Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 6, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Ronique Ellis

Ronique Ellis grew up in the countryside of Jamaica and spent her childhood either tucked away reading or exploring the great outdoors of her little town. Her passion for Art began in third grade science class with a dolphin drawing assignment.

Her work tries to capture a feeling that will resonate with the viewer. So, as strange as it may sound, she is a collector of sounds, smells, moods and moments.

During her down time, she is either binging anime or Netflix’s latest docuseries.

Ronique is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers. She graduated from Syracuse University with a BFA in Computer Art and Animation and currently lives in Queens, NY.

Ronique’s Art Process:

This is a piece I created for the Cat Agency’s banner for my announcement. I begin by thinking of the mood I am trying to convey. What do I want the viewer to feel when they are looking at this illustration.

Once I have that figured out, I begin my thumbnail sketch. It is very rough, but I like to add as many details as possible because it is the next step in the linework.

Even though my work doesn’t use any lines, I always have a layer of clean line work before my final color pass.

The color process is fairly simple, I generally have a color scheme picked out in my head before I begin an illustration. The color is centered around the mood of my illustration so for this piece, I wanted it to feel like a warm sunny day, so I knew my pallets would be mostly yellow. 

I do a color sketch and after I am satisfied I move to the final render. I approached my book projects the same way, sometimes I do give a few color options depending on the project.

INTERVIEW WITH RONIQUE ELLIS:

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating since the third grade. I was obsessed with learning to draw at that age from watching the boys drawing cars at school. I used to cry about it because stick figures were all I could do. One day, I had a science project where we had to draw a dolphin. I cannot remember how long I spent working on it, but by the time I was finished it was perfect -or as perfect as a 3rd grade dolphin drawing could get. But it meant the world to me at that age. I drew most of the dolphins for my classmates that day and I haven’t put down my pencil since.

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

The first  piece of art I did was self portraits on tumblr. I started creating $25 illustrations I did for my followers and grew from there. The first professional piece I did was for 72 and Sunny, which was for Truth Orange’s  Antismoking campaign in 2019.

How did you decide to attend Syracuse University to get your BFA? 

I applied to a lot of colleges based on their art programs. Ultimately, I decided to attend Syracuse for their Communication Design program. It was a wonderful program but after being admitted I decided on another path. I also visited the campus and it felt like home, which was an added bonus.

Why did you choose to major in Computer Art and Animation?

While pursuing a degree in Communication Design, I quickly realized that it wasn’t something I was truly passionate about. I also had no computer background. I couldn’t use photoshop or any of the software needed to be a designer. I looked at majors around VPA provided and landed on animation. I took various art classes, from drawing to lithography. However, computer art was fascinating to me and learning how to create 2D and 3D animation seemed like the perfect fit because of my love for storytelling. In the animation program, the classes taught us the software from the beginning. This is how I learned to use photoshop which was the start of my digital illustration career basically.

Did Syracuse University offer any illustrating classes?

They did, the school offers an illustration degree. However, I did not take any of those classes while attending. Illustration was not something I thought of pursuing full time at that point.

Did Syracuse University help you find work when you graduated?

No, it did not, but I did not utilize their alumni recourse in that way.

What type of work did you do after graduating?

Believe it or not, my first job was working at Victoria’s Secret. It was a few weeks after graduating. I later transitioned to teaching after school stop motion animation for a few years at various NYC public middle and high schools. I later worked at a production company where I did my first animation for a documentary. Currently, I work as a full time illustrator.

Have you done any animation work?

I did a few animations for projects such as the documentary for A Smile for Bow, the film Delenda by Ralph Moffettone and the web series Typic Witches.

I found a book cover that you illustrated with the title I LOVE ME From My Head To My Feet by Keanna O’Quinn. Is this a self published book or a book that is yet to come out?

This is a self published book I worked on in 2019. It was published in August 2021. This was my first book illustration project.

You mention that Penguin Random House is one of your clients. What have you done for them?

I’m currently working on several projects for Penguin Random House. I’m not sure if I can talk about them. But, recently the Brown Baby Parade series was announced which is a four book series. I am in the midst of finishing up the first book.

