Interview with Monstrous Me Illustrator Elizabeth Winter

Firefly by Elizabeth Winter
Collaborating with illustrator Elizabeth Winter on Monstrous Me has been a dream. She brings to each illustration so much more than an accomplished artistic skillset. She brings her curiosity, her experience as a reader, what she’s loved from other fairy tales and folktales, and injects all of that into each piece.
When I started writing this collection at the beginning of this year, I could not have imagined finding an artist who was so capable of taking those initial ideas and expanding them into such realized, living creations.
One of the biggest joys of launching the campaign for Monstrous Me has been hearing the feedback on all of her illustrations as people see them in one place for the first time. It’s been like letting them in on a secret I’ve known for months. Now imagine a whole book full of this art!
I asked if she would answer a few questions about how she got into illustration and her inspirations, and she graciously agreed. Below is our Q&A, along with some gorgeous non-Monstrous Me art.

Interview with Elizabeth Winter

1. How did you first get into art and illustration?
 As most kids growing up, I had knack for drawing and colouring outside of the lines. That accompanied by the fact that my mother is an illustrator and growing up in my family, who are all quite artistically inclined. I was drawn to it naturally.
2. Which artists inspired you early on?
Geez, that’s a tough one. Since I can remember I loved fantasy art as a subject since its so wide and varying and stretches beyond the borders of the imagination. I can say some of my favourites are Frank Frazetta, Larry Elmore, Beatrix Potter, Carlos Huante, Brian Froud, Alan Lee,… but there are just so many who I admire.  Every week or so I find new people and their work and they are all so inspiring! All in all, it’s more the techniques they use and the work themselves that I fall in love with.
3. What are the folk tales, fairy tales, or children’s stories you remember most from your childhood?
A lot of stories were heartbreaking tales of heroism that ended somewhat bittersweet rather than happy endings. Many themes are there to teach children lessons of either survival and respect for wild nature combined with empathy and love. I remember one of the stories that stuck out the most was the story of Racheltjie De Beer, who sacrificed herself to save her little brother from the freezing cold. Which is very similar to the real life story of the American, Hazel Miner.
Echeveria Flower by Elizabeth Winter
Echeveria Flower by Elizabeth Winter
4. What are you reading or watching or listening to now that you love?
Admittedly I have been rereading some children’s novels in the Redwall series, they are very nostalgic. 
Dragon Motion by Elizabeth Winter
Dragon Motion by Elizabeth Winter
5. When did you first realize you could make a career out of illustration and art? 
Well, when you have a passion for something and you’re really happy doing it, its not always feasible to make a career out of it but slowly it unfolds as you go along. So before you know it, and if you work for it and market yourself that way, you can stand on your own two feet doing what you love.
Evaporation by Elizabeth Winter
Evaporation by Elizabeth Winter
6. Do you have any tips or advice for anyone looking to make that leap for themselves?
Don’t listen to people telling you to conform to a certain style or fad. Find your own style and practice it. Trends come and go, but focus on your own signature and it’ll shine beyond that. There is nothing wrong with experimenting to find out who you are and what your style is. The great part about experimenting with different mediums and techniques is that you will always learn from it which will help you grow in the right direction. The usual hard work and patience is of course very important.
Flight by Elizabeth Winter
Flight by Elizabeth Winter
7. Speaking technically, what’s your setup? Do you work with pens, paints, tablets, Photoshop, Illustrator?
It really depends on what is required of me when it comes to what has been commissioned for. I have a specific space or study where I do all my traditional style work, oils, watercolour, pencil, ink, etc. It has a little library of books for references, a desk with great lighting, and my easel setup. However I really love working in digital, since I can take my work with me wherever I go. All I need is my Wacom tablet and laptop.
Digital does have its own pros and cons versus the traditional methods. Of course there’s nothing stopping you from combining the two!
Griffin by Elizabeth Winter
Griffin by Elizabeth Winter
 
8. Is there a dream project you’ve always wanted to do?
I’ve always wanted to make character art for games/media. Board games, video games.
The Beloved Balloon by Elizabeth Winter
The Beloved Balloon by Elizabeth Winter

The Monstrous Me Kickstarter campaign runs until September 9th. Pledge to be one of the first people to receive the hardbound book!

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Monstrous Me: Now on Kickstarter

Monstrous Me Title

 

Today, Monstrous Me is live on Kickstarter.

It’s been a scrappy, silly, winding journey to this point. I wrote the worst first draft of the very first monster in January, and also met the book’s illustrator, Elizabeth. In February, I suggested to Elizabeth that we consider working together on a longer project, possibly something book-length. In March, I ran off to Thailand to recover from a busy chunk of television producing, and to write. In April, we agreed on a reasonable number of monsters. In May, the first round of editors provided notes on the manuscript’s first draft. In June, we figured out a layout and a timeline. In July, I began sketching out the Kickstarter campaign as the drafts for the art were finished.

