This is the blog of children's book author and third grade teacher, Stacy Barnett Mozer. I blog about my own writing journey, the journey of other kidlit authors, my classroom, and talk about books. Thanks for stopping by. Your thoughts are always welcome (and encouraged).

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Interview with Author/Illustrator Stephanie Ruble

It’s the Thursday before school starts so it is time for my last interview. Today I talk with Stephanie Ruble. Stephanie is an author/illustrator who loves writing about and drawing pictures of all kinds of animals: cows, elephants, bunnies, chickens, alligators, sheep, and lemurs too! She's been making art since she could finger paint, and drawing since she could hold a crayon. This native Minnesotan currently resides in Connecticut with her husband. Ewe and Aye is her first picture book. 

When did you decide to become an author/illustrator?
I’m not sure when I officially decided to become an author/illustrator, but three things happened that made me want to write and illustrate books: 

1. In grade school, we saw a film about creating a picture book. I was fascinated by the process of making the art for the book. Even though I don’t remember the specifics of how the art was made, I do remember the artist creating underwater scenes and wanting to be able to do that too.

2. In college, one of the assignments in a print making class was to come up with an idea for a picture book. I had trouble thinking of a good idea for the class, and kept thinking about that assignment and ideas for picture books for years afterward. 

3. The first book I sent to a publisher was to show them my art and not for the story (it was a tale of a cow with a secret admirer). I was shocked and a bit upset when they liked my writing better than my art because I thought of myself as an artist, not a writer! It made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could write as well as illustrate. Surprisingly, I was not deterred that they didn’t like my art. (Thought Process = a. ARGH! / b. They were just sketches, I can do better. c. They’d like it if they could see finished art. / d. I’ll prove to publishers my art belongs in books.)

Tell us about your journey. How did you get discovered as an illustrator?
For years, I built a portfolio and kept adding new art to it, put the portfolio on my website and showed it at conferences, sent out promotional postcards, and submitted a few manuscripts and dummies. I also attended conferences and workshops, and signed up for professional critiques. Many years later, at one of my critiques, an editor loved my art and said he had a manuscript he thought I’d be the perfect illustrator for. He sent the story, EWE AND AYE, a few days later. A few years after that it became my first book.
Note: Art is subjective. On the same day I met with this editor, I had another critique right before that. The other editor didn’t like my work and it wasn’t a fit for her publishing house.

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
There are lots of points when I want to throw in the towel, but it’s usually just because I’m fighting with a piece of art or a story, so I keep working. However, there was one point where I seriously thought about giving up illustrating books. A couple of weeks before the editor offered me my first book contract, I had a critique with an art director from a different publishing house. This critique was an informal one in front of a group of illustrators. The art director told me that she didn’t see a place in children’s books for my art. She thought that it wasn’t suited for picture books or for illustrating novels. She did say she liked my art, just not for children’s books. 

After that, I almost didn’t go to the critique a couple of weeks later. I decided to go anyway, because I had met one of the editors before. He was a fun person to talk with and also a picture book writer. I figured that if he didn’t like my art, we could still have fun talking about books. To prepare for the critique, I made a new portfolio with my favorite pieces of art from the last few years (children’s book art, but not necessarily what I thought publishers were looking for). If I had given up after what one art director said, I wouldn’t have gotten to illustrate EWE AND AYE!

Is there anything about being a published illustrator that has surprised you?
Yes. The process of making art for a book for a publisher is very different than making art for a book when you’re trying to get a publisher (that’s probably obvious, but how it’s different isn’t obvious until you go through the process). One reason is that it’s like the difference between working on a project yourself vs. working on a group project. Illustrators go through revision with publishers just like writers do! Another reason is that making finished art for a full book requires more attention to detail than making sketches and a few finishes for a dummy (a mock-up of a picture book). It’s so easy to overlook something, or make changes that are supposed to be on every page, and forget to make them on one page. Even if you’re usually great at checking for details and changes, the sheer number of pages and details vs. the deadlines and input from the publisher makes it easier to miss something. Hopefully you will figure out anything you missed before the book goes to print! 

For EWE AND AYE, I noticed three mistakes, including a major mistake on an interior page and on the cover, at the final stage before it went to print. Luckily, I was able to fix it before the book came out, but not before it went out for reviews. And even luckier, none of the reviewers noticed; even the publisher didn’t notice until I pointed them out!

Any advice you would give to an author/illustrator just starting out?

