Anna Guillotte is an American illustrator, designer, and writer living in Heidelberg, Germany. With a degree in graphic design, Anna worked as a graphic artist in the corporate world for seven years. Though she was also a mural artist and painter throughout that time, she began illustrating in 2010 when she attended a mentor program for artists in San Diego, California where she lived at the time. Through this program she realized her true calling for storytelling. She has since joined the SCBWI, attended numerous SCBWI conferences and her illustrations have been published internationally. She enjoys creating whimsical, funny, touching, and beautiful art for the advertising, book, and animation markets.
Here is Anna showing one of her techniques:
There’s something about light and shadows that really soothes the eye. I guess I could do research on the scientific reason as to why us humans are attracted to depth in images, but I already spend too much time on the net. I’m guessing since that we live in a 3-dimensional world our eyes are built to receive and digest lovely indications of depth (i.e. shadows, light vs. dark, cool vs. warm colors) and by nature we crave that. I tend to indulge in lighting my illustrations so I thought I would share how I go about doing that – from sketch to finished image.
The key here is to make the scene believable, even if it’s not 100% accurate. So I guess in a sense you become a car salesman convincing a customer that not only is the Hyundai Elantra a great car, but the most awesome car you will ever buy in your life.
I start with a hand-drawn sketch. Why not go digital? Eh, the tablet doesn’t feel right and I guess I need to feel paper and pencils in my hand. I then scan the drawings in Photoshop.
In Photoshop I clean up the images and create separate layers for the different visual elements. This allows for more control over placement, size, coloring, and opacity. For example, in the image below I have a layer for each character, the background, and several additional details I added in later (the plane, smokestacks, birds, fence, and sticker on signpost). Keep in mind that all the coloring layers are in the “multiply” blend mode – and the texture layers are in “color burn” and “overlay” blend mode. I suggest playing around with those settings and see what you come up with : )
Here is a video tutorial on How to use Blending mode in Photoshop CC.
Now I block in the foreground shade. I imagined this bus stop scene taking place under a large tree. And as we have all observed – shade from trees are not one massive blob, but a shadow dance of many, many leaves. I made a layer of a dark blue and masked it out. Then I removed bit by bit the “shadow dance” until I thought it was convincing. Sometimes I consult with Google Images to make sure the lighting is believable.
I added additional shadowing on a separate layer.
And now the color! We begin with the background color. The blue sky on a separate layer from the tree/grass.
Another layer is added for the foreground objects.
Now the characters are colored in on another layer.
One of the biggest challenges of working in Photoshop is to make the images not look so “Photoshoppy”. So I have added a yellow layer (6%) and a water color image to add “texture”. I have also added several details, such as the balloon reflection, text on the bus sign and the little sticker on the sign post. As the image comes to life, I have fun adding in little details – this also helps with the “believability” factor.
Additionally, I have added another “texture” layer (image of paint strokes on canvas) and a faint shadow around the edge of the image to give a more old-photo look.
How long have you been illustrating?
I started focusing on illustrating in 2010, but I have been painting for over 20 years. My paintings were very illustrative and often people would ask me “Why don’t you go into children’s book illustration?”
Where did you study graphic design?
I first started my studies at the University of Hartford/Hartford Art School and took every type of art class imaginable except glass blowing and jewelry. Then I studied film for a year, then moved on to multimedia (animation and video) and that’s when I finally decided to major in graphic design. I studied and majored in graphic design at Eastern Connecticut State University – my home state.
Have you attended other art related courses since studying Graphic Design?
I took a picture book illustration class and also a children’s book writing course at University of California San Diego.
What was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?
I painted an outdoor mural at an Elementary school in Boston.
What type of job did you do right after you graduated?
I was hired as a graphic artist at Sonalyst, Inc. in Connecticut. While there, I mostly created graphics and multimedia for US Navy computer-based training, but also did graphics and web design for private companies.
What do you think most influenced your style?
I think a lot of the shows and movies I watched as a kid influenced me. I loved the old cartoons like Tom and Jerry or Looney tunes. I’ve always been a big movie buff – not just the storytelling but also the cinematic style and I think that has carried over to my work.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
I signed up for an artist mentor program in San Diego in 2010. It was a program designed to help professional artists get unstuck. I was painting and doing murals but I felt my art career lacked a bit of focus. My mentor took one look at my work and suggested children’s book illustration. Her coworker knew Dan Santat from a previous job so we arranged a studio visit at Dan’s home (which Dan so graciously provided). Its funny, because at the time I didn’t know anything about children’s books and had no idea who Dan Santat was. He took the time to show me his work, how he got started, and what its like to work in the industry. After a few hours of the visit, I was sold!
