Tanya Maiboroda is a freelance book designer and illustrator in Los Angeles. As a child, she liked turning her imaginary worlds real by writing and illustrating her own stories. She graduated with a B.F.A. in Graphic Design from California College of the Arts in Oakland and worked as a graphic designer and illustrator in northern California before moving to Los Angeles to freelance. After trying her hand at a little bit of everything in the art field—magazines, television, film, animation, and advertising agencies—she returned to her first love: books.
At the SCBWI-L.A. 2008 Illustrator’s Day, Tanya won the Promo Postcard Contest and the Judge’s Choice Winner award for her portfolio. The following week she received her first contract for a full-color educational book. She was a selected illustrator for the SCBWI-Bologna 2012 Illustrator’s Gallery.
Children’s illustration clients: EECI, Inc., Ladybird Books (U.K.), Oxford University Press, QBS Learning, Red Line Editorial, Cricket Magazine, Spider Magazine.
Here’s Tanya explaining her process:
This is a personal piece that shows my current way of working in acrylics.
Step 1. I do thumbnails for composition.
Step 2. I scan my thumbnail and enlarge it in InDesign with keylines for final size and for bleed. I print it out, then refine on tracing paper until I’m satisfied with the final sketch.
Step 3. I transfer the bleed keyline onto Arches hot pressed 140 lb. watercolor paper and paint a layer of white gesso with a large brush (for texture), then paint a base color (in this case, gold). I paint red on top of the dried gold, then scratch the surface with a nail so that some gold shows through. After the base colors are dry, I transfer my final sketch and start painting in layers of acrylic. Flat colors first for a sense of the color palette, then adding shadows, highlights, and detail.
Step 4. Somewhere in the middle of this process I might add some collage. Here I’ve added torn pieces of white tissue paper glued down with Liquitex Matte Medium.
Step 5. I continue layering in acrylic and add oil pastel for color, texture and softening edges.
Step 6. I go back and forth between acrylic and oil pastel until the piece “pops” and no longer looks flat and bland. When it’s finished, I coat it with a 50/50 mixture of matte medium and gloss varnish.
- How long have you been illustrating?
Since I was a child. When I was four, I drew pictures to a favorite Pushkin poem my mother would read to me. I had a desire to visualize and get inside that strange world I was hearing about in words.
- What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?
In my first year of college I illustrated and lettered a couple of “Happy Hour” signs for a bar (into which I was legally too young to go into).
- Where did you study art?
California College of the Arts in Oakland.
- What did you study there?
I studied graphic design and illustration and received a B.F.A. in Graphic Design.
- Do you feel College helped develop your style?
The focus was more on problem solving and to think through our ideas as completely as possible before starting a project. I was always drawn to certain styles and certain illustrators and I used those for my inspiration as I worked to improve my drawing skills and technique.
- What type of work did you do after you got out of school?
I had a full time in-house graphic design job but I was also able to illustrate my own projects. One of them won first place for black and white illustration in the International Association of Business Communicators. When I moved to Los Angeles, I freelanced as an illustrator and designer.
- Did the college you attended help you get work when you graduated?
Yes, I found my job through the school.
- Have you seen your work change since you left school?
What’s really changed is that now it’s easier to get onto paper what I see in my head. When I was struggling to develop certain painting techniques, it limited what I was able to execute. Which isn’t always a bad thing because sometimes I discovered work-arounds that were better for my style than what I originally intended to do. Also, I’m constantly trying to loosen up my style because my tendency is to work tight and with lots of detail. Doing gallery work helped tremendously with that.
- When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
In college. I had the most wonderful illustration teacher from Germany who had never taught before. She introduced us to European children’s books. That whole sensibility resonated deeply with me. But over the years, I only dabbled in it. When I moved to Los Angeles, there were so many different work opportunities to explore and I wanted to try everything.
What types of things did you do to get illustrating work?
I showed my portfolio to local magazine and book publishers. I got a lot of editorial illustration work. Working in several different styles got me a variety of work but it wasn’t such a good thing when it came to children’s illustration. When I joined SCBWI in 2008, I realized I had to completely redo my illustration portfolio and focus on a specific style. It paid off because one year I won the local IIlustrator’s Day portfolio contest and was hired to illustrate an educational book for the art director who reviewed my portfolio.
- Have most of the books you illustrated been work for hire books?
