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Saturday, August 20, 2011

An Interview with Lisa J. Michaels!

Hi Lisa, Welcome and thank you for being here today!
What inspired you to take an interest in art?
     When I was finally old enough to sit up by myself, I'd sit next my father, (who was an architect) and watch him draw little trees and bushes around his houses. You could say I got an early start in my art education! The fine details always fascinated me.
     When I began to talk, I drove him crazy, asking him to draw cartoons for me. He drew little swash-buckling mice, which eventually morphed into comic strips. I was watching an illustrator in action, but I had no idea it would turn out to be my life's work!
     When I was seven, my parents separated, and luckily for me, my new step dad was also artistically inclined. He recognized that I was developing into an artist, and was really supportive of my talents. . . now he’s very proud!

Who are the artists and illustrators that inspire you most?
     Right now, Tomie DiPaola is my artistic rock star! I'm fascinated by his great success and I love to break down his manuscripts in order to uncover his formula and the genius at work. His art is simple, yet stylized and unique to Tomie. His books pull the reader right in, and they're a fun read…that's what I want my books to do as well.
     I’m also inspired by my students and those up-and-coming illustrators who I mentor.

Have you ever tried or thought of painting your own version of a masterpiece by one of the Masters you admire?
     Yes, in the fifth grade! Everyone in the class was suppose to pick out their favorite image to draw, from a magazine. I searched and searched, until I found something I thought was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Remember, I was eleven, so I was limited in my views of the world! It was tiny, (about 2”x2”) and I carefully tore it out.
     The next morning, the teacher instructed us to clear the dusty, wooden floors by pushing all our desks against the wall. I can still hear the chairs scrapping and our little feet tapping against the hard wood.
     Then she gave each of us a huge brown piece of paper (as tall as I was). I laid mine on the floor and crawled on top, with my freshly sharpened pencils and box of 64 crayons. I pulled the coveted clipping from my pocket and smoothed it out against the crunchy brown paper, and began to draw with determination.
     It was as if time stood still.
     For the next hour, I might as well have been the only child in the room. I was unaware of the goings on around me. I fell into the drawing, just as sure as Alice had fallen deep into the rabbit’s hole! I was so deeply involved and intent on getting it right.
     Carefully I sketched out my drawing, paying close attention to every detail in the picture. I noticed where the light fell on her face, and the delicate curve of the child’s chin.
     When the bell rang, I looked up for the first time since my pencil had first touched the page. Around me stood teachers from many classrooms, all staring down at me in disbelief. Someone whispered, “child prodigy”, but I didn’t know what that meant.
     As I got to my feet, I looked down to see what I’d accomplished, and smiled. A rough version of Raphael’s “Madonna & child” smiled back at me, and I knew exactly who I was. I was an artist, and always would be.  

When do you paint and how easy is it to become distracted?
     I paint best in the early afternoon and late at night, when the house is super quiet. I don't have too many problems with distractions, (I realize my good fortune, as many of my colleagues struggle with this), but when I do have trouble focusing, I pop in one of my favorite CD's and then my drawing pen flies!

Have you ever illustrated a children’s or any other art book?
     Yes, my first dummy book was a story I wrote myself, called "Purple Piggies”. I submitted it many times, and made all the classic mistakes of a novice. I bound it like a real book, then cleaned up all the sketches and colored in 3 of the illustrations. I had color backgrounds behind each framed illustration, and typed the text onto each and every page. It was just too “finished”. In addition, the character continuity just wasn’t there. I didn’t draw kids very well at the time. I’m happy to say that this is no longer the case!
     I've done several book covers that went to print, and won several picture book contests. I recently illustrated a picture book, "Alphey Loves Letters", for Castlebridge Press. It's available for purchase at

How do you approach a painting or drawing when you start a new project?
     Well, first I do a character study, and roughly sketch out the main character of the story. I don't stop until I know the charter really well, I mean both illustratively and personally! Through visual composition, I try to develop and expose personality quirks that aren't mentioned in the story text. For example, a little girls jewelry choices tell you something about what she likes, if she's whimsical, classy, or vain (rings on every finger!) -or- a little boy who carries around a frog in his pocket, or a jar full of worms - this tells you that he's all boy and loves nature.

