I was delighted to do an e-interview with our spring featured member, illustrator/author Abigail Hicks. Abigail and I actually met in New York City in February at the SCBWI 2016 Winter Conference. She had her portfolio in the Illustrators Showcase, which was viewed by everyone attending the conference including industry professionals. It was pretty exciting to watch art directors, agents, and editors perusing her portfolio and maybe also taking a business card. You never know what might happen!
Photo: Abigail Hicks
I asked Abigail some questions so we could learn more about her and her work.
SCBWI: Tell us about yourself. What makes you tick?
Abigail: Well, I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I don't remember a time when I wasn't drawing. I studied art in college and art history, which I also loved. I then went on to do an MA in Art History with the intention of becoming an academic. However I shifted gears and moved into working in graphic design rather than going for a PhD. I suppose I thought this was the practical choice. Anyway, I worked as a graphic designer for many years and in many places. When I moved to London, I got a job as a book designer for a small children's publisher. That was when I really started seriously thinking about writing and illustrating children's books. I have been in Ireland for 10 years now, and I'm happy to call it home. As for what makes me tick, I think it’s ideas. I get really excited by ideas. They can come from anywhere, so I'm always on the lookout!
SCBWI: How did you get started as an illustrator?
Abigail: As a student, I was all about oil and acrylic painting. Somewhere during my college years, my painting sort of went on the back burner, and I suppose the need to pay the bills came to the forefront. I worked as a graphic designer, and then as a book designer for many years. I didn't really get back to doing my own art until after I stopped working full time for a company. I had to leave all of that to be able to have the mind space to regain my creative sense and vision.
SCBWI: How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?
Abigail: I suppose the key to finding my style was becoming confident enough to trust in my natural style. A few years ago, I took Adrienne Geoghegan's wonderful course on writing and illustrating picture books here in Dublin. The quantity of work that I had to produce on a weekly basis was heavy enough that I stopped thinking so much about being more like this or that illustrator and just doing it. The more you produce, the more consistent you become. I think that I tend to overthink things, which can end up really working against you as an artist. So I try hard to always keep in my mind the need to keep it loose.
SCBWI: Can you briefly explain your creative process, mediums, and so on? What is your favourite medium?
Abigail: These days, my creative process involves a lot of walking. My time is limited due to family commitments, so I tend to start my morning off with a walk through a beautiful park that I live near, with coffee! It helps me to clear my head, and I often come up with new ideas based on what I see. Then I go home and sit in front of the computer and hopefully I am productive.
I made the move to painting digitally last year. Prior to that I was working always in acrylics. But I wasn't happy with how things were looking once they were scanned. So as I saw it, it was a choice between either investing in a much better scanner or having a go at painting digitally. So I bought myself a decent Wacom tablet and took the plunge. I feel that it was probably the right choice. It is much easier and quicker to make changes. I've worked hard to maintain the looseness of my painting style. I like to use a lot of textures too.
When I was painting by hand, I would scan fabric, and then print it out and use it as collage. Now I do the same thing digitally with less bits of paper ending up on the floor. The thing I miss the most is actually mixing paint colours and having the remnants of a day's work on my fingers.
SCBWI: How do you think illustration is evolving with the development of digital formats and mediums?
Abigail: I think that there is a lot of room for experimentation, which is a good thing. But ultimately, a digital medium is just another set of tools to do the same thing. It comes down to the individual creating the art rather than the tools they use.
SCBWI: Who are your influences, mentors, or inspirational role models for illustration?
SCBWI: What are some of your favourite picture books?
Abigail: There are so many! At the moment, I am mad about the Journey books by Aaron Becker. The artwork is magical, and I love that the books are wordless. I also love Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. The understated somewhat deadpan humour of that book really appeals to me.
SCBWI: Are there any picture books that you disliked and why?
Abigail: I would hate to single out a book that I dislike. I appreciate the effort that goes into creating a book and don't want to diminish that. I suppose sometimes I might feel disappointed when I book doesn't age well with multiple readings.
SCBWI: How do you come up with new ideas? Do you have a process? Do you accept commissions?
Abigail: It really depends. Sometimes it is something someone says that sticks with me, or something that I see or read about.
The consistent thing for me is when that thing becomes a picture in my head and starts to grow. Then I know that I have to put it down on paper. I am primarily working towards getting published as an author/illustrator. I have not been marketing myself that way, but I certainly would not rule out commissions for the future.
SCBWI: Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?
Abigail: Well, I am a terrible (or fabulous) procrastinator. However, I honestly wouldn't say that I have creative slumps so much as productivity slumps. When I've been working solidly on one project for a while, I tend to have a down period, but that also tends to be when ideas come to me for new projects. It’s a wave pattern with crests and troughs but (hopefully) always moving forward more or less.
SCBWI: What is the best or most fun aspect of being an illustrator?
Abigail: I love bringing an idea to life. To create something from scratch is incredibly satisfying.
SCBWI: What is the worst or most difficult aspect of being an illustrator?
Abigail: I suppose, for me at least, the most difficult thing is pushing myself out of my comfort zone and sending my work out into the world. I think that when I was younger I figured that some day I wouldn't be scared anymore. Now I know that isn't the case. You just have to do it anyway.
SCBWI: What steps do you recommend for illustrators who are just starting out?
Abigail: Find a community and actually be active in it. SCBWI is brilliant, as are some online groups like 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge. I think it’s easy to get discouraged, but when you have other like-minded people to listen to and engage with it makes you feel less isolated.
SCBWI: Do you plan to write as well as illustrate any picture books?
Abigail: I do! My main goal is to be published as an author/illustrator.
SCBWI: What projects have you completed? What projects are you planning or working on at the moment?
Abigail: I am currently working on a picture book that has gotten some very good feedback from an agent. So the work continues and fingers are crossed!
Some fantastic insights – thank-you, Abigail!
Illustrator Abigail Hicks has had a love of drawing and hippos since before she can remember. She graduated with a BA in Fine Arts and an MA in Art History from Boston University. After many years with a career in graphic design and as a book designer in children’s books, she now creates her own art. Ten years ago, Abigail moved to Ireland where she lives in Dublin with her two children, husband, and Nibbles the cat. More of Abigail’s work can be seen on her website: http://www.abigailhicks.com