Matt Twombly’s Leap to Freelance Illustration

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Screen grab from http://www.matthewtwombly.com

KU Grad Matt Twombly posted on Facebook that he had left his job at National Geographic and begin freelancing in 2015. He was a stellar student and won the Don Breter Illustration award when he graduated in 2008. So, I was curious about his transition and sent him some questions.

1. What was your job title at National Geographic?

Matt Twombly:  Graphic Editor. The job was basically designing, researching, and illustrating graphics. One project might call for a data visualization of some kind, say a chart, diagram, or graph, and another might be better suited for an illustration. But I left that in December 2015.

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2. Why did you leave NG? Did the recent acquisition by Fox have anything to do with it?

In short, no. It was a hard decision leaving the Geographic. At times I felt like I was crazy and at other times a transition felt necessary. Basically, it came down to reasons outside my professional life. I wanted to buy a house and set up the foundation for starting a family. DC is great, but expensive. Plus, my wife was offered a position up here (PA) in her old school district, which got her out of teaching in DC public schools, something pretty much unsustainable for even the most dedicated. So we took advantage of that offer to move back to PA.

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Coincidentally, the merger with Fox and creation of what is now National Geographic Partners happened just as I was leaving, but it wasn’t a motivating factor for me. The magazine was facing some big changes and up against some big challenges, but nothing that the entire magazine publishing industry as a whole wasn’t already up against. With the merger, some good talent left, or was pushed out, but I was still thankful for the job I had. Not to mention the fact that the staff there, and the graphics team especially, was moving ahead and would keep doing some great work.

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Fantastic Beasts for Entertainment Weekly, 2106

3. What did you learn from freelancers at National Geographic?

The most important lesson I learned is what it’s like for the editor on the other side, – hiring freelancers. That was me for a time. A lot of editors find freelancers they like and keep going back to them again and again. Freelancers we worked with were known for their specialty, either a specific style or a specific subject matter: space art guy,  3D guy,  paleo art guy, etc.

Freelancers we used regularly had already established themselves in a particular specialty. But they we all very professional, never missed deadlines, always delivered and didn’t push back on feedback from us. If you get a chance to do a job, do it well and you’ll be asked again some day.

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4. How did I you get your first freelance job?

Well, some of my first freelance jobs came while still at the Geographic. Someone might see my work in the magazine. Or word of mouth. Mutual friends or colleagues might recommend me. In my case, the first big job, a poster for the Parks Service in Alaska, came from an ex-employee I had known from the Geographic who already had her own working relationship with NPS.

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Poster for National Parks Service, Alaska, Archaeology Month, 2016

Not much has changed in how I land jobs now. How I get jobs from National Geographic now probably goes without saying. They know me, know what I’m good at. But I’ve been able to work with some new clients in my first year freelancing. Most of them just by introducing my work to the appropriate editor/art director. Obviously, a lot of people know the Geographic’s work and some are already familiar with my work, so that gives me one advantage. Also, some people from the Geographic (or my first publication, Science) now work at other publications. So in most cases I’ve just sent email introductions. 

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5. How much time do you spend on self-promotion?

Probably not enough. It can be awkward reaching out, especially to total strangers. And it’s discouraging if you fail to get a response. While I was on staff at NGM, I’d occasionally get a mailer or mass email from illustrators hoping to get work. Most of the time, that didn’t have a big effect on my hiring an illustrator. Part of that is because NGM requires such niche work. But just as much because editors already had a trusted pool of freelancers to draw from. Breaking into that is tough. For that reason, as a freelancer I opt for personal email introductions with a link to my website.

These days most of my self promotion is through social media (Instagram and Twitter) and the occasional email self-promotion.

6. Did typography classes from Kutztown pay off?

Ha, I’m probably the wrong person to ask. At the very least, I think it’s important to have an appreciation for type and all of its crazy intricacies. KU classes were certainly my introduction to that.

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Mangrove, for World Wildlife Magazine © Matt Twombly

7. Any big ambitions or particular projects?

The biggest one is continuing with the professional relationships I’ve made this past year. Hopefully expanding that net wider to more publications. I’d also like to diversify my sources of income. What I mean is find other things besides illustration for publications to make money for myself. Whether that means making handmade goods, collaborating with other businesses, or even teaching in some capacity, I’m open to it all. One thing I’ve gotten into is making art prints to sell on Etsy or Society 6. It’s small potatoes now, but it’s fun and personally gratifying. I’d really like to turn that into something bigger!

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See more of Matt’s amazing work on his portfolio site: http://www.matthewtwombly.com  Follow him on Instagram, mjtwombly.  I am especially impressed by his comic-book style work, including animated illustrations. Check out a great one about looting in Syria. All images in this post © Matt Twombly.

Scatter Joy Illustration Show

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The Tailor and his Daughter © Elham Ataelazar
Kutztown University has produced some amazing illustrators: Tom Hallman, Stephen Kroninger, Renee French, Kathi Ember, Kevin Cornell, Tom Warburton, Tom Whalen, Simeon Wilkins.   An exhibition at the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts will showcase artists likely to be added to that list.
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Elham Ataeiazar, work pictured above, came from Iran to work on her MFA at Kutztown. ‘Ellie’ has already illustrated a number of quirky children’s books for a publisher in Lebanon. Her artwork will be on display along with nearly 40 other KU undergraduate work at the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts in Horsham, PA.

“The Kutztown Univerity Communication Design Illustration Showcase” opening is Friday Sept. 23,  5:00 to 8:00pm. The public is invited and the show will hang through Oct.19, 2016.

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Scatter Joy is the brainchild of Kathy Davis. Kathy Davis is the well-known artist who started a greeting card business in a corner of her bedroom and found fame and fortune. She also employs a crew of talented illustrators, designers, and letterers. In 2011 we wrote about grad Ashley McDevitt working at the studio. Ashley, who drew the announcement above, isn’t the only KU grad working for Kathy Davis. According to Prof. Elaine Cunfer, who has been instrumental in arranging this exhibition, 4 other grads are at the studio.

 

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Summer © Kristen Tully

Prof Cunfer collected and organized work for students who chose to participate in the exhibition. Undergrad work includes projects done by sophomore through senior year. Kristen Tully  (work above) drew the zine ‘Moon and Wolf Girl’ which was the bestselling KU zine at Moccafest in 2015. You can see more of her images here.

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Darkside © Adam Liesenring, done in illustrator

2016 grad Adam Liesenring’s work often evokes science fiction. More of Adam’s work can be seen here.

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Art by Meredith Shriner, digital painting over scanned pencil.

Meredith Shriner is still on campus. Her junior-level work, above, will be in the Scatter Joy exhibition. More of her work can be seen here.

Kutztown University is proud of its association with Kathy Davis Studio and hopes the relationship will grow in the years ahead. By the way, the studio is looking for a watercolor artist and a hand-lettering artist! Check the careers tab on the Kathy Davis website.

 

KU Kid Lit Conference 2016

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Poster design and illustration by KU student Christina Davies

The Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference is 18 years old this year. The event takes place Saturday, April 16. The beautiful poster by Christina Davies is a puzzle showing a cast of famous children’s book characters heading for Kutztown’s campus.

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Cover and an interior page from Jonathan Bean’s latest book.

This year is a great year for illustrators. Three of the four keynote speakers are illustrators, and the fourth is married to one. Jonathan Bean, a native son of Fleetwood PA, is author & illustrator most recently of This is My House, This is My School. The Kutztown U Bookstore will have plenty of copies of this and all the titles by the conference speakers.

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Emily Arnold McCully,  Caldecott Medalist, will share her wonderful stories, many about empowered young women. Best known for her illustrated picture books, McCully is also the author of Ida Minerva Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business–and Won!  Ida Tarbell was  one the the few independent journalists with the guts to fight the most corrupt and greedy American robber barons including John D. Rockefeller.

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Art by Daniel Kirk from Library Mouse, A World to Explore

Daniel Kirk is the author and or illustrator of over 40 children’s books, including the hit series about Library Mouse. He often brings his acoustic guitar when he visits elementary schools. We will see if he sings at the KU conference.

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Rhythm Ride by Andrea Davis Pinkney. cover illustration by Dave Scott

Speaking of music, Andrea Davis Pinkney is the author of Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound. School library Journal calls it ” A well-crafted spin that will reverberate in the hearts of music, African American culture, and history buffs.” Pinkney may be one of the most famous names in the field of American Illustration. Andrea Davis Pinkney is the daughter-in-law of Jerry Pinkney and the wife and sometimes collaborator of illustrator Brian Pinkney.

