Friday, 5 May 2017

5 Minutes with... Melissa Shultz-Jones

In today's instalment of the '5 Minutes with..' series of interviews, we're catching up with Melissa Shultz-Jones from her home in Alabama! From her many favourite illustrators, to her love of exploring and her tips for aspiring illustrators, lets get to know a little more about Melissa...

Where do you live/work and what do you like about working there?

I work out of my little home studio in Birmingham, Alabama. The studio is actually the foyer of our 120+ year old house, in an old district of Birmingham that was originally a railroad town. It's in the city though, so you get this great mix of busy city life but with lots of plants and trees. I love the mix of automobiles and trains, buildings and buses with gardens, birds, parks, and critters; that old and new harmonizing together so beautifully. On any warm weekend night, I can hear live music from one of the breweries. It's just a festive, vivid area.

What do you love most about being an illustrator?

I'm smiling as I answer this question. Illustrating answers the wish of my little 6 year old self. I've loved stories and art and children's books, just always. And I love that illustration- especially illustrating for children's literature- bring children and adults together. A smartly done children's book will slow us big kids down enough to really connect with the story, creating a shared experience with that little bundle of energy sitting on our laps. That's a really important thing to do in this fast-paced life!

How do you work- what are your techniques?

I work traditionally, with transparent watercolor and gouache, and touches of soft pastel. Then I pop the whites in photoshop. I work a little bigger than the print size, so all those messy rough bits show.

What is your favorite thing to draw and why?

I know this sounds like I'm skirting your question, but my favorite thing is always my current project- but also what I'm dreaming of in the background. There's so many wonderful things to communicate visually, it's so hard to only pick one!

What or who are you most inspired by?

Children, especially my children as they continually inspire me. They are so creative and vivacious. Also music, and stories. They are really both one in the same though, right?! Folk art from all over the world. Museum visits. The great outdoors.

Do you have a favorite illustrator?

If I run them all into one word, like a hyphenated last name, maybe it looks like I have one favorite illustrator? 


What do you like to do in your spare time when you're not illustrating?

My kids and I love exploring together. We hike and go to art festivals, music festivals, historic areas. I love going to concerts with my husband. We all like exploring the city and surrounding areas. Oh! And I love reading aloud to the kids, even to the 15 year old!

How did I get into illustration?

From about middle school through my university years, I turned what I could into a picture book! It made history essays and later anatomy lessons way more fun. I studied fine art all throughout childhood, and on into college. I loved making books, and thought it was too easy for a career. I believed career stuff should be more toilsome. Sometime after my children were born, I realized how funny that notion was and jumped right into kid lit.

What are your three top tips for aspiring illustrators?

Get your stuff out there. Not just online, but in real life. Find people you trust to give you honest feedback. Second tip is to make sure what you are doing is giving you good vibes. If you're too anxious over it, maybe try a new medium for a bit (that's a two for one tip!). The third tip is to remember not to give up. No matter how frustrated you are, the only thing that stands between you and your dream of  illustrating is time, but it won't happen if you don't persist. I hope this helps someone out there. 

What were your favorite books when you were younger?

The Grey lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang. Strega Nona, by Tomie Depaola, Thumbelina: A Living Story Book (#17) with Crown Publishers Inc, Tiki Tiki Tembo by Arlene Mosle come immediately to mind.

What was the Last book you read? What did you think? 

I just finished “Turning the Mind into an Ally” by Sakyong Mipham. It's simple, and profound, and has proven a great daily assistant to me towards becoming more mindful.

What are my aspirations for 2017?

I'm working on a personal picture book project, which I would like to see finished, and hopefully published. I'd like to have at least one picture book completed before this quick little year is at an end.

My ultimate dream?

I would have to say to be a tiny little woodland sprite that lives in a mushroom house.

We really hope you enjoyed getting to know a little more about Melissa, and her life as a children's illustrator! For more of Melissa's work, you can visit her PP folio page here!

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