Thank you, Rebecca Hirsch, for giving such detailed, inspiring and funny answers to my long list of questions about you and your work.
In the interview below Rebecca talks about illustrating into the wee morning hours, finding inspiration from Calvin and Hobbes and refusing to give up on a dream. She also gives us a peek into her process. At the end of the interview she has allowed me to post sketches as well as the final version of one of her favorite pieces.
For more Rebecca Hirsch, visit her gallery online:
Thanks for “visiting” Picture Book House, Becky! To get started, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? What keeps you busy when you aren’t making art?
Thanks for inviting me on your blog, Abby! Let’s see, I’m married and have two wonderful daughters, so that keeps me on my toes. They also inspire me. I push myself to follow my dream of being an illustrator partly so I can set an example for them to follow their own dreams. I also work two part time jobs, and there are certain times of the year where they feel more like full time. But I enjoy both places and, you know, we need to eat…
And now, could you tell us about yourself as an artist? Have you had formal training? If yes, where and what did you study?
I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. I took a ten-year break from creating art to create some pretty neat kids, but now that they are getting older I decided it was time to get back into it.
How do you describe your art? What is your style? What tools/mediums do you prefer to use?
It’s a funny blend of realism and cartoon, probably because those are two of my favorite styles of art. I remember being in awe of an artist named Jan Van Eyck who would paint with brushes that were one hair thick in order to create realistic details, but I am also a massive fan of Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strips that were just so much fun to look at. My goal is to create illustrations that combine those two loves, and I keep pushing myself to be better and better.
I used to work in watercolors and pastels, but a year and a half ago I switched to working digitally, which was very hard at first. When I opened up Photoshop the first time it was like looking at Greek (unless, of course, you are fluent in Greek and then it was like reading Latin). I had no idea what anything was. I am eternally thankful for every artist who created a Youtube video explaining how they do art digitally, without whom I’d still be staring at a blank screen.
Could you tell us a little bit about your process? How to get from idea to finished project–that is, if the idea comes first? Or do you just start drawing?
I get very detailed pictures in my head, frequently unbidden so I just thank the Muse and try to do my best to get it as close as possible. Sometimes I get stuck and will grab a sheet of paper and just start doodling, that can be alternately fun and frustrating.
Do you keep a sketchbook? If yes, what kinds of things would we see inside?
I have a number of sketchbooks of various sizes, some that I’ve had since college. Those are like a diary for me. They contain all sorts of sketches, like the year I was obsessed with wolves and drew them constantly to recent sketches of the little lamb that is my online Gravatar.
Where do you get your ideas?
That depends. If I’m working on a story then I try to focus on the characters, what their personality traits are, and I how I can get those across to the viewer. If it’s an illustration just for me then I really try to bring to life how I want that illustration to make me feel, and hopefully others will follow suit.
What is your favorite thing to draw? Why?
My favorite thing to draw is anything I haven’t drawn before, because I always learn something and then I grow as an artist. Maybe that sounds silly, but it’s true. I love a good challenge!
What is your favorite color?
What other art inspires you? For example, is there any music or a certain movie that really gets your creative juices flowing?
I love looking around on Pintrest for other illustrators, even when their talents are intimidating because it pushes me to do better, and also because hey, art is fun to look at! As for music, I love my girls: Tori Amos, Loreena McKennitt, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Annie Lennox. Listening to these amazingly creative and unique women gives me such inspiration to shine my own light.
What do you love most about illustrating?
Every day it gives me the opportunity to put something new into the world. I can be drained by the day and when I start drawing I can become so energized it can be difficult to sleep (I get most of my drawing time in at night, I would imagine I’m not alone in this).
What do you find most challenging about illustrating?
It was a challenge learning how to draw digitally. I had been out of the art scene for so long the world of technology and art sped right past me, but I struggled with it (sometimes kicking and screaming) and didn’t quit, and I won’t. I worry that my style of drawing isn’t current enough, but it’s my style, and at the very least it is sincere.
