Illustrator Interview with Roberta Gallagher-Rivera

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Roberta, 2012

Roberta is of Irish descent, and even has her own family shield (as I do on both sides of the family). What can I say, except I am a great believer that the clans should stick together (and drink together)! Not only do I appreciate Roberta’s  artistic talent, but I love how her kind nature spills into her FB comments and encouragements. Sit back and enjoy her talent and her tips!

  • What’s your nationality and where have you lived?

[RGR] I’m an American, born and raised in Connecticut. I now live in New York with my husband, Ruben.

  • Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.

[RGR] Since childhood? That’s where it all started. As soon as I was able to hold a crayon, I drew. I would draw to keep up with my older sisters. They were wonderful artists and I admired them. When I was a young girl, I always wanted their approval and showed them my pictures. They would give me feedback, not always lovingly, but helpful. I guess they were my first critique group.

  • What organizations/conferences/competitions would you recommend to budding illustrators? 

[RGR] I would highly recommend SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Join your local SCBWI Chapters and volunteer. The membership benefits are worth their weight in gold. It expands your network through conferences, local meetings and their website. All the SCBWI conferences, especially the national conferences, are fabulous. I always feel inspired and pumped, but overwhelmed with all the great information given out. Usually I need a week to sort it out and rewrite my notes and review my contacts.

Everyone who attends these events gains the inside scope of what’s happening in publishing, whether it’s improving your craft, honing your marketing pitch to an agent or learning where the children’s book market is heading and the trends. These conferences are intense, but a lot fun, hanging out after a workshop and having a cocktail with creative folks.

SCBWI have competitions for illustrators, so I would also recommend entering those, and they’re free. Read the requirements thoroughly. It couldn’t hurt and even if you don’t win, you’ve gained experience, a new portfolio piece, plus exposure. It’s all about pushing yourself and your work in the spot light.

I’m a member of CBIG, the Children’s Book Illustrator Group in New York City, another wonderful group for illustrators. We have members from all over the country and most of them are also SCBWI members.

  • What have you published as an illustrator?

[RGR] The first picture book, I’ve illustrated was, Hal, the Hamptons Hound and the Case of the Missing Puppies, written by children’s book author, Susan Abrahams. I’ve also illustrated spot illustrations and wallpaper for her blog. I’m finishing up my next illustration project, a chapter book, written by children’s book author, JoAnn Vergona Krapp, Missing Treasure Means Trouble. Release date hasn’t been set.

Here’s two of the final illustrations from it.

grayscale black beard 2012 copy

Jonah and the Whale Roberta Rivera

  • Do you have themes/characters that you return again and again to in your art?

[RGR] Right now, it seems to be characters in action sequences and adventures. It’s fun. I’m thoroughly enjoying it!

  • What books and/or illustrators influenced your childhood?

[RGR] Maurice Sendak, Dr. Suess, Steven Kellogg and Richard Scarry.  I had their books on my shelf when I was a kid. I consider them masters of illustration.

What does your workspace look like?

[RGR] A mess at the moment. I don’t have posters and art on my wall, just haven’t gotten around to hanging thing up yet. I have two great windows to look out from. That’s my mom sitting at my drafting table, editing one of my manuscripts.


  • Can you share a piece or two with us, and the process of producing them?

[RGR] Sure! This is my Aesop fable illustration the Fox, the Cheese and the Crow. I started out drawing pencil thumbnails sketches (not shown). Drawing different poises to best illustrate the story. I sketch again with colors. I painted mostly with coffee for the ground and tree and the fox. I like experimenting and I would encourage illustrators to do it too. Just be careful, coffee and tea needs to be painted on acid free paper. Check at your local art supply store or on-line stores.

fox and crow layout sketch for CBIG 2011

For the final illustration: I used ink, coffee, acrylic and gouache and some watercolor.

Crow Fox and Cheese aesop fable promo by Roberta Rivera

  • What advice would you give an illustrator Fresh out of their design/illustration degree?

