Kirstie Edmunds is a children’s book illustrator from London, UK and is represented by the Prospect Agency in Brooklyn, NY. She moved to illustration following a career in graphic design and art direction, and has debuted this year with, ‘So You Want To Be A Rock Star,’ written by Audrey Vernick, for Walker/Bloomsbury, and, The Monster Who Lost His Mean’ by Tiffany Strelitz-Haber, and Henry Holt/Macmillan. Both Audrey and Tiffany are located in New Jersey – That is how I found her and her artwork. Like I have said before to picture book writers, get you illustrator to contact me and get featured. It is a great way to encourage sales.
Kirstie started an illustration blog called Pencil Pocket in 2009, and soon after met her agent, Teresa Kietlinski at Prospect Agency.
Kirstie is currently working on an extended edition for Dial Books for Young Readers, written by Patricia Lakin, entitled ‘Playground Adventures’, for release in Spring 2014.
This was the first sample I did for the book.
The first sketch for the page, as it looked in my sketchbook.
Final sketch for the page, re-composed. I’d usually take this and do a block-out, or some tonal studies, before taking it into final colour.
The final piece.
Further sketch-to-final examples of the Monster houses and ‘Onster’ treehouse.
CRAVING – Work-in-Process
How did you get interested in art?
I’ve always been interested in drawing, painting and writing, from a very early age. My mum’s the reason I love picture books, so much (long live the bedtime story!). She read me hundreds of books as a child, and she’s also hugely creative. I’m the eldest of four siblings, and all of us either study or work in the field of art.
Did you go to school for art? If so, where?
I did a foundation year in art college at the Glamorgan Centre for Art & Design in Wales, where I specialised in illustration & three-dimensional design, and then went on to do a design degree at Ravensbourne College of Design & Communication in London. I worked mainly as a graphic designer after graduating, and started illustrating professionally in 2009.
Have you ever done any artwork for magazines or newspapers?
No, not as yet. I’ve done small advertising and packaging commissions, and I’ve been responsible for commissioning illustration in my former role as an art director, but I’m mostly working in children’s book illustration at present.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?
I’ve always wanted to write or paint, and anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’ve always wanted to illustrate for children. I used to spend summers as a child, writing my own stories and making picture books, and then I’d take them into class to ask that they be bound together ‘professionally’ with the long-arm stapler!
When I was 12, my dad contacted a famous local illustrator, who did Welsh cartoons in the newspaper, and told him I was a keen artist. The illustrator sent me back a signed copy of his latest book of cartoons, with a note to say how ‘he liked my work and that I should keep making art.’ That made such a great impression on me.
In my former job, I was responsible for meeting and briefing a number of illustrators, and when I left that role in 2009, I realised how badly I wanted to pursue illustration myself. I’ve always drawn, so it wasn’t a big stretch. I started the blog as a sort of motivational tool, an open studio, somewhere I could put the work and get feedback. I had no expectations whatsoever, but within 3 months my wonderful agent Teresa had taken me under her wing, and has looked after me ever since.
Was SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCK STAR by Audrey Vernick your first illustrated picture book?
Yes, it was, though technically, ‘The Monster Who Lost His Mean’ was my first contract. The manuscript for ‘So You Want To Be A Rock Star’ came in second, but it was such a fun and unique idea, we were thrilled to take it on, and the art for that was delivered first.
How did you get that contract?
Both through Teresa Kietlinski, my agent.
What were you doing before you landed your first three book contracts?
I was a graphic designer & art director for the brand team at Nokia, in London. We were also responsible for commissioning illustration, animation and photography, so I gained a lot of experience through that role.
How did you connect with the Prospect Agency when you live in the UK?
I started the blog ‘Pencil Pocket’ in 2009, and was approached directly, via email, by Teresa at Prospect, shortly afterwards. I felt like we had a really good connection, and I loved her enthusiasm and energy as an agent. I find it marvellous that even though we’re halfway around the world, we’ve created a really fantastic working relationship together.
After scrolling back to look at your blog over the years, it looks like you have moved from watercolor to working almost completely digitally. Is that a correct observation?
Yes. I naturally started experimenting in pencil and watercolour, and at the time, I was quite nervous about painting digitally. My partner introduced me to Corel Painter and once I became familiar with the interface, I found that it did such a wonderful job of emulating a traditional feel that it almost instantly became my primary painting tool. I still tend to start my drawings traditionally, but now almost all my colour work is digital. I love the freedom it gives me.
How long did the publisher give you to complete the book?
