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I’d like to introduce author/illustrator Milanka Reardon. She is the illustrator for Who Will? Will You?—written by Sarah Hoppe and published by Blue Whale Press. In this interview, Milanka shares excellent tips for remaining consistent from page to page, illustrating facial expressions and body language, dealing with creative direction, and more!

 

How did you get your start as a children’s book illustrator?

I have always loved to draw from the time that I was a little girl living in Titograd, Yugoslavia with my mother. I was fascinated by the pictures in the old fairy tale books from that country. I still have most of them. That is the one thing that I carried with me when I emigrated from Yugoslavia when I was six years old. I left any toys I had behind. My aunt sent us a roll of toilet paper when we lived in the old country, and I used to draw pictures on it. It made a great continuous storyboard and I filled each square with pictures!

When I decided to go back to school for art, I thought that Natural Science Illustration would be a great fit for me since my undergraduate degree is in biology, (art school wasn’t considered a practical thing for an immigrant girl). And while I loved drawing and painting plants and animals, I wanted to tell a story with them. I always loved the funny individual expressions of the animals and saw them as characters, and I wondered about their story. So that naturally led me to the Children’s Book Illustration program at Rhode Island School of Design. Once I started that program, I found that I had so many stories that I wanted to tell with pictures, and that was just the beginning.

You are also a writer. Which came first? Writing or art?

The art, definitely! I still find it hard to think of myself as a writer.

Side note from Alayne: I’ve had the pleasure of seeing one of your author/illustrator pieces (Blog reader: see image above for Nana’s Wall) and it is so wonderful that I can’t forget about it!

Thank you so much, Alayne. That story parallels my life so much that it came naturally. But of course, the pictures came first. Then it took several years of revising the story to make it into a real picture book. I’m hoping that it will be published someday.

Kirkus Reviews had the following to say about your Who Will? Will You? illustrations:

“A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists. . . . Reardon’s realistic pastel-and-ink illustrations, populated with humans with a variety of skin tones, do an excellent job of hiding the identity of the pup and showing the adults’ shocked expressions.”

I agree with Kirkus. The drawings you have done for my next book, Old Man and His Penguin, are equally as impressive.

Do you have any artistic influences? If not, what does influence your style?

I have so many influences! I love to travel and get the feel for a place, and I think that influences my illustrations. Maybe that’s why they have an old-world feel. With Who Will? Will You? I really tried to show a diverse world of characters for the book. That is why the Kirkus review made me so happy. I was really trying to show a population of humans that was diverse without singling out one group of people. I wanted Lottie to ask different people who will take care of her pup, and I tried to imagine who she would meet in the real world. The animals were just the extra fun bonus to illustrate!

Do you have a preferred medium?

I painted mostly with oils when I started painting portraits. Then I found that I could achieve some fantastic results with colored pencils. I love to explore different mediums. Now I am happiest working with watercolors and pencils. I love the looseness of the water and paint and watching it flow on paper, and then I like to have some areas more controlled with colored pencil or pastel pencil. I try to achieve a nice variety of textures. But most of all I am drawn to whatever works for creating that unique character that best fits the story. I have also been able to add finishing touches digitally with Photoshop or Procreate.

What medium and process did you use for the Who Will? Will You? illustrations?

For Who Will? Will You? I used mostly watercolors and pencils, both pastel pencils and colored pencils. After scanning the paintings, I was able to make adjustments using Procreate and Photoshop as well.

Blue Whale Press is involved in the illustration process throughout book development. What was it like following a publisher’s process versus working independently?

Working with Blue Whale Press has been a wonderful experience. I had creative freedom with the illustrations, and the editor and publisher were very supportive while providing professional feedback throughout the process. Also the author, Sarah Hoppe, did a fantastic job writing a fun story and making each word count.

The last book I illustrated was self-published. Illustrating for someone who is self-publishing their book is very different. The author of the story had definite ideas of what he wanted on each page, and there was a lot more input on each individual illustration from the author throughout. It’s kind of nice with a small press because you have the best situation in that the publisher trusts you to create the characters and to come up with the book dummy but is available and provides professional feedback where needed. The overall process was very positive and supportive with great communication between the editor, publisher and myself. Thank you, Alayne, for that!

It has all been my pleasure, Milanka.

You have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways, but also in the area of creative direction. Do you have any tips for illustrators regarding how to keep from taking direction personally?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I think that anyone that has gone to art school realizes that critiques can be tough. But you try to use them to improve your own artwork. In the case of illustrating a picture book, you have to always be open to suggestions and ideas that may improve the story. So, it’s more about working together with the editor to make a better book. Making a good picture book is a collaborative effort. The author, the illustrator, editor and publisher all have ideas to make it work and hopefully it all comes together in the best way possible in the end. That is why I have always been open to edits. I know personally that I spend so much time staring at that illustration that I may miss something important, so the creative direction is appreciated.

