Rodrigo Bittencourt Shauy

Rodrigo Bittencourt Shauy

Rodrigo Bittencourt Shauy Interview

Rodrigo Bittencourt Shauy

Children's Illustrator

Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?

At first I didn't want to become an illustrator because when I was reading my favorite illustrated books during my childhood, I thought, These illustrations look too hard for me to draw. I don't think my art is good enough for that. So I practiced art and greatly improved my ability -- from inanimate objects and stick figures to animal characters like penguins from the online game Club Penguin -- up to the point where I felt confident in my abilities in illustration. But still, I felt that I wouldn't be a good book illustrator because I thought you would have to draw humans, which is not one of my strong suits because the noses and mouths are so hard to get right. Later on I discovered Highlights Hidden Pictures, where there were lots of cartoonish illustrations -- my style more or less -- and those with anthropomorphic animals (animals that act like humans) and I thought, I can do that. So my career began.

How and why did you decide to pursue illustration as your career?

That started when I wrote my first book, Kimmy, in the late 2010s. I was a teenager at the time, but even then I knew that you could make a career out of writing and illustrating books. Besides, I liked to create characters and imagine them in situations like I saw on TV. In fact, TV shows are one of my main inspirations.

Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?

Right now I live in Northern New Jersey (USA) near Morristown. I don't really know if I can really describe in detail the town where I live, because to me it is just a typical suburban town in New Jersey. What I can tell you is that I live in a townhome community near a major roadway with strip malls on both sides. Usually I walk my dog as far as the local fire station one strip mall, one office complex, and another strip mall away. Fortunately I don't have to cross many big parking lots or busy streets.

In any case, we're planning to move as soon as I finish my studies in New Jersey to go to an official art school. I have not decided on which one yet, but it will also be in the US. Based on the schools on my list, we could move to near New York City (School of Visual Arts, Pratt Institute), near Savannah, Georgia (Savannah College of Art and Design), near Columbus, Ohio (Columbus College of Art and Design; Columbus is also the town where I was born), near Detroit, Michigan (College for Creative Studies), near Baltimore, Maryland (Maryland Institute College of Art), near Rochester, New York (Rochester Institute of Technology), or near Providence, Rhode Island (Rhode Island School of Design).

How important is it for you to be part of a creative community of people?

In a world where people go around telling each other that "you won't make it as an artist," it is of paramount importance to be with like-minded people who not only believe in and support you, but also embrace art and encourage it as a passion, rising above all obstacles and quashing the naysayers.

Are there any children’s classics you’d love to illustrate and/or re-tell?

Though I do not have any specific examples, I would like to make modernized versions of fairy tales and have animal characters in them (instead of just humans and/or animals). Now that I think about it, I do have a story in mind: Little Red Riding Hood. In my mind, the character would be a sarcastic teenager, the wolf would have no intention of eating anyone, and so on.

Animals feature heavily in children’s books – do you have a pet?

Yes -- I have a yellow Labrador retriever called Cadie (named after a car called the Kia Cadenza). She will be five this year (2023).

Was creativity part of your childhood?

Yes. My parents always encouraged me to make art, ever since I was little and I had a blue plastic carrying case filled with Crayola, RoseArt, and other generic crayons. I would often color in the illustrations of books with black and white illustrations that I had like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I was always drawing and coloring throughout my whole childhood -- just not on the walls.

Who or what have been some of your major artistic influences?

There are so many that I can't list them all here, but the short answer is a lot of artists who contribute to Highlights magazine, and plenty of the illustrators whose portfolios I go through on agency websites (so far, the ones I've visited are the Bright Agency, Tugeau 2, Andrea Brown Lit, and this site). Especially the ones who draw in a cartoonish style, or make anthropomorphic animals regularly, like I do.

