Frequently Asked Questions

First, for a good bit of background info on me, this podcast interview by Pencil Kings is a great place to start.

These are the questions I get most often from students and people who are curious about the illustration and publishing industries.

Where did you go to school?

I attended Ringling College of Art and Design, and graduated in 2008 with a BFA in illustration.

How did you get your start as an illustrator?

Most of this is covered in the podcast I linked, but here's the quick version. I interviewed with several companies while I was at art school, and was hired as an apprentice at Reel FX Entertainment. I worked there as a concept artist/designer for five years on a range of commercial projects and film projects. There, I learned a lot about being a professional, getting work done on time, and worked on developing my art. In my spare time I updated my blog, sold prints of my work online, and starting researching the publishing world. I was offered my first picture book deal with Candlewick Press, and offered representation with Writers House. I attribute both things to having a frequently updated blog.

From there, I just did the best I could on the book jobs I was getting. Luckily the publishing industry is pretty small, and it was a snowball effect of me picking up more work. Since I was moonlighting as a freelance book artist while working at Reel FX during the day, I was starting to get too busy doing both. In 2012 I quit my job at Reel FX and have been illustrating books full time ever since.

How did you get an agent?

There are many resources online about getting a literary agent. Harold Underdown's website is one of the best and most informative. I got an agent the same way I started getting freelance work- I put my work online, updated my portfolio regularly, and had work that was relevant to the industry. I was first offered representation by a junior agent at Writers House, and after she left the agency, I was represented by my current agent, Susan Cohen. I lucked out- they found me, instead of the other way around. Research agents that rep work you like, and submit to the ones you're most interested in. Read and follow all submission guidelines. And listen to their feedback if they give you any.

What advice do you have for students who want to illustrate books?

Research! Go to book stores and see what sells. Read a lot of picture books. Read a lot of middle grade books if you want to illustrate for MG. Start following publishing people on twitter or blogs and learn what the industry is talking about and thinking about. On the art side of things, just draw as much as possible. Work on showing kids at specific ages. I used to draw people who could be either 16 or 35, and that doesn't work so well when a character is a very specific age. Show characters in a scene, not just static portraits of people.

Once you have a solid portfolio, get it online! Be active in social media, and remember there is no one "right" platform anymore. Some artists have thousands of followers on instagram, and none on tumblr, so don't worry if you aren't getting traction everywhere. The important thing is to just update your work a lot.

I also highly recommend conferences like SCBWI, Spectrum, ICON, or CTN. I really love the SCBWI world and have met lots of great people at the conferences.

What is the best part of your job? What is the hardest?

Getting to make art for a living is a wonderful feeling. Now that I work from a home studio, getting to control my hours and my schedule are great as well. When I worked at a studio, the best part was working with a team of artists and solving problems together. The hard parts? The hours can be very long, depending on deadlines. It's easy to become a shut-in working at home all the time. And, since illustration is an incredibly competitive market, it is easy to get discouraged and compare yourself to others. Overall, I really love my job and I think the benefits outweigh the negatives.

How do you paint your illustrations? What media do you use? Can I buy the originals?

Almost all of my illustrations are painted in Photoshop, using a Wacom Cintiq. I often start the illustration by digitally painting over a rough pencil sketch. For interiors I often work with a more rendered pencil sketch first, and add some Photoshop work on top. Because of the nature of this, I do not have many originals. Currently I am not selling any sketches or original drawings, this includes Nancy Drew sketches.

Should I work at a studio or become a freelancer?

Don't let an internet FAQ section determine your future for you! But, having done both, I'll say that I was very happy to have five years of stable income being at a studio. Being a freelancer requires a long runway, since jobs can take months or years to pay you. Freelancing is often called the "feast or famine" cycle. Sometimes you'll be drowning in work, sometimes you'll have no new jobs for a few months. I wanted to have 6 months or so of savings before I quit my job, and I was happy to have that peace of mind before I left the studio world.

Will you send me a sketch of Nancy Drew?

I am not currently taking personal commissions or selling original sketches of Nancy Drew. But, prints of my cover illustrations are available here!

Who are your biggest inspirations?

Too many artists to name. But Shaun Tan, Adam Rex, Lisbeth Zwerger, and William Joyce are the big ones. I also love photography, fashion design, and nature. Inspiration is best when it's varied.

Have a question I didn't answer? Feel free to shoot me an email- emcguirestudio@gmail.com