Some of professional illustrator Kent Culotta’s most recent projects include illustrations for D is for Dump Truck, published by Sleeping Bear Press, and The Twelve Days of Christmas in Kentucky, published by Sterling Children’s Books. He’s also collaborated with author Eric Ode and publisher Kane Miller on three books, Dan, The Taxi Man, Busy Trucks on the Go, and the recently released Too Many Tomatoes. Kent lives in Southern California, but grew up in a small town in Michigan. When he was five, he covered an entire wall of his parents’ living room with his own gallery, each drawing taped lovingly in place. No blank piece of paper, used envelope, or post-it note have ever been safe from his pencil. And today Kent, a fellow SCBWI member, shares with us his experience along with some tips and tools for leveling-up your own skills.
SARAH PARKER-LEE: You’ve worked as an artist in newspapers and on film, including several years in the animation industry working on some pretty memorable Walt Disney movies. How, and why, did you make the transition to children’s book illustrator? Did SCBWI play a role?
KENT CULOTTA: Being a children’s book illustrator was always in the back of my mind when I was working at the big animation studios, and I took a couple of book illustration classes back then at Otis Parsons. I think that I first learned about SCBWI from one of those classes. At the time I was a bit discouraged because publishers then were less open to illustrators whose work showed an animation influence. That has changed a lot. The big transition I went through was when animation rather quickly went from hand-drawn to CG. I worked hard to update my skills and did pretty well, but I soon realized what I really missed was drawing by hand. I joined a group called Drawergeeks that my co-workers participated in. Each week a new subject was set and we all would do an illustration piece on that subject. It helped motivate me and also helped me get out of my own head a little and tackle subjects that I wouldn’t normally think of, a good skill when you’re illustrating other people’s stories. I ended up getting a pretty nice first illustration portfolio from those Drawergeeks illustrations. It was at that point I started regularly attending SCBWI schmoozes/mingles and conferences, which were great motivators as well.
SPL: As an illustrator, you’re tasked with interpreting someone else’s story while still being true to your artistic identity. Do you have any advice on how to maintain that balance for those just starting out or perhaps feeling a little lost? Continue reading