Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 16, 2017

Illustrator Saturday – Amanda Moeckel

Amanda Moeckel makes art for children’s books, editorial publications, and peoples’ walls. She lives in New York City, but grew up in rural Massachusetts.  In 2015, she graduated from the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program at School of Visual Arts, and a video trailer for her thesis project can be viewed HERE.

In art, she aims to find emotion and light.  Watercolor, gouache, acrylics, ink, silkscreen, and pastels are her go-to tools, and while she sometimes embellish digitally, she prefers the grit of traditional media.  

Currently, she taught ages 11-18 at Renaissance Art Studio, and she is available for one-on-one art tutoring and portfolio review via Skype or in-person.  Amanda spends many evenings teaching inebriated adults at Muse Paintbar in Tribeca.

Lastly, she says she is the most animal-obsessed person you’d ever meet, and she channels that love into a pet portrait side business, MyAnimalArt.com, and a collection of art about animal protection and humane education, ConsiderAnimals.com.  

HERE IS AMANDA DISCUSSING HER PROCESS:

In order to talk about my process, I need to include a little bit about my stylistic journey. My process has gone, over the past two years or so, through many changes, in pursuit of landing on a picture book style with which I am happy. In 2015, I was overjoyed to find the ethereal light, color and softness in the style of “Only the Good Dreams,” done entirely with acrylic and pastel.  Then, researching more picture books and getting feedback from publishers, I realized that it’s tough to get away with such softness in print, so I began craving more line.  I added line to my illustrations, using graphite and coloring the line digitally in Photoshop. Then I discovered a love for watercolor and gouache, so many of my 2016 illustrations had a combination of watercolor washes and graphite line, colored digitally. Now I’m craving more flat, graphic areas, so the book I’m working on now will combine all the things I’ve discovered that I love for the first time; light, line, watercolor/gouache texture and flat color.

Here are some progress shots of I Will Arise and Go Now, since I can’t share my current illustrations yet


Character drawing in graphite

Foliage in graphite

Main foreground wash in watercolor

Coloring of graphite lines digitally

Changing the hue of certain areas of watercolor wash digitally

Defining background areas and adjusting colors

Also, here is a video of my process for St. Ephraim, one in a series of three Imaginary Cities, which was just done for fun, by hand. I made a random watercolor wash, then used watercolor, gouache and colored pencil to turn it into a city:
https://vimeo.com/208718505

Making of “Imaginary City #3: St. Ephraim” from Amanda Moeckel on Vimeo.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating professionally for about two years.  I began pursuing children’s book illustration in 2010, though, educating myself online at underdown.org, and through books.  I also learned a lot from joining the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and attending conferences. In 2013, I was accepted into the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Program at School of Visual Arts (SVA) and graduated in 2015, so I mark that as the beginning of my illustration career.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

My first commissioned work was a pet portrait, although I can’t remember which one. After undergrad in 2001, I wanted to try to make a go of being a professional artist so I started a pet portrait business (MyAnimalArt.com).  I think I’ve done almost 500 portraits by now. It’s a nice little side income, and it allows me to experiment with techniques and styles.

What college did you attend before you choose to go to the School of Visual Arts for your MFA in Illustration?

I studied Painting at American University.

What type of things do you study in the Visual Essay program?

We studied illustration in all its forms: editorial, children’s books, comics, graphic novels, fine art, etc. There are twenty students in the program each year, and we all have a specific focus, so we tailor our education to that focus. Mine was children’s books.  The main goal of the program is to help us develop our specific voice within our chosen focus, though, and every class is based around that goal.  I can’t believe how much I changed in such a short time with individuation of style as the goal. Seeing so much art every day, finding what I like, what subject matter draws me in, really helped me find my own voice. It’s ever-evolving, but I do feel I “found myself” in school.

Can you tell us a little bit about your thesis project?

My thesis was a picture book titled “Only the Good Dreams,” about a girl who fears bad dreams.  She asks her stuffed animals to be gatekeepers of her dreams, and we follow them through a night as they fend off bad ones and allow in good ones. But since dreams can be tricky, they have to figure out how to deal with a good dream that turns bad. I shopped this story around to about 20 publishers, with no bites but some good editorial feedback, so I’ll be re-working it in the near future.

Did the school help you find illustration work?

It did, directly and indirectly.  SVA has a great reputation in the illustration world, and also we are exposed to quite a few publishing professionals during school, with whom we are welcome to begin relationships. My first editorial job was a direct result of a contest SVA had in collaboration with Playboy Magazine.

Do you think art school influenced your style?

