For those new to our blog, Eliza Wheeler is one of our contributors and was a recipient of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2010 Summer Conference. We’d like to catch up with Eliza and ask her a few questions about the mentorship experience and about what she is up to these days.
Kidlit Artists: Did the feedback you receive during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?
Eliza: The criticism and advice I received was extremely defining for me. My portfolio was separated into mostly two styles – darker, moodier work (the stuff I love), and then brighter, commercial work, drawn more simply (but less unique). My assumption was that it was going to be the commercial stuff that publishers wanted. Yet the mentorship program showed me the opposite was true. And ever since then I’ve still found that most people respond to my darker work the most. This isn’t to say that being dark is particularly in fashion, but at the heart of that work is a strong sense of emotion. It's applicable to any style, people just want to feel something when they see it.
Kidlit Artists: Have you seen a shift in your work since you were mentored?
Eliza: Definitely. The mentors gave me the confidence to re-work my portfolio into one that included dark and light work that can be displayed together and still feel consistent. The year following the mentorship program, I brought my revised portfolio back to the SCBWI Summer conference, and it won the grand prize! It was a really affirming moment for me.
In this blog post, I share my portfolio transformation, so you can see what it looked like the year I was mentored, and the year after: Wheelerstudio.com, Portfolio Comparison
I’m still keeping a constant critical eye on my work, hoping to find ways to grow and make it better. I doubt that will ever change!
Kidlit Artists: What kinds of projects are you working on now?
Eliza: I just finished illustrations for my first picture-book story to be published with Nancy Paulsen/Penguin books in May 2013. It’s about a miniature woman who gathers orphaned seeds, cares for and teaches them about the world before sending them back out into it.
I’m also working on a very exciting project, illustrations for Holly Black’s new Middle Grade novel Doll Bones, through Simon and Schuster. This is my first Middle Grade project, and I’m finding that I’m totally loving this format.
The past 6 months have been really dominated with illustration work (an awesome thing!), but I’m bringing writing back into my daily schedule with the hopes of presenting a new picture book story to my editor, Nancy Paulsen, in the next few months.
Kidlit Artists: Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?
Eliza: I’d like to continue illustrating for Middle Grade stories, and I’ve got a few ideas I’m toying around with possibly in the graphic novel format.
I’m also really excited to get a side project going, a series of illustrations that’s aimed towards adults – which is all I’ll say until it’s more of a reality! I hope these illustrations could perhaps begin to build an editorial portfolio, something I’ve been interested in to supplement my children’s illustration work.
Kidlit Artists: Last, please tell us where we can find you online.
Eliza: My work and blog are both at www.wheelerstudio.com, and I'm @wheelerstudio on twitter.