What are your favorite books on art that inspire you?
     Any books that teach or examine illustration techniques. I've been fascinated by all the new magazines that are available for illustrators now. There are so many 3-D artists in the spotlight! I LOVE to spend my friday mornings in the bookstore. I grab a vanilla coffee and find an out-of-the-way table, then I sit and pour over all the new magazines, reading them cover to cover and making notes as I go. I’ve learned a lot from this practice, and it shows in my latest works.

What mediums do you prefer to work in and why?
     I USED to work in pencil, then ink my drawings and color them in with Prismacolor pencils. THEN I discovered digital painting! My world completely changed overnight, and I felt as if I could accomplish anything in picture books!

What would be the ultimate goal I would like to achieve as an artist?
     My ultimate goal is to become a sought after illustrator, who's so good at what I do, that I am asked to speak at writing and illustrating conferences all over the country. It's been such a long and difficult journey to publication, (for me) and that's mostly because there was so much to learn before I could even begin.
     New illustrators flounder over the simplest things, like; what's necessary to include in your portfolio, and should you use/show more than one technique, or should you spend money (that you probably don’t have) on conferences, which ones should you attend and how should you prepare?
     I'd like to get paid for sharing all the information I spent years accumulating. I've paid my dues, learned from my mistakes and shared most of what I've learned freely.

What are your upcoming projects?
     I'm currently working on illustrations for a picture book called "Come Fish With Me" for self-publishing author, Jim Baragar. Jim & Lori (his wife) just had their first baby, and Jim wanted to share his love for fishing with his son, just as HIS father did with him.
     Basically, the book chronicles the lives of a father and son's fishing adventures. As the boy grows up, the father grows old and eventually the boy has a son of his own. The illustrations move through all the colors of the four seasons, to emphasize and celebrate the season's of life. As an illustrator, this book is a dream come true, in that I get to explore all the color palettes of nature.
     In addition, love it when a manuscript tugs at your heart strings, as this one does. Every time I work on it, I can feel the magic in the air! After the physical book is printed, I am planning to build and release it as an animated book application for ipads and iphones.
There’s another book app that I'm working on with fellow author and entrepreneur Sue Laneve (she's an SCBWI icon in Florida!) I'll be animating that book to be interactive as well!
     Then I have my own idea in development for an educational pre-school Apple application. And of course, there are many, many more picture books in my head, and I'm just dying to get the illustrations going!

How did your art career begin?
     In 2003 I discovered two things that changed my life. The Personal Computer and the SCBWI. Everything's been a blur since then!

How do you describe your style of art?
     Realism with a touch of whimsey. Unique and identifiable, with personality!

Where has some of your art been displayed?
     The SCBWI Bulletin Magazine (several times), Newspaper ads, library galleries (I had a 40 piece show on “How to Construct a Picture Book”, several magazines, picture books, on-line galleries and The Picture-bookie Showcase), blogs, websites, etc.

Where can everyone find your art work and learn more about you?
     My website: has it all - bio, portfolio, resume, contact info, etc. You can also read my blog and find me on Twitter (wscribbles) and Facebook.
     Over the years, it has become my passion to build and contribute environments where authors and illustrators can grow and learn from each other, without the burden of exorbitant membership dues. I am the creator, developer and moderator for “The Yellow Brick Road”, a free professional critique group of 25+ published children’s lit authors. “YBR” provides a privacy protected, encouraging and productive atmosphere in which members can work together towards the common goal of publication. YBR has a public promotional page, where visitors can read excepts from member manuscripts, author bios, photo’s and more!
     Along with my colleague and friend, Jill Bergman, I created, developed and moderate the ever-growing “Visual Storytellers Studio” (VSS), a virtual revolving illustration gallery, free to it’s 35+ professional members, and it’s daily multitude of visitors.
     In addition, I created the first official SCBWI illustrator critique website for Florida members. “The SCBWI West Coast Critters” (WCC) is now in it’s second year, and membership is growing!
     Thank you to the many authors and illustrators who have freely extended the gift of information, education, and friendship to me over the years. My friends at the Manic Network are among them! Kindness is seldom forgotten.

