Tell us a bit about yourself: Did you go to school for art? Are you self taught?
I was the arty kid back in school; I can still remember getting in trouble in seventh grade for looking out the window and drawing instead of paying attention in class. Strangely enough, in high school I was fighting that and seriously thinking about going to school to be a vet - I even took classes like Latin (nerd alert!) that I thought would be helpful in college...
And then junior year, I remembered that vets deal with blood and needles.
So that was the end of that.
I went to Savannah College of Art and Design and graduated with a BFA in computer art in the spring of 1999, focusing on 2D hand drawn animation. When I came out of school, there was less and less traditional animation positions - especially for a newbie with no work experience - so I've been adapting my skills ever since.
I've worked as an in-house artist for OshKosh B'Gosh, I've illustrated two travel themed coloring books, and most recently I've created repeat patterns and t-shirt graphics for Kohl's as well as created a custom pizza box for a client that's literally COVERED with hand lettering and fun drawings! There's some really exciting new opportunities that have been coming in, but it's a tad too early to mention specifics.
Do you work in just one medium? Several?
As I've grown with my art over the years, fresh techniques get added to my process. Within the last year I feel like I've really honed in on my "style". It's all about digital painting in Photoshop, mixing in layers of hand lettering created with either paint or markers, and bringing lots of hand drawn or painted textures to the party. It's a great way to create pieces that are easy to work with on the production side of things, but I'm not chained to the computer every step of the way.
20+ years of creating artwork professionally on computers has left me always thinking and creating in layers and workability for production. When I draw with markers or paint in traditional media - acrylics, watercolors, or gouache, I usually play around on paper, and then scan everything into the computer at as high a resolution as possible and pull together my finished pieces there. Live trace, vector bits, and smart objects are my best friends. Outside of my husband of course.
I really like the control I have in Photoshop - I can call out specific Pantones, I can get more precise, I can edit that one little stray line that isn't quite working with the rest of the piece. Most importantly, everything and I mean everything is separated out into layers so I can go back and change things easily. Photoshop gives my clients peace of mind knowing the ease of production and editing they'll experience while working with me.
What inspires you / where do you get inspiration from?
I pull so much inspiration from my life! I've been a self employed work at home mom since our son Phil was born in 2010. Nowadays, he's in kindergarten, but his little sister Joy will be in the studio with me until she starts pre-K in a couple of years. My family is hilarious - there's lots to get inspired by.
My latest collection for licensing, This is Halloween, is inspired by some decorations my son Phil and I bought ages ago at a dollar store. My kids love the fun characters and the bright happy colors - even though those little cardboard cutouts have taken a serious beating over the years, they HAVE to have them on the walls every year! I wanted to create a group that made kids smile just as much, in colors that were classic and easy to work with alongside someone's existing Halloween home decor. I've also got a few kids book ideas on tap based on funny things that we've experienced as parents, and don't even get me started on all of the greeting card designs I'm starting to work up based on hilarious one liners that have been blurted out in our house over the years!
How did you start licensing your art?
As I ventured on the path of self employment, I was finding more and more clients were asking for web design. I was happy to oblige; I was great at it and the paycheck was fairly steady. But over time, I was finding that I was becoming more and more unhappy with my work. I missed drawing. About a year ago, I slowly started to pull away from web design; I took advantage of the Black Friday deal on some Make Art that Sells courses from Lilla Rogers, I worked my way through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and actually stuck it out through all twelve weeks over the summer... taking the leap of faith is really what helped push me towards art licensing.
What are you working on now?
I'm wrapping up 2016 with lots of great Christmas art that'll be available for licensing, and I'm fine tuning what art I'll be working on each month for 2017. I'm playing with the idea of working within a theme for each month, a month ahead of time. So January I'll work on all things love, so I have lots of great Valentine's theme art to share all February long.
I'm also honing in on what I want my Instagram feed to look like, because that's a great way to get exposure. The balance for me is to share enough to get art directors interested, without giving away the really good stuff. One of my strengths after so much time spent working as an apparel illustrator is coming up with funny sayings that haven't been totally overused in the marketplace. It's been interesting trying to figure out how to share without sharing too much if that makes sense.
Any great advice for our readers?
Failure is for quitters - if you don't ever give up on your art, you'll never fail.
Before I shifted focus to my illustration work, there was a lot of things I was pretty attached to - like my old business name. As I started working with my agent, I quickly started to realize that if I wanted real and drastic change in my career, I needed to be as open as possible to that change! Here we are six months later - I've got a new website, a growing portfolio that's finally showing a cohesive and distinct style, and lots of prospective projects on the horizon. None of this would have been possible if I stubbornly held on to the old ways.
And keep in mind - an illustration agent isn't the silver bullet that is going to make a deluge of work come busting down your door the second you sign on. When you connect with an agent, marketing your work is still your responsibility, but now the exciting thing is you're part of a team. There's more than one of you working on bringing in projects and licensing deals - they're an advocate for you if a project goes south, and can be an amazing sounding board as you work through the direction your career needs to take. My agent Liz Sanders has been so key in helping to shape my illustration adventure!
Anything else you would like to share with us?
I'm always learning something new - it keeps things interesting. A couple of months ago my friend Kim and I took an oil painting class for the first time, and we were hooked! I don't know how well oils would work for art licensing since it takes such a long time for the paint to dry, but I'm definitely continuing to explore this medium moving forward.
I have a group of artwork that'll be seen on girls t-shirts in Kohls in Spring 2017, and I'll also be working on a kids book pitch for one of my many ideas to start shopping around next year. I'm looking forward to connecting with a literary agent that works with illustrator authors for some really fun titles!
Are you an early riser? or night owl?
As much as I'd love to be a night owl... I'm definitely an early bird. Even when the kids don't wake up horrendously early on a summer morning, I'm still wide awake by 8am.
The upside? There's coffee.
What is your favorite food?
All of it... Is all of it an answer?
I just like snacks is all.
But if I had to narrow it down...
I'd have to say cookies, coffee, macarons, chocolate, pizza, chips, salsa, donuts, cakes, pies, ice cream, fried chicken, cream puffs, bacon, marshmallows, Jelly Bellys, burritos, hamburgers, spaghetti, crab legs, charcuterie plates, grilled cheese sandwiches, quiche, soup, deep fried Oreos, deviled eggs, the candy parts of trail mix, midnight pancake parties, muffins, steak, and all you can eat buffets. And cheesecake.
You can find Steph:
Liz Sanders Agency: http://lizsanders.com/