Good morning, everyone!
Why is it I feel as though we just talked?
Oh! I know! It’s because it took me so long to get the Mix ‘n’ Match Mini Writing Challenge finished up that I posted it at 11 PM last night and now here we are on Tuesday Debut scant hours later! 🙃
(If you missed the prize giving, check HERE because I know this post will bump the last Mix ‘n’ Match post for top of the blog!)
But now, get comfy because you are in for SUCH a treat! Today’s Tuesday Debut-ess, Ashley Belote, is an illustrator, and she’s going to show us her process so that those of us who always look at picture books from the writing side of the desk can better understand how our work gets illustrated, and those of us who are also illustrators can learn a whole lot!
Written by Joy Keller
Illustrated by Ashley Belote
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan)
Release date: 7/13/21
A young slime scientist is surprised when her latest creation comes to life in Frankenslime, a funny and clever picture book twist on Frankenstein.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Ashley! We are so thrilled to have you here today to share your journey to publication as an illustrator! We don’t get to hear the artist’s perspective very often, so this is really special! What was it about Joy’s book that made you want to illustrate it?
ASHLEY: When I first read FRANKENSLIME, I was instantly inspired! Joy does a great job setting up scenes and creating exciting page turns. I find those aspects appealing in terms of illustration because there is room for me to bring in some surprises and explore the world beyond the text. In order to generate ideas, I got to know the characters. Victoria Franken is the main character, and she is accompanied by her sidekick, Igor the dog. Victoria loves to experiment in her slime lab and isn’t afraid of failing. She has big ideas and explores her imagination. I put myself in her shoes and thought about what my ideal slime lab would look like. When I was a kid, I taped drawings and notes all over the walls because I wanted it to look like an office space. I felt like Victoria would do the same thing! Igor is the comic relief, so I made sure to make him the butt of several visual jokes. Thankfully, he’s a good sport 😄.
SUSANNA: As an illustrator, how do you go about taking someone else’s words and turning them into art for the book?
ASHLEY: It is so much fun to take the words from someone else and bring them to life visually. When developing characters and the world around them, I like to sketch out all kinds of ideas and decide what I like and dislike about all my options. I’ll take the aspects I like and keep working from those ideas until I have something that I am completely satisfied with. I have a background in 2D animation under the direction of Don Bluth through his animation university and one aspect I learned from him is that the character development process is based on appeal. We were taught that every frame of a character needed to be an appealing drawing. If a single drawing is not cute, on model, or appealing, the entire sequence can be thrown off. Illustration is the same way. Appeal is even more important in books because those images are stationary. With Igor, I went through several trial-and-error designs as shown below.
In terms of Victoria’s world, it needed to be somewhat realistic and then somewhat imagined. Joy writes in a way that lends itself well to illustration. She left room for me to bring ideas into the artwork by providing just enough information about the space in the text. Victoria’s attic lab was one of my favorite places to design. I wanted her to have a space that was recognizable as an attic, but I wanted it to contain imaged elements as seen in the scene below that depicts her experiments with rainbow cloud slime, intergalactic space slime, and glow in the dark zombie slime.
I love blurring the line between real and imaginary. I mean, this is a picture book, it needs to be fun!
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write/illustrate this book? Did you go through many revisions?
ASHLEY: From start to finish, the illustration process took several months. I went through three rounds of sketch revisions and then a few rounds with color samples. I learned SO much during the revision process. My art director, Mallory Grigg, was fantastic to work with. She shared notes with me in a way that let me know what I needed to change with the freedom to experiment. Her exact words when speaking about the color palette were, “think candy store colors.” I loved that!
When I start sketches, they are extremely rough. Below is the sequence of sketches I used when working on one of my favorite spreads from the book.
The initial idea began like this:
I work in Procreate and using layers is a key element in my process. I took the opacity of the above image down, created a new layer on top of it, and began fine tuning the concept. Here is the revision:
Then, during my rounds of sketch revisions, I made a few more adjustments to leave room for the text (that’s very important!) and ended up with the final version here:
Once that was approved, I added color to bring it to life! Ta-da!
This entire process served as an amazing learning experience. I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to your art director. They are there to guide you, and their direction will make your art better. The editor, Holly West, had a great overall vision for the project and I am extremely grateful for the experience as a whole.
