Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 10, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Kevin M Barry

Working with children everyday allows Kevin Barry a unique perspective in creating his artwork.  He has seen that certain styles may capture momentary interest, but it is the artwork filled with humanity that attracts and holds a child’s attention.  It is humanity in character that imbues a story with magic, love, and longevity.

It is Kevin’s goal to create beautiful, engaging, human artwork in every project.

HERE IS BARRY EXPLAINING HIS PROCESS:

Thumbnails – laying out the picture book pages.

Refine Sketch of one thumbnail.

Finished colored illustration (above). See video for details (below).

Interview Questions for Kevin M. Barry

 

How long have you been illustrating?

Cliche to say I’ve been illustrating since I was a kid? Since childhood, I’ve always loved storytelling, and drawing has always been my storytelling medium of choice.

That aside, I signed my first book illustration contract in the spring of 2015.

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

I’m pretty sure that the first illustration I was paid for was a label for “Salt Water Soap.”  I was excited at the time.  We all start somewhere.  I did a number of logo designs when working as a graphic designer.  A lot of them had an illustration slant.

Did you study art in college?

I studied illustration at UMass, Dartmouth.  I’d love to do it again with the focus that came to me with age.  While I learned plenty, I feel that I only accessed a fraction of the knowledge that was available to me at the time.  Youth.

What do you think helped developed you style?

I think style develops as a stew of one’s influences and natural instincts.  I think this is an ever evolving process as the ingredients are continuously being tweaked.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

Hmmmm.  Probably when I was a child myself.  I remember obsessing over Where the Wild Things Are and wanting to make books like that one.  I also poured over comic books and dreamed of illustrating stories with Spider-Man and the X-Men.  I think I was probably 9 or 10 when I realized that drawing books was somebody’s job.  I think the idea began percolating around then.

I made a more adult decision to illustrate kids books when a was studying to become an elementary school teacher.  It was during this time that I began to rediscover the love I had for picture books and the seemingly unlimited potential they hold for story telling.

How did you get your start in illustration?

I was lucky enough to have an editorial illustration published in the local Newspaper while I was studying the art form in college. That was a pretty big moment, to see my work in print for the first time. 

Out of art school I worked as a graphic designer for a few years, and sometimes would be asked to dip my toes into the waters of illustration (where I was actually much more comfortable than graphic design).  I remember illustrating a label for a bottle of kid friendly soap or shampoo.  I was psyched.

My first illustration gig in kid lit came from Islandport Press.  I had met editor Melissa Kim a couple of times at SCBWI events and kind of hit it off.  I was also in a critique group that used Islandport’s warehouse as a meeting spot.  Very cool of Islandport to welcome us in.  I think Melissa offered me my first book after I left a thank you drawing of a bold bunny I drew on behalf of our critique group.  It was very shortly after that, that she offered me Halfway Wild, which put my animal drawing skills to the test. 🙂

 

Are you active in the New England Chapter of the SCBWI?

Well…I always think I should be doing more.  But with the day job, my daughter and book projects, it’s a challenge.  I do attend annual conferences and served as faculty a couple of years ago.  Generally, I try to stay active and available through social media.

Was Schnitzel: A Cautionary Tale for Lazy Louts your first illustrated book?

Yes and no.  Schnitzel was my first book published by about a month.  I was actually working on my first two books, concurrently.  However, I had completed illustrations on my first book, Halfway Wild (written by Laura Freudig, Islandport Press) about a month prior to completing Schnitzel.  Crazy times.

How did that come your way?

For Schnitzel, I was approached by the art director at Sleeping Bear Press after she received a promotional postcard I had sent out.  I guess my style caught her eye as a fit for Schnitzel.  I’m so glad that I’d did.  I love that book.  Stephanie wrote such a fun story with a little gothic tone that really appealed to my sensibilities.

I love Kinderagarrten Bus. How did Sleeping Bear Press discover you?

I already had a pretty strong relationship with Sleeping Bear Press when Kindergarrrten Bus came my way.  I had worked on two books (Schnitzel, A Cautionary Tale for Lazy Louts with Stephanie Shaw and Ghost Cat with Eve Bunting) back to back for Sleeping Bear.  I love working with their editorial team.  They are fun, flexible and know how to make a great book.  And apparently they like my stuff, which is  great for my fragile ego. 🙂

Kindergarrrten Bus was such a blast to draw.  A pirate book is a dream come true to my 8 year old self.  And Mike Ornstein’s manuscript is just loaded with humor and heart.  I have to say that between my daughter and couple of store events, I’ve had the chance to read to read the book to all sorts of audiences.  The book is such a great read aloud.  It plays so well to a single reader or a crowd.  I also have a godson who was preparing to enter kindergarten when I was working on the book.  It felt pretty special to dedicate the book to him and squeeze his name into a couple illustrations.

