One of the troubles with making friends on the internet, is you don’t know what they sound like. I’ve been friends with Hazel for who knows how long, but I have never gotten to hear her wonderful accent. Please welcome Hazel Mitchell to the illustrator interview series.Originally I’m from Scarborough in Yorkshire, England. I moved to America in 2000 and now I live and work as a children’s illustrator in Maine. I still miss fish and chips and mushy peas, but I’m learning to love lobster. I have two dogs, two horses, a cat and several snow shovels. See more of my work and books at www.hazelmitchell.com.
Q: When did you start illustrating for children? What did you do before?
A: I really got serious about illustrating for children in 2004, when I moved to Maine. Before that I’d had a long and winding career path in art and design. I went to art college in England way back when, but didn’t enjoy it much. Illustration was a dirty word. I left art college and ended up in the Royal Navy, where, luckily enough, I worked in graphic design. When I left the Navy I ran a print and design business for 10 years. When I moved to America I did a mixture of fine art, teaching and commercial illustration. Then I finally got serious about my ambition to write and illustrate for children.
A: ‘1,2 3 by the Sea’ is a sweet counting book for young children, about a boy, his dog and his mom enjoying a day at the seaside and counting all kinds of different seaside things. ‘On Word Pearl‘ is a picture book about a girl who loves to cut out and collect words and put them in her special treasure chest – until one day the words go crazy and chaos ensues!
Q: Can share any of your “By the Sea” preliminary sketches or thumbnails? Was there a lot of interaction with editorial and art directors from the preliminary sketches to the final pieces?
A: I usually start a book with character sketches that I show to the editor and art director. Before I start doing the layout I will write a couple of lines about how I see the picture for each spread working and send those to the editor. If they are liking the way things are going, then I will do rough thumbnails. I will work those up into rough, larger spreads and show those to the team. After any feed back I will get straight into the drawings and do the first final to make sure that we are all on the same page. Usually I will work straight through after that on all the spreads. There may be tweaks when the finals go in. On this book we were pretty much all on the same page and they liked what I did almost straight away. The only tweaks were really on colors and the final spread, which was a little dark to start with.
Q: Does working on more than one book at a time have any challenges as an artist?
A: Yes. It’s hard to jump between projects …. I like to work on one project really and give it all my thought. But that is not usually possible. I’ve worked on several projects at once, but it is exhausting, so two is my limit now. Although sometimes, it’s nice to be able to leave something if you are having a hard time and work on something else for a bit! Gets the juices flowing again. And there are times when things are at proof and you are waiting. Deadlines at the same time though … hard.
A: Some other books include ‘How to Talk to an Autistic Kid‘ from Free Spirit (that won a gold medal from Foreword Reviews and several other nice things), ‘All Star Cheerleaders‘ a series of chapter books for Kane Miller, ‘Hidden New Jersey‘ from Charlesbridge and a cowboy book called ‘Double Crossed at Cactus Flats‘ from Magic Wagon out soon. I also do educational books.
Q: What are you working on now? Do you have any other art projects you’d like to talk about?
A: Right now I am revising a series of picture books for young children about math, plus a middle grade graphic novel and writing a MG adventure/mystery, which is a bit of a departure.
Q: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?
A: Lately it’s been all children’s illustration, but I would like to get back to painting some landscapes and doing more editorial work. I have a lot of different styles. I think that stems from my checkered career!
Q: Can you explain your illustration process?
A: It depends on the book. Mostly I like to do my drawing by hand in pencil and then colour digitally, but I am also using more hand painted and collaged elements in my work utilizing photoshop. I also love dipping-ink pen … that’s what I used in the series of Cheerleader books. I also love watercolour, so maybe I will be working more in that too, in the future.
Q: What is your favorite working medium? Have you always worked in this media? If not, why did you switch?
A: Pencil and digital. But nothing is set in stone … I like working in a lot of different mediums. Which drives AD’s crazy.
Q: Do you use models/source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
A: Depends on the subject matter. For example I needed to spend time watching little cheerleader videos when illustrating them. I will use source photos for positioning, but I like to draw from imagination, because it doesn’t look stale. If I had a very character heavy book I would look for a model. Sometimes time is the issue in how I work, because deadlines dictate how much time you can spend on research.
Q: What gets you through an illustration when you’re stuck for inspiration?
A: Chocolate and BBC Radio 4.
Q: What one bit of advice would you give to an aspiring picture book illustrator looking to get into the industry?
A: Learn your craft.
Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be? Why?
A: An international show-jumper. It was my childhood ambition.
Q: If you could illustrate any writer’s new work, who would it be? Why?
A: Philip Pullman. His descriptions are just wonderful. And he is English ;-).
Because Hazel is wonderful like that, if you leave her a comment below, she’ll give away a signed copy of 1, 2, 3, by the sea to one lucky reader. Thanks Hazel!
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