Monday, September 21, 2015
Interview with new SCBWI mentee, Molly Ruttan
Note: This interview was originally published on the Kidlit Artists website, a home to recipients of the SCBWI LA Summer Conference Illustration Portfolio Mentorship Program, founded by the 2010 Mentees.
Molly Ruttan was the recipient of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2015 Summer Conference. Kidlit Artists would like to officially welcome Molly to the blog, and ask her a few questions about the Mentorship experience and about what she is up to these days.
Q: Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?
First, I want to thank all the mentors for their time and dedication to the mentorship program, including Cecilia Yung, who led the mentorship events. Needless to say, I was totally thrilled to have my portfolio selected. It was a profound honor to receive insight from these great masters of the craft.
The overall feedback from the critique session was very affirming. Priscilla Burris gave me sage advice on the pacing and content of my portfolio. Laurent Linn and Paul Zelinsky had insightful and valuable comments about my characters and techniques. Pat Cummings and Brenda Bowen went into informative detail about the composition, content and "sell-ability" of specific pieces, and Peter Brown was so supportive overall that I walked away on clouds.
What really surprised me, though, was the diversity of their opinions. They had very different ideas and thoughts about how I could progress—it has been an inspiring challenge to integrate their feedback! However, ultimately I'm finding that not only have their critiques positively influenced the overall direction of my illustration, but also that they have helped me identify, prioritize and visualize my path, which is exciting.
All in all, I came away feeling that I'm definitely going in the right direction. To have SCBWI give me a huge YES! feels like doors have opened, both for me and within me. Winning this mentorship has been an extremely validating experience.
Q: What kind of projects are you working on now?
The feedback from the mentors has prompted me to experiment with some new ideas, which I'm excited about. I'm working on adding new pieces to my portfolio, as well as developing characters for some of my stories—I have several book dummies I'm finishing and/or re-working. On top of that, I have many ideas for other books—a few of which I'm itching to start. I work freelance doing magazine and graphic design, so for now, I'm also balancing that. I have always been a hard worker, and the incredible validation I received from winning the mentorship and the vision I gained from their critiques has shifted me into high gear.
Aside from working, I'm taking art classes at night, attending local SCBWI events, and researching agents. I'm looking forward to going to New York in February for the winter 2016 SCBWI conference—as a former New Yorker I can't wait to visit my old stomping grounds!
Q: Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?
One of my goals in life is to work as a children's book illustrator, as well as work writing and illustrating my own children's books. One of my greatest aspirations is to have a child pick up and want to read a book because of the illustrations. As a young child, this was certainly true for me, and the lure of a beautiful illustration remains to this day.
I have always loved the classic early/leveled readers—The Arnold Lobel Frog and Toad series, Owl at Home and Grasshopper on the Road all hold great inspiration for me, as well as the classic Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. I would be thrilled to work on a classically influenced collection of stories like these. I'm also hoping for work illustrating picture books, board books, middle grade… I love them all!
Q: Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration? Any one piece of bad advice?
The best piece of advice I have ever received came from the best teacher I have ever had, illustrator Marla Frazee. She said, "If you're not having fun [with a technique or a style], don't do it!" For me, this idea affirms my natural inclinations, and also helps me keep on track. So while I try new things, experiment, try new mediums and develop my ideas, I find it extremely helpful to stay in touch with my own joy, and gauge how I feel as I'm working, and with what I'm producing. Also, it helps me sustain the characters over many pages when I love them and can have fun with them.
No bad advice, yet… but I do have a couple more good ones! A practical gem I received from Pat Cummings was "Know the story—the emotional background and the personality—of every character in the scene". I keep this in mind not only when I'm drawing characters, but also when I'm working out the composition, viewpoint and other details of a scene. I also love the advice, "Tell the story YOU were born to tell". I think the same is true for any act of creation—that is, create in the way YOU were born to create!
Q: What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference?
The 2015 SCBWI conference was so full of inspiring moments; it's hard to choose. Varian Johnson had a great list on how to proceed. Bonnie Bader and Steven Malk had great practical advice. But a workshop I attended with Mem Fox and Alan Johnson was one of the highlights. They exemplified the deeply respectful and engaged relationship an artist and an editor can have, which was awesome to witness. Their lecture was punctuated with Mem Fox reading from her books. Hearing her read really drove home the truth that ultimately, children's books are an emotional medium. She had everyone in tears! She asked, "Will the child say 'read it again!’?” which for me, pretty much says it all.
The Illustration Intensive was also deeply inspiring. Everyone had so much good advice! Dan Santat's assertion that "Illustration is communication" and that we are "visual problem-solvers" struck a chord with me. I realized that we, as artists who illustrate for children, use our hands, our minds and our hearts in a continuous circle of creation when we work. It made me realize why I love children's book illustration so much.
Q: What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
Some of the picture books I loved when I was a kid were written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey—Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine and Homer Price are among my all-time favorites, along with all of H. A. Rey's Curious George books. When I was a little older, my mother read me many of the Beverly Cleary books. I especially loved Ramona the Pest, with illustrations by Louis Darling. For a while all my drawings of little girls looked like Ramona! Later, I got lost in the delicate and beautifully rendered pictures by Donald Chaffin in Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. I read the songs and poetry in that book over and over. I also spent many hours with the Disney movie record books. My sister and I would put on the record and turn the pages, re-living the movie, singing along, and were totally transported. To this day when I hear some of the music from those early classics I get chills!
Then there were the E.B. White books, starting with The Trumpet of the Swan with pictures by Edward Frascino. I discovered Garth Williams with The Cricket in Times Square, Charlotte's Web, and Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban. I discovered Ruth Christian Gannett reading the My Father's Dragon series. I also loved Incident on Hawks Hill by Allan W. Eckert—I studied and aspired to John Schoenherr's realistic scratchboard depictions of people and animals.
I still love the classics, and surround myself with them. Maurice Sendak, Arnold Lobel, Wanda Ga'g, Robert McCloskey, Garth Williams and Ruth Christian Gannett are some of my all-time heroes.
Thanks again, SCBWI, for your support and encouragement!