SCBWI Bologna 2012 Author-Illustrator Interview: Lesley Vamos

By Stephanie Ruble
for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Lesley Vamos studied at both the College of Fine Arts where she earned a Distinction in their B.A. of Digital Media degree and was on the vice chancellors list after a year studying Design at Curtin University of Technology in Perth.

Since leaving university, she has broadened her artistic influences by enrolling in various online and short courses both in Sydney and Los Angeles (where she exchanged at the University of California, Irvine and at the completion of her degree spent a year getting experience) and keeping track of various international influences online.

In fact, if you search for her name online, the majority of the hits come from the comments Vamos has left on the blogs of fellow artists and designers that both encourage and inspire her.

The children’s book you illustrated, The Anything Shop, came out last fall. How was that different than working on the other books you’ve illustrated?

Well, at the time, it was actually the first book I had illustrated, so I couldn’t really compare it with other experiences.

When I think about it though, every project I get is so different it’s very hard to compare. Depending on who you’re working with and the nature of the subject matter, each book comes with something different to learn or a new process to work through, which is one of the big reasons I love my job; you never get stuck doing the same thing.

Does your work in animation and licensing help or influence your work in children’s books, or does working in so many areas make it harder to focus on one type of art?

For me, having other avenues to push my creativity or drawing skills really helps me stay inspired so I think it’s definitely important I keep choosing clients from all different fields to work with.

It can get tricky though when you have six different clients at the one time all asking for different things. For example, at the moment, I’m working on illustrations for magazines, comics, designing apps and websites as well as personal and external commissions.

So, by Friday, my head is spinning a bit. However, if deadlines aren’t yet a factor, it’s nice to wake up in the morning and (depending what you feel like drawing) have a few different things to choose from.

How do you juggle all the projects you’re working on, and what percentage of them are children’s illustration vs. other types of illustration?

Good time management…something I say but don’t always achieve. But I try to stay organized, write “to do” lists and keep regular contact with each client regularly during the process.

At the moment, the only children’s books I’m working on are my own, but as I mentioned before, there are plenty of other types of work keeping me busy!

You post a lot of great sketches on your blog. What’s your process for taking those sketches to final art?

It’s funny you should say that. I actually only recently started posting my sketches online, mostly because I have no time at the moment to go through the process of taking them to final line work and colour. Not to mention about 80 percent of my sketches aren’t good enough to finish, not because they are bad drawings, more that I spend a lot of time sketching, to either get a chance to draw, or to work through topics I don’t get the chance to while working, or I’m re-interpreting something that’s already been done, to see what I can learn by doing it.

But when I do decide something is worth seeing in colour (I’m very picky, as coloring takes me so long), I start by scanning it. Then I take the scan into Photoshop and going over the line with a simple black brush (I use my cintiq for this).

I colour it in grey scale first, to get a better idea of with elements I want to make stand out. After this, I find a colour scheme online or make it myself based around the general mood of the piece or feelings I want people to have when they see it – figure out each colours grey scale placement (something I learnt to do at uni. It basically involves a lot of squinting).

Then from there it’s basically a colour by numbers. A few touch ups and shadow is laid down. Then I see if any effects will enhance it and I’m done.

Are you interested in writing children’s books in addition to illustrating them, and if so, have you started working towards that goal?

I am and do.

I’ve written one picture book that I’m in the process of illustrating and am in the middle of writing a YA fiction book loosely based on my days in the school band. I’ve also got a few other picture book ideas that my agent and I are developing, which is a lot of fun. I just wish I had more time!

I also write short stories and poems for my blog that started as a sort of author-illustrator challenge for myself. I’ve always loved telling stories, so it’s been a lot of fun to find more than one way to do it!

Who influenced your style, and who are you influenced by these days?

Oh man, that’s very hard to pinpoint. I spend a lot of time trolling the net and commenting, favouriting and “liking” pretty much everything and anything I can get my hands on.

I’d say, though, if you looked at the stats, you’d probably find majority of the art I’m looking at at the moment comes from France.

I love French illustrators. There is something in the water there. I’m sure that helps them breathe so much life and love into their shapes, colours and characters!

Other than that, there’s friends, print, movies and generally living life. In fact, trying new things, going different places and meeting new people, is probably the best way to be influenced and inspired.

What upcoming projects can we look forward to from you?

Unfortunately, I can’t discuss many of the projects I’m working on at the moment, but
hopefully, my picture book I Hate Bow Ties will be coming out this year as well as a few travel plans, which include having a table at this year’s San Diego Comic Con.

Cynsational Notes

Find Lesley at Deviant Art and Twitter. See also Lesley at Children’s Illustrators. She is represented by Kelly Sonnack from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Stephanie Ruble is an author and artist. She has been drawing and painting ever since she could hold a crayon and making up stories since she learned to talk. She’s currently making art and working on a project with a bunch of unruly chickens. Find Stephanie at Twitter.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.