Okay, here are some examples if you insist:

  • Brian Michael Weaver
  • Pat N. Lewis
  • Kelly Kennedy
  • Paula J. Becker
  • Katie McDee
  • Tamara Petrosino
  • Deb Johnson
  • Mitch Mortimer
  • Jamie Smith
  • Iryna Bodnaruk
  • Deborah Melmon
  • Robin Boyer
  • Jannie Ho
  • Brian White
  • Laura Ferraro Close
  • Becky Davies
  • Becky Down
  • Berta Maluenda
  • Charlie Adler
  • Denise Hughes
  • Dotty Lottie
  • Jennifer Bartlett
  • Sophie Kent
  • Rachael and Philippa Coricutt
  • Emma Martinez
  • Eve O'Brien
  • Fanny Berthiaume
  • Gabriele Tafuni
  • Gareth Conway
  • Hannah McCaffery
  • Joelle Dreidemy
  • Laura Deo
  • Leire Martin
  • Melanie Demmer
  • Liam Darcy
  • Marina Martin
  • Monika Filipina
  • Nadia Gunawan
  • Natasha Rimmington
  • Rose Gerrard
  • Ruth Bennett
  • Sam Loman
  • Sofia Cardoso
  • Zoe Waring
  • Tiffany Everett
  • Maria Garcia
  • Saoirse Lou
  • Olivia Chin Mueller
  • Teagan White
  • Laan Cham
  • Neely Daggett
  • Isabella Kung
  • Renee Kurilla
  • Ishaa Lobo
  • Cris Martin
  • And counting...

(Told you it was a lot!)

Which books from your own childhood really stand out?

I liked Eric Carle's books (like The Very Hungry Caterpillar; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and The Grouchy Ladybug) Dr. Seuss's books (like Green Eggs and Ham), Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr., Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, and these are just the classics. When I was little, I also liked What to Do When There's Nothing to Do! and -- get this -- a picture dictionary, owner's manuals for my parents' cars, and Basic Grammar in Use, which is aimed at ESL (English as a Second Language) learners. Basically, my criterion for what books to read was anything with loads of pictures. In my elementary school years I liked A Chocolate Moose for Dinner, A Case of Stripes, Too Many Toys, the Magic School Bus series, the Arthur series, and there was one book that was about a boy and a squirrel that wants to be part of the CIA but I don't remember the title. Something about being normal. Then there were Jon Scieszka's books, like Math Curse.

Do you have a favourite picture book or recall one of the first picture books you saw?

Out of the picture books I have on my bookshelf right now, these are my favorites:

  • A Loveliness of Ladybugs by Kathy Broderick and illustrated by Gabriele Tafuni
  • The Biscuit series written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and illustrated by Pat Schories 
  • Tell Me What It's Like to Be Big written by Joyce Dunbar and illustrated by Debi Gilori
  • Puppy in My Pocket: A Perfect Thanksgiving written by Sierra Harimann and illustrated by the Artifact Group
  • PAW Patrol: Mighty Pup Power written by Hollis James and illustrated by Fabrizio Petrossi
  • Ryan's World: Game On, Ryan written by Ryan Kaji and illustrated by the people at Sunlight Entertainment
  • The Mystery of the Love List written by Sarah Glenn Marsh and illustrated by Ishaa Lobo
  • What Mommies Do Best / Lo Mejor de Mama / What Daddies Do Best / Lo Mejor de Papa written by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
  • My PAW Patrol books illustrated by MJ Illustrations (which includes Mike Jackson, who is on this site)
  • The Miss Bindergarten series written by Joseph Slate and illustrated by Ashley Wolff
  • Bear Wants More by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
  • 5 Minute Tales: Kitten Stories written by Jenny Woods and illustrated by Gabriele Tafuni

Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.

For the physical art I do in my sketchbook, I start by drawing in pencil line art of whatever I want to draw, like a character, and then color it in with colored pencils, crayons, markers... anything I have on hand. In digital art like in my books it's the same thing, except I use the Round Tip Pen tool in Corel Painter and then use the paint bucket to color things in.

What piece of software or hardware could you not live without and why?

My drawing tablet, because my illustrations look better and more commercial-ready in digital than in print, and besides, it's easier for me to draw with the stylus than the computer mouse or the mouse pad of my laptop.

Do you keep a sketch book?

Yes. I have used 10 and am just starting to use my 11th now. I use them to draw animal characters, whether they are my original characters or other people's characters, like those from cereal boxes. Lately I have been collecting magazine pictures of animals and putting them in my sketchbook, kinda like shrines to my characters.

