Interview: Author-Illustrator-Designer Emma J. Virján

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Welcome back to Cynsations! You last visited Cynsations to talk about your path to publication, Nacho the Party Puppy (Random House) and your love of children’s literature.

What’s new in your creative life?

My focus lately has been twofold, illustration, both for kid lit and editorial publication, and picture books. I love developing characters and having them tell a story as they evolve on my drawing table.

I both illustrate and write my stories, so it’s always fascinating to have each discipline support the other. At the moment, my agent is helping me polish up a manuscript for submission.

I’m also working on a 4″ x 6″ series of hand-drawn illustrations/postcards. In this ever expanding digital world in which we live, it’s so easy to get away from the hands-on experience of drawing with pens, pencils and markers. The small drawings give me the opportunity to hone my illustration skills and offer quite the challenge, in that 4″ x 6″ is not a huge canvas.

By Emma Virján

 How have you grown and changed as an artist?

I’ve been spending time with other illustrators and artists, and as a group, we challenge ourselves and hold each other accountable. We also share drawing tips and techniques. With that kind of support, I’ve become better at my craft and have learned new ways to think, draw and execute illustrations.

What role does community play in supporting your work and dreams?

Emma with fellow Girllustrator Amy Farrier

Community plays a huge, supportive role. I’m fortunate to live in Austin, where there is a fantastic, loving, talented kid lit community. I’m also a member of the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels and The Girllustrators.

Both groups offer encouragement and positive critique, two critical elements in the illustration and writing process.

Drawing and writing are solitary processes so it’s always great to have people I trust review what I’ve done and offer helpful feedback.

Rumor has it that your new website is live! Tell us about that—we can’t wait to take a peek! 

Yes, the new site is live:

Developing a website is a ton of work, and although I’m experienced in assisting clients with their website development, it’s difficult for me to create my own.

I reached out to Adam Norwood for his expertise in site design and management. I’m thrilled with what we’ve produced and now I have a site that not only showcases my illustration work, but one I can manage myself. Being able to update it on my own is important and will allow me to keep the site fresh.

Get to know Nacho!

You are the designer behind my amazing new Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013) bookmarks! Could you tell us a little about the creative/business process behind them?

Congrats on Feral Nights, Cyn, and thanks for asking me to design the bookmark. Designing a bookmark is a lot like designing a poster, billboard, brochure, or any other type of marketing collateral – tell the story quickly, efficiently, and with only the most important information and messaging necessary.

In this instance, that meant highlighting the book with an image and a teaser headline, listing the release date, the publisher, any other work you’ve done and, of course, legal text. The challenge was to make it intriguing. And make it fit on 2″x 8″ of real estate.

The book cover is amazing, so it was easy to let that image do most of the work.

Learn more about new releases from Cynthia Leitich Smith.

What were the challenges?

Other than not having a ton of space to work with, the other challenge was to be sure it kept in line with you’re existing image/brand. Keeping the overall design clean and, again, letting the book cover tell the story, is consistent with the collateral you already have out there for your other books.

What was fun about the project?

I enjoyed the challenge of the 2′ x 8″ space and getting to meet your publicist.

Do you do a lot of promotional design work? Could you tell us about your efforts in this area? 

I do. Promotional design work, just like illustrating and writing for kids, tells a story. As a graphic designer I have a hand in helping my clients promote their product or service, and developing their stories. I’ve been in the design business for a long time – Reagan was President when I started in this business. I’ll let you do the math.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with national businesses and organizations – Kraft Foods, Save the Children, United Way, as well as local – Texas Classroom Teachers Association, CyrusOne, Sharp Propane, Austin SCBWI and the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels.

Are you interested in working as a designer with children’s-YA, illustrators, and publishers on marketing their books via promotional giveaways? If so, how can interested folks get in touch? 

Yes. The best way for folks to reach me is via email,

What do you do when you’re not writing or illustrating?

I enjoy working in my yard, and with this mild, Texas winter, I’ve been out there a lot. The last few months I’ve also been busy rearing my Golden Retriever, Her Royal Highness Queen Isabella, AKA Bella. She’s seven months old, weighs 40 lbs and loves socks, deer poop, mulch and eating paper as it feeds out of the printer.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three packages of five Feral Nights bookmarks, signed by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

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