Hosted by Francine Puckly
I so enjoyed meeting and chatting with Christy Ewers and Chris Tugeau, the mother and daughter team behind The CAT Agency, at the 2019 New England SCBWI Spring Conference. 24 Carrot Writing is thrilled to host this interview with Christy as Illustrator Month comes to a close.
Hello! And thank you for including me!!
For a lot of authors and illustrators starting out in the children’s literature publishing world, the big question on their minds is, “What are my chances?” So what arethe chances with The CAT Agency? How many submissions do you and Chris receive each week/month/year and how many new clients do you sign?
Oh boy – lots and lots. We receive a consistent flow of submissions a day. I’d say 20 on a slow day. It can be a challenge to get back to everyone, but we try to. As far as chances? We are always open to submission – always. But right now, we are not actively looking to add to our list. We are a boutique agency, so we need to be careful that we have the bandwidth to give our attention to those we currently represent before we consider taking on more talent. That said, if there is someone whose work has blown us away, we huddle about it!
When there is bandwidth for more, we consider adding to the group. However, there are lots of submissions that have impressed us that we have had to pass on! That’s the one crux of being a small agency!
Have you ever received a submission from an artist you’ve declined and then a year or a few years later receive a second query from the same artist who you feel has grown and developed and then decided to represent the artist? What would be the changes in the submission materials that would lead you to change your mind?
Absolutely!! We have several illustrators in our agency now that have that exact story. For instance, one of our illustrators submitted to us in 2015…and after seeing her work grow stronger and stronger over the course of 3 years, I signed her in 2018. She landed a two-book deal almost immediately. I’m so grateful that she stayed in touch, evolved, grew so much as an illustrator, and had the patience that it sometimes takes!
As far as changes in the submission goes, usually when we see promise in someone’s work, we will give a brief critique, things to work on, things to add, etc. and then we ask the artist to be in touch with new artwork. Obvious progress, pushing oneself, listening to critique, and being motivated to draw every day…those things are game-changers!
Illustrators are encouraged to be fresh and original with their art. When you and Chris review potential clients, what are the factors that make you feel an illustrator’s voice is unique and authentic?
I completely agree in encouragement for illustrators to find themselves in their style and work. We can tell if they have been heavily influenced by a certain style or trend, and it makes their work less appealing to us. That said, paying attention to what is selling and what is happening in the market is of utmost importance, too!
As far as illustrators go, we really don’t recommend that they attempt to follow trends, even if their style is not one that we think would be super successful in the industry right now. Artists should stay true to themselves and create art in a way that makes them happy. We encourage practice and experimentation and growth, but only if it’s an organic process of evolving as an illustrator. I think that when people overthink being unique and authentic, it either makes them too much so— that their work becomes too niche—or it changes who they are as an artist, and it stops being fun!
If you are a talented illustrator, you will find work somewhere. It may not be in picture books, but maybe it’s in scientific illustration! Maybe it’s in educational books! Maybe it’s in children’s magazines! And then maybe there’s that one picture book that’s perfect for you and only you! My point is, everyone is unique. Do YOU!
What’s the most common mistake (or mistakes) an artist makes when seeking representation from The CAT Agency?
Beginning an email with “Dear Sirs.” Ha! (For real.) But other than that, really it’s just treating us as you would like to be treated. Spelling our names right, reading the submission guidelines, and then being human in terms of connection and correspondence.
A lot of people send out obvious group submissions, and the salutation is “Hello” and there is nothing personal in the body that gives us any idea that they care about our particular agency at all. When we respond to submissions, we do so on a personal level. Sometimes giving really thought-out critiques and guidance! When someone doesn’t give us the few minutes it takes to be a little personal, we aren’t compelled to do the same. And then everyone loses!
When you sign an illustrator or author/illustrator, do you engage in a revision process with their work? If so, what does that process look like?
Yes! Illustrations-wise, if there’s anything that we see that needs to be added to make their portfolio more robust and appealing to publishers, then we work with them to get it to that point.
If it’s an author/illustrator working on a dummy, then I am happy to help along every step of the process. Sometimes it’s so early in the process that I help in brainstorming ideas and characters, and I’m here to help with overall story-crafting. Often, our author/illustrators either write a manuscript or sketch out a dummy before sharing it with me, and then I edit, make notes and suggestions about how to get it to the point of being submission-ready.
