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 I’m tickled pink to be chatting it up with my fellow Tugeau2 artist, the fabulous Illustrator, Paula J. Becker! I am a total fan of her fun and whimsical art for children’s publishing! Paula has been a freelance Illustrator for over 25 years, creating engaging artwork for children’s books, magazines, posters, greeting cards, educational curriculum and more. You can view more of her artwork here.
|How fun is this High Five magazine cover?!|
Q: You are totally “The Queen” of kid’s magazine illustration! Dish with us about this fun, unique market and describe some of your MOST favorite kid’s magazine assignments
A: Well, I don’t know if I’m “The Queen”, but thanks! Whether an accurate description or not, I guess that over my career, I've been fortunate to illustrate a good number of magazine spreads and spots. I am grateful so many clients have employed and trusted me to enhance writers' stories, or orchestrate puzzles. And a fair amount of them ARE puzzles of some sort: hidden pictures, mazes, multiple puzzles in spreads, etc. Each one comes with its unique requests, and turns out to be a puzzle in itself for ME to figure out! And it’s obvious that I like busy scenes, a la Sergio Aragones of Mad magazine, big influences of my work! Busy crowd scenes are so much fun to create!
I definitely targeted children’s magazines when I started out in the early 90’s. I also sent promos to publishing companies, but magazine work has been my biggest client base over the years. There are several pros to doing illustration for magazines—one being that the projects are smaller (compared to a book), hence the turn-around time for both the project and the compensation is shorter. I also like the variety of projects that magazines’ need—from stories, to spots for jokes, to mazes and puzzles of various sorts.
|Don'tcha just love the colors & energy in this piece?!|
Q: What is a typical workday like for you? Set the scene (workspace, materials, accessories) and describe your responsibilities (teaching, art making, business stuff) and creative juju (rituals, inspiration, process).
A: I prefer to try to keep a workday routine of traditional office hours. I am usually up by 7:30 (unless I worked late the evening before). I’ll have coffee and catch up on news, etc., a quick breakfast, then start work at 9 a.m. I have a separate bedroom that is my office/studio space. I have a weekly over-all productivity/to do list that covers everything (I like paper, so haven’t digitalized that aspect of organization yet). I rewrite the daily list each morning so I get a sense of what to accomplish that day, working off the main list and previous day’s list, with items divided up by work-tasks and everything else-tasks.
Sometimes that gets “blown” within an hour or two, if I’ve underestimated the time an illustration takes, or something distracts me. But I am in constant training to manage my work and life in general. I’ve recently read several books on productivity, such as Deep Work by Cal Newport, and Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg. I found these books to help me understand the psychology of work and to work….well, smarter, faster, better—and deeper! I’ve just started to read Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins. Reading books on productivity, listening to podcasts on related topics, etc. is a major element of my formula for generating motivation and developing as an artist/illustrator.
I am often asked what medium/media I work in, and when I tell people it’s all digital, they are surprised. I usually say, “I work digitally, but traditionally”, or “I work traditionally, but digitally”. I think they both mean the same things, yes? My workhorse is a desktop computer with a dual-monitor set up, with a 22” Wacom Cintiq as my main monitor, and a 32” monitor as my secondary. For backup systems and mobile working, I have a Dell laptop, with a Wacom Intuos tablet, as well as a 13” Wacom MobileStudio Pro. For software, I pretty much use Corel Painter 15 & 17. Painter 18 is out, and I’ll upgrade soon. I have the Adobe CS4 but don’t use them often.
|Who's else is up for #4, #5 & #7?!|
Each project has different aspects to it, from conception to working on a final piece. I am easily distracted by sounds so when I am at the conceptualization stage of a project, I only listen to light instrumental music, if anything. But when I am at the final stages, where I am inking from a sketch, and/or filling in the color to an ink drawing, I listen to podcasts or talk radio sorts of things. Each of these stages can take hours on end, so forcing myself to take breaks is important. I will take a pause to do a mundane house task, walk into the village, or take a short walk, if the weather permits.
Besides the 9-5 hours, I will sometimes work on projects in the late evening on into the early morning, depending on my workload or if I am up against a deadline. The benefits to working a late night shift are the lack of usual daytime distractions. It’s an ideal time to get a good-sized creative block of time with minimal to no interruptions.
Keeping up with one’s books and taxes is a part of the business, albeit not as fun and creative as illustrating! I don’t use any special accounting software for that, but I do have spreadsheets for keeping track of invoices and business expenses, as well as anything licensed. The only specific routine I have related to this aspect of the business is, when I create an invoice, at the same time, I record when, to whom, and the amount on the spread sheet, and then when a payment arrives. I also print out invoices and file them, and have a file for business receipts. At some point, I want to make this a “mastery” type of project, to improve and maybe overhaul my system, but with such a small amount of invoices and business expenses, I’m in no hurry, as it is fairly easy to maintain as it is.