Here’s a condensed version of the advice for people who want to write and/or illustrate children’s books from my website (the full version is here: 

1. If you want to illustrate: Draw, draw, draw, and draw some more, and also look at art and READ books.

Draw, doodle, sketch, and paint. Look at art, in books, in magazines, in comics, in museums, etc. Take a sketchpad and pencil to a museum and draw, or draw people when you’re waiting for the bus, or sitting in a café. Look at how art is paired with text and whether the art reflects the text or tells a different story. Some artists start out imitating other artists (not copying, but trying to draw/paint/etc. like the other artist). If you try imitating another artist, take the lessons you learned from imitating them and create your own style.

Note: There will be failures along the way. Failures = Art Not Looking Like You Want It To Look (but just know that it might look like an amazing success to someone else, even if you don't like it). Failures are learning experiences and usually mean you’re doing it right, because you are experimenting with trying to figure out how you make art and what your strengths and weaknesses are. Without failures, you won’t go on to make successful art (just think of how different your art is now from when you were three or four years old). FYI, what makes art successful is subjective. If you like what you created, it’s successful, even if it didn’t turn out the way you imagined.

* Super Important Note #1: You don’t have to show anyone else your failed art attempts, unless you want to (or you have to for a class you’re taking). The important part is to try and experiment and allow yourself to fail so that you can learn what works for you.

** Super Important Note #2: As long as you keep going, you’ll improve, and sometimes, art that doesn't turn out the way you wanted it to ends up being even better than you imagined!

2. If you want to write: Write, write, write, and write some more, and also READ books and look at art.
Read the kind of books you want to write. Also read anything that interests you, even if they aren’t the type of books you want to write. Read books you don’t like and think about why you don’t like them. Then think about why you like the books that you do like. What makes them work (for you)? What makes the books you don’t like not work (for you – it might be a favorite book for someone else)? Look at how pictures integrate and/or enhance the text (I said this above for illustrators, but it's important for writers too).

3. If you want to write and illustrate: Draw, Write, Read, and Revise, revise, revise, and revise some more.
If you want to illustrate AND write, do steps one and two repeatedly, then learn to revise. Both writers and illustrators need to revise their words and images to make characters, settings, and stories clear and inviting to the reader. First drafts are great for getting the idea out, but revision is what makes the story shine. Many writers and illustrators find it helpful to get critiques to help them improve their writing and art. Some people have critique partners, or critique groups, where they share their work and also give feedback to other writers and illustrators.

4. If you want to write and/or illustrate: Research, research, and research some more.
Everyone expects to do research for non-fiction, but research is necessary for writing and illustrating fiction too (even if your art is stylized, it helps to know what the thing you're drawing actually looks like).

Here are a few links to posts I’ve written on writing and illustrating books:
1. the path illustrators take to get their work noticed and advance their careers

2. how to write a picture book in twelve easy steps

3. three ways to make a picture book dummy

4. five things for illustrators - a.k.a. five things that helped me and will hopefully help you too

5. ten tips for choosing what to draw for your portfolio, and ten ways to find inspiration

6. the importance of making art for fun

Is there anything else about you or your books you would like to tell us?
I like to draw cows and make up stories about the fun things they do (that real cows do not do). One year I drew a cow picture every day for the whole year. It was leap year, so I drew 366 cow pictures, and many of the pictures had multiple cows! The next year, I drew a dog a day for the whole year. These projects really changed and improved my art, and they were fun to do (most of the time).

My students are always surprised to hear that many authors don’t always get to approve their illustrator and some don't even see the pictures until the book releases. What was that process like for you when illustrating someone else’s book? Do you want the author’s feedback?
The process was hard at first because the author included lots of illustration notes. Instead of imaging what I thought the story could be, I couldn’t forget her notes. One of her notes ended up in the sketches, even though it didn’t actually work for the book! After many rounds of art, my editor and I finally realized why that page wasn’t working; it was because the illustration note it was based on didn’t actually work for the story! It was a really neat visual, which is why we all liked it, but since it didn’t work it had to go. Happily, I was able to find a way to pay homage to the idea on another page, in a way that did work for the story.

Authors and illustrators don’t usually meet or talk with each other while they are working on the book. I got to meet Candace Ryan, the author of EWE AND AYE, while I was illustrating the book. It was nice to hear that she wasn’t tied to her illustration notes and was supportive of my imagining the story through the art. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. The author and the illustrator each bring their own vision of the story to the book.

Thank you so much for joining me today, Stephanie. You can find out more about Stephanie and her art on her website http://sruble.com

1 comment:

  1. I see Stephanie at CBIG (Children's Book Illustrator's Group) and have always loved her work, so it was really nice to hear her story! Hope to catch up with her in September at CBIG!


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