It’s part of my job to make sure that everyone’s work—whether it be their portfolios or their dummies, or manuscripts—is as strong as it can be, and as marketable as can be when I present it. It’s also part of my job to help as our artists grow and evolve and move forward. So it’s an on-going thing; not just something that happens at the beginning of our working relationship.
Of your represented clients, what do you consider to be a “good year” for The CAT Agency and your clients with respect to the number of contracted projects? And how many projects would an illustrator typically juggle at one time?
Oh boy, is this a loaded question! The answer is that it’s different for everyone. We have some artists who can quadruple up on projects, and they have the speed and ability to complete dozens of projects a year. Of course, they’re not all picture books—but with a combination of picture books, chapter books, magazine work, educational work, and cover art, it’s possible. We represent some artists who only work on picture books and only work on one at a time. So a good year for them would be two picture books. We have some artists who have a very niche style or appeal, and perhaps one major project a year would be a good year for them and their particular genre. If someone is working on a graphic novel, that eats up a whole year – and so in that case, a good year is one graphic novel.
When I take on clients, I ask what their goals are in children’s literature/illustration, what their ideal life/work balance would be, and what their financial needs are. And then I can set goals for myself on how I can help them to make it a “good year” for them. Of course, I’m not a wizard, and this business is still freelance – and there are no guarantees in freelance! – but together we can work to hit the mark of a GREAT year! ☺
How do you work with editors to match your illustrators to specific manuscripts? How do you determine if an illustrator is a good match for a project?
Many of our projects are commissioned by editors or art directors who come to us. If our promotional efforts have worked, they’ll know about our illustrators, and they’ll come to me checking the interest and availability of an artist for a particular job.
Whenever I’m visiting a publisher, showing portfolios and dummies, etc., I’ll start by asking if there’s anything in particular they are looking for. Oftentimes, they’ll say “Yes, we have just signed up a manuscript about a penguin who thinks he can fly and we are looking for an illustrator who has a fresh, painterly style, and who can create endearing, but not saccharine-sweet penguins. Got anyone who fits that bill?” And I think for a moment, and say, “As a matter of fact, I have a few!”—and we go from there. If they have interest in any of our illustrators, then it might lead to that person getting that book!
Sometimes, an editor or art director will come to me, and say (for instance) “I am looking for an illustrator for such-and-such graphic novel. Any suggestions?” or “I am looking for someone who is willing to work on a tight budget, and who can turn a book around in 4 months. Got anyone?” Things like that. So, depending on the criteria, I will make suggestions—but then the art has to speak for itself from that point on!
Based on your website, you and Chris represent roughly twice the number of illustrators as author/illustrators. Do editors prefer author work to be separate from illustrator work? Is it an easier sell to align an illustrator with an existing manuscript or do you find that it is a case-by-case basis?
Well, when my Mom started the agency in 1994, she was one of the only strictly illustrator agencies in the business. Over time, many of her illustrators either were, or became, authors as well. When I joined, I opened us up a little more to the ‘author’ end of things, as writing is my background, and it excites me just as much as the illustrating does!
As far as editors go, I think that a one-stop-shop of an author/illustrator is great, but I don’t think that it makes a huge difference. It’s not always a guarantee that they are going to love both the story and the illustrations, so there’s always that risk in submitting author/illustrated dummies. It often happens that they like the manuscript, but not the art, or the art, but not the story. Which is why just authors should generally submit only their manuscripts, and not try to assign an illustrator to their stories, or have an illustrator do artwork for them. If they like one and not the other, it may be a pass for both.
Signing up just a manuscript adds that extra step in finding the right illustrator to illustrate it, but that’s the fun part!
What do you feel The CAT Agency offers its clients that is unique or different in the industry?
I’m not totally sure how other agencies operate, but I think that what makes us different is the family aspect of our group. My Mom and I are obviously mother/daughter, but even long before I joined her, she always cultivated an environment of “family” within the agency. She has always really cared about the people she has represented over the years; knowing and involved in their work and family life – and they were always a part of ours!
Since I joined, we have expanded a bit, but it’s still really important to us to maintain the family feel. We encourage everyone we represent to get to know one another, support one other, lean on one another, and to feel like they are part of an extended family of artists. We also want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable coming to us for any reason; in the way that you would a friend.
Of course, the agency is a business, and we respect that aspect of it, too. Sometimes caring for someone means parting ways, if - for whatever reason - we are unable to do our job as agents, or an artist is unable to do theirs. But even if we have to take different paths, we still support and care for everyone as they continue their journey – like a family does!
