Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 18, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Skylaar Amann

Skylaar Amann is the author/illustrator of LLOYD FINDS HIS WHALESONG, her debut picture book (Page Street Kids 2020). She is a member of SCBWI and Women Who Draw, as well as an affiliated artist with Climate Science Alliance. In 2012, Skylaar was shortlisted for the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship. Previously, she received a Kidd Creative Writing Fellowship through the University of Oregon, where she studied creative writing and book arts. Skylaar grew up on the Oregon Coast with the incredible biodiversity of the Pacific Ocean in her backyard. She now lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works as an illustrator, editor, and instructor.

Here is Skylaar explaining her process:

This was the original pencil sketch from my sketchbook years ago. I knew I wanted to convey a sense of joy for Lloyd as time passed, and I used the phases of the moon to show this.

A later iteration of this idea transformed to show Lloyd practicing his newfound ukulele over time.

This is a more refined sketch where I began to define Lloyd’s shape and used value to start developing the composition a bit more.

Once I knew this idea was fairly set, I kept refining Lloyd and added some kelp to give the background depth. I also scooted Lloyd out of the center (where the book’s gutter would be.)

Here I explored how to convey the ukulele’s music through light. I settled on a sparkly orange light that I thought would eventually contrast nicely off the blue of the ocean—and give the uke a magical quality.

This is the final art with color and light, and with Lloyd’s shape more consistent. 

 Here is the final page with text applied.

Interview with Skylaar Amann

How long have you been illustrating?

I have been illustrating in some capacity as far back as I can remember! I was drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon. In elementary school, I wrote and illustrated lots of stories during that we bound and “published” for the school’s Author’s Tea Party, during which we read excerpts of our books to students and parents!

I studied fine art (drawing, printmaking, and bookbinding) in college along with creative writing. I made artist books and zines and published poetry for many years before refocusing my work back to my childhood dreams of writing and illustrating books for kids. Professionally, I’ve been illustrating off and on for about ten years, but Lloyd Finds His Whalesong is my first major illustration project in publishing.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

I don’t remember the exact piece, but I started selling art in my early twenties, through art events, gallery shows, and zine conventions.

What did you have to do to receive the Kidd Creative Writing Fellowship through the University of Oregon?

I studied creative writing in some capacity all through my undergraduate years. The Kidd program accepted existing students who were serious about creative writing, and had some experience and a promising writing portfolio. I think I submitted an application and writing sample, and I had a few teachers who were great advisors/champions before and during the program.

How is a Fellowship different from a regular student attending U of O?

The fellowship was an intensive yearlong program, through which students were assigned to small groups and a mentor/teacher. We each worked on our individual thesis projects, critiqued each other’s work, and did in-depth study of literature, depending on our individual focus.

Was it your study of creative writing at U of O that made you decided to write a children’s book?

I didn’t really focus on children’s books in college. I wrote short stories and eventually transitioned into poetry and prose poetry. But long before I was in college, I had always wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. I guess I never stopped enjoying reading them as I grew up!

Did you take any children’s illustrating courses?

I have taken a handful of SCBWI courses and workshops over the years. I also studied illustration and visual design through the online art school Schoolism, which has been instrumental in helping me develop technical and narrative skills.

Did the U of O help you find work when you finished your fellowship?

No, there was no career or business development through the program.

What type of work did you do when you started your career?

When starting out, I worked on a lot of my own projects, including artist books and zines that I sold at conventions, gallery shows, and online. I also did a lot of small illustration projects, including creating graphics for a children’s museum and selling prints and small products in retail shops and online.

 I notice you use your designs on clothing, pillowcases, gift wrap. Who do you work with to make the items?

Right now, my pattern design is more of a side project. I occasionally sell specific projects (like leggings, journals, or pillows) using print-on-demand printing partners. I would love to work with larger companies to manufacture my work though!

What type of things have you done as an affiliated artist with the Climate Science Alliance?

The Climate Science Alliance has a traveling art show, and they often show my work there. Right now, I am working on content for their Climate Summit later this summer. I am doing an overview of how I create work based on climate change as well as some videos about how to make zines.

How did you connect with them?

I followed some of the artists they work with on social media, so I knew they worked with people like me. I eventually sent them an illustrated postcard to let them know I would love to connect. Some time later, they invited me to be an affiliated artist. It’s a great partnership!

When did you decide you wanted to write and illustrate children’s books?

I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books when I was very young. I devoured books, and I drew all the time. I pursued art in college but at that time I was focused more on learning book arts, printmaking, and painting. But I eventually found my way back!

How did you connect with Page Street Kids for your debut picture book LLOYD FINDS HIS WHALESONG?

I sent a promotional illustration postcard to Page Street Kids, and Kristen Nobles responded with a very nice email about my work and asked if I had a dummy she could review. Soon after, I submitted LLOYD to her. I went through many (many, many, haha) drafts with Kristen and Courtney Burke, and eventually landed in a place where the story was solid, and I finally got that “yes.”

Was the book finished when you submitted it to them?

The book had a completed manuscript and a sketch dummy, so it was technically complete, but it went through many revisions to both the story and the imagery before it sold.

Do you think you will write and illustrate another book featuring Lloyd?

That’s a great question! I do love Lloyd, and I wonder sometimes if he has another story in the future. But right now, I am focused on other ideas.

If a publisher wanted you to illustrate someone else’s book, would you be willing do that?

