My Southern Living blog tour continues with an interview with Alice Ratterree. I met her at the 2011 SCBWI Carolinas event. She heard me speak up at a breakout session about how my blog deals with two completely different topics, writing and infertility. And although in my mind they are both struggles, at the time, I wasn’t so sure readers would want to follow along. She approached me regarding secondary infertilty and after I spoke with her I looked her art work and immediately I knew she was amazing.
I’ve had her postcard pinned up next to my desk since.
Her illustrations capture the many changebale moods of children. From mischieviousness, frustration, fear, curiosity, joy to rest. They are magical. Her character’s eyes are honest in a way that makes you keep looking into them and wondering, whose eyes are these?
Her images make you want to read and share stories. I was thrilled to learn that she won the 2012 SCBWI Carolinas Art & Writing Contest. I had already sent her my interview questions and felt for a brief moment that I recognized her talent before they did. I am excited to share her work and insights on illustrating with you.
Without further ado, I give you Alice Ratterree
1. What does your desk look like and how much of the time do you work there?
I work from home in an area that can best be described as a sunroom – a long, narrow space that runs beside our living room and has one wall filled with divided light windows, under which my desk runs. I love those windows! This tiny little room is truly what sold me when we were house hunting. When I sit at my desk, I can look out into the outdoors and see sky and green. Oddly enough, the walls are not covered with art or prints, and there are no bulletin boards overflowing with tacked images for inspiration, which I sort of envisioned when embarking the life as an illustrator initially. I’ve found rather that I like having a clean slate around me, so keeping clutter to a bare minimum is a constant goal of mine, fighting back any post-its or stray items (although I’m not always very successful at this!) Access to the office is open, so while I cannot close a door and escape into “Bookland” entirely, it does provide sufficient seclusion for me right now, given there are still little people in the house.
As for the amount of time that I spend there, it really depends on what phase of the illustration process I’m in. I rarely draw at this desk, as there is only enough room for the digital stage of my work. When hand drawing, I have a dreamy drafting table that lives in our spare bedroom, which is ideal. But really, I like to move around the various rooms within our home during this phase of the work. There have been equal successes at the kitchen and dining room tables, in my bedroom, my children’s bedrooms…it depends on the time of day, the light….and yes, the children. As a woman trying to do the balancing act of motherhood and illustration, mobility is a valuable thing! This year I moved from a desktop to a laptop, and recently multi-tasked a few hours of color work while in my son’s room surrounded by Legos! That said, I still believe in one central place where it all comes together…headquarters, so to speak. So I mostly keep the laptop connected to a monitor like a traditional desktop setup, when at home, and make sure that all pieces make their way back to the office in the end.
2. Please describe the process you go through when working on an illustration.
It can be summed up into four stages: brainstorm/research, draw, scan and color. Each phase gets progressively easier and enjoyable!
After chewing on an idea in my brain for a few days (or a few hours, depending on the turn around time and how much the creative juices are flowing), I usually begin by laying out a rough idea that consists of groups of circles and arcs representing the general layout of figures, objects and (most importantly) the energy of the composition. If there are any difficult poses, gestures, or animals I’m not entirely comfortable with, then I’ll research images and do some practice sketching.
The next phase is about creating a clean and finished hand drawing in just pencil or pen (no color). The way I achieve a final drawing is somewhat backwards and maybe a bit unorthodox. First of all, I’m not a fan of multiple separate drafts. The paper I start with is usually the paper I finish with, like a sculpture that keeps emerging. Secondly, I like to work from the inside out as opposed to outside in, starting with the innermost point of where the emotional action takes place – eyes and face of the central character. Everything else orbits this focal point, and is created in respect to that relationship. Sometimes I end up with several sheets of paper taped together to make it all balance and work out! Because it all becomes digital eventually, taped edges and stray sketch lines get cleaned up in Photoshop.
Scanning: sounds simple enough, but it can be very time-consuming making your drawing digital! I draw big, so I have to scan in pieces then spit them out into layers in Photoshop. To align the layers up correctly, the opacity of the top layer is decreased and then rotated to fit perfectly over the layer underneath. I gently erase the hard edges of each scan and then merge everything into one document. A final clean up might be needed to get rid of stray paper imperfections, marks and levels.
Now the fun begins – coloring! Staying in Photoshop, I maintain the purity of the original scan by adding a layer underneath and above, and set the middle layer (the scanned drawing) to multiply. Almost all the “paint” color is added to the bottom layer. With the paint bucket tool I cover the entire bottom layer in a sepia tone that I create. White is dreadful to work on! The sepia color provides such a strong, warm middle ground to add darks and lights. It gives unity to the colors in final image, even if there is not much sepia seen in the end. The layer above the scan is used only for adding highlights or shadows, and strengthening intensity of color.