I see this is your third book with Sleeping Bear. Was it a three book deal?

Nope.  We went from one book to the next. As soon as one project was near complete, I was offered the next (do strong work and hit your deadlines.)  I was fortunate that each manuscript I received was fantastic and immediately excited me.  Which bring us to…

How did you get to illustrate Ghost Cat?

Ghost Cat was special for me. I was nearing completion on Schnitzel when Jennifer Bachelor, my dear art director at Sleeping Bear, approached me with a manuscript she thought I would be just right for.  Three lines into Ghost Cat and I was sold.  The bittersweet tone of the manuscript just grabbed my heart.  I responded within the hour that I would surely have to illustrate the book.  It can’t hurt that I am a proud cat lover.

I didn’t even know that the Ghost Cat was the product of one of my literary heroes, Eve Bunting.  I had been reading Eve’s books to my third graders (yes, I’ve also been a teacher) for a number of years, just adoring her work. It’s hard to express the delight and self-doubt I felt when I learned that I was illustrating Eve’s book.  I LOVE Ghost Cat.

What types of things are you doing to get your children’s illustrations noticed?

I don’t think I’m doing anything out of the ordinary.  I send out the occasional mailer.  I post artwork to Instagram and Facebook.  I love to post process videos when I can steal the time to make one.

Have you made a picture book dummy to show art directors?

I’ve made many picture book dummies.  Sometimes they are simply to solve problems for myself.  Other times they are for editors, art directors or literary agents.

When working on projects with Sleeping Bear, the book dummies have been a collaborative effort between myself and the art director.

Do you have an artist rep. to represent your illustrations? If so, who and how long. I not, would you like to find one?

I am not currently represented.  I’ve done my last four books back to back (to back to back), and thus, haven’t been actively seeking representation.

Have you done any book covers?

The only covers I’ve illustrated are for books I’ve drawn the interiors of as well. I’d love to do some middle grade covers (and interiors).

Do you illustrate full-time?

I don’t illustrate full time.  That is, it’s not the only job I have.  I also work in education.  I taught third grade for a number of years, and as I started getting book projects, I  took a new position in special education with less after school demands.  I love having a foot in both education and publishing.  Whichever I’m doing, my target audience is children.  I find that both jobs replenish the well of the other.

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

I would consider illustrating a self-published book, but it would require a 100% advance.  There are so many great ideas out there, and it can be difficult finding projects a home.  Self-publishing is so hard.  I can’t imagine self-publishing a picture book.  Hiring a professional illustrator could prove a major strain when you don’t have the resources and infrastructure of a publishing house.

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

Absolutely.  The reason to illustrate in the publishing world is to tell stories, and I’d love to tell some of my own.  I have a few stories in various stages of draft and revision.

 

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

I never have worked in education publishing, ironically enough.  I’m certainly not opposed to it, but also, I tend to seek stories.  Stories excite me as an illustrator.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

I haven’t, but would love to.  I can’t tell you my excitement at reading Highlights Magazine as a child. Cricket, too. Love those magazines.  Cricket and Spider served me so well as an educator.  I would always look to them when introducing kids to short narrative writing.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Yes! Yes! Yes!  On some level, with every manuscript, an illustrator has to ask oneself, if this story is readable without the text.  Sometimes this is an impossibility, but it’s a goal to strive for.

What do you think is your biggest success?

I think that continued growth is both the goal and the success.  Complacency and stagnation are the ruin of creatives. I’m always pushing myself to try new approaches, new mediums, etc.  Each project is different, so I’m always trying to expand the toolbox.  So I’d say that my expanding toolbox is my biggest success.

Plus, I illustrated a book for Eve Bunting.  That means so much to me.

 

What is your favorite medium to use?

This is a tough question.  There is so much that I love.  But if I were on a desert island, I probably just want paper and a pencil.  Above all other skills, it is draftsmanship that is most important to me.  That said, I’m currently in love with the speed and spontaneity of ink drawing.  While my style is nothing like his, I am just in love with Matthew Cordell’s ink drawings.  They are just alive in a way that I think would be difficult to capture with anything other than ink.

Has that changed over time?

Probably not.  It always comes down to drawing for me.  That said I go through fazes of deep exploration of other mediums.  I love the spontaneity of watercolor, and I’ve worked hard over the last decade or so to apply everything I’ve discovered in natural mediums to working digitally.  All of my books have been illustrated digitally to some degree or another.  Kindergarrrten Bus is 100% digital.  That was a first for me.

