion. You can be a fantastic artist and a lousy social networker and not get any work. You can be a so-so artist and a fantastic social networker and have all the work you can handle.  I’ve still got a lot to learn in that area but have made some decent strides over the past few years. Persistence is key.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
        About a half hour ago my young cat chased three large turkeys into a tall tree out in the back yard. Just figured you should all know that no turkeys were harmed during the writing of this interview. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Alex Colombo

It's been a while since we had a new interview here and so I'm excited to introduce Alex Colombo today! Alex has a lot of irons in the fire including a new blog featuring her children's illustrations and interviews with other illustrators at talesforcreativeminds.blogspot.com Thanks for stopping by to meet Alex and take a look at her artwork.

How did you get started in illustration?
It seems I have been doing this all my life, in some form or another but I am sure I started at some finite point…let's see, when I was five years old I helped my aunt, who was an artist, to paint a mural. When I went to art school, illustration was my favorite subject.  Even when I worked as a textile designer I continued creating illustrations. Later, while working as an interior designer, I'd create renderings (architectural illustrations) to show my clients how a room would look.  I did all of this by hand, of course, no digital illustrations at all.  One day I was on the phone with a client and my imagination took off - I started to sketch out some funny little doodles. From that point on, my creative drive kicked in. I learned a couple of key digital software programs, turned my sketches into full watercolor illustrations and finally into digital images.
What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
Colored pencils, gouache and liquid watercolors on an off-white, 100% acid free aquarello paper or cork paper. Cork comes in very fine sheets that can be used like paper. The texture is smooth and it's a pleasure to hand paint on it. It's an unusual medium but very fun to work with!  Photoshop and some Illustrator are also my favorite programs to render my illustrations digitally.

Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
I don't write, I only do illustrations – my husband is the wonderful author and we collaborate on our children's books.
Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job? How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
I used to do interior design full time and did illustrations only when I could fit them in my busy schedule. I am now full time doing illustrations and art for licensing. I occasionally do interior design consultation and graphic design.

Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio?
I live in the San Francisco Bay area, in the Santa Cruz mountains – I am surrounded by beautiful redwood trees and colorful flowers. The deer come by at times in the mornings, while gypsy cats and cute quails seem to peacefully share my backyard. I am thirty minutes from the ocean and I love to go biking along the shore when I can.  My studio's a bit messy but very quiet and full of light!
Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
I attended the Art Institute and the European Graphic Design in Milan, when I was young. I studied the classics and learned about architecture and fine arts. Throughout the years I learned a huge amount from my design jobs as textile designer, interior and graphic designer, and finally as an illustrator. School only gives you a taste of your potential, and I firmly believe experience shapes one's knowledge. But they are both necessary.

Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
My first publication was in 2009 when my first illustrated book was published. It's called The Adventures of Mr. P, The Case of the Missing Cheese. My illustrations are from my doodles, all hand painted with liquid watercolors and gouache on cotton paper, as mentioned above. You can see part of the story on The Adventures of Mr. P site. 
Tell us about your current project.
I am working on several projects: my second book, the Adventures of Mr. P, The Case of the Hidden Hives, on a part-time basis and the rest of the time I am working on my art licensing collections - a different type of artwork for commercial use on products like paper goods, apparel, textile and more. I am also collaborating with other companies on creative crafts, such as children's fabrics made from my designs and even custom baked goods. I recently partnered with Sugar Doodle Cookies to create a set of cookies based on the characters and illustrations of my children's books.
Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
I grew up with Walt Disney stories and classic Italian authors. I loved the Disney original black & white hand sketches and their micky mouse children's magazine. I liked to imagine that the cute little characters in the stories I was reading were actually alive… lots of imagination there! I tend to also like traditional stories and illustrations of all kinds.

If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
Never thought about it but in recent years while illustrating my children's book I came up with a female character called Ms. C, an artist friend of Mr. P that somewhat resembles me…but then she could be anyone :)

What inspires you?
Beauty in general. I learned to appreciate a bit of everything, as beauty depends on the context in which it gets viewed.  There is hardly anything ugly, it all depends how it fits in or integrates, how it's presented, and so on. Caravaggio, Monet, Van Gogh, Modigliani, are some of the many fine artists I love and I go see their works of art when I can. Their stories inspire me, their passion for painting. I like whimsical folk art probably the most. Everyday life and nature inspires me, too. A child's laugh or a beautiful song. A bit of everything. I think life in itself is an art form.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A classic painter, like Botticelli or Leonardo, or maybe a Caravaggio - and … a downhill ski instructor - I grew up close to the Alps ;).

