Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 5, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Melissa Chernov

Melizza Chernov graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Illustration from Rhode Island School of Design.  After graduating, an opportunity to live in a small cabin  with no running water, heat, or electricity, on ten acres of land in the New Mexico desert presented itself.  You might ask, who could say no to that kind of adventure? Or, if you’re a reasonable person, you might not.

Nevertheless, It was the beginning of a long and wondrous education about the natural world that she continues to pursue.  The shapes, colors, movement and flow of nature strongly influence Melizza’s work as an illustrator.  A deep and abiding desire to tell a tale visually has traveled with her through many adventures.

Presently, she lives in a small Massachusetts coastal town surrounded by farms and wildlife reserves which she visits regularly. You can see more about that on her Instagram and Facebook pages. In addition to writing and illustrating stories, Melizza teaches small children how to make great big artistic messes (and they teach her the same thing in return) .

Interview with Melizza Chernov:

How long have you been illustrating?

In 2010, Education Executive Magazine hired me to work on the cover for their ‘Birds and Bees’ issue. That was my first time working on a professional project.

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

During my time at Rhode Island School of Design there was an annual student art sale organized by the college. At that sale an art collector purchased two sculptures that I created. It was an exciting moment.

Did you go to RISD right out of high school?

After high school, college didn’t seem like an option for me financially. My parents didn’t have the resources to send me to a four year college or university. My time was spent working, taking community college courses and traveling. Eventually, I moved to San Francisco where I met other aspiring artists and took many art classes which is what inspired (or rather gave me the courage) to apply to RISD.

What classes were you favorite?

Visual perception (an exploration of how we see things, optical illusions etc..), Art History 101 and figure sculpting.

Do you feel RISD helped you develop your style?

RISD was the place where I learned the technical aspects of illustration: composition, the use of various media, color theory and commercialization. However, the development of my style was based on a regular regimen of drawing and painting. It was about learning how trust myself.

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

My love of books started at a very young age, it’s hard to say when specifically that the decision was made. Illustrating books, creating art and writing all feel like things that have been old companions or lifelong friends.

Did they help you find work after you graduated?

Taking illustration courses helped me to understand the mechanics of creating work for publication. There are a lot of components to finding work as an illustrator that aren’t or can’t really be taught in an illustration class. Finding work includes not just illustrating but promoting yourself, networking and submitting work regularly.

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

My art career is really just beginning. The type of work that I’ve done in the past has been for a few magazines and commissioned art pieces.

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

About two years ago I received a grant from Storyteller Academy’s Arree Chung. SA offers a slew of online courses for kidlit creators. It was a wonderful experience that really solidified my path.

 

 

Have you illustrated any children’s picture books by self-published authors?

Yes, The Amazing Monster which was commissioned by writer/voice actor Michelle Falanga in 2012.

How did you get the contract with Blue Whale Press to illustrate A Horn is born?

Alayne Kay Christian, content and developmental editor for Blue Whale Press, contacted me two years ago after finding my work on Instagram. We spoke over the phone initially and that day she sent me the manuscript to peruse. The quirky and unusual feel of the book appealed to me. It felt like a good match for my style. I immediately imagined the characters and the whimsical design of the book.

How much time did they give you to do the illustrations?

A Horn Is Born was slated to be completed in a year.

Do you have an agent? If so, who and how did you connect and how long have you been represented by them? If not would you like to work with an agent?

I’m unagented and would very much like to find the right person to represent my work.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s Magazines or any other magazines? If so, who?

Yes, New Moon Girls Magazine, Education Executive Magazine and Inside Healthcare Magazine.

Have you design any covers for other type of books?

No, but if the right project came along I would certainly be open to trying my hand at it.

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?

There is one book idea I am currently developing that started out as wordless. It’s a story about winter, being lost in a storm and finding ones way again. However, I’m not certain it will stay that way.

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

My work life is split into two main areas, I am an educator part-time and an illustrator all of the time.

