Cynthia Kremsner likes to write and draw characters with necks and legs strong enough to support their heads and bodies. And sometimes they have teeth! (Only now I draw them).
The things I really like to draw are dogs, other earthbound four-legged critters, and dogs, two-legged primate critters, and dogs, water-submerged-finned-critters, and dogs, feathered-flying critters, and dogs.
In 2009, I was selected by Laurent Linn, Art Director of Simon & Schuster BFYR as one of his 3 participants in the Nevada Mentor Program through the SCBWI. The Nevada Arts Council awarded me a Jackpot Grant to help fund my participation through the 6 month program. I value this opportunity so much and attribute much of my growth as an artist to this program. Refining my skills through critique groups with input from industry professionals who devote much of their time giving back has also been a tremendous gift in an exchange where give and take helped me grow as a creator.
My Howlywood Hounds have their own Facebook page and the pack is growing by leaps and pounces.
Here’s Cynthia explaining her process:
First I draw my image. In the past I lost the raw emotion of my first rendering when I traced it, the put it on transfer paper drawing a 2nd and a 3rd time using transfer paper to watercolor paper. Now, I draw the image once and scan it. I do clean up and adjusting in Photoshop, then lighten it and print it on watercolor paper with my Epson Stylus Pro printer. This helps me keep the essence of the original. After that, I paint with watercolors and gouaches then add details with colored pencils.
2nd and 3rd images to stitch together.
I work large, so the scans usually need stitching.
The colors are generally pretty washed up in comparison to my original. I always keep the painting next to my computer so I can adjust the scan in Photoshop to bring it as close to the original as possible. I size things a bit, as I remember, I lengthened the snout of the hound a bit in Photoshop. I also softened some of the sky and clouds.
The final image after clean-up and adjusting.
How long have you been illustrating?
I’ve been drawing since I was a young girl. When I was six, my brother and I collaborated, writing and illustrating our own picture book,. Although we weren’t savvy enough in those days to submit to publishers, it sparked an enduring interest in creating characters and their stories. I actively began to pursue writing and illustrating for children fourteen years ago.
Where do you live?
Sparks, Nevada . . . well, actually Spanish Springs Nevada. We’re in a rural area of Sparks which is a suburb of Reno. Our SCBWI group in Northern Nevada includes some tremendous Young Adult and Middle Grade authors. Several years ago, they established a Mentor Program that’s been facilitated in some of Northern Nevada’s historic and scenic places such as Virginia City and Lake Tahoe.
What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?
I’ve done line-work for logos and caricatures of children.
Did you go to school for art?
Yes/sort of. If so where and why did you pick that school? Santa Rosa Junior College. It was where my father lived.
What did you study there?
I actually started my studies with the intent of becoming a graphic artist so I took some design classes, Psychology, Drama & English.
Do you feel College helped develop your style?
As my studies there were limited to one year and a different type of art, it wasn’t what truly pushed me in the direction I ended up taking. However, about nine years ago, our Regional Advisor encouraged me to apply for the NVSCBWI Mentor Program as Laurent Linn, Art Director for Simon & Schuster BFYR was one of the mentors. I wasn’t sure if I’d be selected, but decided if I were fortunate enough to have that happen, that it would be helpful. As luck would have it, I was selected and was able to work with him on an individual basis. I believe that experience truly did help develop my style. There was much emphasis on expressions, light and shadow, and range of emotion.
Have you seen your work change since you left school?
I’ll apply this question to the mentor program and answer yes, it’s changed much since that experience. Online critique partners were extremely persuasive in pushing me to try another medium. I was working with colored pencils and found my work was taking a long time to complete and I wasn’t getting the desired affects I strived for. Watercolors were suggested, more than once or twice. Since my only bad grade in art was during the watercolor session in high school, I wasn’t easily swayed. Albeit, in high school, I was working with a crusty old tin of dried up paints that was given to me and a plastic brush. I’m thankful for the honesty and suggestions for change. After I’d been painting on my own with watercolors for two years, I got my first contract with a traditional publisher.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
After I had my third child I struggled with a few health issues and depression. It was reaching for something I’d always wanted to do, writing and illustrating, then actively pursuing it, that helped me regain my focus. Since then, for the last fourteen years, it’s been what I do.
Was My Puppy Gave to Me your first picture book with a major publisher?
How did you get that contract?
Postcard Mailers. I’m not sure if it was just one that caught their eye, or a collection of them. I’d kept with the theme of dogs and puppies for three consecutive mailers, so that may have put me in the right file at the right time with a style that was desired.
Did you do other types of illustrating before you got that book contract?