My advice to any illustrator would be to look at the final image and to do what is best for the book. If more than one person critiques the same area of the illustration, then it’s probably not reading correctly. The creative direction from the editor and publisher is meant to improve the story, it is not a personal commentary on you.

I love the little extras you put on every page of Who Will? Will You? One little thing I noticed that made me smile is one of the sea lions is cross-eyed 😉 But you just created such a nice world for Lottie.

How do you get over the natural instinct to show only what is in the text and instead put some of yourself into the story by doing a little something extra or special on each page?

The job of the illustrator is to add to the story and to tell the story with pictures. So naturally you want to add a little something extra to the story. The illustrations should complement the text and the text should also complement the illustrations. They work together. There is no need to be redundant and only show what is told in words. It’s a lot more fun to add the little extras. Children are smart and they will notice. It’s the difference that makes a book one that a child will want to read over and over again to discover even more within the book and the illustrations each time they read it.

Does it take courage to express yourself and help tell the story?

Yes and no. Personally it does show some of your sense of humor, adventure or even if you’ve done your research correctly. But, I feel that you should show some of yourself in your illustrations because that’s the point of both telling with words and pictures. It’s all about making the story fun for children.

Do you have any tips for illustrators for going beyond the text with your expression?

Research! Research the location. In Who Will? Will You? I had to think of where could you find all of those types of animal rescue places in one area, and even a bat cave! And how do you make each one different and unique. Then you can put who would be in those places. So that research was fun – going to the beach and even a cave and sketching and photographing. You notice, especially when you sketch people and animals the different body positions and facial expressions that people have. Animals too! It’s fun to observe and sketch.

Character study, younger Lottie and Rufus

Lottie and Rufus are so adorable. Where did you find your inspiration for them—well, for all the characters, really?

Character design, older Lottie and Rufus

I can remember when I was thinking about Lottie. I was in a Paneras and I saw this beautiful little girl come in with her mother and she had this messy hair. When I came home I couldn’t forget her funny expressions and the messy hair. So I drew who I thought Lottie would be. And I remember my initial sketches were of a much younger Lottie! I remember you telling me that my little preschool Lottie would not be walking the streets alone looking for a home for a pup, so please change her to an older child. You were so nice with your directions and I thought, okay, that’s not really a problem. I can draw an older Lottie. And then what kind of dog would my older Lottie have. It was early enough in the process that it wasn’t a problem to change because I was only showing you initial sketches, and I hadn’t started the storyboard yet. I did a lot of sketching before the right Lottie and her dog appeared on the pages.

Notice the fun eyes on the sea lion. But notice the sad eyes on Lottie. This is actually an earlier image. In the book, she has tears 😦

In the Who Will? Will You? art, you do an excellent job of showing mood and emotion via facial expression and body language.

How did you learn to do that? And do you have any tips for illustrators on developing that skill?

That takes time and a lot of sketching from life. Really noticing that people hardly ever stand like those stick figures looking straight ahead that we all love to draw. Most people are always leaning or moving around. Body language tells a lot. I went to the SCBWI LA conference and took an Illustrator Intensive on character design that the art director Laurent Lin was in. He used to work for Sesame Street, so he brought in puppeteers that showed us some amazing things about body language. The stories that they told with just those puppets brought me to tears and made me laugh. That was with just body language – the puppets eyes and mouth weren’t moving, just their bodies. It was an awesome lesson, one that I am still working on. It also comes back to sketching from life and observing body language and putting in the tiny details after.

I believe one of the most difficult things for an illustrator is to remain consistent from page to page—especially with characters. What is your trick for remaining consistent?

I try to keep the body proportions the same. It’s not always easy to do, especially when you want to draw freely which I think is more important in order to get expressive illustrations. But you can always scan things into Photoshop or Procreate and check your proportions and use that as a guideline when you are going into the final drawing phase. Or you can use good old-fashioned tracing paper. Let your initial sketches be free and fun. In the final illustrations try to get those proportions right. That will make the painting stage go so much more smoothly. You will have figured it all out in the drawing stages.

You recently signed with an agent as an author/illustrator! I was so excited to get that news. Congratulations, again!

Thank you so much, Alayne! I signed with Barbara Krasner with Olswanger Literary. I am really hoping to get my picture book dummy out into the world!