This year’s KU Children’s Literature Conference is a bargain at $50. Enrolled KU students can attend for $10. There will be autograph sessions and lots of networking. Qualified teachers earn Act 48 credits.  There will be free events for the KU community. Details can be found here.  Like the Conference Facebook page for updates. Questions? Contact Sarah Bryski: childlitconfku@gmail.com

I’ll be there, too, launching my 2016 Real Poop on Pigeons Tour. KU MFA student Rachel Yoder will display her bilingual PA Dutch/English children’s book, Penny Olive. And Kathi Ember, KU grad will be there with lots of her illustrated books.

Maddy’s Dream Job: Lego Star Wars

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LEGOLAND, Billund, Denmark  photo credit: Bobby Hidy via Wikipedia

Like a lot of young Americans, Kutztown’s Madison O’Neil grew up loving Star Wars and Lego. Now he is headed to Denmark to design Lego Star Wars characters.

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Design by Maddy O’Neal, done for fun, before he got the job!

I last wrote about Maddy in 2013 when as a new BFA grad he took an odd career detour to become a ranch hand. Maddy’s new official job title: Character & Graphics Designer, LEGO STAR WARS.  

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Madison O’Niel was a ranch hand at Vista Verde in Colorado.

He starts work on February 22, 2016 at Lego, Billund, Denmark. He doesn’t even have a place to live. He and girlfriend, Megan Blair, also a talented KU design grad, found a Bed & Breakfast a short bus ride from Lego HQ.

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There are already 2 KU Communication Design grads working at Lego, Austin Carlson and Lauren King. Maddy interned at Crayola and met Lauren there, before she, herself, took off for Denmark. Lauren alerted Maddy to this job opening.

It all happened fast. For the past few years he’s been a designer at the quirky online store Think Geek. He flew to Denmark for the first time over Thanksgiving.  Maddy explains,”I prepped an online portfolio, had a skype interview, was flown to Billund, Denmark for a series of interviews and design workshops, and got the job a week or two later. ” He told my illustration class he was one of a dozen candidates flown in from all over the world for the interview.

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His interview in November included hands-on tests. He and the others were given a table full of Legos and told to create specific scenes and characters on the spot. Maddy says it was fun, stressful, but fun!

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Maddy was ready. In fact, he had packed his suitcase with these tiny characters from cult movies and TV shows including Game of Thrones, Firefly, and, of course, Star Wars. Note all Maddy’s creations in this post are totally unofficial and not available in stores. He custom prints stickers and fabricates props to adorn off-the-shelf Lego people. All rights are retained by the original creators.

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See more of Maddy’s imaginative creations including Beast Boy from Teen Titans and Sherlock Holmes here. As he says at www.maddyoneil.com: “I loooove LEGOs! As a hobby I enjoy creating LEGO minifigures of my favorite characters from pop culture. With custom decals and paint applications I can give these little guys big personalities.”

Lessons from Maddy: Network, Build a great portfolio web page, and Looooove what you do!

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Note: My new book, The Real Poop on Pigeons is available for pre-order on Amazon, at the discount price of $8.88.  The first review was good, and it is a selection of the Junior Library Guild. I am exhibiting  artwork from the book at Kutztown U in April and at The Hoboken Historical Museum in June. More details to come soon.pigeons.jpg

 

 

The Third Man behind the Terrible Two

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The Terrible Two was a 2015 NY Times bestseller. The Terrible Two Get Worse, just released this month, has already gained that honor. The series is a runaway hit with middle grade readers.  According to Variety, the Terrible Two have a movie deal!  Boffo!  I met co-authors Mac Barnett and Jory John at the ALA librarians convention in San Francisco. They are very funny guys both in print and in person.

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Jory John worked at 826 Valencia, San Francisco’s legendary street-front writing project. Mac Barnett is the author of a string of hit kid’s books including Sam and Dave Dig a Hole.

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Original Terrible Two Cover Sketches © by Kevin Cornell

I told Jory and Mac that their Terrible Two illustrator, Kevin Cornell, was once my student at Kutztown University. Mac whipped out his phone and shot a selfie to send to Kevin. Kevin and Mac collaborated together on the children’s picture book, Moustache!mustache_book_image.jpg

I asked why Kevin wasn’t with them. “Good Question!” said one of them. (I’m sorry, I get Jory and Mac mixed up.) Jory, I think it was, said Kevin’s illustrations were one of the biggest reasons for the book’s blockbuster success.