When an illustrator is not working on an assignment, what do you advise your illustrators do to grow their craft/art?
Draw every day! Every day. Always create and play and experiment. If you find yourself with free time, create a dummy! Or give yourself an assignment, like a mock cover, or experimenting with graphic novel illustration, or creating any number of new portfolio pieces. Try a new medium, or a new process. One thing I definitely recommend is to do a figure drawing class, or sketch from real life, or plein-air paint, or even collage. Challenging yourself or simply just practicing every day will keep you loose and creative, but you also may discover (or uncover) something spectacular in doing so. And that may just be the ticket to your next project!
Christy T. Ewers is one half of the agenting team at The CAT Agency, where she represents illustrators and author/illustrators in the children’s industry, along with her mother and partner, Chris Tugeau, who founded the agency in 1994. The CAT Agency is a boutique agency that believes in the hands-on approach in representing a diverse group of talent from all over the world. Christy works closely with the entire "family" of artists, spearheading promotion and deals for CAT Agency illustrators, as well as working closely with the authors in the group to help craft their stories and hone their writing for young readers.
Hosted by Francine Puckly
As Illustrator Month continues, 24 Carrot Writing is excited to host New England-based author/illustrator Deborah Freedman, creator of several picture books for young readers. Her books have received many starred and enthusiastic reviews, honors, and awards — including SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award and a Parent's Choice Gold Award. Welcome, Deborah!
You’re recently back from Nerd Camp in Parma, Michigan. Can you tell us a little bit about this event, how long have you been doing it, and what’s your favorite part of this outing?
I love Nerd Camps! I could talk books all day if you let me, and for the past four years visiting Parma has been a highlight of my summer. It’s a place where passionate, progressive educators are sharing their most creative ideas about raising readers, in a relaxed atmosphere, perfect for spontaneous, informal conversations and getting to know people. I’ve met so many I truly respect and admire — and they give me hope for the world. I’m incredibly grateful for all teachers do.
Let’s talk about CARL AND THE MEANING OF LIFE. What was the process for bringing Carl into the world, from inspiration to completion?
Carl, as a character, first popped up in one of many revisions I did for my book SHY. But no one at Viking understood what this funny earthworm was doing in that book, so my darling was deleted. But not killed! Late in 2016, I was sitting at my desk, questioning my purpose in life, when this small character with big questions came back to me… and this time, he had his own story.
You’ve worked with Kendra Levin at Viking Children’s Books on a few of your projects. Have you and Kendra discussed or applied any of the exercises from her book, THE HERO IS YOU?
I’ve worked with Kendra on four books and have learned so much from her. We do talk about the creative process a lot, and she is as insightful about that in person as she is in HERO. The real Kendra, like the author Kendra, is a wonderful creativity therapist; when she helps steer me through some particular problem, she’s also giving me the tools and confidence to deal with it myself the next time.
Tell us a little bit about the process of working with your editors. How long does it take, from start to finish, once one of your manuscripts is acquired?
With Kendra, each book has started with a fairly clear concept, characters, theme… but I’m plot-challenged, so that’s where a lot of our work together happens. Even once I hope I’ve got it, she will push me to clarify my intentions and go deeper. With some projects, I chase an idea in a bunch of different directions before finding the right path, and other stories slowly evolve — but all of our manuscripts have taken a long time, up to nine months of back and forth with text and thumbnails before I start doing tight sketches. Once everything is approved for final art, Kendra hands me off to Jim Hoover, who has art directed all of my five books at Viking.
With any of my publishing teams, a lot gets done by email, though of course I love those long phone conversations or occasional in-person meetings where we can really hash things out.
How did you manage the leap from pre-published to successfully published with multiple books out over the last 12 years? Was there a learning curve when it came to marketing your books and crafting author visits? And did you ever feel you made any marketing mistakes or that there was anything you would avoid in future?
Wouldn’t it be great if there were one place authors could go to learn everything we need to know about having a book out in the world? My main mistake has been worrying too much about what other people are doing. In the end, experience has turned out to be the best teacher, helping me to slowly trust my own instincts and simply do what I enjoy and do best—for author visits, marketing, all of it. I think that figuring out how to present our public selves to the world is a lot like finding and honing a writing voice. Which can take a while!
You and I met years ago at the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA standing in line at a coffee bar, just after your debut picture book was released. You evolved from SCBWI member seeking publication to debut author/illustrator to multi-published author/illustrator who now presents at conferences. How important has the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators been to your writing career?
