Below is an awesome Q&A that Kathryn Adebayo (@KATHRYNADEBAYO) conducted with Sarah LuAnn:
Being an artist may be a romantic vision for many creatives, but anyone who has tried it also knows that it takes sweat and dedication. Artist Sarah LuAnn Perkins is a fantastic example of someone giving it her all, and in this interview she shares how she's striving diligently at this phase in her life. Have you ever wondered, "How will I ever finish this project that's still living in my head?" or, "When will I be good enough to take the next step?" If so, Sarah's insights may strike a chord with you.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Of course! I’m an author-illustrator living in Schenectady, New York. I have two darling toddlers who keep me on my toes, and a wonderfully supportive husband. In addition to writing and drawing, I love baking, dancing, and (of course) reading--I love anything from picture books up through middle grade and young adult novels. Books for adults usually aren’t as fun ;-).
Where do you think creativity comes from, and why do you create?
I think creativity is where curiosity and expression meet. Life hands us all so many questions--What if? Why? How? To me, creativity is when we answer them by making something--whether that’s a picture, a story, a song, or something else entirely.
I create because working through those questions helps me to stay grounded and sane, and therefore be a better mom, wife, friend, and all-around person.
For a few months after the birth of our first child, I had very little time to do any creative work. When she was a few months old, I finally had a chance to go in my office and do some drawing. I came out happy and energized, and my husband promised me we would find a way to make this a regular part of my life, despite the huge demands of parenthood. He has kept that promise, and I feel like having that time to create lets me be more present in the other parts of my life.
Could you describe the style of work that you do and share a few examples?
I work with a digital medium called vectors, which typically results in very shape-based, clean, “digital-looking” images. Using this very sleek digital medium, I imitate a very traditional method of working--linocut or woodcut prints. This allows me to get a very textured and hand made look, while also keeping all the advantages of working with digital vector art, like never having to worry about pixelation when printing my work.
Chanticleer: I created this image not long after I started experimenting with this linocut-inspired process. It's the first time I very deliberately limited my palette from the very beginning of a piece--this image only uses 6 colors. It was chosen for the SCBWI showcase at the Bologna Book Fair, so I’m not the only one who liked how it came out! This small success encouraged me to keep going with this approach to illustration.
Lonely Dragon: In college, a classmate of mine created a couple of one-page comic stories. These were different from the familiar “funnies” I grew up reading in the Sunday paper in that they weren’t meant to be humorous, but to convey an entire story on a single page. I was very new to comics at that time, but the concept of a one-page story fascinated me, and I wanted to try one myself. A couple years later I decided to tackle this project. I was on a bit of a dragon-kick at the time, and I found myself wondering how dragons feel about their solitary circumstances. Again, I used a very limited color scheme, this time only three colors. I still love this piece and want to do more in this vein.
In January of 2018, my second child was born.
In February of 2018, the prompt for the monthly SVS contest was “Octopus”.
At the time, I was of course eye-deep in newborn care and birth recovery, but I really, really wanted to draw an Octopus. (See comment above about creativity and staying sane.) So during the hours and hours of rocking and nursing my baby, I brainstormed. Many zany and fun octopus concepts came to me, but all of them would have been complicated and time consuming to complete--not an option if I wanted to finish before the end of the month. So I continued to brainstorm--I had plenty of time for that.
Meanwhile, what I really really REALLY wanted was a bath--but I couldn’t take one, because I had a tear that was still healing, and my midwife asked me not to take baths for a few weeks.
So, I lived vicariously through my drawing. It was necessarily simple in concept, colors, and design--because who knows how long baby’s gonna nap?
