This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2017 Summer Conference. Please welcome Amber Alvarez to the KidLitArtists Blog!
About Amber Alvarez:
Amber Alvarez grew up on a white strip of sand bordering the Pacific Ocean. While other kids had cats and dogs, she had a pair of green sea turtles. Amber holds a BFA in film from Pratt Institute in New York City. Now she lives and makes art in Utah, under a mountain, but above a railroad track. Her steamy chef husband lives there too.
Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?
It is remarkably confirming to hear the same things over and over again by a group of people you esteem. The mentorship critiques got me laser-focused on one of the paths I have been cautiously edging my way down. Abandoning the other paths has been the best part of summer.
Each mentor picked the same pictures from my book as their favorites. Of course, I like those pieces too - but seeing them pulled out, again and again, was a wild sensation.
My favorite criticism of the pieces left behind was that the children in those scenes were not as authentic as my other kids. One mentor recommended I draw imaginary siblings of kids I know in real life. This trick is proving a great formula for genuine characters!
Seeing my portfolio the way the mentors saw it, reintroduced me to my work. Here's something I realized later, they only chose pieces I'd sketched a lot of times before I'd started painting. All the pieces were mixed media with rich colors and loose details. Strangely enough, they picked every piece in my book that I made during the daytime, in streaming sunlight, after a good night's sleep.
What kind of projects are you working on now?
I'm working on a few stand-alone manuscripts inspired by character art before moving on to full-blown dummies. When I write, I like to pretend I'm a children's author instead of an author/illustrator. I want to make my words good enough to stand alone. One of my favorite PBs I'm working on right now is about a group of monsters that CANNOT GET IT TOGETHER - they have no chill.
Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?
I most want to make picture books. *squeezes eyes shut and crosses fingers
Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration? Any one piece of bad advice?
I've been drawing every day since I was old enough to hold a crayon. A few years ago it started to seem futile. I've always made my living as an artist, but it felt like making picture books was still so far away. I started debating getting my master's degree or going to coding school. My dad intervened. He said I just needed to keep trying. I could go back to school, or work as a UX designer - but dreams on a shelf, don't go away. Instead, I should stop wasting time trying to talk myself out of the "song of my soul." That helped so much. I went back to drawing every day, and I stopped vacillating on Plan B.
The worst advice I ever heard was via a college professor who used to lecture non-stop on the evil waste of spending money on high-quality paper. While there's some merit to the idea that tools are only as good as their master, the sentiment is plain wrong when it comes to Arches 300lb cold press. That stuff can make just about anyone into Rembrandt.
What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference?
Sean Qualls beautiful keynote was exactly what I needed. I find myself revisiting his simple guidance, "let your art be your constant."
What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
- LITTLE BEAR, written by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak was the picture book that I carried into adulthood and re-read most often.
- WHAT DO YOU DO, DEAR? and WHAT DO YOU SAY, DEAR? written by Sesyle Joslin and illustrated by Maurice Sendak were favorites that stand the test of time. I remember laughing until I couldn't breathe over them. I cherish all of Sendak's line-art. I'd read OPEN HOUSE FOR BUTTERFLIES over WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE any day.
- THE PAIN AND THE GREAT ONE, written by Judy Blume and illustrated by Irene Trivas is comedic gold.
- I'm always disappointed when someone tells me they don't know Syd Hoff. His I CAN READ books were my ride-or-die. I carried them everywhere.
- The GEORGE AND MARTHA books by James Marshall were pure genius. Everyone loves THE STUPIDS, but they had nothing on G&M.
- I spent Sundays plastered to my bedroom floor with every scrap of Bill Watterson's CALVIN AND HOBBES I could get my hands on.
- A few years ago I was lamenting a book I'd loved as a child but could never find again. I didn't know the title but I described everything I remembered about it on my blog. To my utter delight, a total stranger sent it to me that very week, MOUSE TALES by the great Arnold Lobel!
- I loved THE B.F.G written by Roald Dahl, with my whole heart. I used to sit at my window late at night, absolutely sure The Big Friendly Giant would come find me too. Above all, Quentin Blake continues to be an inspiration.
Where can we learn more about you and your artwork?
You can see my illustration portfolio work at http://AmberAlvarez.com
I'm most available on Instagram, where I post a daily sketch.
Thanks, Amber! Welcome to KidLitArtists!