Interview with Illustrator – Sheralyn Barnes

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Interview with the delightful Sheralyn Barnes, the second in this new series!

Ten for Starters

JM What’s your nationality and where do you live? SB I’m American living in St. Paul, Minnesota

JM Illustrator or author/illustrator? SB I am mainly an illustrator, but  I have recently adapted that to author/illustrator. I’ve been writing for almost as long as I’ve been drawing, but I’ve put many more hours of study and energy into becoming an illustrator. I do still hesitate to call classify myself as an author, because I don’t want to be disrespectful of the hours and hours of hard work it takes to be a good writer. At this point, I have written mainly picture book manuscripts and believe that is the extent of my goals as a writer.

JM What is your favorite medium for your art work? SB I love working in graphite and oil paints. However, I am now using the computer for a lot of my color illustration work. It really is amazing how painterly you can be with pixels these days and it makes a lot of sense for publishing work. If I really want to lose myself in something though, nothing beats a 2H and an HB pencil, my sketchbook, and a hot cup of tea!

JM Tell us a little about your latest project(s), if you can? SB I just finished a project for Reading A-Z illustrating a kindergarten age book called“Silly Sarah”that is designed for school reading programs. I am also working with the author Janie DeVos on her Christmas book called “Mrs. Mosley’s Christmas Tree”. I am in the process of submitting my own picture book called “A Heap of Sheep”and my newest and most exciting project and adventure is working with my husband, Brian Barnes, forming our“kindie” band (music for kids) called “Filibert Binkleby and the Travelers” where I will not only be performing and recording songs with him (as Winifred Binkleby), but also we’ll be collaborating on illustrated picture books, videos, etc. to go with the music. It’s going to be an absolute blast. A ton of work….but a blast.

JM What books (or authors and illustrators) influenced your childhood? SB Pretty much all books by Dr. Seuss and “Harold and the Purple Crayon”by Crockett Johnson. I also loved “The Little House”by Virginia Lee Burton. I don’t remember being read to as a kid other than maybe at the library’s story hour. My earliest memory of books is reading “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” to my stuffed animals at tea parties in my bedroom. They seemed to particularly enjoy that book.

JM I know your creativity isn’t limited to illustration. How do your creative gifts interplay with each other? SB I also play the mandolin and guitar. I’ve been performing in a duo with my husband professionally for about ten years. We play music from all around the world…early american swing and jazz, latin, french, irish, etc. It keeps life interesting and musically challenging. It’s always a treat for me to see someone’s eyes light up when they hear us play something out of the ordinary or a favorite song that moves them. I find that many of the psychological hurdles that I have had  to jump in order to perform music have helped me as an illustrator as well.  I had horrible stage fright when I first started performing and always preferred drawing and painting because I could do it with no one watching me! Then one day I finally relaxed enough to really enjoy the great reaction we were getting from the audience and it reminded me of why I learned to play the mandolin in the first place. It was for the love of the music and how it made me feel. So, at that point, I put myself in the mind frame that it’s really not about me. It’s about being a vehicle for the music to get out there and change the world for the better…even if it’s just in little ways.  Playing on stage became way more enjoyable when I started viewing performing as sharing the music rather than producing it. So no matter what form of entertainment I am doing now, visual or musical, I try to remember that. And much like my musical taste, I like to draw things that are unordinary and amusing. I live for entertaining my visual audience with that little chuckle or a sense of enchantment. As a kid growing up in rural Indiana I had very little exposure to the arts of any kind and yearned for variety in my life. I am so happy to now find myself doing the art and music that I dreamed of, and at the same time, adding a little spice to other people’s lives.

JM How do illustrators go about critique? SB I’m probably not the best person to answer this since I’m not very involved in critique groups. I think this is just more a reflection of my personality and not necessarily a positive thing. Since I didn’t have a lot of support or guidance in art as a kid, I learned to draw by spending many hours sketching by myself. So as an adult, I still tend to prefer isolation when working. When I feel the need for another perspective, I ask fellow illustrators on a more one on one basis. I do think that feedback is important and I feel fortunate to know several very talented illustrators who I can email. I’ve also found paid critiques with the great illustrators and art directors at SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conferences incredibly valuable. I’ve had a couple critiques with Dan Santat and found that they really helped me propel the quality of my work and my understanding of children’s illustration forward. His advice was very honest, inspiring, challenging, and rather hard to swallow, but it helped me become a much better illustrator. In addition to these interactions, I am also very honored and lucky to be part of a group blog called Pixel Shavings. We are a group of six professional illustrators who met through SCBWI. There is a new post once a week, so every six weeks it is an opportunity for each of us to experiment with something new or maybe share what we’ve been working on. I think that we’ve all found it to be a great way to get feedback and insight into what we’re all doing. Our posts really vary and the blog is a great platform for experimentation and insight.