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Terrible Two concept sketches © Kevin Cornell

Above are a few of the many sketches Kevin drew of the two merry pranksters, Miles and Niles, and their nemesis Principal Barkin. Kevin’s sketches have a Ralph Steadman feel and great verve. Booklist, like other reviewers, noted the role of the illustrations in the Terrible Two series: “fast-paced reading that highlights the meaning of friendship, and animated, amusing cartoon illustrations enhance and extend the story.”

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I’ve got good news for fans of Miles and Niles. There are 2 more Terrible Two books in the works. Kevin Cornell also finds time for his own projects. In fact, he told me he prefers to be at his drawing board rather than on a book tour. Go To Sleep Monster, written and illustrated by Kevin Cornell, will be published by Harper Collins in April.

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illustration for Go to Sleep Monster! © Kevin Cornell

To see more of Kevin Cornell’s inventive artwork visit his website:  http://www.bearskinrug.co.uk.  To see, or buy,  all of his books visit his Amazon page. I will leave you with a photo grab from his Facebook page, a lesson in consistency to all illustrators, myself included, a snapshot of his sketchbooks. 12376183_10155760182498647_4139928117513362644_n.jpg “My 14 year collection of immature humor and drawings of inanimate monkeys.” -Kevin Cornell.

 

Aubry Cohen has got Skills

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HeadshotcroppedAubry Cohen graduated from Kutztown in 2014 with a concentration in Graphic Design. She had all the classes for the Illustration Concentration, but one. As I always say, a portfolio is WAY more important than a transcript. Today Aubry works for Artskills, a Bethlehem, PA company that makes art and poster supplies along with many other decorative items.

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Banner from ArtSkills Facebook page.

Q and A with Audry:

Q: What is you current job title?
A: I’m currently a Graphic Designer/Illustrator.

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ArtistiCats ©Aubry Cohen, a senior seminar project from KU

Q: How many folks work at Artskills? How many from KU?
A: There are around 40 employees at ArtSkills, and only 12 members of the Art Department. 5 of the Art Department members are from Kutztown!

 

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ArtistiCats packaging ©Aubry Cohen, senior sem project.

Q: Did Kutztown prepare you well for the job? Are there things you wished you learned more about?
A: Kutztown definitely prepared me well for the job! My package design class helped me learn the basics of packaging that I use every day now.  It would be beneficial for KU to offer more packaging design courses to give an even deeper knowledge of the field, however. I know a lot of my graduating classmates got jobs where they do packaging as well!

Valentines Candy Wrappers © 2016 ArtSkills by Aubry Cohen
Valentines Candy Wrappers © 2016 ArtSkills by Aubry Cohen

Q: Was there a particular portfolio piece that helped you get your job?
A: I definitely think “ArtistiCats” from my Illustration Senior Seminar helped me get this job. For this project, I developed a line of children’s art supplies, and designed a handful of characters to be on the packaging. This often is what I do at work now!  See entire project here.

Monster Wraps © ArtSkills by Aubry Cohen
Monster Wraps © ArtSkills by Aubry Cohen

Q: What is the project you are most proud of?
From school, probably ArtistiCats! From ArtSkills, I’m very proud to have been able to work on a product called Outdoor Doodlers. They are sidewalk chalk holders that will be released this coming spring. I got to design the characters for the wraps of the holders, and they were super fun to do!

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More Monter Wraps © Artskills by Aubry Cohen

Q: Do you have any illustration project, outside of work you are doing?
I do various personal illustrations in my spare time, which is always fun! I’m also developing a small online illustration studio with my girlfriend called Catmint Studios. We are hoping to sell some fun illustration-based products, and get it launched this year!

Design from KU greeting card class © Aubry Cohen
Design from KU greeting card class © Aubry Cohen

Q: Any advice for Illustration students?
The thing that I heard multiple times when I participated in KU’s portfolio review, and that stuck with me the most, was that I had a nice variety of styles in my portfolio. Everyone I spoke with enjoyed seeing many different illustration styles, as opposed to just one signature look.

ArtSkills stickers and packaging detail by Aubry Cohen
ArtSkills stickers and packaging detail by Aubry Cohen

Aubry: “My advice is to push your boundaries as an illustrator, and never be afraid to try new things! If you always draw creepy stuff, add something cute to your book. If you’re always doing digital paintings, try out some vector work. I get to work on such a huge variety of illustration projects at ArtSkills, and being able to be versatile really helps with that!

