This month I’m pleased as punch to be chatting it up with the fabulous Designer/Illustrator, Zara Gonzalez Hoang! I’m a big a fan of her fun & graphically bold artwork, and I was so excited to meet her in person this past February at the SCBWI NY conference! Zara grew up in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. She lived a nomadic life for a number of years that took her from one coast to the other and back again before settling in Falls Church, VA. She lives with her mad man husband, tiny demon son, and curly-coated corgi in a little mid-century modern house stuffed with books and art supplies deep in the suburban woods. You can view more of her artwork here.
|Special Delivery: Octopus Friend for Life!!
Q: You recently became represented by Andrea Morrison at Writers House and landed your first children’s picture book contract. (Congratulations!!!) Give us all the fabulous details on your forthcoming picture book.
A: Thank you so much! Andrea has been so great. I met her at a local SCBWI conference right as I was getting ready to send out queries and I consider myself super lucky that she was willing to take me on with half a dummy and a few poorly written stories to show!
The book I just finished illustrating is called Thread of Love by Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal—a mother/son writing team that have written a number of books together. The book tells about Raksha Bandhan—an Indian celebration of the love between brothers and sisters. The text is super cute and I was able to use tons of color and pattern in the illustrations which made me super happy. It comes out in Fall 2018 with Beach Lane Books / Simon & Schuster. I’m very excited about it. I can’t believe I still have a whole year until I will be able to see it in person!
I’m also working on a few of my own stories right now, trying to get them ready to send out and I thank my lucky stars every day for my agent and my writing group because they have all been so helpful in finding things in my stories I didn’t see and helping me tease them out.
Q: I absolutely LOVE your darling characters, graphic sensibility and sophisticated palettes. Dish with us a bit about your creative process—initial ideas, sketches, finished art, all the good stuff!
A: I wish I had a more formal process, but I’m pretty all over the board. Things usually start with sketching, probably on paper, but sometimes on my tablet. (I use a Wacom Cintiq/Mobile Studio Pro.) I am trying to be better about starting a sketchbook at the beginning of a project and just using that book to get down all of my ideas (so they are all collected in one place) but I am so bad about just grabbing whatever piece of paper is handy that I end up doing a lot of taping things in.
I don’t thumbnail nearly enough but I am trying to get better. I’m constantly looking at picture books and artists I admire to try to figure out their composition secrets. My work is always so focused on the character that I have to remember that the background (or lack there of) and the composition are just as important.
I also tend to jump into color early because I like to figure out my color palettes before I get too far into a project. For me the color palette really sets the mood and often I will figure that out before I finalize what my characters look like. It helps me see the illustration or the book better once I know how the colors will be…not that they don’t change while I’m finalizing—they typically do a bit, but they tend to stay mostly true to what I first imagined.
Lately I’ve been playing around a lot with traditional media. I’m not confident enough with it (yet!) to create final artwork that way but I am trying to teach myself to loosen up a bit and I can already see the positive influence playing with traditional media is having on my digital work.
|On the go—vrooooom!!!
Q: You spent several years working in advertising and for a variety of start-ups as a designer and creative director. Tell us a bit about what was fabulous and what was not-so-fabulous about these experiences, and how they have shaped you as a freelance Illustrator—from both the artist and the businesswoman perspective.
A: I think the best gift I got from spending time working in advertising is my professionalism and work ethic – and also my ability to work quickly under tight deadlines. The best gift I got from working (and founding) Start Ups was probably to see first hand that by pushing forward and continuing to experiment you can get to somewhere you weren’t expecting.
Being a freelance illustrator is hard. You have to wear a lot of hats, and there’s a lot of self-doubt that comes with doing something as subjective as illustration. I feel like the skills I learned working in those industries have definitely helped build my backbone and strengthen my will to keep going when things aren’t always going as easily as I would like.
I think the hardest parts of those jobs were the long hours and the feeling (especially in the case of advertising) that I wasn’t working on anything that had meaning. I come from a family of teachers so it’s hard to see the value you are adding to the world when your parents and siblings are educating young minds and you are trying to corrupt them by promoting rampant consumerism.
I had a lot of good times in advertising too and I definitely owe a lot to the industry in terms of fostering my creativity, but I am much happier now that I don't have to be a part of it.
|Uh, you better watch out there, kiddo!! Yikes!
Q: Now it’s time for one of my most favorite questions: In what ways do you balance your work as a professional artist with your role as a mama of an active, fun little kiddo?
A: This is always the hardest question! I don’t think I’m that fantastic at balancing the two, but I try to do my best. Sometimes (like when there are deadlines) that means I spend less time being Mama. Other times, like when school is out for holidays or my kiddo is home sick it goes the other way. My son goes to a half day preschool, so I try to get my important must do work done while he is away. If I’m lucky, he will still nap in the afternoon, so I get a bit more time to work. But if not, then depending on what I have on my plate, I will end up working into the evening. I’m lucky to have a supportive spouse, who is willing to pick up the slack when I have work to do, but I must admit that I never quite seem to find the right balance. Hopefully, once my kiddo is a bit older and in school a bit longer, I’ll be able to find a better balance, but I’m a total work-a-holic, so probably not!
|Busy, busy, busy city!! What to do first?
Q: The movement to inspire, create and support more diverse books for children has become a force. As a Jewish-Latina illustrator, what efforts in the children’s book publishing community would you praise? And what changes would you like to see?
A: I haven’t been in the kid lit world for very long, so I’ve only been paying more attention to what has been going on in the last year or so, but what I am seeing gives me hope that things are getting a little better.
The We Need Diverse Books movement is gaining momentum and the publishing houses seem to recognize that they need to try to get more diverse voices out there. However, I think there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made within the publishing houses to have more diverse voices in editorial meetings and in positions of power.
Still, I am encouraged. As a mixed-race and non-christian person growing up, there were no books for someone like me—but I’ve flagged at least a dozen being published in the next year (or published this year) that speak to me in a way no book during my childhood did. And of course, I also feel a personal push to try to develop some of my own stories, which deal with diverse subjects.
Q: Describe your most perfect day.
A: A rainy day, my bed, a book, and some cozy pajamas—and no interruptions, of course!
Thank you so much, Zara, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We can’t wait til your NEW picture book, Thread of Love, is available! Hooray!!