I believe in always evolving and modifying process based on what the story dictates, and as you develop as an artist, so ask me the same question in a year or two and it may be entirely different! This particular process was inspired by Nicolas Fructus, who was featured in a gem of a book, Illustrations With Photoshop: A Designer’s Notebook (O’Reilly Media) and you can read more about it on my blog on Process. (http://www.aliceink.com/?p=28)
3. Do you have a favorite character that you have created? If so what makes it your favorite?
My first love is illustrating characters I haven’t created! There’s a distinct magic in collaboration, a thrill in bringing something new to a character that someone else has created, whether it be contemporary or one that has already been loved by generations of readers. This year we were asked to illustrate the first paragraph of Alice’ Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll for the SCBWI Carolinas Annual Art & Writing Contest. I absolutely adored getting lost in the possibilities of creating an Alice, a White Rabbit, and Alice’s sister, all whom I’ve known my entire life!
This is her winning submission of Alice in Wonderland.
But I often dabble with Illustration Friday (http://www.illustrationfriday.com/) a weekly illustration challenge, and this venue has allowed me to venture out into practicing with new characters that are uniquely my own. The image below is for an IF challenge in which the word prompt was “Launch.” This boy makes me happy because he is all mine, and I feel like he has a story, I just haven’t written it yet.
4. Were you a doodler when you were a kid?
I’ve been told that as a toddler I approached just about everything as a blank canvas, from walls to furniture, and even my own body! My notes in high school were always covered in doodles along the margins. I’m sure I didn’t appear attentive, but it was truly the only way I could listen and remember things!
5. What inspired you to be an illustrator?
Two things are necessary to catapult you into a career: the seed of passion and someone to guide you and give you a boost. Let me start with my boost. My boost was attending a lecture on children’s book writing and illustration at the local museum. Well actually, the boost came from who I met there. At the time, I was just thinking about switching careers towards children’s book illustration and had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and therefore had no idea what I would be hearing or if it was even worth the money to hire the babysitter to get out of the house and go. Let me just say it was. The illustrator speaking that evening was Bonnie Adamson, Assistant Regional Advisor for for SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Carolinas (http://www.scbwicarolinas.org/) . Upon seeing her images during the lecture, I was immediately moved by the graceful soft lines, the use of color and space, and her ability to balance nostalgia with humor. Everything about her and her work resonated kindred with me, and so it felt completely natural to me to just approach her after the event and tackle her with the question, “How do I do what you do?” She said, “First join SCBWI” I went home that night (paying the sitter more than I needed to because it was WORTH it) and joined. For anyone who is not familiar with SCBWI, it is the premier hub of the publishing industry for young audiences. Here’s the link to their founding story and what they do. (http://www.scbwi.org/Pages.aspx/Who-We-Are—What-We-Do) Bonnie has since become a friend and mentor, the one opened that first door, and she’s still opening doors!
My education and background lies primarily in music and the theatre. I trained as a classical singer with studies in opera, oratorio and musical theatre. The seed that fuels that passion is the same seed that inspires me to illustrate. Both crafts are about delivering a story in a beautiful way to a captive audience. I spent a brief time working with The South Carolina Children’s Theatre (http://www.scchildrenstheatre.org/) working in just about every aspect from scenic and costume design to stage and musical direction. While there, I found myself creating oodles of drawings of these charming stories and characters for production purposes. Illustrating for children’s books was just a natural progression that came out of my love for music, art and theatre. I still approach all my compositions like a scene on stage with three distinct spaces: upstage, center stage and downstage.
6. Do you have a sketchpad?
My large sketchpad holds my drawing paper. I pull out individual sheets for projects I’m working on, but I’m still trying to find a way for a small and portable traditional sketchpad or sketchbook to fit into my life! I buy dozens of them, different sizes and colors, with different kids of paper inside. They might have a few doodles in them, but they’re mostly spending lots of lonely time on the shelf. Sketchbooks just feel so constricting to me. My office is therefore littered with stacks of single sheets of paper or even scraps of paper where ideas come to fruition. Maybe I’ll just get these bound one day and call that my sketchpad!
7. What programs do you illustrate with?
I always start the old-fashioned way: just pencil and paper. I use Adobe Illustrator as a means for tracing drawings if I want them in vector format, and Photoshop to add color to the scans for a more traditional, softer look.
8. How does being southern influence your work?
I’m not sure that I can be objective enough to see the southern influences in my work. I’m sure that they are there, since after all, we write what we know and draw what we see. My husband and I own primarily early American southern furniture and these work their way into my drawings because they are right there in front of me. Here’s an example. In this image, the chair behind Greycie is an old cane chair that had been handed down to us from my husband’s family.
But nevertheless, I still didn’t see this girl as southern – rather in more of an eclectic New England attic (I’ve spent some time living in Boston, too) In the end, I hope that I can be more influenced by the story, and have the skills to travel outside the boundaries of where I live in order to create a powerful illustration.