Sunday, July 25, 2010


I’m delighted today to be joined by Andy J. Smith, who describes himself as “an illustrator specializing in silly, cartoony children's art.” So many of us have bandied about the idea of writing picture books—and Andy’s here to let us know what the picture book world is like from an illustrator’s POV.

What's your background?

I went to The School Of Visual Arts in NYC and graduated with a degree in animation but took a handful of illustration and film electives and as many drawing classes as I was able. I worked in animation for about seven years in New York designing characters and backgrounds for TV and internet shows. After that I taught high school art and college illustration for a year before stumbling into illustration fulltime.

Why did you choose illustration (and kids' books) over other artistic pursuits?

I was always interested in children’s books and illustration but I never CHOSE illustration, per se. The idea of freelance ANYTHING was pretty scary to me. I would say I do kids’ books along with a lot of other artistic pursuits.

How do you continue to find work as an illustrator? Is it always through an agent?

I find work in as many ways as I’m able. Finding new clients and maintaining relationships with old ones is as big a part of being a freelance illustrator as anything. I send promotional mailers, display my artwork on my own website as well as “portfolio” sites like, continually give and get work through friends (one hand washes the other!), and occasionally clients find me on their own. My agents do a great job of getting my work into the right hands and getting it seen promptly. I’ve been writing a lot and I couldn’t imagine sending my work out to publishers without an agent, knowing it might just be festering in the slush pile.

Have you ever teamed up with a writer on your own? Do you always illustrate books that have already been acquired by a publishing house, or have you ever illustrated a book with the hopes that it would then find a house?

All the books I’ve illustrated were already acquired by the publisher. I haven’t worked with a writer prior to that process. I DO, however write and illustrate my own rough “dummy” books (with two finished pieces) that my agent will send around in the hopes of publication.

How does an illustration project begin?

That’s different with every project, publisher, book, and individual illustrator, but for my own original story ideas, I’ll usually ping pong back and forth between the words and pictures until each becomes more concrete. It’s a very reciprocal process for me.

Do you work collaboratively with the author? Do you submit initial sketches, or are the illustrations all your own?

I’ve never worked hand in hand with an author. It’s collaborative only in the sense that each person lends their talents to the marriage of words and pictures. The artist needs freedom to be able to bring their own ideas to the mix and not just be a mechanical hand. And yes, I submit rough sketches (often several rounds) to the publisher’s Art Director for approval prior to creating finished pieces of art.

What tools to do you use (watercolors, pencils, computer, etc.)?

Everything’s becoming more and more digital for me, but it’s fun to swing back into more traditional mediums to keep things fresh and challenge myself. You can’t really duplicate that tactile feel of canvas or pastel paper with a computer.

What's your daily schedule look like?

Freelance provides some degree of flexibility which is essential with my (lack of) schedule. It’s a daily struggle to juggle a 19 month-old daughter, 9 month-old puppy, never-ending home improvement jobs, exercise, time with my wife and various overlapping illustration/animation jobs.

What book or completed project are you the most proud of?

Hopefully the next one! I have a series of picture books making the rounds at the publishing houses now.

What are you working on now?

Doing freelance design and animation work for Sesame Street by day and writing and illustrating a new picture book manuscript/dummy involving an elusive peanut butter sandwich, in my free time.

What would you most like to work on in the future? What would be the dream assignment?

I’d really like to make some books that mean something, that have something to say, however silly and absurd that something might be.

Any advice for aspiring artists and illustrators?

Be yourself and let that come through in your artwork. It’s natural to have favorite picture book illustrators, but you’ll get nowhere copying their style. I could go on here forever, but really, just draw. Just draw—a lot.

…We’ve all got our fingers crossed for your picture book subs, Andy! In the meantime, you can check out more of Andy’s work at his website and blog.

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