Blog reader: See toilet paper art image at the beginning of this interview. That image is from the dummy for Nana’s Wall. A beautiful story.

What was it like to see your granddaughter look at the book for the first time?

Aw, look how sad she is for Lottie. So sweet.

So happy. I love it!

Yay! And happy again.

Oh my goodness, that was amazing! It truly was a test. She’s not quite two years old yet but she loves the book. She was so funny when she looks at the pictures, she absolutely loves the way each of the adults say “no” to Lottie. She actually mimics the hand movements that they use (thank goodness I got the body language on those characters!) No is a favorite word of hers! She also was sad when she first saw Lottie crying and kisses that picture. And she loves to sing one of her favorite songs in the end. (From Alayne: Sorry, we can’t share the song without giving away the ending of the book.)

She is so adorable. It is a thrill to see this. Thank you for sharing these precious moments!

It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Milanka. I’m thrilled that you are illustrating one of my picture books next! Your work has brought us so many smiles and heartfelt moments over the last year. And the visual story you have told is amazing! Thank you for helping us make a wonderful book that we are so proud of.

It has been and continues to be a pleasure working for you and with you, Alayne! Thank you so much for the kind words and for this opportunity!

BONUS!

When, at another time, I asked Milanka questions that I had for myself personally, as an illustrator wannabe, she graciously shared excellent advice—excerpts below.

About Style

I think that’s wonderful that you are taking an online art class. And cute is a wonderful style to have. We can’t all be the same, that would be boring. . . . A realistic style can be a curse. It just takes a lot of time and no matter how hard you try, there is always someone that can do it better. That’s what an illustration teacher at RISD told me. Besides, if you have a realistic style, it’s so easy to notice little mistakes. So go with your style and just practice every day.

Best Advice

Honestly, the best advice that I can give you is to sketch people every day. They don’t have to be perfect sketches, just sketch. And one thing you’ll notice is all of the wonderful gestures. People don’t just stand still, they lean, they bend they do all sorts of poses even when just standing there. Sketching will help no matter what style of illustration you choose, or sometimes I feel it’s the style that chooses you. But either way, you need to know a bit about anatomy and that’s great to be learning from online classes and reference books too.

I love “the style that chooses you”!

More about Inspiration for Lottie and other Who Will? Will You? Characters

Lottie was made up in my mind and so were her various adult people. Remember when I sent you the turnaround of Lottie. I did all the things that I needed to to map out her features and size, etc. But she looked a little stiff at first. So I never used those exact images. By observing real people, she became softer and moved better along the page. Actually even though Lottie was made up, I noticed a little girl in Paneras that was so cute but had that messy hair, and I loved the way she sat on her leg and leaned from side to side, so expressive. So, I had her in mind when creating Lottie and I knew I wanted a diverse set of characters. Children in a playground are also fun to watch and to draw. So just observing people helps. They are not all the same size or shape either.

Character study, Lottie’s dog Rufus.

Final painting of Rufus and friends

Sketching is Fun

Sketching is a lot of fun. You don’t need to spend a lot of time on it. Nobody has to look at it. Afterwards, you can choose a sketch to really focus on and draw out. It’s such a good feeling when your drawing starts to come to life.

 

Inspiration for Alayne’s Next Picture Book

Old Man and His Penguin

The kids in the penguin story came from my sketchbook from when I traveled to Cuba on a cruise. I had my sketchbook with me and children were on recess when we were in the old town in the plaza. I did some quick sketches—it was fun, and like most things in life, you never know when they might come in handy. The old man is made up, but I did ask my husband to do a couple of poses and to walk so I could take a picture to draw from. He would never stand still long enough for me to sketch even a quick two-minute sketch!

Sneak peek, dummy sketch Old Man and His Penguin

Simple Lines

You don’t have to be super realistic. Some people are so expressive with simple lines. I wish that I could be. I’m still working on that. Just go out there and sketch different people and gestures and have fun with it.

About Milanka

Milanka Reardon learned to illustrate at a very young age. When she emigrated to the U.S. from the former Republic of Yugoslavia at the age of six, no one in her school spoke her language, so her teachers sketched images of the English words for her. But instead of copying the words, Milanka took it upon herself to improve their work and draw more interesting pictures. Later, Milanka went on to earn a children’s book illustration certificate from the Rhode Island School of Design and was awarded the 2016 R. Michelson Galleries Emerging Artist Award. She is the central New England illustrator coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). You can read more about Milanka and see some of her artwork by going to MilankaReardon.com.

To read interview with Who Will? Will You? author Sarah Hoppe click here.

