Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 9, 2022

Illustrator Saturday – Vanessa Flores

Vanessa Flores is an illustrator based in Orlando, Florida. New York-born and raised Domini-Rican, she grew up on plátanos and old-school salsa. She graduated with a BFA in Art, specializing in graphic design and worked several years at Scholastic Book Fairs as a graphic artist, designing and illustrating characters and backgrounds for several Book Fair themes. Continuously inspired by the books she was helping promote, she finally left to pursue a career in children’s book illustration.

Her passion for drawing began at the tender age of 3, when she reached the height of her artistic abilities by drawing her family as sausage-limbed characters on her Etch-a-Sketch. Summers in Puerto Rico fueled her love for mountains and magic. Botanical gardens, dancing, Studio Ghibli movies, and ghost stories are also a few of her favorite things. She loves illustrating humor, magic realism, and representing her culture through the art of storytelling.

Vanessa is the illustrator of EAT BUGS: PROJECT STARTUP (Penguin Workshop), the TWINS VS TRIPLETS series (HarperKids) and a contributing artist for IN THE SPIRIT OF A DREAM (Orchard, December 2021). She is currently working on her graphic novel debut MORIVIVÍ, due to be published Summer 2023 (Dial). She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and an Orlando Giant Illustrator.

Vanessa is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and an Orlando Giant Illustrator.

Vanessa Flores is an author and illustrator raised on plátanos and old-school salsa. She grew up in New York in a Domini-Rican family and finished her high school studies in Puerto Rico. After moving to Florida, Vanessa studied at Seminole Community College and graduated from the University of Central Florida with a BFA in Art, specializing in graphic design. She worked for several years as a graphic artist at Scholastic Book Fairs, designing and illustrating characters and backgrounds for several Book Fair themes. Continuously inspired by the books she was helping promote, she finally left to pursue a career in children’s book illustration.

 

About Atardecer Jíbaro: I drew this art as a gift for my boyfriend while I was researching MORIVIVÍ in Puerto Rico but the meaning it holds for me is deeper, as it portrays a part of jíbaro life. A jíbaro or jíbara is a word used to describe someone from the countryside on the island and is part of my heritage. The art also resonates with my Dominican side, as both my families are descendants of farmers from the countryside.

This illustration was created entirely in Procreate with color adjustments done in Photoshop.

I start with loose thumbnail sketches to get an idea for the composition of the piece, as well as studies of the jíbaro— protagonist of the piece. I use photographic references I have taken from my time in the mountains and vintage pictures of jíbaros.

I ultimately choose the top composition.

I draw a more detailed sketch, fine-tuning background elements and adding the plantain bunch to show that the jíbaro has been working in the field, as well as a way to create a more dynamic pose.

The linework is done, layer by layer, first all in black and then I change the color of each outline layer. I do this to liven up the lines with color as well as push the background layers back by using a lighter shade as opposed to a darker color in the foreground layers. I also add a lined box that will be the area I will be masking out.

At this point I add a cat as a way of adding an endearing detail. I also add flat colors behind each line layer.

Shading is done in indigo tones and multiplied over the flat color layers.

Small details such as blush, highlights and the sun rays are added.

And finally, I mask out the final art, make some color adjustments in Photoshop to brighten up the piece and it’s done!

INTERVIEW WITH VANESSA FLORES:

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating professionally for about 10 years: the first 8 years as part of my graphic artist job in the Scholastic Book Fairs marketing department and the last two as a children’s book illustrator.

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

It was probably a pencil portrait I drew for a family member back in high school!

You grew up in New York, then went to high school in Puerto Rico, then moved to Florida. Why did you leave NY to attend high school in Puerto Rico? Did you have family there?  

Yes, it had always been my dream to move to Puerto Rico. I’d gone to school there for kindergarten and first grade, and grew up spending my summers there at my maternal grandmothers’ house with my family. I completed my junior and senior years of high school there before moving to Florida.

