Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 24, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Mighty Xee

Author-illustrator Mighty Xee recently turned her attention to picture books, The Litter Bitty Critter, about a critter who only eats litter and Butterflies for Rosie, about a young girl who is fascinated by butterflies and her escapades with her Gramps.

She also self-published a unique coloring-book for ages six and older: a family reader about divorce (with a CD read-along). It has a companion edition for the very young child.

Formerly from the Catskill Mountains, she still owns a landscape design business there. She relocated to  Western Massachusetts where she lives on the banks of a kettle pond.

For more about Xee’s fine art, music and landscape design visit www.landofxee.com

Here is Mighty explaining her process:

Being an author-illustrator requires an effective story before the pleasure of illustrating. When that time arrives, occasionally I see illustrations clearly in my mind’s eye.  Or I collect images and make studies. Sometimes an interesting scenario, idea for a character or story can gestate decades.

Though my illustrations are mainly hand wrought, I lean heavily on color printers, and hope to acquire a high quality printer and Cintiq Tablet soon.

I use Goldens or Liquitex brand of acrylic paints. I like acrylics because they dry quickly…sometimes too quickly! So, I mix small amounts of a few color mixes saved in tiny jars. That way, I’ll have the exact color mix I need to finish the page waiting. This allows me to add more layers of my precise color mix an hour or even days later.

I prefer using gesso (normally used to prime canvasses) for my white color (instead of tubes of white pigment, which I consistently find greasy and too translucent). I work on durable surfaces, which for me usually means 11″ x 17″ card stock (for its ease of printing and economy of reproduction)- or watercolor paper, canvas paper and rarely, framed canvas.

When my story is ready to go, I graph a standard 32 page storyboard (easily found online). I then paste what I expect will be the page’s text beneath each thumbnail box to refer to as I work. This focuses the playing field, helping me decide which specific moment of the story to illustrate.

I move to full sized paper, sketching in pencil as lightly as possible to make sure extensive erasing won’t mar the finish of the paper. Then it’s time to paint!  Some colors need layers of application to acquire necessary density.  Other times, I use color washes (a color diluted in water) and may pre-wet the area to make sure I can blend edges of the fast drying acrylic paint.  There are downsides and upsides to every medium – oil paints are great because the don’t dry quickly which makes blending easier.

Any refinement of the full color original art begins with a nagging feeling that “something isn’t working.”  In that case, I first make working copies of my original to experiment on, never touching the original illustration.  I make these changes using white out, color pens or by cutting and pasting, to end up with a ‘Frankenstein-like’ version.  (Of course, Photoshop would be another excellent option).

When I’ve solved the puzzle, I return to my original painting, and make the finest color copy (or high quality print) possible. Once again, I must white out my edits, reprint this semi-blanked out version, to end up with a new ‘master.’ I paint my final changes on this new master copy.

I always keep my Frankenstein version nearby as a guide, and frequently turn pages of my dummy back and forth to check flow and consistency.  Often, I find my quickly made rough images have an elusive, unpretentious charm, perhaps because I felt relaxed when I drew them.

After all this, when my dummy is complete, I am no longer surprised when I suddenly discover issues that still need ‘fixin.  It can be after I’ve read it to my grand daughter, or had a helpful critique with someone in the industry.

Above all, I have to remain patient and flexible…I am always happier with my revisions. It’s worth taking time to ‘get it right.’ In looking back, it feels like my work is evolving as much as Darwin’s creatures. As long as I’m having fun…I persevere!

As my story evolved, my illustrations had to change too: I applied white out to the area involved, reprinted, made changes in pencil and then added back color. I have to evolve as well: Santa may get me a Cintiq for Christmas. Then white out won’t be used as often (except in my checkbook!)

Finished Illustration.

How long have you been illustrating?

Since I was a teen, copying Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs for my cousin’s new baby.

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

A contest for cancer prevention when I was 13 years old.

What made you choose Cooper Union College of Art and Architecture, New York City, NY to art? 

