Author/Illustrator Cassandra Federman was born and raised in Massachusetts where she spent her childhood reading comic books, playing action figures, drawing super heroes, and participating in all things nerdy. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University and moved to Los Angeles, where she became a hand model. When she isn’t pretending to be famous people’s hands, she’s creating art and literature for children. She is the SCBWI Los Angeles 2017 Mentorship Contest Winner, Writing With The Stars 2017 Mentorship Contest Winner, SCBWI Central California ArtWorks 2016 Promotional Card Contest Runner-up, and her first book, This is a Sea Cow (Albert Whitman), is coming fall, 2019.
SARAH PARKER-LEE: A lot seems to have gone your way in 2017, leading up to your successes this year with a book deal. Congrats! Before you won all the awards, what were you doing that got you there?
CASSANDRA FEDERMAN: Thanks! Yes, winning back-to-back mentorships in 2017 was huge for me. I’d never won anything for my work before, so it felt like a real leap forward in my career. The WWTS mentorship (run by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, mentored by Melissa Iwai and Denis Markell) proved to be life-changing. It focused on tightening up a dummy of mine — a dummy that would then land me my agent Jenna Pocius at Red Fox Literary. The book that sold to Albert Whitman wasn’t the one from the mentorship, but that would have made for an amazing story, wouldn’t it?! Now to answer your other question, before all that good stuff happened I was probably doing the same thing as everyone else: writing, drawing, meeting with my critique group, querying, receiving rejections, getting sad, eating sugar, venting to my critique group, and repeating.
SPL: I imagine this past year was quite a whirlwind! What were your biggest surprises? What do you wish you’d known or done a year ago?
CF: The biggest surprise was how quickly my book sold, which allowed me to give my father the news before he passed away. He took comfort knowing that I was succeeding at something that I was passionate about.
As far as what I wish I’d known — maybe that rejections were not worth worrying over? I sometimes think of the alternate universes where I ended up with one of those agents that rejected me or ghosted me in the past. Are the Cassandras in those universes happy? I don’t imagine so. I conduct that little thought experiment with other parts of my life too. It gives me some perspective and reminds me to be grateful for everything I have.
SPL: Your illustrations are so full of childhood joys and whimsy! Are you consciously trying to capture that or does it come naturally? Who or what are your influences?
CF: Oh wow, thanks for that compliment! Umm…I guess naturally? As far as influences go, I’m a huge Jon Klaassen fan. I love how he uses white space and texture. His work is simple and beautiful. And Lucy Ruth Cummins for her sense of humor and her endearing illustrations.
SPL: As a hand model and an illustrator, you need to take care of those digits. Do you have any tips for our illustrators and aspiring models?
CF: Work digitally (pardon the pun). You’ll never show up to an audition with ink on your fingers.
SPL: What are your must-have tools, programs, media, etc. for illustrating? Do you have a favorite technique? Why?
CF: I work mostly digitally because I don’t have any formal training and, I hesitate to admit, I didn’t know what most traditional tools were — like, what the heck was gouache? (I know now, although I’m still not sure how to pronounce it.) I was also uncertain if I’d be any good at illustration and I couldn’t afford to spend a fortune on art supplies. So, I…errr…borrowed Photoshop and taught myself to use that instead. Photoshop (which I no longer borrow!) is a must-have for me. I’ve been using Procreate a lot recently too, which has been great for illustrating while traveling, but everything ultimately ends up in Photoshop for final touches. As I experiment and grow though, I’m learning to incorporate traditional elements into my artwork and I’m enjoying it.
SPL: Do you have any illustration warm-ups or challenges you’d like to pose to our readers?
CF: Oh gosh I should, shouldn’t I! I usually dive into a sketch, get really frustrated with the time I’ve wasted trying to perfect said sketch, and then scrap it and start over. I challenge you all to learn from my mistakes and do warm-ups.
SPL: Finally, care to plug any of your upcoming projects or appearances?
CF: Look for This is a Sea Cow (Albert Whitman) coming in the fall of 2019! And for now, I mostly just appear in my pajamas at home. I’ll let you know when that changes.
Cassandra, thanks so much for being with us and sharing your experiences!
To learn more about Cassandra, check out her website: cassandrafederman.com, or follow her on Instagram at @cassfederman and on Twitter at @CassFederman. She’s repped by Jenna Pocius at Red Fox Literary Agency.
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: Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel, @DogsAndZombies