Coffee & Conversation with Vonnie Crist!

Happy Thursday, everybody! Today we are continuing to highlight our chapter’s talented illustrators.

Visiting us today is Vonnie Winslow Crist, an illustrator, writer, and storyteller. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and attended Perry Hall Elementary, Parkville Junior High, and Perry Hall High. In addition, as a young person she spent her Saturdays going to Maryland Institute College of Art’s classes for children & teens. Vonnie earned a Bachelor of Science in Art & Education from Towson University (when it was still called Towson State College). She attended several writing classes at Goucher College, and then, returned to school to earn a Master of Science in Professional Writing from Towson University.

Over the years, she’s taught Art for the Community Services Division of Catonsville & Essex Community Colleges; illustrated magazines & books; written book, movie, video, & restaurant reviews and a kids’ column for area newspapers; taught Poetry for 10 years for the Maryland State Arts Council’s Artists-in-Education Program; told stories using puppets; written lots of poetry & prose; and drawn & painted hundreds of pictures. Recently, she taught several creative writing courses for Harford Community College.

Currently, Vonnie is writing the “Writers Block” column for Harford’s Heart Magazine , illustrating for The Vegetarian Journal , contributing to Faerie Magazine , editing The Gunpowder Review , drawing illustrations, and writing poems, stories, & books.

And now that Vonnie is settled in our cyber chair with her favorite coffeehouse beverage, tea–at a coffeehouse, she looks for a nice Darjeeling with a little sweetener . . .

. . . and her favorite snack, pretzels, popcorn, and chocolate are on the top of her list of munchies . . .

. . . on with the interview! Vonnie, when did you decide to be an illustrator?

I fell in love with illustrations beginning at age 3 while looking at (and learning to read from) a series of 12-page fairytale booklets produced by The Platt & Munk Co., Inc. in the 1930s. My great-aunts recognized my interest, and would give me beautifully-illustrated books each Christmas when I was young. How could I not do illustrating? I started illustrating for various publications while still in school, and have illustrated ever since (though not as often as I’d like in the children’s market).

How long did your path to your first sale take, and what were your biggest hurdles?

My first “real” sale was for over 80 pen & ink drawings for an adult cookbook. The author stood by me in an aerobic dancing class. One day, she mentioned she’d completed a cookbook named Lean & Luscious, and was looking for an illustrator. I told her I illustrated – and I ended up doing over 700 illustrations for Prima Publications for that author’s various books. That encounter also led to my magazine work for The Vegetarian Journal. I’m not even sure how many hundreds of illustrations, including covers I’ve drawn & painted for the VRG in the nearly 30 years I’ve worked for them. The children’s books I’ve illustrated were also the result of quirky coincidences. And the recent cover work I’ve been doing for fantasy publications, was again due to being ready when opportunity knocked. Probably the biggest obstacles for me are working from a rural area in Maryland that’s far from the center of the publishing world, and balancing a family and illustration.

Since hindsight is 20/20, what advice for beginners do you wish you would’ve followed?

Set aside time every day, if possible, to work on your skills and artwork. Always be ready in case an opportunity pops up unexpectedly (most of the time I was, but I did let some great jobs slip through my fingers). And I wish I’d focused on children’s illustration earlier in my career.

What’s your favorite medium?

My favorite medium changes! If I had to pick at the moment, I’d say mixed water media.

Where’s your favorite place to work?

Just recently, we added on to our home. One of the areas we added was a small studio for me. Now that the ceiling is in, walls up, and floor installed – that’s my favorite place to work. And it’s such a luxury! I used to work at my dining room table. But I refuse to share a picture until my studio is somewhat organized – which could mean never!

Which illustrators inspire you?

All good illustrators inspire me – that being said, I appreciate someone who understands drawing and pushes their chosen media to the limits. If you’re speaking of “older” illustration, the work of Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, and the illustrator from those 1930s fairytales, Eulalie Banks, all inspire me. As far as modern illustrators, though I’m loathe to pick “favorites,” I think 5 artists who influence and inspire me are Brian Froud, Michael Hague, Alan Lee, Linda Ravenscroft, and Gary Lippincott.

What were your favorite books as a child?

Fairytales, myths, legends, and folk lore have always been my favorite kind of books. Besides The Platt & Munk Co. Inc. booklets mentioned above, I still have a number of ratty-looking fairytale books from childhood that suffered from too much love. Two other books that remain favorites, not only because of the photos they contain but because of the mythic content, were art awards given to me in the 7th and 8th grade as the top art student at Parkville Junior High. One is on Egyptian mythology and the other on Greek mythological statues. Yes, my geekiness started early!