Thank you so much for being on Manic Network’s Blog, Lisa!
~ Michelle and Jan

Other pages where you can find out more about Lisa J. Michaels:

Friday, August 5, 2011

An Interview with Michelle Munger

The first question that is probably on everyone's mind is why you started Manic Network, can you tell us a little about it?

Manic Network was just something I needed to do. When I first started seriously considering writing and illustrating, I went to a conference in LA to figure things out. I found it very difficult to choose classes because they were either geared toward writing or illustrating but never both. I found it frustrating that I would even be asked to choose one or the other. So I followed the artist path and didn't learn anything. Most of the classes were about how other artists got their start, or dealt with just the illustrating aspect. I was desperate to see how writing and illustrating all fit together as a whole but I could never get a straight answer. It was always, 'oh, the writer will have this done before it comes to you,' or 'well as the writer, you don't have to worry about what the illustrator does.' No one could marry the two for me. I started Manic as a way for others like myself to gain the knowledge that no one else was teaching. I figured that there were enough published writer/illustrators out there that they could share information with the people who were trying to get their start. And I wanted to make waves, even if it's just a few ripples in the publishing community. We are here and we aren't going away, so get used to it. 

How did you get started illustrating children's books?

When I was younger, I never even considered that children's books needed an illustrator. I guess I thought the pictures just magically appeared on the page somehow. But I loved looking at them, and began collecting children's books in my teens. I had hundreds of them, which now my sister shares in her classroom. I began by writing children's books after I had my own kids, but didn't start illustrating them until a few years later when I was trying to create some interactive powerpoints for my kid's schoolwork. I would write stories and of course I needed pictures for them and that's pretty much when I started thinking about it as an actual career. I really enjoyed the creation process. I was a natural in the art department, but the writing took a lot of work. Especially the type of writing that's required of children's books. It's actually a lot harder than it seems. For those who say that anyone can write a children's book, think again. That's the hardest part. 

What mediums do you or have you worked with?

When I was first starting out, I did a lot of my drawings in pencil and started my own portrait business. Then I slowly worked my way into colored pencils which I really enjoyed because of the added color. I've used pastel chalks in the past, but because of my allergies, I really have to stay away from them. I've also used oil pastels, but they are not very practical considering they never dry. Acrylics never worked for me because I couldn't blend before the paint dried, and watercolors were just too difficult to get right. I think my ah-ha moment came when I played around with a few digital art programs and found them to be perfect for what I needed. Now, I don't use anything but digital programs. My favorites are ArtRage and of course photoshop. I've also used Poser, Z-Brush and Bryce. I think I've spent thousands of dollars on art programs alone and I've owned three art tablets. The one I use now is a 12 inch Cintiq, which lets you draw right on the screen. 

How long does it take you to write and illustrate a book?

I've never actually finished a complete book. Unless you count a romance novel I wrote a long time ago. It was about 350,000 words that I finished in 6 months. I've been revising it for nearly 7 years though. I always come to the almost done stage when something trips me up and I have to stop and think about it for awhile. I do have several picture books in the almost done stage, but I left them that way purposefully because I knew that once they found homes, I'd have to change things for the editor. It was just a time saver for me to not finish them. But I once calculated how long it would take based on one of my unfinished picture books, about 28 weeks, considering it took about a week per page. The writing process is different. Sometimes a whole book falls straight out of my head onto the page in about an hour, sometimes it takes a little longer. Usually I can write a book in about a week and then it takes several months to revise and refine until I get it just right. So, I would say a little under a year for one book.

How do you balance writing with everything else you have to do?

Balance? What balance? My life is chaos in motion. I'm the fifth and apparently only member of my household that cleans up after herself, so when I am not cleaning, doing laundry and cooking, I'm homeschooling my three kids. In between that, I'm on my computer either writing, illustrating, working on the layout and design of the NE/NC Texas SCBWI online newsletter, looking up helpful hints for Manic Network, or studying for my next test. Did I mention I was going back to college? And that's only during the weekdays. On the weekends I'm working in a children's hospital poking babies and taking blood pressures. Seriously, I'm a paramedic, that's what I do. 

You mentioned you were going back to college, what are you hoping to accomplish in life?

