My Name is Vanessa Brantley-Newton and I am working agented illustrator. I am mainly self taught working in children's books publications, editorial, fine art, greeting cards and licensing work. I am also a working singer. My agent is Lori Nowicki of Painted-words.com I reside in Charlotte NC with my husband of 21 years and our daughter Zoe.
Websites: oohlaladesignstudio.blogspot.com and Painted-words.com
When did you first decide to become an illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
I pretty much knew that I wanted to be involved in the arts at a very, very early age. Both of my parents sang and played the piano and guitar. My sister Coy and I both learned to sing at the age of 2 and 3. The arts have always been a big part of our lives. I started drawing at the age of 3. I am dyslexic and my folks and I wouldn't find this out until I was 25 years old. Drawing or illustrating has always been my way of communicating with others. Reading was very hard for me and pictures seemed to help me understand.
I remember as a child a teacher coming into our classroom who was an illustrator or artist. I was so excited seeing the people coming out of the pencil or crayons. At the time that's what I called it! I knew then that I wanted to do the same. That teacher brought my heart such joy. I wanted to draw from the age of 3. Anything from Bugs Bunny to Bullwinkle and Rocky the Squirrel. I worked as a phlebotomist for 25 years and did nothing with my art except things for my church or a gift for family or friends. I worked as a freelance makeup artist as well. I took more classes on illustration when my husband lost his job in 2000. I took some more courses at the School of Visual Arts trying to really hone my gift in illustration.
Children's book illustration would find me. I started looking into children's books and fell in love with them and put a portfolio together. I did my own studies on Ezra Jacks Keats, Mary Blair, Fiep Westendorp, and Quentin Blake just to name a few. The more I learned the more I wanted to know and understand, and after attending my first SCBWI conference I decided that THIS is what I wanted to do professionally.
Who do you look up to? Who are your heroes in the industry?
Ezra Jack Keats and Tom Feelings would be some of the first. "The Snowy Day" would be the very first book I would get my hands on. I remember looking at the pictures and seeing for the first time a little brown boy as the main character in a children's book. He was beautiful and he looked just like me. His parents looked like my parents and his house like my house. Peter and I had to be the very best of friend or sister and brother in my head. Ezra's illustrations made me feel safe and understood. His collage pieces had texture and color and made my eyes dance and I wanted to do the same. Tom Feelings did a wonderful book called , "Jambo Means Hello". I loved his use of space with a pencil. His shading and characters made me happy. I met him once when I was 16. I remember being so awe struck by him that I wanted to do what he did. Mary Blair and Fiep Westendorp would also inspire me.
Now a days there are so many illustrators that I am taken with, Sasek, Bill Brown, Ed Fotheringham, Mo Willems, David Catrow, Leigh Hodgkinson, and a host of others, but Ezra and Mary standout the most for me.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I am mainly self taught. I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology and the School of Visual Arts. When I couldn't attend because of time and money I would just do my own studies and watch other artist and illustrators.
How do you keep it "fresh"?
By always looking to be inspired! Every where I go I am looking for inspiration! I carry a note book with me to capture moments and I am a people watcher. People inspire me to no end. We are characters and fun to watch. I am also in love with Pinterest and Polyvore! I can always find inspiration there. I also love to work in different media. I do a lot of work digitally , but I am wanting to really go back to my traditional media, collage and watercolor. These are my favorite. I want to break away from the computer and get back to touching and feeling the media in my hands!
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a few children's books. Scholastic's "A Birthday Cake For George Washington", Harper Collin's,"Hannah Sparkles", and a whole bunch of other books.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
The very first book I wrote and illustrated called, "Don't Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table." I did the book with Blue Apple Books. I was sitting on the book for 12 years and I finally got brave enough to share it with an editor and she took the book and ran with it. Proudest day was when it got published. I wanted to show the world my very multicultural family. I didn't see any books that reflected my family so I created one.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
I am always looking for new ways to express myself through art. I have been working with Adobe Photoshop for years and still haven't figured it all out yet! I have tried pastels, oils, paper, animation, what have you and I would love to try photography now. Mixing my illustrations with photography.
Any advice to the novice illustrator?
Hone your gift! Draw everything and anything. Don't be afraid to try different media for another level of effect! Keep pushing yourself to get better and better. You are your only competition!! Stop looking at everyone else and discover yourself and what you bring to the creative process and table.
What makes an illustration successful?
A little bit of everything I think. Simplicity , creativity and how it makes one feel.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
That is such an awesome question. I find that the longer I sit at my desk the more anxious I become. Sometimes I just have to get out and do something. Sometimes even create something for myself. Illustration is a process and it takes time. Sometimes only a few minutes, and then sometimes days or weeks. In the fast paced world we live in getting it done right away is the way, but is it the best way? I am longing to get away from technology for a moment and play with media again. Just to touch and feel paint on my fingers.
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't a designer/illustrator I would have been a..."
A singer or a circus performer.
And finally, what is the best thing on TV right now?
The Blacklist or Whose Line is it Anyway?
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