You may remember meeting illustrator Erica Sirotich here on my blog before when we read about “The Road that Trucks Built” (and her adorable construction trucks). Today I am interviewing her as both an author and an illustrator for her picture book debut “Found Dogs” which came out this summer.
Erica Sirotich is another multi-talented illustrator with activity books, coloring pages, and illustration work on her own books AND on others. She has won awards, published in magazines like Highlights and is generally busy pursuing her artistic passions. You can learn more about her at her website.
Her debut picture book is about a subject near and dear to her heart: shelter dogs. She even owns a dog just like this! “Found Dogs” is a simple counting book, BUT the dogs are what make all the difference. Each and every one is adorable and infused with TONS of character that leaves the reader hoping that each and every one finds a home and a happy ending.
Welcome back Erica!
Me: “Found Dogs” is your picture book author/illustrator debut. That’s exciting! What draws you to picture books?
Erica: I’ve been reading and collecting books my whole life, and drawing too. I like all kinds of books but, to me, picture books showcase some of the best illustration work in the world, so I really cherish them. The opportunity to work on kid’s books has been a dream. The opportunity to meet the little readers who enjoy these books is a whole new level! I can’t get enough of it!
Me: Which came first: your own written and illustrated work ( like “Found Dogs”) or illustrating others’ work (like “The Road that Trucks Built”)? Which do you prefer?
Erica: Illustrating others’ work came first. Found Dogs is my only experience with authoring and illustrating a work from start to finish; I do have a few other projects in the works, but there’s still a lot to do before they see the finish line. I love the creative freedom that a self-created work allows. But illustration-only projects are great because they provide an opportunity to be immersed in a visual world that I might not have explored before. Most recently, I had the honor of illustrating Susanna Hill’s adorable The Road That Trucks Built. I tend to gravitate toward drawing animals and human characters, but with Trucks, construction vehicles were the stars of the book. I studied how each one worked, explored what kinds of personalities they might have, and developed them into characters. It was challenging, but also refreshing and fun.
Me: What does your illustration process look like?
Erica: My illustrations are 50% analog and 50% digital, and I shift between the two modes a couple times while I work. I first sketch everything by hand on paper, scan the sketches in, and then refine the composition in Photoshop, moving the sketch elements around till they’re just in the right place.
Back at the drawing table, I ink the sketches with pens or brushes and India ink, then scan those back in.
I often ink elements that overlap separately, so they can be layered in digitally. In Photoshop I arrange the ink drawings into a finished composition and color it using digital brushes and tools. Finally, I layer in textures, patterns, and ink washes for added depth.
Depending on the project, I work in either a super crisp, clean line art style (as in Trucks), or a slightly looser, more fluid line style (as in Dogs). When beginning a project I ask the art director or editor which they prefer. The processes for each are slightly different—I use different tools (brush pens and fine tip pens for the former, brushes and ink for the latter), and different digital processes too. The chosen style all depends on the publisher’s vision for the book.
Me: As you both wrote and illustrated this book, were there unique challenges you weren’t expecting? What was your favorite part of the process: writing or drawing?
Erica: Drawing is always my favorite part of the process and what comes most naturally to me. I draw almost every day, if not for a book or client project, then for fun. I’ve been writing a lot more lately, and am really enjoying it. But I feel I’m still developing an ear for the written word, still learning to really “hear” the patterns and cadences of language, the music of it, whereas my eye for illustration developed a long time ago. I can look at a drawing and, in many cases, instantly see what’s wrong with it. With a piece of writing, it takes a lot more digging.
Me: Any advice for other picture book illustrators?
Erica: Well, if they’re already illustrating picture books, they probably don’t need my advice! But to aspiring book illustrators I would say: research your genre; read and study as many recently published picture books as you can; join SCBWI, read their publications and resources, attend a conference if you can; draw, draw, draw. Don’t expect anything to happen too quickly. The picture book market is a slow moving beast. Build a professional-looking portfolio site and showcase only your best work. Then, every three to six months, have a postcard printed with one to two strong illustrations and your contact info, and send it to art directors. You can gather contact info from publications like the annual Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. In the meantime, seek freelance work in related publications, like children’s magazines. Keep at it. Don’t give up.
Me: Any other projects we can look forward to from you in the future?
Erica: Well, Found Dogs was the first of a two-book deal with my publisher, Dial, and I am working on book 2 now. But the process is moving slowly, so I can’t give any estimates yet as to when readers can expect it!
Me: There are LOTS of cute dogs in this book. It’s obvious that you had fun designing every single one. Is there a favorite dog in this book?
Erica: Oh boy, that’s a hard one! I really love the page of greyhounds (“7 dogs, quick and slick”). They were probably the most challenging dogs in the book; that page went through several designs and iterations, and for a couple days it kept me up at night. The final composition actually came to me in the middle of the night and I doodled it on my phone in the dark.
The next morning I translated that into a sketch, and then refined it into the finished drawing and illustration that you see in Found Dogs.
I also love the “6 dogs, spotty, shiny,” the “teeny-tiny” dogs, the slobbering dogs. ACK! I love them all! But one of my favorite things to hear from parents is that their kids pore over the book to pick out their favorite dogs. “This one. No, this one! No, THIS one!”
Aww! I agree that it’s hard to pick just one dog from this bunch. And isn’t that what we all aspire to hear? Kids connecting with our books. Awesome! Thank you for stopping by the blog again Erica.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to read this book, you must find a copy. It’s a great book to pour over with young readers and ask, “which dog is your favorite?” And if you can’t decide, Erica even has activity and coloring pages related to the book with a few of the dogs that you can download on her website! Maybe one of your favorites is over there? Check it out!