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Illustrator Melinda Beavers races to the finish line

Illustrator Melinda BeaversPlease welcome illustrator Melinda Beavers to the blog this month. Her debut picture book book came out earlier this year.

Illustrator Melinda Beavers grew up in northern New Jersey and earned a BFA in illustration at Montclair State University, afterwards she spent a year abroad at the University of Plymouth’s arts campus in Exeter, England. Her illustrations have taken top honors at prominent shows and juried competitions, including Masterworks of New Mexico, the CPSA Annual International Exhibition, SCBWI regional events, as well as being featured in print publications, product design, and packaging. Visit her website and blog to find out more.

WMI: When did you get started illustrating for children? What did you do before?
Melinda Beavers: I’ve been interested in illustrating for children since I can remember. When I was a kid, I kept going back to my picture books over and over because I was so in love with the artwork, even when I was well beyond picture book reading level. My final BFA project in college was based on a children’s book idea, that’s what really got me start though. In the course of my research and working on that project in general, I found the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), I’ve been an active member and volunteer for the organization ever since.

Illustrator Melinda Beavers 05_BookCoverZAPR_MBWMI: Your debut book “The Zoo’s Annual Piggyback Race” written by Matt Harrigan came out earlier this year. What is it about?
Melinda Beavers: It’s about a piggyback race through the zoo and all the various antics that ensue. The idea stemmed from the author’s clever idea to explain away what two animals were doing together during his own trip to the zoo. But I love drawing animals, and this was just a funny project I just couldn’t pass it up.

WMI: What did you like best about working on this book?
Melinda Beavers: Working on the book, in general! This is my first complete book, and I was really just looking forward to finishing it and holding the book in my hands, knowing that I’d done it.

WMI: I understand Mr. Harrigan was also the publisher. Self-publishing is the next big thing. Can you relate your experience working with a self-publishing author?
Melinda Beavers:  It was a very interesting experience. Mr. Harrigan is also a first time author, he was completely new to the whole experience. We worked really well together, he concentrated on his end of things to get the book produced and let me do my thing and make most of the initial big creative decisions (although he always had the final say-so 😉

WMI: Would you take on another project by a self-published author? Why or why not?
Melinda Beavers: Absolutely! If the project is right. I truly believe it was our mutual admiration for the story that enabled us to carry The Zoo’s Annual Piggyback Race through to publication, and I think it shows in the final product. I’ve been approached, and even started, several self-publisher projects in the past… but they fizzle out when it comes to cost or creative conflicts, etc.

WMI: Where can people find signed copies of the book?
Melinda Beavers: Signed and personalized copies of the book are available through my Etsy shop.

Illustrator Melinda Beavers 09_Traditional-DigitalMix_MBWMI: What other children’s illustration projects have you worked on?
Melinda Beavers: I worked for many years at a scrapbooking company, designing and illustrating stickers! It was a great job, I really loved the variety of themes and projects. You can see several of these on my blog under the tag “Sticker Sunday”. I also worked on Bella Sara’s fantasy playing card series (http://melindabeavers.com/projects/bellasara/ & http://www.melindabeavers.blogspot.com/p/bella-sara.html). From time to time I work on some educational projects as well, which tend to be short stories for beginning readers. I had a fantastic time doing illustrations and design for the Green Threads permanent exhibit at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

WMI: What are you working on now? Do you have any other art projects you’d like to talk about?
Melinda Beavers: Right now I’m working several projects, including writing (or trying to). I have several ideas on my table for creating my own written and illustrated picture books, as well has various private commissions and freelance projects.

WMI: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?
Melinda Beavers: Yes, I do. It can be very similar to my children’s work, or drastically different. I enjoying working on tiny miniature paintings (http://www.melindabeavers.blogspot.com/search/label/Miniature), which generally focus on New Mexico landscapes and localities. I’ve done pet portraits and family commissions as well.

WMI: Can you explain your art process?
Melinda Beavers: I work digitally and traditionally. It depends on the project, how the final work will come out, but most of my commercial work ends in some kind combination of mixed traditional/digital final art.

