Andy Musser was the recipient of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2013 Summer Conference. Kidlit Artists would like to officially welcome Andy to the blog, and ask him a few questions about the Mentorship experience and about what he 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?
Andy: I definitely feel the feedback confirmed my direction. While opinions varied on my technical and design choices, I felt that everyone appreciated my unique voice and really encouraged me to continue developing my style. One mentor said something along the lines of: “You need to figure out the language of your quirky,” which I was happy to hear. It's exciting that they could see my “quirky,” regardless of style, and that my challenge is to continue exploring how to communicate it. Since the conference, I've scheduled a hour of “playtime” every night, to cut loose and try new ideas and techniques. The mentors also reminded me of the importance of informing my illustration with real world experience and research. So I've started regular plein air drawing and painting expeditions too, which have the added bonus of getting me out of the studio.
The mentors' advice covered many topics, from process, character, and expression as well as how to improve the physical presentation of my portfolio. Many of my illustrations were horizontally oriented, but my portfolio was vertical. They showed me how by placing double-page spreads side-by-side, I could use the format to display my handling of the gutter and page turns.
I included a dummy book in my portfolio, and there were many helpful comments on how to improve the pacing and flow. One mentor encouraged me to approach my layouts like a conductor, and use the full range of my orchestra to add variation and subtly. Since the critique, I've started a major overhaul of the story, and the mentors' advice has been incredibly useful.
Kidlit Artists: Getting such specific and direct feedback on your work, did you find the experience enlightening? Affirming? Confusing? Conflicting? Why?
Andy: Affirming and enlightening for sure. It was affirming to know that my work resonated with industry professionals who see potential in what I'm doing. Enlightening because the mentors were able to pinpoint issues in my illustrations and talk with clarity about how to improve them. If I had to pick a word to describe the experience, I'd say motivating. It's been great to return to my studio with a renewed since of direction, along with all the excitement and inspiration from the conference.
Kidlit Artists: What kind of projects are you working on now?
Andy: I'm writing and illustrating a story about a boy who meets mischievous night visitors in his garden. My agent, Brianne Johnson, has been a great sounding board and I'm excited with how the story is coming together. I also have an exhibition of paintings of musicians opening in September at the Kirkland Performance Center, here in Kirkland, Washington where I live.
Kidlit Artists: Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you're hoping for in the near future?
Andy: There are so many types of illustration I'm excited about right now. Picture books top my list, and I'd love to try my hand at a range of children's genres and formats: a wordless picture book, a picture book of short stories or poetry, as well as illustrating something for the middle grade audience.
Kidlit Artists: Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you've gotten since pursuing illustration? Any one piece of horrible advice?
Andy: At the SCBWI Winter conference this year, Shaun Tan said something along the lines of “Don't be afraid and stay interested.” I have that quote tacked on an inspiration board in my studio, it's a great reminder when I get bogged down. I'm not sure I've gotten any horrible advice, but I will say that I've learned to be more confident about trusting my intuition after hearing other people's opinions. I think it's crucial to listen and learn from my audience and peers. But I always try to remember to take risks, be surprising, and listen to my own “quirky.”
Kidlit Artists: Last, please tell us where we can find you online.
Andy: Please visit me at: www.andymusser.com, my site has links to my blog and social media too.
Kidlit Artists: Thank you Andy!