Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Super Star Interviews: Joan Charles


 Welcome to my new monthly interview feature! As an Illustrator, especially one who is a longtime member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, I am blessed to have a large circle of wildly talented friends, who are fellow artists, writers and designers. And I’m so excited to be interviewing them and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I am catching up with my lovely friend, the fantastic Illustrator & Graphic Designer, Joan Charles. Joan and I first met at an SCBWI Schmooze meeting, and later went on to co-coordinate the Westside Illustrators Schmooze together for four year. Joan creates artwork for galleries, magazines and books, primarily for the children's publishing market. She is the illustrator of the award-winning middle grade adventure, Lost In Lexicon, and its sequel, The Ice Castle. The third book in the series, Floating Harbor, is debuting in Fall 2013. You can visit her and her eerily beautiful artwork here!


The award-winning books Joan illustrated!

Q: As Illustrators we are often encouraged to steer clear of self-published projects, but your first book, the highly successful Lost in Lexicon, began as a self-published project. Can you share your thoughts on the pros and cons of working on self-published projects? (You can purchase Joan's books here!)

A: Lost in Lexicon was a little unusual for a self-published book. Author Penny Noyce started her own publishing house, Tumblehome Press, where she assembled a professional team that included an editor, art director, and book designer. The book is a middle grade novel that incorporates math and language concepts, so the editor and author both thought it should be leavened with a lot of illustrations. There were some bumps in the road, since this was the first self-published project for everyone involved and we were all learning along the way.

When I was first hired, I think we were talking 50–75 illustrations. As we progressed through the process, the project kind of grew and took on a life of its own. There ended up being something like 165 illustrations in the final book. So, my advice to illustrators contemplating working on a self-publishing project: be prepared for it to take more time than you anticipate! Also, make sure you spell out clearly in your contract the number of illustrations and the number of revisions you’ll do for your original fee.

The perception of self-publishing has changed a lot in the three years since I illustrated that book. I know several experienced illustrators who are turning their expertise into a mini business—hooking up authors with book designers and helping them through the self-publishing process. It’s one way for an illustrator to survive the rapid changes in the current publishing world.

Winter Sonata by Joan Charles

Q: You sell Giclee prints of your artwork in your Etsy shop, Raven & Renn. Can you talk about what Giclee prints are as well as how you have yours printed and priced? (Shop Joan's artwork here!)

A: Giclees are high quality digital reproductions printed on archival paper with archival inks. The original art is scanned using a hi-res scanner, then color corrected before printing. The result is a reproduction that is as close to my original painting in color and value as possible.

I have my prints made at Graphic Factor Studio in Silver Lake, which is run by my friend and fellow illustrator, Mary Peterson, and her husband, Jonathan Kawaye. They are meticulous in their attention to detail and the resulting prints are beautifully made and are of very high quality. My goal is to offer affordable art at an affordable price. The cost of a print varies, depending if the print run is a limited edition or an open edition.

Q: Although you are well versed in traditional media, you now work primarily digitally. Tell us about your artistic process from idea thru sketches and final artwork.

A: I start by making several sketches, exploring different ways I might approach illustrating a particular scene. Sometimes I make a very detailed sketch and sometimes just a “sketchy” sketch. Once I’ve finalized the concept, I scan the drawing and then paint the final illustration in Photoshop. I’ve built a library of textures and patterns that I use in my finished artwork in order to give it more texture and to counteract the flat look that digital art can have. With color work, I tend to work in a traditional painting manner, using layers to create “glazes”, the same way I do went I paint with oils or acrylics. I’m also trying something new—painting the under painting with traditional media, scanning that partial painting and finishing the final illustration in Photoshop. I like the combination of “real” and digital painting. I think it makes for a richer illustration.

Isn't this lovely? I wonder what quest the Elephant and Rider are on...

Q: Your artwork has a mysteriously ethereal quality. Who and/or what has inspired your artwork the most?

A: When I was very young I was fascinated with a book my parents had: an illustrated edition of Wuthering Heights with the most amazing (and frightening) woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg. I often liked pictures that sort of scared me, like Tenniel’s illustrations in Alice in Wonderland (I guess I was always a weird kid!). Growing up, I was a complete comic book fan and usually spent most of my allowance on the latest Superman and Archie comics. I love Arthur Rackham, Edward Gorey, Gahan Wilson, Ezra Jack Keats, Quentin Blake, and William Joyce.

Q: Describe your perfect Sunday.

A: As a freelancer, it’s a rare and wondrous day when I get some time off! So, on those days, I leaf through the Sunday paper and work on the Times crossword while I sip my morning tea. I love to walk, so my husband, Kelly, and I often take urban hikes and explore different neighborhoods in LA. When we’re tired and footsore, we find a cafĂ©, settle back with a huge pot of tea and spend the rest of the afternoon people watching.

Vampire Love by Joan Charles

Q: What are you working on now? And what can we look forward to from you in the future?

A: I recently set up my shop, Raven and Renn, on Etsy. Right now I’m concentrating on creating original cards and prints for the site. It’s been fun, because it allows me to just let myself go artistically and explore different styles. I like the direct feedback I get from customers. For the past couple of years I’ve also been working a lot in traditional media and showing in galleries. At the moment I’m working on a picture book dummy. The art is a much simpler than my usual style and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Thanks so much for inviting me to visit you on “Bird Meets Worm." It’s been a great pleasure talking to you!

Thank you, Joan! I always love catching with you, and I absolutely adore your latest work!



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