Oh definitely. I don’t think I really had a style before school. Before school, I felt that if something was photorealistic, it was good.  If not, it was subpar. I completely flipped my very naive opinion by the time I graduated!

What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

My first job was as a teacher at Renaissance Art Studio in Millburn, NJ.  It’s a wonderful little gem of inspiration, run by Adam Gustavson, an alum of SVA and long-time children’s book illustrator, and his wife Denise.  I worked there for two years, teaching ages 11-18.  Also, around the same time, I was hired as a Visual Coordinator for Henri Bendel on Madison Ave here in NYC.  That was a fun job, creating visuals for their window displays.

How did that job come your way?

My teaching job came soon after I met Adam at an alumni gathering at SVA. I was the blogger for the illustration program at the time, so I had an excuse to chat with all the alumni, and when I posted on Facebook that I was looking for a part-time job after school, he put his faith in me. I was and am so grateful for that first job, and learned so much teaching there.  I found the Visual Coordinator job on craigslist, and I think it helped that I had done a project for the windows of Paul Stuart, just a few blocks away, through SVA.

What was the inspiration for the illustration you placed in the NJSCBWI Artist Showcase?

“I will arise and go now,” was the line we were charged to illustrate for juried show in 2016.  I imagined a recurring dreamworld (as usual) where a little girl would visit an elephant friend and have adventures together. In this scene they are saying goodbye before she awakes.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

Hard to say. My first SCBWI conference in 2010 was a light bulb moment. I had the palpable feeling that these were “my people.” At the time I was working as a real estate agent in San Francisco, and I was very out-of-place as a sensitive artist in that thick-skinned world.  Then again, my passion may have started in middle school, when we had book projects. I remember feeling at home in those. Perhaps it started much younger, though, during the many days I would spend with my grandmother in the picture book section of our library. I remember pulling books from the shelves and sitting in a pile of them ‘till I read them all.

How long have you been illustrating dogs and cats?

Since 2001.

Do you have an artist rep. If so, who and how long have you been with them?

I don’t, but I probably should get on that.  First on my agenda is finding a literary agent who is a good fit, since I’m an author as well. I worked with a great agent for my first year out of grad school, but picture books weren’t really his area of expertise. It was a good experience, though, and helped me figure out exactly what I need to look for in an agent, namely someone with extensive knowledge of the picture book industry, with close working relationships therein, who is at least somewhat editorial.

Do you participate in art exhibits to market yourself?

Not yet, save a few I participated in as part of school at SVA.

Have you done any book covers?

I did one for someone’s self-published project.

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own children’s book?

Yes, I’m working on my debut picture book right now, as author-illustrator.  It’s called The Most Beautiful Song, and it will be coming out in Fall 2018 with Page Street Kids. It’s about a girl who plays piano and wants desperately to write her own song, but inspiration shows up at the most inopportune times, and she’s forced to battle rules and schedules set by adults on her quest to be a songwriter.  My publisher is Kristen Nobles, who worked as Art Director at Candlewick for many years, and this book will be on the inaugural list of Page Street’s new picture book imprint, so it’s all very exciting!

Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

I wouldn’t say no if they have a great story, professionally edited, with a budget comparable to a major publisher. I illustrated one last year, in fact… a self-published book called “Out of the Cold” for the Lakes Animal Friendship Society, a Humane Education group in Canada. It’s about a child who comes up with a plan to build doghouses for families in need. The authors found me through the network of animal activists of which I’m a part, as well as my animal protection art website (ConsiderAnimals.com). It’s important to leverage the issues you care about, and the communities of which you’re already a part. I think the most heartfelt art comes from what we care most about, and I loved doing a story that will be used to help animals.

Have you worked with educational publishers?

Not yet.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

Not yet.

Have you tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

Not yet… I do love words. But my mind is open if a great idea floats in.

What do you think is your biggest success?

I’m darn proud of landing my first published book as an author-illustrator. The Most Beautiful Song is my story, start to finish, and it feels awesome to be appreciated not just for art, but for an original story idea. It’s like all of a sudden, someone handed me the mic, and I get to shout something to the world that I really care about.  The way this publishing contract came to me was through the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC earlier this year.  It’s funny, I left that conference wondering if it was worthwhile because it’s quite expensive, and SO popular. There were over 1000 attendees, I think, and it was quite hard to get face-time with faculty. I happened to sign up for Kristen Nobles’ workshop on the “artist-led picture book,” where she talked about her vision as a publisher.  After the session, I handed her my promo card and mentioned my SVA association (because she’s worked as a mentor for our program).  Because there were at least a few dozen of us who handed her promo cards, I never thought I would hear from her, but soon after the conference I did. She told me which images she liked from my website, and asked if I had stories to go along with any of them.  I had already created the dummy for The Most Beautiful Song during a Continuing Ed class at Pratt called “Creating the Picture Book” in 2016, so I was able to send it right away. After going back and forth for a week or so about the story, and revising it a couple times, she was ready to send me a contract. It was a definite dream come true, and that conference was worth every penny.