What type of art jobs have you landed?
I have worked as a graphic and multimedia artist, have done many children’s murals, and focusing on illustration work for the children’s book market and editorials.
What are you doing to help connect with art directors and editors?
I have gone to many SCBWI conferences and heard art directors, agents and editors speak. It’s really helped me put a face to a name, so it doesn’t feel so abstract when sending my work to them. As far as how I connect – mostly I have sent postcards or emailed my website. I have also sent out a book dummy to several editors. I’ve also just created an email newsletter too for my contact list.
Have you put together a portfolio and or a book dummy?
I found that I have only used the physical portfolio when displaying at a SCBWI conference, otherwise I almost exclusively use my online portfolio. I have several book dummies as well, but they are mostly in digital format (PDF) as opposed to the physical book dummy format.
What made you decide to move to Germany?
I had no previous plans to move to Europe, but my partner got a job offer in Germany last year so I moved as well. I wrote about the decision in more detail on my blog: http://annaguillotte.com/blog/2013/11/13/why-i-am-moving-to-germany
It’s been an interesting experience to say the least and has definitely tested my limits at times. But having lived in the US my whole life, now I have the opportunity to live on the other side of the fence. Now I am the immigrant dealing with visa, work, driving, language, and cultural barriers. But since moving, I’ve had the unique opportunity to explore Europe and a experience a different lifestyle, which I think has given me an inspirational spark and influenced my work.
How would you compare the US market to the market for art in Germany?
For one, the German market is much, much smaller and for that reason has more international artists participating. My impression is the US market is so big and has so many talented artists that you don’t see as much artwork from outside the country.
Have you exhibited your illustrations in Germany?
Not yet : )
Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?
I have done some children’s illustrations for magazines but they were not specifically children’s magazines.
Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you? If not, would you like to find representation?
I don’t have an artist rep now, but I would like a rep for two reasons: 1. Help with finding illustration projects and marketing so I can spend more time focusing on the creative part 2. To have a sounding board – a mutual, creative and professional relationship with someone where we can share creative ideas on how to make a project even better and enjoy the process. Though I am coming from a visual artist background, I would like to write and illustrate my own stories as well and would ideally like a representative that would work with both my art and writing or allow me to have both an art and literary agent.
What types of things do you do to find illustration work?
I keep my website updated and have several online portfolios (Behance, LinkedIn, Devianart) so people can find me. I submit my art to magazines and illustration competitions. I also send postcards to art directors and I just made an email newsletter too.
What is your favorite medium to use?
I have gravitated towards mixed media – drawing with pen, pencil, crayon, etc. scanning in and then coloring with Photoshop.
Has that changed over time?
Definitely! I used to paint using oils, then I switched to acrylic paints, then I began to import my paintings into Photoshop to edit them. About two years ago I began using Photoshop exclusively to color and have experimented using different textures to create a more natural look.
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
If I have a specific pose or lighting that I want to accurately capture, I will either take a photo of myself or search pictures on google images. I like to search google images also for ideas and inspiration.
What are you working on now?
This past summer I was working on developing a story idea for one of my characters, Bearonardo. Now, I’m in a marketing mode and fine-tuning the business side of my illustrations. For example, being more consistent with contacting and updating art directors. It’s not the glamorous part, but just as important!
Do you want to write and illustrate a picture book?
I sure do! I have a bunch of stories I’ve written and made book dummies for. I’m definitely open to illustrating stories written by others too if they’re a good fit with me.
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.
If you use Photoshop a lot in your illustrations, I would highly suggest experimenting with using different textures and patterns (whether you scan them in or find texture images online) and using the blending mode.
Thank you Anna for sharing your journey and process with us. Please let us know when your new picture books come out. We’d love to see them and cheer you on. You can visit Anna at: www.annaguillotte.com/
If you have a moment I am sure Anna would like to read your comments. I enjoy reading them, too, even if sometimes I don’t have time to reply to all of them. Thanks!