Angela was born and raised in Freehold, NJ but moved to Florida in 2002. For over 15 years, Angela taught bilingual, ESL, Spanish, and Art in public schools before becoming a freelance writer and illustrator. She writes and illustrates board books, picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels, and loves to include humor, characters of color and cultural themes in her stories. She’s a big fan of Bruce Coville, Mary Pope Osborne, Alma Flor Ada, Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, Mo Willems, Bob Shea, Mark Teague, Jarrett Krosoczka, David Shannon, Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, and Amy Bates, among others.
Angela also writes and edits content for educational publishers and works as an adjunct professor at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. She holds five college degrees, including an MFA in Illustration from Academy of Art University in San Francisco. In addition, Angela has been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators SCBWI since 2004 and is one of the artists at Studio 18 in the Pines in South Florida.
HERE IS ANGELA explaining her process:
The idea that I had for “The Hero in You” (written by Ellis Paul) was to have the historical figures in the songs portrayed as children. So here’s how I completed the Jackie Robinson illustration for “The Hero in You”
I wanted Jackie to be hitting the ball so I initially came up with this sketch.
The art director liked the pose but wanted the uniform to look more of the time period of Jackie Robinson rather than a modern look. Also he wanted a crowd and stadium in the background and a more humble rather than determined look on the face. Here is the adjusted sketch.
Next I recopied each part of the sketch so the lines were clean –the stadium/crowd, the ball, Jackie, and the ump and catcher are all drawn separately so I can work with each component individually in the final illustration. I use vellum because I think it’s the best way to see through to your sketch. Also the pencil goes on real smooth and it’s easy to erase on.
I scan in each part, change the outline from black to brown, reconstruct the sketch in Photoshop and change each layer to multiply so I can see through them.
I like to fill my sketch with textured papers, either ones that I have painted with acrylic or gouache or printed papers from Michael’s scrapbooking section. I can scan a bunch of different colors or textures and adjust the colors in Photoshop which gives me flexibility when completing the illustration.
I started with the background – the bricks of the stadium. I added the lines of the bricks and used a slight drop shadow to get the indentation in the bricks.
Then I worked on the stadium and the crowd, using textured papers to fill the areas rather than digital paint.
I lightened the background so that it wouldn’t overpower Jackie.
Then I colored in baseball and added shadow, followed by Jackie, the ump, and the catcher.
I added some shadows and highlights to the figures, texture to the bat, and rosy cheeks to finish the illustration.
How long have you been illustrating?
First I want to say thank you, Kathy, for interviewing me for your blog. It’s my first blog interview and I’m super excited to share my background, work and ideas with you and your readers. I applaud you for having the blog and taking the time to showcase illustrators’ work.
So let’s get the interview started… Technically, I’ve been illustrating since I was about seven years old. Somewhere in storage there is a Snoopy book written and illustrated by me that I did in first grade! However, I started developing a serious interest in illustrating children’s books when I joined SCBWI in 2004.
You bio says you have five college degrees, could you tell us about the four you worked for before you decided to go for your MFA?
I’ve always loved school. As a kid I couldn’t sleep the night before the first day of school because I was so excited to go. That passion for learning carried over after high school (if I could earn a living being a college student I would take that job in a heartbeat!) Even though I initially studied Art and Education, at some point I felt like taking music classes and earned an A.A. in Music. Then I finished my B.A. in Art and began teaching Art. Soon after I found an interest in English as a Second Language (ESL) Education and Bilingual Education. I received a grant to study at graduate school and earned a M.A. in Instruction and Curriculum with a focus on Bilingual/Bicultural Education. Although I loved teaching students English, I put Art on the back burner for almost 10 years to focus everything on my job. When I moved to Florida, I had in mind to become a Reading Specialist for ESL students, so I completed another graduate degree, an Ed.S. which is a Specialist’s Degree, in Reading Education. Although that goal didn’t work out, while studying Reading Education I fell in love with children’s books. It finally hit me that I could use my love for creative writing and art to write and illustrate books – I felt like it was a roundabout way to teach students. Finally I had found the right professional focus for my talents. So I took the plunge and enrolled in the online MFA program at Academy of Art University in San Francisco to study illustration.
