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 July, meet:
Judy Elizabeth Wilson
Below is a Q&A that Kathryn Adebayo (@KATHRYNADEBAYO) and Austin Shurtliff (@AWSHURTLIFF) conducted with Judy. They discussed the role a personal project played in her career and the importance of accountability.
Could you share a little bit about your journey towards illustration and what stage you are at now in your career?
Hi, I’m Judy from the UK and a children's book author and illustrator.
My journey towards a career in illustration began when I was working abroad in museography. I was surrounded by historical paintings, each with their own story frozen in time. A painting that sparked my imagination and that has since influenced one of my story books is a battle scene, Conquest of Tenochtitlan, 1675-1700, there is lots of action, the scenes are so busy and the character's costumes are full of feathers, furs and gold.
I started keeping a sketchbook of things I saw in my day job that I thought were cool and that's where I started to develop stories. I found an online 'children's illustration' course in the UK and spent four years learning the basics. The first storybook I created is called 'A Friendly Friend' which is about the friendship between a dog and a little boy.
Early in 2015, I took Will Terry’s Illustrating Children's Books course and had a live critique with Will and Jake, just before SVS was launched.
I started working on picture book projects for clients as I studied, starting with illustrating a beautiful chapter book called 'The Magic Walnut' and from there I took on some illustration projects for self publishers and then new publishers.
Currently, I'm illustrating 3 children’s books. One is called, ‘If I Were King King’. This story is the reason I started drawing in 2011 and is influenced from my time working with historical images. The story is about King King, who will do anything to take over the only robot making machine left and keep all the robots, to create his army... Until he discovers something new and more dazzling. It’s a dystopian comedy set in the future for 7-10 year olds.
'Nanny's Garden' is for younger children and is a touching story that practically everyone can relate to, which deals with the emotional subject of losing a grandparent.
'The North Pole Secret' is a lighthearted and fun Christmas story about young Rudolph whose unglowing nose sets him on an arctic adventure where he learns the North Pole's grandest secret.
I'm enjoying being where I am artistically, learning about storytelling techniques and I'm always thinking about experimenting and developing a unique visual language. This is a life-long exploration, and I plan to be storytelling and illustrating for a lifetime.
You've shared some personal projects that evolved from your goal to draw every day, such as your 365 Little Tiger illustrations last year. Could you talk about how that project evolved and what it resulted in?
In April 2017, I started a 30 day sketch book drawing project based on Henri Rousseau's jungle paintings. On day 30, I drew a cute tiger character in a tree full of birds. There was something interesting there and so I continued, first to 100 days then to do 365 drawings. I wasn't sure if I would get it done in a year and gave it a go. It took a year and 3 months to get 365 doodles. I shared the drawings on the forum and received so much feedback and encouragement, it was a fun time. I chose my favorites from the collection and inked the line work digitally (then made them into a colouring book. -Ed). The 'Little Tiger and Friends' colouring book is now available on Amazon and I'm currently working on the second colouring book which is for even younger children. I'm working on some patterns for Little Tiger which would be perfect for children's bedroom decor, so step by step, I will get that done. Also I'm working on a collection of needle point kits with the Little Tiger characters.
You have seven beautiful finished books featured on your website. Is being an illustrator your full time work, or do you balance that with other professional endeavors? Also, do you have an agent or find illustration jobs for yourself?
Yes, I'm a full time illustrator. I create illustrations for museums and recently had a brilliant project creating illustrations for a children's museum.
I joined with my agent Allied Artists in October 2018. We are working to sell 'Nanny's Garden' and 'The North Pole Secret' children's books.
I'm focusing on finishing more stories into 2020. It's an exciting time.
What has been the biggest thing you've learned or realized recently through your work as an illustrator?
Finish what you start even if it takes longer than you think it will. When I was on the home stretch of the 365 day project I got behind and I kept a quote in mind:
'Accountability not ability, determine your success.'
Having fun with your art and having a story to tell are the keys to creating great energetic and charismatic art for children. As visual storytellers in publishing, our job is to engage children to read so they can grow in confidence to be what they want to be. We are in a position to be able to support and nurture children through our work and share positivity through art and I appreciate the opportunity.
What are some things you are doing now to keep progressing with your art skills/career?
Reading children's books on Youtube to keep up to date with what art is making it, what stories are being written and understand the stories and storytelling techniques that kids relate to and love most. Studying art from the past from all around the world. I'm drawing 100 fairy drawings at the moment and sharing the illustrations on the SVS Forum.
Do you have any suggestions for newer illustrators on how to pursue their art goals and use the tools on SVS Learn?
Alongside the good pictures you create you'll create a lot of stuff that doesn't look how you wanted it to look. With initiative and drive the things you see in your minds eye will start to reveal themselves. Only you can imagine the things you will create, so take what you create seriously and get it out into the world as best as you can with the skills you have in the moment.
Play never gets old. Keeping a sketchbook is the best playground for developing your ideas and visual language.
Think of the tools on SVSLearn as ways to make you own projects better rather than a specialised class learning one skill. Share your works in progress to the SVSLearn forum to get involved with the best art community and start to find your way at your own pace.
Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview!