Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 29, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Cheryl Kirk Noll

Cheryl is an award-winning illustrator, and has been illustrating for children for more than thirty years.

She recieved a BS in education from Lebanon Valley College in Annville PA, and began her career as a fourth grade teacher in the same town where she lived when she was in elementary school… Smyrna, Delaware.

She moved to Providence to study illustration at Rhode Island School of Design, and still lives there with her husband and son.

Cheryl has combined her interest in illustration and education, focusing on multicultural and historic themes, and doing much of her illustration work for the educational market. Many of her projects involve research, and she has illustrated stories from diverse cultures and time periods such as the Hmong of Southesast Asia and the Han and Ming dynasties of China.

She has researched immigrant stories from Ellis Island to Angel Island, and folklore of the Native American tribes such as the Micmac, Alutiiq, Sioux and more, both pre and post European contact.

In addition to her freelance work, Cheryl teaches Children’s Book Illustration and is the advisor for the Children’s Book Illustration Certificate Program at Rhode Island School of Design-CE.

Here is Cheryl and Her Process:

I begin with pencil sketches on tracing paper, designing small thumbnails, then drawing and re-drawing (often cutting and pasting) until I’m satisfied. For this poster assignment, I needed to integrate the text (which was provided by the client) with the art so that it was readable and felt naturally placed. At this point, I send a copy of the sketch to the client for approval.

When I’m working on a book project, I do extensive storyboarding to develop an overall design look. At this point, the thumbnails are for my eyes only, and are extremely loose. I work out pacing, look for reasons to turn the page, plan for text, and employ graphic devices to enhance storytelling.

Next, I work on character, drawing them from a variety of viewpoints.

I develop a finished sketch to size for each spread, from rough to finished. After the sketches are approved by the client, I begin painting.

I do a detailed sketch.

I transfer the sketch using a #2 pencil to Arches 140 lb. cold press watercolor paper using a light table.

I soak the paper in a clean sink for a few minutes, blot it, then staple it to a piece of triple-corrugated cardboard and let it dry. (12, 13)

I begin with an underpainting, establishing value, using Winsor & Newton violet. (a staining color)

I glaze transparent colors over the underpainting, layering and working from light to dark. I am going to turn this into a nighttime scene, so I need to use colors that won’t lift when I paint a wash over it.

I paint a liquid frisket over the parts that I want to stay white or the painted color. I use Winsor & Newton off white art masking fluid. I soap my brush before using it, and clean it often.

I do a wash over the entire piece. The bubbled up areas are where the watercolor sits on top of the resist.

After the wash dries, I lift the frisket, exposing the untouched areas, and fine-tune the art. Finished art below.

For some projects, I find and photograph models. Here, my husband, son and a friend model for a scene from “The Black Regiment of the American Revolution.”

I develop a finished sketch to size for each spread, from rough to finished. After the sketches are approved by the client, I begin painting.

Traditional watercolor involves a good deal of planning. Here is a step-by-step of my painting process for a piece from “The Black Regiment of the American Revolution.” (This process is also featured in “illustrating Children’s Picture Books, a Writer’s Digest book by Steven Withrow and Lesley Breen Withrow.)

Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

I love, love, love research. As I mentioned, I’ve specialized in multicultural and historic illustration, and pride myself of the level of research that I do.

When I illustrated a book about Squanto for Scholastic, I went to Plimoth plantation and took hundreds of pictures. When I illustrated The Black Regiment of the American Revolution, I had the unbelievable good fortune of having 1,000 re-enactors in full dress arrive in RI to reenact the very battle I was illustrating. I love, love, love research. (29)

Do you start laying out a picture book on newsprint and then after you get it right draw it on better paper? Or do you tend to get it right from the beginning?

I start by scribbling storyboards on the back of recycled scrap paper. Next, I work on tracing paper. I’ve been using computer page design programs to help integrate text for many years now. Page design is a huge part of a children’s book, so I do a lot of planning.

What type of art classes did you take at Rhode Island School of Design?

I was a transfer student, so I missed out on foundation, which I think is very intense. I took mostly illustration, painting, and printmaking classes like lithography and intaglio. For my senior project, I illustrated a Russian folktale using linoleum blocks.

Do you feel that you developed your skills at RISD or do you feel you found you style after college?