Yes, I remember that! I’d sold my first book, Scribble, after being “discovered” at the NYSCBWI conference, and it had recently come out. Travelling to LA that year turned out to be important for my career too, because it helped me connect with my first agent. But honestly, I mostly value SCBWI for helping me find a wonderful writing community of people like you — who are supportive, inspiring, and dear to me. We never stop needing each other.
When you are taking a break from working on an assignment, what do you do to grow your craft/art?
A break? What’s that? ;)
I should take more long breaks. But there always seem to be things on my desk, in various stages, because I’m very, very slow at developing ideas and am afraid to turn the incubator off! I have also discovered that valuable cross-fertilization seems to happen between projects when more than one is going at a time.
But every day I do make time for reading from a wide range of both kid’s and adult fiction, nonfiction, essays, poetry… and my husband and I take frequent advantage of our fortunate, easy access to amazing theater, music, and museums. Other art forms give me a break from my own brain for a while and then later expand it.
At 24 Carrot Writing, we pay a lot of attention to goal setting and planning. Do you set illustrating/ art goals? If so, what do they look like?
I do my best to stay loose and open for as long as I can, and have figured out that I need to schedule in enough space for experimentation and play, and also time to overcome my inevitable inertia, fear, self-consciousness…
My main goal is simply to grow with every book; I just want to feel like I’m always pushing forward.
My biggest dream is that someday the final product will be as good as what was in my head. :)
Deborah’s most recent releases are CARL AND THE MEANING OF LIFE released by Viking Children’s Books on April 2, 2019, as well as SHY (Viking Children’s Books, 2016) and THIS HOUSE, ONCE (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017). To find out more about Deborah, visit her at https://www.deborahfreedman.net, @DeborahFreedman on Twitter, and @freedmanillustrates on Instagram.
UPDATE: Our copy right agreement with Candlewick Press for the use of Tania's spectacular artwork has expired. Even though we had to pull the lovely drawings, Tania's content is still applicable and her book is a must for every elementary school classroom. Please browse her portfolio at taniaderegil.com/, buy A NEW HOME and preorder SOMETHING ABOUT GRANDMA, launching August 2022 here.
~ Guest post by illustrator Tania de Regil
My name is Tania. I’m from Mexico and I’m the author of A NEW HOME (UN NUEVO HOGAR in the Spanish edition)(2019; Candlewick Press), which shows the story of a boy moving from New York to Mexico City and, at the same time, a girl moving from Mexico City to New York. In a combined voice they share their fears about leaving their home, but because we see their story side by side, we realize how they are more alike than different and that home can be found wherever life leads. This story is very personal and it was inspired by a series of things that happened to me while growing up.
When I was 5 years old, just around the same age as the boy and the girl from A NEW HOME, my mom and dad had some big news for my brother and me. My dad had been accepted to a prestigious medical school in Stockholm, Sweden! This, of course, meant we had to move. Truthfully, I was scared, I had never even heard about this place before, and I didn’t fully understand what moving really implied. All I knew was that I would be leaving everyone and everything I loved behind, and that I was going to miss my home very much. Nevertheless, we left soon after that, but something happened that I wasn’t expecting at all. I loved it! I quickly fell in love with Sweden, with the people, the food, and everything about it really, and in no time, I felt right at home. I had the opportunity to experience incredible new things that wouldn't have happened if I’d never moved to a different country. We lived there for three years and then we moved back to Mexico City, but I still cherish those years I called Sweden my home.
When I graduated from high school, I really wanted to study art or design. I knew I wanted to have that experience of living in a different country again, so I applied to different schools across the United States. And this time, I got accepted to an incredible design school in New York City! I was thrilled! When I arrived, I fell in love with the city: its sparkling energy, its incredibly diverse people, and how there was something new to discover every single day.
From these experiences of moving around, I realized that no matter where I found myself, I could make that place my home. I learned so much from living in different countries and I am so grateful for that. It really opened my eyes and helped me realize that I should always be willing to try new things, no matter how scary they might seem at first. With this idea, I started writing A NEW HOME.
Now, a funny thing happens when we move to a different country: our experience living abroad actually connects us on a very deep and emotional level to our home country. Things you’ve taken for granted before suddenly become so precious, and you start seeing them with a different mindset. While living in NYC, I started reminiscing all the things I loved about my home city. The sounds, the smells, the food, and the people. All these things that make up a city, and what actually makes each place so wonderfully unique. There were so many things about Mexico that I wanted to share. And to tell you the truth, NYC reminded me of Mexico City in so many ways. So, you could say that this book is a love letter dedicated to these two magnificent cities I’ve had the honor of calling home and an effort to help others see them for what they truly are.
