Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Superstar Interviews: Christina Forshay


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 the wonderful Illustrator, Christina Forshay. Christina and I meet during my time as the Co-Coordinator of the SCBWI Westside Illustrators Schmooze and it’s been a pleasure watching as her career in children’s publishing has sparked and taken off.

Christina was born and raised in sunny California, where she lives with her husband and two children. She graduated from the California State University Long Beach with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration. She is the Illustrator of two fabulous picture books, The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare and Goodnight Baseball. You can visit more of her artwork here!

Christina's first picture book!

Q: Your first picture book is The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Can you share what the experience of creating this book was like from start to finish?

A: Because I started working on The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare about six weeks after my daughter was born, I knew I had to be very organized and efficient with my time. The Art Director I worked with, Nick Tiemersma, was very, very supportive and great to work with which helped make the process run smoothly. 

The story was already laid out in terms of page turns and pacing, so I took it from there. Once I had the look of the characters nailed down, I went straight into thumbnailing the book to make sure it flowed from spread to spread. I believe we went though a round of revisions before I started with the tight sketches. One more round of sketches and it was off to final art from there!

I had an absolute blast and I'm glad my first foray into the "trade book world" was such a positive one.


Rough, sketch and final art from
The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare.

Q: At different times in your career you have represented yourself and have also been represented by an art rep. What would you say are the pros and cons of each?

A: When I was just starting out as an illustrator and didn't have an agent, I was mostly self-promoting on portfolio websites that require a paid membership fee, like Childrens Illustrators. I got a lot of requests, but most of them were for self-publishing clients who didn't necessarily know how the industry worked. Being so new at illustrating myself, I didn't exactly know how the industry worked either. I wasn't really getting the jobs I'd envisioned for myself. But in a way, it was good because I had to figure out how to write my own contracts and work with clients from the ground up. With every project, I usually learned a valuable lesson or two about how to strengthen myself as a freelancer and as an artist.

A couple of years into my illustration career, I was represented by an illustration agency. Working with a rep can be a very good thing, especially because of the established relationships they maintain with clients. Agents/reps can get your work seen by the right people—something that you have to be very diligent about doing yourself if you are not with an agency. 

What are some things I've noticed that might be a drawback to having an agent? Well, are you willing to give up a percentage of your fee (usually 20-30%) to your agency?  Another thing to watch out for is whether the agency has a large stable of artists. Unless you're consistently submitting new work to the agency for them to shop around, you might get lost among the shuffle.

This sounds really corny, but just like anything in life, it all boils down to how much time and effort you put into your career. From your craft to the business-end of things, I've found it's about the hours and energy you spend being productive. Even if you have an agent, you still need to be constantly creating. It's not about resting on your laurels because someone is out pounding the pavement for you. As a repped artist you still have a responsibility to create new work between paid projects. Constantly creating new work whether you have an agent or not is one of the keys to staying relevant in this type of industry.

Character sketches for the Hare.

Q: As an Illustrator Mama myself, this is one of my favorite questions: With two kiddos at home, in what ways do you balance motherhood with your career?

A: I don't know if I'll ever have a true balance in my household!  Especially when working on a deadline, something's got to give. Generally, it's housework and my sleep! My husband is a firefighter with a crazy, and sometimes unpredictable work schedule, so the best I can do is work late at night after the little ones have gone to bed. 

What I'm really trying to wrap my brain around is the fact that I have to be productive in little spurts of time. I LOVE to have hours at a time to get lost in my work, but it just isn't doable very often around here. There's always a situation I need to referree: somebody's wailing their head off, somebody needs me to find the ONE teeny, tiny Lego (that might or might not have been vaccummed up), or someone's trying to squeeze our rather large dog into a princess dress.

However, when I'm on a tight deadline and really need to get large chunks of work done, my parents and my mother-in-law are close by and always willing to help. I know once my youngest starts kindergarten (it's an all day kindergarten here), I'll be able to have a better and more predictable amount of time to work.

All in all, balance just doesn't really happen on a daily basis around here, and I have to really concentrate on blocking out the guilt I feel when I'm not being the "supermom" that today's society expects us to be. 

Christina's NEW book, now available from Capstone Young Readers.

Q: The word on the street is that you have a new title coming out this spring. Tell us all about it, including what marketing efforts you are making for your book!

A: The latest book I illustrated is called Goodnight Baseball, written by Michael Dahl and published by Capstone Young Readers. It's a sweet little story that follows a young boy and his dad throughout a day at the ballpark. 

As far as marketing efforts go, I've been speaking with my local librarians and local bookstores to see if I can do some illustrator visits. I'm also trying to use social media to get the word out. Other than that, I've been brainstorming and trying to learn more about how to self-promote. It's definitely an area I need to pay more attention to.




Sketches & final art for Goodnight Baseball.

Q: So often the advice to working Illustrators is geared toward either Newbies or Veterans. As an Illustrator who is solidly in-between these two phrases, what advice do you have for other Illustrators in a similar position?

A: I really feel that I'm still in the beginning phase of my career and that I'm learning something new with each new project that comes my way. I still believe that learning new skills and registering for industry-related classes, workshops and seminars is really important. Another thing that really keeps me moving forward is creating and nurturing an artistic community for myself. Illustration is such a solitary endeavor that keeping in touch with other illustrators via monthly meetings or even Facebook and Twitter helps me to feel a sense of "okay...I can do this".

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Oooh, I've always loved Sundays! My perfect Sunday would start off with a beaming sunny day. We'd head to the beach for a nice, brisk walk. Then, we'd head over to a cozy little restaurant and have a nice breakfast. 

Suddenly, the weather turns and it begins to rain!

We'd head home, put on an old black and white movie and take a blissful nap. Once everyone is awake, we'd lounge around, and spend the rest of the rainy day reading, coloring, painting, and sewing while fresh cookies bake in the oven.

Thank you so much for this opportunity Jane! Answering these questions has given me a chance to think long and hard about where I've been and where I'm going as I walk along this creative path.

Thank you, Christina! Congratulations on your new book! Hooray! And don't forget to check out Christina's shoppe full of exciting art prints!

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