 

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

Working with self-publishers is something I would consider if the project seemed right for me.

 

What do you think is your biggest success so far?

If I’m honest, my biggest success is in developing the tenacity and patience it has taken to stick with my vocation.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Pencil and paper. I have the most fun drawing and especially in my sketchbook. Ideas flow and I’m free to be really terrible which is when I come up with my best ideas.

Has that changed over time?

It hasn’t, drawing has always felt closest to my heart.

Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes, I have a small studio in my house, it overlooks rolling green hills and rock walls that go on forever. The room is big enough to squeeze my desk, drafting table, easel and paints into but it’s lovely.

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

My work is created by mixing traditional methods with digital tools. It begins with simple pen on paper sketches. A line drawing on watercolor paper is created then painted with thin layers of acrylic paints. When all of that is complete I scan it in, clean it up a bit and play around with it until I feel like calling it done.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely, having a website to direct people to who are interested in my work is key. Social media has helped in connecting with fellow kidlit creators, publishers and art lovers. Taking online classes to keep up to date with new techniques and ideas has been invaluable.

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

Ultimately, my goal is to work as the writer/illustrator of my own books. Presently, I have one book dummy that I’m sending to publishers and three others that are at various stages of completion.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed illustrating a book titled, A Horn Is Born written by Bill Borders and due to be released in November. I’m working on various writing and/or illustration projects and creating a line of seasonal greeting cards which are being sold locally and will be available soon online.

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…

Use products that have a good reputation to create your finished pieces. If you paint on paper, use really lovely, heavy paper. If you use acrylics buy acrylic brands that are of very good quality, I use Golden acrylics because of their consistently saturated color and they do this great thing where they brush the color onto the tube so you can see exactly how it will look. It isn’t a swatch, it’s actual paint brushed onto the tube.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

It’s easy to get discouraged because there are many excellent artists out there. The best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten was from a non-artist, my dad. It keeps me going when I feel overwhelmed. I was complaining to him about the challenges I’d been facing as an illustrator, finding work, connecting with people, financially supporting myself etc… To put this in context my dad immigrated to the United States in 1971, growing up he lived in tenement housing and one of his many jobs was cutting sugar cane on a plantation. However, my dad patiently listened to my griping and once I was done he said, “You know I never wanted you to do this, I wanted you to become a lawyer but you insisted. Now that you’ve made the decision you have to give it everything you’ve got.” I replied that I was afraid and he said something that fundamentally changed the way I looked at my creative life. “When I’m afraid,” he said, “I just look down at my shoes and take it one step at a time. Don’t look too far ahead, just look at the spot you’re standing in and take one step and then another.” My advice is to do that, to take it one step at a time and be patient with yourself. It makes a big difference in how you experience the journey.


Responses

  1. Such gorgeous work! Love your colors and the way you depict the human body. I’m glad you listened to your father. He’s a wise man. I love and have lived in the desert, and am thinking that your time there with no running water, heat, or electricity must have been magical, arduous, and life-changing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Jilanne. I’m glad I listened to my dad as well. I use that bit of advice all of the time. It applies to so much in my life. Living in the desert was an amazing adventure. I feel incredibly lucky to have had that experience. You’re absolutely right, it WAS magical, arduous and life changing. I learned a great deal about the natural world and my place in it. I would highly recommend it! I deeply appreciate your thoughtful comments. Thank you again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful illustrations! Wow, such talent. Congrats!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Marci! I deeply appreciate your kind comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your work is gorgeous. I’m glad you’re able to push through the hard moments via your father’s sound advice. Wishing you success in your endeavors!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Tracy, Sorry for taking so long to respond, I just wanted to say thank you. I appreciate that you took the time to write your thoughts and I am also very happy to you enjoy the work. Yes, that bit of advice from my dad has helped me through a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a beautiful book! The words and illustrations float together like melodies through the air, together they are perfect!
    Love your creative style.

    Like


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