Prolific illustrator John Nez shares with us about the tools he uses, why life as a working illustrator really is work, how to be your own best advocate, and how to keep that “little mouse of creative happiness” alive and thriving through it all. Read on for some great insight, tips, and illustrative goodness!
So what is life like as a children’s book-maker? It’s like keeping a little mouse of creative happiness that runs free in the cloistered studio of one’s imagination. It’s being able to make dreams out of thin air and share them with the world. So that’s fun.
If you want to be a children’s book-maker, you’ll have to get used to living in a lonely place known as Freelancer Island. It’s never easy. You’ll have to get used to long empty days when the most exciting thing that happens will be a trip to the grocery store. In times like these your pencil will be your best friend… so feed that pencil lots of good ideas!
You’ll have to get used to lots and lots of rejection. Try not to take it personally. Just because someone says your stuff is wrong doesn’t mean that you yourself are wrong, although it’s often easy to imagine you really are. We artists tend to over-imagine things.
You can always get a cat or a dog and that might make you feel slightly less alone. And as a last resort you can always turn to Facebook. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the number of likes you get has anything to do with your talent!
It’s important to always think for yourself. So if your agent decides your story is awful and hides your dummy in a drawer for years, you’ll have to be brave and say ‘NO! I think my book is great!’ And then you might even just show it to an editor by yourself. And maybe the editor loves it too! Yay! (This happily happened to me). So then you’ll be very glad you had the strength of character to just say NO(!) to someone else’s opinion.
I had to sell all of my own-authored picture books by myself. It would be fabulous to find someone interested in seeing the dozens of picture books and dummy PDFs I have written, many of them only seen by a handful of editors.
I am currently representing myself, but might be looking for a literary agent when I find free time. Last October I had offers to do eight picture books from four different publishers – three of them publishers I’d never worked with. But it’s also easy for nothing to happen for months, so it’s crazy. I do know there is a big difference between the real world of publishing and the idealized publishing world that I read about. I have yet to experience the idealized world.
So why do we all do this? Well it’s all because of that little mouse of happiness that lives in our artist’s imagination. That must be the reason we keep going. Did I mention there will be lots of rejection?
Like anyone else, there are houses to buy, doctors to pay, cars that break, drains that clog, roofs that leak. And that takes lots of money. So you’ll probably have to draw lots of illustrations besides your own books to pay for it.
Sometimes you might decide it’s sort of silly to even be an artist – but by now it’s probably too late to change your mind since you’ve been living on Freelancer Island so long you’re about half crazy. Besides, you can’t even think what else you’d rather do. I guess it’s kind of addictive.
I create my books on envelopes, with pencils, Wacom pens, PhotoShop, and keyboards, using ideas derived from dreams, scribbled notes, dashed off lines, and things I imagine I see in patterns on the floor. And it’s all fun… confusing, but fun.
The trick is to keep that little mouse of creative happiness alive and well.
John Nez has illustrated over 60 books of every sort, from toddler board books to histoical non-fiction. He’s now also writing and illustrating his own picture books and interactive e-book apps, which is fun. Find him at www.johnnez.com and http://johnnez.blogspot.com/.