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Children's Illustration Style: Trial & Error
So apparently tumblr is the worst & I can’t publicly answer questions on this blog, since technically my photo blog is my primary blog which can’t be changed? (Unless someone knows some trick. I am not usually ignorant about web things but tumblr is, well, the worst.)
So just so you know, this post is in response to a question from solemnlysweet about whether it took me a while to develop my children’s illustration style or if I’ve always stylized characters that way.
It definitely took some trial and error to get to my current children’s illustration style. I actually never decided that I wanted to do children’s illustration or start working in this style… I completely avoided drawing ANY characters for most of college, because in high school I’d drawn only anime, and then when I decided I wanted to be a graphic designer/illustrator I completely quit anime all at once, and was afraid to draw people or characters at all, because I didn’t want the anime influence to show through. Finally in one class an instructor specifically asked me to include characters, so I went for anthropomorphic ones because I still was not comfortable drawing people. It was a gouache assignment:
The characters were pretty sloppy, but I liked their overall proportions and thought it was fun to work with them and invent little activities for them to do. But it was a whole year later before I worked with any again and did this ink+digital piece for a different class:
Again, I enjoyed creating the scene, but didn’t feel that I’d developed a very solid style, and was more focused on my non-children’s work. A few months later I did this little sketch in class, honestly kind of just procrastinating from my real assignment:
(I distinctly remember feeling inspired by this Badger piece by my favorite illustrator, Carson Ellis, when I did that sketch)
I liked my little sketch enough that I based two illustrations for class off of it — this was the first time I tried out my developing style in watercolor, and was really happy with the results. I consider these to be my first illustrations in my current style:
I still wasn’t really thinking about pursuing children’s illustration at that point, but decided to take a children’s illustration class to play around some more. For some reason I didn’t go exactly in the direction of the squirrel & chipmunk pieces though, and muddled around in other things for a while with not-great results. I did an ABC book dummy for that class which is actually what my upcoming children’s book is based on, but the illustrations I did at the time are very awkward and derpy and stylistically a big regression for some reason — I think it was partly that I was rushed, partly that I used cold press paper for these which is NOT for me, and partly that I just didn’t quite know what I was doing yet.
Even though I’m not happy with those actual paintings anymore and feel that they’re inconsistent with my current work, I did really really adore the characters and story (at least as they were in my head), and started to be more interested in using these anthropomorphic animals. I also stumbled across the work of Stephanie Graegin via this adorable flash card game I spotted at a local shop, which was a big motivator to me because the reaction I have to her work is very similar to the reaction I’d like people to have to my children’s work.
I did a bit more work in my gradually-developing style for various class projects before I graduated, and then after graduation I think I finally had the time to step back and get a better perspective on all of my work. The watercolors I’ve done thereafter have been much more focused and consistent, and I’d very much like to continue with this style in the future.
I started working with my children’s rep Nicole Tugeau last summer and have become much more serious about working in the children’s industry, working on projects with children’s publishers and textile companies, licensing illustrations for greeting cards and giftwrap and so forth, creating work for games, and doing the occasional personal commission. (A lot of this stuff has yet to be released, but I’ll share it with you guys as soon as it is.) A few months ago, Tundra Books approached me about turning my derpy ABC book dummy from class into a full picture book, giving me the opportunity to do justice to the characters that I really love, and I couldn’t be happier about it (below is a sketch, the finals will be watercolor).
Anyway, that’s my journey so far! I hope it’s somewhat encouraging to anyone still finding their style to know that it definitely took me a couple years to figure stuff out. Also I should note that those of you who follow me for my non-children’s work have nothing to worry about, that style is still very much a part of my life and career, and I plan to allow both bodies of work to continue coexisting separately and happily.
TL;DR: there are pictures!