On a final note, another incredible thing I was able to experience while living in different countries was meeting people from all over the world. While I was living in Sweden I went to an international school, so I had friends from Kenya, England, Australia, Iran, Israel, Poland, Finland, India, USA, you name it. It was amazing! I was able to learn so much from all my friends. And since NYC is one of the most diverse cities in the world, I met amazing people there as well. Because of this, I learned that that no matter where any of us come from, we’re really not that different. So, even though the boy and the girl from A NEW HOME grew up in completely different cultures and circumstances, they are experiencing the same fears and emotions—which serves to show that in the end, we are all just humans.
Tania studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design in New York City and finished her studies in her home country of Mexico. Her work as a costume designer in film and television has helped to better grasp the art of storytelling through images. She uses a variety of media in her work, such as watercolor, gouache, color pencils, wax pastels and ink to create richly textured, engaging images.
Visit Tania's website: https://taniaderegil.com/
Tania’s American debut picture books , A New Home, and Un Nuevo Hogar, are available from the following vendors:
Guest blog by Ileana Soon
Hello! My name is Ileana, and I am the illustrator behind Annie Cronin Romano's book, Night Train: A Journey From Dusk to Dawn. I was invited by 24 Carrot Writing to contribute some of my thoughts and share my experience bringing Night Train to life. There were a lot of things I learnt along the way. I'll touch on my process here as well as walk you through some of my thoughts behind my visual decisions. This will be fun!
Getting the manuscript, thoughts and ideas
I was really excited when I got the manuscript as I had felt like the story was right up my alley. It had travel, a train journey, and a great sense of adventure. Whilst reading the script, the feelings it evoked popped a few visual references into my mind, such as the movie A River Runs Through It (directed by Robert Redford) as it seemed to capture the same feeling. Seeing as it was a period setting, other visual references soon followed that were also period pieces; movies like Testament of Youth (directed by James Kent) and The Painted Veil (directed by John Curran). Below are some screenshots taken from the movies mentioned.
As an illustrator, I think it is important to always bring something personal to every project worked on, the theory being that sharing a personal experience through art will somehow invite an emotional connection from the viewer, even if it's something that can't quite be explained. I find that throughout my life I have been attracted to paintings only to find that it, too, was very personal to the artist. Reading Annie's script brought back a lot of my memories travelling as a student throughout Europe and the UK. To save on accommodations, there were many nights spent at train stations and on trains, enroute to the next destination. It was the perfect experience to borrow from as I remember some nights staring out the window from my train, and watching the sun rise as the train moved into a new station and country the following morning. It was exhilarating. Below are some pictures taken during my travels that served as reference.
To begin, it was important to lay out the pacing of the text. What would be the rhythm of this book? Using Photoshop, the words were cut and pasted onto each page until the pacing felt right.
Next, I wanted to come up with a visual vocabulary for this world. As you may now realise, cinema is something I really love, and borrowing from this, the art direction for this world could be set in screen direction, and colour.
Visually, it's a challenging task to illustrate a train making a journey through the night. If you think about it, how many truly different ways are there to paint a night sky? How many night skies can there be in a book without boring the reader? (Surely not 32 pages!) To vary and make it visually interesting, I wanted to bring variation to this journey through colour temperature as you can see in the swatches below. I will also touch more on colour later.
Screen direction (or page direction in this case) seemed important to show continuity in the train's journey from dusk to dawn. It's vocabulary that some films use to show progress for a character throughout a plot. It's a subtle thing, but throughout the book the train always moves from the left of the page to the right. Every single page. Included below is this thought laid out in a page sent to the publisher.
So to recap, here is a summation for the visual vocabulary of Night Train. Inspired by the aforementioned films, the story was set in the 1920/30s. Inspired by my travels in Europe and the UK and a train journey that I took from a big city to a small town by the sea in the UK, I thought mapping a similar route would help to capture the same sense of wonder in these illustrations I felt on that journey. The colours would change from warm in the beginning to cool by the end. The screen direction for the train would always move from left to right. Annie also shared her thoughts of how it would be great to set the train journey in the Pacific Northwest. Great! More specificity — always a good thing.