RISD was a wonderful and daunting experience. I was surrounded by amazingly talented students and took classes with teachers who were professionals in their field. I even had David Macaulay for a Wintersession class. The competition scared me, but pushed me as well. One of the biggest things I learned in school was how to take criticism, and how to accept a compliment.

As useful as RISD was, I’ve never stopped learning, and my style is still developing. After school, I continued to study, play, and learn. I’d had plenty of color theory, but didn’t “get” it until I read Michael Wilcox’s “Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green.”

The biggest learning happened when I was asked to teach Children’s Book Illustration for RISD Summer Studies. Suddenly, I had to put my knowledge into words and get it across to students. I was shocked by how much I learned through that process. Today, I’m an instructor and advisor for the Children’s Book Illustration certificate program at RISD-CE. My students continue to teach and inspire me.

I also take computer classes to keep up with the times, which also impacts my art.

It seems a good amount of the people who attended RISD have been successful children’s illustrators. Did you go to school with any of them? If so, have you stayed connected, since you left school?

Lynn Munsinger David Wiesner, Roz Chast, and Chris Van Allsburg were at school when I was, but I’m sorry to say I didn’t know them. Several students that I knew from school are working freelance illustrators. I met Ruth Flanigan at RISD, and she has been has been a lifelong friend. I’m happy to say that today, many of my friends are talented and wonderful illustrators, whether they went to RISD or not.

What type of illustrating did you do once you graduated?

My first illustrations were for record album covers. (Does that date me, or what?)

I did paste-up for a living for several years, and a few greeting cards. Then I got serious about marketing myself to publishers, and began to get book work.

What type of materials do you use to make your wonderful illustrations?

I use Winsor & Newton watercolors in tubes and Arches 140 cold press brilliant white. I sometimes use Faber-Castelle Pitt artist pens, Pigma Micron pens and Tria markers in a wide range of colors for detail work.

Has your style changed over the years? Materials?

A few years ago I began experimenting with materials and style, trying to push myself. I added an embossing technique using colored pencils that creates interesting textures. Although detailed, it loosens me up a bit.

More recently, I’ve used Photoshop to incorporate photographs into my illustrations. I’ve expanded into work geared for younger children where my characters are a bit less realistic. (25 note: other examples of this style are on under “new style” on my blog) For the first time, I’ve done animal characters, and I’ve been having a blast doing them.

Did you set up a studio in your home?

Oh, yes. Currently, it’s on a tiny sun porch off the living room in my house. I use my basement and a spare bedroom for my many filing cabinets (including flat files), and often spread into the house for additional workspace.

Excluding the normal things like paper, paint, brushes, pencils, and pastels, is there one piece of equipment in your studio you really would not want to live without?

At one time, I relied on a Lucy (camera lucinda.) Then I bought my own Xerox machine, which was well used before it got moved to the basement. Now the computer, scanner and printer are must-haves. I also have an extensive picture file and library that are invaluable. I made a makeshift light table years ago, and use it all the time.

I paint a liquid frisket over the parts that I want to stay white or the painted color. I use Winsor & Newton off white art masking fluid. I soap my brush before using it, and clean it often.

When did you realize that you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

I did an illustrated children’s book for a project in high school. I loved doing it, but I didn’t have the confidence to go straight to art school. I became an elementary school teacher in Smyrna, Delaware, and took many college level art classes before I applied to RISD. Even then, I considered printmaking as a major, but when I took a wintersession class in Children’s Book Illustration with Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges, I knew I’d found my place.

Do you start laying out a picture book on newsprint and then after you get it right draw it on better paper? Or do you tend to get it right from the beginning?

I start by scribbling storyboards on the back of recycled scrap paper. Next, I work on tracing paper. I’ve been using computer page design programs to help integrate text for many years now. Page design is a huge part of a children’s book, so I do a lot of planning.

How many books have you illustrated?

I’ve illustrated more than 30 books, including picture books and activity books, and many more if you include leveled readers and educational workbooks.

What was the first piece of art you did and got paid for?

Honestly, I don’t have a clue.

What was your first picture book? When and how did that happen?

My first book was “Kerry’s Christmas,” for Weekly Reader.

I’d sent samples and made cold calls to dozens of publishers. I took my portfolio to anyone who would see me. The art director called with a description of the manuscript, I said yes, and three months later, I’d finished the job.

