A Mini-Interview with Amanda Shepherd
With a teeny, tiny baby on my lap and a career switch in my head, I surfed the internet looking for anything related to children’s illustration. I found SCBWI and with that the link to the Los Angeles Conference and their Portfolio Winners. I clicked names away for 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002. Then I got to 2001, Amanda Shepherd it read. My heart skipped a beat. I LOVED her work. I had to know where this girl lived. My heart stopped completely: she was in Phoenix! I was in Phoenix! I grabbed my phone determined to call her. I had to talked to her. Then I put the phone back on its base and went back to clicking while I thought: “She’s going to think I’m crazy!”
I never attempted that call again but I patiently waited for that moment when I would meet the Oh-so-talented Amanda. And it happened a few months later. Heck, we both were in Phoenix and there were only a few children’s illustrators in this city!
Amanda is lovely, sweet and SUPER smart, and I admire her and her work. So it is with great, great pleasure that I introduce you to my friend, Amanda the Magnificent. She does magic in her work. Yes, she does… and to your delight, here she is to talk to us about her work and career.
About Amanda Shepherd
Originally from the Seattle area and most recently from Phoenix, Arizona, Amanda lives in Texas with her wildly creative husband, Garbo, and Polly the ‘baby hurricane cat’. It is fascinating to watch the influence of environment on her art first hand. From where she grew up in Seattle to Illinois to her beloved Phoenix… She loves being an artist. The places she have lived are a part of her. Each place is a history of experience that has an influence on her work. When something speaks to her, it comes out by memory on paper. Each artist sees differently. She sees differently and that is an extraordinary thing.
She has illustrated five fabulous little books: “Rules of the Wild” written by Bridget Levin, “Who Loves Me” written by Patricia MacLachlan, “Such A Silly Baby!” writen by Steffanie and Richard Lorig, “Fiona Loves the Night” by Emily and Patricia MacLachlan and upcoming “Mouse and Company” by Susan Pearson.
Amanda thinks of her books as children. Diane Dillion once said to her “… books ah yes, you create them and you have to let them go and live thier lives.” You never really know how well they will do in the market.” Ironically, Rules of the Wild, her first book has outsold all of her other books and it is almost completely sold out. She loves that book. In a side note, she shook Diane Dillion’s hand. Diana is an amazing and lovely person and so is Amanda.
Describe yourself in five words:
Creative, expressive, dedicated, compassionate, loyal. People say to me ” Oh, Amanda? She is so nice… and then I laugh”. I am not sure what that means…. Wait! wait! We should be drawing ourselves in 5 lines… :)
Now, please tell us how you got started in picture book illustration (in more than five words):
I wanted to be an artist since finger painting in Kindergarten. I so remember discovering how yellow and blue make green… wow, that was a fabulous moment indeed! But in third grade Miss Benson asked us all what we wanted to be when we grew up and I knew I wanted to be an artist. Miss Benson, now Mrs. Gregory said, “You know what? You can. You can be anything you want”. Miss Benson was a very smart person! So, that was it. I was going to be an artist. It is alI I have ever wanted to be. My third grade teacher Miss Benson/Gregory will always be my hero.
So in an effort to do so — I have worked around the United States as a newspaper illustrator as well as a designer. Then I spent a several years designing advertising and admiring the hand drawn shoes of Andy Warhol. Now, I am an artist and illustrator who works for the fabulous company HEB in Texas. HEB is amazingly supportive of me as well as my work as an illustrator. I really work with great people. Not only do they put up with me at work, but my friends/co workers came to my small artist opening in our local gallery. Working keeps me completely inspired and provides the schedule I need to be an artist and illustrator at home. Oh and I get to eat too. It’s the best grocery company in Texas! I don’t make a very good starving artist.
If you had to describe your work in terms of your artistic influences, you would say it is:
Maira Kalman meets Alexander Calder in Paul Klee’s bar …they laugh and draw happy hilarious things. Oh and they eat pink cupcakes.
Of the six fundamentals of 2D design (line, shape, volume, perspective, shading, and color): Which is your greatest strength? Which poses your greatest challenge?
Strength: currently line. In my first books definitely color. Challenge: Perspective. Perspective is the same thing as presentation. Because of my whimsical style – is not always important that it is technically ‘correct’. But everything – just like in “The Great Gatsby” – everything needs to immediately communicate what is important. I try to make sure my illustrations communicate concisely… and quickly. And in books the progression and movement from page to page tells a story. I love constructing page design with movement and motion. True joy.
My critical time is working in the morning drawing sketches and writing notes and catching up on email… um… until deadline. Then the critical time is all the time… someone once said… “Amanda you work so much better when you haven’t gotten any sleep.” Ah, yeah. Um, thank you, I think. But then I think about that. Is it true? Do I work better when I am not over editing and over correcting myself?
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given as an illustrator?
“The more determined you are, the more your work improves. The better your work is, the better your chances are. It is as simple as that” – Amanda’s hero no. 2: Dilys Evans.
Recently I read this amazing story in “Salon Magazine.” Emily Rapp said: “… Stories: the only things we’ve got, the arbiters of of this human process of rocketing between hope and despair, and it’s why every person is vitally important. It’s why it doesn’t matter if you’re a mess, or put together, or even a success according to arbitrary standards. What matters is that you are conscious of the world around you in all its beauty.” Write it down. Capture life as you know it. Believe in yourself and your work. Its all that matters.
What’s your favorite marketing tip or strategy?
I love sending postcards. I think a postcard tells people exactly what you are doing and who you are in 5 seconds.
What new projects have you got coming down the pike?
I have a few projects that I am working on all at once, which um…. let just say may not be the most effective process.
1. I am working on a book of my own which is outside everything I have ever done… sort of a Maira Kalman stule meet these people I know in real life book. Authors often say they don’t know where a book is taking them and this book is completely fun and really interesting. 2. Also I am working two picture books with my husband. And as always I am working on marketing, marketing, marketing.
And this concludes Amanda’s visit and interview. Thank you, Amanda! I will see you next week here when I’ll be interviewing the wonderful Greg Pizzoli.
Also this week, we have another 3 fantastic women children’s illustrators:
- Lynne Avril on Wednesday visiting Molly’s blog
- Alexandra Boiger on Thursday stopping by Mikela’s blog, and,
- Mary Sullivan on Friday dropping in at Laura’s blog
This post is part of the Mini-Interview Series where 4 children’s illustrators interview other Children’s Illustrators and Author/Illustrators throughout the month of November. Our guests include:
- Kevan Atteberry
- Lynne Avril
- Alexandra Ball
- Alexandra Boiger
- David Christiana
- Kent Culotta
- Adam Gustavson
- Jeremy Holmes
- Brian Karas
- Kelly Light
- John Parra
- Greg Pizzoli
- Amanda Shepherd
- Mary Sullivan
- Constanze Von Kitzing
- Wendy Watson