Welcome! Welcome to the usual suspects, as well to those of you who are participating in Little Pickle Press’ blog tour for What Does It Mean To Be Safe? by Rana DiOrio.
Today we talk to illustrator Sandra Salsbury, whose lively illustrations bring D’Orio’s text to life. Salsbury studied illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA. She received her BFA in December 2006 and her MFA in August 2009. She currently resides in Mountain View, CA with her two cats, Gypsy and Winston. “I am, however, not a crazy cat lady,” she adds. When she’s not illustrating or teaching art classes (she combines teaching and illustrating careers) she likes hiking and doing yoga.
She stops in for a quick conversation today. Enjoy the pictures, and feel free to weigh in with your comments and questions.
BodieP: A book like What Does It Mean To Be Safe has a serious message for kids. How is illustrating a book with a message like this different from illustrating a kids’ book primarily designed to entertain?
Sandra: As an illustrator, I don’t really feel like I should approach the two types that differently. Even though What Does It Mean To Be Safe? has a serious message, it still has to be entertaining in some regard so that children will want to read it. As the illustrator, it was really my job to bring that entertainment factor into the story. I need to create characters to follow and a narrative that goes along with the message.
BodieP: How do you think illustrations help to shape the reading experience?
Sandra: In the case of What Does It Mean To Be Safe? the illustrations add a story element to the book. If you just read the manuscript, it’s a list of ways to be safe. I think the written aspect of the book has an extremely important message, but it’s not a story. The illustrations add a layer of meaning to the text. The book then doesn’t just tell you how to be safe, it also shows children following the message of the book.
BodieP: I notice on your website that you work in a variety of media. Which is your favorite?
Sandra: Definitely watercolor. I love the clean, crisp quality of the colors and the level of detail that one can achieve with it. I also find it much easier to mix the exact colors I want. It’s also an extremely portable media and very easy to clean up.
BodieP: Illustration is one of those jobs that seem like they’d be a lot of fun (at least from the outside, looking in). it’s easy to think of it as a license to doodle all day. What’s it really like? Can you walk us through a typical project?
Once we officially started working on the What Does It Mean To Be Safe? I had the manuscript, but we didn’t have an overall story for the book. I would say that this was the biggest challenge and probably the aspect that took the most time. Before I could even start working on the sketches, we had to decide what was going on in each page. Who would the characters be? What are they doing? Once that was decided, we moved on to rough sketches, and then more defined sketches, then final drawings, and then changes to the final drawings. From the very beginning scribbles to the final painting, pages may go through a dozen variations, each which had an approval process. Once the final paintings were done, I took them to a scanner and they were sent to the designer to create the layout of the book. The whole process took about 4.5 months.
BodieP: Are you a “pure” illustrator, or is that one of multiple hats you wear? Care to share what the others might be?
Sandra: Unfortunately, I am not able to work as an illustrator full time. I would like to make the transition one day, but I am not sure when that point will be. I have been working with children for about 10 years now. I teach art at a local community art school and I also work in the school districts in my area.
BodieP: How does technology affect the work you do? (For example, do you use a computer in your creative process? Does it factor into the editing of your images? Do you deliver mounted illustrations or scans?)
Sandra: The biggest role that technology plays in my work is communication. I am able to send scans of my sketches to my art director and hear back from her in the same day. Even the same hour, sometimes. I can’t imagine how long this process would have been if I had to mail things back and forth! As for my actual work, the internet is great for reference images, but beyond that, I don’t use the computer in my work very much. I will occasionally touch up images in Photoshop, but nothing major.
BodieP: Do you think technology has improved or harmed the world for designers?
Sandra: Technology has definitely improved things for artists, if not for all the programs that are now available, then for the ease of communication. There was once a time when illustrators basically needed to live in New York. Now publishing companies can work with people anywhere in the world.
BodieP: You’re an illustrator. That’s something many people dream of doing. If you had to offer advice to those who would like to get into the field, what would you suggest?
Sandra: Learn how to market yourself. This is by far the biggest challenge for me, and one that I haven’t overcome yet. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your work is if no one ever sees it. Drawing and painting is only 50% of your job. You also need to manage your website, contact publishers, go to conferences, send mailers, negotiate contracts, and so on.
BodieP: I notice you have your work divided into illustrations, sketches, and fine art. How do you differentiate among them?
Sandra: My illustrations are finished pieces that have a narrative element to them. Most of them are based on a story or text or some sort. My sketches are basically my doodles. I don’t want to paint a full narrative piece every time I sit down to paint. Sometimes I just want to draw something silly, and that sort of falls in the sketches category. My fine art section contains figure, portrait, and landscape studies.
If you’d like to email Sandra about her work you can do so here. If you’d like to see more of her work, you can do that here. To order a copy of What Does It Mean to be Safe? visit Little Pickle Press online, or find them on Amazon. Note that there is a free shipping code (BBTSAFE) that you can use at checkout.That will also get you a free TerraSkin (tree-free paper) poster to go with the book.