My friend Sherry Meidell invited me to participate in this blog tour about writing. Sherry is an award-winning watercolor artist and accomplished children’s book illustrator, and volunteers as the Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI Utah/ So. Idaho. She is also a lovely person, and we hit it off when we met in New York at the SCBWI winter conference in 2012. She and her husband have raised five sons. Sherry loves nature, has traveled to Kenya to speak to students and paint murals, and regularly conducts classes and workshops in watercolor painting and children’s book illustration.
Thank you, Sherry!
1. What am I working on?
I am just starting to work on the illustrations for my fifth picture book for Arbordale Publishing, and my first book as an author/illustrator, Fine Life For A Country Mouse is being published by Penguin and will be released in September. I am eager for this!
2. How does my work differ from others of this genre?
I tried to capture the feeling of an old-fashioned storybook with my retelling of the Aesop’s fable about the country mouse, and yet bring it into the present and keep the emotional impact such a tiny creature might experience, because I think that children will relate to that.
The art medium I choose also informs the work: Pencil is my favorite medium for drawing, but I like watercolor and gouache for painting, and enjoy drawing in ink, either with a pen or a brush. Fine Life For A Country Mouse was done in detailed pencil on Strathmore cold press illustration board, and then I applied watercolor to the pencil drawings.
The illustrations for On The Move and One Wolf Howls were done in watercolor on illustration board, but Pandas’ Earthquake Escape was done entirely in soft pastel on various colors of charcoal paper, which was a fun departure from my usual style. For Big Cat, Little Kitty, I combined the two — I applied pastel details to watercolor paintings — because I wanted the colors to be vibrant. I have become more adept at digital media, and use Photoshop to augment my images and fix mistakes. In the past, if mistakes couldn’t be covered up, I had to start over!
3. Why do I write what I do?
I have loved making art from early childhood, and was always attracted to books with great illustrations. By the time I was in high school I decided that being a professional illustrator was my goal. I went to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and studied graphic design and illustration. While a student, I worked part-time as a sign painter. After that I got a job in the art department of a printing company, where I learned about how artwork is reproduced. Eventually, I was hired as a staff illustrator for an advertising agency and also began freelancing at night and on weekends. I liked freelance work so much that I decided to do it exclusively. My favorite assignments are for children’s publishing and so I seek them out, with help I have found from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. And now I am inspired to write and illustrate more of my own stories!
For picture book writing, it is a matter of getting the story down on paper and then revising, revising, revising! Today’s picture books have very few words, and they have to be just the right words, in the right place.
For illustration, I spend a lot of time at the beginning of a book assignment doing research at the library and online. I like to have many photographs in front of me when I work so that I can fully understand the structure, texture, and light/shadows of what I am trying to depict. It also helps to know other details about the subject, so along with gathering pictures I also read about what I am illustrating. I have an extensive picture file in my studio, which also includes work by artists I admire; I like to vary the style of my illustrations to best match the theme of the text. My ideas feed off the ideas of others. When I am given an exciting assignment, my head fills with images and I cannot wait to start to work in the morning. Each new job is an exciting challenge; sometimes I can hardly believe how lucky I am to get paid to do this! I always hope that my pictures touch people in the same way that I was affected by the illustrations I saw as a child.
Annina writes and illustrates stories for children. She is currently developing several picture books featuring whimsical animals and fanciful plots, and her artwork is a colorful feast for the eyes. She is also working on middle grade creative non-fiction, and is interested in bringing Byzantine and Medieval European history to life for kids.
Annnina lives in Huntington, NY.