How do you describe your style and has it changed throughout your career?

My style is based on sound drawing. I used to pick media that reflected that focus – like pen & ink and scratchboard. Now, I’m confident enough in my ability to draw that I can paint over those carefully rendered drawings. It gives me more freedom to explore speculative subject matter. (By speculative, I mean fantasy, science-fiction, Faerie, dark fantasy, steampunk, etc.)

How were you inspired to illustrate your current or upcoming release?

The interior ink drawings and watercolor cover art of my 2011 YA-friendly short story collection, The Greener Forest, were designed to look like a journal or scrapbook made by someone observing Faeriefolk.

I’m hoping to have another collection of YA-friendly speculative stories out in spring 2012. For this collection, I’m using acrylics & watercolors on the cover and ink drawings in the interior. The artwork has a slightly darker tone and more mysterious feel to it. I guess it’s because owls are featured in many of the tales, and they’re creatures of the night.

What was one of your favorite assignments?

Painting the mermaid and sea creatures used as the cover of Through A Glass Darkly, then later on a YA eBook of mine, Sideshow by the Sea. I got to not only research sea critters, but then draw & paint a mermaid. What could be cooler?

Time for the lightning round!

Do you . . .

Work from photos or imagination? Both.

Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped?  Hmm. I sometimes talk to a few select folks, and bounce ideas off them.

Prefer sketching or final art?  Final art – all my mistakes have been erased or covered.

Dread marketing/blogging or love it?  I dread the non-creative part of the business.

Enjoy brainstorming more or researching?  Researching. As both a writer and illustrator, I love to research, read, take notes, sketch, etc.

Read Kindle or traditional books?  I don’t even own a Kindle. Until technology shows illustrations as spectacularly as a traditional book – I’m not interested.

And finally, what’s your favorite:

Time to work?  When it’s quiet – at my house, that’s often late at night.

Music to listen to while drawing?  I love to listen to Celtic music, Enya, Stevie Nicks, Heart, Meatloaf, The Eagles… A rather eclectic selection actually – but somehow, the music needs to “match” the mood of the art I’m working on.

Traditional media or digital?  Traditional.

Pair of shoes?  Barefoot or Dr. Scholls sandals when it’s warm. Heavy socks and mules when it’s cold.

Guiltiest pleasure?  Dark chocolate and a good book.

Line from a movie? From J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” – spoken by Galadriel.

Words for all of us to live by! Thanks for dropping into the cyber cafe, Vonnie. Good luck with your future work!

About Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, blogger/vlogger at Write, Run, Rejoice and Joyful Miles, mom of two awesome boys, wife of one fantastic husband, excellent chili maker, and obsessive list keeper. She loves run-on sentences and adverbs. She also still thinks Spice World was an awesome movie and feels no shame about that.
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6 Responses to Coffee & Conversation with Vonnie Crist!

  1. ediehemingway says:

    Another interesting interview and so much fun to learn about different habits and creative processes! Vonnie was the winner of the illustrator scholarship to our 2-day conference this past July.

    • Vonnie says:

      And my thanks to MD/DE/WV SCBWI for the scholarship to the Summer 2011 Conference. The atmosphere at the conference was so creative for illustrators & writers alike — I couldn’t help but be inspired! I “blame” that conference for renewing my illustrating spirit. Since July, I’ve had paintings accepted for the covers of 4 speculative print magazines: “Aoife’s Kiss,” “Scifaikuest,” “Illumen,” and “Bards & Sages.” Plus, I’m finishing up a new group of illos to send to publishers for possible assignments. So thanks, MD/DE/WV SCBWI, you’re the best!

  2. Vonnie, congratulations on The Greener Forest — I love the cover! Thanks for an enjoyable interview.

    • Vonnie says:

      The interview was fun to do, and made me think a bit about my “illustrator life.” FYI the cover of “The Greener Forest” was recently voted one of the Top Ten in Book Cover Art in the 2011 Preditors & Editors Readers’ Poll — a pleasant surprise. I know when I like a piece of completed art, but I’m not always sure if it’s because the painting is my “baby” or if it’s truly successful!
      And, while I’m typing a few words, a thank you to you for facilitating, etc. the Illustrator’s track at the 2-day July 2011 conference. It was a wonderful experience for me.

  3. Pingback: December Illustrator Spotlight Recap « As the Eraser Burns

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