Since launching my new blog this month, I’ve been rolling out new series each week. One of the series I’m most excited about is this one: We Might Could Chat. Once a month, I’ll be interviewing a illustrator, artist, or designer that I admire and respect. I’ll attempt to dive deep with them and talk about all those ambiguous things like creativity, inspiration, success, and failure. This is the first installment in the series. Thanks for reading!
Today I’m chatting with the lovely, sweet, and immensely talented children’s illustrator, Christiana Sandoval. Christiana has travelled the world with her illustration work, attending conferences and collecting awards around the globe. She is currently working on an audiobook children’s literature collection. Christiana and I met at an SCBWI conference a couple years ago, and we instantly clicked. She’s a joy to be around, and I can’t state enough how talented she is. Today we’re going to talk about her evolution as an artist, where she finds inspiration, and her process and routines. To see more of her amazing work, visit her website or follow her on Instagram. Now let’s chat!
Thanks so much for joining me, Christiana! So, to begin: did you study art in school, or are you self-taught?
I went to Virginia Commonwealth University and majored in Communication Arts ( aka “Illustration”).
And do you work full-time as an illustrator, or do are you also employed elsewhere?
Currently I am working as a full time illustrator. Sometimes freelance is a bit unpredictable with the work load so from time to time I’ll pick up a part time job somewhere for the slow seasons.
Totally. What inspires you? Is there anything you do to overcome art block?
I love traveling and experiencing new things. Whenever I learn or see something new I like to include it in my art work. When I get art block I like to go through other artist’s work who inspire me. For example I love the old classic fairytale illustrations, and flipping through a book filled with beautiful images can really help me cultivate some new ideas and techniques. Definitely having a library full of pretty art books helps. I also really enjoy watching well done animated movies and watching the backgrounds and composition layouts of the scenes.
Oh, I can definitely see the influence of classic fairytales in your work! Your style is so beautiful and distinctive. How did you get there?
I always liked fantasy best in literature and artwork. I think I really knew that it was something that I wanted to pursue when I saw The Lord of the Rings Trilogy when I was in middle school.The concept artists for the movies were Alan Lee and John Howe and the images they created were so breathtaking, the idea that you could create such beautiful artwork for a living seemed like the dream to follow.
That’s awesome. While we’re on the topic of childhood, what book had the most impact on you as a child?
ANIMALIA by Graeme Base.
Yes! I can totally see the influence that book has had on your work now even years later! The magical realism and whimsy is similar to the feel of your work. Ok, so now you’re a full-time illustrator. What’s a day in the life like for you?
I find I am becoming more of a morning person these days so I wake up early (although the pj’s stay on till about 11am, which is one of the perks of freelancing). If I don’t have a huge work load or a tight deadline I like to doodle for a bit as a warm up. Doodles can be quick ideas in my sketchbook or just something personal that I would like to work on for myself. Then by mid-morning I start on the freelance work, answering emails, phone calls, art meet-ups, etc. I like to stop around 4 to take a breather and then I get started again around 8pm and go till about midnight depending on the work load.
Sounds like a great day! I’m definitely in my PJs until at least noon most days as well. What’s your favorite thing to draw?
Such a difficult choice! The word I find myself constantly using is “whimsical”. Anything whimsical, whether it is an idea, animal, plant, outfit. In my portfolio you will find a lot of dragons, animals and fairy tale characters.
That’s a great description of your work. Who is your favorite artist?
Oh, wow. I’m about to go creep on all those websites! You often work in watercolor, which is such a finicky material, and your mastery of it is amazing. What’s your general process for an illustration?
I alway plan out a drawing first with thumbnails and rough sketches. It’s important to get the good ideas out where you can see them as well as the bad. Then I start the drawing with a light pencil, and these days I’ve been favoring the Prismacolor Verithins red pencil. The areas I want more contrasted I may go over with a 4b graphite pencil. Then I apply watercolors and darker lines on top. I am also newly experimenting with some inks these days for those tiny details. I then scan the work into the computer and sometimes will do a little tweaking so that the scan does the original justice and voila!
Awesome! How do you feel when you’re drawing or painting?
When it is an illustration that I am passionate about, I feel completely at peace and fulfilled.
Mmm… that flow state. So good. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve learned from in your career?
It is not a race! I find myself and other artists I know getting caught in the rat race to become “successful” immediately . Whether success means landing an agent, publishing 30 books, or having thousands of Instagram followers, it’s all a useless if it doesn’t bring you happiness. Going down the artist’s road is very long and difficult and can be disheartening, but you do it because it makes YOU happy and that you have a gift that you can share with this world.
Oh my gosh, yes. That took me so long to learn, and I still struggle with it. Can you give some advice to any designers or artists out there who want to learn to do what you do?
Always practice as often as you possibly can. Whether it is working from life, researching technique, or drawing a page of something you want to become better at. Get involved in your local art community because it is always nice having other artists to bounce ideas off of and support each other. I joined SCBWI a few years ago and that has helped me really learn a lot about the children’s book industry, as well as meet fellow children’s illustrators such as the lovely talented Christine Nishiyama. Try different kinds of art such as painting, graphic design and animation because you may be surprised what each different category can teach you and help you grow!