Yes, they have. But I did do a series of hidden picture coloring books for which I received royalties and which were in print for over ten years.
- Did you do the illustrating for the Jazz SophistiCat books or were you hired to do the design layout?
I was hired to do both the cover design and the illustrations.
- How did you get that contract?
I had already been doing a lot of freelance illustration for sheet music covers for this company so this was one more in a line of many. What I loved about this publisher was that they let me experiment with different styles. I was free to do whatever worked best for the project.
- Have you ever worked on a picture book?
Only an educational picture book. I illustrated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for Ladybird Books (U.K.)
- Do you think you will ever write and illustrate you own picture book?
I hope so. I’ve sent out dummies in the past and a couple of them were under serious consideration.
- What do you think was your biggest success?
I think my biggest overall success was moving to Los Angeles with no job and no contacts, working in everything from film to ad agencies to publishing and being able to make a living doing what I love to do.
- Have you ever thought about creating a wordless picture book?
I’ve thought about it but just thinking about it is never enough, is it?
- Do you have an artist rep? If so, who and how did you connect? If not, would you like to connect with one?
I don’t have one but I would consider it.
- Do you illustrate full time?
The majority of my work now is design, although at times it’s been the reverse. I do a lot of adult trade book design for Penguin/Random House. I’ve always been more selective about which illustration projects I take on. I like doing both. If I do too much design, I miss illustration. If I do too much illustration, I miss design. For me, one informs the other. In any case, I love books, whether it’s to create a beautiful design or beautiful illustrations.
- Do you have a favorite medium you use?
I used to paint with gouache and watercolor but a few years ago when I starting doing gallery work, I switched to acrylic. Sometimes I add in a bit of collage (tissue and marbled papers) and oil pastels for texture.
- Do you take research pictures before you start a project?
Only if I can’t find what I need on the internet.
- Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?
Usually during the sketch stage. I put together various parts of different thumbnail sketches, reduce this, enlarge that, and add in research images when needed. I’ll print that out to size and then start refining on tracing paper to make a final composition. I also use it to fix any glitches on a final scan.
- Do you have and use a graphic tablet?
I have one but—I hate to admit it—I never use it.
- Do you do exhibits to show off your art?
Yes, I’ve exhibited often at the Hive Gallery in Los Angeles. Most recently, I was in an Alice in Wonderland exhibit in a bookstore with three other illustrators.
25 Would you be willing to work with a picture book writer on a self-published project?
I’ve been approached a number of times but nothing has been the right fit yet in terms of subject matter, budget, and scheduling.
- Has any of your work appeared in magazines?
I’ve had illustrations published in Cricket and Spider.
27 Do you have a studio in your house?
My studio is in a loft.
- Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes that you couldn’t live without?
My collection of children’s books, illustration and design books and magazines, and a radio.
- Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?
I send out postcards for illustration work. I attend the local SCBWI illustrators meetings—other illustrators’ success stories are inspirational.
- Any exciting projects on the horizon?
Nothing specific, but I’m always grateful when I have time to work on my own art, explore new techniques, and push myself in new directions.
- Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?
Yes. Clients have found me on childrensillustrators.com and through my website.
- What are your career goals?
I’d be interested in doing black and white interior illustrations for middle-grade books. I love working in pencil but haven’t done too much of that lately. I’ll also keep doing more personal work and exhibits.
- What are you working on now?
I’m working on my own paintings. Exploring subject matter that interests me and playing with new techniques.
Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique
I’d say finding the right paper and paints and brushes can make all the difference in your artwork. If you’re consistently fighting your materials, try something else. For me, I’ve always liked smooth papers that make blending and layering paints easy. Unfortunately, papers I’ve liked were often discontinued so then I’d have to search for something else with the same qualities. Right now, the paper I love is Arches Hot Pressed Watercolor Block, 140 lb.
- Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?
Be persistent. Work hard to improve your skills (that never stops!). Be open to constructive criticism, especially if you’re hearing the same thing from many people. At the same time, trust your own instincts and don’t allow yourself to be pushed into unwanted directions. Join SCBWI and go to the local illustrators meetings. They are invaluable in teaching how to put together a successful children’s illustration portfolio.
Thank you Tanya for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Tanya’s work, you can visit her at website at: http://www.tanyamaiboroda.com
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Tanya. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!