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Interview with Children’s Book Illustrator Amy Moreno

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I recently had the chance to chat with Amy Moreno, whose illustrations for The Doll Violinist make her a finalist (together with the story) at the ABC's Children's Picture Book Competition. Amy talks about the artistic temperament, the competitive world of children's book publishing, and offers advice to novice artists who want to break into the field.

How long have you been working as a freelance artist and illustrator?

I studied commercial art/illustration in Boston in the early 1980s and have been working in the field as a freelance illustrator since the early 1990s.

Did you always know you would become one?

Yes and no. I always enjoyed drawing and painting, but was not sure I would pursue art as a major until I was in 11th grade. I had also considered teaching.

Do you think artists are born?

Ah, the age old question. No one knows for sure, but I believe that more than the actual mechanical ability to draw or paint is the ability to see things and a deep drive or desire to capture it on paper, canvas, clay, music, etc.

The ability to paint or drawn can be learned by anyone who desires it deeply. The desire and drive is the key. I think that as far as having a sensitivity to things around us, that is what makes an artist. This explains the ability many writers, musicians, painters have to switch back and forth into crafts and be multi-talented in music, drama, painting, writing. It’s the nature of feeling things deeply and expressing them in different ways.

Do you have a favorite medium or style?

My favorite medium is oil paint, although I have put it aside for many years due to having small children. It isn’t an easy medium to store, or leave out with small children. I am finally able to use it again, and am thrilled. I also enjoy graphite, pen and ink, and colored pencil and gouache.

How competitive is the world of children’s book publishing for illustrators?

It is an extremely competitive field. There is an abundance of incredibly talented illustrators filling the market. Any artist who reaches the point of illustrating a picture book has surmounted incredible odds, and achieved a nearly impossible feat. I have heard one children’s illustrator clarify that this is the entertainment industry in many ways, and as such, the level of difficulty is parallel.

What are your sources of inspiration?

My faith in God is the main source of my inspiration, which brings great hope and joy. I am inspired by my own children, and my nieces, nephews, and children’s friends. Many of my childhood memories are a huge source of inspiration as well. The list could go on forever. I enjoy listening to good music of many kinds, and browsing through thrift shops, antique shops, and of course viewing a multitude of picture books.

Would you like to share with our readers a bit about any of your current or future projects?

I am working on a children’s book by Mayra Calvani at the moment. It is a delight to work on. I have been painting it in oils, and am busy finding reference materials for the period, which is the Victorian era.

What is the most fascinating part of being an illustrator? What is the most frustrating?

One of the most fascinating parts of being an illustrator is reading a story, and bringing that sense to others in the art I create. Illustrating opens the door to learning things I’d never have learned otherwise. I also enjoy learning new things when researching history and background for illustrations. I’ve been learning much about the Victorian era while creating the art for The Doll Violinist.

Describe a regular day in Amy Moreno’s life. Do you follow a disciplined schedule?

My schedule varies depending on what is going on in my family’s schedule. I have three active kids. I do most of my work during the mornings when they are in school, or late at night when they are asleep. I sometimes take advantage to sketch ideas in doctor’s and dentist’s offices, or at the pool this past summer, and in any spare moments.

Tell us a bit about the author/illustrator relationship. Is it difficult trying to bring to life the settings and characters created in the author’s mind? How do you achieve this?

The author/illustrator relationship is sometimes virtually non-existent in some publishing situations, but when it does exist, it requires a balance of listening carefully, while trying to maintain a sense of one’s own imagination of the story. I usually read the story various times and let it sit in my mind. Usually without even trying to do research the images fill my mind. If the story is a good one, I usually have no trouble at least getting started with the main setting and characters.

Do you sometimes suffer from artist’s block?

Yes. I believe every artist does. It comes and goes, but mainly I just push through by resting, running, reading good books, looking at good art, eating chocolate, or just working on through it.

Let's talk about the artist's temperament. In Kate Chopin's classic The Awakening, Emma is told that an artist must possess "the courageous soul… the brave soul… the soul that dares and defies." Do you think this is true for illustrators as well?

It is most certainly true, and if one can break past fear and push forward, not focusing on pleasing others, but being true to one’s vision and voice, the fear fades, and the images are all the stronger for it.

Do you have a website where readers may learn more about you and see samples of your work?

Yes. I have a website and I also have a blog about the business of illustrating for children.

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

Don’t fear hard work. Continue to learn about painting, writing, and anything that captures your attention. Draw as much as possible to keep a keener sense of what things look like and how they work, but if you can’t draw or create art as much as you’d like, don’t despair. Read! Read more.

In the midst of marketing your work and attempting to succeed as an illustrator, don’t lose sight of the love of painting and creating images. Create what you love most, not what others want. If your illustrators come from your heart and what you enjoy drawing, others will see it in the art and be drawn to it. They’ll be knocking at your door soon.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.