Posted by: nancyisanders | September 10, 2009

Illustrator Interview: Alan Stacy

photo 2007 con
Meet Illustrator Alan Stacy!
E-mail: alan.stacy@att.net
Web site: AFS Studios

Bio:
Alan Stacy worked in broadcast television as a computer graphic artist and animator before becoming a self-employed illustrator and designer. A self-taught artist, his other work includes costume design, art direction and makeup artistry for music videos, corporate videos, plays, theatrical films as well as storyboarding, props, original collectible miniatures and murals. He also has taught cartooning and comic book art to kids and to adults, storytelling, drawing, advertising art and commercial illustration. He has a self-published graphic novel style version of Aesop’s Fables and classic folktales. He is a sculptor, photographer, a fantasy writer, history buff and a musician.

Illustrated books in print: from Sleeping Bear Press L is for Lone Star, A Texas Alphabet 2001; Round Up Numbers, A Texas Counting Book 2003; P is for Passport, A World Alphabet 2003; G is for Galaxy, An Out of This World Alphabet 2005. From Pelican Publishing: Texas Zeke and the Longhorn 2006; Pennsylvania Dutch Alphabet 2007; Alaskan Night Before Christmas 2008.

Lone Star cover red50
Featured Book:
L is for Lone Star: A Texas Alphabet

Written by Carol Crane
Illustrated by Alan Stacy

There are enough special people, wildlife, and natural wonders in the Lone Star State to fill several alphabet books, and Sleeping Bear Press has picked out the finest to represent Texas in L is for Lone Star: A Texas Alphabet.

With poems to engage young readers and text to give further details for older students, L is for Lone Star is a fantastic way to share Texan pride with the ones you love. So lasso a copy of L is for Lone Star and get ready for a very special ride through the alphabet!”

Interview:
Q:
How did you break into illustrating books for Sleeping Bear Press?
A: My book illustration career is the overnight success that took 20 years to happen. I tried for many years to break into the business, sending manuscripts, dummies, queries and art sample flyers to publishing houses without any success. Then I responded to a flyer that was left at our North Texas SCBWI regional conference in 2000. The serendipity of the whole thing was that the conference was in September and the only reason I had saved the flyer was because I had written another publishing house’s contact info on the back. The Sleeping Bear flyer sat in a pile of stuff until December when I finally sorted through the stack. It said simply: “We are looking for an illustrator with a bright, colorful style to do illustrations for a Texas alphabet book, who is also willing to do school visits.” That was for the L is for Lone Star alphabet book. I called the editor, Heather Hughes, to see if they were still considering illustrators for the job. She said yes, I sent an art sample brochure of my work to her, and two weeks later she called and asked me to do a few sample sketches from the manuscript. I also did one color sample illustration of the Nine-Banded Armadillo that appears in the book. After sending those in she called a few days later and said the job was mine if I wanted it. Once I started, the work flowed so easily it was as if the art had been waiting for me to draw it out of the substance of the universe like some big stack of cards. It’s been an amazingly wonderful ride ever since.

Q: Describe your day as a children’s book illustrator.
A:
It’s interesting in that I get this question a lot and there is no one concrete answer unless I am working on the illustrations for a particular assignment and under a deadline. It’s more of a well-planned, stepwise process that requires a lot of foundation work before you can even begin to do the final illustrations.

Once I get the manuscript and read through it, I immediately make notes of the first impressions of whatever ideas pop into my head. I also make a quick series of tiny sketches called thumbnails to get an idea of page layouts and character placements: I set the stage for the drama. I will also do detailed sheets for each character and object and decide on the particulars of the character’s poses and size in relation to the other elements in each frame. From that point I do full size sketches of each page in the book. This whole process can take about a month or more. Once the sketchwork for each page has been completed and approved by the editor and staff, then comes the laying out, drawing and redrawing the final sketches onto the final paperstock. I obviously work on only one illustration at a time and usually the cover is done first as publishers like to have that for promotional purposes. I rarely if ever work sequentially.

Whatever particular illustration I am working on will involve anywhere from 5 to 10 hours of prep work in the form of sorting through my research photos (from magazines, books and internet sites), making more detailed notes for colors, costumes, expressions, lighting and layouts, arranging the elements, tracing, sizing and drawing out each page in full detail. Gathering up the materials is next: making sure I have enough art paper that matches in color and quality, jars of fresh water, clean brushes, towels, sharpening pencils, taping up the photos I use as reference on the drawing board, making sure the colors are laid out (I choose the colors in advance before starting), taping the final paper stock to a large loose drawing board and then transferring the final sketchwork onto the page before beginning to color it in.

On any particular day devoted to the illustration work, I usually don’t get started until after lunch, leaving the mornings for all those things of life you can’t avoid: waking up, writing bills, running errands. From that point I usually don’t stop except for dinner and a break and then return to the work which will inevitably take me past midnight until 1 or 2 am. If I go beyond that I am useless the next day. I can usually finish one illustration page in full color in a day of about 8 to 16 hours-long depending on how much I put in the picture. Single pages take less time; double page spreads can take up to 24 hours or more total spread out over 2 or 3 days.

Q: How many school visits do you usually make per year and do you often return to the same schools for repeat visits?
A:
I’ve only had one school have me for a repeat visit over the years. The kids always ask me to come back though! I do 10-15 school visit days per year which sometimes will include multiple schools within the same district in one day.

Q: Share one tip you would like to give about contacting a school for the first time to arrange a school visit.
A:
Don’t be shy about telling people in your circle of friends, SCBWI members and extended family that you do school visits. Brochures are great to hand out at SCBWI functions, library conferences and the like but word of mouth at social gatherings has been my best tool. Be prepared to talk about and describe what your program is like and keep flyers and brochures in your car to hand out with all your contact information. Also if you have a website, have a page describing your school program or have a second separate website to direct people to for more detailed information, schedule, fees or videos of your presentations. I can’t say that I recommend “cold-calling”; I would find some way of getting to know the librarians first. I have been approached at librarian conventions for potential school visits, only to be given some dismissive runaround later even if I’ve already visited other schools in their particular district to glowing reviews and enthusiastic recommends. Sometimes your best efforts to drum up business will go unwanted, unnoticed and be met with disinterest. It’s often inexplicable; don’t take it personally, just move on. Money is sometimes an issue but not always.

Once you do get a school visit scheduled I have some other recommends to share. If in the form of a slide show have your presentation on a disc or flash drive; nearly all libraries and schools have power point projectors and computers for you to use. However, librarians are very savvy and are always looking for something a little bit out of the ordinary, but not outrageous “Birthday Clown” type behavior. Be sure to have fun but also maintain professional decorum. Kids, parents and teachers love to hear about your inspiration, your personal life and so on. Have some gimmicks or set of props. These could be anything from prepared posters or a large flipchart with a breakdown of your story or blowups of the illustrations, buttons with your characters on them or the name of your book, coloring sheets and activity handouts for crafts, a large drawing pad to draw or write on, special music or a sing-along song, simple costumes or hats of your characters for you or the kids to wear or puppets to help tell your story. All of these are great tools to fall back on in case something doesn’t work. They also help to keep your presentation fresh. And don’t forget to take extra copies of your books with you for those spur of the moment sales!


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