What is your dream as an artist? Where do you hope to be in 5 or 10 years?
It is my dream to do this full-time. I don’t know if that will ever be realized, but I’m just at the beginning, and I believe in possibilities. And I can guarantee that it is a dream that will go unrealized unless I keep committing myself to it, day after day after day. Like I tell my family, I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m closer to it then I was two years ago.
Is your goal to be an author/illustrator, an illustrator? Or are you open to it all?
I am open to it all. I had never intended to write but have written two stories that I absolutely love. I want to illustrate for myself and others. I have such a desire to draw and keep drawing that I leave all doors open. You never know what will walk through.
We met through SCBWI. What role has this organization played for you and your work?
SCBWI was instrumental in helping me along this path. All too frequently artists can feel as if they are operating alone on a small island that people shake their heads and laugh at. If I had a nickel for every person who raised a skeptical eyebrow when I said, “I want to make a living as an illustrator,” I’d be a wealthy woman. SCBWI gave me a community of people who share similar dreams as mine and has been such a wonderful support.
Who is your favorite illustrator (or if that is too tough a question, who are your top three), and why? What is it about their work that you are drawn too?
Hands down, Bill Watterson. In fact, he was an initial source of inspiration for me when I was doubting myself about doing this again. I seemed so far behind what was new and happening in art, and then I pulled out the very first book of “Calvin and Hobbes” and I compared it to the last. The art at the end of that comic strip’s life was light years better then the art at the beginning, even though the initial art was great (in my opinion). It inspired me to take my first steps, even though they weren’t very good. The next steps were better, and hopefully I’ll be able to say in ten years that I keep getting better all the time. You just have to keep moving, in whatever spare time you have. What I love best about that comic strip is his ability to draw emotion so well.
My current favorite illustrator is Will Terry, an illustrator out in Utah. He helped create a website called Folioacademy.com and it was a class of his that I purchased through that site that showed me how to add texture to a digital painting, something I was stumped on. My art has improved greatly because of the generous advice that he posts to his blog and to Youtube.
A similar question–what is your favorite picture book, and why?
My favorite picture books that I read with my kids were written by Jamie Lee Curtis and illustrated by Laura Cornell. They are just so funny and wise and honest, and the illustrations capture childhood at its best and worst.
Can you describe some of the projects that you are working on right now?
I took a break from writing because I felt I needed to focus first on illustrating, since that is my first love. I will be focusing on breaking into that market this year, but I may revisit and tweak my stories from time to time. I’m working on a very special project for a friend that I hope will be done by the end of June. And I keep sketching, sketching, sketching…
Is there anything else you would like to add?
If you are an aspiring author or illustrator, turn off the critic in your head. Most likely, it’s not your voice anyway, it’s the voice of everyone who ever laughed and told you you can’t do it. You can’t learn from them. All too frequently these are people who were too afraid to follow their own dreams so they can’t possibly believe in yours. Look to the artists and authors in the world who ARE doing it, and learn from them. They are living proof that it is possible. We can do this.
So, let me share a process with you.
I started with this picture of a little girl in my head. She was alone, and she was worried about something. I didn’t know what it was at the time; that came later. So, after a few sketchbook attempts here’s what I got:
She has her eyes tightly shut and hands behind her back. But she wasn’t telling a story, or at least not enough of one. So I gave her eyes and some neutral color, because I wanted her to be “any girl” that anyone could relate to:
Now I loved her face, but found the color boring. So I went in an entirely different direction and added details:
So now I felt like I knew her. I could see her story. But I had no idea how to get more depth and texture into this, and I went searching online for help. Enter Folioacademy, and here is the final version:
Keep pushing yourself. You’ll be amazed at what you can do. Until I created this, I would have told you I can’t draw people. I love this piece, and the story is very personal to me. I hope one day it will be published and shared with you. Thanks for having me on Picture Book House!