Women in Fantasy Illustration: Kelley McMorris

Women in Fantasy Illustration: Kelley McMorris

Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing prominent women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.

This week’s interview is with a favourite of mine, my fellow blogger-in-arms, the lovely book illustrator Kelley McMorris!

1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
I work from home doing freelance illustration for publishing clients, specializing in book covers and middle-grade children’s books. I’ve been doing this for about three years now. I work digitally using Adobe Photoshop and a Wacom Cintiq. I live in Portland, Oregon, and when I’m not drawing I enjoy baking delicious food, drinking chai lattes, and reading about dangerous cults.

2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
After I graduated from college with a mostly useless degree in Japanese, I realized that I wasn’t going to succeed at anything that I didn’t enjoy enough to practice every day. So I asked myself, what did I really love to do? What could I push myself to really excel in? The answer that came back was art. I had always loved drawing, ever since I was a kid, but I had avoided thinking of it as a career possibility because I thought that all artists were poor and miserable. But I was poor and miserable anyway, so why not give art a shot? I applied and was accepted to the illustration program at the Academy of Art University.

Kelley McMorris
After I graduated from college with a mostly useless degree in Japanese, I realized that I wasn’t going to succeed at anything that I didn’t enjoy enough to practice every day. So I asked myself, what did I really love to do? What could I push myself to really excel in? The answer that came back was art.
Marianne - Ladies of Literature II Anthology by Kelley McMorris

3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional artist?
Transitioning from student to professional was actually remarkably smooth and easy for me. I started getting work and an agent even before I graduated, and within a year I had acquired steady clients. After that initial burst of beginner’s luck, however, I’ve been stuck in a bit of an artistic rut. I’ve been experiencing difficulties in deciding what direction to pursue for my career, and some roadblocks in how to advance it. It’s a challenge I’m still dealing with now.

Transitioning from student to professional was actually remarkably smooth and easy for me. I started getting work and an agent even before I graduated, and within a year I had acquired steady clients.

4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
I like having the freedom to create unique solutions to creative problems. Growing up, I hated math. I hated it because there was only one correct answer to a problem, and only one correct way to arrive at that answer. I enjoy the challenge of finding the most dynamic and attractive visual solution to a problem. It’s satisfying to know that a client comes to me with a job because they want my unique vision that no one else can give.

It’s satisfying to know that a client comes to me with a job because they want my unique vision that no one else can give.

5. What do you like the least about illustrating?
What I like the least about illustrating is the way it can suck the joy out of drawing. Sometimes it’s inevitable that I have to draw something I’m not very interested in, and then the hours drag by. Since I work from home, it’s really easy to procrastinate and avoid working on these assignments by baking some unnecessary muffins or watching a new documentary about dangerous cults. On the worst days, I sometimes feel that I would rather spend my free time doing anything but drawing. Or sometimes my hand is just physically too tired to work on personal projects.

Sometimes it’s inevitable that I have to draw something I’m not very interested in, and then the hours drag by. Since I work from home, it’s really easy to procrastinate and avoid working on these assignments by baking some unnecessary muffins or watching a new documentary about dangerous cults.

6. You are represented by Shannon Associates, one of the largest illustration agencies in New York City. What is it like working with an agent and how did you come to work with them?
I caught the attention of Shannon Associates after I won the SCBWI Student Illustrator Scholarship. I’m very fortunate to work with an agent. Perhaps the most valuable task my agent does is filtering out serious clients from non-serious ones. When I receive a new job proposal from my agent, he’s already gathered all the important information from the prospective client: the deadline, budget, and project scope. All I have to do is review it and accept or reject the job. It saves so much time, not having to drag that information out of a cagey, amateur or indecisive client who doesn’t know what they want.

7. You do children’s illustration, focused on Middle Grade and YA book covers. How did you hone in on this genre and what advice would you give to aspiring illustrators who would like to work in MG/YA?
While I was in art school, one of my professors encouraged us to visit bookstores and physically look at the books. (Sounds simple, but it’s surprising how many illustrators don’t do this!) While browsing, I noticed that the MG/YA book covers were what really captured my attention. Middle-grade books tend to use a more realistic, rendered style than picture books, and that’s where my strengths naturally lie, so I geared my portfolio towards that genre.

While I was in art school, one of my professors encouraged us to visit bookstores and physically look at the books. (Sounds simple, but it’s surprising how many illustrators don’t do this!)

8. You have one of the best illustrator blogs out there in my humble opinion, what led you to blogging and how do you keep it fresh?
Why thank you! I originally started blogging in order to promote my old Etsy shop, where I sold custom pencil portraits. For a few years I was obsessively reading fashion and lifestyle blogs, and I learned a lot about blogging that way. I love hearing that people enjoy reading my blog posts! I get ideas for new content by simply listening to artists talk on social media. I notice certain questions, fears, misconceptions, or other concerns that spring up again and again. The posts where I address these issues – for example, the post “Types of Illustration Careers” – are much more popular than the posts where I talk about my own art. It seems that there’s a hunger for practical information on making a career out of illustration.

I get ideas for new content by simply listening to artists talk on social media. I notice certain questions, fears, misconceptions, or other concerns that spring up again and again.

 9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
In my first semester of art school, one of my professors, Bill Maughan, talked about artistic plateaus. Basically, our artistic skill and our artistic perception (that is, the ability to accurate critique our own art) tend to improve in spikes and plateaus. Sometimes our skills surpass our perception, and those times feel fresh, exciting and full of wins. Other times, our perception surpasses our skills, and those times are the worst, when you feel like nothing you do is good enough. Many times over the past few years, I’ve reminded myself (and been reminded by former classmates) of Bill Maughan’s plateau theory. It helps to remember that everyone goes through these seasons, regardless of skill or experience level, and the tough times won’t last forever if you work through them.

10. Do you have a philosophy behind your work? if not what are some of your goals for the future?
I believe that my art should bring some sort of joy and good to the world. If it encourages a child to read, teaches them about history, inspires someone, makes them smile, or prompts them to imagine new stories and worlds, then I consider that a job well done.

I believe that my art should bring some sort of joy and good to the world.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Kelley McMorris, if you did please share it with your friends!

View all Women in Fantasy Illustration interviews here.

Links:
Kelley McMorris’ Portfolio
Kelley McMorris’ Blog
Kelley on Shannon Associates’ Site
Kelley on Twitter

Kiri Østergaard Leonard
kiri@kirileonard.com

Kiri Østergaard Leonard is an award winning illustrator and artist from Denmark, currently living in Austin, Texas. She enjoys working on projects within the fantasy and children's illustration genre.

No Comments

Leave a Reply