How many times do you tend to draw a character until you are happy with it?

Usually, only once, but sometimes I have to redraw parts of them until they look right, like if I'm trying a new muzzle or tail design or the position of a character's arms and legs, or when I add "hair" or a tuft of fur on the top of a character's head. Then there's making the circle for the head too big or too small. That I have to redraw too.

Talk us through the process of creating one of your latest illustrations or books.

The latest project I did was the mascot food box experiment, so I will tell you about it.

I begin with an idea of what the box will look like in my head -- i.e. what the character will look like; where they, the food, and the text would go; the name of the food; the colors; and so on. Then I make line art of the concept.

Let's take the "Golden Biscuits" cereal box for example. First I drew the cereal bowl because the character would be behind it. Then I drew the character: a golden retriever named JC. The idea was that her arms would be spread out as she is looking up and her mouth is open wide, as though in excitement. Then I drew the milk in the bowl, and I made the cereal come out of the bowl, like an explosion. Then I colored in everything and added the text, highlighting it. The end.

How long does it take on average for you to finish a spread, from initial sketch to final colour?

It depends on how much detail is in the illustration. If it's just one character or so, about 15-30 minutes. If lots of things are going on, it will range from a few hours or so to a few days.

What do you hope children take away from your drawings?

I want them to feel the same joy I felt when I read my favorite books and magazines. I want them to be inspired to make their own art as well and create fan art, fanfictions, or maybe even their own stories with their own original characters. So much so that this will encourage kids to save art programs in their schools from folding. I know this is an art site and not a music site, but kids who have a passion for music should try to save their music programs from folding, too.

What is your favourite children’s book and why?

Any book with anthropomorphic animal characters because they make for both more fun and funnier stories; i.e. they give me pleasure and enjoyment and make me laugh. That's also why I like humorous stories above all types of children's fiction. The same goes for TV series and movies featuring talking animal characters... especially cute ones.

Take us behind the scenes and describe your studio / workspace.

When I'm drawing in my sketchbook, my workspace is anywhere in the house as long as I have tools within reach.

When I'm using my drawing tablet, however, it is part of a desk setup in the family room. To my left is a side table where we put stuff; e.g. my sketchbook for me or French books for my mom. To my right is a whiteboard used for doodles and as a calendar. And to the right of that is a stack of small plastic drawers used for all different tools -- the ones I use the most from the drawers are the gel pens and markers.

Where do you get the ideas for your characters?

  • Kimmy (short for Kimberly) Border Collie: The idea came in a dream. Originally she was going to look like Mackenzie from Bluey, until I decided to give her clothes because a bunch of parents would complain if she were naked like they did with Frosty the Snowman and, more recently, Maus. The clothes in question are a green zipper hoodie, red violet shorts, and a blue-green and yellow backpack, so she would have a street hipster image.
  • Alexis Cavalier Spaniel: I like Cavalier King Charles spaniels, plain and simple.
  • Sparky Sparks Jr.: Sparky the Fire Dog (see to know what I'm talking about)
  • Major Miller: If Dalmatians are fire dogs (at least in the US), and German shepherds are police dogs, it would only be fitting if Spark had a German shepherd best friend.
  • Sherpa Colleen: I wanted Spark to have a female friend who was a dog, and a border collie was the first thing that came to mind.
  • Alexandra Fallhaven and Felicia Fatima: I've never seen a red fox (Felicia) or an arctic fox (Alexandra) be a mascot for food, so I dreamed them up in my head.
  • Bandit Raccoon: I just felt that there needed to be a raccoon in Spark's class because raccoons are cool.
  • Bingo Bliss: Blitzy from the app Bingo Blitz
  • Katy (short for Katerina) and Kyle Cammy: Highlights for Children offers an emergent readers book series called Kit and Kaboodle, which is about an orange cat and a gray mouse who like to travel. Katy resembles Kit but with stripes, a hoodie, sweatpants, and rainbow sneakers. And Kyle is based on Kaboodle the mouse, but he has a red shirt, blue shorts, and green sneakers.
  • Strawberry (I haven't figured out a last name yet): The rabbit from Nesquik products
  • Tony Tiger Jr.: Tony the Tiger from Frosted Flakes
  • Willow Rabbit: The rabbit from Trix cereal
  • Marci (short for Marceline) Leclaire: A poodle character from a Highlights Hidden Picture -- the one where dogs and cats are lining up to get their picture taken.
  • Garrett Tabikat: The cat sitting on the stool from the same Hidden Picture
  • Toppa Ippolito: Topper from the Peaceable Kingdom game "Topper Takes a Trip"

Which 4 words would you use to describe your illustration portfolio?

