I’ve been enjoying artwork by Jory Mason for sometime now (definitely go check out her fabulous Great Dane portrait that I wrote about here) but it was her announcement that she was illustrating a children’s book that spurred me to invite her to write a guest blog for HowToPastel.
I wonder how many of us have thought of/are thinking of illustrating a children’s book? If you’re one of these people, you may find this article about Jory Mason’s journey from dream to now-published book, Brotherly Love: A Seemore the Seagull Tale both helpful and inspirational.
Here’s a wee bio for Jory Mason before we go further.
Jory Mason Bio
Jory Mason is an accomplished art director/graphic designer who is now focusing on her first love, painting. Jory attended L’Instituto D’Arte in Italy where she had her first solo exhibition which completely sold out. She later studied at New England School of Art/Design and Mass College of Art. Now an award winning artist, she’s also exhibited in Boston, New York, and New Mexico. Her work has been showcased in Strokes of Genius 8: Expressive Texture published by North Light Books.
Jory has achieved Master Pastel status with the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) and has recently led her first international painting workshop in Tuscany. You can check out her website here.
Before I hand the blog over to Jory, I’d like to share a couple of her pastel pieces not associated with illustrating a children’s book so you get a fuller picture of her skills as an artist.
Now it’s over to Jory! Throughout her story, I’ve placed her layouts and corresponding pages from the book. This will give you a sense of the visual development of the illustrations from the layout to the final look.
When I went to art school my intention was to become a children’s book illustrator. I wasn’t even done with school when I got an offer to work as a “mechanical artist.” (This meant doing paste-ups and photo stats, or gluing strips of galleys of text and art onto a board for reproduction.) I loved working in an art department for a large retail chain. Soon I was doing some spot illustrations for the newspaper.
After a few years I got my first job in an advertising agency in Boston. I loved it. Back then, the ad concepts and story boards for commercials were drawn with magic markers. I then hired photographers and (real) illustrators to do the final art. I progressed from Graphic Designer, to Art Director, to Associate Creative Director. By then I was doing less and less “creative” work and more and more meetings and client presentations. This did not make me happy so I started freelancing on the side. Within a year I had enough clients to quit and be independent. That was about 35 years ago and I am still a freelance art director.
Some background… My grandfather John R. Neill was a full time artist. He is best known for illustrating 39 volumes of the Wizard of OZ. His imagination and technical ability blow me away. So much so that trying to follow in his footsteps was quite intimidating.
My mother Annrea Neill was a very accomplished pastel painter and Director of the Falmouth Artist’s Guild on Cape Cod. When I was 20, she asked me to join her in a 5-day figurative workshop with Albert Handell in Woodstock NY. I had never tried pastels before but it was a fabulous experience. It was a good thing I didn’t know how famous he is!
Work and family left no time for doing “real” art work, so I didn’t pick up pastels again until after my Mom died 30 years later. I inherited all of her art supplies and books. So finally, I got up the nerve to unpack them and take a class with Donna Rossetti Baily at the North River Art Society. She should be called a therapist as well as a wonderful teacher and painter. I took her weekly class for about 10 years but rarely painted on my own. I also started attending pastel workshops, often six per year! It remains an addiction even though I’m now leading workshops. (The most exciting one was in Tuscany last Fall). I love the camaraderie of working with other artists.
So, how did all this lead to my finally illustrating a children’s book?
My sister got an email from her art group. Someone was looking for an illustrator so she forwarded the email to me. I immediately put together a flyer with a few paintings that might work as illustrations and sent it out. The publisher told me it had already been assigned and she would “keep me on file.” Then, six months later, she sent me the manuscript for “Brotherly Love.” I already had hundreds of photos I’d taken of seagulls and loved the story so I said yes.
Then some fear set in. How do I do this?
Luckily my excitement overpowered my fear and I jumped in. This meant gathering more photo reference material, doing thumbnail concept sketches, setting the book up in the InDesign programme in double page spreads with the text in place so I knew how much room I had.
I did a few sample designs in marker and sent them to the publisher. She told me they usually just do single page illustrations but after seeing my layouts got permission to produce half of the book using illustrations that spanned both pages. She sent the layouts to the author who loved them and had no changes. I was told to keep going with no direction from them at all. I had a two-month deadline and did 15 paintings in three weeks. I was totally pumped!
I started each illustration actual size (8×10 or 10×16 in) on UART paper with a watercolor underpainting, Sometimes I worked on toned paper. I photographed the pastel illustrations with my iPhone and designed the entire book for production. The only glitch was when they finally sent the proofs to me. The illustrations looked good but the book design and type fonts had changed substantially. I was disappointed but was told it was already being printed so I had to let it go. Now I’m thinking of writing my own book so I can control it all.
Here are a couple of tips if you’re interested in getting into children’s book illustration.
The social media game for children’s book illustrators used to be dominated by Instagram, a photo-based network, but with Twitter’s recent update that allows for images of bigger sizes, there’s no doubt a lot of potential here, too. Use the #writingcommunity tag on Twitter and you’ll find plenty of authors of various genres sharing their thoughts, concerns, and call for professional help.
Also consider Reedsy. It’s a resource hub and professional marketplace catering specifically to authors. With over 500,000 authors on-site, looking for illustrators to hire, there’s never a shortage of projects. And because illustration is such a niche skill, quality children’s book illustrators are always in high demand.
By the way, a few times during those weeks of illustrating, I could hear my husband laughing while I was loudly squawking in my studio. (I was getting into character so I could feel what the seagulls were going through!)
You gotta have fun!
And isn’t that FUN?!
I love how Jory takes us through her journey from the dream of illustrating a children’s book to the final published product.
Have you been thinking of illustrating a children’s book? Let us know in the comments. And also let us know your thoughts on Jory’s journey!
Until next time,
PS. Interested in supporting Jory Mason and getting her book? Click here.