Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 14, 2020

Illustrator Saturday: Stephanie Fizer Coleman

STEPHANIE FIZER COLEMAN

From a young age, Stephanie Fizer Coleman dreamed of a creative career, although she imagined being a dancer or a choreographer, and couldn’t have fathomed the twisty path that would lead her to be an illustrator. These days she can’t imagine working at anything other than illustration. Steph works in Photoshop and thrives on creating beautiful, textural illustrations of her furry and feathered friends. Having grown up in a rural area, she is inspired by nature in all its grandeur. Steph loves illustrating lovely, informative nonfiction as well as picture books, greeting cards, puzzles, and other products. She lives in West Virginia with her husband and two dogs.”

I’m an illustrator, designer and generally curious girl living in lovely but misunderstood West Virgina. I was lucky to grow up in a rural area, with a babbling brook and lush forest just a few feet from my back door; I find that the love of nature I developed as a child still influences my work today.

After seriously studying ballet and getting my BA in History, I found my true passion in illustrating and have been working as a freelance illustrator since 2008.

I work in Photoshop and Procreate and have developed a style of working that blends both digital and traditional elements.  I enjoy playing around with patterns, textures and brilliant colors in my work.  Animals are my favorite subjects to illustrate and I’m thrilled to be illustrating the kinds of books I would have loved when I was a little library-goer.

 My client list includes Caterpillar Books, Hallmark, American Greetings, Clarion Books, HarperCollins, Charlesbridge, Peachtree, Highlights, Mudpuppy, Sellers Publishing, Millbrook Press, Design House Greetings, and Walker Books.

When I’m not tucked away in my studio working on a book, you’ll find me tending my vegetable garden, experimenting with new vegan recipes in the kitchen, or curled up with a book and a hot cup of tea.

HERE IS STEPHANIE DISCUSSING HER PROCESS:

Interview with Stephanie Fizer Coleman

How long have you been illustrating?

Well I’ve been working full time as an artist since 2008, but I didn’t start focusing on children’s books until about five years ago.

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

Probably around 2007 and it was likely a smaller watercolor painting that I sold on Etsy.

How did you develop your art skills without studying art in college?

By drawing all the time! I read a ton of how-to draw books and tutorials and basically learned from trial and error.

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

I started out selling art prints and stationery in an Etsy shop. Eventually, I started doing some freelance illustration projects, then I started licensing my art, and then I started illustrating books as well.

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

I illustrated a couple of books in 2010 and 2011 for a personalized children’s book site that Chronicle Books was launching (they’ve since sold it to another company, I think) and I just knew that children’s book was where I wanted to be. At the end of 2014, I book some coaching sessions with Holli Conger to help me figure out how to pivot into illustrating children’s books fulltime. I signed with my agents at Bright in February 2015 and am still happily illustrating children’s books today.

Did you take any children’s illustrating courses?

Not that I can remember, but I did read all the books about illustrating children’s books that I could find! And I also spent a ton of time studying children’s books, discovering how other illustrator’s solved problems and paced their pictures. That was probably the biggest help for me!

What do you feel helped you develop your style?

Can I say drawing a lot again? Because that’s really been the biggest thing! Drawing all the time and also embracing the idea that it’s ok to make “bad” art, that there’s so much to learn by letting go of having an expected outcome and just enjoying the process.

Did you take any online workshops or classes to help you navigate the children’s book industry?

Sure didn’t, although of course I did read some books and I joined SCBWI too. Since I’d already been freelance illustrating for a few years, I felt confident in making the shift to children’s books. And because I signed with an agent right around the time I started to focus on children’s books, I felt like I had solid advice available from them. That was nice!

Was The Color Thief by Richelle Smallwood -Jul 21, 2014. Your first illustrated book?

My first illustrated book was a personalized princess-themed book for Chronicle Book and I followed that up with another personalized for Chronicle Books as well. Those were in 2010 and 2011, I think, and it felt like such a big break, but I didn’t illustrate another book until Richelle’s book in 2014. She’s a self-published author and it was a lovely project for me to test the waters of children’s book illustrating again.

How did you get that contract?

I think Richelle might have discovered me through my Etsy shop, honestly!

Have you illustrate or design any puzzles or games?

I’ve worked with Mudpuppy for several years and have illustrated a variety of puzzles for them. Those projects are some of my favorites!

I counted a dozen books that came out in 2018 that you illustrated. How hard was that to accomplish?

Oh my goodness, is that true? Well, it’s definitely not something I would recommend because 2017 was one of the hardest years of my career. I feel into the habit of saying ‘yes!’ to every book project that came along, including ones that didn’t have great fees, and I ended up spending the whole year working 50-60 hour weeks and not having days off. By the end of it, I was creatively burned out and physically ill. I’ve since gotten better at cultivating healthy work habits!

Was Five Flying Penguins published in 2018 your first picture with a major publisher?

Yes, I’m pretty sure it was and it’s still one of my favorite books that I’ve illustrated!

October 2019 Bird Count by Susan Edwards Richmond came out. I love the cover. Would you say birds are your favorite thing to illustrate?

Definitely! I love drawing birds and could happily draw bird books for the rest of my career.

How did you connect with the Bright Agency?

How long have you been represented by them? I’ve been represented by Bright since 2015! They actually found me through Instagram and contacted me about representation. But they were already on my top list of possible agents, because my art felt like it would be a good fit for the agency. It definitely felt sort of meant to be when they contacted med.

