Monday, December 15, 2008

Art Day Interview: Illustrator Marilyn Scott-Waters

Today’s Art Day interview is with illustrator Marilyn Scott-Waters, an illustrator and toy maker. Read on to find out more about Marilyn’s art.

Q: How did you get started illustrating for children?
A: When I started college I really wanted to be a children’s book illustrator, but the counselor pretty much laughed at that idea so somehow I ended up with a degree in Comparative Literature. After a few decades of doing product design I finally got serious about illustration.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the recent book you illustrated, THE SEARCH FOR VILE THINGS, by Jane Hammerslough.
A: It’s part of a two book series that I illustrated for Scholastic. It’s about an eccentric Victorian family that travels the world looking for the most vile things they can find. It was a complete delight to draw all these strange creatures and I did learn quite a bit of natural history. The first book, due out next month is about the East Indies and the next one, out next December, is based in Madagascar.

Q: What are you working on right now? Do you have any other books or art projects you’d like to talk about?
A: Oh gosh yes! I’m working with my writing partner, J. H. Everett on a series for Henry Holt called “Haunted Histories” It’s going to be real history told from the point of view of a “Ghostorian”, a Goth kid named Virgil. Lots of creepy fun stuff! Skulls! Dungeons! Gross stuff! History shouldn’t be dull.

I did a picture book called “Mouse Party” that is in acquisitions at Piggy Toes Press. (Keep your fingers crossed) and I’m illustrating another picture book that my kid wrote in fourth grade called “Super Underwear Monkey” Next on my plate is a series of two books for Sterling that will be paper toys. It’s all good!

Q: When someone else has written the text for a picture book or novel, how do you decide what scenes and details to draw?
A: For “The Search For Vile Things” I was given a list of eighty animals to draw so I had to do a lot of research to find out exactly what a cocoanut octopus looks like or what an Atlas moth is. The most important thing in illustrating a picture book is to pick the right moment to show. I’ll doodle a bunch of different options then start laying out the whole book to see how the pages will look.

Q: When illustrating picture books, do you include a visual storyline that’s not in the text or include animals or people you know?
A: What a cool idea! It’s not something that I’ve done in a children’s book. I do put my griffin mark on all my paper toys.

Q: Can you explain your art process?
A: Hmmm… get up, drink coffee, empty litter box, take boy to school, and draw like a madwoman until two-thirty five. Pick up boy, draw more talking on phone to husband as he drives home, cook dinner, sleep, repeat. Actually I do my sketches by hand and scan them into Photoshop, then add color digitally.

Q: What is your favorite color?
A: I have lots of favorites just like I like lots of different kinds of food, flowers or music. I love orange red, sage green and warm brown. I love how certain colors look together like navy and gold or rust and lavender blue.

Q: What is your favorite medium to work in?
A: Photoshop followed by Illustrator. I paint about once a year and make a huge mess then go back to my nice tidy electronic world.

Q: What childhood art supply brings back happy memories?
A: Nice scissors. There is something about cutting paper with really sharp, good scissors.

Q: Do you have a favorite childhood picture that you remember making?
A: I remember my first art failure. I was in preschool and had just seen a local play called “The Pale Pink Dragon” But there wasn’t a pink paint pot and even though there was a glorious picture of a dragon in my head when I touched the paper with a huge drippy brush the poster paint ran all over the place and I remember being really angry and frustrated.

Q: Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?
A: I did but I got sidetracked for many years in shadow careers like clothing design before I finally figured out that I needed to get serious about making children’s books.

Q: Do you use models / source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
A: I do both. I think that a digital camera is a great invention.

Q: What gets you through an illustration you’re having trouble with?
A: The thought of getting paid is a big motivator. I also bribe my inner child with fun projects…. “If I finish this hard project then I can make a toy.”

Q: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?
A: I love to make things out of paper. I like to add a paper toy or two to my website every month. The main difference is that the toys that I make for fun are play for me. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

Q: What was your favorite toy, stuffed animal or doll when you were growing up?
A: A stuffed pink and white dog named Rebby. He was quite a sassy character and bossed all the other stuffed animals around. Now he’s quite squashed and most of his fur is rubbed off but he is still mighty in my mind.

Q: What illustrated book(s) do you remember from when you were a child?
A: I loved “Album of Horses” by Marguerite Henry. I also read to bits “The Big Book of Things To Do and Make’ “Go Dog, Go” is the best children’s book ever written, in my opinion.

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now? (You can list more than one.)
A: There are so many good illustrators that it is hard to choose! Quentin Blake,
for his spontaneity, Beatrix Potter, for her attention to animal anatomy, Edward Gorey, for his cross-hatching.

Q: Did you like to tell jokes or stories as a child?
A: I was one of four kids and we put on plays, operas and made musical instruments. We also wrote comic books. We always tried to get each other to be laughing so hard that we couldn’t swallow and spew milk. I don’t know how my parents survived.

Q: If you could be a kid again for just one day, what would you do?
A: I’d go to the beach, run around the tide pools and build a world out of sand.

Bio: Marilyn Scott-Waters is a children's book illustrator and avid paper toymaker. Her website, enjoys two to seven thousand visitors a day from all over the world. Her goal is to help grownups and children spend time together making things.

Thanks for the interview Marilyn!
All images in this post © Marilyn Scott-Waters.


  1. Great interview!

    Love the illo's!


  2. Wow, she has some great book titles that she illustrated! The Haunted Historians sounds cool!

  3. Another interesting interview! The Search For Vile Things looks like a fascinating book.

  4. Love the interview:)

    I also love the title of that book:)....and the illustrations are fantastic!

  5. Great interview, ladies! It's interesting to see how many people illustrate using Photoshop and things like that. :)

  6. The sharp scissors was a cool memory. My mom was a hair "dresser" - like a fashionista of hair design. We could never use her scissors - so one day I snuck (Mwha-ha-ha) my evil side comes through.

    ;-) And, Haunted Historian - how cool is that?

  7. I love "Ghostorian"...Great interview...

    Happy Holidays!!

    p.s. I nominated you for the Honest Scrap Award on my blog...