Ideations, thumbnails, sketches and revisions
Since pacing is very important, it was important for me to ideate the entire book in one go, instead of focusing on a page at a time. This meant jotting (drawing) ideas out on posits whilst laying out the entire book. This is all done by hand, sticking post-its to a wall. This was a habit my director and I used to do, whilst previously working at an agency as a lead designer, doing different storybeats for commercials and laying it all out in sequence on a glass window. Below are the rough notes ideating for Night Train in sequence.
Please forgive the roughness of this; this is not something I would ever show to anyone and it's done for my reference only when beginning a project. They are just thoughts. Doing this provides an opportunity to see the story as a whole and choose compositions that work sequentially to match the pacing in relation to each other, rather than picking the best composition for every page, which would make the book tonally flat (imagine a loud note for every page — not fun to listen to surely). I sometimes imagine sequential images as a song: the notes (images) have to flow together nicely, the volume (light vs dark) has to modulate as well, and all in one key! That's where visual vocabulary comes in.
From these thoughts, images are chosen to put together thumbnails to deliver to the publisher:
After the thumbnails are delivered, the team at Page Street gave me a green light to move toward sketches. Sketches are refined drawings from the thumbnails presented. From these sketches, my Artistic Directors give feedback, and these sketches go back to the drawing board until they are approved. The team at Page Street had the fine idea of introducing a family as characters that we could follow throughout the book, instead of the separate individuals I had previously sketched out. Great idea! Some sketches are approved straight away, but some go through several iterations. Included herein is a sample of the evolution of a sketch from presentation to approval:
After all the sketches were approved, I was asked to bring a spread to finish, and somehow in the back and forth with the team at Page Street, I proposed the idea of doing a colour script so they could see at a glance how to book would look like as a whole. Included herein is the colour script that was sent to Page Street:
Challenges with colour
One of the great challenges of this project was to find a way to have words sit on a page against the night sky whilst still being legible. Blue, or black for that matter, is dark in value, and black words against a dark blue sky is very hard to read. The publisher specified at some point that most of the type printed would be black, so on my end I felt it was important to structure the pages so that the words could be read against the painted backgrounds. Additionally, there was also the extra challenge as previously mentioned to make the pages more exciting, as 32 pages of purely dark blue skies would make the book tonally flat.
Thus, if you notice, less than 50% of the book (about 41%) is actually set against a dark blue sky, whilst the rest is set against the backdrop of the sun setting, and the sun rising, which gives a lot of opportunity for the black type to sit against lighter backgrounds, making it more legible.
This opportunity also opened up a pocket of time in terms of the hours that the train started and ended its journey. If its journey started at say 5pm, and ended at say 7am, the different variations of light that it would see during its journey would naturally vary a lot, bringing with it many exciting ways to introduce changes in colour temperatures as the pages turned.
Sticking to the visual vocabulary of moving generally from a warm palette to a cool palette from beginning to end, the frames have been aligned in sequence here so it may be easier to see what my thought process was like in doing this colour script.
Race to the finish
After the colour script was approved, everything from there on out was very straightforward. It was really a matter of just refining the pages from the colour scripts to a bigger final, finessing the final details, and adjusting colours as needed. Since it was set in a very specific time period, and also in a very specific geographic region, it really is important to make sure that all the references were right, from the costumes to the shapes of trees and smaller details surrounding all the pages. Below are some costume references sourced from that time period. These references were sourced from books at the library, archived film footage, as well as Pinterest.
The final few weeks working on this really did feel like a race to the finish! Below is an example of the evolution of a page from the colour script to the final.
Delivering the pages to my AD was a great feeling, and she has to be thanked for really being there at every step of this journey with me. I sincerely believe that all the feedback given made the pages better, and the visual ideas stronger. Hopefully, this translates over to the reader when they pick up this book.
Thank you for letting me share my process of bringing Night Train to life with you, and thank you to 24 Carrot Writing for inviting me to do so. I hope it was helpful and am looking forward to reading all the different approaches/processes other illustrators have here in the future.
About the Illustrator
Ileana Soon is an illustrator/vis dev artist who grew up in a small seaside town in Borneo, before making her way to Los Angeles where she currently lives and works. Her clients include The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Oprah Magazine. She has also won multiple awards, including a Silver Medal from 3x3, as well as recognition from American Illustration and The World Illustration Awards. Learn more about Ileana and see more of her work at http://ileanasoon.com/, on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/ileanadraws/, and on Behance at https://www.behance.net/ileanasoon.
