Sybil Cohen grew up right outside of New York City, with a wild imagination that often whisked her off to whimsical, far off places. Combine that with a mischievous sense of humor, and her childhood was filled with endless adventures. When she wasn’t making trouble, she was always creating. From sewing and crocheting colorful clothes to gluing a whole town of “Heart People” to the walls of my bedroom. (Ya, her parents just loved that one!)
That drive to create fueled her passion for art and led her to study illustration at FIT. Fast forward to today, She lives with my husband and their two energetic, creative, and yes, mischievous little girls (oh there’s Karma for you… sigh). She spends her days in a studio filled with fun art supplies creating visual whimsical stories and enjoying every minute of it!
Here’s Sybil Explaining her process:
I start off with small thumbnail sketches to explore different composition options. They are tiny in my sketchbook, I’m looking for readability and flow that best describes the action and emotion I’m trying to convey. I picked this one for this illustration😉
From the thumbnail I start to develop a more detailed line drawing of the image. After I’m happy with how it all looks and flows, I transfer it to pastel paper usually around 11X17 size (that’s the size of the scanner I have so it all must be able to fit in😉
I start blocking in the colors using Pan Pastels. I use a combination of the soft pastel brushes and my fingers😉 I work from the background to the foreground.
After I’ve blocked in the colors I start to add volume and vibrancy to all my objects. I mostly use my hands at this point, finger painting at its best! I love when my hands are covered in the pastels, it means I had a good day😉
Then I start to add the details and build on the lighting and shadows. At this point I’m using a mix of the pastels and colored pencils.
When I’ve gotten to a point that I’m happy, I scan my illustration. Here is when I add in some more of the highlights and deepen some of the shadows and play with color to make sure that it will reproduce correctly for web and for print. I will add in bubbles or any other white or fine detail that I can’t add on top of my pastels.
Here is the final illustration.
How long have you been illustrating?
I started illustrating ten years ago. Initially I did a lot of Educational work. Over the last year I’ve started working towards crossing over to the trade children’s book market.
What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?
Oh wow, I guess that would take me back to high school. I was always “the artist” and after painting my own notebooks, and some of my friends’ notebooks, it caught on and before I knew it I was in the painting notebooks business! Which was nice cash in high school😉 I was totally hooked and determined to find a career that would put my creativity to good use.
Did you go to school for art? If so where and why did you pick that school?
Yes, I went to FIT and studied Illustration. I love NY and wanted to be in the City. FIT’s illustration program is very well rounded.
What did you study there?
Do you feel College helped develop your style?
Yes, FIT definitely got me started and helped me develop skills, though I’ve certainly evolved since then. Being trained in the fundamentals; composition, perspective, color, value … gave me the type of foundation that every artist needs. Once you have that, style develops naturally. FIT exposed me to different mediums and gave me the opportunity to explore each of them which was great.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
Since I was young, I was known to be the “artist” and the “creative one” amongst my family and friends. Always drawing, and painting since I could pick up a pencil. But when I truly think about this it brings me back to a moment in my childhood when we had a class trip to the library. They read to us The True Story of The Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. I was mesmerized, I knew there was something different about this book. I just loved that he took something so familiar to us and flipped it. I remember thinking “wow, I want to do that.”
What steps have you taken to that end?
There are a handful of things that I am doing. First I joined SCBWI, it is a wealth of knowledge and support. I’ve been going to the conferences and event to meet other Illustrators and writers.
There are many great online resources available that I love using – SVS, Oatley Academy, Devianart, Podcast, Schoolism … to name a few. I am obsessed with anything that has to do with visual storytelling and can’t get enough of it!
Over the past year, I’ve put together a portfolio focused on Children Book illustration and created a website to display my work. http://www.sybilcohen.com
How did you start making hats?
Haha, I am a creative soul that wears many hats (pun intended😉 I always need to be creating! I loooove hats, so one day I made one for myself for a wedding … and before I knew it everyone wanted one. I put together an ETSY store and have been shipping them all over the world! It’s really amazing that people in Switzerland, Spain, and London are wearing my hats! http://www.sybilcouture.com
Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own book?
YES! I think of myself above all else, as a storyteller. Right now I use my art to visually tell other people’s story but I’ve really fallen in love with the art of storytelling in every form. Writing and illustrating children’s books is really a special craft. Both the words and the art need to play off and also with each other and I am really drawn to that poetic storytelling. I am currently working on two ideas I have for books.
Do you have an artist rep.? If so, who and how did the two of you connect? If not, would you like to try one?
I am not currently represented. I’m on the lookout for the right agent who shares the same vision and passion for children books.
Have you developed a portfolio of your work?
Yes. You can view at http://www.sybilcohen.com
How much time do you spend on your illustrating?
It’s my full time job! After getting my kids off to school, I have a full day of work, clear and focused. Until they get home and I get to continue my other full time job as Mommy😉
Do you have a favorite medium you use?
Yes, I love Pan Pastels! I’ve always been drawn to pastels because I love bright vibrant colors. They have so much pigment and they blend so beautifully together. Plus I’ve never really grown out of finger painting😉
Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?
Yes, in all of my work I combine mediums. I usually start sketching and working colors by hand. I then scan in the illustration and work on top of it in PhotoShop. It creates a very interesting effect.
Do you have and use a graphic tablet?
Yes, I love my Cintiq tablet!
Would you be willing to work with an author who wants to self-publish a picture book?
Yes, I would. But the MS would really have to be the right fit for my style. My work is very whimsical so the story would need to fit that style.
Has any of your work appeared in magazines?
Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?
Yes, creating a schedule has been so important. It can be very challenging to work from home. I go to life drawing classes once a week to keep my skills sharp. I’ve joined a critic group with likeminded children book enthusiasts. I’m a member of SCBWI and attend their events and conferences. I listen to Podcasts and read blogs to keep an eye on the pulse of the industry.
Any exciting projects on the horizon?
I am very excited about the books that I am working on and can’t wait to finish the dummy books and start sending them for submission.
What are you working on now?
Always working on my craft, my portfolio and my own stories😉
There anything you have learned in your journey that might help someone else starting out?
Wow, Yes… I hope😉 I think that you’re always kind of on a journey. And the best thing you can do is keep at it. Stay on your path, take one step at a time. Be open minded to learn and take in from everyone, and keep working on your craft and your goals. Be passionate about what you’re doing and put that love for your craft into your work. Oh and join SCBWI😉
Thank you Sybil for sharing your talent, process, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch during your journey and share your future successes with us. To see more of Sybil’s work, you can visit her at website at: http://www.sybilcohen.com
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Sybil. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!