Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?
I have been drawing since a very young age, but what made me conscious of wanting to become an illustrator was discovering the amazing world of Disney animation, which for me started with Bambi. Disney animation introduced me to some of the most incredible art and artists I have ever seen. I was so inspired that I knew that in one form or another, I too would become an artist.
Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?
I did not attend art school or undertake any formal training. I taught myself about art mainly by watching YouTube tutorials by some very talented (and generous) artists. I still watch tutorials. With each new project, I assign myself the task of learning something new, be it new color palettes, better line work, more dynamic characters, etc. I watch various tutorials about one thing that I want to learn prior to commencing a project, and that thing remains my focus throughout the project. By the end of the project, I end up knowing how to do that thing quite well. This approach allows me to constantly improve, where I don't just give my clients what I already know, but I strive to learn and contribute something new.
Have you always loved to draw?
I have loved to draw for as long as I can remember. I was born with hip dysplasia, which required several surgeries and left me bed bound until the age of 3. So the only activities that I was able to do was to play with books and toys. Very quickly I chose books. I grew up on old-school Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm Brothers, and they were most Beautifully illustrated. I was so taken by the images that I attempted to draw them while I was still in the crib. So one could say that I was drawing before I was walking.
Do you have a favourite picture book or recall one of the first picture books you saw?
My favorite picture book is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. To me it's a perfect book because both adults and children can read it, and both can get a profound experience from it. For me great art should strive to improve humanity, and The Giving Tree certainly accomplishes that.
What piece of software or hardware could you not live without and why?
I work with Photoshop, Clip Studio, and the Cintiq tablet, but the one that I could not live without is Photoshop. It is a fluid and versatile software, most intuitive, and feels like an extension of the hand and mind. One can achieve anything in Photoshop if they take enough time to learn the software deeply.
What do you hope children take away from your drawings?
I hope that when children look at my drawings they feel a sense of curiosity and empowerment. Curiosity to delve deeper into a world, theme, or the world of art itself; and empowerment to become whatever they dream of becoming while reading a book that I illustrated.
Children's book illustrators are very lucky in the sense that they get to illustrate for some of the most wonderful people on the planet - children's book authors. Quite often authors invest years into refining their stories, and by the time they are ready to share them, the stories are infused with great depth and meaning. And I have the privilege of illustrating these stories and giving them a visual layer that introduces the authors' wonderful ideas to the minds of children. The most fruitful achievement for any artist is to create art that inspires a little mind to grow and expand within the realm of infinite potential.
What do you do in your spare time?
In my spare time I like to workout, read, write, go on long walks, watch good movies, and play with my imaginary pets.
What would you say is a distinguishing feature of your artwork?
I would say that a distinguishing feature of my artwork is my character work. I really enjoy drawing children and animals, particularly baby animals. I love expressing their tiny problems (which to them, are HUGE) through their eyes and little bodies. The proportions of a child's head and body make me smile every time, and it's a lot of fun playing with those proportions in order to give the character his or her presonality. The most complements I get in regards to my work are about my characters, and I would say that the main reason that clients hire me for their projects is because they want to see very expressive characters in their books. And I am ready to draw them all!
Have you visited any schools to speak or hold workshops?
I have! Last year I spoke at a Montessori school in Toronto, where I read my most recent book at the time, "Pilot Jane and the Runaway Plane." It's a delightful book by Big Sunshine Books about a little girl and her big pink airplane, and their wonderful adventures around the world together.
Then I taught the children how to draw an airplane. They nailed it.
What advice would you offer someone just starting out as a children’s illustrator?
The advice I would give is to practice every day. Be active in searching out your favorite art, and try to understand why it's your favorite. Learn about the artists and illustrators, and try to learn how they do what they do. Watch tons of tutorials regularly; today technology advances very quickly, and so do the techniques. Stay up to date with the industry, and seek inspiration in other art forms as well, such a cinema, animation, comic books, etc. You can learn a lot from good cinema, such as framing and color palettes.
Learn different art styles, and aim to create art that is difficult (such as concept art and landscapes). You don't have to share it, but you learn so much by attempting to paint a difficult and realistic subject. The difficulty of the attempt alone will improve your skills tremendously.
Compile an online portfolio of your best work and post it online. Submit your portfolio to publishers regularly (I do it twice a year). Remind them when you have new work and that you are still in the industry.
Seek out jobs that you love. Doing jobs that you're not passionate about will result in a portfolio that does not reflect your preferences, and will attract more of what you don't want to do. As soon as you can, try to pair up with clients and collaborators that inspire and bring out the best in you. At the same time, don't be afraid to try new things. You may surprise yourself :)
Work hard, always improve, and it's almost certain that people will find value in what you do and they will hire you.
Do you have a favourite soundtrack you listen to when you’re working?
Yes! When I work on children's work, I like to listen to podcasts, documentaries, and Judge Judy. When I work on my personal work (which is more mature), I listen to instrumental music, mainly film and game soundtracks. My favorite at the moment is Secession Studios.
Are you an author/illustrator?
Indeed I am an author/illustrator. I have written several stories that my agent is trying to place with a loving publisher that will help me turn them into wonderful books :)
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be doing?
Trying to be an illustrator!
How do you overcome a creative block?
By working. Many artists have said this before - inspiration does not come frequently, and when it does she proves to be a fickle muse. By working through hard moments, be they in drawing, painting, or writing, I find that not only do we strengthen the creative muscle, but we also strengthen our problem solving skills. Much of art is about problem solving and trying new things when what we thought would work doesn't. While working on my personal projects (which is when I attempt my "impossible"), I almost always face one moment where I feel like giving up because I don't see how I will manage to work my way through the difficulty. But I keep working, and after a few bad hours, sometimes days, a solution is found and the project always turns out satisfactorily. "Blocks" are crucial to us becoming better and more productive artists.
Are there any children’s classics you’d love to illustrate and/or re-tell?
YES! Although she has been drawn many, many times, I would love to draw the Disney version of The Little Mermaid. Any project featuring Ariel, be it a remake of the original Disney story or a completely new story altogether, I would love to illustrate! Illustrating The Little Mermaid would be a childhood dream come true. In truth, illustrating any Disney project would be a dream come true :)