Ashlyn Anstee is a story artist at Nickelodeon on Harvey Beaks as well as the author/illustrator of Are We There, Yeti? and No, No, Gnome! (Simon & Schuster, 2015 & 2016), a comic artist, film maker, and devourer of cookies. She talks with us about finding her agent through SCBWI, how professional relationships are just like any other relationship, and how she keeps her skills sharp.
Sarah Parker-Lee: You’re an illustrator, author, and storyboard artist for animation. Which came first and how do you find time for both?!
Ashlyn Anstee: It helps that all of them are a little different, so it’s actually been fun to jump between them, thank goodness. I started out first as a reader–I was a voracious reader as a kid (and my mom’s a teacher-librarian). I didn’t really start to draw until my teens. I fell in love with animation, and it wasn’t until I graduated from college that I started to rediscover illustration and kids’ books. I find writing the hardest, so I’ve been focusing on that, lately!
SPL: For those unfamiliar, can you tell us a little about being a story artist? How does it compare to illustrating a book?
AA: I usually storyboard on “board-driven” shows, that is, shows where we’re given an outline, and we write all the dialogue in addition to drawing the pictures (similar to being an author/illustrator). They’re related – both involve using words and pictures to tell a story. The difference is that with storyboards, you have the benefit of time. You can choose how long an audience will look at a picture. Having audio is nice too – how an actor might read a line or having sound effects to draw attention. That being said, with picture books, you get the benefit of a very captive audience who really wants to pore over each picture.
SPL: As an author/illustrator, do you only work on your own books, or do you also illustrate for others? What draws you to a project, whether it’s your own or not?
AA: I’ve mostly done my own books, but I’ve recently started illustrating for others as well! For me, it almost feels like a completely different job. It’s all about character either way, I love silly characters.
SPL: You met your agent, Kelly Sonnack of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, at an SCBWI workshop. Tell us how that worked! Was Kelly drawn to your writing or illustrating, or was it a completed project?
AA: I like to think that Kelly was drawn to my beauty and great personality. Just kidding.
I met Kelly at an LA Illustrator’s Day event back in 2013. I think what first drew her to me was my dummy for Are We There Yeti? I think if you’re interested in writing/illustrating your own books, there’s nothing better than a dummy to show how you illustrate, and that you’re willing to learn and improve (agents want to grow with us!). We had a brief chat and then I signed with her right then and there, – we just clicked!
SPL: Do you have any advice for authors or illustrators seeking agents? So often we’re told not to pitch agents at events, so what should we do instead when we meet them?
AA: Honestly, the best way to network in any industry is to not network too hard – think of networking as just making new friends. When you meet an agent you like, and already know, ask them questions about their work and what they like about it. Compliment them on [their] clients’ work that you like. Everyone loves compliments and I feel like people are sometimes afraid to just say “HEY I love that thing you made!” An agent relationship is just that – a relationship, where you need to be able to communicate and work together – so treat them like a cool friend you’re meeting for the first time. Let them dictate when/where you’ll pitch. If they like you, they’ll ask!
SPL: Community is a big part of kid lit and animation. How does it factor into your own work and professional development?
AA: The LA kid lit community is just wonderful. Most of all, they provide emotional support. Working on books at home can be so lonely, it’s easy to lose sight of the joy. Critique groups are also helpful to level up your skills, again, you’re trying to avoid working in a bubble! Share yourself and your experience with the world and you’ll get loads back.
SPL: Speaking of your work, Are We There Yeti? and No, No Gnome! both take a fun approach to themes of impatience and mischievousness as kids experience navigating being kids and being part of a group. Will the upcoming Hedgehog (Tundra Books, 2018) deal with similar themes?
AA: Ha! I didn’t realize that both of them dealt so much with impatience until you said it. Hedgehog! doesn’t deal with impatience, but it explores relating to other kids, specifically sharing and being kind and open to others. I think I found fitting into social groups tough when I was young, so I often write books about it.
SPL: Any tips or tools you’ve found particularly useful that you’d like to share with our readers?
AA: I think every writer/artist should leave time for experimentation. It’s easy in the grind to keep doing what you’ve always done, but leave a day of a month where you just do something completely different – abstract painting, or something else entirely!
SPL: Any other upcoming projects or work we should keep an eye on?
AA: Other than Hedgehog! (which comes out in 2018), I’m doing lots of school visits around LA this summer. I should have more to announce soon!
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Sarah Parker-Lee is a Los Angeles Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators board member & the Managing Editor of Kite Tales, a book reviewer for Dwarf+Giant, a content creator for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs, & is available to edit your writerly endeavors. She writes YA alt. history, sci-fi, & is the creator of Dogs & Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel, @DogsAndZombies
Images by Ashlyn Anstee & courtesy of Simon & Schuster where applicable.