Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Author/Illustrator - Heather Newman

How long have you been creating art for children?

I have been drawing, painting and creating for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of sitting next to my mother as she embroidered. She had given me a little hoop and I stitched great, swooping arcs of embroidery floss across the surface, yellow and blue. It was a duck in a pond, but I think I was the only one who could tell what it was. I drew on everything I could get my hands on and no book, doll, toy or piece of furniture was safe. I tried signing my brother's name in an attempt to escape punishment, but he was a baby and my mom didn't fall for it.

How long have you been writing for children?

The desire to write came to me later than the need to draw. I was probably about 7 or 8 when I started making up my own stories to illustrate about twin princesses who liked to have grand adventures. In high school and college, I focused on my art and I have only started writing again fairly recently. I find writing to be more challenging than painting. My ideas resist being transferred to paper, stubborn things that they are.

Heather, can you share a bit about your publishing journey? I saw on your website that you have published two books, what did it take to get those published? How did you match up with Do Life Right, Incorporated?

The books I illustrated for Do Life Right, Inc came about courtesy of facebook and a wonderful unschooling community! I purchased the first three of Lisa Cottrell-Bentley's Wright on Time series, stories about a homeschooling family that travelled in an RV, at an unschooling conference just as we were getting ready to hit the road in an RV ourselves. Lisa and I ended up becoming friends on Facebook and when she posted that she was looking for several different illustrators for 'Cody Greene and the Rainbow Mystery' I sent her samples of my work. I was originally contracted to do just the cover, then Lisa liked my art and decided to add illustrations at the beginning of each chapter. The images for that book were created in Kansas, Georgia and Florida as we travelled. When Leslie Schultz was signed on for her book 'The Howling Vowels', she asked for me to be the artist and Lisa agreed. It was fun to illustrate and I'm grateful that Leslie liked my art enough to trust me with her story. It's a sweet, gentle tale, I love the characters.

Where do you do your artwork?

I mostly work at a large desk in the corner of my living room. The desk came with the house and I instantly adopted it as my own. It's in a nice, bright spot with a view of the woods, our old barn and the bird feeder.

Please tell us about your illustrations. Can you describe your creative process for us? How would you describe your style?

My style hovers somewhere between cartoon and realism. I tend to work in my head long before I put pencil to paper. If I don't allow the images to fully develop in my mind first, it's a struggle of me to complete the piece. Of course, things change as I start to work, but I begin with a clear and completed mental piece. It's something I started doing when my kids were wee. I didn't have time to immerse myself in drawing or painting, so I created images in my head. I imagined mixing paints, brush strokes, how I would shade something with a pencil and now I depend on that technique to start the artistic process.

Will you share a sketch, line art, and/or photo of a final illustration?

This is a piece that I completed for the illustrator's workshop at the NESCBWI conference. The assignment was to illustrate a scene from one of three stories chosen by the two author/illustrators and one book designer running the workshop. I chose 'The Magic Paintbrush' and rewrote the story to take place on another planet centuries in the future. I started with character sketches of Mira.

After I sent in the initial sketches to the workshop coordinators, I began work on the final piece making changes based on the feedback I received. I was changing the perspective to one looking up from about 3' off of the ground so I did several thumbnails before settling on this one.

Then I worked it up with more details into a small rough. I took photos of my husband standing next to my son's bed to make sure I was getting the perspective right. Unfortunately, Arthur's room doesn't have that cool, round window.

For the final image, I chose to keep a subdued color palette for Mira and her room and let the ancestor who was visiting her stand out by having the only color in the scene. This one is ink and watercolor. After I finished, I scanned the image into photoshop and increased the color saturation to bring out the details on the sleeves that were lost in the scan. Learning how to manipulate my art digitally is my next project, but I'm not sure that I could work exclusively on the computer. I love the feel of a pencil and brush sliding across the surface of the paper too much to give it up.

Which comes first the story of the illustrations/sculptures?

Both. There are times when a random comment or phrase triggers an idea for a painting and times when an image that pops into my head suggests an entire story to me. It's a symbiotic relationship.

Heather can be found at:

Twitter: @HeatherNewman12 

Come back every Wednesday this summer to see the Featured Author/Illustrator of the Week
To see previous Feature Interviews, click on the links on the sidebar.


  1. Nice to learn more about Heather and her work. Thanks Alison.

  2. Oh, I've been meaning to tell you how much I love that final image of Mira in her room! It's really fabulous, with that sort of vintage fairy tale feel - so nice. I can totally relate to creating the whole thing in your head before starting work, too - I do that not only with poems, but also with my "rehearsals" for readings.

    Thanks for bringing us more Heather, Alison!

    1. Thank You, Renee! Don't you feel like all of that mental practice helps the final work? It saves me a lot of frustrated attempts and spoiled paper.

  3. I'm always fascinated by an illustrator's process. Great interview!

  4. Your final illustration is awesome! Thanks for sharing, Heather. Thanks for a great interview Alison!

  5. Beautiful work! That final image is stunning. Those colors... :)

  6. Sigh. I'd like to have that view from my desk! Thanks Alison and Heather. I enjoyed hearing how you mixed paints in your head - what a tidy process! Some people DO use more of their brains!

  7. Always fun to read an interview with Heather! Heather, I love your art - you are so talented! I loved hearing about how you plan things out in your head - I do that with writing, but it never occurred to me that that was a process that could work with drawing/painting!

  8. I agree with everyone else. Your final illustration is stunning. Thanks for the interview!