I did a second book for them the following year. One Friday afternoon, I came home to a message on my answering machine, “We want you to do another book. Give us a call.” It was late spring, and all weekend I fantasized about illustrating a story filled with sunlight and flowers. On Monday, when I called, I got the title: “The Snow Kept Falling.”

Of the picture books that you have published, which one is your favorite?

Isn’t that like asking which child is your favorite?

“The Crane Wife” is high on the list, because I love folktales and Japanese art. “Basket of Bangles” includes one of my all-time favorite pieces. (26) “The Black Regiment of the Black Revolution” is dear to my heart because it was a Rhode Island project, and I became good friends with Linda Crotta Brennan, the author.

My favorite, now that I think of it, is the NEXT book that I do!

It looks like you have made a career of working with educational publishers.  Do you think you will expand into traditional trade publishers?

The educational market has been a good fit for me, since I was an elementary education major, taught fourth and fifth grades, and have always been fascinated by other times and cultures. I’ve specialized in multicultural and historic illustration for most of my career, and have done dozens of 16 page paperback folktales and historic stories for reading programs.

For many years, I was so busy with work that I didn’t have time for exploration and development. The slump in the educational market during this economic downturn has had a silver lining for me, giving me the luxury of time, and I’ve made a big push to move to trade.

What are you working on now?

I just finished my dummy about my hedgehog and I’m teaching a class called “The Book Dummy” at RISD-CE.

Have you ever thought of writing and illustrating your own book?

Yes! I took a writing class at RISD-CE with Marlo Gransworthy a few years ago, and haven’t stopped writing since. I joined a writer’s group, went to several writing retreats, and wrote a middle-grade novel (still being revised.) I wrote several bios for “Notable Women of Rhode Island,” which will be my first published writing when it comes out. I wrote and dummied up three picture book stories.

I wrote a story about a hedgehog and dummied it up. Henry is near and dear to my heart.  It’s currently being considered by a few publishers.

I’m also in the process of doing new nonfiction samples that have that “je ne sais quoi” that trade publishers want, and am excited about that.

Have you done any illustrations for Newspapers and Magazines?

I did one newspaper illustration when I was at RISD. I’ve done quite a bit of work for children’s magazines, including Highlights for Children, Appleseeds, Odyssey, Cobblestone and more.

I see you are represented by Christina Tugeau.  How did you connect with her?

I represented myself for fifteen years. I was getting regular work, but I hated cold calls and schmoozing. I kept careful records of my hours, and found that I spent a quarter of my time doing self-promotion, so I started to think about getting an agent. During my next trip to New York, I asked art directors what reps they liked working with. Chris’s name came up several times. Then my good friend, Ann Barrow signed on with her, and pushed me to send Chris work. Happily, the timing was right. Chris had a need for the kind of art I did, and I’ve been with her ever since.

Can you tell us a little bit about her agency and how they work with you?

Chris emails me jobs, and I contact the client directly and go from there. She deals with contracts and billing.  She does mailings several times a year, email “blasts,” and invites her artists to go into illustration directories under her agency name. She goes to conferences, writes for the SCBWI newsletter, makes trips to see publishers regularly, and keeps her artists up to date on all of her activities. She also pushes us personally to grow and improve. She’s been a pleasure to work with.

Can you tell us a little bit about her agency and how they work with you?

Chris emails me jobs, and I contact the client directly and go from there. She deals with contracts and billing.  She does mailings several times a year, email “blasts,” and invites her artists to go into illustration directories under her agency name. She goes to conferences, writes for the SCBWI newsletter, makes trips to see publishers regularly, and keeps her artists up to date on all of her activities. She also pushes us personally to grow and improve. She’s been a pleasure to work with.

Do you feel you get more work by having an agent?

I’ve been with her for a long time at this point, so it’s hard to compare. I always felt that she had access to people that, as an individual, I’d have trouble reaching, which has only become more noticeable in recent years.

What do you do on the marketing end of things to get your artwork noticed?

I have a website: http://www.cherylkirknoll.com, and a blog: http://www.cherylkirknoll.blogspot.com. I go to conferences and do portfolio reviews and send follow-up samples. I did Illustration Friday for a few months to challenge myself. I send Chris printed postcards or full sheets several times a year for her mailings, and advertise with her periodically in Illustration directories.

Do you start laying out a picture book on newsprint and then after you get it right draw it on better paper? Or do you tend to get it right from the beginning?