If the story interested me, I would love to illustrate someone else’s book. Illustrating is a really rewarding way to tell and/or enhance a story, and I think it would be an amazing experience to collaborate with someone in that way.

Would you be open to someone else illustrating a book that you wrote to get the story published?

Probably! It would definitely depend on the story and situation, as well as the illustrator. But I would be interested to know how someone else could enhance my story, what the marketing/business reasons might be, and so forth. There’s no point in saying no to hypotheticals, especially when one opportunity may open new doors!

Do you have an artist rep. or literary agent? If so, who and how did you connect? If not, would you be interested in exploring being represented?

I don’t yet … but I may have news on this soon! Stay tuned to my social media or newsletter for updates! It is definitely the direction I want to take my career.

What type of things do you do as an editor?

For the last 15 years, I have worked as a corporate copy editor, proofreader, and occasional writer. This work has primarily been in marketing, advertising, and corporate communications. I’ve done everything from editing email newsletters to video ads to executive speeches to newspaper articles … and so much more.

What you to teach as an instructor?

For the last couple of years, I’ve been fortunate to work as a writing mentor for WriteMentor, which pairs pre-published writers with kidlit authors. So far, I’ve worked with four mentees. Teaching them what I’ve learned along the way, helping them with their stories, and guiding them in the industry has been extremely rewarding. I also do occasional portfolio reviews for illustrators and would love to expand more into working on manuscripts.

In my corporate experience, I’ve done a lot of teaching/coaching on writing for the web, plain language writing, brand and style guidelines, and content creation/strategy. I’m interested in transforming those corporate marketing/communications strategies into classes for creative folks, but it’s buried on my long to-do list!

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

Right now my illustration work is part-time. I also work as a freelance copy editor for various corporate clients and occasionally with writers and other creatives.

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would consider?

I mostly don’t do this, but if the project really struck me, I would consider it. Budgets and time constraints are the biggest obstacles for me. My schedule is usually busy, so the budget and return on my investment of time has to be worthwhile.

I know you will have many successes in your future, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

Selling Lloyd was a huge milestone for me. I didn’t envision doing that without representation, but in its own way, that was really rewarding. I did that on my own, and I’m really proud of it!

What is your favorite medium to use?

Pencil is probably my favorite because I can get down an idea so fast that way. Often that initial pencil sketch captures so much of the gesture or feeling I want to convey, and I feel very connected to drawing.

Has that changed over time?

I think my love of pencil has always been there. It’s so cheap and easy to access, I just love it. But I have transitioned to doing a lot of my professional work digitally, whereas I used to use paint and pens much more than I do now.

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

Yes, I work with a Wacom tablet and a Mac in Photoshop for much of my work.

What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work?

Outside of the digital tools mentioned above, I rely on my beloved pencils as well as watercolors to create most of my work. Sometimes I dabble in ink as well.

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

I don’t set a specific amount of time, but working—and working more—is always top of mind for me. I think of the work more in terms of specific projects and goals, and I’ll do whatever it takes to complete those. I do try to commit ten percent of my time (roughly) to continuing my art education. That usually entails taking online classes to learn new skills or work on existing skills.

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

A lot of my work is inspired by the ocean, and I grew up on the Oregon Coast. So I’m lucky to have lots of reference material for coastal environments. I also search Google images, Pinterest, and Instagram, as well as refer to art books for both research and inspiration.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Probably! The nice thing about the Internet is that it’s so easy to find current contact information for folks in the industry. And having resources like Manuscript Wishlist and book deal announcements helps keep me informed. Social media is also a great way to share art, events, and good news, as well as connect with people. But I do think you’ve got to focus on your craft and skill and not get too swayed by the allure of the Internet.

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

I want to create a strong partnership with a literary agent and then go out into the world and show what I can do. I would absolutely love to continue publishing picture books, and I very much want to continue improving my novel-writing skills and get some of my middle grade stories out into the world.

What are you working on now?

I’m working a number of picture book ideas as well as a couple of middle grade projects. Most of my stories have some connection to strong girls, STEM, the sea, or all three!

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 really love Sennelier India ink. It dries fast, it has a nice matte finish, and it lays down beautifully. One of my favorite papers for both drawing and bookbinding is called Zerkall Smooth. It’s like the butter of papers! My tip for digital work is to try not to get seduced by all the tricks and fancy brushes and see how you can apply your traditional media knowledge to digital. The fundamentals of color, character design, and so on don’t change from pencil to Photoshop, so learn all you can and then take on the world!

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

Try to focus on yourself and your progress, rather than worrying about what’s happening on social media. It can get you down really fast if you get stuck comparing yourself to other folks. This is really hard to do, especially as you face rejections or other disappointments. My way of conquering imposter syndrome or feelings of failure and envy is to keep learning. Working on my art skills like it’s a job (because it is), focusing on technical aspects like color, light, and composition is how I improve, and how I get ahead.


Thank you, Skylaar for letting me interview you and sharing your expertise with us. Please let me know your future successes so I can share it with everyone.

To see more of Skylaar’s work, you can visit her at:

WEBSITE: https://www.skylaaramann.com/

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/skylaara?lang=en

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/skylaara/?hl=en

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Stunning illustrations! Yet another illustrator I’d love to see illustrate my books someday.

    Like

  2. Love the illustrations! Beautiful! Best wishes!

    Like


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