Here it is, the week of Christmas, when I should be decking halls and wrapping gifts. But I love my job, so the fa-la-la-la-la will just have to wait. Instead, I’m conducting a pre-#NY16SCBWI interview with a super cool conference faculty member. Luckily, David Saylor was totally game, this last second (quite literally) before his holiday break. I guess he loves his work as much as I do.
Saylor is vice-president and creative director for the Scholastic Trade Publishing Group and the founder of Scholastic’s ground-breaking graphic novel imprint, Graphix. In addition, he was the art director for the American editions of Harry Potter. Saylor’s most recent books (art direction and design) include THE PRINCESS AND THE PONY by Kate Beaton; 8: AN ANIMAL ALPHABET by Elisha Cooper; WHERE’S WALRUS? AND PENGUIN? by Stephen Savage; and THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by C. Clement Moore and David Ercolini. Other books that appear in this interview are also books that he’s art directed.
David: Thank you—I’m very happy to help!
Don: When considering a new illustrator, someone you haven’t worked with before, what qualities do you look for in their art?
David: I’m always looking for artwork that has a great narrative sense, meaning that the artwork extends and amplifies the story. All picture book artwork needs to capture a moment that’s very specific to the story, but it also needs to include all sorts of details and emotion to build a believable world beyond the basic plot.
David: If I haven’t worked with an artist before, I like to make sure we’re in agreement on the stages of how we’ll make the book, whether it’s starting with character sketches, rough thumbnails, full dummy, or color samples. And I love to work with an artist who has an interesting vision for a book and then the consistency and skills to create a memorable book.
- Show work in your portfolio that’s appropriate to children’s books.
- Show work that is consistently great.
- Show work that evokes an emotional response: artwork that makes the viewer feel something.
Don: Social networking. I’ve heard some industry professionals say that using Instagram or other networks are now paramount to an illustrator getting discovered. What are your thoughts on the subject?
David: It’s essential these days to showcase your work on a website, blog, or tumblr page. Online is where most art directors and editors will go (these days) to see the variety of work an artist creates. I myself am not on social media like Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, so I prefer it when artists have sites that are easily accessible and don’t require signing up for anything or creating an online account. My sense is that social media is more useful for publicity purposes and keeping in touch with fans, though it can also be used for industry networking.
Don: As an illustrator of color myself, and a member of the We Need Diverse Books team, I’ve taken notice of Scholastic’s list, it’s nicely diverse. Can you offer some tips to illustrators who are looking to illustrate diversely, across their race/culture/experience.
David: It’s up to publishers to reflect the world around us in the books we create. We need to be more aggressive to find and hire illustrators who represent all cultures and communities. It’s heartbreaking when children can’t see themselves reflected in contemporary books. And all illustrators need to think about being inclusive and culturally accurate. If you’re going to illustrate humans in your work, then it’s crucial to paint and represent kids of all cultures and backgrounds, not just your own familiar world.
Don: When I first got into the business, artists dropped portfolios off at publishing houses or advertised in source books. Later, they moved to online portfolio services. What is the best way to get an art directors attention today?
David: See above: social networking and having an online presence of some sort. And then by being active in an organization like SCBWI where you can meet professionals and show them your work. I think it has always been hard to get noticed, and sometimes getting somewhere means finding an agent to represent your work to publishers. Even though publishers generally don’t review portfolios anymore, we do go where artists are: schools and conferences. And many artists come to our attention through agents.
Don: I’m thrilled that you will be on faculty at the National SCBWI conference in NYC. Can you tell our readers what to expect from David Saylor at 16NYSCBWI? (just a short tease, something to get people excited about signing up for your intensive.
David: I promise to be brutally honest