JM What does your work-space look like? SB A living room. I gave up having a separate studio in recent years when my husband and I decided to downsize our life so that we could pursue music, painting, and illustration work full time. We put our property in rural Wisconsin up for sale and (in a very round about and much too difficult way) moved into an apartment in our favorite neighborhood in Saint Paul. After ten years of owning property (and the stuff that went along with owning it) we realized it wasn’t making us very happy. So presently, my working space is essentially our living space…..half the living room is dedicated to my computer station for illustration work and the other half is filled with easels, paintings, and an array of musical instruments. We have a front room dedicated to music and teaching as well. Essentially, we live in a studio with a small kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom attached. Somedays, this works out better than others, but all in all, we are so much happier. We hope to be on the road more with music projects in the near future and in order to do this I’ll have to adapt my illustration work for even tighter situations. Thankfully the computer really comes in handy for this kind of situation.

JM Can you share a piece or two with us, and the process of producing them?  SB I’ll give you three examples of sheep in the three main mediums I use.

I started drawing these sheep one day when I was in a coffee shop and at a loss of what to draw. I looked around me and just imagined everyone in the cafe as a sheep. Alas…an obsession was born!

Sheep on the Beach: 

Oil painting on Panel. This piece was painted before I learned how to illustrate on the computer.

Sheep at the Movies: 

Graphite (with a tad of digital touch up)

Sudsy Sheep: 

Digital Painting. This was my first digital painting after watching Will Terry’s “Painting in Photoshop” tutorial.

JM Name a couple of people that have mentored or inspired you most and why? SB Stephen Gammell: His pencil and pastel work are absolutely, jaw dropping, incredible. His children’s illustration was my first love and I was fortunate to make his acquaintance when I moved to St. Paul years ago.  Visiting his studio and seeing his work in progress was always a true inspiration. He’s the real thing.

Will Terry: I’ve been a big fan of Will Terry’s illustration work for quite a while, but only recently have gotten to know him better through the wonders of the internet. Will is an amazingly talented illustrator and teacher. He has put countless hours into sharing his experiences in children’s publishing through his blog and his tutorial videos. I really owe him a great debt in this last year for helping me fill in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge of children’s illustration and digital painting. (Be sure to check out his blog: and videos).

Five Fun ones to Finish?

JM What do you drink most during a day? SB Hot water. Yeah, really. I find it relaxing. I have a lot of food allergies and I don’t tend to drink water when it’s cold for some reason. Otherwise I love Irish tea, but try to keep it down to only a couple cups a day.

JM What word best sums you up? SB mélange

JM If a fire broke out in your apartment, what are the three things you would spontaneously save SB This is an easy answer, because I’m a bit neurotic and have always had my valued items at the ready for emergencies. When I was younger, it was my portfolio, mandolin, and my cats. (I even went so far as to always move them down to the basement whenever a tornado watch was posted). We had a fire alarm go off in our building just last week, so I know for a fact that now it is still essentially the same… hard-drive (that contains my digital portfolio files), my mandolin, and our one remaining cat.

JM What do you do for relaxation? SB I like to play latin music on the mandolin and sing mildly tragic dirges with the guitar. I live for a good slow meander in the rain or fog. Also love being in situations where I can be a casual observer, so idly staring out car and cafe windows is also a favorite pastime. I’ll do the occasional crossword puzzle, but usually have to cheat. Lately I’ve been obsessed with reading Richard Peck’s books.

JM If you could be one children’s book character who would that be? SB Harold from “Harold and the Purple Crayon”

I met Shari and her equally multi talented husband, Brian, at SCBWI LA last year and have been thrilled to have been growing our friendship through FB. I am so inspired by their decision to downsize and commit to their creative dreams, and in so-doing they are having a blast themselves (with challenges too, of course) and are touching many other lives with their gifts. Love your choice of ‘mélange’, Shari, and good luck in all you put you hand, voice, heart to this year!

PS I love the sheep!

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49 Responses to Interview with Illustrator – Sheralyn Barnes

  1. This was such a fascinating interview. Thank you, Joanna and Shari!

    I confess to have been particularly interested in Shari’s story of stagefright and how she overcame it — I suppose because I can relate so much to learning the joy of performing for an audience. I’m so glad she got to the stage of feeling she had something to share with the audience, and enjoy the process.

    Love the sheep, too!

  2. Susanna says:

    What a fabulous interview! I really enjoyed it. Sheralyn is a very multi-talented person! I love those sheep pictures (although we all know I’m partial to sheep :)) and can’t wait to see some of her projects! Thanks, Joanna and Sheralyn!

  3. Cathy Mealey says:

    I truly adore the sheep in the tub!