Really just trying to better myself. As a paramedic there is a limit to what I can make in a hospital setting. If anything ever happened to my diabetic, slightly overweight husband, I would be stuck, not making enough to keep the household running. So that in a nutshell is my reason for going back to college. I'm actually going back for nursing because I need a steady reliable job and since I've been in the medical field for so long, it only seems natural to just move on up the ladder instead of switching from one ladder to the next. That way, I can secure my families income while working towards my dream of becoming a published writer/illustrator. And let's face it, breaking into the children's book industry is becoming more and more difficult, especially with the rise of e-books. It's only common sense to have something else to get me through the lean years.

Do you think e-books are the wave of the future?

I would be silly to think e-books were just a passing fad. With technology growing like it is, and people being more conscious of the environment, it just seems ridiculous to chop down millions of trees to print thousands of books when all you need is a kindle reader, nook, or iPad. I think it is going to be something that the older generations need to get used to because  it's not going away any time soon. These younger generations are going to grow up not really knowing what a book is. So once they get old enough to choose, that's when printing books will go away. We are probably going to be the last generation to print books on paper. Even textbooks nowadays are going digital. Which really helps lighten your backpack. Can you imagine having to carry around twenty pounds of textbooks when all you need is one 6 ounce e-reader? There are just so many things you can do with e-books that you can't do with printed books and I am all for it. Bring it on!

What are your upcoming projects?
I have so many I don't know where to start. I'm working on illustrating a storybook for a friend of mine. His book is already for sale on Amazon, I did the cover for him already, but we were planning to illustrate and then re-release it. I'm also working on an interactive book of my own for the iPad and iPhone, but the software has a high learning curve, so it's going to take some time to figure out. I also have several YA's in the works but they've been on hold until some of the other projects get finished. And I've just submitted to a writer that wants his book ready by Christmas. I should know if he wants me to illustrate his book by Monday. 

What do you think others would want to know about you?
I'm a glutton for punishment. 
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I work hard for what I want and I never back down. 

My websites and blogs can be found here:

And I also have an iPhone app out called Klunk Klock. It's a partner project with my spouse who happens to be a computer geek. He wrote the program while I designed the art. 

I really appreciate all the members of Manic and hope to get to know everyone better in the future. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 29, 2011

An Interview with Aidana WillowRaven

Hi Aidana, and thank you for giving us this interview.

How young were you when you knew you were an artist?
Start off with the hard one, huh (lol)? Why I say it’s one of the harder questions I get asked is because up until about two years ago, I refused to refer to myself as an ‘artist’. Like most kids, I would draw once in a while to pass the time, but I was told by teachers, and even my own mother, than I had no ‘talent’. They’d say it nicely; just that art wasn’t my ‘thing’. As a result, my math skills were focused on. Being a reluctant reader, due to an undiagnosed case of ADD (vs ADHD), I hadn’t started associating my scribblings with words yet, either.

As life would have it, I dropped drawing all together, grew up, got married – twice – and divorced –twice – lol. Had two kids in the mix, too. I went through a rough time after being discharged from the ARMY.
By this time I was 23, had finally found books and fantasy (thanks to David Eddings and Terry Brooks), and had started keeping a journal. I say keeping rather than writing because I strongly suspect that my ‘poetry’ stank … lol. Then I found out that my journal was being violated. Read without my permission. So I started drawing my words.

Next thing you know, within a month’s time, I was spending large gaps of my time reading fantasy, and re-creating how I would have done the cover art, had I been the artist. I covered my walls in popular fantasy posters, and did my best to copy them, just to say what I needed to say.

Then, I decided college was what was needed to get out of my funk. But what to major in? I had spent the last nine months, or so, doing nothing but reading, drawing, and hanging out with medievalists. What did I want to be, though? I was reading Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series when asking myself this, and Michael Whelan’s White Dragon was grabbing my attention almost more than the book. I had been making really bad attempts at recreations of it … lol.

So, I took my pitiful portfolio to the art department at Norfolk State University, and asked an advisor, there, if he saw any potential. Note I didn’t say ‘talent’.

