I'd like to introduce you to Katie Kath, a rising star of the children's book industry. I consider Katie to be sort of my illustration sister, because we both won the SCBWI Student Illustrator Scholarship in 2013, which launched both of our careers, and we got picked up by the same agency. Since then Katie has gone on to work with big names such as Dial Books, Penguin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and others. But besides her professional experience, Katie has some great insights into success and staying true to yourself.
What was your experience at art school like? Were you a star student?
I definitely had some professors with high hopes for my future, but I was never "that student" who won every award, took no prisoners, and was destined for gold-paved greatness. There were many of those students at art school, and while I was good at what I did, I never carried that reputation.
Tell me about the SCBWI Student Illustrator Scholarship. What made you choose to apply, and what happened after you won?
The SIS was something I stumbled upon, thanks to a flyer landing on a professor's desk. Per his suggestion, I submitted some work from a project I was doing for a class. I figured that I had nothing left to lose, being so close to graduation and being in the awkward place I was in my career. After I won the scholarship, an agent noticed my work, I signed with them, and I've been busy with illustration work ever since! (If you want the long version of this story, you can read more about it in the SCBWI Success Story Archives.)
You've amassed quite a resume in the two years since you won the scholarship. Is being a professional illustrator everything you thought it would be?
I think it has been more than everything I thought it would be. I had always gotten the impression that illustration was a great but hard-knock-life, so to speak, and in a way it is, but perhaps being prepared for the worst has allowed me to concentrate on the many, many wonderful aspects of it. Yes, there have been some surprises, but I they have been mostly good surprises, like how art directors and editors are so willing to work with you and are always on your side.
What would be your advice to artists who are struggling to discover their own styles?
Never be a trend-chaser. Never concern yourself with what others are doing or what's popular, because in a few years it might just be unpopular. Do what you like to do, do it well, and your "style," your artistic soul, will come out on the paper, whether you like it or not.
What would you say to illustrators who want to get their foot in the door of the publishing industry?
People will tell you all kinds of things. They'll tell you that you can't do this or that. That you don't understand this or that. That people won't like this or that. While there is something to be said in trying to keep students and/or aspiring artists from not getting their hopes too high too quickly, I really have to ask, is there such thing as having your hopes too high? I think that low hopes are the easiest and most detrimental man-made road block you can put in front of yourself. So here's my advice: draw what you like to draw, attend conventions and conferences, make friends in the field, build a reputation for being polite, reliable, friendly, and punctual, and submit to lots of competitions. You never know where it will take you.
See? I told you guys this was good stuff. Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Katie!
Blog readers, do you have any other recommendations for artists that you'd like me to interview?