[RGR] The best advice, I could give: have fortitude and don’t procrastinate.  It’s a tough business and more so now. Keep working on your craft and never give up, even during the rough times. Take advantage of social media, a.k.a. the internet, the more the movers and shakers see your work, the more likely they’ll come knocking. If possible, mail out postcards every three or four months, and make a flyer of your artwork, saving on mailing cost. E-mail a promo card if you’re able to or allowed.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?

  • What word best sums you up?

[RGR] Sweet. Yup, I’m a sweetie pie type of person, can’t seem to escape it either. I’ve embraced it now. I’m not cool, or hip, nothing like that, but I’ve always been called a sweetie since I was a baby.

  •  If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?

[RGR] Ireland during the summer. I’ve never been and I would love to check out my roots and be inspired by the landscape and the people.

  •  What do you do for non-art related relaxation?

[RGR] Bike ride, reading, traveling, watching movies and taking long walks. I also like to garden and visit museums.

  • Cats or dogs?

[RGR] The toughest question! Darn, I love them both. I guess I lean towards a dog, because they need you, love you and you can take them on walks. But I love cats too, because they’re independent, and they purr. I love that sound! Cat’s purring is such a comfort. Animals give so much back to us unconditionally. Even watching a spider makes my day.

  • If you could spend a day with one children’s book character, with whom would that be?

[RGR] Nancy Drew. I’ve always wanted a ride in her blue convertible Mustang and solve a mystery.

What a pleasure to hear from you Roberta! I love the action you achieve in those crafty foxes! I have yet to read Nancy Drew (I know, I know!!!) but just last week I fell in love with Harriet the Spy, whom I read for the first time! One of my cats is lying on my arm and purring as I write, and yes, it is a sweet comforting sound! I would love to know if any of your sisters became illustrators, too? To your continued success, Roberta!

Please do check out the following blogs to discover more about Roberta and her illustrations.

For any who missed it, hop on over to the wonderful parenting/teaching blog, Polliwog on Safari, where I guest posted yesterday, with a French flavor!

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12 Responses to Illustrator Interview with Roberta Gallagher-Rivera

  1. Another excellent Wednesday interview. Your Jonah and the whale piece is beautiful, Roberta!

  2. Great interview ladies. Roberta, I love your illustrations — you style is very unique. I particularly like your fox illustrations — very expressive. I thoroughly enjoyed the interview and looking at your process. I love to listen to illustrator’s describe their creative process.

  3. Jo Marshall says:

    Wow, you do create great action scenes, Roberta. Love the feeling of motion in your illustrations, but I do feel seasick looking at that beautiful ship. It must be a great feeling to visualize something, and then illustrate it so beautifully. Nice to know about you. My first favorite mystery detective is Nancy Drew, too. Very cool. Thanks, Joanna, for a fun interview.
    Wishing you all the best, Roberta.

  4. Cofee and tea? That’s an interesting technique. I always learn something new from these interviews. Thanks Roberta for sharing your work and process.

  5. I love this! Great interview. Your fox illustrations in particular have a real charm to them….he does have a “foxy” look!

  6. Roberta Rivera Illustrations says:

    Thank you, everyone! 🙂 Your kind words mean a lot to me. My mom loved the interview too.

  7. Leslie Rose says:

    Roberta, it’s so great you had the confidence and support to keep drawing ever since childhood. Love your style. I agree that SCBWI is one of the best moves a children’s author or illustrator can make.

  8. Pamela says:

    Wonderful interview, and fabulous illustrations! Thanks.

  9. Wow ink, coffee, acrylic and gouache and some watercolor. What a concept! The work looks wonderful. I’ve used Rooibos tea along time ago. It has a reddish color and an earthy smell if you ever wanted to add that to you colors :D.
    Great whale illustration Roberta. Have a great day 🙂

  10. says:

    I found this delightful interview when trying to detect (Nancy Drew style) who had visited my new FaceBook Page. Thanks for visiting, Roberta. I hope we’ll meet at a SCBWI meeting or workshop one day. I sense a kindred spirit. ‘Love your fox. Such creative action.

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