 

Can you tell us a little about where you create your art?

I have a lovely drawing space in the basement of my house.  It is finished and clean.  I’m surrounded by books, posters, and statues of superheroes.  I have a nice big drawing table, and desk loaded with technology for digital work. 

Sometimes I find it hard to work at home.  So many distractions, and my work space has no door.  I’ll often escape to Starbucks or my local library.  If I can get to work at school early, I work in our school library as well.  It can be helpful to get feedback from teachers and students as they arrive in the morning.

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

I used to be more regimented about this, but now that I’m a father, I have to say that I just work on my craft “whenever I can.” If being a parent teaches anything, it teaches you to manage time, and milk every moment for what you can.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start? 

I generally rely on my good buddies Google and Pinterest to help in my research.  That said, research is a necessity.  You might be able to fake a drawing pretty well, but just a bit of research can go a long way.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Sure it has.  I’ve been exposed to so many artists and writers through social media. Inspiration is a keystroke away.  Social media has also helped me foster so many relationships with other creatives that can provide support, critique, and inspiration.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Photoshop is my go-to application.  I’m always trying to improve my skills.  I think it is probably cliche to say this, but I strive for my digital work to look as though it were painted by hand.

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

Oh yes.  I have a big Wacom Cintiq monitor attached to my home work-station, and I have a Cintiq Companion that is my on the go machine.  I can’t imagine working without them.

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

I want a book in my collection that says, “Written and Illustrated by Kevin M. Barry.”  That’s the next goal.  Even better, I want to find a kid reading a book written and illustrated by Kevin M. Barry.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a few stories of my own.  They are in various places of draft, revision, and storyboard.  I’m trying to firm those up, and get them out to editors and agents.  Fingers crossed.

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.

Nothing too specific.  I think my real advice to beginner illustrators would be to assess what it is you love about a medium, and work towards that.  I know that when I was in art school, I used to really struggle with watercolors, as I tried to be really precise and controlling.  It took me years to realize that I was struggling against the spontaneous nature of the medium.  Watercolor needs to flow and be unpredictable. If you fight against the medium, it will stifle your development.

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

I think that it’s important to be reflective in your thinking about illustration.  Forget the idea of talent.  Any illustration is just a series of decisions. Take the work of an illustrator you love, and really break it down.  What do you love about it? What decisions did the illustrator make? Perhaps take one element and try to recreate it.  Remember that illustration is more mental than physical. Breaking down work that you love is a great exercise to strengthen your own illustration muscles. The questions you ask and the theories you develop about a master’s work will fuel your own illustration process.  More tools for the toolbox.

 

Thank you Kevin for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure you share your future successes with us. To see more of Kevin’s work, you can visit him at: http://www.kevinbarryillustration.com/

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Kevin. I am sure he’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. I really loved reading this interview. I am an aspiring writer myself and found it interesting to read about Kevin’s journey. I found his advice could apply to my situation as well as to a bigginner Illustrator’s situation. I enjoyed reading this emensely 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, and good luck on you journey! Maybe we’ll cross paths. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant work!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastically talented!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your work is absolutely amazing! I love the Ghost Cat and the dragon with he dairy most 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • *Fairy, not Dairy 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • HA! And thank you. Some of my favorites as well. 🙂

        Like

  5. absolutely lovely. brought some tears to my eyes. thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a superbly, inspirational interview! I loved the video breaking down the process of illustrating from start to finish – so helpful to aspiring creatives like myself. Amazing talent and some great tips to take on board. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great illustrative work, Kevin! maybe you can illustrate a book of mine one day. 🙂 With such in depth, probing questions too, Kathy. A wonderful post. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It never ceases to maze me how many extraordinarily talented people there are, and Kevin—you’re DEFinitely one of them! Thanks for sharing and LOVE that video! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow. What a terrific talent! I love Kevin’s work. Thanks for an interesting interview and beautiful examples of his art.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great interview…. good questions,interesting ,thoughtful answers, and it goes without saying, stunnng illustrations

    Like

  11. It was great fun to read this interview Kevin, and learn more about you and your process! I’m heading right over to your website to make sure there are no Kevin Barry books that the little Lilja Library is missing!
    Good luck with your “Written and illustrated by” projects!

    Like

  12. I really enjoyed learning about your process. How cool it is to have 4 books without an agent! Good luck developing your own stories and finding the right publisher/editor/agent!

    Like

  13. Cool work Kevin.

    Like


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