All content copyright © 2019 Blue Whale Press and Milanka Reardon

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Sarah Hoppe Headshot

 

I’d like to introduce Sarah Hoppe, the author of the wonderful picture book Who Will? Will You?—illustrated by Milanka Reardon and published by Blue Whale Press. First, I will share a book trailer and couple reviews for her sweet and educational story. And then you will find an interesting interview with Sarah about her experience as an author and a photographer. She offers tips for writers, too! You will find some of Sarah’s lovely photography as you read.

 

 

Kirkus Review

“A girl tries to find help for a stray baby animal in this picture book from debut author Hoppe and illustrator Reardon (Noodles’ and Albie’s Birthday Surprise, 2016).

When Lottie and her dog, Rufus, find a lone “pup” (who’s not initially shown in the illustrations) on a trash-filled beach, they’re eager to help him. The girl approaches several people about helping the pup, each time answering questions about what he can do, but no one’s willing to take it in. The animal shelter worker assumes the pup is a dog—but when she gets a good look, she refuses to help. A park ranger thinks the pup might be a bat, and a sea lion keeper guesses it’s a sea lion, but they’re mistaken. . . . Reardon’s realistic pastel-and-ink illustrations, populated with humans with a variety of skin tones, do an excellent job of hiding the identity of the pup and showing the adults’ shocked expressions. Hoppe uses clever science-related questions (“Does the pup have super-cool senses to help find its food?”) to encourage readers to guess the animal’s identity and to think about how different animals share similar qualities.

A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists.”

Midwest Review

“Who Will? Will You? is a picture book for ages 4-8 that receives lovely colorful illustrations by Milanka Reardon as it explores a young beachcomber’s unusual find at the seashore.

Lottie never expected to find something bigger than a shell, but a little pup tugs at her heartstrings and poses a problem far greater than locating the perfect shell.

Many are interested in adopting Lottie’s find . . . until they look into her wagon after initial excitement. The story evolves to question not only who will take charge of a stray, but why nobody will do so.

A fun, unexpected conclusion teaches kids not only about shore life, but about what makes a welcoming home for a stray.

Kids who love beaches and parents who love thought-provoking messages will find Who Will? Will You? engrossing and fun.”

Diane C. Donovan, Senior Reviewer
Donovan’s Literary Services
www. donovansliteraryservices. com

Interview

Alayne: How did you get your start as a children’s book writer? What brought you to this world?

Sarah: I’ve been an avid reader since I was small. Books were my friends when I was too shy to make others, and they were friends to share with others once I got a little braver.

While I was studying to be a teacher, my favorite class was Children’s Literature. I got to read books for credit! I aced that class, and my love for picture books only grew.

Alayne: You are also a wonderful photographer. Which came first? Writing or photography?

Sarah: Thank you. I’ve written stories for fun since I was a kid. I took my first photography class in high school, and in college, I got to experience the joy of a dark room before everything went digital.

I got serious about being a writer first. Then I decided to do something with all my photographs, started an Etsy shop, and I sell my work locally.

Alayne: Does your photographer’s eye influence your writing?

Sarah: Sometimes it does. My favorite kind of photo to take is a macro photo. Insects, flower petals, and dewdrops are often taken as a macro photo. It’s when you get up and personal with your subject, revealing details and showing them true to size or larger than life.

I was practicing macro shots with slugs. Slugs and snails are great subjects for this as they are happy to stick around for a while. The slime trail they leave behind is beautiful, and that little trail, sparkling in the sun, inspired another book.

 

Alayne: Do you think you would ever do a children’s book using photography as illustrations?

Sarah: It is definitely something I’ve thought about. An alphabet book was the first thing that came to mind, and I’m still pondering that. If I can figure out a good story arc that works with my style of photography, I’ll dive right in.

Alayne: Do your children influence your writing?

Sarah: Yes, but in a roundabout way. I’ve never taken anything they’ve said or done and plopped it right into a story, but so much of their spark and joy finds its way to the page.

Alayne: What was it like to see your children read your picture book for the first time?

Sarah: They were so proud! They loved it. Of course, they knew the plot and I’d shown them some of the illustrations, but being able to hold a physical copy made it real. They were telling people for years that I am an author, but now they can show people the book.

Alayne: Who Will? Will You? is a sweet story, but it is also educational, which we at Blue Whale love. Where did you get the inspiration for the story?

Sarah: One of my kids and his love of nonfiction, and my dad and his love of quizzes. Between a quiz about animal babies and a stack of animal books by my kid’s bed, an idea started brewing

Dog babies are called pups, but so are many other animal babies. A case of pup confusion would make an interesting story. The outline fell into place as I delved into research.

