Monday, September 14, 2015

Interview with new SCBWI mentee, Meridth McKean Gimbel

Meridth McKean Gimbel was the recipient of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2015 Summer Conference. Kidlit Artists would like to officially welcome Meridth 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?

A little bit of both. I recently discovered (thanks to a previous critique from Laurent Linn) that I wanted my portfolio to reflect my two interests: illustrating for picture books and middle grade. It was nice to know that the direction I’m heading in, for my portfolio, makes sense with my art style. Brenda Bowen had mentioned that one of my illustrations could be used in a graphic novel. I have always loved graphic novels, so the idea of doing a graphic novel for a younger audience is really appealing to me. Peter Brown really liked my work that had a more handmade feel, and told me that the industry is moving in that direction, so I should emphasize that in my work.  Also I had been really concerned (because I had been told by some other professionals) that my portfolio was so diverse and my styles were so different, that they would work against me. The mentors were all really supportive of the variety in my portfolio and told me that it wasn’t a problem to have several styles. (But if you do have several styles, have at least 5 pieces from that style, to show that you can be consistent.)

What kind of projects are you working on now?

I’m working on expanding my portfolio to reflect all my interests. I am a writer as well as an illustrator, so currently I’m working on a book dummy for my Messy bed story (about a Veruca Salt type character that will never ever NEVER clean her room). I’m also working on a middle grade, that is an urban fantasy based in Sleepy Hollow. I have a book full of ideas, but I’m trying to focus on a few (so I don’t just start projects, I finish them).

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

I would love to work on picture books, magazines, chapter books, middle grade, and graphic novels for kids as an illustrator and/or a writer.

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

When I interned for Brett Helquist, it was really refreshing to know that in art school, he didn’t feel confident about his drawing skills. He mentioned that he was one of the “worst” students, but that he worked really hard and improved. I totally identify with that. I feel very aware of my weaknesses, but I target them, and work on them until they improve. I love working hard.

He also mentioned that it took him 7 years of dropping off his portfolio at different publishers, until he broke into illustrating. I’m at the point in my career where I do a lot of freelance design work. But I think, in order to break into the industry you need to; work hard, know the business, network, and a have little serendipity. 

As for bad advice, in the beginning of my pursuit of illustrating for kids, a professional told me that my style wasn’t cute enough for trade books. Everyone has their own preferences of styles they like, and gravitate towards. I may not be everyone’s flavor, and that’s okay. But I have to be the best me I can be. I was a weird little kid, and my hope is that my artwork and stories can connect with the other kids that have similar interests.

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

So I wrote a whole novella of notes at the conference, and then a second novella of notes from the mentorship. (Thank you Mentors!!) I still feel I will spontaneously combust with all the ideas and thoughts floating around from that epic weekend. Here are a few quotes that I found inspiring and/or super useful:

       “It’s not about finding an idea, it’s about using it.” ­ Adam Rex
       “It’s not about drawing well, it’s about communicating an idea.” ­ Dan Santat
       “Tell the one true story [you] need to tell, that only [you] can tell.” ­Dan Yaccarino

Also, Laurent Linn had mentioned, in the mentorship, that if you have a really weak piece in your physical or online portfolio, that art directors are worried that you don’t have good judgment. They don’t have the time to hold the hand of a new illustrator. Your portfolio needs to reflect that you are perfectly competent.

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

Okay, so answering this is a bit like asking which of my kids I like the best. But since you asked, here we go:  

  • ­Anything from Roald Dahl (my favorite was probably The Witches illustrated by Quentin Blake)
  • ­Anything from Edward Gorey (The Epiplectic Bicycle)
  • ­Anything from Arnold Lobel (Owl At Home, Mouse Soup, Frog and Toad)
  • ­A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse to Me: A Book of Nonsense Verse by Wallace Tripp
  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (although this came out when I was a teen)
  • ­Dorrie and the Blue Witch by Patricia Coombs
  • ­Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban
  • ­Cinderella by Hilary Knight 
  • ­The Pumpkin Giant by Mary E. Wilkins and Ellin Greene (I did a post about this one on my blog.)
  • ­The Hat by Tomi Ungerer (I also did a post about this one.)
  • ­Something Queer at the Library by Elizabeth Levy and Mordicai Gerstein
  • ­Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
  • ­The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and many of the books in the series by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by W.W. Denslow
  •       Okay, I’ll stop now.

    Where can we find you online?

    You can find me in a lot of corners on the web. Please come visit me:

    Thanks Meridth!


    1. This was a wonderful post about Meridth! I have been a stalk..... I mean follower of Meridth's beautiful since before she had children I believe! I find her work very fresh and alive and hilarious! She makes me laugh with her quirky humors illustrations. She develops characters that are memorable. One of my favorites is of a turtle with in a beret and a mustache. This little guys still stands out to me!!! I'm looking forward to see what books lay wait in her near future!

    2. Congratulations on being mentee, Meredith! Thank you for sharing your work with us - it is whimsical and delightful!

    3. Thanks Nessa and Dow!! You two are super sweet!!

    4. Oh my oh my oh MY! I lOVE Meridth's quirky inimitable style! she is a creative through & through, and I'm thrilled she is getting this special attention from the best in the business! I can't wait to see where she goes!!

    5. Wonderful interview with helpful information. Merdith's talent and work ethic are stellar. I'm a fan and look forward to standing on line when she'll be signing her wonderful books.

    6. A wonderful interview replete with helpful insights. Merdith's talent and work ethic are stellar. I am a fan and look forward to standing on line when she will be signing her many books.