CAROL GORDON EKSTER: I met Hazel Mitchell at the Kindling Words writers’ retreat. What you cannot tell from this interview is that she has the sweetest English accent. What you can tell is that she’s a very talented illustrator.
Hazel, you say that both drawing and horses were your great escapes when you were a girl. We can see how your drawing is now part of your life. Have you carried your love of horses to your drawing or your life as an adult?
HAZEL MITCHELL: Absolutely … I have always ridden at stables or shared horses with people. I inherited two horses from my stepdaughter when I married my American husband (who rides as well). So they are a daily part of my life. But I don’t ride as much as I used to. I would love to get fitter and ride more again and go on some trail riding holidays to fantastic places around the world (dreams!). I also recently illustrated a chapter book for Magic Wagon (‘Double Crossed at Cactus Flats‘, by Rich Wallace) that is about cowboys, so horses featured a lot! In fact, that’s why I got the book, because I love drawing horses. I am also writing a graphic novel about a girl and her imaginary horse. So I can’t keep the two things out of my life, if I tried.
CGE: Can you tell us when and how you got into the business of illustrating?
HM: I went to art college in England and always worked in graphics and commercial design. I dreamed of illustrating children’s books, but had no idea how to get into the industry and was afraid my work was not good enough. I found it intimidating to go into a children’s book department! In January 2010 I attended the NY SCBWI winter conference and finally made the leap. I began putting together a portfolio and mailed my first postcards out in the summer. I got my first book in Oct 2010 and have been learning ever since.
CGE: Have you ever said no when you were offered a manuscript to illustrate? What influenced that decision?
HM: Not so far. I’ve done whatever work came my way from trade publishers. I hope that in the future I will be writing and illustrating more, so I won’t have to turn anything down!
HM: First I read the m/s several times and make written notes. These I send to the publisher before I even start drawing, to make sure that I am going in the direction they like. Depending on the type of book (if it’s non-fiction, for example) I may need to do a lot of research before beginning. Also if the characters are very specific (for example I am working on a book about the Maasai tribes right now, and I needed to do a lot of research on them before I began). Then I would usually do character sketches and send those to the art director for approval. Then I will begin on rough thumbnails for the composition and flow of the book. These I will work up to rough layout that I will send to the art director. After changes, then, usually, the whole thing is up to me to complete. I will send a first finished final to check that the style and concept are on target. After finals are finished, sometimes there are tweaks and changes and decisions to be made about the cover (which is usually, although not always, completed last).
CGE: Okay, I’m going to get up close and personal. As an author, I’ve only been offered a royalty based on a percentage. I wondered if as an illustrator, you prefer the one time fee that is often offered illustrators or if you’d prefer to get a percentage as well? Can you explain?
HM: Royalties and advances are always preferable, because you never know when a book might take off! Some books are not offered with royalties … educational and chapter books occasionally.
CGE: Do you enjoy all aspects of the world of children’s publishing? Are you comfortable promoting your work and going on school visits, or would you prefer to stay home and draw?
HM: The aspects I have been involved with so far, yes! I love to do promotional work (in my other life as a designer I spent a lot of time doing marketing, so it’s natural to me to promote). School visits are fun, but exhausting! I love being with the kids, though. Speaking at conferences and teaching is also something I enjoy a great deal. And the travel that can come your way from the book industry is a bonus. But then, it’s wonderful when you can just stay home and draw!
CGE: Tell us about what you’re working on now.
HM: I am working on illustrating a book for Charlesbridge‘s imprint, Mackinac Island Press. It’s a folktale picture book about a Maasai girl called ‘Imani’s Moon’ and will be published in Fall 2014 and is written by debut author JaNay Brown Wood. Apart from that I’m working on writing my own picture books, as well as a graphic novel and a middle grade mystery. So I’m keeping busy!!
CGE: What’s in the future for Hazel Mitchell?
HM: I’d like a nice holiday in the sun, please!
Connect with Hazel here:
tweet me @thewackybrit