  1. Fun
  2. Carefree
  3. Cartoonish
  4. Imaginative

Outline your dream project.

I would like to adapt my Sparky Jr. picture book series for animated television. Think of it as an animated sitcom on family and school life from the point of view of an eight-year-old Dalmatian; capturing elements from Bluey, Arthur, Timothy Goes to School, The Amazing World of Gumball, the "Ryan's World" YouTube channels, and so on.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out as a children’s illustrator?

If you're going to take commissions, read up on what scams to look out for, like when someone pays you a check in advance for an exorbitant (really high) price and then demands some money back. I almost fell for that scam, but fortunately the bank did not fall for the scammer's US$8,000.00 check.

Do you have a favourite soundtrack you listen to when you’re working?

Often I listen to my Spotify playlist which has a little bit of every genre that I like: mostly dance/electronic/EDM, a bunch of pop, and a little alternative rock and country. Now I've been checking out channels on YouTube that have playlists of songs, like:

  • Dance Paradise
  • D4 D4NCE
  • Signal >> Supply
  • EM
  • Selected
  • MrRevillz
  • Tropical House Records
  • Wave Music

If I want to look for more music to listen to, I check out these YouTube channels:

  • The ones above
  • The Vibe Guide (lyrics)
  • US Dance Charts
  • UK Dance Chart
  • New Dance Beats
  • InMusic Official
  • Current Chart

Are you an author/illustrator?

Yes, I am. I have nine children's books and counting that I have written and illustrated by myself.

What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

  • It's not a race
  • Take breaks when you need to
  • You don't have to draw every day (to avoid burnout)

What makes a good children’s book?

If the illustrations are pleasing to look at and the story and situations that are going on are interesting as well as hillarious. Although I agree with my mom that bright colors make things fun, black and white has its perks, too. Someday I'll find out why middle grade novels tend to have black and white instead of color illustrations so I can tell my mom when she is still insistent on color even in my middle grade novels.

Which project are you most proud of?

My Sparky Jr. picture books because working with picture books is a ton of fun. You get to use color (or not, it's your choice), I get to experiment with lots of animals, and I can control things like a movie set. (Not that I've ever worked in the entertainment industry; I just read and watched about the things that go on behind the scenes at movies, TV, music videos, etc.)

When you are not drawing, how do you like to relax?

Watch YouTube or work on my scrapbook. In YouTube I like to watch music videos and animated content, whether it's TV cartoons (Bluey - Official Channel, Crayola Kingdom, Treehouse Direct, etc.) or such related matter (Aussie Girl Margie, Channel Frederator, etc.) or videos from the Ryan's World network of channels (Gus the Gummy Gator, VTubers, etc.) I also watch some documentary content, like CNBC, Tom Scott, and Logically Answered. As for my scrapbook, I collect pictures from magazines and put them into my binder. Pictures about animals, cars, houses, Highlights Hidden Pictures, and so on.

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be doing?

I guess I would be a music producer, like for electronic music. I messed around with some songs in Audacity (mostly speeding them up by changing the playback speed from 1.0 to 1.2), and it was fun. In fact, I even have a DJ character in mind. Her name is Rosyfox (real name: Rosanna Fong), and she wears a blue hoodie, blue jeans, and blue sneakers. A pink fox (think Pinkfong of "Baby Shark" fame), she likes to experiment with "annoying" songs and make them... well, less annoying. Enough that more people would grow to like it, young and old.

What are some of your favourite subjects to draw?

Animals, naturally! And cars. As in, cars that were sold at any point from 1997 to today. They are the cars you mostly see on American streets today, and the part that draws me in is their exterior styling. In fact, I would like my characters' families to drive cars based on those from real life.

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