SUSANNA: How did you go about getting chosen to illustrate? When and how did you submit? When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
ASHLEY: I got this project though SCBWI! I have been a member of SCBWI since 2016. I love this organization for so many reasons. I enjoy the conferences and webinars and have served as the Illustrator Coordinator for the Carolinas region since March 2020. In 2019, I attended our Carolinas regional conference and had a portfolio review with Mallory Grigg, an art director at Macmillan. I also signed up for an intensive she was teaching. During that seminar, she mentioned that she hires illustrators via Twitter and often tweets calls for illustrators. She then told us that she had recently tweeted about needing an illustrator who could draw anthropomorphic slime. I thought that sounded like so much fun! Once the conference ended, I decided to go for it and created a sample. I replied to her tweet with the image and ended up receiving an email about the project afterwards. I have never been so excited in my entire life. I was working at a book festival when I got the email so everyone in the Charleston, WV Civic Center probably heard me scream, haha.
Here was my sample!
I was also signed by my amazing agent, Moe Ferrara from BookEnds Literary agency, as a result of this deal.
I celebrated the signing of my contract with ice cream!!! I LOVE ice cream, especially cookies and cream, so this warranted a tub of my favorite, haha.
SUSANNA: How do you, as an illustrator, feel about art notes?
ASHLEY: Personally, I don’t mind art notes. There were only a couple in the manuscript for FRANKENSLIME, and they were important for me to know. I think art notes are fine when they contain information that affects the progression of the story or include important details that can’t be inferred from the text.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
ASHLEY: I just saw a review from Booklist! My first review ever! It’s a little surreal seeing reviews out in the world, it’s so exciting!
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
ASHLEY: I am a member of an amazing picture book debut group called Picture Book Playground. We have been working together for over a year and have become fast friends in this fun industry. We do cover reveals, book videos, and celebrate the good news from the group.
I’m very active on Twitter and Instagram, sharing process pictures, news, and sketches. I currently have a few virtual events set up as well as some in person signings. I just started an event page on my website: https://www.ashleybelote.com/. I am so excited to share this book with kids! I taught art classes at an art center for a while so I’m really looking forward to getting in front of some classrooms and showing them how to draw the characters from the story. I love doing illustration demos and interacting with budding writers and illustrators! If anyone would like me to come and speak with their class, let me know!
I am also doing a virtual book launch hosted by SCBWI Carolinas on July 22nd at 7 p.m. via Zoom! If you would like to join, here is the link to sign-up!
The more the merrier!
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started illustrating seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
ASHLEY: I have been drawing since I was 2 years old, so I’ve been working towards this goal since then, haha. I have spent years in school and studying the industry to learn my craft. One of the best experiences I had was attending the Simmons College class, The Whole Book Approach, instructed by Megan Dowd Lambert at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art back in 2013. That class was really the first time I realized this could be a career and I have been working towards this point ever since.
SUSANNA: What is the most important/helpful thing you learned on your way to publication? (Or what is your most helpful piece of advice for up and coming artists?)
ASHLEY: I can’t even begin to share all that I’ve learned. One of the most important lessons I can share is the importance of community. This community can be comprised of critique groups, promotional/debut groups, or even personal friends/family. I have never felt more supported than I have these past few months and I’m so grateful for all those who have been sharing this journey with me.
As for advice for up-and-coming artists, keep drawing! This dream is possible and the best way to achieve it is by practicing your craft. You must be passionate about this because its long hours of trial and error. It’s important to stop second guessing yourself, let those feelings go and find comfort in your style because there is not one single person out there who can draw what you draw or imagine what you can imagine. You have something special that only you can present, and the world needs to see it!
Thank you so much for having me on the blog! This whole process has been a dream come true and I’m so grateful for the community that supports kidlit creators.
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers, Ashley! We so appreciate your time and expertise and everything you gave us the opportunity to learn! And we all wish you the best with this and future titles!
Readers, if you have questions for Ashley, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Ashley’s book at:
(all links below are book-specific)
We can help our debut authors successfully launch their careers by:
– purchasing their books
– recommending their books to friends and family
– recommending their books to our children’s teachers and librarians
– recommending their books to our local libraries and bookstores
– suggesting them as visiting authors at our children’s schools and our local libraries
– sharing their books on social media
Thank you all for stopping by to read today! Have a lovely, inspiration-filled Tuesday! Maybe today is the day you’ll write your debut picture book 😊
Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts? Check them out!
Karen Kiefer – Drawing God (religious market)
Theresa Kiser – A Little Catholic’s Book Of Liturgical Colors (religious market)
Lindsey Hobson – Blossom’s Wish (self pub)
Julie Rowan-Zoch – Louis (picture book illustration debut!)
Gnome Road Publishing (publishing house debut)
Julie Rowan-Zoch – I’m A Hare So There (author/illustrator debut)
Nancy Derey Riley – Curiosity’s Discovery (author/illustrator self-published debut)Christine Van Zandt – A Brief History Of Underpants (nonfiction)