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
Travel, go to art galleries, bike, hike, read, garden, and sometime volunteer with some local humanitarian groups.

What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
Can't imagine I would do anything else, although I have done many other odd jobs in my life. Maybe a florist?
Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
Figure out a purpose or goal for yourself and create on it! 

Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
I use images from my original paintings for stationary, cards and prints. Currently, my primary professional interest is art licensing, a design field I now chronicles about on The Moon from My Attic blog. I also have an illustration blog called Tales for Creative Minds, where I feature other artists.  I enjoy making things with my hands so I host a third blog for handmade crafts called A Basket of Hearts.
If you want to say hi or connect up with me, you can find me on 
I'll soon be launching a new website for my business called Creative Concepts Design Studio where I will showcase both children's illustrations and other art for licensing purposes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Diane Dawson Hearn

Our featured artist Diane Dawson Hearn has been busy working in children's illustration for quite a while and has over 50 picture books published! She has lots of good art, inspiration, and history to share as well as taking us through her work process. After reading her interview you can check out her website at www.dianedawsonhearn.com.

How did you get started in illustration?

My mom tells me that I've been drawing since she caught me scribbling on the walls when I was two.  She made sure I had plenty of drawing materials after that.  Here is a drawing I did when I was seven. 
I've liked cats since I was little, and my best friend and I used to make believe that we were cats.  I also liked playing with plastic dinosaurs.  It seems fitting that my first two published stories were about a dinosaur and a cat.

From the time I learned about books I began to write stories and make pictures for them.  My first book was called The Funny Bird, and was quite long, though most of it consisted of various bird squawks and chirps.  I guess you could call it chick lit!  When I was young Japanese monster movies often played on TV, and some of my stories were about monsters that destroyed all the atom bombs.  I also wrote several animal stories, one about a canary named Mary who decides to visit her sister on the Canary Islands, and one about a kidnapped kitten named Inky who has to brave the terrors of the big city in her effort to return home.  Though I loved to write, I tended to get more attention for my artwork, so I guess it was natural that I decided to go to art school when I graduated from High School.

I went to the Rhode Island School of Design and then transferred to The School of Visual Arts when our family moved to Manhattan.  There I studied illustration, animation, painting, figure drawing and anatomy, comic art and a lot of other wonderful courses.  During my senior year in college my teacher happened to meet an artist representative who was looking for children's book artists, and he recommended that I get in touch with her.  She took me on and I soon was given my first book to illustrate, a book of Halloween poems by Lillian Moore called See My Lovely Poison Ivy.  
This  illustration from that book is still one of my favorites.
One of my all time favorite books that I did not write myself is Mother, Mother, I Want Another by Maria Polushkin.
You may notice that this and the cover of the former book were not done in full color.  Back then, unless you were well known, most books were done in a process called color separation.  Usually only two or three colors were used (instead of full, four color printing) and the artist had to paint the colors on separate layers, using black and gray to get the various values.  It was a real guessing game.  I can't say that I miss having to do my art that way.

What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?

I use crowquill pens and ink,  and paint with Acrylics, sometimes watered down and sometimes used in a more opaque fashion.  To illustrate a book I start by laying the book out in a dummy.  Here is a dummy page for my book Dad's Dinosaur Day. 
My dummies tend to be very sketchy, because they are mainly to show layout and flow of the story. You'll notice the yellow post it notes where the editor made her comments.  From the dummy I go on to character sketches. 
I like to draw each main character in various poses, because I'll have to keep the characters consistent throughout a 32 page book, so it's good to get to know them.  Though I don't use live models, I do research and sometimes pose to get the feel for various positions.  Then I do the sketches for the book.  
This is a finished sketch, done on tracing paper.  I usually draw a sketch at least three times to get to this point,  even turning the paper over to draw it backwards, which helps to see any faults in the drawing.  I know this could probably be done on the computer, but since my computer skills are not on par with a lot of people, I don't know what I'd do without tracing paper!  Finally, using  light box, I trace my drawing onto  my "finish" paper, and paint it in. 

Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?

I have illustrated over 50 books, but I  also like to write, and have had a few published besides Dad's Dinosaur Day.  
With me, the story usually comes first.  Once I've written a draft or two, I do a storyboard to see what part of the story can be told in the art instead of the text, then I rewrite and make a dummy.  I like to think of a picture book is being like a dance between the art and the text, with each one playing their own part.

Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life?