When sixteen, I took a night class for life drawing. I greatly admired my teacher, a Cooper Union alumnus.  Subsequently, I learned it was the “Harvard of art schools” and scholarship free which gave my ego a much needed boost.

Do you feel that is where you developed you style?

No.  Somewhat of a country bumpkin, I found college life in the big city difficult: the homelessness, isolation and fact that Cooper Union had neither a campus or dorms and my parents wouldn’t let me live in the NYU dorms.  Sadly, I eventually dropped out.  If I could go back (and be a lot wiser), I would have selected a healthier, campus-like setting surrounded by contemporaries.  Alas!

Did you start your art career doing fine art?

Surprisingly, I’m just starting “my career” as an author-illustrator of picture books.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

Years ago, baking in my home for whopping $3 hr, we made a family decision to give my art ability a chance.  I stopped baking and spent the winter painting three canvases of weird dimensions (never having heard of a “picture book spread”) for a children’s song I’d written about a dragon that ate liter.  By chance, a published author saw my work and referred me to his renown agent who took me on.

However, when the book hadn’t sold after a year (and the agent moved to California) I laid my books in a dark and lonely portfolio dungeon… with no idea how lucky I’d been to have acquired an agent of that caliber.

After learning from (many) mistakes at self-publishing, I joined NESCBWI to learn “the ropes” –  what I’d missed by dropping out of college.  Until then, I hadn’t even heard the expression ‘gutter’ and not to paint anything of import in it!

You have a picture of you holding a guitar on your Instagram page. Do you play?

I am a singer-songwriter and I play keyboards, guitar and percussion.

Was that what inspired the CD’s?

I’ve written over 150 tunes starting at age of thirteen.  Because I play music only by ear, I wanted to record at least a portion of my songs before I forgot them.  My latest CD, Shelter’s Grace, will be released in 2019.

I see that you do a lot of art exhibits. Are they all showing off your fine art?

They featured provocative socio-political-environmental pieces that some folks have described as ‘disturbing’  (which I consider a big compliment) –  not at all for children!  With limited time available, I put down painting for the time being to focus on writing and illustrating picture books.

What inspired you to write and illustrate The Litter Bitty Critter and Butterflies for Rosie?

The Litter Bitty Critter was a song I’d written about a critter who only eats litter.

After learning through NESCBWI that one is expected to present at least two manuscripts/dummies to an agent and/or editor, I began updating an earlier picture book.  But it needed a much better story.  Poof! Butterflies for Rosie was born.  This has been a much harder process than I suspected!

What made you decide to self-publish those books?

I didn’t!  They are only dummies a little more fleshed out than needed because the art existed in early forms.  (I did self publish a family reader/kid’s coloring book/ CD read along The Silly Book of Divorce only to discover I’m not the right person to sell books….fuhgeddiboudit!

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

I built a new website exclusively for my children’s books. Then, at gun point I forced myself to join Instagram. (Luckily my tutor is my eldest grand daughter who has 20,000 followers on her account.)  I like facebook and get lots of encouragement when I regularly post illustrations.

I’m getting all the duckies in a row to seek an agent!

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

Yup, two on the cusp and I am developing a third.  I must say, I’ve learned the hard way that a great story comes first – much as I love quietly painting.

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

Nope… but I’d be interested.

Have you done any book covers?

Just my own : )

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

Perhaps, but where would I buy four arms, two heads and more lives?

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

Huzzah! That’s all I’ve been doing!!@$@#!^@%&%&!! : )

 

Have you thought of illustrating for children’s magazines? 

If that door opened, I’d walk on though!

What do you think is your biggest success?

My children and four grand daughters!

More to your point, my newest picture book feels like my best.  Ish Kabibble and the Clan of Ish is beginning with a strong story.  With a sprinkling of humor, I have a crush on my main characters, who has been gestating for years.  The pencil illustrations are tumbling out fully formed.  Lastly, a songwriter at heart, it rhymes, so reading it aloud enchants me (though I am well aware rhyming is notoriously more difficult to sell; still, I’m not even trying to resist the rhyming.)  It’s hard to behave myself and finish my first dummies before plunging into the Clan of Ish!

