Carrie O’Neill is a children’s book writer and illustrator living in Olympia, Washington. In 2014 she helped establish the Olympia Knitting Mills Artist Collective with five other women. Their suite of studios and gallery are in a historic building where we host art shows, classes and musical events. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators since 2012.
In addition to children’s book illustration, she does commercial illustration, portrait commissions, and teach art classes to kids.
Here is Carrie explaining her process:
I wrote a story about a desert tortoise and began working out the illustrations for the picture book through thumbnail sketches. I usually do several rounds of thumbnails to work out the overall flow of the story, page turns and the basic composition of each spread.
After I had the story mapped out, I worked out the composition and tone for each illustration in my sketchbook. I then created a pencil and ink sketch for a half-size book dummy. I completed the book dummy, with a number of sample full-color illustrations, in time for a SCBWI critique event last fall. I received helpful feedback and I decided to rework the story and illustrations.
This is the second version of the same illustration from the reworked book dummy. I took this dummy to the SCBWI-WWA conference in April. With the feedback I received, I was ready to create the full-color version of the illustration.
I printed the illustration to trim and reworked a few areas of the illustration on tracing vellum to make the characters more dynamic.
I used a light table to transfer my sketch onto Arches 10 lb. cold press watercolor paper.
Since I had made a few full-color illustrations for this story already, I mixed up the colors I needed for this illustration based on the recipe I had written down. I love Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus watercolor for their vibrancy and transparency.
I then begin laying down many thin washes of background color. At this point I had put down 7 layers of wash and used a scrubby brush to splatter a dilute solution of acrylic ink.
Once I’d laid down enough washes for the image to emerge, I used a mechanical pencil to go over the lines and to add details to the illustration.
I then went back into the painting adding more thin washes of color.
Once I’d pushed the painting as far as I could, I scanned it and punched up the color and tone through Photoshop, fixing areas that needed tidying. Here is the final art and a detail view.
Here are the two book dummies I created, with the reworked story titled Good Turn for Tortoise in the foreground.
Below is the cover of SWIM
How long have you been illustrating?
I’ve been illustrating since 2008. I had been working on fiber art and quilting for a short time and found myself becoming more interested in the drawings I was doing in thread. I stumbled onto the Illustration Friday blog and began submitting illustrations to their weekly challenges. I then started a daily drawing challenge that I posted on a now defunct blog called 365 Illustrations of Love. I sold many of these illustrations on Etsy.
What was the first art related work where someone paid you for your work?
I began showing my artwork in my community. Each show would result in sales, in addition to the work I was selling through my Etsy shop.
Did you go to school to study art?
I graduated in 1996 with a B.A. from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. I focused on painting and sculpture all four years, culminating in a senior thesis show and an art education internship at the local school district. After graduation I taught art classes to children and adults through our city’s parks and recreation department. I also developed a art class for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
What do you think helped to develop your style?
When I was in college I was focused on fine art and created a body of work that was based on the post-minimalist movement of the 1970’s. After graduation I struggled to find an outlet for my work and found that I was losing interest in pursuing that highly cerebral style of work. I stopped creating art altogether for a few years and it wasn’t until my first child was born that I returned to making art. Although I did not grow up with many children’s books, reading to my kids opened me up to the incredible world of children’s book illustration. This time when I began making art, I started creating work that was much more relevant to my life. In terms of style, I love drawing a line that captures a gesture and using color to strengthen the drawing.
What made you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
Five years ago I began researching the children’s book industry. In 2012 I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and attended my first regional conference in 2013.
Are you planning on self-publishing SWIM?
I wrote SWIM in 2014 and created a book dummy. When I began, my goal was to challenge myself to write a story and to get a hands-on experience creating a picture book dummy. I’m still submitting the story to editors and art directors, so I don’t plan to self-publish it at this time.
Have illustrated any other picture books, yet?
Since SWIM I have written another story, Good Turn for Tortoise, about a myopic tortoise that learns to look outside his shell and discovers a new friend. I recently completed the book dummy and a handful of full-color illustrations for it.
Have you ever tried creating a wordless picture book?
I attended the SCBWI-Western Washington Conference a week ago. David Wiesner was one of the faculty members and his presentation on the history of the wordless picture book was infectious! During the conference, I participated in a daylong workshop that he led on character development. I plan to use the character I developed for the class in a wordless picture book.
What types of things do you do to find illustrating work?
At this point most of my illustration work has been commissions for local companies and portraiture. I have a website and blog, and I’m on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. My next step is to query agents and artist representatives to reach a larger audience.
Do you have an artist rep.? If so, who and how did you connect. If not, would you be interested in being represented?
I don’t have an artist rep or an agent yet, but I’m actively seeking one.
Would you like to write and illustrate your own book?
Do you have a studio set up in your house?
I worked for a number of years in a studio in my house. Last summer, I helped establish an artists’ collective with five other women. We have a suite of five studios and a small gallery space in a historic building that once housed the Olympia Knitting Mills in the early part of the twentieth century. Over the years the building has been home to an independent music label and studios for fine artists and designers. Today the main tenant is a craft brewery, our downstairs neighbors. There’s a steam whistle that blows every day at 5:00 p.m. for quitting time at the brewery. I love working alongside other artists and appreciate the support that we provide for each another.
Have you worked with educational publishers? If so, which one’s?
Not yet, but I’d be open to it.
Have you done illustrations for any children’s magazines?
No, but I would like to do so.
What materials do you use to paint your color illustrations?
I work primarily in watercolor, gouache, and ink.
How much time do you spend illustrating?
I work every weekday morning while my youngest daughter is in preschool, as well as weekends. At night I usually work in my sketchbook and stay up much later than I ought to.
Do you do any artwork other than for children?
I do commissioned work which includes portraiture and illustration for small businesses.
Do you ever exhibit your work?
I exhibit my work regularly in my region and I participated in a group show with SCBWI at the Washington State Convention Center in 2013.
What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?
It’s a tie between my Sakura mechanical pencil and the radio.
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
I work every day, normally for several hours.
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
I’ll take reference photos and create multiple files of reference images I find on the internet. I spend time at the library looking for books on whatever I’m planning to illustrate.
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
Absolutely! It has been helpful in building my confidence as an artist by giving me the opportunity to share my work with a larger audience and to connect with other illustrators.
Would you be open to working with an author who want to self-publish a picture book?
At this point I would prefer to work with a publisher.
Do you use Photoshop or Corel Painter with your illustrations?
I use Photoshop to touch up my illustrations. I’m learning how to take elements that I create traditionally and digitally manipulate them. Although I’m excited about adding digital tools to my artist’s toolbox, I don’t think I could ever give up the experience of working with paint and paper.
Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?
I have a Wacom Bamboo tablet that I use for editing my scanned illustrations.
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
I would love to find an agent and spend my life writing and illustrating picture books. I’m also interested in pattern design and packaging.
What are you working on now?
I have a wordless picture book that I’m beginning to flesh out. I’m continuing to refine my portfolio in anticipation of future SCBWI conferences. I’m also teaching drawing classes for kids this spring.
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 love Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus watercolors. At the beginning of any illustration project I develop my color palette and create recipes for the colors I plan to use. I fill my jars with water and add drops of the Hydrus watercolors, making a note of how much of each color I use to create a specific hue. That way I can recreate the exact color I need for an illustration, something that is very helpful when I decide to rework an illustration months after the fact.
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
Work on your craft every day. A sentence, a doodle, a photo–no matter how small, it all adds up.
Thank you Carrie for sharing your talent, process, and journey with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us.
To see more of Carrie’s work, visit her Web site, http://www.carrieoneill.com
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Carrie. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!