Sometimes I jokingly say that I write and illustrate when I'm not doing something more important.  Unfortunately, there always seems to be something to get in between me and the drawing board.  If I am given a book to illustrate with a deadline I am much more diligent than when I'm working on my own projects.  Self motivation can sometimes be a bit difficult for me if I don't have an assignment.  It's amazing what the tyranny of the urgent can do to squash the muse.  There are always chores demanding my attention, and many time wasters lurk everywhere, waiting to grab my attention.  If I can just get my started, though, I get absorbed in the work and time flies. 

Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio and include some photos?

I have a wonderful studio space with plenty of room for doing my art and writing.  

My studio has a big window looking out on my garden here in Virginia.  I am surrounded by photos of my kids, art books and supplies, my pterodactyl collection and my vintage Peter Max clock on the wall that has been working since the 60s, as well as various other knickknacks. In addition to being my work space, my studio can tend to become a catch all room, so is often not as tidy as it should be.

Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?

I mentioned that I graduated from The School of Visual arts, where I was able to explore and grow as an illustrator.  Though I don't think art school is necessary to a successful career,  those years of concentration on my artwork, completing various assignments to a deadline, gave me good training for working in the field of illustration.   Of course we never stop learning and growing as artists, so I think my art school training and my own life experience combined to make me the illustrator I am now.

Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.

I showed a few of the books I've done.  My most recent published book is a nonfiction easy reader called Rain Forests by Nancy Smiler Levinson.

I did these in acrylic paints on paper.  It was a huge job, taking me two years to complete (including waiting for editorial comments).  You can see some of my other work on my website at www.dianedawsonhearn.com.
*Diane has a page on her website that lists her published books HERE.

Tell us about your current project.

Right now I've just completed a dummy and finish for a book I wrote based on my two cats.  Since it is just starting to make the rounds for hopeful publication, I probably better not say any more than that.  I'm starting on a new story that was inspired by a title that popped into my head, something that also happened with my book, Bad Luck Boswell.  I hope it doesn't take me five years to come up with a story for the title, like it did with Boswell! 

Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?

In my early years I was greatly influenced by Arthur Rackham,  Edmund Dulac, Maurice Sendak, Nancy Burkert and Dr. Seuss, as well as Persian miniature paintings.  I still admire those artists, but am adding new ones every year, including Shaun Tan, Peter Sis, David Wiesner, Brock Cole and Brian Selznick, among many others.

If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?

Wow, that's a hard one.  I think for me it would be a toss up between Eloise who lives at the Plaza Hotel in New York because she is mischievous  and curious and has a great imagination, and Pippi Longstocking because she is so fun loving and adventurous.  You can't keep either of these two girls down.

What inspires you?

As an illustrator, my biggest inspiration comes from the words of a story I am illustrating.  As I read the words I begin to visualize pictures and characters in my head.  Give me some words and my pencil almost starts to doodle by itself.  As for stories, that's a little different.  Dad's Dinosaur Day came from a doodle I drew one day when I didn't have any work to do.  Bad Luck Boswell started with a title.  I've written a story inspired by a next door neighbor who overfed the birds, and my newest project was inspired by my two cats.  Story ideas can come from almost anywhere!
What did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to write stories and draw pictures for them.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?

When I'm not working you might find me in the garden which needs constant pruning in the summer.  I can't say I like it, but I do try to exercise and I enjoy a little tai chi.  I love to read and I'm also a big fan of the movies and some tv shows.  Though I don't do it as often as I'd like, I enjoy spending time with friends and having game nights and fellowship dinners with the people in our church house group.

What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?

I sometimes think I might have gone into anthropology if I hadn't become an artist, because I enjoy reading about all kinds of different cultures. 

Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?

I know it is much harder to break in now than it was when I got started.  Heck, I'm still trying to break in!  Unless you become very well known this is a career where you will constantly be looking for work or trying to get a story accepted.  Having "made it" is rare in this business, and it takes constant perseverance.  The pay is, for the most part, abysmal. Disappointments are many, but the reward of having a story published and seeing a child enjoy that story is worth all the effort.  I tell people that if they can do anything else, do it, but if they really have to be a children's book author or illustrator, work hard, keep improving and keep trying. Do not compare yourself to others, because that will lead only to frustration. Do the best you can, knowing that there is no such thing as perfection, and, above all, have fun!  When it's no longer fun it's time to do something else.  
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
No.  I think I've rambled on quite long enough!  Thanks so much for putting all these interviews together.  I've really enjoyed reading what the other artists have to say.