Monday, August 31, 2015

Interview with new SCBWI mentee, Anne Berry

Anne Berry was the recipient of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2015 Summer Conference. Kidlit Artists would like to officially welcome Anne to the blog, and ask her a few questions about the Mentorship experience and about what she is up to these days.

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?

It’s a good feeling when you can start trusting your own taste in your own art. When the pieces you think represent your best work are the ones people are drawn to; it’s a grounding and exciting experience. It emboldened me to trust my instincts and to keep doing something I heard over and over again at the conference, “draw what you love”. It seems an obvious and simple concept, but it’s one I need to be reminded of from time to time! That’s why conferences like SCBWI are so important to us artists, because they can give you the positive confirmation that your moving in the right direction while giving you pointers to push your art even further. I will give a specific example of a great critique I got when I sat down with Pat Cummings. Pat gave me a lot of great tips, plus they were very specific, which I like!  One of my pieces was a scene of a child’s birthday party; a mother presenting a huge cake to her child and the rest of the guests. The entire piece was colorful and bright, but that color and light could have been focused, which in turn, would have made it pop on the page even more. And if that color and light were focused on the little girl, the mother and the cake, it would better direct our eyes to main characters of the piece. The child was looking in awe at the cake, but Pat suggested having the girl locking eyes with her mother, instead of the cake, making this moment about how much the daughter loves her mother for surprising her with this amazing treat, rather than a girl just being happy about a cake. Critiques like this made me realize how much I can hone in on what really matters in a piece and then push emotion to make it a more complete and meaningful story.

What kind of projects are you working on now?

I work as a freelance illustrator and at a small greeting card company by day, both of which provide me with many fun and varied projects! But, children books wise ­ I was given such fantastic and concrete ways of improving my portfolio at the conference, so I am working towards tightening up my entire portfolio with less one off illustrations, and more sequential pieces that show the same character in different situations and settings. Also, getting rid of that stuff that I know isn’t working! It can be hard to do, considering the time that was put into it, but when that’s the only thing keeping it in my portfolio, that’s when you know its time for it to go! Another project for me, is looking into agents for representation. It’s quite a lot of work narrowing down agencies then specific agents that would be a good fit for me and my career, but it’s something I am actively interested in! 

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

I would love to do illustrations for picture books and chapter books soon! I am also interested in books that are starting to find a middle ground between picture books and YA novels. I recently read a incredible book called Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. It’s classified as a YA book, but it’s not quite a graphic novel or a comic book, or a picture book, it’s sort of all three. This is the kind of book I wished I could have had as a teenager ­ a  graphic novel for young readers is an interesting concept, and I one I think this next generation would be very keen to have. I want to see more books like this, and perhaps be part of one in the future.  

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?  Any one piece of bad advice?

Don’t put anything in your portfolio your not interested in! Simple, and yet, I know for me, a very overlooked piece of advice. I think when you're starting out, you are so worried about what others will want to see in your portfolio, you don’t trust yourself enough to simply spend your time on what you love to draw. For example, if you don’t like sports, don’t put sports in your portfolio! You might end up working on a book about sports because someone saw it, and now your stuck drawing something your not interested in for the next three to six months. Fill your portfolio with concepts, characters and surroundings that you would love to draw over and over again, maybe you will get a chance to! I can’t think of any bad advice, so I will cheat and add another piece of fantastic of advice I got from Peter Brown at the critique session. Take your character, and think of a situation they would be incredibly uncomfortable in, and draw that. So, so fantastic! What a way to to flex your character building muscles! 

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference?  

When award winning writers are giving keynotes, you tend to gather up some great ones! I think the one that struck home for me most though was Varian Johnson’s quote, “Show up for work, even if the muse calls in sick.” I put that right by my desk when I got home, because it’s a great reminder for anyone working in a creative field. I am a hard worker and have never had a problem putting my nose to the grind and getting stuff done. But what we do is not just a hard job, it’s a creative job. And on some days creativity is right there with you, and on others, it’s not. I like the quote because it’s both an admission that creativity isn’t always flowing out of our fingertips like rainbows, and that’s okay, but it also doesn’t means we get the day off.

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

My grandmother was a second grade teacher, so she gave me all the classics when I was little; Peter Rabbit, Strega Nona, Madeleine, Where the Wild Things Are...I could go on, but you know them. I have wonderful memories of reading these books with her. When I was around thirteen or fourteen, I was really getting into art and drawing, so I went back to what my and many children’s first introduction to art is, picture books. Not going to lie, my precious teenage pride may have been a tad hurt by going back to the children’s book section at my local library to browse, but nevertheless, I would leave with a huge armful of books. I would dutifully study the art, practice drawing scenes and the people from the books. A lot of my early drawing lessons were from picture books. One of the first artists I remember really getting obsessed with was Trina Schart Hyman. It soon became my mission to collect all of her books, and I own nearly everything she has illustrated today. I was so drawn to her art (sorry, pun) because apart from being an incredibly skilled technical artist who beautifully illustrated a lot of my favorite fairy tales, she knew how to imbue each image with so much history and story. Her scenes were real, lived in places, that had little stories of their own that weren’t being told by the words. For example, she wouldn’t just draw a chair, that chair had a story. It was old, it had unique little carvings in it, you had a sense Trina knew who carved it, how old it was and how many people had sat in it. Nothing in her work was left untold. She had a very detailed illustrative style, and it’s not specifically my own, but her art taught me that if you fully immerse and inhabit the worlds you are creating, readers will too.

Where can we find you online?

My website ­
Art Blog ­
Twitter ­
Facebook ­

Instagram ­

Thanks Anne!


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