Interview with Author/Illustrator Julia Maisen

I had the pleasure of interviewing author/illustrator Julia Maisen.  I became familiar with her work after seeing an article she wrote, “Art Education on the Cheap,” in the March/April 2013 issue of the SCBWI Bulletin.  Check out her work here.

AK: What inspired you to become an artist?

JM: I think that I have always wanted to be an artist, or at least I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an artist. I suppose I was just one of the lucky ones who never grew out of the desire to create.

AK: You mentioned in your article that you never went to art school. Are you self-taught or did you take classes independently? What artists and/or styles were you especially drawn to in your studies?

JM: It’s funny; when you talk about being self-taught it can mean a lot of different things. For me I’ve taken maybe 2 art classes at a university as well as a workshop or two. Most of my instruction comes from books, DVDs and observation. I also make up a lot of exercises for myself based on things I’ve read and suggestions from other artists.

I love the golden age illustrators, especially N.C. Wyeth. Sargent is another favorite artist as is Holly Hobbie, Adam Rex, Chris Van Allsburg and too many others to count.

AK: Where is the most interesting place you’ve gone to sketch? What did you draw there?

JM: I once went sketching at the zoo, which was a lot of fun. I also sketched a lot while on a family trip to France a couple of years ago. But mostly I don’t go anywhere in particular to sketch, since for the most part I’m trying to get an image in my head down on paper.

AK: You seem to prefer watercolors. Why do you like this medium? What do you find most challenging?

JM: I’ve always loved watercolors, in part because they are a great mix of careful planning and happy accidents. As for the most challenging thing about watercolor I think it’s establishing your darks while at the same time preserving your whites. It can be hard to build up darks in watercolors since the paint is so translucent.

AK: What is your favorite technique and why?

JM: I like working wet-into-wet and creating blooms with the water. It’s a neat effect that can suggest interesting textures and add interest to a painting.

AK: I read that you are also a writer. Which came first for you, writing or art?

JM: I’ve always done both, though I think that it took me longer to realize that I could write my own stories just like I could create my own pictures.

AK: Do you write and illustrate your own picture books? What is that process like for you?

JM: I do write and illustrate my own stories, though I haven’t had any of them published yet. Mostly the story starts with an image of an idea and I go from there. In the beginning I’m jumping back and forth a lot between words and pictures until I nail down what the story is about. After that it’s pretty straightforward, with me first writing a final version of the text and then creating the pictures.

AK: What makes you want to write and illustrate for children?

JM: It’s partly because the stories in my head just naturally seem to go there and partly because I think stories for kids have a lot of heart and humor in them, which I like.

AK: What advice can you offer to an artist who wishes to pursue a career in art/illustration without getting a formal art degree?

JM: If you are not going to get a degree, then you have to be committed to pursuing your art every day. You need to be driven to both get better and to put your art out into the world.

AK: Do you think it is better to be an expert or a beginner when it comes to making art?

JM: I think you need both to be successful. You need to be a beginner in the sense that you need to be willing to try new things and new techniques. A beginner is more likely to leap without looking and trusting that in the end everything will turn out right. But you also need the skills and experience that an expert brings to the table. An expert knows a thousand and one ways to direct the reader’s eye and communicate an emotion. That’s a necessary skill to have.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. biscuitsspace
    Apr 05, 2013 @ 18:04:00

    Great interview!

    Reply

  2. Anne
    Apr 05, 2013 @ 19:07:06

    I liked this interview. Her comments were very straight forward, honest, and helpful for someone pursuing their dream as an author/illustrator.

    Reply

  3. Kristin Lenz
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 00:11:50

    Thanks for the interview! It’s always inspiring for me to hear that someone is mostly self-taught. I always go back and forth about how much structured education I need to improve my craft.

    Reply

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