 What type of things do you do to find illustration work?

The most helpful thing I’ve done so far is attending conferences.  I attend at least two SCBWI conferences each year, usually the National one in NYC and the New Jersey regional conference.  At the 2017 conference in NYC, I was able to hand a promo card to Kristen Nobles and that set off the chain of events that led to my first book contract.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Right now, gouache and watercolor.  Pencil and colored pencil for line work.

Has that changed over time?
Definitely. I was on an acrylics kick for a couple years before this.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?

Yes, I prefer working in my pjs all day. Here’s a pic of my studio, in all its mid-project glory.  I do clean it between projects, but I’m one of those Virgos who *appears* disorganized but actually just has a very sophisticated organization system.  At least that’s what I tell my husband.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

All day, every day!  I don’t remember the last time I took a day off. Luckily, I join the world of the living to go to my teaching job most evenings.

Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

I look mostly online at google images and Instagram for photo reference. And I take pictures of myself or my husband for poses.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

I’m sure it has, but it’s hard to note anything specific. Certainly, that’s the main way I get pet portrait clients. Also, it allows me to get to know publishing professionals and the type of work they like.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Yes, I use Photoshop, but mostly just for editing. Sometimes for coloring.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

Yes, a Wacom Intros tablet.

 

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I want to always be a busy children’s book illustrator.

What are you working on now?

I’ve cleared my schedule for The Most Beautiful Song, because the deadline is pretty tight. As soon as I come up for air, I’ll be putting my next book idea into dummy form.

 

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 Holbein Acrylics because the texture is soft and buttery and very reliable. I’m always using graphite sticks to transfer sketch onto final art.  My favorite discovery this year is Artsnacks, a monthly subscription box of art supplies.  Trying new supplies gets the gears turning.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Going to school for illustration can definitely fast track your success, and get you into the habit of working daily.  I committed to illustration on the later side, so I knew I didn’t have time to waste, and aimed straight for a reputable illustration program.  If you’re not ready to make that financial commitment, though, there are so many free and/or cheap resources online: underdown.org, SCBWI.org, AllTheWonders.com,  blogs like Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and Illustration Age, podcasts like All The Wonders and Picturebooking.  There’s even a site I heard about recently called DIYMFA.com which looks promising for polishing your writing skills.  Going to SCBWI conferences can put you face-to-face with people in publishing who might hire you.

Thank you Amanda 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 Amanda’s work, you can visit her at her website: www.amandamoeckel.com/

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Amanda. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Beautiful work, Amanda. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amanda, your work is breathtaking! What a great post this is 🙂 I love your description of the “grit” of traditional art–perfect! I’m REALLY into people’s work spaces so I enjoyed seeing yours, for sure 🙂 I was completely unaware of Adam and Denise’s “Renaissance Art Studio;” I love them and am sure it’s amazing! Thank you for sharing all this and Congrats on your debut! Can’t wait to see it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! Yes, their school is special. Kids are so lucky to go there. Thanks for connecting here and on twitter!

      Like

  3. Wow!! Gorgeous work, Amanda… but you got me at the picture of you and your twin up there. And, sister? You and me both: animal obsessed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahaha! I have your book, Wendy! Don’t Lick the Dog was sent to me by Valerie Ingram at Lakes Animal Friendship Society. Not sure if you know her, but she’s a huge advocate of your work, and that book is fantastic 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do know Valerie. Small world :-)!

        Like

  4. They are all great but the squirrels making an acorn tower – fantastic! Love your work Amanda.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mandy I just read the article featuring You!
    I am so proud of the work you have done and you know both grandmothers would have been too, especially your Grammy Ritari for exposing you to the library so early and reading to you. Your illustrations are beautiful and mesmerizing I found myself enlarge them so I could see every detail. When I was younger and loved to paint and draw I loved to draw with small details . I can’t wait for your book to be finished so that I read it to my grandchildren. Thank you for sharing your talent with the world. I’m feeling a famous vibe coming your way soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, thank you Aunt Holly! I feel the Grammies with me all the time. Did you save any of your drawings with the little details? I’d love to see them… your creativity still shows in all the art you create now, though 🙂 Can’t wait to help you with that Etsy shop whenever you’re ready. xoxo

      Like

  6. Stunningly beautiful work! Each image is so imaginative and inspires a story in the mind.

    Liked by 1 person


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