Monday, October 21, 2019

Interview with Tenaya Lena Gunter Brown, 2019 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2019 Summer Conference. Please welcome Tenaya Lena Gunter Brown to the KidLitArtists Blog!



Tenaya grew up in East Oakland with a cat, Sam the rat, four rabbits, one big sister, a dwarf hamster, a dog, a cockatiel, and two dancers for parents. She spent most of her time making art, dancing, playing in the mud and befriending caterpillars.

She never stopped loving picture books -- It only took her about 30 years to figure out she could make them! She’s drawn to picture books because of the way they make children feel seen, the way they take children places they never knew they wanted to go. 


Tenaya’s currently living in Ohio with her forever fella, whom she met while attending Sarah Lawrence College. She loves watching light and shadow spread across the page, letting colors bloom, and showing the tiny unnoticed things. When the blank page gets the best of her, you’ll find her making pottery, or in the woods catching up with her favorite clump of moss, and making friends with critters that often seem in a hurry to get somewhere else.





Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either changes or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share? 
Both :)  All of the mentors were so thoughtful with their insights. They helped me see the WHY in everything: why things were or weren’t working, why people were responding to one piece and not another.

They confirmed I was heading (mostly) in the right direction with my recent work -- the girl walking through the orange hills for example, or baby bear discovering the joy of wearing a silken dress. But also that I had apparently been heading in the other right direction with some of my older work, which I had stepped away from because of overthinking what the industry wants. (Robert the mouse is still feeling a bit chuffed over the complements he received.) I started most of those illustrations with a very clear sense of narrative in my mind. This experience taught me that I create my strongest work when I can already see the story unfolding in my mind. And when I’m being true to myself. So, I’m doing a bit of a 180: heading back while still moving forward with my new explorations.

The most encouraging bit was that I was told I had a clear voice. Hearing that felt like I was given the permission I needed to just keep being me, making sure to listen to my own instincts and not over think what is “wanted” by the industry, but instead what is wanted by the five year old inside me. 




What kind of projects are you working on now? 
I’m developing two stories that are the inspiration for a few of my portfolio pieces. And then planning to fill out my portfolio with that story-driven work (I currently have a lot of one-offs). My other focus since the conference is doing more life drawing and character developement. I was told I need to be more specific with my faces and main characters, so I’m really trying to find my comfort zone and find specificity within stylization. I’m also making tons of pottery! It’s been wonderful having something to work on that’s just for me!



Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?
My big hope is to make picture books. Books that speak to the deep quiet feelings and emotions we all have and can sometimes feel alone in. Books that tell stories about wonder. Stories that show the kids usually on the outskirts of stories, the introverts, the sidekicks, the ones that sit at the edge of the group, listening, or who would rather chat with a caterpillar. Stories that say you don’t have to be a social butterfly, you’re still a butterfly.  Inclusive stories that show all kids experiencing these things. Stories with magic. Giant flowers and snails. Stories that are about the feeling you get when you first step into a cold creek, and from under the ripples of the water you notice the shimmer of a tiny fish, peeking out from under a rock. And stories about the fish and how it feels when from above the ripples of its watery home a giant foot plunges down before its eyes. 

I’m excited to tell my own stories, but would also love to illustrate for an author who is telling everyday stories about what it is to be a child in this crazy world, the wonders, the hurts and the thrills. 

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?
I have no memory of who said this… Seek out inspiration everywhere. While “butt in chair” is very important and I need to keep it up, when I give myself permission to not work, to go for a walk without a sketchbook, read poetry, take a pottery class, look at art that isn’t illustration, watch TV even, that’s when I come back to my studio with the most energy and make the best work.


Any one piece of bad advice? 
Hmmmm, not that I can think of. Does “Hey, my father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate wants to write a picture book! You should illustrate it!” count? 