I think it is generally about 6 months, but it can be anywhere from 3 months to a year.
With Rock Star released in the beginning of this year, and The Monster Who Lost His Mean just being released, it appears you must have worked on two books at one time. Was that hard to do?
It was a little tricky. I needed to switch ‘hats’ a little between projects, but it was such a brilliant, fast and fun introduction to the world of children’s books. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had two such great projects to be busy with!
Do you think the artwork being put out in the UK is different than what is coming out of the US?
I have heard that from publishers both in the UK and US, and I find it really interesting to see what samples different publishers have liked from my portfolio. There does seem to be some subtle differences between the two markets, but it’s not something that I’m too aware of when I’m making art.
Do you visit the US often?
I’ve been to New York and Chicago on work-related trips, both with my previous job, but I’ve yet to come over for an adventure of my own. I think that is one of the magical things about the way I work now though. I could literally be anywhere in the world, as long as I have Internet. It’s very easy to stay in touch, and feel close-by, even if you happen to be a little farther away.
What software do you use to create your illustrations?
I use Corel Painter. It has a really intuitive interface, a great colour wheel, and a wonderful range of brushes. The nice thing about it is that it gives you a really traditional feel. I’d probably still be using traditional media if it wasn’t for Painter.
Do you use a graphic tablet? If so, what do you think?
Absolutely! Always. It feels so much more natural. I use A4 Wacom Tablet (Intuos 3). I still prefer to sketch traditionally, but I use it for absolutely everything else.
Do you have a studio in your house?
Yes. We have a small flat, just outside of London, and I’m afraid to say that our guests are forced to sleep on a sofa-bed in the living room, because bedroom 2 has been completely transformed into a studio.
Do you have a daily illustrating routine?
I’ve found it’s best to try and keep as much of a routine as possible, especially when you work from home. I like to pretend I’m going off to work in the morning (there’s no sitting about in pyjamas!), and I will try and shut the studio door at night, to mark some kind of ‘home time’. It does fluctuate though… I draw at my best when I’m relaxed, so I’ll sometimes draw outside, or on my favourite armchair, or at an odd time of day; there’s no strict rules. I’ll often work into the night if I need to, and there’s always a sketchbook in my coat pocket, or on the coffee table beside me.
Have you done any school visits?
Not as yet, but it’s something I’d love to do. Tiffany and I have been working on some really fun colouring sheets & activities for schools, to help launch ‘The Monster Who Lost His Mean’, and those are available now on her website http://www.itsrhymetime.com/.
You can see how much changed along the way; the skirt colour, jacket buttons, eyes open/closed, even the overall composition. Weirdly, the red bench in the background was the last thing I added. I work pretty organically – there’s no science involved, not even by way of the colours …but you’re right, I naturally lean towards the warmer shades. I’m a great fan of warm browns and greys – you should see my wardrobe!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a great picture book called ‘Playground Adventures,’ which is about a squirrel named Bruno, and a chipmunk named Lulu. It’s written by the lovely Patricia Lakin, and will be published with Dial books for Young Readers in 2014. I’m also developing a few of my own story ideas.
Are there any little techniques that you have found helpful, that you can share?
Don’t rush, have fun, and play! Keep drawing. Always keep learning, and don’t expect to get it right the first time. (I think they say you need to put in at least 10,000 hours before you can become a master at anything!).
Do you ever think you will try writing your own picture book?
Yes, I hope so, very much. I’m currently working on a few ideas that I hope will grow into something in the future.
What types of things do you do to help market yourself?
I have a blog, website, and twitter, all of which I try to keep updated. I’m also a big fan of Illustration Mundo so I have a profile set up there. For ‘The Monster Who Lost His Mean’, my sister, Michaela Edmunds, and her friend Tom Lucas helped us to create an animated book trailer which can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCRRcx7rvrM
Any words of wisdom for illustrators who have not signed a book contract, yet?
I’d just say to keep persevering; keep drawing, keep making great samples, look for an agent, and just try and build yourself a presence (be it by blog, by mail or in person!). It’s all possible with a little passion, dedication and enthusiasm!
Here are a few black and white sketches that I wanted to share with you. Sometimes we forget there is a lot of business to be had doing black and white drawings.
And of course with the Olympics going strong in London, I had to end with this UK monkey winning a medal.
Kirstie, thank you for sharing your illustrations and process with us. You have a unique style I am sure we will see in many more picture books. Kirstie has a blog: www.pencilpocket.blogspot.com where she posts sketches and illustrations that she is working on. I am sure Kirstie would love you to leave a comment about her work.