Monday, May 18, 2009

Art Day Interview: Illustrator Kristi Valiant

Today’s Art Day Interview is with illustrator Kristi Valiant. Read on to find out more about Kristi and her art.

Q: How did you get started illustrating for children?
A: While I was in art school, I had an internship at a small children's publisher. Then during my senior year, I won an illustration contest to illustrate a leveled reader by Seedling Publications. Those were my first steps into children's books.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the recent book you illustrated.
A: Cora Cooks Pancit is my latest book; it just came out last month, in April, 2009. It's a multicultural picture book written by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore and published by Shen's Books. In the story, Cora wants to cook but usually gets stuck with kid jobs. When her older siblings head out for the day, she's finally allowed to be Mama's assistant chef and learns how to make pancit, a Filipino noodle dish. The recipe is in the book, and it's super yummy!

Q: What are you working on right now? Do you have any other books or art projects you’d like to talk about?
A: Today I'll be painting an illustration for Highlights magazine. I love Highlights, so this is an especially fun project! I've had a lot of work lately, including interior illustrations for two chapter books, covers for six chapter books, hundreds of black & white line drawings for educational materials, and yesterday, I turned in sketches for an educational project for McGraw Hill. All this work is a huge blessing! But I'm still making time to work on my own picture book dummy that I'd like to start submitting to agents soon. I took part in NaPiBoWriWee last week, and now I have 7 more picture book rough drafts that I'd love to start revising as well.

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 license card designs and illustrations for Christmas cards every year. Some of those illustrations are in my children's book look, but some are very different. I've also illustrated in a fashion vector style for a fashion magazine and a high-end clothing store.

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: Picture books by definition tell part of the story through pictures, so I try to pick out parts that can be expanded upon to tell a deeper or funnier story by "reading" the illustrations. For example, in Cora Cooks Pancit, I added a dog to the illustrations who wasn't mentioned at all in the text. He follows around the main character and keeps bringing more and more toys hoping the little girl will play with him. She ignores the dog all the way through the book, until the very end when she's lying on the floor playing tug of war with the dog. I don't draw only what the text says for picture books, but novels are a bit different. In a novel, the whole story is told in the text and the illustrations usually just show the action or feeling of what's already told.

Q: Can you explain your art process?
A: I work all digital nowadays. I still have lots of great paints and materials from art school, but my mac and wacom tablet are my favorite tools now. I sketch in Photoshop using the wacom tablet and electronic pen. I move around parts of the sketch and resize and redraw until it's ready. To paint, I use some fun Photoshop brushes that I've downloaded and I've manipulated to look like pastels or watercolor or acrylics or whatever medium I want this painting to appear to be done in. My personal taste is to steer away from creating artwork that looks airbrushed on the computer. Photoshop allows you to play around a lot with their brush creator, so I use multiple brushes as I paint. I work in separate layers, so I can move or edit certain parts of the painting if it's not working. Working digitally allows for so much freedom while painting - I love it! If you're working with traditional paints and you mess up, sometimes you can't fix it, and you have to start over. But working digitally allows me to experiment along the way and if something isn't working, I can delete that layer, or recolor just that area very quickly without it looking retouched. The undo button has become a huge part of my process!

Q: What is your favorite color?
A: Cobalt Blue (I've painted my office/studio cobalt blue and yellow with artwork hung all around - it's so energizing!)

Q: What childhood art supply brings back happy memories?
A: Colored pencils. The Museum of Children's Art in Oakland, CA has a show right now called Then & Now. It shows a current picture book illustration next to a piece of art created by that artist when they were a child. I have pieces in that show and my childhood piece is a colored pencil drawing I did in 5th grade.

Q: Do you have a favorite childhood picture that you remember making?
A: I created the childhood picture I have in the Then & Now show in class in 5th grade. I had finished my schoolwork early and the teacher let me draw. I drew this girl in colored pencil and thought she looked like a photograph. Of course, as you can see, it didn't. But I was proud of it, and got in trouble showing it to everyone around me - they were still working on their schoolwork.

Q: Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?
A: Pretty much, yes.

Q: Do you use models / source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
A: All of the above. With source pictures, I have to be careful I don't infringe on anyone's copyrights, of course.

Q: What gets you through an illustration you’re having trouble with?
A: Chocolate and my husband or mom pointing out what's wrong with the illustration.

Q: What illustrated book(s) do you remember from when you were a child?
A: When I was little, I was fascinated with the illustrations by Janet & Anne Grahame Johnstone in Dean's Mother Goose Book of Rhymes. I still am, and I own two copies of that book now.

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now? (You can list more than one.)
A: LeUyen Pham, Holly Hobbie, Adam Rex, Christopher Denise, Amy June Bates, Jen Corace, Adam Gustafson, Elena Kucharik, and more.

Bio: Kristi Valiant loves dancing, cooking, red walls, monkeys, penguins, and mice, all of which can be found in one or another of her children's books. Kristi's newest book is a multicultural picture book she illustrated called Cora Cooks Pancit. She's illustrated dozens of leveled readers and hundreds of black and white line drawings for educational materials. Kristi graduated magna cum laude from Columbus College of Art & Design with a major in Illustration. She grew up in Wisconsin, studied in Ohio, moved to Texas, spent a summer in China, and now lives in Indiana with her husband. You can see more of her artwork on her website: or on her blog:

Thanks for the interview Kristi!

All images in this post © Kristi Valiant.