Thursday, August 22, 2013

Catching up with Brian Ormiston

Brian Ormiston is one of the very first SCBWI Mentees, from the summer conference of 2009,  but hasn't been formally introduced here. Until now! Today we catch up with him and ask him a few questions reflecting on the mentorship experience, as well as about what he's 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?

Brian: Once things got rolling we talked a lot about ways to improve our portfolios, self-promotion, and our thoughts about the future. I remember Arthur Levine advising me to create sections or categories in my portfolio, because at the time, I had lumped quite a number of unrelated pieces together. The themes jumped around quite a bit. Cecilia Yung suggested I create a series with the same character or theme that illustrated a narrative progression. It didn’t have to be an epic; it could be as few as three pictures. My portfolio had about twelve pictures but none of them were from the same story. David Diaz had some great pointers on technique, hints to save time and avoid headaches. When I make my paintings I’ll painstakingly ink the line then paint watercolor right on top, but if I make a mistake, the whole painting goes kaput. David suggested I scan and print a nice copy of the inked line onto quality paper. Then if I screw up painting the watercolor I can just grab another copy and start again. Scanning and painting in the computer can help a lot too but I find the process is not as enjoyable as using real paint and paper. Priscilla and I discussed all things children’s books related and about the society. It was my first conference so she brought me up to speed on pursuing the essentials and how to get the most out of the conference.

Kidlit Artists: Getting such specific and direct feedback on your work, did you find the experience enlightening? Affirming? Confusing? Conflicting? _______ (fill in the blank)? Why?Brian: It was very affirming. I had originally gone to the conference on a kind of information gathering trip. I didn’t intend on submitting my portfolio until a good friend encouraged me to do so. I ended up winning a mentorship and a second prize honor so it definitely made me feel like I was doing something right. Nervous too. It pushed me way beyond my comfort zone, out of the safe place of making pictures for myself in solitude into a forum in which I had to take an audience into account. A good thing all around I think.

Kidlit Artists:
Have you seen a shift in your work since you were mentored?

Brian: I definitely think more in terms of a series of drawings instead of trying to pack the whole universe into one composition. I love getting lost in detail but right now, with the limited time available to me, I have to simplify my compositions otherwise I’ll never finish a book.

Kidlit Artists: What kinds of projects are you working on now?

Brian: With wonderful encouragement from my very patient agent, Marietta Zacker, I’m developing several stories and getting them shaped into dummy form. Some are further along than others - all picture book stories. I like the challenge of the picture book format. It’s forced me to simplify my ideas. I can sometimes over-complicate my stories, making things much harder on myself.

Kidlit Artists: Is there anything, looking ahead, that you’re excited to be working on?

Brian: Looking beyond the picture book I’m developing now, I have a line up of stories with a lot of visual possibilities that I’m eager to sink my teeth into. I can at times overextend myself, so I have to practice discipline; otherwise I touch lightly on everything but no single story gets done. As soon as I finish the book dummy on my plate now I’ll dive right into the next one. 

Kidlit Artists: Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

Brian: I think it would be wonderful to make pictures for a number of things like: classic children’s stories, literature and poetry journals, theater posters, music posters and puppet theater work. I did a painting for a group show last year as part of a launch event for Sara Wilson Etienne’s book Harbinger. That was a lot of fun. I’d love to do more of that.

Kidlit Artists: Last, please tell us where we can find you online.

Brian: You can check out my website, which is way over due for an update just so you know, at My blog, where I post little scenes on post-its for the time being, is The title of the blog is Roostergator, a nonsense word if anyone is wondering.

Kidlit Artists: Thanks Brian!


  1. Love your art, Brian, and thank you for sharing what you learned. And thanks so much for this interview, Eliza.

  2. Thanks Debbie! And thank you Eliza. The pictures you chose look great:)