Saying things, doing things

Right around this time last year, I attended a Creative Mornings SF session that invited audience members to reflect on creative lessons learned and goals posed for the year ahead (2013). I'm not a fan of public speaking so, naturally, my fingers were crossed that I would not have to get in front of that room. Three groups of three attendees' names were randomly pulled from a hat and, surprise surprise, my name was among them. Ugh. To add to my intimidation, Lisa Congdon was sitting in the front row. Like me, Lisa is a self-taught Bay Area illustrator who realized well after college that she wanted to pursue an art career. Other than the fact that we are both obsessed with Iceland, that's probably where our similarities end. She's worked with major clients that many of us only dream of, has multiple book projects to her credit, runs a thriving Etsy shop, undertakes fine art projects and exhibits in galleries. (Here's a really cool short film about Lisa.) She's rad. Needless to say, I was nervous. 

My group was last to speak; we were invited to discuss our visions and hopes for the future (more specifically, for 2013). When the mic was handed to me, I started jabbering about how I intended to do a children's book in the new year. I didn't actually have a concrete plan or apparent opportunity to do a children's book, but it's been my primary illustration goal all along, so those were the words that tumbled out of my mouth. 

In the summer, I attended the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in LA. It was hugely overwhelming and inspiring. I participated in the Illustrator Intensive, Portfolio Showcase, and had a consultation with Mela Bolinao of MB Artists, the agency that represents one of my favorite children's book illustrators, Jannie Ho. (I also attended workshops put on by Jannie herself!) I came home motivated and excited but also with a sense of how massive the crowd of talent aiming to work in children's books is, how talented these people are, and how limited the opportunities seem to be.  

A few weeks after the conference, as I was contemplating how presumptuous it was for me to get in front of that Creative Mornings crowd and announce that I'd be doing a kid's book before year's end, I received an email from an illustration manager at Teacher Created Materials, an educational publisher. He found my work at SCBWI and asked me to create a series of board games for elementary-aged children. Fun! For me, children's toys, games, activities & novelty products are second only to children's books on my illustration project dream project list. And I love projects with an educational bent. So I spent a few weeks creating the first children's products to bear my name. Here's one of the board games, called Under the Sea, and a detail shot.      

 Under the Sea, a board game for Teacher Created Materials.

Under the Sea, a board game for Teacher Created Materials.

 Detail from the Under the Sea board game.

Detail from the Under the Sea board game.

A month or so later, Teacher Created Materials got in touch with me to see if I'd be interested in working on a second project, this one a lot more demanding and with a fast turnaround. It was, believe it or not, a kid's book! A small kid's book--like, really small--but a kid's book nonetheless! It's called ¡Di Algo! and it's a Spanish language book of poems for first grade students. I can't say that's what I had in mind when envisioning my first book project, but I certainly wasn't about to pass up the opportunity. Within seven weeks I had created, submitted, and had approved eleven spreads for the book. Just a handful of revisions were required. It was the fastest and the longest seven weeks of my career. ¡Di Algo! is due to be released in April, 2014, and I'll be able to show more work from it then. In the meantime, here is one of my favorite pages, which accompanies a poem called Doña Araña (Mrs. Spider). (On my Process page, I use it as an example to describe my illustration process, step by step.)            

 Doña Araña, an illustration for  ¡Di Algo! , my first children's book project.

Doña Araña, an illustration for ¡Di Algo!, my first children's book project.

I suppose my haphazard pronouncement at Creative Mornings a year ago wasn't entirely out of turn. Perhaps just putting that ambition out into the world helped initiate some momentum that led me to attend SCBWI, which led to the string of opportunities that resulted in my first little book project.  

I feel like I'm entering 2014 with a bit more confidence than the previous year. I've got a personal book project in the works now, perhaps to be self-published; perhaps I'll build up the gall to pitch it to publishers. As much as I enjoyed working on ¡Di Algo!, I am excited to have more creative control over my next major project, to have the opportunity to inject more quirk and character into it and to have more time to let it marinate and develop before fully realizing each and every page.

Having worked as a full-time freelance illustrator for nearly four years now, I've become more and more aware of how each project paves the way for and builds upon the next. A career in illustration is a process of gradual unfolding and growth. 2013 was my first year really working in the market I've had my eye on all along, and I feel I've only scratched the surface. In 2014, I hope to work on more children's publications and novelty products. I can't wait.