Friday, June 25, 2010

Vanessa Brantley Newton ~ An Interview

What helped you decide to become a Children's Book illustrator?

 Desire and need.  I desired to see picture books that I saw when I was a child and most of those illustrators and writers are long gone but their stories and pictures are indelibly printed on my brain forever. I wanted to give that same gift to some child and perhaps some adult as well.  I have also learned through the publishing industry that there is a great need for African American children to see themselves in picture books. It is my joy to create character that not just African Americans can relate to, but a very multicultural generation.  It does my heart good to see a child beholding themselves or seeing a character that reminds them of themselves or Mommy or dad, Grandma or Auntie or a playmate.  It's priceless!

Did you have formal art school training, or are you self taught?

  I am largely self taught, but I have attend both The Fashion Institute of Technology as well as The School of Visual Arts both in New York.

How did you go about breaking into Children's Book Illustration?

 My husband has been without full time employ for close to 7 years.  9 11 really took a toll on his work as an AreoSpace engineer.  I hadn't really been doing much work in the field of illustration working as a full time phlebotomist and then I was laid off as well and we had no income coming in. I started painting again to bring a little money in.  Before I knew it I was pulling out all my books on children's book illustration and writing. I ate them up and studied and honed my craft.  My husband and I picked up some part time work to bring money in, but we needed more.  I purchased a copy of  "The Children's Writers and Illustrations Market"  It became a bible so to speak for me. I studied it and read it everyday.  My living room table was filled with piles of artwork that I had created.  My husband became so frustrated with our living room looking like an art studio.  I was asked to clean up the living room and I really tried, but I couldn't do it fast enough.  A friend called to say that she was coming over.  I tried to remove as much art work as I could before she got there, but I still had a pile of work there.  My friend and I spent hours talking and she started asking me , "Who's artwork is this?"  I told her it was mine and apologized for having it all over the place.  She turned to me and asked, " Do you know what I do for a living?" She and I never talked about work or anything of the sort it was to stressful for me.  Anyway, I said," I have no idea."  She then said, " Vanessa, I work for Scholastic Inc. I am a Chief Editor of Read and Rise Magazine and we are looking for your kind of work.  YOU ARE HIRED!"  I've been working in children's books ever since.  Boy am I  glad I didn't clean off that table.
he he he he!!

What motivates you and how do you stay inspired?

 Looking at other artist and illustrators work, reading all kinds of children's books, visiting illustrator blogs and collecting vintage children's books.

What do you love about being a Children's Book Illustrator?

 The ability to play and create characters that live inside my head. To bring them to life on a piece of paper and then give them stories to live out their imaginations and thoughts.

What types of challenges do you face when researching information for your illustrations? 

 I wish that there was a book for illustrators that had pictures of what I needed as reference for a story that I am illustrating at the time.  I know that there is stuff on the internet, but sometimes it's hit or miss for me. I want to create such reference hand book for illustrators.  Like, when you need to see a child walking home from school you would be able to see a picture reference of the child walking from every view and in a spring scene, winter or fall.  We would be able to see it from different perspective as well.

Tell us about your workspace. Do you have a studio? 

 We are in the process of moving right now.  Packing and boxes.  I have taken a small little area in our daughters room for now to work in while she is at school.  It's just big enough for me to do my digital work in.  If I am working on collage or a larger piece of work I go downstairs to our dinning room and work there.  In the house that we are moving too now, I will have a studio to work in and I am excited about that!!!

How do you work or how do you approach an assignment? 

First with lots of excitement! he he he he!  I do lots of research on what it is that I'm going to be illustrating if it's a children's book.
 I read the manuscript over and over and over again.  I do some character sketches and then I do lots of research.  I will go to the library or look through some of my own books.  Sometimes Lori Norwicki my agent, will brainstorm with me.  When I feel like I'm ready, I do some really loose ugly thumbnails.  They are just me.  It's storyboarding that gets me sometime.  It's one of the hardest things for me.   Once I feel comfortable with my thumbnail I start laying out each page. I like work in spreads when doing books.  If I am working on a greeting card or ad, I start with some inspiration. I visit blogs of my fellow illustrators or purchase some fashion magazines and news papers just to get a bead on the project.  Then I do some rough sketch and then after approvals I dive in!