What made you choose University of Central Florida to get your BFA in Art, specializing in graphic design? 

I started first at Seminole Community College (now a State College) to get my AA and complete all of my fundamental art classes in order to transfer through the Direct Connect with UCF program. With no illustration degrees near me, I chose graphic design as an alternative in order to make sure I found work afterward.

 

Do you still live in Florida?

Yes, I’m currently based out of a suburban city in the greater Orlando area.

Did UCF help you find work when you graduated?

No, they did not.

Did you do any freelance work while attending UCF?

Except for a few commissions, not much, but I did work a graphic designer job for the Office of Student Involvement’s Design Group, where we created posters, banners, calendars, T-shirts, etc for student organizations. It was a great environment for exploring creative outlets, building my graphic design portfolio and making friends in the art community.

How did the you get the job working with Scholastic?

One of our senior projects for the graphic design program was done in partnership with Scholastic Book Fairs’ Tangerine Press. When we graduated, a friend of mine shared with me the marketing art director’s contact information, which she had obtained at some point during the project presentation. I emailed him and he contacted me shortly about doing freelance work for the department. After a few years, I was hired on as a full-time graphic artist.

Did you have to move to work for Scholastic as a designer?

No, at the time I lived only 20 minutes away from the Scholastic Book Fairs’ office.

What made you decide to want to illustrate children’s books?

I grew up loving the storytelling: in animated movies, books and comics. Being at Scholastic Book Fairs further cemented how much I wanted to be a part of that world of storytelling for children— and the adults that enjoy those books, too!

What is an Orlando Giant illustrator?

The Giant Illustrators is a collective of professional illustrators based out of central Florida. Typically we meet up to share what we’re working on, exchange ideas and support one another in our work.

Project Startup #1 (Eat Bugs) by Heather Alexander your first illustrated book?

Yes it is!

How did you get that contract?

Through my agent Christy Ewers. She was contacted by Penguin Workshop.

I see there is a second book in this series, EAT BUGS, PITCH PARTNERS. Was this a two-book deal?

It was not. They reached out to my agent with the offer for the second book shortly after I had turned in the art for the first book.

Twins vs. Triplets #1: Back-to-School Blitz (HarperChapters) also came out in 2021? How did you juggle doing the illustrations for three books at once?

I always made sure to keep track of the dates in my calendar and if anything seemed to be too much at one time, I talked with my agent or directly with one of the publishers to adjust the deadline.

How did you get the contract with HarperChapters to illustrate,Twins vs. Triplets #1: Back-to-School Blitz? 

HarperChapters reached out to my agent after seeing my artwork and considered it a good fit for the series.

Are the illustrations finished for the second book to the Twins vs. Triplet coming out later this year? 

Yes! Twins vs Triplets original publication dates were delayed, but the second book in the series will be out July 19, 2022.

How did Scholastic decide on what poem you illustrated for In the Spirit of a Dream: 13 Stories of American Immigrants of Color?

They had seen my comic work on my social media and website and thought Jim Lee, a comic book artist and writer, would be a great fit.

What stage are you at with the illustrations for your graphic novel debut with Dial titled MORIVIVÍ?

I am still in the writing stage of MORIVIVÍ and currently only have worked on concept art for the book.

How did you connected with The Cat Agency and how long you have been with them?

My incredible friend, fellow CAT sister and illustrator Gladys Jose introduced me to Christy Ewers at the SCBWI Miami Conference in January 2019 and we started an email correspondence then. I would create and send her art to get her feedback. She wasn’t ready yet to sign me on, but finally, in September 2019, she called me to make me an offer and I accepted!

Do you sell any of your work on the Internet?

Yes, I sell art prints on my Etsy shop.

Do you still work still work on your portfolio?

Sparingly, since I have been very busy and needed a mental break from art after work. I hope to continue to make some new portfolio pieces soon.

