A few weeks ago I received a comment from Vanessa Brantley Newton, a very accomplished, New Jersey based illustrator. I didn't know who she was when I first glanced at my comments section, so you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I saw this...
I immediately fell in love with her colorful and whimsical style. As you know, I love illustration. I do it for a living, so to have someone like Vanessa enjoy my work meant a lot. So I reached out to her and she couldn't have been more kind. You know that feeling you get when you reach out to people through an email and it feels like they're in the room with you? That's the same feeling I get from Vanessa. So I decided to ask her for an interview and she agreed. She really has an amazing story so please read on and enjoy. You might learn something. ;)
So tell me Vanessa, when did you know you wanted to be an illustrator?
Very, very early on. I knew when I was a kid that I wanted to be an illustrator. It was effortless for me. I'm dyslectic and during the time I was in school they had no programs or ways to tell if a child had a learning difficulty. I would draw all the time and it became the way that I expressed myself and still express myself.
That must have been difficult. Do you remember what things inspired you as a child, and what inspires you today as an adult?
All things whimsical and childlike. Color and noise. The hilarious and silly, were the things that inspired me as a child. I adored Bugs Bunny, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Courageous Cat, Minute Mouse, Pink Panther and Felix the Cat cartoons. I loved the illustrations, color, background, humour and all of it. As an adult these are still some of the things that inspire me. I love mid-century illustrations, books and games from my childhood. All things retro speak to me. From the shapes of appliances and their awesome colors to the fashion that were worn. I am a child of the 60's and so it shows up in my artwork. I can't help it! :D
When did you get your big break? And did you work any odd jobs before you became a professional illustrator?
Before I became a full time illustrator I worked as phlebotomist for over 25 years. In other words I was a vampire. I loved working with people and helping them. I was very good at what I did drawing blood. I worked with Aids and cancer patients of all ages. Mostly children often with terminal illnesses. I also worked with newborns and premature babies. I got my big break in illustration when my husband, homeboy, and babydaddy, was laid off from his job as an Aerospace Engineer. I was content to be a stay at home mom, but when he lost his job things really began to fall apart and quick. I had been doing some work on the side with illustration, but not enough to support my family. A greeting card here or there and an illustration for a family friend or something. The lack of money really became a big, big problem.
I started drawing again and working on creating some pieces that I could show to get some work. I picked up some books on children's book illustrations and I tore into each one as if my very life depended on it. I even took some classes and didn't really have the money for them, but found it some how. A friend came over to visit me one day and saw all my new illustrations on my dinning room table and asked who did the work? I told her that I was working on putting a portfolio together to show. She then told me that she worked at Scholastic as an editor and wanted me to submit my work for Scholastic's Read and Rise Magazine. It was my first real job as an illustrator which opened the door for me to do a wonderful series called, "Ruby and the Bookers Boys", written by Derrick Barnes. It's still selling today. I have been blessed to be working ever since.
What has been your favorite and most fulfilling project you ever worked on and why?
"Let Freedom Sing" by far is the most fufilling project I have ever worked on because I wrote and illustrated the book. It would be my very first solo project. "Let Freedom Sing" was the hardest work I ever loved. I still look at it with awe and wonderment! It talks about important moments during the Civil Rights movement without making oth
ers feel bad, but makes us all take a look at ourselves encourages us to let our light shine in everything that we do. My favorite Project, I would have to say, was a book called "Drum City" by Thea Guidone. I love this BOOK!! They gave me all the freedom that I needed and wanted to create illustrations that I ADORE!!! It came out in June 2010.
What advice would you give young designers and illustrators who are looking to make this a career path?
Be prepared to do the hard work. It will only benefit you if you do. Know what it is that you want and go for it. Be focus and remain true to yourself and your vision. Hone your talents and skills to make them stand out and better then the next guy. It will be thing that makes your work stand out in a crowd. Find your voice of expression and style. Don't be afraid to try new things and work in different media. Always be open to learn from others. You stop learning, you stop growing. See yourself where you want to be and be your own cheerleader!!! Stay around people who are postive and believe in you. Go for it!!!
A big thanks to Vanessa Brantley Newton for doing the first Tanoshiboy Chronicles interview.