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In SCBWI-L.A.’s latest Twitter Banner Contest, illustrators were asked to submit their most creative response to our prompt: FLIGHTS OF FANCY. The winning contestant’s artwork is featured on the Los Angeles Region SCBWI Twitter profile until the next contest, with a feature article published here on Kite Tales.

We’re excited to announce Emily Asaro as our winner! Emily is an illustrator who grew up in a small beach town in southern New Jersey. She has spent most of her life by the sea and currently calls the West coast home. She has won the SCBWI-L.A. Illustrator’s Day 2019 Portfolio contest and the Illustration Mentorship contest and shows her work at galleries all over Southern California.

Read on to learn more about Emily, her tips and tools, and what inspires her work.

KITE TALES: Your work is so colorful and reminiscent of watercolor, but you use markers and pencil as your preferred medium. How does this medium inform your process? Are there other mediums that you like to use?

EMILY ASARO: Thank you so much. I started out working primarily in watercolor and colored pencil. One year, I was gifted some Copic markers. I really enjoyed how the brush pen nib enabled me to “paint” and blend so quickly. I had also set a challenge for myself to draw with ink for line work to get myself more used to putting down marks without overthinking. This was initially terrifying and frustrating but felt more natural over time as I practiced. 

My amazing mentor and friend, Bethany, who I met through the SCBWI mentorship, encouraged me to include my marker work in my portfolio as she felt it contained a lot of character and life while still being painterly. I got a lot of great feedback and now try to marry the two styles, and keep the looseness in both mediums.

KT: Your winning piece for the Twitter Banner Contest is titled “Sky of the Sea” and features an octopus flying in a sea of clouds. Does the sea, and all that surrounds it, inspire most of your work?

EA: Yes, it is a source of inspiration for sure. The ocean is my favorite place. I often go there when I’m in need of a creative reset. During my childhood, I was lucky enough to live near both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. One of my most favorite places is a little cove in San Diego where you can watch the sea lions on the beach. I could sit there and doodle them for hours.

KT: You have won a Portfolio Showcase with SCBWI in 2019—that must have been so exciting! What did you learn from that experience and how has it influenced your work or your process in deciding on what piece to do next?

EA: Thank you – it was definitely a surreal moment. When I heard my name called, my heart started pounding and it took me a second to stand up. I couldn’t believe it! I was really honored that the faculty saw something in my work. All of the critiques were really encouraging and helpful. One of the most important things I took away was to just keep making more work and telling stories in my drawings. The experience really boosted my confidence and inspired me to keep going.

KT: Do you have any words of advice for other illustrators out there looking to strengthen their portfolios?

EA: I feel like our worst enemy is our inner critic. I think it’s important for all artists to know that self-doubt is extremely common.

Something that I have found helpful is to find community for feedback. There are tons of ways to do this within SCBWI, such as regional Lit Mingles, illustrator meet ups, and portfolio review opportunities. Put yourself and your work out there. I also recommend joining a critique group. It makes such a difference to have a regular meet up with a group of artists and/or writers who will support you and give honest and constructive feedback throughout your journey. 

My critique buddies and I met through a class that started just before the pandemic. We ended up finishing the class virtually and continuing to meet and support each other monthly for the past two years. It’s been really great to have those virtual high fives and feedback as we all further develop our portfolios and projects. Sending a special shout out to them!

KT: And just for fun: do you have a favorite sea tale that you think you’d like to illustrate one day?

EA: Yes! I have sketchbooks full of quirky sea lion character doodles. I hope to find a story for them someday. 

You can find Emily’s portfolio online at emilyasarodoodles.com and visit her Instagram @emilyasarodoodles for more fun sketches and artwork.

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Images provided by Emily Asaro.