What made you choose to get an MFA in Illustration from Academy of Art University in San Francisco?
When I finally knew children’s book writing and illustrating was where my true passion resided, I researched different ways to learn more about this field. I joined SCBWI and read lots of information online, read books, received critiques, etc. But since I am a nerdy student at heart, I knew that attending a class and having an instructor and classmates to provide insight, advice, and critique was the best thing for me. There were not many options when it came to studying illustration on the graduate level because I was married with two stepsons and a baby on the way. So the only option for me was to study online. Academy of Art University was the only school I could find with a legitimate MFA program in illustration. I enrolled in my first semester in 2007 and actually took a trip out to San Francisco to check out the campus. I fell in love and knew it was the right decision. I wish I could have studied there in person – maybe one day I’ll be able to live out there and take or teach a class. It took me four years to finish but it was worth every minute (and every penny that will take me 30 years to pay off!)
What were you favorite classes?
One of my favorite classes in college was actually Physics of Exploration that I took as an undergraduate. We learned how the Space Shuttle and Hubble Telescope worked as well as some really cool stuff. But of course I loved my creative writing classes and illustration classes the most. I had a few courses just in Children’s Book Illustration and Narrative Illustration. Those two really helped me a lot with the storytelling aspect of illustration as well as the right steps to take when illustrating (from research to thumbnail to rough sketch, to final sketch, to value rough, to final art). I also took some Animation classes, which were fabulous for character development and storyboarding/sequencing illustrations.
Did the School help you get work?
No, I was lucky enough to develop a freelance business doing writing and editing for educational publishers as well as teaching part time at some community colleges and elementary schools. Being an online student, AAU as well as most schools doesn’t really have career services for online students.
What was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?
In 2012 I received an email from TSI Graphics, a company that was hired by McGraw-Hill to find illustrators for some leveled readers in Spanish. I completed three illustrations for the first book and then eleven illustrations for a second book.
What type of job did you do right after you graduated?
I was still teaching part time and working as a freelance writer and editor for educational publishers. I was lucky enough to get some freelance work in 2007 and it developed into more work throughout my studies and continues until today. I also continue to teach at the college level on a part time basis.
Do you think the classes you took in college influenced your style?
I was very confused with “style” as a student. I knew the illustration styles of others that I liked but I didn’t want to copy anyone. It took me a while to develop a style that was a bit different and stood out over the traditional style of illustration. However, I’m now experimenting with some new techniques that are affecting/changing my style a bit. So I feel like I’m in between finding a signature style and one that can get me some work.
When did you do your the first illustration for children?
After the McGraw-Hill job, I didn’t get any other work until 2013.
How did that come about?
Right after graduating with my MFA in 2011, I prepared a TON of promo packages and sent them out to different Art Directors at publishing companies. It wasn’t until 2013 when I received two emails within a span of a month to illustrate from two different companies to illustrate books. They both told me they received my information in 2011 and held onto it for two years. Wow!
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate books?
After completing my degree in Reading Education in 2005, I fell in love with children’s books. It finally hit me that I could use my love for creative writing and art to write and illustrate books – I felt like it was a roundabout way to teach students.
Was MY BODY BELONGS TO ME the first picture book that you illustrated?
Yes, it was.
How did that contract come your way?
One day in 2013 I received an email from the Art Director at Free Spirit Publishing asking if I were available to illustrate a book. I said “Absolutely!” That company was one of the companies to whom I sent promo material in 2011 and they finally contacted me two years later for a project.
Congratulations in your new book THE HERO IN YOU coming out the 1st of September.
Thank you!I did love illustrating MY BODY BELONGS TO ME but I’m even more excited about THE HERO IN YOU, mainly because it’s about famous people in history and to this nerd learning about history –or pretty much anything – is my cup of tea!
How did you get the contract with Albert A. Whitman?