Do you make school visits? library talks? book siginings?  How can interested parties contact you?

I do lots of school visits as well as library readings and a few book signings too. They can contact Coy L. Curry who manages appearances and appointments for me.

Have you been published? If so, where can we find your books. 

Yes.  You can find my books at Barnes and Nobles and of course

What are you working on now? 

 I am working on three books right now.  Magic Trash, One Love, and Zulay.All of these will be released later this year.

What is something about you that kids might like to know?

  I love, love, LOVE watching cartoons.  I enjoy watching hours of Chowder, Dexter's Lab, The Power Puff Girls, Finius and Freb and Sponge Bob as well as my old favorites, Bugs Bunny, The Flintstones, and Top Cat.

What advice would you give to those hoping to write and illustrate children's books?  

I love what I get to do every single day.  I hone it with reading both good and bad children's books. I watch children. I enjoy being with children.  I would say you have to somewhat like children and think a little like them. For me a lot like them.  Do some research of your own. Go to Barnes and Nobles and look at what they have on display. Purchase  a few children's books and then purchase some books on writing and illustrating children's books.  Develop a great portfolio of work YOU LOVE.  Put only the best stuff into that portfolio.  If you are worried about not having things to put into your portfolio not to worry. Give yourself some projects. Get an old fairy tale and illustrate a spread or two. Do some of the illustration prompts for Illustration Friday. This will build work for your portfolio.  It doesn't have to be a hired work. It's your personal work and this is fine.  Write everyday. I don't care if it's note to your child or family member a thought or idea for a book. Just write and draw something everyday. Lastly, believe that it can happen. You all have heard how hard it is to break into this business.  Question is, " How badly do you want to write or illustrate children's book?" I was determined to do this whether I publisher picked up my book or not. I knew that I had something to say and something to draw and I did it, scared, but I did! Oh one more thing, "If you are going to survive out here you have GOT to develop a strong and very thick skin. Learn to take criticism very early on.  It's nothing personal just the natural part of the business of creating illustrations and stories for the publishing industry.


Mark said...

Great interview Vanessa. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

Roberta said...

Wonderful interview Vanessa! I can only imagine what you'll create in that new studio!!

Ginger*:) said...

Vanessa ! I loved reading your interview. You have given so much good advice and shared so freely.
Thank you so much!

You are so right about the need for more multicultural images for the children in our reading universe.
God bless you!

Vanessa Brantley Newton said...

Thanks everyone for your very kind encouragement. It means so much. Thanks again,

Eric Barclay said...

Such a great interview! Vanessa approaches each project with so much heart an joy, it's impossible not to love her work. Thank you so much for sharing your approach!

Ann Pilicer said...

What a great interview Vanessa! Thanks for sharing! Congrats on your new home! Your work is fantastic!

MrBibleHead said...

Great interview Vanessa! Love the "artwork everywhere" story! God was really smiling down on you. You are so caring and compassionate.... I'm so happy for you that you get to do something you love. What a blessing.... and what a blessing you are.

theartofpuro said...

Wonderful interview and great advices:)

Amy C. Moreno said...

What an encouraging and fun interview. I loved reading about how your artwork was spread out all over the table during that time of transition, and that it was that serendipitous timing that helped you get a jump into the the same time you had been doing the hard work to be ready.
I also enjoyed hearing about your love of cartoons, and the advice you gave to love kids, read, write and draw a lot...
Wonderful to you in your move.

Vanessa Brantley Newton said...

Hey there Everyone, thanks so much for the wonderful comments. I really need them right now. It's been so very busy and sometimes we just get a little overwhelmed. Thanks for the encouraging words. They are sooooo very appreciated.

Kaili Ittensohn said...

Vanessa I loved learning more about you! I admire you for for using tour talent when you ha no income, that takes guts! And what a dream way to get into childrens illustration, that is so cool!! You are such a natural talent that of course you would get snapped up! Xx