What is your favorite medium to use?

I am most comfortable with acrylics on canvas – but currently use acrylics, water soluble colored pencils and pens on paper for ease of copying as I revise, revise and revise.

And honestly, I’m addicted to White Out: I attend White Out Anonymous Saturday mornings…

Has that changed over time?

I’ve asked Santa for a new color printer and Cintiq tablet.

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

I used to be a couch/lap painter (and truthfully still am), but nowadays, making picture books requires space.  We squeezed out a corner of our living room…and I regularly command the kitchen table too.   I work near our wood stove which is very cozy – ‘cept I become so involved that the fire is always going out!  In our new house I will have a studio off the living room.

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

Every spare minute.  Semi-retired, I still own a landscape design business in NY I run from Massachusetts as I also develop “my new picture book hat.”  When I must  be in NY,  it’s like pulling slugs off a piece of wood.  (Too much of a gardener’s simile?  Well then…it’s like tearing a cub away from a Momma bear).

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

I use my own photos and online resources almost exclusively…with a sprinkling of National

Geographic images.  Plus, on occasion my husband helps when I can’t find what I want online.   “Honey…sugar plum…would you mind standing like a duck? Now put your head in the mud please… ohhhh… that’s purrrrfect!  Now hold that for min, k?….”

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

You are a wonderful example of that!  Writing and Illustrating emails have provided many great opportunities.  Also, facebook, instagram, Amazon books, myriad writer-illustrator’s websites and being able to share private links to dummies with potential agents/editors via my own website.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Last winter, I learned how to move elements around one of my illustrations with Photoshop. I still had to touch it up (perfectionist that I am) but it was a fantastic time saver and clearly the tip of an iceberg.

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

No.

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

To sell a picture book (or two)…and I wouldn’t kick a Caldicott Medal outta bed!

What are you working on now?

Finishing my dummy for Butterflies for Rosie,  developing Ish Kabibble and the Clan of Ish, adding the last violin tracks to my upcoming CD, Shelter’s Grace and I’m currently editing an adventure memoir about a year spent hitchhiking with my baby daughter peeking over my shoulders:  From street singing on the boulevards of Paris to Algeria and Morocco, we eventually reached the edge of the Western Sahara before heading home (much to the relief of my Mom!).

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 like the ease of soap and water acrylic paints especially because they dry quickly.  I keep white out in every corner of my house, my car, my bedroom…

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

– Have a solid story first.

  • I meditate first thing every morning to start my day with intention and peace (which has become much easier for my too-busy mind since I started using Esther/Abraham Hicks or Mindfulness Meditations on youtube).
  • Obtain critiques with agents, editors, art directors and find a local critique group -invaluable!

– A supportive family, friends and especially, my husband’s patience, interest and praise have given me wings to fly.

Thank you Mighty for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure you share your future successes with us. To see more of Mighty’s work, you can visit her at: http://www.landofxee.com/all-artwork/

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

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Thanks so much Kathy for featuring my work on your blog!

    I was pleasantly surprised/intrigued that you included a few paintings from my ‘Men, Men, Men’ series juxtaposed with illustrations for children.

    I also have a website exclusively devoted to my children’s books and illustrations: http://www.mightyxee.com

    Like

  2. Lovely stuff here. Thanks for sharing your work.

    Like

    • Thanks so much! I’m very happy to get this exposure : )

      Like

  3. What a great name for an artist! (and I enjoyed the art 🙂 )

    Like

  4. This was a wonderful piece about a terrific artist. I knew Mighty in Woodstock and have always admired her talent. Very happy to see all her great work and her answers to the interview

    Like

    • Hi Eve Many thanks for your wonderful support and encouragement! Wishing you a peaceful winter… Mighty

      Like


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