You started out this year with You Are Mine, Porcupine by Helen L. Wilbur. How long did the publisher give you to illustrate the book?

That one took about 8 or 9 months, I believe.

In August you had Runaway Pumpkins by Teresa Bateman come out with Charlesbridge. Was this a two book deal when they signed you for Five Flying Penguins?

It wasn’t. They just enjoyed working me on Five Flying Penguins and followed it up with the Runaway Pumpkins offer. I’m always chatting with beginning illustrators about the importance of not just making good art, but also just being a lovely person to work with. Having repeat clients is one step to a happy, healthy illustration career!

I see that you are off to a good start with 2021, with Birds of a Feather by Sita Singh | Mar 2, 2021 and Blue ridge Babies 1, 2, 3: A Counting Book already in the cue. Are you done with the illustrations for both books?

Oh yeah! Art for both of those books was finished in the spring of this year.

I notice that you teach classes on online. How and when did you start doing this?

Ages ago I used to livestream on Periscope and it was the first time I realized that I had digital art knowledge that would be useful to others. Around the same time I made a couple of classes for Atly, which become quite popular. When Atly disappeared, I tried out Skillshare which was successful for me and recently I’ve been working on self-hosting classes via Teachable on my own site where I have space to create really in-depth courses. I absolutely love teaching and am so happy that I accidentally fell into it.

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate a picture book?

Definitely!

Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes and I love it. I’ve thought of maybe renting a studio space, but I tend to work a split day, doing some work in the morning and some in the evenings, so it makes more sense for me to have a home studio.

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?

I haven’t but I think they are wonderful!

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

I do and have for about 12 years now.

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

I’ve done it in the past, with Richelle Smallwood on The Color Thief, and it was a lovely experience. These days, I probably won’t, only because my schedule is quite busy with book projects and creating courses for illustrators. If I do have spare time, I’d rather use it to focus on my own ideas for author/illustrating a book.

What do you think is your biggest success so far? Some people think it’s a bit tacky to talk about money, but I don’t, so I’ll say that my biggest success has been hitting a six-figure income and then seeing continued income growth each year after. That’s a pretty big deal for me!

What is your favorite medium to use?

These days I’m loving Caran d’Ache Luminance colored pencils and use them all the time in my work.

Has that changed over time?

Definitely! I used to be an all-digital illustrator but slowly over the last year or so I’ve begun combining traditional mediums with digital and I’m so pleased with the results. You just get this lovely spontaneity with traditional materials!

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

I do and love it! My children’s books have been primarily illustrated in Photoshop on my trusty Cintiq 22HD. I also use an iPad Pro and Procreate for various parts of my process, mostly sketches and color roughs.

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

Right now it’s: Moleskine sketches or Archer and Olive blank notebooks, Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils, neocolor crayons, Tombow dual brush pens, Photoshop CC, and my Cintiq.

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

I’m often busy with book projects, but it’s important to me to make time for making just-for-fun art. That’s been an important part in my development as an artist. If there’s time, I take 30 minutes a day for that kind of making, or I’ll just take Friday off for an entire day of fun art making.

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

I have a BA in History, so I love doing research! The beginning part of a project is so exciting and diving into research is such a big part of that. Getting to collect snippets of reference and inspiration that will later help you create a book is such a joy.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

For sure! I live in a small town in a rural state, which I love, but without the internet I wouldn’t be able to live this life and have a successful illustration career. And I doubt that I’d be happy without a little bit of forest right outside my door.

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

I’d love to write/illustrator a picture book and I’m also dreaming of getting a little nerdy and writing a time management/goal setting book for creatives!

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m illustrating a new picture book for Sleeping Bear Press and a nonfiction book for Wren & Rook. I’m also creating new Procreate and Photoshop classes that will launch in 2021. Making art and helping other illustrators are my two favorite things!

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’m newly obsessed with Archer & Olive blank notebooks. The paper is thick enough to handle paint and has a lovely, smooth texture. Most importantly, these are hardbound sketchbooks that lay flat when you open them! As a left-handed artist, that is a huge deal for me. No more fighting with a bulky gutter in hardboard sketchbooks.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

Draw constantly and don’t skip out on the foundational skills! I tried to skip right to just drawing cute things at first, thinking I didn’t need basic art skills if I was going to stylize everything. Eventually I hit a place where I couldn’t progress further with my art until I went back and learned those foundational skills.  You can’t skip it, no matter how much you want to.

Stephanie, thank you for sharing your time to answer the interview questions and telling us about your process. I really enjoyed spending time with your illustrations.

Please let me know your future successes so I can share them with everyone.

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

Website: http://stephaniefizercoleman.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stephfizercoleman/?hl=en where Steph frequently post sketches, works in progress and finished illustrations/projects.

If you’re interested in working with Steph, you can reach her at:  hello@stephfc.com

Or check in with her agents at The Bright Agency:

Alex Gehringer for US Children’s Books: alex@thebrightagency.com

Robyn Newton for UK Children’s Books: robyn@thebrightagency.com

Hannah Curtis for Licensing: hannah@thebrightagency.com

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Yay! love Stephanie’s work and her classes.

    Like

  2. Lovely! So much fun to look at all of your creations. I really love the birds! Congrats and best wishes. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  3. Wow! Such talent! Great work! Thanks for sharing.

    Like


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