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 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.


  1. Your work is really great. I LOVE The portrait of the guy who plays "Dr. Who" I love that show.