I start by scribbling storyboards on the back of recycled scrap paper. Next, I work on tracing paper. I’ve been using computer page design programs to help integrate text for many years now. Page design is a huge part of a children’s book, so I do a lot of planning.

Do you think the economy has had an impact on the amount of work being offered to illustrators?

Oh yes. It has been s….l….o…..w! I remember it being like this back in the 80’s with the banking and loan crisis. (the wake-up call that we all ignored). Work is beginning to pick up again now, thank goodness.

Do you try to spend a certain amount of hours each day illustrating?

No. There’s nothing I enjoy more than writing and illustrating, so I don’t need to schedule it in. I head for my desk first thing in the morning, and often work until late at night. When I’m on a deadline, I have more of a need to schedule time to eat, clean, and sleep.

Of course, work includes teaching and promo and research and networking and much more, so I don’t put pen to paper every day. But drawing has always been fun for me. Whenever I have to sit still, in a meeting or airport, for example, I sketch. It keeps me sane.

Do you use Photoshop?  How and where do you use it?

I began using Photoshop when educational publishers started to require digital files instead of originals. At first I used it to clean up traditional work. I still work traditionally, but now I often scan art into Photoshop and manipulate it. Recently, I’ve been incorporating photographs into my art.

Did you set up a studio in your home?

Oh, yes. Currently, it’s on a tiny sun porch off the living room in my house. I use my basement and a spare bedroom for my many filing cabinets (including flat files), and often spread into the house for additional workspace.

Do you start laying out a picture book on newsprint and then after you get it right draw it on better paper? Or do you tend to get it right from the beginning?

I start by scribbling storyboards on the back of recycled scrap paper. Next, I work on tracing paper. I’ve been using computer page design programs to help integrate text for many years now. Page design is a huge part of a children’s book, so I do a lot of planning.

Are there any marketing tips you can share to help illustrators who haven’t found an agent?

I think a good agent is as hard to acquire as a book contract. Research the agents first. Do they have a good reputation? Usually, they are looking for professional-level artists who can provide something publishers are asking for that their other artists don’t already provide.

Do you have any words of wisdom for your fellow illustrators that might help them become more successful?

It’s a competitive market, without a doubt. If you focus on work that you love doing, you’re more likely to find your niche. The need for persistence cannot be overstated.

Thank you Cheryl for sharing your artwork with us. We will be looking for your future books. You can see more of Cheryl’s illustrations at www.cherylkirknoll.net Cheryl also has a blog you can visit:  www.cherylkirknoll.blogspot.com/.  I am sure Cheryl would love to read a comment from you. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Wow! Talk about a career! I just love that you (Cheryl) were able to combine two things you’re passionate about 🙂

    I will never tire of learning about and seeing a true artist’s process, and once again, I’m drawn to the look of the underpainting! Perhaps it’s the monotones! lol

    Thank you, Cheryl, for sharing, and Kathy, for all the work bringing this to us! 😀

    Like

  2. How wonderful to see Cheryl featured in Kathy’s blog!

    I have the fortune to say that Cheryl has been my Instructor at the Children’s Book Illustration Certificate Program at RISD-CE, where she also is the program Advisor. I enjoyed so much taking her class “Children’s Book Illustration II”.

    Cheryl, thank you for sharing your beautiful art in this interview. Congratulations!

    Like

  3. Cheryl’s work is beautiful and she’s a wonderful mentor to many illustrators (including me!).

    Thank you for showing your process, Cheryl, and best of luck with your writing career!

    Like

  4. How nice for Cheryl to be featured here, and what a career she has had. I enjoyed seeing the step by step process that goes into her work. Cheryl has a wide range of talent – rendering realistic portrayals of historic figures and settings, to adorable animal characters. What a talent!
    Way to go, Cheryl!

    Like

  5. You have amazing talent, and it was a joy to learn more about your work and your process.

    Like

  6. Thank you for sharing your process with us, Cheryl! Out of curiosity, have you ever experimented with yupo “paper” as a watercolor surface? I have been messing around with it, and I’m not sure if I love it or hate it.

    Like

    • Michelle,

      I would be interested in that answer, too. If I find out, I will make sure I post it on my blog.

      Happy New Year,

      Kathy

      Like

  7. I’ve never heard of it, Michelle. I’ll have to look it up and give it a try!

    Like


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