On Wednesday, January 30, 2013 VFS Digital Design presented another in its series of talks. Digital Design Talks: Childish Charms featured two art directors involved in the development of Children’s Literature, but from slightly different aspects of this changing industry.
Simon Vieira is a Digital Design grad and Art Director for StoryPanda, who produce Collaborative Kids Stories in the digital domain, using the iPad as their medium. And Sara Gillingham is an award-winning art director and designer, formally the Design Director for Chronicle Books, a significant player in the Children’s Books print industry, and she now also developes her own books and gifts.
The evening started with an introduction by Head of Department Miles Nurse. The theme Childish Charms looked at how art directors and designers working in Children’s Book industry are dealing with the shift to digital and interactive design – for instance, exploring, on the one hand, how the charm of the experience of a children’s books (particularly between parent and child) can be enhanced through interactive design techniques, and the on the other hand, how the shift to more digital production impacts on the relationship between the art directors and illustrators.
Simon Vieira says he started drawing while still in his mom’s belly. And then, once he was out of her belly running around in the world, he met a childhood friend and the two of them used to imagine stories together. It was the beginning of a lifelong love for illustrating books – especially children’s books. But it took a few bends in the road before he got to actually do this as a career. He got married, started a family, went to business school, came up with an idea for an interactive community for young entrepreneurs (Diligo), went to VFS to help further develop the idea, graduated and worked to make that community a reality. And then one day he decided he would take a chance, and he went ahead and made his first book. With the help of some friends “and the universe” it became real enough that a company approached him with the proposal to collaborate on the book. That collaboration developed into StoryPanda.
Sometimes, the things you do are not obviously connected to the things you love to do, but they can turn out in retrospect to be just the right steps to take to get to doing that thing. When speaking about the relationship between his education, particularly as a User Experience Designer, and the work he does now, Simon offered this very nice observation: “Life is the ultimate user.”
Now, Simon is living his dream — illustrating books and creating something with an innovative design that enriches the experience of storytelling between parents and their kids.
The next speaker, Sara Gillingham, was introduced by current Digital Design student Larissa Lo An Hsia Wilcock, who got to know and love her work while living on the Sunshine Coast. Sara also had a life long dream to illustrate books, and with a BFA from UBC and a degree from the Glasgow School of Art, she was definitely on the right track. She also dreamt of designing books, and this part of her dream came true when she went to work as a Design Director for Chronicle Books. She was happy to be working on art direction and design with writers and illustrators, helping to bring books she was proud of into publication — like Ivy + Bean, for instance. But ultimately she wanted to be creating her own books.
The digital era of book production, of course, is gaining more and more ground, and it is having an impact on the traditional publishing houses like Chronicle Books. In some ways, this may not be obvious — for instance, the new trends, particularly with regard to interactivity, which go towards more collaborative processes, bumps up against the traditional model that kept authors and illustrators separate. New technologies that afford greater ease in communication between the two, for example, make this a difficult thing to manage.
Sara says she loves working on any project that enables her to make something for the children’s market. And after 10 years of the industry, she eventually opened up her own studio dedicated primarily to children’s related products. And in the last few years, she finally decided to start creating her own books. Her first two books, In My Nest & In My Pond were written, designed and art directed by her, and illustrated by Lorena Siminovich. These uniquely formatted books, which include a finger puppet in the center of the book, have become a successful series that now includes a number of titles.
Sara now also illustrates books. She was approached by Abrams Appleseed to do a series of books, including the popular Now I Am Big — these are books that seek to help empower children. So, after a number of successful years, and lots of hard work to fully realize her dreams, Sara has some good advice from lessons learnt to share: Be calm; Be fresh; Don’t be a hermit; and Embrace your mistakes. And on the subject of how an aspiring illustrator can get some attention paid to their work, she suggested to make sure you do your research about the company you are submitting your work to — and if, for instance, they deal in paper, be sure to send them something beautiful in paper (e.g., a postcard you created). Not all illustrators of children’s books come from a children’s books background — the current winner of the coveted Caldecott Medal, for instance (i.e., This Is Not My Hat, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen), comes from animation. So, publishers are open, but be prepared to tailor your work a little bit.