  4. Joanna says:

    Cathy, so do I. I love how the pictures are all wonky on the wall… tee hee

  5. Joanna, what a great series, and what a wonderful illustrator/human being you have chosen today. I am in LOVE with the sheep on the beach and must have it!!!! That’s it…email to Sheralyn…:) My goodness, her work is really thrilling to me – I adore sheep and I adore her *whimsical* style. It must feel amazing to be able to create something like that. Sigh.

    • Joanna says:

      Do email her, Renee, she’ll love it!

      • Thanks so much Renee! Your enthusiasm makes me smile! One of my good friends has the best giclee printing service in Minneapolis. You may have convinced me to talk to him about doing some prints! It’s fun to play with the sheep in their “unnatural habitat”, but equally as fun to know that it makes other people smile too. Thanks!

  6. The sheep illustrations are fantastic! Wow! They make me excited to see the whole book.

    I am a big Harold fan too!

  7. What a great interview! I really appreciated the questions you asked too! I am fascinated by people who can draw, paint, etc. so well. Her work is beautiful! I love how she downgraded her living style to make it easier to pursue her dream…I look forward to more interview Joanna!

  8. Little known fact: Sheri and I sat next to each other at NYSCBWI conference 2010. We are both on a journey and I thank fate I sat next to her that day. Great interview bud! Thanks for all your support over the last two years.

    • Joanna says:

      These encounters are so meant to be, Hazel, 😉

    • I count my lucky stars that I sat next to you that day too Hazel and that you’re my friend! In fact, that is the reason I am even typing this reply right now, because if it weren’t for you (in a round about way), this interview would never have taken place. I would not have the wonderful community of friends and support I have now, I may have not met Joanna (you introduced us in LA remember?) and I may not have created all the illustrations that pixel shavings inspired me to create. I feel very lucky and owe you a lot Hazel! Ahhhh….ain’t life grand?

  9. Kai Strand says:

    I’m completely in love with Sheep on the Beach! I’m also a huge Harold fan. Fun interview. Thanks.

  10. Will Terry says:

    Great interview Sheralyn!

  11. Wow…I’m overwhelmed! Thanks Joanna for asking me to do the interview and for having such thoughtful questions. It’s been so wonderful to get to know you! And thanks to all of you for your lovely comments! I have to admit that I always find that I appreciate other artist’s work when I know a bit about their life. The two are really inseparable and influence the paths that they take. I’ve always found it so inspiring, particularly on the days when things are not feeling quite so successful. And…to be honest, today when I am struggling with a bit of an “illustrator’s block”, you have all inspired me to inspire myself again! Thank you!

  12. Sheralyn is so talented. Love those sheep! Oh, and I too am a fan of Will Terry. 🙂 Thanks for the wonderful interview Joanna.

  13. Thank you for this interview. Great insight and great advice 🙂

  14. Fantastic and inspiring interview! I love the title and the illustrations shared for A Heap of Sheep. Can’t even write the title without smiling. 🙂

  15. An outstanding interview! I loved learning so much about Sheralyn as an artist but also her many other interests. Oh, to have such a gift. Thank you for sharing internal artwork. Now I know what graphite artwork is — I love the illustruation. And, it sounds like Shearlyn is talented in so many areas like music — all of which influence her artwork. Excellent interview and thank you for introducing her to me. As well as Will Terry.

  16. Joanna says:

    I find the graphite one makes me think they are watching a scary movie! I love Sheri’s willingness to try new media!

  17. This is a wonderful interview. I love the fluffy sheep illustrations in all the formats. That’s inspiring that you downsized and are pursuing a fun project.

  18. oh my! I nearly missed this. What a fantastic interview. You know, I was told that if you are creative in one thing, you are creative in other ways to. I felt for Sheralyn in her need to work privately. I too am like that, in my cake decorating and what little art work I do. (In our shop we have a dragon across one side of our wall, which I painted two days ago, to celebrate the Chinese New Year).
    Loved this warm and interesting interview, thankyou Joanna.

  19. Gena M. Hendrix-Maze says:

    Dear Shari;
    I always knew your creativity would take you anywhere you wanted to go! How exciting it is to see that you’re living your dream and sharing that creativity as well.
    If you are ever back in Indiana, let me know! I’d love to have you share your love of books and music with our students. I would also like a list of books that you have illustrated so I can get them in my library!
    What a blessing it is to know that a fellow alumni from KVHS Class of 1985 is using the gifts that God has given her and is living life to the fullest!
    Good luck to you and keep sharing. Your sheep will be a hit!

    • Hi Gena!
      Thanks! I will let you know when I’m back down that way. It’s nice to know you are teaching! I’ll keep in touch about any future publications. My husband Brian and I are also starting a kid’s music/art performance project for library and school programs. I’ll let you know when we are doing that as well! So nice to be able to keep in touch again! Best of luck with all your endeavors as well!

  20. I love the sheep. I enjoy the details like the reflection of the tile on the side of the tub. Thank you for sharing this interview.

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