It happened the same as Free Spirit Publishing – out of the blue I got an email asking if I were available for the project. So I was working on it the same time I was illustrating MY BODY BELONGS TO ME. I actually had to make the tough decision to quit a teaching job in an elementary school in order to pursue these projects. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get my name on a book. I mean, two books!
Have you worked with educational publishers?
Yes, as an illustrator, writer, and developmental editor.
Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own book?
Absolutely! I would love to be known as an author/illustrator. Besides picture books, I also write chapter books and middle grade novels. I hope to illustrate my chapter book if it ever gets published, as well as the cover for any middle grade novel. However, I do feel that my illustration style may not fit some of the stories I write. So I am open-minded to the idea of someone else illustrating my books if an editor/publisher felt strongly that another person’s style would suit the book better. Very much like David LaRochelle has done with some of his stories.
Do you have an artist rep.? If so, who? And how did you connect with them?
At this time I don’t have an agent. However, I did have an agent in 2012. I can explain how I landed that contract… I subscribed to agent Jill Corcoran’s blog. At the time, she was working with Ronnie Herman at the Herman Agency. On her blog she posted that Ronnie was looking for an intern to help layout some books in Photoshop to make some book trailers. It was either in house or remote. I applied for it and didn’t get it but I asked Ronnie if I could submit my stories and portfolio to her and she said yes. At the time, I had an editor interested in one of my stories. Long story short, Ronnie liked my work and signed me for 18 months. I had never met Ronnie and only spoke with her one time on the phone during the 18 months. We got along fine, but for one reason or another, it didn’t work out with Ronnie and I chose not to renew the contract.
If not, would you like to have one? After already having had an agent, I learned that you can have a good rapport with your agent but he/she may not be the best fit professionally. So as much as I would like to have another agent in the future, right now I’m patiently taking the time to research agents more than I did before in order to find the one who is the perfect fit for my personality, interests, writing and illustration styles, and professional goals. In the meantime, I am sending out my stories to editors that I’ve met at conferences to try and get some interest. When looking for an agent, it can really help you if you can tell him/her that you have an editor interested in your work already.
What types of things did you do to market your work?
I have a website, a facebook page, and a blog. I’ll be preparing some promo packages again in the next few months with some tear sheets and postcards to mail out to art directors as well as editors – last time when I sent out packages I only targeted art directors, but this time I’ll be sending out to editors as well, especially those I’ve met at conferences.
What is your favorite medium to use?
Anything messy like charcoal and pastels are my favorite. I also love collage and have developed a “digital collage” style where I paint tissue paper or other textured paper with gouache or acrylic paint. (I’m a huge fan of Eric Carle and Leo Lionni and the textured papers they used.) I then scan those papers into the computer and use them to fill my sketches. In the past I’ve added drop shadows to make the pieces look like cut paper. That works well if you’re looking for a graphic style of illustration. For looser, freer work, I use watercolor, pastels and colored pencils combined with some digital collage. In addition, I love to create batiks (wax resist and dye on fabric) and am trying to figure out a way to be able to use a batik combined with Photoshop to create some illustrations. No matter what technique I use, though, my sketches are all done by hand in pencil and scanned in. I don’t like drawing with the tablet; I only use the tablet as my tool to fill in my sketches.
Has that changed over time?
Definitely. Towards the end of my MFA, I had developed the cut-paper digital collage style with drop shadows and stayed with that for a while. Then I began using the textured collage papers with my outlined sketch just for a different (and quicker) spin on the technique. About a year ago, I was experimenting with watercolor and pastels on printmaking paper and found a softer look was better for some of my illustrations. That combined with using Photoshop to overlay my sketch and some textures gave a nice look that I’ve been using a lot more lately. It gives me the flexibility to use my favorite medium – pastels – with my second favorite medium – the computer (or as I often call it “the machine that helps me fix any errors much quicker than redoing the entire illustration over again.”)
Do you have a studio in your house?
My dining room table is often my “house studio” these days. However, I do have a studio space near my house. It’s called Studio 18 in the Pines – it has about 20 studios for artists and a large gallery for exhibitions. I use it when my son is in school or camp as well as sometimes on the weekends.