Illustrator Melinda Beavers 02_Sketching_MB
I start with thumbnail sketches and overall layout, planning compositions.
Illustrator Melinda Beavers 01_Reference_MB
Next I do extensive research to get myself as familiar as possible with my subject/s. Sometimes I do random sketches at this point, especially when developing a new character, in various positions and with various expressions, just to get used to drawing the same character over and over.
Illustrator Melinda Beavers 03_Finalizing_MB
Then I start doing a more refined sketch of the thumbnail or concept sketches. I’ll scan these and do digital color studies on the computer, to plan out lighting and shading as well as the overall color composition.
Illustrator Melinda Beavers 04_FinalArtAndLayout_MB
If the artwork is large, I’ll print a copy of my refined sketch at the proper scale (often multiple pieces of paper that I tape together) and transfer to a piece of stretched watercolor paper with transfer paper. I’ll then go over that transfer drawing with graphite pencil, in effect redrawing the layout one final time. I do a watercolor underpainting to tone the paper, and finished with heavily burnished colored pencils that completely cover any trace of the watercolor underneath. Usually, I’ll scan in the final art and “clean” it up a bit, this also allows for easy edits and revisions that may be needed last-minute.

Illustrator Melinda Beavers  07_GraphiteDrawing_MBWMI: What is your favorite medium to work in? Have you always worked in this media? If not, why did you switch?
Melinda Beavers: My absolute favorite media is colored pencil. Recently I’ve also enjoyed doing detailed graphite drawings that I scan and color digitally. Both are very rewarding, although somewhat time-consuming.

WMI: Do you use models/source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
Melinda Beavers: All of the above! I use source images to guide me for certain anatomical requirements, and as I mentioned, to familiarized myself with various subjects. Most of my ideas and concept drawings come from my imagination first though, and then I look for suitable references to help fill any gaps and details my imagination can’t quite provide. I rarely use models, but sometimes it’s the best way to get certain expressions, even for animal characters!

WMI: What gets you through an illustration when you’re stuck for inspiration?
Melinda Beavers: All kinds of things! Surfing various illustrator websites or blogs or just talking with illustrator friends. My critique group has been invaluable in getting me through several rough patches with projects. Sometimes I just sit down with a pile of picture books from my collection or from the library. I used to keep a daily sketchbook, which I’ve gotten out of the habit of keeping… that was an incredible resource to look back at for ideas and experiments and something I’d like to get back into (http://www.melindabeavers.blogspot.com/search/label/Morning%20Pages).

Illustrator Melinda Beavers 08_CharacterArt_MB  Illustrator Melinda Beavers  06_LineArt_MB

WMI: What one piece of advice would you share with an illustrator wanting to get into kid lit?
Melinda Beavers: Draw, a lot. Draw what you love, but also challenge yourself to draw outside your comfort zone. Every illustrator has a nemesis subject (mine happens to be PEOPLE of all things, LOL), that they need to spend a little extra time with. Really work towards developing your own unique style, most artists have their own way of drawing/seeing that somehow gets trained out of them somewhere along their career path (because illustration is so much about delivering what someone else wants, not necessarily what you, the artist, wants). It’s quite the catch 22, but you have to strike your own balance.

WMI: What book do you remember from when you were young? (list one or multiple books)
Melinda Beavers: I still have several, but my favorite has always been The Dwindling Party by Edward Gory, a pop-up book that is surprisingly dark and macabre for a children’s book… but that’s Edward Gory for you. 😉

WMI: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now?
Melinda Beavers: All the time! I always gravitate toward the other color pencil artists, most recently Molly Idle and Aaron Zenz. I love Jon Klassen‘s wonderful and seamless mix of traditional and digital media. I love the simplicity and clever humor of Mo Willems and Antoinette Portis. I’ve been an admirer of Charles Santore‘s masterful and complex watercolors for years. I’m in awe of the sense of wonder portrayed in the works of Chris Van Allsburg, Nicoletta Ceccoli, and Shaun Tan. I love, love, love the unique and expressive characters created by Renata Liwska and Jen Corace.

WMI: If you could illustrate any writer’s new work, who would it be?
Melinda Beavers: It’s hard to say, based on something that theoretically doesn’t yet exist… I think for me it’s more about the individual story and emotion. Just about any author could create a written piece that inspires me and sets my mind aflame with images and ideas! That being said, I’ve really loved recent works from Deborah Underwood, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and Mac Barnett.

Thanks, Melinda for visiting and sharing your process and inspirations.

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