Today, Boneshaker Press is proud to introduce you to Kristen Schwartz. Kristen is pursuing an illustration career in children’s publishing. You can read about her journey in her Children’s Publishing Blog and contact her though her website, Twitter and Facebook page.
What’s your background?
I’m an illustrator, graphic designer, web designer and book designer. I studied to be an illustrator/graphic designer in advertising and had the unfortunate timing of getting my degree about 5 years before computers changed everything. My workflow became obsolete. Thankfully I worked for a software company in the early 80s and computers were already a big part of my life.
After college I worked for a graphics imprinting company, a newspaper and an ad agency before going freelance in 1994. I also studied botanical medicine and designed, wrote and illustrated for exhibits that chronicled the historical world uses of medicinal plants.
What got you interested in the arts to begin with?
Creativity surrounded me as a kid. My artist mom owned a gallery and sometimes did commercial art, my dad had a darkroom and lots of camera equipment, and my filmmaker/graphic artist/software developer uncle always involved us in fun projects.
When did you decide to dedicate yourself to art?
I made the decision in high school. In a final effort to make sure that’s what I wanted to do, I auditioned for a music college. There was no question after that.
Do you remember your first piece of art you were really proud of? The one that made you say yes I am an artist!
I’ve always felt I was an artist, but illustrating a book for the first time made me feel legitimate. I love books as a creative medium.
Do you collect anything?
I live in a shoe box. There’s no room! I do have a lot of reference books, but I’m always getting rid of the unused to make way for new favorites.
What sacrifices have you made on behalf of your art career?
To me “sacrifice” sounds like I’ve done something heroic, which I haven’t. You could say I’ve given up free time, days off, vacation, the money full-time employment brings, but my life is richer for my choices. Because I freelance, I’ve had the pleasure and flexibility to be available for our daughter every day of her life. I’ve done my best to set boundaries to protect what’s most important like family time and my health. Time with loved ones is something you can’t get back when it’s gone.
Do you ever feel like giving up and doing something else? If so, why and how have you overcome that feeling?
I’ve given up before and still get profoundly discouraged sometimes. Thankfully my dream is like a boomerang and quitting isn’t an option anymore. When I’m discouraged I retreat to a decadent bubble of solitude to create art until I’m ready to come back out again. I walk…a lot…to solve problems and filter out negativity that accumulates. While I work, I listen to documentaries of amazing achievements by artists, athletes, musicians, etc. I look back at my progress and accomplishments to remind myself how far I’ve come. It’s a long road. It’s vital to pace yourself and remember what’s most important in life. If I ever did manage to dodge the boomerang and give up, I imagine myself out in the middle of nowhere…digging holes.
How do you measure your level of success/achievement?
Happiness is most important to me. Next is fulfilling my dream of working as a children’s illustrator which, I hope, will make me very happy.
What advice would you have given yourself ten years ago?
Ten years ago I finally made the move to pursue my dream to become a children’s illustrator. That was good, so I’ll go back 20 years. At that point I was toying with going into children’s publishing, but I was hedging because changing industries seemed very difficult. I would say, “Go for it now before your daughter is born. It’s only going to get tougher!”
How has your practice changed over time?
I come from a photo realism background. One time an illustration teacher thought I was playing a joke by turning in a photograph instead of an illustration. I was good at it, but longed to be more expressive. Now I struggle to loosen my grip on literal representation, render less, and find the dream state where fantasy exists. It’s often difficult not to fall back on those ingrained realism techniques.
How do you keep your creative spark? What keeps you motivated?
Getting outside keeps me inspired. I get so many ideas hiking, standup paddleboarding, kayaking, camping, cross country skiing, etc. Nature reminds me of what’s important and makes me feel like anything is possible. Also important is a good laugh. If I lose my sense of humor, I’m done for…and so is everyone else.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I’ve gotten so much exceptional advice over the years. In the last year, the most life changing was from Chris Oatley. “Live deeply. Create deeply.” One should value life experience as a deep well to draw from. That gave my 50 years new meaning and value—totally altering how I feel about myself. That’s quite a gift.
Professionally, what’s your goal?
To truly connect with my audience and be the best children’s illustrator I can be. I’d also like to do more illustration than design work.
What’s your main challenge when beginning a new piece of art?
Sometimes I look at my last illustration and freeze in my tracks thinking, How did I do that? I can’t do that! Once I get going and stop thinking so much, I’m fine.
What are you working on right now? (Other than this project) What are you currently obsessed with?
I’m working on girl adventures using fairytales as departure points. So many fairytales disappointed me as a kid when being “rescued” ruined the adventures for the girls.
Would you eat the moon if it were made of spare ribs?
Hmmm…that’s a lot of ribs. I might be more inclined if it were chocolate, but even then…it’s a tall order. Can I invite friends?