Hi everyone! For this month’s Featured Alumni, we caught up with the very talented
Every month we’ll be featuring SVSLearn “alumni” who have either gone on to get repped by an agent or do professional work. They are a little farther along in their illustration journeys and can share some insights on what has helped them get to where they are. We think they are inspiring!
For May, meet:
Below is a Q&A that Austin Shurtliff (@AWSHURTLIFF) conducted with Joy. They discussed her return to illustration after years away, how she ended up with her first book deal, and the importance of hard work to succeed in illustration.
Could you share a little bit about your journey towards illustration and what stage you are at now in your career?
A long time ago, while studying illustration, I was offered my dream job—to be a mom. My alternate dream job—to illustrate children's books—was willingly set aside. Then, about 12 years ago, children's book author and friend, Lezlie Evans, invited me to be part of her writers’ group. I dusted off old manuscripts, joined SCBWI, and studied all about writing. But I realized that years of not drawing had atrophied my illustration skills. It was then that another friend on Facebook posted that her good friend Will Terry was starting an online illustration school and everyone should check it out. So I did and it was exactly what I needed. I started with "Painting in Photoshop" (which I think was SVS's very first class?) It felt so good to be learning how to draw again that I couldn't stop. I'm pretty sure I've watched every SVS video and attended almost every class. Each time I reached a plateau, Jake, Will, Lee or the other SVS instructors would make some comment or post something on the forum that would propel me forward. Then, 2 years ago, I decided I needed to be more than just a student and do something. So I submitted a book dummy which was accepted and my first book was published last year!
Could you tell us a little bit about the backstory of your book "Duck, Duck, Moose," how you came up with the idea and how it came to be published?
So, I have a confession. Duck, Duck, Moose came from procrastination. Writers group was that night and I had committed to bring a manuscript and sketch so I sat down and "duck duck MOOSE" was the only thing that came to my mind. As I sat staring at that line, I started thinking what would a duck do if playing with a moose? I drew a duck holding onto a moose for dear life. The story just fell into place after that. Of course, that was 10 years ago. The finished product went through 10 years of rejections and revisions--both art and words. 2 years ago I decided I needed to ignore my fears and just submit the book dummy. What’s the worst that could happen, right? So I sent it to Pink Umbrella Books, and they loved it! A year later it was published. It has received many great reviews, including one from Kirkus, has been on a book blog tour, and has been read on You Tube channel Story Time with Ms. Becky!
Do you have any other book or personal projects in the works right now?
Currently, I am preparing another book dummy for submission and actively searching for an agent.
What are some things you are doing now to keep progressing with your art skills/career?
I practice every day. I study illustrations I love and identify why I love them, why they work as an illustration, and how I can implement those attributes in my own illustrations. Then I try and draw an image using those attributes. I also have discovered there is a lot of business in progressing an art career, so I'm learning how to "business," including how to communicate with clients, agents, and publishers, manage time and expectations, and embrace rejection.
Do you have any suggestions for newer illustrators on how to pursue their art goals and use the tools on SVS Learn?
Decide right now if this is something you really want. If it is, then put in the work and learning needed to improve. I didn't see improvement until I made the decision that illustrating was really something I wanted and then worked toward it. I highly recommend all the classes at SVS. They teach more than how to draw. They teach how to become an artist.
Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview!