Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?
When I was a little kid, my Mom used to tell me that when I grew up, I could draw pictures in books. I'm pretty sure that I thought she meant that I'd be able to draw on the books that I already owned, which was a no-no at the time. But something imprinted itself on my outlook of the future, and I think that, from a young age, I just assumed that illustrating books was where I was headed in life.
Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?
I wanted to attend the Minneapolis College of Art and Design from the time in high school that they sent me a brochure showing Dorothy and Toto on the yellow brick road to that school. My parents had other ideas and I wound up going to Hibbing Junior College, Denton Women's University and Mankato State College for short periods of time before I finally quit school in frustration. My folks relented and I graduated from MCAD with a major in Graphic Design and Illustration.
Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?
I grew up in northern Minnesota, on what is known as the Iron Range. I went to an extremely rigorous high school, a beautiful place to be every day with amazing teachers, paid for by the now much diminished iron ore mining industry taxes. I now live in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, an inner suburb of Minneapolis, in my almost-100-year-old house.
Which books from your own childhood really stand out?
The book from my childhood that has made the biggest impact on my style is one I inherited from my older sister. It was a bit out of date, stylistically, but shadows of its images, created by the sensitive draftsperson Eulalie, peer out of my own drawings to this day. I also loved all the Little Golden Books. I vivdly remember choosing one from the rack in the grocery store, every week, while my mother tapped her foot. Riches!
Do you have a favourite picture book or recall one of the first picture books you saw?
My favorite picture book, as of today, is my own recently self-published one. "Snow Day! A Story Told in 24 Poem Forms" was a work of love from the first poem I scribbled off while sitting on my back porch in the snow, to opening the first box of printed books. I poured myself into it for about five years.
Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.
Of course, my process is different with the different variations in my style, which I choose to fit the project that I'm working on. But let's say that I'm working on a painterly illustration.
1. I start out by sketching the characters. I have an idea in my mind of where they will be located and in what background. But if I don’t have the characters right, nothing else will work. So they come first. If I’m lucky, they will jump out onto the page. Sometimes that happens. Other times, I really struggle. Recently, I spent an entire day trying to draw this fox for another piece, and only sort of had him when I went to bed. The next day, I walked into my sketch studio and drew him perfectly right in about 10 minutes. After the characters come to life, I draw the background on another sheet of paper, so that I can move them around on it, if I want to. I work pretty large, so I have to scan the skeches in several pieces and puzzle them together in Photoshop. Then, with my Wacom, I use a textured airbush to lighten the line here and there and give it some character of its own.
2. I’m showing you the next steps as if I actually did them in this orderly a fashion. But really, I worked all over the place, as I added color. This is one of the best things about working digitally, as compared to painting in watercolor, as I used to, when I had to start with the background and work toward the foreground. I might have finished the whole fox, or one of the trees and then thrown in the background color. That lack of rigidity is the heart of making a piece of art, I think. But to show how the color builds up, let’s pretend I did it one complete layer at a time. This one is basic, base watercolor-style colors; nice and loose and airy.
3. Next, I added more depth of color and details such as the plaid on the lining of the little girl’s raincoat. I play around with the modes of layers a lot and get surprising and delightful results. I use a LOT of layers. I don’t try to commit much of anything to final until the very end. I like to have the option to turn a layer off or reduce the opacity or change the mode, right up to the last minute. This is again the magic of painting digitally, which I love.
4. Lastly, the background color pulls everything together and creates the mood. The light beams and the rain are made with Photoshop brushes that I bought on the internet. I love how many such effects are available, usually for only a couple of bucks. I don’t feel like it’s cheating to use someone else’s tool in this way (as long as I pay for it) because no-one else would use it exactly as I have, or make anything like the same image.
Do you offer more than one style, if so – talk us through the different approaches and the audience you are targeting for each.
I approach every project individually, and the style varies to best illustrate the story or activity. Overall, of course, my work looks similar, and maybe most people wouldn't point out a lot of differences. I do choose a level of complexity, a tighness or looseness of detail. For a book showing how a child and his dog inject insulin, for example, the image needs to be clear and exacting, whereas a picture of kids running through a backyard sprinkler allows for more looseness of depiction. Art for reproducible activity pages requires distinct black and white line, while a moodier piece doesn't need that.
Outline your dream project.
My dream project would be this: someone would come to me and say, "CA, I know you have a bunch of stories rocketing around in your brain that you don't have time to write down and draw out, because you're illustrating other people's dreams, to pay the bills. I know this because you already have a dozen book dummies in various stages of development that you are trying to get written down and drawn out. I'm going to pay you a salary for the next ten years, so that you can let all this creativity out and come alive." I'll consider all offers!
Are you an author/illustrator?
Yes! I have four books in print that I've written and illustrated, including the most recent, "Snow Day! A Story Told in 24 Poem Forms". I love the integration of story and pictures. That being said, I also love the experience of bringing another author's characters to life. To have somebody say, "It's exactly what I wanted!" really makes my day.