What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?
My laptop and Intuos tablet for sure. But also my Nu-Pastels by Prismacolor – love them! I have my studio space mainly to do my batiks, however. I can’t melt wax or hang dripping dyed fabric in my house that’s for sure!
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
I write and illustrate whenever I can between my freelance projects and life. I’ve been trying to commit a certain number of hours per week for just writing and illustrating but something always comes up and reduces that time. Each Monday I try to restart the week with that thinking – I know one of these days I’ll figure out how to do it.
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
Yes! I have people pose for me or I go to places like the beach or zoo to take pictures. I also do some research online for photos if I can’t take the photos myself; I copy and paste every relevant image I can find into a Word document, then narrow them down to the ones I think will be most beneficial and print them out. I refer to photos all the time when illustrating.
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
It’s my best friend! Without it, I couldn’t have studied for my MFA at Academy of Art University. I wouldn’t be able to research photos or companies to send my illustration samples to, and I wouldn’t have email to get offers for projects. And of course reading fantastic blogs like yours helps inspire and teach me, too!
What do you feel was your biggest success?
Illustrating THE HERO IN YOU so far has been the best illustration experience of my career. I would love to work with the art director at Albert Whitman & Co. again – he was a real cheerleader when I got stuck on an idea or was struggling to get one of the illustrations done on time. He also gave me a lot of creative flexibility to come up with the idea for the illustrations. I really think the book is going to sell well because of the content, the songs, and the ability to relate the book to the Core Curriculum Content Standards in schools.
Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?
Photoshop is my lifesaver. I use it to touch up illustrations so I don’t have to redo anything. I also love to illustrate in pieces – meaning, I usually illustrate each character separate from each other and the background, then scan them all in and place them together in Photoshop like a puzzle. It allows me the flexibility to move things around and resize them if necessary.
Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?
Yes Intuos tablet – I’d be lost without it.
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
I definitely want to have books published that I have written and illustrated in all types of genres – board book, picture book, chapter book and middle grade novel. That would be my dream.
What are you working on now?
The question really should be what am I NOT working on now – my SCBWI critique group members can attest that I am non-stop at trying to write a good story. I have a few book dummies to touch up and finalize to have ready to submit to agents and editors. I also am finishing to write my first chapter book and then would like to draw some black and white illustrations for that book. I actually came up with another picture book idea this morning while walking my puppy so I hope to get the idea down in writing this week.
Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.
I water down gouache and acrylics to paint on tissue paper – very carefully as to not rip it. Scan those into Photoshop and use them to fill your sketch – you get the same effects if you were to paint the textures right on your illustrations. I love to paint watercolor on Rives BFK paper – very heavyweight printmaking paper that absorbs the watercolor with a soft texture. I also love Arches hot pressed watercolor paper for more detailed work. Nu-Pastels by Prismacolor are so great – the feel like hard pastels but go on like soft pastels – they still smudge but not as much as very soft pastels. Prismacolor colored pencils are my favorite – love the soft leads. And finally Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils. They’re colored pencils that can be erased pretty well – they’re great for outlining or sketching. Some animators use the different colors to show the progression of their sketches.
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
You have to be a student of the business. Research research research – not just for photo reference but also look at the new books that are out. Go to the library and spend an hour or two a week just looking through books and studying others’ illustrations – their techniques as well as their compositions. See what types of stories are selling. Read lots of books – reading with my son is the biggest help when learning about books. Go to conferences and workshops. Take online classes. Join critique groups and embrace feedback and different points of view. Have a style but be flexible so you can get work if you’re just starting out, like me. Always be drawing and illustrating something to keep your skills and ideas fresh. And never stop dreaming!
Thank you Angela for taking the time to share your process and journey with us. We look forward to hearing about your future successes.
To see more of Angela’s illustrations you can visit her at: http://www.angelapadron.com/
Please take a minute to leave a comment for Angela, I know she would love to heard from you and I always appreciate it. Thanks!