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.
I’m pleased as apple cider punch to be catching up with the fabulous Illustrator Olivia Chin Mueller! I'm a long-time fan girl of Olivia's adorable artwork and love that we are fellow T2 artist, both of us being represented by the lovely Nicole Tugeau. Olivia is a children’s book illustrator from Connecticut who graduated from RISD in 2014. She currently lives in Rhode Island, and loves her cat, moths, and anything cute! You can view more of her artwork here!
|Ooo! The cutest trick-or-treaters ever!!!|
Q: I absolutely love your sweet, adorable style that is a mix of classic golden book vintage and modern technique. Dish with us a bit about your unique art style—how you approach your artwork & what inspires you?
A: When I first started illustrating, I was much more focused on editorial work. Because it was typically only one image for those types of jobs, I was able to work in a very painterly, fully rendered style. However, when I decided to try out children’s books, I realized that this technique was not practical for multi-image projects! It was too time consuming, and to me, just didn’t seem to fit the child-like tone. I decided to try out a style that was a bit flatter, but still had a slight painterly feel! Thats how I ended up with the style I have now—something kind of flat, yet textured!
Like you mentioned above, I am very inspired by vintage Golden Book illustration! The colors and textures on those books are so beautiful to me, and is something I want to capture in my own work!
|Oh, no! Mirabel, you've lost your valentine!!|
Q: You had two super CUTE picture books release this year: Mirabel’s Missing Valentine and Princess Puffybottom—and Darryl. Give us the full scoop on these two titles: beginning, middle and end of each project.
A: I feel like Mirabel was a very important book for me! Not only because I relate so much to the shy mouse main character, but also because I experimented with a new style while working on this book! There were a lot of landscapes in this story, and I wasn’t quite used to drawing them. (I normally like to draw very close up scenes). However, the style I found to make those scenes work for me is now something I want to use in all my future work! I had to be a lot looser in those images, and it turns out I really liked working that way!
The beginning of working on Mirabel was difficult for me, because I was still trying to figure out how to approach it, But once I figured it out, it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had illustrating a children’s book!!
|The very definition of cuteness overload!!! I love it!|
Princess Puffybottom actually gave me a similar problem. Tundra asked if I could draw the cat in the story in a way I had only done once before (an image they found on my Instagram from years prior). I had basically forgotten how I had done it, and what brush I had used back then! It took a lot of back and forth until I finally was able to replicate the style! I'm thankful they stuck by me while I figured it out! I think it turned out great though, and I’m so happy they asked me to work that way again!
This story was also unique for me in that the tone of the book was much different than what I was used to illustrating. The books I had worked on in the past all had a much more serious tone to them—people tend to hire me for slightly ‘darker’ books because of the work in my portfolio. However, Princess Puffybottom is a very happy and funny story, with lots of things that would make people laugh! I was asked to draw both cat poop and dog puke in this book, both of which were definitely firsts for me!! It was great to experience something new, and I’m so glad I was able broaden my illustrating horizons with such a great story!
Q: You have two very unique hobbies: creating felted wool animals and raising silk worms! Tell us ALL about these hobbies and how they inform/inspire/support your professional illustration work.
A: I started needle felting in high school after I took a class on wet felting with my mom! It turns out I didn’t really like wet felting at all, but it introduced me to needle felting! I bought a book about it soon after, and then I started making and selling little animals as a way to make money while in school, instead of getting a summer job! Although my needle felting shop has been closed for years, I still needle felt occasionally for fun or for gifts!
I think that learning how to needle felt has definitely helped my illustration work! It helped me to understand things in a 3D way. I remember when I first started illustrating, I would create my character first in felt, which would then help me draw it from different angles!
|How gorgeous is he?! We are big fans of bugs in my house!|
Moths have always been one of my favorite creatures! I find them to be so fuzzy and cute, and even more beautiful than butterflies! I'm actually afraid of most insects, but not moths for some reason!
In college, I took a class on insects, where we often took field trips to the woods or fields to collect insects and study them. We also learned how to pin and preserve them for display! I became fascinated after this, and when the class was over, I found a website where you can purchase moth cocoons to hatch and raise. I made a little inclosure, and bought a bunch of cocoons from different silk moth species. (I think I started out with Luna moths, Cecropia Moths, and Polyphemus moths). Almost all of them hatched, and I had so much fun observing and drawing them! When they died a week or two later (these species of silk moths only live about one week or so as adults, because they actually don’t have mouths to eat with—their only purpose is to reproduce at this stage!) I preserved them all and still have most of them in a shadow box on my wall!
Q: Chat with us a bit about your MOST favorite illustration projects: one from the past and one from the present.
A: I think my favorite recent project I worked on was Princess Puffybottom, for all the reasons I mention above!
Although its not from that long ago, my favorite project from the past was definitely the two books I got to illustrate for Golden Books: I am a Kitten! and I am a Puppy! It has always been a dream of mine to do work for them, so illustrating those was so surreal!! Plus, I got to draw cute kittens and puppies for a couple months straight which is never bad!
|Gorgeous Golden Books! Hello, Kitten!|
Q: It seems like everyone these days wants to illustrate children’s picture books! What advice would you give to illustrators looking to break into the children’s publishing industry? And what advice would you give to fellow professional illustrators looking to continue working in the industry?
A: I think having an agent is important! Especially if you are like me, and aren’t very good at negotiating or reading and understanding contracts! I also think that having an online presence, like an Instagram and Twitter account, is very helpful for not only gaining exposure on your work, but making friends and connections in the industry!
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned in the few years I've been working, is to only fill your portfolio with work you want to get hired for! I remember in the beginning, I drew a bunch of children and babies for my portfolio, because I thought thats what I needed to do. However, I really prefer drawing animals, so when I would be hired to draw babies I wouldn’t enjoy it! After I took down those images from my website, I got hired for things I loved! I guess that seems kind of obvious, but it didn’t occur to me!
Q: Describe your most perfect day.
A: It's exactly 62 degrees, and I’m inside watching movies with my cat, Minnow, while sipping on some hot chocolate!
Thank you so much, Olivia, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We think you're amazing!!