I’m delighted today to welcome you to my second illustrator interview! Erica Sirotich, illustrator of The Road That Trucks Built – written by Susanna Leonard Hill – accepted my invitation to answer some questions here for us.
Welcome to my interview corner, Erica! I’m happy to invite you as only the second illustrator I’ve ever interviewed. I’m learning wonderful things about creating. 🙂 By way of introduction, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi there! I am a freelance and children’s book illustrator living in St Pete, Florida. I’ve been working on picture books for about four years, and illustrating professionally for eight. I am the illustrator of Susanna Hill’s adorable The Road That Trucks Built, but I must mention that my author-illustrator debut, Found Dogs, just came out too (July 18)! It’s a picture book for young children about adopting dogs from the local shelter; it’s published by Dial (Penguin) and can be found wherever books are sold!
Other than drawing, I love my dog Russell Redfur (all dogs really); I enjoy lots of coffee and talk radio and podcasts while I work; and I’m a big collector. I collect picture books and art books, stamps, rocks from my travels, Japanese wooden kokeshi dolls, and most recently, plants.
Congratulations on your author-illustrator debut! That’s exciting! When did you first know you wanted to be an illustrator? Who or what inspired you, and what keeps you motivated?
Well, I’ve been drawing my entire life. My little brother and I grew up drawing together, and we’re both working illustrators now. As kids, we inspired and challenged each other all the time, and taught each other drawing techniques and tricks. He still inspires me (www.nicksirotich.com), and so do hundreds of other illustrators, whose work I follow online, on Instagram, and whose books I obsessively collect.
It’s wonderful you have someone close to you with that same interest. Can you tell us a little about your technique and choice of medium?
I sketch everything first in pencil, of course, and when sketches are approved by my art director, I refine them and move on to ink. Depending on the project, I either use brush pens and fine tip pens to create crisp line art (as in Trucks), or brushes and ink to create a slightly looser, softer look (as in Found Dogs). When the ink drawings are complete, I scan those in and collage the pieces together in Photoshop, and color the images digitally. My finished pieces are hybrids of traditional and digital illustration processes.
It all sounds very interesting. How do you decide on how the characters will look?
I just sketch and sketch and sketch and the characters’ personalities emerge gradually and organically from this process. For Trucks, I first had to study all of the vehicles that appear in the book to try to understand how they move and work. (I had never even heard of a scraper before!) So I gathered dozens of reference photos of the trucks and tacked them on my cork wall in front of my desk. Some of them reminded me of certain animals; for instance, the bulldozer reminded me of a little crab, and since we wanted the trucks to be characters in their own right, I embraced that comparison and drew her that way—as a crabby dozer. (She’s not crabby, actually; she’s cheery, and carries a purple flower in her exhaust pipe.)
Yes, she looks quite happy doing her work. 🙂 How much is your own idea when illustrating a book, and how much direction is decided for you? In other words, how much freedom are you given? Do you do any brainstorming with the author?
Usually when I’m working on initial sketches for a book the art director has provided a couple sentences describing what should appear on each page or spread. I’m given a lot of freedom to determine how to execute that, but once the entire book is sketched out, the art director often makes more recommendations to improve consistency across spreads, to fix tricky areas, to remove unnecessary elements or add necessary ones, and so on.
Recommendations in the Trucks illustration process included things like: let’s change the perspective on this page, or zoom out to see a wider view; let’s show each truck from the previous spread in the current spread; let’s show more rocks and sticks in the dirt; let’s add more confetti to the road opening celebration; things like that.
When illustrating a book, I work exclusively with the art director, not the author. That’s just the standard process in publishing. I do believe the art director/editor shows the author the sketches once they’re complete, and then the finished pieces at the end.
The author is consulted in part to make sure nothing has been misinterpreted or
misunderstood, and to make sure she likes how it’s materializing. But I don’t
communicate with the author directly; the art director calls most of the shots.
Your illustrations for Susanna’s book, The Road That Trucks Built, are very well-suited to children. How did you land this assignment? Approximately how long did it take you to complete this book?
Thank you! Well, I have an agent, Jenn Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary, so my projects mostly come straight through her. For Trucks, the art director saw my work and contacted Jenn to see if I’d be interested in illustrating it. I thought the manuscript was so cute and clever, and though animals are my favorite things to illustrate, I loved that in Trucks the vehicles had to be depicted as characters in their own right. So, of course, I jumped at the opportunity.