Mr Thompkins did tell me where he saw my work need much refinement, but what surprised me, and still does, is he said I had also instinctively gotten quite a bit ‘right’, even though I was COMEPLETELY untrained. He said I instinctively put down some lines, that with the proper schooling, I could learn to see the right from the wrong.

That ‘learning to see’ mentality followed through my next six years of fine art school, with electives in animation and design. My biggest teaching influences coming from Jenks and Okala, I realized ‘talent’ was an abstract word used to describe a skill that had been refined through practice, drive, and desire, not something innate. Only the desire to refine that skill is innate. Of course, many argue this with me, and that’s ok. When people tell me I’m talented, I graciously say thank you, and only rarely get on my soap box. I still like hearing it, even if I don’t believe in it … lol. I still like stories about Santa, too.

After art school, I entered contests and shows between 1996 and 2007, but really didn’t know how to get into publishing, so I just sort of dabbled, and gathered little awards or sales. Then one night, about four years ago, it hit me … make friends with authors and publishers … so I started networking. Within three months I had my first children’s book illustration gig. I was officially an illustrator (still not an artist). It wasn’t until I started doing work for myself, again, not just work for other people to pay the bills, and that was about a year ago. Now you see why it was a tough question?

What mediums have you worked in besides digital programs? I started out in graphite, then moved into charcoal, and found a home with colored pencils, but was trained in all the standard mediums (paints, sculpture, etc). I didn’t start playing with digital software until about two years ago. I try to incorporate my fine art training in my digital work, too.

What is your latest project? I always have several projects going on at once, but my most recent is the cover art for Beverly Stowe McClure’s Life on Hold (4RV Publishing), YA novel about a girl who faces some doubts about her parentage.

How did your art career begin? With a children’s book. My intent was always fantasy covers, but drawing for a living was too cool to be true, so I ended starting in children’s books and Christian book covers.

How did you get into the book business? I covered a good bit of that earlier, but basically, I was approached by a small PH on a yahoo group for writers.

How many books have you illustrated and how many covers have you designed? Oh my goodness. You want me to count them? I haven’t broken it down, but there are over 100 books in print with my work on or in them, plus magazine publications. Will that do?

I have found that illustrating books was the first step to designing books. Do you find that to be true as well? I started doing both at once (career-wise anyway), because I was trained in both, and felt knowing where text was going to go was important in knowing what my canvas size was. But I’ve found there are more designers out there than illustrators. Too many are artists, and not illustrators. As a result, we find more designers who happen to learn, or like to illustrate, but rarely do you find artists willing to illustrate. I can usually tell by the portfolio if the illustrator is a designer or an artist. Illustration is a side-step from both skill sets. Sort of like how animation utilizes bot traditions. Does that answer your question?

Who are some of the many authors you have worked with? Again, so many. It would be easier to check out my book covers and see what names you might recognize. I tend to feel more comfortable with smaller PHs. They’re more personal. So you may, or may not, recognize any.

What are some of the interesting jobs have you had along the way? I owned a book & herb shop. I manufactured herbal remedies for pets, people, and exotic zoo animals. I decided to focus on the illustration in 2007.

What type of services does your company offer? Illustration, design, cover art, logo identity and avatars, and more. Just about anything involving illustration or design, in most genres, including graphic novels/comics.

Aidana, you have written many articles about art, illustration and design. Where can people find them? I’ve done several guest posts on blogs from all over the world, but most of my articles can be found on the 4RV Reading, Writing, & Art News blog on Fridays (

What is your next book project? I actually have three kids book on my table right now, and a handful of book covers in the works.

Please tell us where we can find out more about you and your work? My website is, my own blog can be found at, and I sometimes post to the SCBWI MidSouth Illustrators .

MORE about Aidana WillowRaven:
Aidana WillowRaven, mother of three, was trained in Fine Art, Studio Design and Animation at Norfolk State and Old Dominion universities. She has illustrated and/or designed over 100 books through her company, WillowRaven Illustration & Design Plus, in Tennessee. Her work has won numerous awards, has been published in several magazines, and has earned her guest appearances at various conventions. Framed and signed prints of some of her most popular works can be purchased through her ImageKind gallery:

To view her portfolio, or contact her, visit her website:
Thank you so much for being on Manic Network’s Blog, Aidana!
~ Michelle and Jan