Now, halfway through August, the campaign for my first-ever illustrated collection is live.

By September 10th, we’ll know if the Monstrous Me campaign to get a print run of hardbound books was successful. If I should be so lucky, we’ll send the finished book out to the printer by the end of that month, and receive the copies ready to mail out by mid-November.

But enough about the past and the future. The only thing I really have a handle on is the Now, and my Now is about to get really monstrous.

To help show just how monstrous, here are a handful of monsters from the book (they’re not selfies).

The Morning Slug - Monstrous Me

 

Though the campaign will have been live since the night before, the first batch of e-mails and outreach goes out before dawn on the east coast. In order to answer any questions that you scallawags might have, I’m going to make like the Morning Slug and rise early with a full 8-cup Chemex of coffee and take on the questions and concerns as they come.

The Snoozer Sloth - Monstrous Me

Before I can fully embrace my sluggish morning, though, I’ll have to do battle with a series of alarms. After spending a week in Mountain Time, I hope this fight isn’t too drawn out. To be safe, I’ll have three backups set, just like the Snoozer Sloth.

 

The Ogre Scheduler - Monstrous Me

Despite a day’s vigilance over the newly launched campaign, my over-scheduling tendencies are in full effect. Some tasks, like taking the car to the mechanic, are meant to keep me from pressing refresh all day long. Others, like my picture book writing class, keep me looking forward and building a momentum that goes beyond a single project.

The Startvaark - Monstrous Me

Through it all, I will feel ever more like the Startvaark, as Monstrous Me is full of starts (a book project!), firsts (Kickstarter!), and launches (a lengthy campaign!). In that way, it’s similar to the projects of past. I’ve never had problems summoning up the energy and ideas to bring comics, animations and temporary companies into existence. Where I struggled was shepherding them to a natural conclusion. Serial projects, like webcomics, puttered out when I couldn’t maintain self-imposed schedules. Companies faltered for a lack of serious partners, or an inability to pick a partner with complementary strengths.

Now, though, I have a manuscript written, the art is being finalized, and the Kickstarter is alive and, well, kicking. We have momentum on our side. Should the campaign raise the necessary $5,000 to get a limited, hardbound print run, Monstrous Me will be published before the year is done.

The hope with this post was to take a moment out from the animating and e-mailing and editing and pitching to take a few breaths. I believe this campaign will be successful, and that a long-held dream of mine to create an illustrated collection of stories will soon be realized.

Still, I’m nervous. As I was writing e-mails to old friends and coworkers and lost collaborators, I felt a twinge of nostalgia. In the past, I was naive and bold, and shared my work (‘work’ being an adult term for silly things like sheep-themed comics and short films about superheroes) often. Since college, I grew reluctant to talk about what I was doing in public settings, or share much of the process beyond a few tweets or pictures. I was happy enough to let those ambitions simmer, and the daily practice of writing and creating slow. I turned down jobs in line with this passion, because, I told myself, if I was really into writing, then I’d be writing more. Whether one should conflate or confuse work with passion is a point for a different post. The nerves, in that case, came down to believing in myself, and whether I could make something of my writing. Despite qualms or quibbles I may have had with past projects or opportunities, I believe in this one.

I’m proud of what this project has become, and I’m excited to start sharing it with you. Thank you for coming on this ride with me. Whatever happens, I know we’ll have fun.

I’ll see all of you monsters under the bed and on the other side.

 

Monstrous Me Sketches

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Monstrous Me: Sketches

The Ogre Scheduler

Though the timetable for the Kickstarter and eventual release for Monstrous Me has shifted back a month so, we are still plugging along at a good pace. Last week I received the majority of the sketches for the monsters, and I was impressed with how they are shaping up.

If you’re interested in these early drafts, I threw together a brief video with a few dozen.

Artist Liz is onto color palettes and we will soon be taking monsters to the final stages. This also means dusting off my InDesign skills from my high school journalism days and diving deep into page layouts and typography.

The timeline at this point has the majority of the art arriving by mid-August. Since I’ll have the text mostly ready – for the book, Kickstarter, and accompanying promotional pieces – it should be a matter of incorporating the art over a few days to finalize the campaign. I’d hope for a Kickstarter launch mid-to-late August, to run for a month, and then another two months or so to get the books ordered and delivered. That means a potential Halloween release, which is very fitting.

In addition to a book trailer and Kickstarter video, I am hoping to create a brief animation for each monster, to be released each day of the Kickstarter. Depending on how much the launch and life of the campaign overlap with my return to full-time work, this idea may be sidelined.

