Monday, May 5, 2014

Super Star Interviews: Jill McDonald


Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) 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, in celebration of the upcoming Surtex show, I am catching up with one of my all-time favorite Illustrators/Designers, the licensing rockstar, Jill McDonald! I have always been a fan of her artwork and had the immense pleasure of art directing her on a set of children's concept books back in my days at Intervisual Books. Jill is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in textile design. She has worked in-house for Baby Gap as well as Hallmark Cards. And these days she heads up her own business, Jill McDonald Design, creating surface design collections and illustrations geared towards babies and kiddos that have appeared on everything from children’s books to bedding collections to stationary collections to wall art and more. You can enjoy more of Jill’s fabulous artwork here!

Jill's "Let's Dance" canvas wall art with Oopsy Daisy—too cute!

Q: How did your experiences working at Baby Gap and Hallmark influence and shape your career? 

A: Both places gave me a huge crash course in the business of design. At Gap product development in N.Y., I worked on the baby & kids team. I was part of a team that bought, designed & colored prints for the girl & baby section of the company.  Because of the 4 seasons we were always on a tight time frame.  The next season was always just around the corner & you worked a year ahead.

My job at Hallmark came next.  I worked as an illustrator & designer. They called it a "hybrid". I worked on giftwrap & party as well as some fresh ink cards. (remember those? they were really fun & artsy!)  This job was also fast paced & lots of fun.

Jill's "Out of This World" fabric collection with P & B Textiles!

Q: Dish with us about your most favorite projects of all—one from the past & one from the present. 

A: I always love working with The Land of Nod. Bedding is near & dear to me so an opportunity to design a bedding collection is something that always gets me excited. It's such a big statement & something a child will usually remember. I love when my art can be a part of those memories. Another project I'm always thrilled to take on is children's book illustration. I love that books are visited over & over again, held in your hands & read by a parent or grandparent. To me reading a book to a child is act of giving & sharing. I find such satisfaction in having my art be a part of that exploration.

Adorable "Tree of Life" puzzle!

Q: I absolutely love your sense of color and shape! Tell us a bit about your creative process and technique, from concept to sketch to final artwork? 

A: Thanks for the compliment!  I adore color—I think it's about 80% of what my art is about. Regarding shape my art isn't too technically complicated. I'm not great with perspective (or really care to be). What I do enjoy is keeping my shapes basic & playful. It works for me!

My creative process can vary depending on the project. The nuts & bolts of how I approach my work is usually the same. I like to research the theme I'm working on. Let's say it's pirates—I'll look up what kind of boats they sailed in, what they wore, what they ate, how they talked, who they lived with, so on. The more I know about the subject the more I'll be able to translate it & then add my own spin to it. Next I move on to materials. What will I use to create the art? (Almost always the art director you’re working with has some suggestions on this.) Then I move onto some sketching. I don't dive too deep into this; I keep the sketches loose. I use this as a quick way to flush my ideas out & see which way I connect with the most. I don't use them as a concrete blueprint for the final art. I like to leave some wiggle room in there for some happy accidents & exploration. Once I begin I make sure to send a jpeg at the half way point to the AD. This way if I'm off track I can easily readjust. I will mention that not every person you share your work with will be able to make the leap to what the final piece will look like. So if it's a new relationship I suggest developing your idea a little farther before sharing, so the person can really understand where you are driving the art. Once you have a proven track record with the companies you work with the trust begins to come around.

Jill's "Amazing Animals" collection with Nojo!

Q: What advice would you give to illustrators and designers looking to create a career in licensing? 

A: Be patient & ready to stick with it. Deciding to be a licensed artist can make sense for some artists, but no one who begins a licensing career makes money right away. It's a game of being patient & finding the right partners who are willing to let you grow & believe in your art. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Spring is always overwhelming & exciting for me. My gift line, Jill McDonald baby & kids with CR Gibson, revs way up in late April through the end of July. I work with them to create around 20 new skus for the Atlanta Gift Show in Jan. 2015. This ranges from memory books, calendars, puzzles, paper dolls, backpacks & more. I'm wrapping up a 10-cube stacking tower project with a Korean company now & am in talks with a new publisher who I really hope to work with. I am also working on some new art that I will show at Surtex this May. If you're at the show stop by—we're in booth #817.

Here's one of several children's books Jill has with Barefoot Books!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday. 

A: I'm usually working. But, it a more relaxed way. My son is 6 & super creative. (I just love that!) We'll find something fun to watch on t.v. like Nova on PBS, or Peppa Pig, then we'll sit down & paint. I'll do my thing & he'll work away on his. We'll discuss what we're up to along the way & then show his dad—who is usually in the kitchen cooking something. He's the chef in the house! We're grateful for that!

Thank you so much for chatting with us here on Bird Meets Worm, Jill! It was lovely! Can’t wait to stop by your booth at Surtex! Cheers!

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