Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 7, 2021

HOW WE ILLUSTRATED A THOUSAND PICTURE BOOKS by Chantelle and Burgen

CHANTELLE AND BURGEN THORNE

How We Illustrated 1000 books and Lived to Tell the Tale!

Oh golly! Where do we even start…

Burgen and I met in first year Graphic Design and this design training has underpinned our careers. Burgen completed a fourth year Higher Diploma, specializing in illustration and I started working in a small ad agency. We were on different tracks, but we kept in touch. Burgen moved up to Johannesburg and I moved to a bigger agency. I became Creative Director and Burgen started his own business – Crazy Cat Designs. Then we met up again and there were fireworks – of the marrying kind!!

I left my job, moved to Jo’burg and went freelance in 1999. Burgen had already been working for himself since 1995. Now it’s 2021, we’ve illustrated over 1000 books between us, and gathered decades of experience as full-time illustrators! How did we do it? 

Here’s a quick checklist:  

1Pitch up: Keep taking action, results happen from what you do. Submit your work every chance you get, enter reputable contests, and say yes as often as you can – especially to things that will get your work out there.

2. Say YES: All commissions will teach you something – from pricing insights to new techniques. Each job has positive and negative components, which will help you grow.

3. Keep learning: We started in the pre-digital age and have continually moved with the times.  Look at new technology, new ways of production, new software and new systems and don’t get stuck on one particular thing – be open to change. Take courses to expand your knowledge and hone skills.

4. Welcome all opportunities: There are some very surprising outcomes. We’ve been working on a series of caricatures lately – it’s not our core business, but we’re learning some amazing things about characterization that we can apply to our picture books!

5. Accept insights: Constructive criticism is not personal. While you may be the creator of an illustration, you are not the illustration. Remember, we do the best we can within time and budget parameters, so perfection is not the objective!

6. Get some basic business skills: Learn how to hustle. Get specialists and professionals to assist you (like an accountant, a tech specialist to troubleshoot, a social media guru etc).

7. Market yourself: But not too aggressively. You are a brand and a commodity, so you need to put that out there. Be brave about your skills and what you have to offer (it’s hard, we know, but do it!!).

8. Keep up with current trends: But don’t be a slave to them. There is a Zeitgeist, a “spirit of the age” for every point in time. If you can tap into that, you’re going to be a rock star!

9. Tackle a few drawing challenges: The best way to grow is to draw every day. Back in our college days, Burgen and I had a lecturer whose favorite phrase was “kick it around a bit”! It made us cringe and roll our eyes, but it was probably the best piece of advice we ever received! We’re passing it on to you…

10. Build relationships: This is the most important thing we can tell you. Our longest standing business relationship started in 1990 – 32 years ago! Sometimes the people we work with at various companies change, but the publishing house has remained a consistent and loyal client. And remember to be kind to everyone you meet- you never know where they may pop up again!

Relationships are the key to a successful business – and according to the longest-lived Harvard research study, relationships are the key to a happy, healthy life too! Take us being here on Kathy’s blog: the first time Kathy spoke to us was back in 2016. We’d signed up with our first agent that year – The Organisation in London – and Kathy had featured several of their artists. After finding Kathy, we became BIG fans of her blog, followed and subscribed and learnt a great deal from all her informative articles, and it was here that we first encountered the Fairy Godmother of picture books – the magical Mira Reisberg! Kathy had featured a few stories about the Children’s Book Academy and their wonderful courses, and we felt we just HAD to attend!

At this time, we were coming to the end of our largest educational project to date: Pearson’s Vuma Reading Series. We’d pitched for (and won) the Chief Illustrator’s job for Vuma, which meant we created a Style Guide for other artists to follow of over 200 illustrations, as well as completing a mammoth 132 readers in the 4 years we worked on the project! We were looking for a way to re-direct our careers into trade books and Mira’s course was exactly what we were looking for.

After completing ‘The Craft and Business of Illustrating and Writing Children’s Books’ in October 2018, our career path began to change. Some of it was actually a direct result of the course – Clear Fork/Spork had acquired fellow student, Sandra Sutter’s ‘The Real Farmer in the Dell’ and we were chosen as the illustrators. At the same time as we were commissioned to work on that book, we were contacted by a local South African publisher to illustrate Wendy Hartmann’s ‘The Singing Stone’. So suddenly we had two trade books within two months of completing Mira’s course – magical!!

Take a look at the relationship network in action: 

Because of all our educational hard work (illustrations for thousands of text books, readers, big books etc) we got the opportunity to compete for the Vuma pitch. The Vuma work persuaded our agent, Lorraine Owen at The Org, to take us on. It was the Org that put us in touch with Kathy. It was Kathy that put us in touch with Mira. Other than (literally) saving our lives (which is a whole other story!), Mira put us in touch with Sandra Sutter, author, and Callie Metler-Smith, publisher and owner of Clear Fork/Spork.

Through those relationships, we won our first gold medal (from Reader’s Favourite for ‘The Real Farmer in the Dell’) and had two books published (Sandra’s other book is ‘Stan’s Frightful Halloween’). Our long-standing relationship with author Wendy Hartmann, won us our first local trade book: ‘The Singing Stone’ with Jacana Media. Because of that, we were invited to illustrate another two books with them: ‘Wanda’ (now available in the USA and Canada) and ‘Kantiga Finds the Perfect Name’. More are in the pipeline with Jacana for this year.

If you’re still not convinced that relationships are key, here’s another link for you: because of our first agent (who sadly passed away due to cancer), we were invited by our current agent, Paul Moreton, to join Bell Lomax Moreton Agency in London. And it was the Art Director of our book with Stripes Publishing UK who put in a good word with Paul for the work we’d done on ‘Speedy Monkey’!

I’m going to stop there – I could go on for hours – but if you really want to hear more from me and Burgen or the magical Mira Reisberg, sign up for the new Children’s Book Academy course starting 7th June. Whether you’re completely new to Picture Books, or (like us) you need a boost to your career, it’s a GREAT investment!!

THERE IS STILL TIME – IT STARTS TODAY

Click here to register:
https://www.childrensbookacademy.com/cbicb.html

Or, click here to take advantage of what we’ve learned from illustrating 1000 books! Schedule a tailor-made, person-to-person, one hour critique of your work with us:
https://wj168.infusionsoft.com/app/orderForms/2021-Spring-CBICB-Success-with-Chantelle–Burgen

Thank you Chantelle and Burgen for sharing this with us.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Oh wow. What an incredible story and journey. I’m so inspired and encouraged by reading this. I’m so excited to be in this course with you two.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful interview! Thanks for all the tips. Best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fun interview. Thanks, Kathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a lovely circuitous journey! Awesome interview!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It made us gasp a little when we did the interview – can’t believe it’s been THAT long and THAT many books!! Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

      Like


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