This month's featured artist is SCBWI British Isles own Illustrator Coordinator Anne-Marie Perks. Overseeing all our activities for illustrators for many years, Anne-Marie is a familiar face to anyone involved with SCBWI. Balancing all this with a busy teaching role, she also maintains a steady illustration career, defined from her roots in California through the many years she's lived in the UK. See more of her work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery.

Growing up I wanted to be a dancer or a musician and singer and sometimes an artist. My mother was an avid reader passed her love of horror, supernatural and historic fictional stories on to me along with my first crayons, pencils, paper and clay at a very young age and made sure I had a library card by the time I was five years old. The love of story, mark making and clay work saved my life more than once, and I don’t say that lightly.

At 16 years old I graduated high school as a three year graduate with great plans to have an MFA in studio sculpture and painting by the time I was 22 years old. That didn’t happen because life has a way of demanding to be lived. I received a Degree in Fine Art and a Diploma in Graphic Design moving through three different schools that included College of the Desert, University California Riverside and Art Center College of Design. After moving to the UK, I received a BA Honours in Illustration and MA in Children’s Illustration from North Wales School of Art and Design. I also studied Writing for Publication and Advanced Writing for Children with the Institute of Children’s Literature.

I didn’t have picture books as a child. I had books that I buried myself in. Books on world mythologies, stories from the indigenous peoples of North America, aliens from outer space, fantasy realism, supernatural and historical fiction. Images that inspired me then were from Disney’s Bambi and the dance scenes from Fantasia. Later on in life it would be Mary Blair’s colour palettes and compositions.

Disney’s Bambi, the fight scene.

Disney’s Fantasia, Dance scene with Croc and Hippo.

Mary Blair, concept art for Disney’s Cinderella.

For the first 8 years of my career I worked as a graphic designer and art director with a magazine publisher and later with a design studio while working to open my own ceramic studio. Changing direction after a few years, I moved onto gallery work and entered into juried exhibitions, winning a few awards for some of those paintings. I met my daughters’ father, a British national working at the same publisher I did in California. After the birth of our daughters and falling in love with the art and craft of children’s books, I decided to work full time learning how to produce them. It would take finding SCBWI and almost seven years working on developing my craft before my first book was published, The Tortoise Who Bragged, written by Betsy Franco. I’ve illustrated six books since then, published in the US and the UK, have been included in an anthologies and have produced artwork for book covers and pre-production for film and animation. Now, along with teaching illustration and animation at Buckinghamshire New University, I’m focused on producing my own personal work and shaping my life around allowing that to happen.

Cover for The Tortoise Who Bragged by Betsy Franco.

Drawing, observational and as part of ideation, is the foundation of my process. Everyday I try to start by warming up with drawing on location, in life drawing classes (I teach life drawing at university and this gives me the opportunity to draw over 4 sessions a week in demos) or when I’m learning about a character, place or prop or art style. Doing master studies to learn about colour palettes or composition is a favourite warm up of mine too.

Polar Bear studies for Christmas Card project

Development drawings for David McDougall’s Artist Brief, Aesop’s Fables, The Fox With No Tail.

When starting on any project whether illustrating for others or for myself, I do lots of observational and ‘get to know’ drawings to learn all about the character(s) and worlds they live in. Alongside this practice will be word lists that could refer to actual reference or the mood and feel of the story. From this I’ll do lots of thumbnails trying out different story moments, viewpoints and compositions that may best tell the visual story I’m going for. If I’m going to do any writing, I do that first thing in the morning.  I feel I’m the most connected creatively at that time. I do lots and lots of thumbnails putting down ideas and iterations on an idea very quickly. Those thumbnails will dwindle down to larger, cleaner drawings heading towards what will end up being my final compositions. I love storyboarding because I feel I can work my way through a sequential narrative best with them.

Grandma Said picture book work in progress, playing with faces.

Though I do work digitally, the foundation of all that I do is with traditional mark making and materials. Moving in an organic way between digital and traditional allows me to pull in textures and colour and composition adjustments. A final painting might be digital or it might be watercolour, ink, graphite or oils. 

Grandma Said picture book work in progress, Magdelena.

In thinking about top tips, I’ll start with believing in yourself and take stock in what it is you really want to do with your artwork at regular intervals. This leads to focus. Overall focus on what you feel you want to say to the world with your artwork, but also that one line focus you give yourself that keeps you on track with every project you take on. I’d also add in here to think about where each project you do is taking you. Is it taking away from what you want to do with all your heart? Or, is it taking toward it. Make your decisions based on what takes you to where you want to go with your art.

The above is individual and personal. The next has to do with being part of a critique group you trust, or working with a mentor or both. A critique group that will help you progress tells you the truth, and you listen to what they have to say because you believe they are in support of you doing the best you work you can. It might take you awhile to find a critique group like that, or a mentor that does the same thing, but it’s worth everything to find one.  

Lastly, be professional. Show up everyday to your work if possible, and keep deadlines. It isn’t said much, but a big part of being a freelance artist, author and artist is about building relationships. Be the professional that communicates with their clients often and don’t leave them in the dark as to what your schedule ‘really’ is. Be friendly, be honest and be nice to work with.

Ready to paint, Cover concept for self-promotion for Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

Ready to paint, Cover concept for self-promotion for Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.

See more of Anne-Marie's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery
She has a website here, and on Tumblr
Follow her on Twitter and Instagram Also check her work on Big Little Tale

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