Alison has been one of my 12×12 colleagues over the past couple of years and I particularly wanted to interview her because I loved the artwork in her picture book, FLAP, and because she has such an encouraging story to share with us. I hope you will agree.
[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator, and if both, do words or pictures come first?
[AH] I’m both an author and an illustrator and the pictures usually come first. I see a character or a situation in my mind and have to get it on paper (just a quick sketch of it). Seeing it on the page helps me to understand who that character is and what his or her story will be. I write a rough draft and then create simple sketches of each plot point to see if the idea works visually.
[JM] What’s your nationality and which and how have certain cultures/regions influenced your work?
[AH] I grew up in the North Shore suburbs outside of Chicago. Growing up in that area, most of the people that I knew had brown hair, brown curly hair, so characters often have brown curly hair in my sketches. I then enjoy mixing in other hair colors and styles as well as a variety of cultures and ethnicities when the art progresses to a tighter drawing.
[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.
[AH] I’ve been drawing since the day that my mother put a crayon in my hand. I would get in trouble in school for “not paying attention” because I was copying the characters from the posters around the classroom down the sides of my worksheets. What those teachers didn’t understand was that as a kinesthetic learner, my listening skills were better when I was drawing.
I took drafting classes in High School that led to a major in Environmental Design (Urban Planning) in college. When I wasn’t working on projects for class, I was performing as a juggler at an outdoor mall in Boulder, Colorado.
When I was a few months away from graduation, I saw an advertisement in ID magazine for a Toy Design program at SUNY in New York City. I applied and decided that whether I would go for my Master’s in City Planning or a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Toy Design would be decided by which program accepted me or accepted me first. I got into both programs on the same day so after some self evaluation, I moved to New York to become a Toy Designer. When I graduated in 1995, I received the TYCO Industry award for being the student with the “Most Potential,” but only a year after becoming a professional toy designer, a car accident took my new career away from me. I sustained multiple injuries to my drawing arm as well as major damage to my left leg. I could no longer draw so I had to leave toy design behind.
I returned to school and earned an MA in Curriculum and Instruction and a teaching license. I taught 4th grade core curriculum before switching to middle school art and technology. While I still couldn’t draw detailed illustrations, I had the knowledge and experience to teach.
Fast forward to 2010…
Teaching gave me the opportunity to write the silly stories that I shared with my students during classes. After turning some of those stories into picture book manuscripts, joining SCBWI, and participating in a critique group for a year. I submitted a few of my manuscripts to agents and editors and I sold a story. The publisher spent several months looking for the right illustrator and during that time, I wondered if I could get my arm to work well enough to illustrate my story. I had a clear vision of my characters, setting, and scenes so I took my drafting table out of storage and sat down to sketch. The effort of using my left arm to draw was very painful but I managed to create some rough sketches and sent them to my publisher. To my surprise, they loved them and I was hired to illustrate my story. I was given only 10 weeks to illustrate FLAP from sketches to final and I could only draw for short periods of time because the pain was too intense. As the weeks went by and I was running out of time, I had to spend many hours a day to get the illustrations completed. Illustrating caused me soo much pain that I was sure I would not illustrate another book. My enjoyment of drawing had dwindled. I met my deadline in October 2011 and FLAP released in November 2012.
In hopes of strengthening my arm, I continued to draw during the year between submitting final art and my book releasing but only for a few minutes each day and only very loose sketches. In November 2012, I participated in a sketch-a-day challenge and loved it. There was no pressure to create presentation quality art and I spent less than thirty minutes a day producing a drawing. I vowed that 2013 was my year to get to a place where drawing was fun again so I continued to create a daily doodle everyday. On April 30th 2013, my art loving five year old told me that she wanted to doodle with me every day in May. I blogged an announcement about “Doodle Day May” and invited others to join my daughter and I. By 6am the following morning, there were more than 60 people, from all over the world, signed up to doodle. It has on its sixth month and “Doodle Day” is still going strong with around 150 people in the Facebook Group and nearly another 200 emailing me their doodles. There is a daily prompt and doodlers share their sketches online. Doodle Day participants range in age from 4 to about 80 years old and includes artists, parents, children, teachers, and those who claim that they can’t draw but try anyway. Drawing everyday has helped me improve my skill, develop my style, and inspire me by inspiring others.
[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?
[AH] I draw in pencil or blue pencils (a method left over from those City Planning days) and then use ink and watercolor or scan it in and finish it digitally in Sketchbook Pro.
What does your workspace look like?
[AH] My workspace is pretty organized (though it feels messy to me). Growing up, I learned that a cluttered room made a cluttered mind so the more organized my work space is, the easier it is to focus on my projects. My studio was featured as a Studio Tour for the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI. You can check out the link here: http://youtu.be/Q6W5GWO6f_4.
[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?
This next is a photo of a doodle of a boy building a dog house. After drawing it, I realized that this is the end of a story so I created a drawing of the beginning and middle and tightened them up for my portfolio.
[AH] All of them have had a profound influence on what I create each day. My experiences as a juggler, toy designer, school teacher, summer camp director, and mom fill my sketchbook and journal with drawings and stories.
[JM] Being an illustrator (author) can be very isolating , how do you combat this?
[AH] I listen to music while drawing and when I write, I feel like I’m watching a movie staring my characters and it’s my job to write their story. It doesn’t feel that isolating and my dogs are always watching or sleeping near by.
[JM] How do you go about promoting your work and connecting with others in the business?
[AH] To promote my work and connect with other writers and artists, I attend conferences, and participate in Facebook groups and Tweet Chats for authors and illustrators of children’s books. I also have a website, a blog, and a LinkedIn page. I share my business cards and bookmarks with media center specialists and book store owners. I do author visits at schools and bookstores. I also participate in critique groups, where a group of writers and artists who I trust give me honest feedback about the quality and needs of my stories and drawings.
[JM] Which artists/illustrators have been a great inspiration for you?
[AH] Charles Schulz, Peter H. Reynolds, Renee Kurilla, Will Terry, Hazel Mitchell, Prescott Hill, and there are many others…
Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What word best sums you up?
[JM] If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?
[AH] I loved living in Colorado and seeing the mountains every day so I definitely want to return there. I would love to spend a few months living in a cabin in the mountains with fresh air, no distractions, and time to create.
[JM] What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing?
[AH] I often nosh on popcorn or pretzels while working and usually have a cup of hot tea close by.
Cats or dogs?
[AH] Dogs – mine are Shih Tzus and they keep me company wherever I am in the house when I’m working.
[JM] If you could spend a day with one children’s book illustrator, dead or alive, with whom would that be?
[AH] Charles Schulz
Where can we find/follow you and your work?
Doodle Day: https://www.facebook.com/
Alison, your perseverance and optimism are an inspiration to us all. Although I am not an illustrator, I look out daily for friends of mine who post these doodles on their FB pages, and I really encourage other illustrators to join this Doodle Day Facebook group. To your continued success, Alison.