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!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wilson Williams, Jr.

Wilson Williams is our featured artist this week. He joined The Visual Storytellers Studio recently and we are really glad to have his wonderful artwork and positive energy in the group. After you've read his inspiring interview, leave him a comment and check out his website www.doublewillustrations.com or his blog kwankwest.blogspot.com where you can see his work in progress and other goodies!

How did you get started in illustration?
Strangely it was through strife that I came to love drawing. I am of African American decent and when I was little my Mom only wanted the best for me and my siblings which at the time meant sending me to private schools.
The problem was I was one of, if not the only, African American child there and none of the other kids would play or socialize with me. Physical confrontations were constant. So instead of playing outside during recess, I would sit inside in the dark and draw, and draw, and draw. I made all my friends and fantasies on paper! I've been drawing ever since!
So I give a heartfelt thanks to those who wished me harm through ignorance, they helped me find one of my passions in life.

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

I have a deep love for watercolor and pastels. But of late I have concentrated on expanding into and doing all my work digitally. When I decided to go full time freelance, I knew it was better for me to work in a medium that was easier to modify and change than some traditional mediums tend to be.
Yet, even with my final rendering happening digitally I still have to start my images with pencil and paper. They are the oldest tools in my repertoire and the ones I have the most kinship with. So I always start my drawings or ideas on paper with pencil, then scan them into the computer to be opened up in Photoshop where I do my final renderings.
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
I, like most artists, am full of ideas, images and stories. Yet I never considered myself a writer of any merit. But the stories won’t go away! LOL! They stay in the back of my head and pick at me constantly. So I am learning how to transcribe and transfer my ideas to paper in a professional, skillful and intelligent manner. I have too much respect for children’s books to assume that it’s easy to write them.
After reading countless books I deeply appreciate the magic and artistry that is writing something well. So I am taking my time putting those nagging stories on paper. But many of the images slip through and find themselves manifesting in my personal work and images. If you look through my portfolio you can see the ruminations of different stories that are percolating in my imagination!
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 now going into my second year of working full time as a freelance Illustrator. It’s wonderful and torture all at the same time. But for once in my life, my work is the same activity as my play! I wake up joyful to get in front of my computer and begin work on art and ideas that I am proud of and make me happy.
Balance is considerably more difficult. I have coined the phrase that “I never have a weekend, every day is week on!” I can and do sometimes literally work seven days a week, night and day. I do have to force myself to leave the house and find places to go and things to do. I go to the library a lot and that gives me a different place to work and allows for social interaction on a different level. I also attend figure drawing and engage in crit groups and similar things so that I can interact with my peers while honing and expanding my abilities.

Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio?
I live in usually sunny Florida! I have lived here all my life. I am sad to say that I have never even actually seen snow! I have a lot of the world to see and experience. I can only imagine the wealth of information and depth that would add to my work. My studio is fairly small. It’s the second bedroom in my home. I wish I had some photos for you!  I plan on posting them on my blog at some point so keep an eye out!

Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
I attended the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL.  I got my Bachelors in Illustration.

I think I squandered my school years and spent too much time worrying about socializing rather than focusing on my studies and learning from my peers. In school you spend a limited time with your instructors and a vast amount of time with your peers. It’s important to make sure that your peers can serve as instructors for you as well as your teachers. Learn from and teach each other.
In the following years I was blessed to work in an art dept. filled with amazingly talented individuals and I learned a great deal from them and continued to grow as the years passed. Some had no formal art training and some had two year degrees. Most if not all of them were just as good if not better than me with my four year degree.
When it comes to art it’s more about passion and love of what you do than training. If you have the desire you can always push your artwork to higher and better levels. To this day I hunger for the input from my peers so that I can learn new things from their eyes, wisdom and experience. Artists can’t afford to ever stop learning. We should always be striving to get better and always see at least one thing in every image we do that we think we could have done better and strive to do so on our next piece!
Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
The majority of my Children’s market work has been for Educational publishers. But you can see a full list over on my blog.
You can also find other examples of my work on my websites, http://www.doublewillustrations.com , http://www.doublewdesigns.net

Tell us about your current project.
I just finished a Coloring Book called The Story of Jonah. It was a lot of fun to do!  I’ll be starting my next Children’s Book in the next week or so. It’s a huge project that will probably take me the majority of the year and I am looking forward to it! Unfortunately I have to kind of remain mum about the details.  I can say though that the other day the author was mentioned on The View and my sister even has one of their books, so I am very excited about the possibilities!

Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
Wow! My inspirations are all over the place! So many artists that I wouldn't know where to begin. So many varied art styles pique my interests. But my biggest inspirations come from fellow artists and peers who are growing and learning along with me. We teach each other and they inspire me every day! Some of my favorite Illustrators are LeuYen Pham, Peter De’Seve, Brandon Dorman, Adam Rex, David Weisner, Jerry Pinkney and J.C. Leyendecker.

If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
Peter Pan for sure!!! I feel most Illustrators have a little Pan in them. I think we fight hard to keep a larger than normal portion of our childhood spirit alive within ourselves. It maintains that youthful spirit we all need to create imaginative images! Plus the flying and sword fights would be awesome!! Ha!

What inspires you?
Life, Nature, Friends and Family. God. The ever living, learning and growing  human spirit.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
At this point, SLEEP!! LOL! I never thought I could love a bed so much! But seriously, I enjoy reading, watching cooking shows, talking with friends and long drives where I purposely get lost so that I can discover new places or see things I have never seen before!

What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
I think I would have pursued Psychology had I not pursued art. I am a very good listener and have a lot of experience in Counseling and the like throughout my life. I have always had a deep desire to help others through the troubles and joys that life may present them. Help them to find and embrace the best aspects of themselves.

Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
I have learned in this industry that it’s not necessarily about how GREAT you are. Tastes are vastly different from one person to the next. There are many famous artists that I think are terrible! LOL! It’s about getting your work in front of the person that will appreciate your work and your style. So always look for someone else to show your work to. Believe in what you do and how you do it. Be persistent and you will break in. There are a vast number of styles out there and I guarantee you there is a place for you and a project that has YOU written all over it. You just have to find it!
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Thank goodness for the internet!! You have so much information at your fingertips and so many resources dedicated solely to Children's Book Publishing.
By the time you're done the librarians and clerks at your local book store should know you on sight. Spend a lot of time at these places researching, reading and finding inspiration from what is already on the market.
Any artists you find online that you like, go to the library and check out all that they have done! Learn from them! Also, write them, see if they would be willing to give you some points or tips on improving your portfolio. Most would probably be glad to hear from a fan!
Last but not least, be persistent and believe in yourself. If you want it bad enough and are honest with yourself about what you need to do to improve and work hard at doing so, you will be successful someday!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tina Kugler

This week I'm excited to introduce all of you to Tina Kugler. She has tall pink hair. (kidding!) In addition, she is a wonderful artist brimming with ideas and quite the sense of humor. I loved putting this interview together so I could spend time looking at the fun illustrations she sent along. Tina also has a whole bunch more art to see on her website. Please pay her a visit! http://tinakuglerstudio.com

How did you get started in illustration?
I have always been sort of obsessed with children’s books. Even before I had kids, I collected picture books.
What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
Digital! I used to loathe the look & feel of computer-created art until I got a Cintiq tablet and Corel Painter. It is so intuitive, I just love it. Plus I have three small kids, so I always have to stop and yell at some point, so I can just “save” and come back to it-- no spilled/dried paint or anything.
I typically start with a pencil sketch on the tablet, once I am happy with the composition, I lighten the opacity and trace over it on another layer (like a lightbox) with dark brown chalk. I then paint underneath the chalk layer, and add highlights, shadow, texture, and other color elements. I am messy, in general, so my work has that slightly loose, rumpled feel.
My greatest compliment, I think, is when someone says, “I can’t believe you made that on a computer!”
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
I do, however I don’t consider myself a writer at all. I am an illustrator first & foremost. My first dummy, “Jo-Jo,” I just wrote as a vehicle for my illustrations. It was rejected largely because of the story, the protagonist wasn’t proactive enough, apparently. I was all, “But I’m not a writer! Let someone else write it and I’ll draw it!” I have about a million orphaned half-stories, in that I have a great premise, but no ending.
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 work part-time at a “real” job (graphic design), and I also do freelance illustration regularly for an educational company. I squeeze in doing my “own” work whenever I can.
Balancing family with work is the real challenge, for anyone I think. I am good at simultaneously drawing and conversing with a 3-year-old. Once our youngest is school-age, I’ll be a superstar.

Where in the country do you live? 
I live in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a small town right on Lake Michigan. We have been debating moving back to Los Angeles (back to the animation industry), it’s a real struggle. My husband & I are both from Wisconsin, it’s really a part of who we are. The difficult thing is trying to figure out how to make a living doing art. The cost of living here is comparatively low, so it’s beneficial for freelancing (my husband is an artist as well).
My studio is a small office right off of our living room. If it gets too loud out there, I am fortunate to have French doors to close it off! I also love that from my desk, I can see down the street to watch the kids coming home from school. Our house was built in the 1850s, there isn’t a level surface remaining anywhere, so my chair tends to roll away while I am drawing. My desk is a monstrous vintage teacher’s desk and it’s just perfect-- it has side boards that slide out to put the keyboard on, when I tilt the tablet down to draw.
My studio photos are kind of boring right now, for six months we’ve been packing to move, and now we are slowly unpacking. I gave away all of my houseplants & I can’t find my office stuff. So I should paint in some spider plants or something.

Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
Definitely my own experiences. I attended UW-Milwaukee as a film major (art minor), but in 1996 I moved to Los Angeles to work in television animation. For ten years I drew storyboards, which taught me everything: composition, staging, movement, acting, emotion, you name it. So I look at my books in terms of little films.

Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
So far I’ve only been published in the educational market.
Tell us about your current project.
I’ve got a bunch! I rewrote my rejected dummy and am sending it back out. An author friend and I are collaborating on a picture book dummy. I have another picture book dummy I am working on with my husband. And I am working on an educational project with a very intelligent friend.

Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
Oh goodness-- where do I start? I adore Mary Blair & her amazing color work, and Wallace Tripp is another of my very favorites. I had the good fortune to actually work with two more of my favorites, Peter Hannan & Gary Baseman, when I was in cartoons. Let’s see— Calef Brown, Lisbeth Zwerger, Richard Scarry, J.P. Miller, Lois Ehlert, Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler, Tibor Gergely, Arthur Geisert, J. Otto, Adam Rex, did I tell you I used to own a children’s bookshop?
If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
Luna Lovegood, I think. I am a major Harry Potter geek. And my brain kind of goes all over the place.

What inspires you?
Just today we went to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, which is, in my opinion, one of the best art museums in the country. It is all outsider art, and every show there is just amazing. (The bathrooms are also amazing.) It is just buzzing with creativity, the work there is so different & wonderful.
Also the Lynda Barry book, What It Is.
My children inspire me too, their insights, the questions they ask, everything is new & fascinating to them. The 5 year old recently asked me, “Are numbers real?”
Chew on that for awhile.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
An artist, always.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I am usually chasing children or cooking something. What I would like to do is go to a museum, to the zoo, for a walk, or take a nap. I love naps.
What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?

Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
Persevere, keep going, keep fighting, don’t give up. Nobody is going to do this for you. :)