Illustration with typography © Aubry cohen
Illustration with typography © Aubry cohen

I would also say that, as an illustrator, definitely still be open to graphic design jobs! My job at ArtSkills is first as a graphic designer, but I am fortunate enough that I get to do a huge amount of illustrating as well. Opportunities for illustration can most certainly come from graphic design positions, so have a well-rounded portfolio, even if you consider yourself an illustrator before anything else.”

Fox Dance character design © by Aubry Cohen
Fox Dance character design © by Aubry Cohen

Q: Finally, can you point us to illustrators you admire?
I really love character design, and that’s a part of my job at ArtSkills, too! As such, I admire a lot of character designers, and many illustrators I find online. Here are the links to some favorites: Olivier Silven,  Nico Marlet, Zoe Persico, Melanie Matthews, Piper Thibodeau and an artist who goes by the name Crayon Chewer.

See more of Aubry’s work at her site. Learn more about ArtSkills at artskills.com.

 

 

 

Hannah Stephey has BIG News She Can’t Share!

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Not long ago, Hannah Stephey posted the image above on her blog and wrote: “Truth be told, all I want out of life is just to publish this book…and maybe get some cute new boots.”

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Maneki Pug © Hannah Stephey

We recently heard from Hannah, a 2014 Kutztown illustration grad, via Facebook. She has big news, but it is still secret. She is not at liberty to reveal which of her many projects are moving forward. I am not surprised to hear of her success. I wrote about her self-published work when she was still a student. Today, she has a literary agent and two, yes TWO! children’s books in the works. I swiped some art from her website.  I really don’t know what she talking about, but I bet some funny-looking pugs are involved. When he get  facts, we will update! Meanwhile –some Q & A.

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Look Cookers!, published 2015, art © Hannah Stephey

Question: Hey Hannah, most newly-minted illustration grads don’t find work quickly and get discouraged? How did you avoid that trap?

Hannah: I dealt with the dark void of post-graduation job searching by “keeping my day job,” so to speak. I did internships and freelance work in graphic design by day and worked on my book stuff by night. So, basically, no sleep ever.

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Children’s book concept ©2015 Hannah Stephey,

Q: How did you keep your creative juices going? 

Hannah: Here’s the important nugget: plan for the real world WHILE you’re in college. Get your name out there, try design competitions, portfolio reviews, trade shows, anything that puts you in front of clients & art directors. It’s super easy to just sleep and watch cat videos in your spare time, but the people who make it are the ones who never stop creating, even after class.

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Comic done while a student at KU ©2012 Hannah Stephey

Q: What did you learn from your self-published I (heart) Captain project? did you do that as a junior?

Hannah: What I learned from my self publishing adventures was ANYONE can make and sell books. Sure it’s much more validating if you get actual-published, but you can make and sell any book you want through services like lulu.com. they make creative portfolio pieces. And, yeah, that was my junior year.

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Sir Corgi © Hannah Stephey

Q: Do you think zines are worth doing?

Hannah: Zines are a bigger thing than people realize! Many comic book people start out with zines or have at least dabbled in zines. They’re fun and conventions are a great way to network with other artists (& steal some of their contacts.)

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Cover detail from a zine © by Hannah Stephey

Q: How did the book,  The Look Cookers, happen?

Hannah: The Look Cookers is a story my uncle, Jim Malloy, wrote that I illustrated. It’s self-published. (It won a Mom’s Choice Gold Award and is available on Amazon.)

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Pugucinno in a Cup © 2015 Hannah Stephey

Q: Did going to BEA and other events help your illustration career?

Hannah: BEA (Book Expo America for students reading this) was a great way to get some serious exposure from the literary world. It’s pricey, though.

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Mail Pug © Hannah Stephey

Q: Would you like to give a shout out to any of your Kutztown profs?

Hannah : I’d like to give a shout out to the entire KU CD department, but especially Kresge who was also my advisor for being so awesome and such a huge Toy Story nerd. Cunfer for being a stone-cold perfectionist and whipping me into shape, and teaching the importance of traditional techniques to give our work more soul and personality in a digital world. And of course… McCloskey! Who helped me discover you don’t have to be a cookie cutter logo tweaker to succeed in a creative career, and I needed to hear that! Also Clair and Prof. Voccola. I know he’s a writing prof, but he deserves props for being awesome.

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Pugs & Kisses © 2015 Hannah Stephey

All art in this post © Hannah Stephey. All rights reserved. When we get titles and publication dates of her upcoming projects, we will share more.