I recently joined this new creative group of illustrators known as The Visual Storytellers Studio. It is wonderful format that features new illustrators work on a rotating basis. Founding member and illustrator, Lisa J. Michaels, was kind to grant me an interview to tell me more about this unique way to get children’s book illustrations in front of eager art buyers and lovers on the internet.
What is VSS?
A few years ago, I belonged to a illustrator group called “The Picture Bookie Showcase”. It was started by The “Picture Bookies”- a group of 6 talented individuals who had a blog where they critiqued each others illustration work. They decided that the world needed a place where children’s book illustrators could post their work for public viewing, with the hope of eventually attracting art directors, editors, etc. They began asking other talented illustrators to join them (by invitation only), and the group quickly grew to fifty! It ran for several years, with several of the members being “discovered” and fulfilling their dreams of publication.
Running a group of that size can be a daunting task, even if the site is designed extremely well. The Picture-Bookies eventually decided to close it down due to time constraints and personal success. This created (in my opinion) a huge void for the other 44 participating illustrators. Being part of such a prestigious group gave them something impressive to add to their credentials, as the Picture-Bookies had developed a reputation for excellence and had become well known. To be included was an honor, and it meant you were among the best the nation had to offer.
The “Visual Storytellers Studio” is basically modeled after the “Picture-Bookie Showcase” idea, but we have taken it a few steps further.
What is it’s purpose?
The main purpose of the VSS is to provide a national forum for talented children’s book illustrators to post their BEST work for public viewing. I believe in the “six degrees of separation”, the notion that the more viewers we have, the better our chances of being found by the editors and art directors who will put us to work, doing what we love most, illustrating!
It’s secondary purpose is to bring to the public…parents, teachers, and children, some of the finest illustrations that are being produced today. We can come right into their homes via their computer. They can enjoy new illustrations every week, as we are constantly posting. We also conduct “Illustrator Interviews” with working, published illustrators, so kids (and moms) can learn about their favorite illustrators and what makes them tick! (You can read the first interview on Patrick Loehr here)
I feel the need to mention that the site is free for viewing, and has none of those annoying pop-ups or advertisements that so many other sites have. We want to remain as professional as possible. Nobody’s getting paid for any of this.
Who is behind it?
In June of 2008, my local SCBWI critique group disbanded, and I was left with no one to critique my manuscripts or illustration work. There were several on-line groups, but they were all full, and the waiting list was just stupid! I had been dabbling in website designing, so I thought…Why not start my own group? I knew I was not the only person out there who needed a critique group-duh!
Being a member of the SCBWI definitely has its perks, but I wondered about those who weren’t as fortunate as I was, and couldn’t afford the yearly membership. Let’s face it, writers & illustrators just starting out are far from wealthy! So, I decided that my group would not discriminate and I began accepting non-SCBWI members as well as critters like me, who’d been around a while.
We went “live” on July 23rd, 2008 and “The Yellow Brick Road” was born! We now have 15 members, many of whom are also SCBWI members and many who are published. That’s how I met Jill Bergman. Jill needed a writers critique group, and she found my “call for critters” on the SCBWI message boards. Soon after bringing Jill into the my YBR group, she was inspired to start her own critique group (illustrators only) and asked me to join.
Jill’s blogsite, “Our Lil’ Group” made me start thinking about the Picture Bookie Showcase again. I wondered how many illustrators had been forced to pay exorbitant fees to belong to one of the many on-line galleries that exist on the net. Many charge as much as $300+ per year to belong, only to find that it’s members get lost in a virtual sea of talented artists, on a site were there are hundreds to compete with. I thought, How can editors weed them out from the crowd? Is it worth that much to be lost in the shuffle? I noticed that those who go that route seldom change their listings, editors who do manage to find them-see the same samples over & over. That must be boring!
I knew that I had to do something different. I wanted my showcase back, but it would mean I’d have to do the work. Well, lazy I am not. So I proposed the idea of a virtual “gallery” to Jill’s wonderful group of illustrators, and I volunteered my web designing skills to make it happen. They had all given me something very valuable by letting me join them, so it was time to give back! I also thought of it as a way to pay it forward to the “Picture-Bookies”, for all the years they had allowed me to be a part of something so great. I have invited many of them to join us, and it feels like coming home!
When did it start?
I started building the VSS site in January, 2008 after explaining to the members what I had in mind. Everyone was really excited, and it reminded me of how I felt when my invitation arrived to join “The Picture Bookies Showcase“. I could feel everyone’s hope come alive. The enthusiasm for the project was overwhelming!
I assembled bio’s, illustrations, photo’s, hyperlinks, etc. for each group member, then assemble a “Meet the Illustrator” page for each of the 10 “spotlight” artists. Once that was done, then I began to put together the VSS site, building it around the logo that we all collaborated on.
On February 4th, 2008, we went “live” with our grand opening for public viewing. Invitations to view the site were sent out to hundreds of e-mail addresses. The list was compiled from lists that each person in the group compiled. I asked them to send me e-mail addresses for all the teachers in all of their local elementary schools, publishers that they had submitted work to in the past, art directors that they had worked with, friends, family members, private students, local libraries, etc. Just anybody who might be interested in children’s book publishing. It took me hours to send them all out, but the hits keep coming!
What are your goals for the next 2 years?
That’s an easy one, growth. We want to be seen and respected. We want to build a great reputation, as a place where the publishing industry knows they can come to find great talent and fresh illustrations that haven’t been sitting parked on a site for the last 3 years! We would like to find ourselves in a position where illustrator inclusion on our site is sought after and coveted. We are very serious about what we do as illustrators. We all feel a great responsibility to produce the best work possible for the parents who buy our books and the children who enjoy them.
How can other illustrators and writers get involved and spread the word?
Illustrators who would like to be considered for a “Contributing Illustrator” spot, need to send me a request/introduction and the link to their website or blog at wscribbles [at] att.net. It will go before our Spotlight Members for the decision making process. We will be limiting the number of invited illustrators, but the exact number has not yet been determined.
We at the VSS would love for other professionals to spread the word! We hope that everyone will come by and check us out at www.vstorytellersstudio.blogspot.com. If they like what they see, we encourage them to pass it along.