From the last round of edit notes to now, the project is currently sitting at 40 monsters. That means some of the ones in the video above won’t be included in the final book, though a few of those leftovers will still be illustrated and find a home online in the near future.

Today I sent out the 3rd draft to the next batch of editors, including a television writer, former principals, and a librarian. Having addressed the notes on the 2nd draft, and having sat with it for a month, I am feeling more and more confident about it. Each monster that’s made it this far is more than a clever name or a improvised situation; the stories are stronger, and more relatable, and I have the editing process to thank for that (and, you know, the editors).

On top of all this, I went to the Society for Children’s Book Writing and Illustrators conference last week. I have all sorts of feelings, about writing and publishing and self-publishing and process and doubt, but I am choosing not to dwell on that overwhelming mountain of information and instead choosing to tackle each next step with this book. Monstrous Me is actually coming alive, and I am still in disbelief.

So, while I wait for new art, and edit notes, I’ll hammer out Kickstarter verbiage, and play around with InDesign, and maybe even go outside.

You know, before the hard work starts.

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Introducing Monstrous Me

In a month and a half, I’ll launch the Kickstarter for my first illustrated book, Monstrous Me.

The book is a collection of monsters, each a grotesque exaggeration of a quirk, bad habit or poor quality we have inside of us, like the ogre who over schedules his life, but blames other people for ruining his calendar. The coffee addict that’s dying for another drop. The gnat that needs feedback on everything she does. The fitness addict who just needs one more step to feel good.

Or… maybe it’s just me? Are these just my bad sides?

Maybe I’m just the monster.

Grr.

The Idea

Aunt Eek - antique monster

In January, I started writing again. Most of it was rhyming, nonsense stories as before, but instead of the 20-30 verse pieces that were typical for Fantastic Ballads, these pieces were similar to sonnets and clocked in around 14-18 lines. With names like the Flower Devourer, The Pitter Pattern, Mr. Tracks-It and Aunt Eek, they became a weekly exercise – and creative release – that fit in with an increasingly hectic television production schedule.

Soon, I reached out to artists on Fiverr to have  these monsters illustrated. The woman I ultimately connected with added so much more to each illustration than the art – she brought her personal experience, her curiosity and her humor, and each story was all the better for it. That led to a delightful month of collaboration and creation.

Then, as I was staring down five weeks of free time in March and April –  I presented her with what seemed like a crazy idea.

Instead of just one monster, or two, or three… what if we made 50?

And… released them all as a book?

She agreed!

So I spent March and April writing, rewriting, and killing off a bunch of ideas. Though we agreed to flesh out 50 stories with accompanying illustrations, the final edition will likely have less than 50 (two of the four pictured in this post won’t make the final cut) as we whittle out the weak and make sure the monsters that remain are the most monstrous.

Currently

Barista Fly, bar fly, caffeine fiend

Over the next handful of Mondays, I’ll post updates on Monstrous Me. Some will be more substantive and include breakdowns of the processes involved (self-publishing, crowdfunding, illustrator collaboration), and others will be more goodie-intensive (art and excerpts and animations, oh my!).

Right now, the manuscript is in the hands of the first round of editors, and the second round of edits begins in July. The first draft of sketches is coming soon, and I look forward to sharing a few of those with you.

With the Kickstarter campaign looming, I’m working through an outreach timeline and developing some promotional ideas and materials.

 

What’s Next

As I refine the book, and learn a new set of skills for promotion, design, and animation, the next few months should be chock-full of good, bad and ugly updates.

With respect to animation, I’ve been tooling around with Adobe Animate. My first three experiments are up on Instagram now, and the plan is to become less terrible at it over the coming weeks, so I can use the software to animate the monsters, and, hopefully, the book trailer.

When the edits and sketches of the monsters come in, I’ll release a few to show those baddies that are shaping up into book form, as well as some of the unlucky beasts that are writhing around on the cutting room floor, and why they met their untimely demise.

Also, to keep this from being a totally self-indulgent process (is it too late if I’m writing this on a personal blog?), I’ll host an in-depth interview with the book’s artist, Liz, on her inspirations, influences, and other projects.

I’ll get granular about the pleasures and perils of launching and sustaining a Kickstarter campaign, the cost breakdown of self-publishing a colorful, illustrated book, and any other technical goodies along the way.

Despite what feels to me like a lot of progress, there’s still so much to do. As I edit, revise, share and post about the goings-on (then, in turn, as I doubt, denigrate, disparage and internally eviscerate myself) of Monstrous Me, I appreciate you coming along on this ride. It’s going to be fun!

Besides, we’re all monsters, aren’t we?

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