Writing tips from illustrators, Part 1

I wanted to write another post today regarding the class I took from Rick Walton.  The fourth week, we had a panel of local illustrators speak to us. Because I’m not an illustrator, and I’m currently writing YA books, not picture books, I wasn’t sure I would learn much. I was pleasantly surprised. For one thing, it was helpful to know that the publishing experience is different for everyone.

Nathan Hale said he crashed Rick’s class years ago and it was helpful. He wanted to write and illustrate his own books and has now written two and illustrated twelve books. One is a graphic novel, Rapunzel’s Revenge, written by Shannon Hale.

He told us he doesn’t enjoy visiting schools, but his editor likes him to do 30-40 a year. He gave us his “school” presentation, which I enjoyed. He explained that there are three kinds of art: Fine Art – Commercial Art – Graphic Design, and Illustrators fall in between the categories.

I learned that illustrators are given many “rules” for their drawings. They often are given a list of things they can or can’t have in an illustrations, sometimes they’re kind of random (e.g. yes wheelchair, no hoodies, no rollerskates). All correspondence for his jobs is done via email.

In order to get an illustration correct, illustrators often use photo references – though they have to change them so they are’t the same as the reference. Nathan said he does study references, but then he chucks them and draws his own version. He does 2-3 jobs like that a week.

His background was with the Hale Center Theatre, which his parents own. He did theatre backdrops for the theatre, which are basically murals. He went to an Art school in Seattle and then to BYU. He told us that when the Thanksgiving Point Dinosaur Museum opened, he did their murals.

I was impressed that he was proactive in getting that job. He went to them and asked who was doing their murals. When he learned they weren’t planning to do any, he went home, did research, made all kinds of sculptures, and presented Thanksgiving Point with an idea that they couldn’t pass up.

He later moved to the Midwest and did a lot of murals for other museums until canvas printing improved and made the industry obsolete. But his big science murals led to small science illustration jobs. While doing science illustrations, in his spare time, he’d do fun kid-stuff. He had no agent. He sent out postcards.

He told us a quote he’d heard. “There are two slush piles—one group goes straight into the trash; the other group, the editors make fun of, and then goes into the trash.”

He said illustrators make their income from book covers, educational, catalogues, etc.  He said: “Books are an expensive hobby.” He’s never had a royalty check, all his money comes from advances. A published picture book author might be able to survive having 3 bombs; but a published illustrator could have hundreds.

Nathan’s advice: DRAW EVERY DAY! If you’re not finding jobs make up your own.

Translating that into advice for authors, I say: WRITE EVERY DAY! Keep learning the craft. Submit your work.

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