Some logos for small businesses. The past couple of years, my hounds have been embraced by some national dog rescue organizations who have contracted my work for logos and images for special events.
Did you write A Masterpiece for the Duke after My Puppy?
Masterpiece was written several years ago when I was considering just writing instead of both writing and illustrating because I wasn’t as confident with my art as I was with writing. Friends/Critique partners have always brought it up and it’s been revisited several times. What’s funny was I let go of the art to pursue being a picture book writer and after getting back to the artwork and giving it a good go, my first contract was for illustrations, not text.
Why didn’t you illustrate that book?
I believe that humor in Masterpiece dictates a certain style, one which I didn’t feel my illustrations could represent best when I was sending it out, so I submitted it as text only and didn’t mention that I was an illustrator. It was enlightening, helping me understand the process of waiting for illustrations and wanting to know how they would look as well as being the one who delivers them, hoping that the writer is happy with the work.
How many picture books have you illustrated?
My Puppy was the first, and I’ve just signed another contract with Pelican Publishing to illustrate another Christmas book.
Are you working on writing and illustrating your own book?
Yes, a few of them. I’ve got one dummy out on submission and I’m working on another right now. (This one with an even newer style, one I’m having a lot of fun with).
What do you think is your biggest success?
There are everyday successes, being there for kids, our pets, seeing them through pitfalls and achievements, and the tenacity to keep reaching for my own goals, that all adds up to something big.
Do you have an artist rep. Or an agent?
I haven’t had an agent or art representative. I’ve queried on occasion, but at the same time, I was sending promotionals to publishers. The relationship agents and representatives have with publishers is so valued, especially when it comes to negotiating or editorial questions. When this new dummy is completed, I’m enthused to query agents straight away.
Do you illustrate full time?
I have a full time job at a financial institution and am working my way into illustrating/writing full time. Each publication is a step in that direction and I hope to keep going.
Do you have a favorite medium you use?
Watercolors. I love their fluidity, their blending abilities, their acceptance to let other mediums into the mix and the way they surprise you. I add colored pencils and gouaches into the mix to get the details and saturation that I want.
Do you take research pictures before you start a project?
Only once or twice. For the most-part, when I illustrate I go into Youtube and search what I’m drawing because I feel the best way to portray a character it is to get the movement down. Sometimes, I get stuck there because I’m intrigued by orcas hunting in unison or learning the behavior traits of dog breeds. It’s never time wasted, it’s character knowledge gained.
Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?
Yes. I use it for clean up and sometimes resizing or placement if an object is off a bit.
Do you have and use a graphic tablet?
Currently, I don’t. I have a Wacom Bamboo, but it’s a bit older and the stylus decided to retire. Because I’m relying less on Photoshop and more on my traditional mediums, it hasn’t been replaced. But, I can see myself going for an upgraded tablet in the future. I would really like to experiment with digital a bit more.
Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?
I visit bookstores often to peruse through picture books. There are amazing things people are achieving with traditional mediums and programs. Looking at the new releases keeps me in check and motivates me to put the best I can into my own work.
Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?
Yes. Through a couple of online communities, I connected with some pretty amazing talents and we participated in a small online critique group. That’s where I met the person who challenged me to change my artistic medium. There are also boards and Facebook pages where an illustrator can post work and get input pretty quickly.
What are your career goals?
My next goal would be to be both author and illustrator of a traditionally published picture book. From there, I’ll figure out new goals . . . as long as I can keep creating.What are you working on now? Character studies and a picture book dummy.
Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?
There is a Youtube tutorial for using a wet palette and kosher salt that makes for some excellent textures. I used it for the sand in my “Hot Dogs” illustration and parts of the ocean in the banner on my website. For the latter, I left some areas dry for the foam in the waves, I dragged the brush across the paint in the direction of the waves before the paint dried in areas where I wanted to direct the movement. With that technique, there is little control, it’s the wet paper, watercolors and salt making most of the calls. As long as you use colors that blend nicely or work well against one another and you work quickly, the outcome should be acceptable or even better. I’ve a mop brush for blending clouds and sky, and when that’s not quite enough, I use the clone tool in photoshop with the soft round pressure, to grab pixels and smooth things out once the work is scanned.
Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?
A formal education, or the school of hard knocks, as long as the efforts the same, the results can be too. If you think you shouldn’t try a new technique/medium because the prospect of learning something new may take time to master, conquering that doubt could lead to great things. Try to seek critique when you’re stuck, give critique in return, listen to a critique of someone else’s work and absorb what they’re learning. Just keep working on your craft until you can look at your own work and say “If I weren’t me, I think I might buy that.”
Thank you Cynthia 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 Laura’s work, you can visit her at website at: www.cynthiakremsner
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Cynthia. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!