I’m not sure I’ve ever FELT a drawing as much as I did this one. That might seem silly, as it isn’t really about anything dramatic or significant. However, I think parents get me. ;-)
And it paid off--I got third place in the contest! https://forum.svslearn.com/topic/5660/february-contest-results-octopus
Sophie Trimming Hats: This year, the Folio Society Book Illustration contest was for one of my very favorite books--Howl’s Moving Castle. I knew, despite having toddlers to wrangle and a class to teach, that I had to enter. Though I didn’t make the longlist or get any big recognition for it, I got to dive into one of my favorite stories, and created some pieces that I think are among my best work--which was the real reason to do the project anyway, so in that way, I did win!
Do you remember a story about when you learned something important about being an artist?
For years, I was interested not just in making art, but in teaching it. Though I had a degree in illustration and could produce high-quality drawings, I would read beginners-level drawing books for fun, just to understand the basics of drawing better. I read them for myself, but I also read them so that some day in a distant future when I was a famous award-winning artist and everyone wanted to know my secrets, I could teach well.
But one day the realization hit me--there was no REAL reason I couldn’t teach. I didn’t actually have to wait for permission, fame, or publication. It was like a voice in my head said, “You know the material--heck, you have a freaking DEGREE in this for crying out loud. The only thing stopping you is YOURSELF. All those things you think you need first--an illustration career, success, fame--they are excuses. TEACH. THE. CLASS.”
So, I did. The years of dreaming and reading paid off, because my class outline came together quickly and I had plenty of ideas to draw from. It went amazingly well--one student told me she learned more in my 7 week class than she had in an expensive semester-long college class. My students are recommending their friends and asking for the next class--which I’m working on. And I love doing it, just as much as I hoped I would.
It may sound like I’m talking about teaching, but this could be about anything really, art or otherwise. Is there a project you really want to do, but you’re waiting to be ready...to be legit enough or successful enough or “good” enough to do it? Let me be the voice in your head--STOP WAITING. NO MORE EXCUSES. DO THE PROJECT.
What are your goals, career-wise and personally, that you're striving to accomplish with your art? How are you hoping to reach them? Or how have you already?
I want to write and illustrate my own books--both picture books and graphic novels, as well as illustrating stories written by others. Right now I have two picture book dummies I’m sending to agents, and I’m working on a third, along with a few other projects I’m really excited about, including a graphic novel idea that is beginning to take shape in my head.
In addition to the publishing side of things, I want to continue to teach my drawing classes, and develop curriculum for other more advanced courses.
What does work-life balance look like for you, and how does your illustration work fit into that?
It seems like mothers with young kids always get the work-life balance questions--which I definitely understand, because there is a lot going on in my life right now! But it is of course something everyone should be thinking about.
It helps me to remember that balance is something you do actively, it’s not something you arrive at and then stop worrying about. The second a tightrope walker or unicyclist decides they’ve found balance and can stop putting focus and energy into it, down they’ll go! So for me, balance looks like constantly making little adjustments, depending on the phase of life and the ups and downs week to week.
In practical terms, this means that my house is never totally clean and that I pay a babysitter to watch my kids a couple times a week so I can create. That babysitter time is precious, and I try to focus it on art, writing, and related tasks even when my house is a disaster--as I said above, having that creative time makes me a better happier person, for myself and my family. I’m very lucky to be in a situation where paying a babysitter is possible, and I appreciate that not everyone can do that. I find myself wishing for even more time to create, but I try to remember that this is just a phase of my life and that in a few years, balance in my life will look entirely different from how it does now.
Finally, what would you say to fellow illustrators to encourage them along their paths as artists? What advice would you give yourself if you were going to read it again in five years?
If illustration is something you’re drawn to, make the time to do it! It won’t happen if you just wish for it, but if you make it a priority day to day and week to week you will gain skills and finish projects. This won’t happen without giving up time doing other things, but if you really want this that isn’t really a sacrifice. And, like I said above--stop making excuses. Do the thing--whatever project you really want to do.
Thank you so much, Sarah, for taking the time to answer these questions and share your thoughts!
If you would be interested in sharing your work for a chance to be featured for July head over to the SVS Learn Forum and post your best work by June 10th.