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer conference? 
Both Corinna Luyken and Juana Martinez-Neal spoke to the importance of patience. By being vulnerable and sharing just how many dummies they made, how many years were spent on one book or years spent just living what life sent them between books, they both made me feel that my story is valid.
A few choice words I have jotted down… “choose courage over comfort”, “be vulnerable, love, repeat” (I think both Corinna), “be as willing to give as you are to get help” (Juana I believe). 



What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren, Frederick by Leo Leoni, The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, Sylvestor and the Magic Pebble by William Steig, The Maggie B by Irene Haas, The Moon Lady by Amy Tan and illustrated by Gretchen Schields, Outside Over There and In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak, Tar Beach by Faith Ringold, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander -- oh gosh, this could go on forever…

Where can we see more of your artwork Come find me on instagram :)  @tenayalena  



Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Interview with Marcelo Verdad, 2019 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2019 Summer Conference. Please welcome Marcelo Verdad to the KidLitArtists Blog!




Hola! I'm Marcelo and I'm a queer, Mexican author and illustrator. I graduated from Art Center College of Design and I like to tell important stories from unconventional perspectives. 

In college I fell in love with kids books and since then I see them as a sacred opportunity to give the tiniest ones important tools and a strong foundation to navigate this word in a more optimal way from an expansive, open, and compassionate perspective.

I live in Los Angeles, California with my dog daughter, Mini Perra. We love to drink strawberry milk together and make inter-dimensional travels across the whole Universe on our tiny spaceship. 


Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either changes or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?
It was such an honor to hear from such wise and talented creatives. Everyone loved my stories and found a clear voice in my work. They highly advised –especially Peter Brown, a fellow ArtCenter alumni as well– to tell my own stories and keep expanding on what I have to share through my personal perspective. Arthur was profoundly encouraging as well and always a delight to talk to. Everyone received my work with open arms and that made me vibrate on a soul level. This opportunity clearly confirmed I'm in the right path.

What kind of projects are you working on now?
I'm an art teacher, so I'm still working with my amazing kids. Since the conference I was contacted by some people and I just signed with one of the agents I was talking to. She's a dream and such a kind and important soul. So that's been keeping me busy as well! We're currently working on some projects that I'm sure will be very well received and touch a lot of hearts when they're out in this planet!



Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?
I'm deeply in love with children's books AND teaching. I enjoy so much working for and with kids and I can't ask for more. I know what I'm currently doing is my mission in this lifetime.

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?
Two of the best advices I've gotten are: to always be kind to everyone, and to go deep within myself to find my voice and the stories only I can tell. 

I'm a firm believer that everyone has a story to tell, but also I've seen not everyone is brave enough to go that deep and tell it from an honest and vulnerable place. But once we do, magic becomes tangible in this dimension.



Any one piece of bad advice? 
I have two rules for the day:

Never skip breakfast.
Always be yourself. 

If I'm doing both, I'm good for the day. So bad advice: skip breakfast and be try to be someone else! Also, let a pigeon drive a bus.




What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer conference? 
I always get so touched by strong and important human beings who have important stories to tell. Two of the talks that still give me chills are from the loving Juana Martinez Neal and the magical Yuyi Morales. Both explored the depth within themselves and I could feel the importance and power in their words, how personal and raw they are, and how they pour their entire existence into their work. Their stories are reminders for me to stay authentic and to keep going deeper with the stories I tell.

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
As a kid in México I wasn't very exposed or attracted to many books. But one of the first picture books I ever read and that still today informs my work is "How to Catch a Star" by Oliver Jeffers. SO magical and subtle.

Where can we see more of your artwork? 
You can find more of my work on Instagram @marceloverdad! Come join me, let's play! 


Monday, September 30, 2019

Interview with Neena Phan, 2019 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2019 Summer Conference. Please welcome Neena Phan to the KidLitArtists Blog!




Neena Phan graduated from The New School with a degree in fashion design. Upon graduating, she realized that storytelling and illustration aligned with her skills and interest more so than fashion. Aligning morally, children’s books was the inevitable next step. And a happy and fulfilling step it was.




Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either changes or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?
Receiving feedback from all of the mentors definitely confirmed the direction of my illustration. There were a couple of pieces in my portfolio that were liked universally by everyone. It helped me question what it is that I liked about those pieces and why they’re strong, and most importantly, how it’s unique to me. Lots of self-discovery haha!

What kind of projects are you working on now?
I’m working on a picture book based off of one of the pieces in my portfolio (the blue cabbage spread) and I’m also working on an illustrated novel. Both are personal projects.



Any one piece of bad advice you received regarding your illustration career? 
I didn’t receive any bad advice. I don’t really believe in bad advice to be honest. There is perhaps a very fine line between advice and opinion...and I’m still working on differentiating between the two! Funnily enough, I’ve come to learn that upon discerning what is advice and what is opinion for myself is also subjective in nature as well! So being subjective about something subjective can be quite tricky sometimes… or perhaps I just overthink things (pretty much almost always the case). 

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future? I am interested in illustrating a picture book written by someone else or perhaps making a stop motion animation short.


What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer conference?
Favorite lesson...Patience. Seeing all of these amazingly talented people speak and give lectures was so inspiring. But I had to step back and think for a moment to remember that all of these people got to where they are today with TIME. It can be exciting to hear their life stories in 45 minutes or less. But those 45 minutes are years in the making. Having that perspective was crucial for me.

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?I didn’t grow up with books. I suppose I’m sort of a late bloomer. ...the first picture book that I was simply amazed by was “Duck, Death and the Tulip” by Wolf Erlbruch.



Where can we see more of your artwork?
I put up my work on behance and I have a website: Behance.net/neenaphan and Neenaphan.com 



Monday, September 23, 2019

Interview with Vivien Wu, 2019 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2019 Summer Conference. Please welcome Vivien Wu to the KidLitArtists Blog!




Hello! My name is Vivien Wu and I’m an illustrator and concept artist based in Los Angeles. I first started illustrating children’s books at Disney Publishing, and I currently do freelance concept art for various animation studios. In my own work I love creating humorous characters, or depicting a sense of nostalgia and fantasy.
In my downtime I enjoy unwinding through swimming and yoga, exploring Los Angeles for new places to eat, and watercolor painting!




Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either changes or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?
The mentorship program was tremendously helpful and professional, and confirmed the direction I want to go in. The advice I was given will challenge me to grow artistically and bring my work to the next level.

Since I had a number of standalone pieces, a general consensus was to take some of those and form a narrative around them. Totally makes sense, since children’s books are all about storytelling! I also had a bit of a split portfolio, in which some sections were stylistically more “traditional storybook” and the other half more “commercial”. Rather than mixing them together, there should be a clearer divide, or just one consistent voice throughout. It’s an important thing to keep in mind especially when presenting work to a potential client.
Overall, the mentorship really made me look at my work with a critical eye and ask myself if every element in an illustration is working harmoniously and with a purpose.


What kind of projects are you working on now?
I have some ideas in the works, and am excited to share once I have enough material together! However, one of my main goals right now is to just keep things simple and explore more ways to draw people and children stylistically, since I tend to draw a lot of animals.


Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future? 
I would love to one day fully illustrate a picture book. I’ve done various freelance jobs, chapter books, and Little Golden books (which was amazing), but nothing like a complete picture book.

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?
There’s so many, but a simple and great piece of advice that I personally need to work on is to keep a sketchbook / iPad at all times, and jot down ideas when they come to mind. It helps to not be too precious with any particular drawing, and you never know when inspiration may strike.

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer conference? 
I was very inspired by Christian Robinson’s keynote in which he said that brick walls are not there to keep us out, but to show us how badly we want something. I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before, but it really resonated with me.



What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid? 
Toot and Puddle by Hollie Hobbie, Corduroy by Don Freeman, Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, and anything by Roald Dahl.

Where can we see more of your artwork? 
You can see my work on my website vivienwu.com or on my instagram at vivsketch!



Monday, September 16, 2019

Interview with Eddie Edwards, 2019 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2019 Summer Conference. Please welcome Eddie Edwards to the KidLitArtists Blog!




Eddie Edwards is an illustrator, artist and designer from the San Francisco Bay Area, currently living in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her one-eyed cat and two-eyed husband. She graduated with distinction from the California College of Art in Industrial Design and spent many of her early years as a graphic, furniture and advertising designer in California. She has work in the permanent collection of the SF Museum of Modern Art as well as the Library of Congress and numerous awards in both graphic and architectural design. She is currently focused on adapting her illustration skills for children.


Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?
"Yes, it confirmed that I could find a place for my point of view in the children's market."

Are there any specific examples you can share? 
"Most of the comments were similar to this one: "show us how you can expand the narrative". Also there was a lot of support for following my instincts. Forget about trying to please some imaginary standard because there is room for all kinds of quirky."


What kind of projects are you working on now?
"I have some editorial illustration and graphic design projects. But I'm really excited to get back to the portfolio and incorporate all the feedback from the mentorship program."

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?
"Any illustration that is experimental, conceptual, or creatively challenging. I like nonsense poetry and fairy tales and anything a little out of the ordinary, funny or dark. I'm crazy about the children's illustration coming out of Spain and Poland."



Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?
"Do some drawing, painting or illustration every dang day. No matter what."

Any one piece of bad advice? 
"I don't think I've gotten bad advice, but I've had some very harsh critiques! I try to weigh everything that is given to me because there is truth in it somewhere."


What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer conference? 
"There were so many vulnerable, generous and moving speakers that I am still processing everything."

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
"Black Beauty, Bambi, The Snow Goose"

Where can we see more of your artwork? 
helloeddie.com and instagram @helloeddieillo






Monday, September 9, 2019

Interview with Rob Sayegh Jr, 2019 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2019 Summer Conference. Please welcome Rob Sayegh to the KidLitArtists Blog!





From Rob:

Hiya! My name is Rob Sayegh Jr, and I am an author/illustrator specializing in children's media. I love creating worlds and characters that make people of all ages smile and giggle by combining humorous illustrations with playful stories. When I am not doodling or writing, I enjoy collecting vintage toys, being an official snack taste-tester, falling in love with every dog I meet, and exploring San Francisco where I currently live with my partner and two dogs Penny and Rigby.

My clients include:

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Scholastic
Fisher-Price
Hasbro
Disney Consumer Products
Nickelodeon
Spin-Master
and many more.

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?
"The mentors provided amazing feedback on so many things. One example I can give is that my styling is rather simple and it was commented that I tend to go so simple on human faces, that they all start to look the same. It could be a problem in a book that features lots of characters. It's a great point, and it could have affected me from being selected for certain projects."

What kind of projects are you working on now?
"I currently am working on several unannounced projects that I cannot wait to share with everyone in the future."




Is there any illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?
"I would love to write and illustrate my own children's book series."

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?
"BUTT IN CHAIR. It's something I heard at my very first SCBWI conference. It's really the most valuable thing anyone can do to help their career. I think it just keeps you always a student of your craft and builds great habits in creating work every day."

Any one piece of bad advice? 
"There is no such thing as bad advice!"




What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer conference?
"Several people said my favorite lesson. It was about how one should really own their literary voice and illustration style. Both Christian Robinson and Arthur Levine said this but from two very different standpoints of an illustrator and an editor. It fascinated me how powerful it was to hear it this way. Bringing the stories only you can tell not only help someone see who you are, but it allows you to stand out from others as a storyteller."



What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
"I was obsessed with Bunnicula. Harold is still one of my favorite literary characters today."

Where can we see more of your artwork? 
You can see more of my work via my website www.robsayart.com and by following me on instagram https://www.instagram.com/robsayart/