What do you feel helped develop your style?

When I took a break from pursuing children’s book illustrations in 2017, I began doing more personal work using ink pens. I experimented with zines and prints about mental health as well as work inspired by my Puerto Rican heritage. When I came back to working on my children’s books portfolio, my style naturally carried over digitally.

I also am heavily inspired the expressions and fluidity of lines found in animation concept art, and study professionals in the industry to improve my work.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

I’ve practiced iterations of it for illustration workshops. You can see one of them on my website, called“Left All Alone”. It was so much fun to work on!

Has any of your art been published in Newspapers or magazines?

Some of my art has been featured in a couple of local Orlando zines, specifically A Farewell in Stardust and La Matriarca.

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

It’s not something I would currently consider.

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

I’d say my biggest success so far is just leaving my desk job at Scholastic and landing my agent right after. At the time I left I had no idea what would happen. I had my savings and faith that it would work out, because it’s what I wanted. The journey hasn’t always been easy, but I don’t regret making that decision.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I love working on Procreate for digital illustration work. For traditional, ink pen and watercolor + gouache.

Has that changed over time?

Yes, I used to not enjoy the digital work I made— it didn’t feel natural or a good showcase of my craftsmanship. I had actually wanted to make my illustrations more traditionally, by scanning in my art or painting textures and using them digitally. However, as I said earlier,  I found a way of working digitally that felt natural to me after allowing myself to explore my style with ink pen and paper. I still love to paint from time to time— the process of it helps ground me.

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

Wacom Mobile HomeStudio when I first started, but I’m transitioning to using my iPad more often.

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

I typically try to dedicate time to learning by signing up for classes or reading books on illustrating, though it doesn’t work out every day. But when I do, it helps keep me loose and passionate about the work!

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

After doing a quick thumbnail to get an idea for the composition, I use a combination of references: pictures I take of myself posing, research pictures of specific environments or props, and 3D models in the program Clip Studio Paint.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

I’d say it’s been partially helpful at getting me opportunities, specifically with my graphic novel MORIVIVÍ. My editor saw the sample page I had done on Instagram before contacting my agent about it. It’s also been helpful in connecting with the art community in general.

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

My career dream is be able to feel balanced between my work and personal life. I spent many years hustling to get to where I am and I’m feeling the effects of burnout. I want to maintain my passion for the work without sacrificing my mental health for it.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on sketches for TWINS vs TRIPLETS #4 and MORIVIVÍ story revisions.

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.

The 3D models in Clip Studio Paint have been so helpful for composing scenes with multiple characters as well as rotating the camera around the figures to explore different camera angles. I don’t use Clip Studio for illustrating but I know it’s a powerful program for that as well. It’s a one-time purchase (unlike the Adobe cloud) and I consider it an essential tool, especially when taking pictures of myself for reference isn’t enough for more complex scenes.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

I used to say often “Let your passion be greater than your fear of failing.” And I still believe in that wholeheartedly, but after experiencing burnout, which can rob one of one’s passion, I think it’s important to add to be kind to yourself in the moments when it gets hard. Give yourself space and time to exist outside of art— explore other hobbies, get creative in other ways, or just allow yourself to slow down a little bit. Allow yourself to learn again without the desperation to finish a project, to remind yourself why you love what you do in the first place. The universe has a way of helping you grow through those times in ways you couldn’t have anticipated, and you’ll be all the better for it.

Vanessa, 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 Vanessa using the following links:

WEBSITE: www.vanessafloresart.com

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/vanessafloresart/

AGENCY: https://catagencyinc.com/vanessa-flores-1

ETSY: https://www.etsy.com/shop/VanessaFloresArt

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. A very interesting artist and overview. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  2. Lovely illustrations! I really like the colors and actions going on in the different pieces. Thanks for sharing! Congrats!

    Like

  3. Terrific illustrations. Thanks for the post.

    Like


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