'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 24 January 2019

Meet the Illustrator: Melissa Bailey

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.  A little bit of humour. A lot of cute.

What items are an essential part of your creative space?  Light. Enough room so I can spread out and get comfortable. The supplies needed to complete the artwork.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?  
Watercolour. Sometimes watercolour combined with coloured pencils.

Name three artists whose work inspires you.  Oh, this is a toughie! Since there are so many, I’m limiting myself to current children’s book illustrators, and even then it’s near impossible to narrow it down to three.
1. Erin Stead. LOVE the texture, heart and detail in her work. Everything she does is gorgeous.
2. David Wiesner. If you haven’t yet, read Art and Max. And Flotsam. Genius.
3. Bruce Whatley. Diary of a Wombat is one of my all-time favourite books. He infuses his characters with humour and personality.

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?  
Since I’m an old fashioned girl, I’d like to go back and visit Hill Top Farm for an art day with Beatrix Potter. Wouldn’t it just be lovely to sit and watch her paint?

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?  Children’s books. I’ve loved them all my life, devouring them since starting to read at the age of two. In the past three months alone I’ve read 139 picture books. (Yes. I counted.) One of my first favourite books was a tiny hardcover Peter Rabbit—the pages were so thick and glossy and felt wonderful when I touched them … and the illustrations! Even being so young, I fell in love with Beatrix Potter’s style and marvelled at her skill. That was when my secret little dream of one day being a children’s book illustrator was born. Of course, I thought that was probably never going to happen so it took a long time to work up the guts to go for it. My family and friends are to thank for that.

Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most often? Talk us through it.  
Sure! I’ve cleaned it up a little for you, but it is lived and worked in nearly every day. First, let’s talk about the window—so much light! This was originally the dining room, but I took it over as my studio. The drafting desk was given to me by a friend—a construction company was going to throw it out. I love the raw wood top that has mellowed with age and use; there’s very little glare so it’s easy on the eyes. The L-shaped desk was built by a friend and cost under $80 (USD)—it’s 8 feet long, giving me tons of work space. There’s extra organisation on the walls: a hanging file folder and wood crates that have been converted to shelves holding coloured pencil and watercolour supplies. Lastly there’s my laptop and chair where I do boring admin, correspondence, photo editing, things like that. My balance ball chair is AMAZING—no more muscle cramps, my posture has improved, and it’s super comfortable for a girl with short, stubby legs! And down in the corner by my chair is Archie’s fleece doggie blanket that he brought home as a puppy and still curls up on while I work.

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?  As much as I love to draw and figure out the puzzle that is fitting text and pictures into an effective composition, my favourite part is painting and finishing an illustration. I love the creamy feel of watercolour fresh out of the tube, then watching it do its thing on the paper—that’s when I really get in the groove and tune out everything else, even noises and someone trying to talk to me. Apparently, it’s rather annoying when I do that.

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?  
1. Cultivate your inner child and see the world from a child’s eyes. Talk, interact with and listen to kids—if you don’t have kids, borrow one for the day, or a few hours. They’re your target audience.
2. Read children’s books. A lot of them. Classics and best sellers. Keep up with the current market. Study the interplay of text and illustrations to learn what makes a children’s book work.
3. Story is key. When I first started out, I mistakenly thought that my art had to fit into a certain “children’s illustration” style. That’s simply not true! Look at the children’s books out there—you’ll find one in every style. What is important is telling the story. Stay true to YOU as an artist, just make sure it’s kid-friendly.
4. One more thing: illustrating a children’s book is a collaborative process. Be open to comments, suggestions, and changes. Be a good communicator. The book, and your work, will be better for it.

Some fun facts about Melissa Bailey:
· Illustrator of 48 children’s books, mostly for small publishers and self-publishers
· Author/illustrator, Pug Is Happy (2018)
· Self-taught artist
· Reads too many books
· Unabashedly old-fashioned
· Nature walk aficionado, which is a good thing (see below)
· Owned by two poodles who demand two walks a day
To find out more, follow Melissa on instagram or check out her website.