I believe the process for illustrating Trucks spanned about six months, but I was actively illustrating for about four. For a short period of time, I was hopping between illustrations for Trucks and Found Dogs.
What is it about illustrating children’s books that appeals to you?
I just love children’s books and I’m over the moon that I have had the opportunity to work on several thus far. I think some of the most compelling and innovative work in illustration these days is being done in picture books. There’s so many incredibly talented people out there making them, I’m just humbled and honored to play a tiny part in that world.
Also, I love that working on books is kind of a hybrid between being a freelancer and having a “real job.” When illustrating a book, you know you’ll be busy for several months at a time and can budget your time (and expenses) accordingly. Being self-employed can be a roller coaster of busy—not busy—busy and also making money—not making money—making money. Longer projects help build some stability in an otherwise unpredictable career.
I understand about your love for picture books, and when you help create them it must be thrilling! Writers have critique groups, editors, agents, how does that work for you as an illustrator?
I have a wonderful agent. It’s been her connections and enthusiasm for my work that’s led to all of my major projects over the last four years. For illustration-only projects, like Trucks, I work with art directors rather than editors. I don’t know of anything along the lines of an illustration critique group, but I have a lot of illustrator friends, as well as my brother, who weigh in if I get stuck or need advice. And I post a lot of work and process shots on Instagram, which has a very large illustration and picture book community. It’s nice to get feedback from folks there, and feel connected to a creative community that’s dispersed across the globe.
Obviously, it’s important to have those connections. Is being an illustrator all you had hoped or thought it would be?
Haha! Well, in some ways, yes. First and foremost, I get to draw (almost) every day, so in that way, I’m living the dream. Being self-employed can be difficult, though. I’m lucky to have some regular clients in addition to my book illustration projects, including Highlights Magazine, and that helps me fill in the gaps.
There’s that saying out there: If you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life. That’s not true, ha! I usually work 6-7 days a week, nights included, and I work very hard. (Yes, sometimes I’m sitting on my couch in the living room while I work, but there’s always more to do and I don’t like to procrastinate.)
All that said, the work is a privilege and joy. The fact that, in the end, it lands in the hands of children makes it even more special and even kind of surreal. I just love it.
How wonderful that you have been able to turn what you love to do into something you … love to do for a job! Do you have any advice for hopefuls?
There’s no substitute for dedication, persistence, work, and study. If you want to work on picture books (or on any particular book genre), read and study as many recently published picture books as you can (last five years, preferably). Use your favorites as mentor texts and try to really understand how those works are put together and why they are successful. Join SCBWI, study their website and resources, and do your best to attend at least one regional or international conference. Soak up the collective wisdom of that group. Hone your style and present your work professionally online, in a clean, standalone website. In your portfolio, show fewer strong pieces, rather than more mediocre ones. Follow agents on social media and, when you’re ready to submit your work to them, follow their guidelines and only submit your best. Maintain a professional persona online; don’t post things that you wouldn’t want a potential client
to see. And don’t quit your day job too soon. Getting consistent work in illustration and publishing can take years and years. Try not to be discouraged. The process is slow but the rewards are worth it. Good luck!
Thanks, Erica, for a very interesting interview and for giving us a glimpse into your world. 🙂 Congratulations, again, on your own book debut this week! I wish you continued success.
WHERE YOU CAN FIND ERICA:
And now …
Susanna Leonard Hill, and her publisher, Little Simon, are offering to one of you a copy of The Road That Trucks Built!
The rules are simple. Leave a comment on this post telling us which type of ‘truck’ in the road crew you would like to drive, and your name will be entered into the draw – not to actually drive one of them, though. (Sorry) 🙂 You have the ones in the story from which to choose: the bulldozer, the scraper, the grader, the paver, the roller, the paint marker. (If you read my interview with Susanna you know which one she is likely to choose. 🙂 )You have until Saturday, July 29, at 9:00 PM EST to enter. Using the “random name picker” I will select one name, and the next morning – Sunday, July 30 – I will announce the winner of a copy of The Road That Trucks Built. Be sure to check your email Saturday night because I will be contacting the winner for a mailing address.
Don’t delay, comment today! And please pass the news on to your friends; post on Twitter, FaceBook, or what ever way you communicate with the world. We thank you. ♥
Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!