An Interview with the team from Studio Goodwin Sturges
Studio Goodwin Sturges is an artists’ agency dedicated to nurturing creative talent and developing quality literature for children. At the Studio, Judy Sue and the staff work with children’s book publishers across the country and with artists and authors around the world.
We are thrilled to welcome Studio Goodwin Sturges to 24 Carrot Writing!
As authors, we are familiar with querying agents asking for representation. The standard process is to send a query letter and all or a portion of a completed manuscript. Studio Goodwin Sturges’ guidelines ask prospective illustrators to send along a link to a website. How is the process of looking for representation different for illustrators than for writers?
Both authors and illustrators invest time, love, and energy (and blood, sweat, and tears!) in the materials we create and polish for submission. But whereas authors should have several completed manuscripts when querying, illustrators needn’t have completed projects. It’s certainly helpful for an agent to see how an artist paces a book, but it’s also entirely feasible for us to gauge an artist’s strengths by looking at samples alone.
Illustrators should present a varied portfolio that showcases their range but also their very best work. (In other words, if you only have a few pieces featuring human characters and those pieces are not your strongest work, consider leaving them out of your portfolio. Similarly, if your style has evolved, pass on submitting older work if you’d rather not do books in that vein. Of course, these same basic premises hold true for authors, too.) It’s beneficial for an agent to see that an artist can handle people and animals, characters and environments, fiction and nonfiction. Of course, every artist has strengths and weaknesses, just as authors do. But the more versatile you are, the more likely it is that you will find representation—and work in the marketplace.
Our first response to a portfolio is usually a gut reaction: “Wow!,” “Meh,” or “Pass, just not a fit for our portfolio.” The “wows” usually reflect work in which we love the palette, the line work, and the overall creativity and sensitivity the artist brings to their art. It’s an illustrator’s job to bring their experience and storytelling capabilities to a project and not just mirror an author’s words. We want to see an illustrator speak in a visual voice that is uniquely their own. We also try not to overlap styles in our portfolio so that each artist has the opportunity to shine.
Fresh voices from Studio Goodwin Sturges include Amy Walrod’s plucky heroine in Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza by Philemon Sturges (Dutton); Ora Eitan’s paintings on wood for Cowboy Bunnies by Christine Loomis (Putnam); Claudia Bielinsky’s cheeky animals in the Vive la Différence! (Casterman); Sebastia Serra’s digital/3D collages from Una llegenda de Sant Jordi by Joan Portell (Andana); detail of Salley Mavor’s needlework from the forthcoming My Bed by Rebecca Bond (HMH, Fall 2020);and Holly Berry’s innovative use of color and black and white in a portfolio sample.
How do editors find your clients? Do editors send you manuscripts and ask you to match them to an illustrator? How do you determine if an illustrator is a good match for a project?
Editors and art directors find our clients on our website or the artist’s own site, via social media, through our email marketing, in the portfolio of live art we bring to publishers, at the Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators, and elsewhere; there are a variety of ways!
It’s not very often that an editor sends us a manuscript and asks us to match it with an illustrator. Rather, an editor or art director usually has a vision and approaches a particular artist. However, sometimes the illustrator approached for a project is unavailable, or doesn’t feel a connection to the manuscript. In these cases, we often propose another illustrator whom we think would be a good match. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t! Editors often have a ‘wish list’ they’re working through, so they might already have someone else in mind.
We know our artists very well, both on an artistic and a personal level, so it’s not difficult to determine if an illustrator is the right fit for a project. Again, it’s gut, but it’s also the artist’s sensibility, strengths, interests, and past experience.
Writers have to be ready to make changes to their manuscript throughout the editorial process. These revisions, while necessary and beneficial, can be painful. What does the revision process look like for an illustrator?
Some illustrators begin by making thumbnail sketches. These might be for the illustrator’s own purposes, or they may go to the editor/art director for feedback. Other times, artists make character sketches before launching into full sketch/dummy mode.
From there, the illustrator creates full-size, or at least to-scale, interior sketches. The designer will put the sketches together with the text and mark up the document with notes, and/or provide a page-by-page editorial letter. This is where things can get painful. An illustrator has thought long and hard about the compositions and decisions they’ve made, but there can still be major changes at this early stage. A designer will often move sketches around, suggest combining pages, request changes in composition or point of view, etc. Usually an editor/designer asks that certain pages be resketched, while other pages may be released for the artist to go to finish. Pages that need resketching can go through several rounds of revamping before artist, editor, and designer agree on a visual solution to any given challenge.