Alayne: Blue Whale Press changed the title of your story and offered quite a few edit suggestions. You have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways. Do you have any tips for authors regarding how to keep from taking edits personally?

Sarah: Thank you. Blue Whale has been a pleasure to work with as well, and it honestly didn’t feel like there were a ton of edits. I suspected the title would need a change, and I knew there would be other edits as well.

The thing to remember is that everyone involved in your manuscript wants it to succeed. We’re all on the same team. Like any team, its members have different strengths. Trust that each member is doing their best in their area of expertise, just as you have given your very best manuscript for the team to work with. Not one member has all the answers, but together you can figure it out.

Alayne: I like that answer a lot, Sarah. I often remind people that everyone’s name is going on the book, so the author, illustrator, and the publisher all want it to be the best that it can be. Trust is truly key.

Alayne: Lottie and Rufus are wonderful characters. Where did you find your inspiration for them?

Sarah: Lottie is curious, kind, and determined. Those qualities show up time and time again in kids all over the world. Lottie could be anyone and everyone. I also wanted a brave adventurous girl like my nieces for my main character. So, Lottie is full of adventure and bravery. I thought about all the amazing kids I know and poured their traits into Lottie.

An amazing kid needs an amazing best friend. I have a dog named Rufus who has been my companion for the last fourteen years. Lottie needed a young Rufus to keep up with her adventures. Milanka and I made the perfect friend for our spunky, big-hearted main character.

Alayne: This is your debut picture book. How long had you been writing and submitting before signing with Blue Whale Press?

Sarah: I had been playing around with story ideas for a while but got serious when I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. I was in my second year of 12×12 when I signed with Blue Whale.

Alayne: Do you have any advice for writers and illustrators who are waiting for their first contract?

Sarah: Patience and perseverance. Keep writing, and find people who write what you write. Connect with people, on-line or in person, get and give feedback, and work on your craft.

Alayne: Now, I will put on the spot, even more than I already have 😉 Why do you write?

Sarah: Books evoke emotions. To bring joy, laughter, or even sorrow to someone through your words is powerful. Now add illustrations! The words and pictures together tell a story that, without the other, would be impossible. That’s magic, and to have a small part in something so wonderful is all I ever wanted.

Alayne: It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Sarah. Your story has brought us so many smiles and heartfelt moments. We love the last spread in the story. It is so touching. And it’s wordless! So why would I compliment an author on a wordless spread? Because your story inspired it! Thank you for helping us make a wonderful book that we are so proud of.

Sarah: Thank you, it’s been my pleasure.

LOOK INSIDE THE WHO WILL? WILL YOU? ACTIVITY GUIDE BELOW. To get your free download, go to Blue Whale Press and click on the link provided under the Who Will? Will You? book description. Coloring sheets, word puzzles, crafts for children, worksheets and more!

About Sarah

Sarah Hoppe is a born and bred Minnesotan, a photographer, and an author who loves to write weird stories and be outside with nature. When she isn’t with her camera and family traipsing about the woods, she can be found inside working at her computer and creating different worlds.

Sarah loves dogs, books, campfires and pizza, and used to be a third-grade teacher. Living in Rochester, Minnesota with her husband, two boys and two dogs, you can often find Sarah and her family out on an adventure or trying craft projects with lots of hot glue. To learn more about Sarah, click here. To learn more about Sarah’s lovely photography click here.

Who Will? Will You? Can be found wherever books are sold. Some online stores are listed below.

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-a-Million

Indie Bound

Booktopia

More Interviews and Blog Posts with Sarah

Susanna Hill’s Blog

https://susannahill. com/2019/06/04/tuesday-debut-presenting-sarah-hoppe/

On the Scene in 19 Blog

https://onthescenein19. weebly. com/blog/previous/4

Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating Blog

https://kathytemean. wordpress. com/2019/07/25/book-giveaway-who-will-will-you-by-sarah-hoppe/

The GROG Blog

https://groggorg. blogspot. com/2019/03/picture-book-debut-interview-with-sarah. html

Post Bulletin Minnesota Newspaper

https://www. postbulletin. com/life/lifestyles/first-time-author-makes-her-mark-in-picture-books/article_d50f0654-a4f9-11e9-9491-3f9511893d8f. html

https://www. grandrapidsmn. com/eedition/page-c/page_dcea1c8c-d497-5adc-a46a-05fe1fd9b40e. html

This last one won’t work unless you have a subscription.

Photographs copyright © 2019 Sarah Hoppe

All art copyright © 2019 Blue Whale Press and Milanka Reardon

 

 

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