This is an article written in 2010 for a writers blog.
How to Succeed as an Illustrator Without Really Trying
(and Other Misperceptions)
by Martha Pineno
Choosing to be an artist was a decision, not a dream. I wasn’t born with drawing and painting ability. There’s NO talent here, just a decision based on interest and the guidance and support of my parents. My first interest in art came late in Junior High. Art classes in High School and summer art camps gave me the skills requisite for an art career.
I first trained to be an art teacher. Four years, two summers of art study in college gave me that opportunity. I’m a late blooming illustrator. But I believe my years as an elementary art instructor gave me insight into how young persons’ minds work and what would get the picture across. I needed to motivate children to learn new concepts with stimulating projects both in medium and idea.
When starting an illustration project
Where do I start? For accuracy, I ask the author what she prefers. Then do visual research. People have pre-conceived ideas about what something may be. For example, given the task to paint a dog one conjures up at least a dozen images of various breeds. So the image needs to be narrowed to one concept. Then elaboration can begin.
Doodle on scratch paper. Create thumbnail sketches. Ideas don’t just pop and picture themselves on paper. Read the text, letting an idea emerge into a cartoon type image. Then start sequencing. Put the ideas in order to match the script. If working with an author who is receptive to ideas, one might even suggest simpler text, easier to illustrate in a more active manner.
Ideas are everywhere. Observe. Research online. I actually have to shut off my creative mind in order to get daily tasks completed. I constantly look forward to future projects, trying to find ways to fit illustrating into 24-hour days.
What keeps me motivated?
I’m self-motivated, but being paid for a project gives me extra energy. I’m also concerned about pleasing persons for whom I’m illustrating. I need verification they’re content with my work. I never assume all my work is great. Small suggestions for improvement are welcome but I become annoyed if something requires repainting mostly because of the additional time it will take to correct. However, being somewhat a perfectionist, getting things just right takes precedence over my feelings.
My favorite illustrated book?
Talented Tabby because it focused on one character, Leo. I had more time to complete it and fewer distractions.
The Coffee Connection, a compilation of my designs and paintings created over a 25-year span. I find hand-done illustrating more satisfying than computer art.
Watercolor, acrylics, oils, pen & ink, cut paper, photography. Sometimes the illustrating process is determined by the medium. In general watercolor has a soft, fluid, spontaneous look. For an Early Reader my first illustrated book (watercolor) appeared delicate. Adding ink enhanced detail. Varying medium makes subsequent books unique beyond just text.
What inspires my illustrations?
Characters. But story determines background. Photos help with characters and accuracy in motion. I often combine several photos to create one illustrated page.
Not mine! Paint’s naturally intrinsic motion by the brush lends flowing attention to detail. My years of painting, particularly people and animals, serve me well.
Challenges and Suggestions?
Designing entire books. Planning page turns. Blocks around art? Word placement? Title and Signing pages? Page number to meet publishing/printing costs? To stimulate mind pictures early on, divide manuscript into sections. Then focus on one action or detail. Readers can picture the rest. Since each page must relate to previous and next page of story art, illustrating is probably harder than painting complex individual artworks. Working with someone else’s idea can be difficult when it isn’t something you’d choose to paint.
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