Some artists submit finishes in batches; others deliver all the interiors at once. The finishes route through editorial, design, and copyediting, just as the sketches did. (Do authors know that art goes through copyediting, just like words do?!) There are usually some changes to final art for consistency or other issues. Some artwork is relatively simple to revise; other work, like oil pastels or dimensional work, not so much!
How do illustrators react when they get a manuscript peppered with illustration notes? When are illustrator notes helpful? When are they hurtful?
Even if an author submits a manuscript with art notes, the notes often don’t come to the artist. Illustrators are hired to bring their own ideas and sensibility to a text, and excessive art notes can be distracting, or even intrusive and overreaching. While it’s helpful to have minimal notes if they put humor or technical issues in context, in general, writers should be very selective about what, if anything, they need to convey. As authors ourselves, we try to remind ourselves that the illustrator didn’t tell us what to write, so we shouldn’t tell her what to draw. It can be hard for authors to let go, but we must! That’s part of the picture book process, and part of what makes picture books so very special. The dance between text and image, with each telling part of the story, is so magical.
One caveat is that if a text is nonfiction or takes place in a specific time or place, it can be very helpful to an illustrator to have notes and/or visual research about costume, architecture, or cultural details that an author may have already uncovered. Accuracy is so important, and this can be a good place for authors and illustrators to communicate, usually through their editor.
When an illustrator is not working on an assignment, what do you advise your illustrators do to grow their craft/art?
We advise them to do what we tell our RISD students (and elementary students at author visits) to do: separate from your electronics and get out and eat up the world! Go to movies, the theater, lectures, museums, parks. Read books, listen to music, cook, garden, get dirty! Try new foods, learn about a different culture, do something you’ve never done before. Be a sponge for experiences and emotions. Fill your well so that you have something to draw upon to create. As makers, we often feel pressure to produce and sometimes forget that we must nourish our brains and souls the same way we feed our bodies.
In terms of the book world, we advise artists to stay connected and engaged. Visit libraries and bookstores to drink in new books. What trends do you see? What gaps in the market? What mentor texts or approaches to art or bookmaking can you learn from? Form opinions about what you like and dislike, and why.
We also ask our artists to create new samples to freshen up their portfolios or social media feeds. Samples can be tough because they’re not part of a larger project that an artist is fully immersed in. But they can plant a seed or pique an editor’s interest, and sometimes they lead a creator in an unexpected and delightful direction.
Is it correct to assume that work on the cover art for a book has a different focus and process than interior pages? If this is true, can you elaborate? How can a cover play an important part in the success of a book?
Yes, covers are a different animal! They’re like posters for the book, and they really serve a different purpose than the (narrative) interiors. The cover art should reflect the feel and content of the book and should pull you into the totality of the story. For this reason, we don’t generally like pulling an interior and reusing it for the cover, as this is rarely the best choice.
When schedules allow, the cover is the last piece of art an illustrator makes. (Sometimes a publisher needs two interiors and a cover for launch, and then the cover must be finished earlier.) In our experience, it’s generally much easier to determine what the cover should show once the interior art for a book is done, or nearly done. Not surprisingly, covers go through much scrutiny. Illustrators often offer several cover sketches to provide options for discussion.
How does the team at Studio Goodwin Sturges use their own personal publishing experience to guide their clients? How has the process of writing and publishing your own books informed or changed your approach?
Having worked on our own books allows us to empathize with authors and illustrators on a different level. We can help clients avoid pitfalls we may have encountered, and/or offer strategies to overcome them. And it’s helpful at the marketing stage, to share tips, tricks, and contacts. Most of all, it gives us an in-the-trenches camaraderie. Making books is all about collaboration and the meshing of ideas and inspiration. And that is what we’re all about!
A big 24 Carrot Writing thank you to the team at Studio Goodwin Sturges for sharing their advice and perspective.
Studio Goodwin Sturges was founded by Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges and her late husband, architect-turned-children’s book author Philemon Sturges, in 1989. Judy Sue is also a longtime professor of illustration at her alma matter, Rhode Island School of Design. Studio staffers Sara Dunn and April Prince also have RISD connections; Sara is an alumna of the Illustration program, and April, an author and former editor at HarperCollins, teaches the “Word” portion of Judy Sue’s long-standing picture book course, Picture & Word.
If you would like to learn more about Studio Goodwin Sturges please visit them at: http://www.studiogoodwinsturges.com/.
To purchase Construction Kitties go to https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780805091052 and to purchase Dig In! go to https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781419705229.
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