You also mentioned HarperCollins was a client. What type of work have you done with them?

I did a cover for Janae Mark’s A Soft Place to Land which was published in September 2021. This was my first time working with a big publishing company so this book has a special  place in my heart. 

How did you connect with Christy at The Cat Agency?

I began following the Cat Agency on Instagram a few years ago. This was before I decided to become a full time illustrator. I simply loved the work they posted. Eventually, when I decided to become serious about illustration I knew that the Cat Agency was one of my top choices. I submitted my application to Christy and we connected from there.

Do you still work on your portfolio? 

As much as I would like to, I simply do not have the time to. I think I’ve created 2 illustrations for myself since signing with Christy. I’m always working. But hopefully once the work settles, I’ll have time to go back.

Is illustrating a children’s book part of your career plans?    

Yes, it is.        

                                   

What do you feel helped develop your style?

Years of practice and studying other illustrators I admired. Drawing from a lot of the lessons I learned in college. I remember a T.A once telling me that my work didn’t have to be defined by lines and I should think outside the box when creating a piece. Since then, I stopped outlining my illustrations and only used lines where necessary. 

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

Yes, this is the end goal, to be a writer/illustrator.

Do you ever exhibit your artwork?

I’ve exhibited at the Queens Museum of Arts and most recently SK Art Space in Brooklyn. These exhibitions were for traditional mediums unlike my digital work.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book? 

No, I have not. But I would love to do so one day. I think it would be interesting to figure out how to tell a full story through pictures. 

Have you illustrated anything for children’s magazines? 

Not yet, but hopefully one day.

Do you have studio in your house? 

No, I do not. I do not have the space, so it’s a computer desk dedicated workspace for the moment.

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

Yes, I’ve done this before for my first book and a second book that has not been published as yet. 

What is your favorite medium to use?

Charcoal and gouache.

Has that changed over time?

No, as much as I love digital art, I very much enjoy traditional mediums more. I am a bit more loose and experimental when working with them.

What type of Graphic Drawing Tablet do you use when illustrating?

I use a 12” iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil.

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

I work for about eight hours a day, but most times I get lost in a drawing and find myself working much longer. It is hard to keep a healthy work relationship because it doesn’t feel like work to me.

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

I do a mixture of both. Sometimes, I’m walking and see a pattern, a shape or texture that inspires me and I collect them for future reference. I pull a lot from those when I begin working on a project. If the project is based on history, place or person, I try to do as much research as possible to fully understand what I am doing. I recently had to upgrade my  loud storage because of the 14k+ photos I have saved! 

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes, it has. Having an Instagram really opened me up to several projects even before signing with the Cat Agency. I started out on Tumblr and it grew from there. I didn’t go out looking for projects, they came to me as I created personal projects and posted them to my social media.

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

I find success in the smallest things I do, from signing with an agent, to currently working on some of the best picture books. But working on I Love Me and seeing how well it was received especially for a self published book. Just seeing how much something I helped create warms people’s hearts.

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

I wish to write and illustrate my own children’s book. 

What are you working on now?

I am working on several children’s books set to be published 2022 to 2024. Because I am so new to the publishing world, I don’t know if I can share any details. I am working on the first of the Brown Baby Parade series by Nikki Shannon Smith. 


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 shop exclusively at Blick and stick to the basic materials as I am not too fussy about my materials. But, I recently purchased Nic Henderson’s (a fellow Illustrator at the Cat Agency) Procreate stamp brushes which I’m obsessed with. I use them in a lot of my illustrations to add textures. I highly recommend these for digital illustrators. 

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

It is easier creating from what you know, so try to draw from your experiences especially when you feel stuck.

Ronique, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone.

You can visit Ronique using the following links:

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/roniqueellis/?hl=en
AGENCY: https://catagencyinc.com/ronique-ellis
TUMBLR: https://roniqueellis.tumblr.com/

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Beautiful, luminous work. Thanks for a beautiful post.

    Like

  2. Such a beautiful collection! Thanks for sharing with us!

    Like


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