I should add that I will sometimes take time to look at other illustrators’ work. There is so much amazing talent out there, and I like to study other illustrators’ techniques and visual problem solving. I have a file on my computer just for collecting illustrations. I find it inspirational and many times, viewing other’s illustration helps me push my boundaries.
|Don't worry if you're cornfused! Of course, you'll make it out—mwaaahhh ha ha!|
Q: Give us the scoop on your MOST favorite illustration projects: one from your past and one from your present.
A: For a recent illustration project, The “Creepy Corn Maze”, created for this October issue of OWL magazine, is a recent favorite of mine. I really like how that turned out in the end. I pushed myself on that and did a more painterly style as well as darker and richer color scheme. When I saw how it looked in print, I was quite happy with the end product.
For an “older” illustration project I chose “10 Fun Things To Do With Your Family”, a two-page group of spot illustrations created in 2011 for a Focus on the Family magazine. I am pleased when I can succeed in keeping an illustration light, loose and fun. I had fun with line and color and pattern here. Contrary to how a style like this looks, it is not so easy for me to pull off. I have to almost always fight over-working an illustration.
Q: You’ve illustrated countless stories for kids—both in magazines and in books. Dish with us about your process for creating narrative illustrations—beginning with receiving the manuscript thru to the final art.
A: Projects come to me in different forms. Some come as just the manuscript (copy with art notes and dimensions), while others come as PDF files with all the copy on the spreads/pages, and also containing art direction notes (I like when my clients send me a template to work from. I prefer to organize my illustration around the copy and space provided, then there’s no guessing game).
I do pretty much everything from start to finish digitally—sketches, revisions, and final art. There are many benefits to working digitally, one being the ability to revise images. Cutting and pasting, trying different colors, and erasing are all made easier and faster. I use many, many layers in my illustrations, but you get used to the “chore” of labeling layers, so you don’t lose time figuring out what layer is what! So when an illustration is completed, I also can easily and quickly get that to the client.
So, once I get the art direction or layout files, I will set up a file for sketches/roughs in Corel Painter. For sketches, I might do set them up at 300 dpi, so I get a feel for the tools as they will be for the final art. The copy is set up on one layer, and I work sketches on another layer. For roughs, I might send several ideas to a client, or one idea, more worked up than a quick sketch. I then wait for feedback. Once I get feedback, I make the requested changes and there is a second round of roughs/sketches. This rarely goes on much past two rounds, but sometimes there are more, especially if the art director also makes layout changes at each round (see the “Creepy Corn Maze” as an example). After final approval, the file is set up at 300 dpi and with an all-around bleed, if necessary. Then off we go to finish! I will flatten the file at different stages and save it as a JPG so I can put it on my larger monitor and review it. I do this especially if I am working on a sequence of illustrations and characters, colors, etc. need to be consistent, to check the flow of the images on the pages, etc. I can line them up on the larger monitor, like one would tape pages to a wall. Once illustrations are completed, they are emailed or uploaded to an ftp site for the client to retrieve. That’s my system.
|Carnival—black and white sketch|
Q: You’ve had a long and successful career as a freelance illustrator and you are still going strong! (Go, Paula!!!) What are your top 3 tips for working illustrators looking to land new clients?
A: Uhm…I think that’s a question I would ask, too! We’re all in that boat!
Marketing is not my strong suit (many creatives feel that way) and I would almost say that the course of my career and the jobs that have come have been more happenstance than a solid marketing plan! Though the Internet and computer have changed a lot about the profession, there are some fundamentals that are still the same in regards to marketing, and looking to land new clients. I may not come up with three, but here’s what I do:
1—Research potential clients that would buy and use your art style. The internet has just made it enormously easier to research said clients!
2—Mail-outs (Promo package, postcards): Still the standard way as far as I know, to reach existing and new clients.
3—Repeat 1 & 2 over and over again!
Of course, having an online portfolio, networking, attending illustration-type conferences & workshops, etc., are all part of moving your business forward. It’s a lot to keep up with, and you do what you can. It’s like any other business: you do the hustle!
|Carnival—finished color art|
Q: Describe your most perfect day.
A: A perfect day for me would be doing whatever appealed to me that given day, free from the cares of the world interfering, either physically or mentally. For example, a solid day of progressing on client or personal projects, but without the body pains, money worries, or computer crashes! : D
Thank you for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm, Paula! You’re fabulous!