Meet Veronica V. Jones, Moonlight Crab Count is her debut picture book and we think it is pretty great! We learned a lot about Veronica when we did this short interview get to know her too!
This is your debut children’s book, when did you decide to pursue a career in illustration?
I’ve been working as an illustrator for a long time. Soon after I graduated from university in 1995, I realized I wanted to work as an illustrator. I started sending out mailers and emails to companies who might like my work. My first break was getting to work as a graphic designer, first for a company that made novelty photo sticker booths, then for a government contractor. This gave me a lot of valuable experience with new tools and software, as well as the business of commercial art. When my husband and I were about to welcome our first child in 2000, I decided to work as a freelance illustrator (and stay home mom) full time. I spent a long time creating artwork for the hobby tabletop game market, that is, collectible card games and roleplaying games, which use a lot of action, fantasy and science fiction art. In 2010, I decided I wanted to start doing artwork for children’s books and that’s where my heart has been ever since!
Can you discuss the difference between illustrating for children and adults? Is one more challenging the other? (If so, why?)
I think my work for children’s books is actually more challenging. My projects for adults these days are for the covers of novels. You have to tell a little bit of the story while also making a design that will be easy to figure out whether it’s on a bookshelf in a store or a tiny thumbnail on the Amazon website. However, for my children’s books, I have to do all of that and then the 13 or so interior spreads to accompany the story. I have to make sure the characters stay consistent so that Leena, for example, looks like Leena whether we’re at the start of her story, the middle, or the end. While I can usually wrap up an adult novel project in 2-3 months, a children’s picture book can take 6 months or more!
Have you always known you wanted to be an artist? What is your favorite media to work with (and why)?
Ever since I was little, I’ve always known I loved to create. I enjoyed making art for myself, and my friends but I didn’t really think about it as a job. Luckily, I met a medical illustrator who convinced me to start looking into illustration as an option.
I tried out a lot of different media to learn what would be the best fit for me. While I’ve enjoyed working with acrylics, pastels, pen and ink and colored pencil. For my work, I prefer my digital paintbrush. It gives me a lot of control, flexibility and speed, which is ideal when you’re working on a project.
Did you draw when you were a kid? (Please provide details and/or a specific example.)
I drew ALL. THE. TIME!! So much so, I would get in trouble sometimes. The margins of my notebooks would be covered in doodles and I would practice poses from my favorite comic books like Spiderman. I remember in 7th grade drawing a ballerina I was particularly proud that it was shown off in the school art show.
What books (or illustrators) have inspired you?
There are so many books that have shaped me to be the person I am today. I was a voracious reader as far back as I remember, spending all the extra time I could both in my school library and the public library. Back in elementary school, I grew acquainted with Fudge and Ramona Quimby, went through the wardrobe to Narnia, and sleuthed with Encyclopedia Brown. As I grew older, I read all of the Anne of Green Gables books and all of the Nancy Drew mysteries. I read the Hardy Boys, but they weren’t as fun. I LOVED books by Robin McKinley (still do!) like “The Blue Sword” and “Hero and the Crown”. In high school I expanded to mystery and horror, reading Agatha Christie novels and Stephen King. I vividly remember reading “It” during final exams in the gym.
As for artists, I’ve been especially inspired by Norman Rockwell and Alphonse Mucha. I greatly admire the work of more recent illustrators Michael Whelan, Donato Giancola, Todd Lockwood and Tony DiTerlizzi. It was Tony’s work on the Spiderwick Chronicles that led me to think about jumping into art for the children’s book market.
Research is an important part of illustration. Can you explain how you learned about horseshoe crabs for “Moonlight Crab Count”? What is one fact that you didn’t know before you started?
Research is critically important to my process. I research not just the animals, but the objects, boats, houses and landscapes that a story is set in. For Moonlight Crab Count, I needed to do a lot of research on horseshoe crabs to make sure they came out right. I found out what kind of animal they are – not a crab at all but more closely related to spiders, as well as where they come up on land to reproduce (Mid-Atlantic seashore). One fact that completely blew my mind was that the horseshoe crab doesn’t have 2 eyes like we do but 10 eyes!
How do you begin Moonlight Crab Count, or tell us about your creative process?
When I work on the artwork for a book like Moonlight Crab Count, my first step is to read the story over and over. I want to know whom the story is about and what happens. I try to start picturing the story in my head. Other artists use pencils, watercolor or acrylic paint for their art. While I may use some of those tools, my main tool is a computer. I use drawing and paint programs and a special pen and tablet to draw and paint on the computer.
Before I draw the pictures to go with the story, I need to come up with what the main characters will look like. For Leena, her mom, and Bobie the Boxer, I looked at a lot of pictures and sketched A LOT. Next, I start to do research to make sure that everything looks the way it’s supposed to. That means reading up on the places, things, and animals that show up in the story and keeping copies of pictures that I can return to later.
When I’m ready to start drawing, I make a version of the story on my computer. In this version, I split up the text into different pages with lots of blank space for drawing. Then I carefully go page-by-page and start to sketch out ideas for pictures that will accompany the text. These first sketches can be VERY simple. This is called a book dummy. I come up with simple sketches for each page then go back and make them into detailed drawings. As I’m drawing, I review the research I collected at the start to help me draw the people, animals, and places realistically. Once all these detailed drawings have been approved, I start painting! Like my drawings, I use my computer to paint.
As I paint, I make sure to look at all the pictures side by side to make sure the colors go together and look like they belong together. Once I finish, I submit these to the publisher. Generally, there is some back and forth as we change little things to make the text stand out better or to make sure the details are right. For Midnight Crab Count, we went back and forth on the lights on Leena’s boat. I don’t have a lot of experience with boats, so my editor was a big help on getting the details of the lights right!
The colors in “Moonlight Crab Count” are beautiful and unusual. Can you talk about the coloration?
The colors of twilight and night are my favorite…the deep blues and indigos, the way the clouds catch the last bits of light to glow in the sky and how colors are muted by the dark. I wanted to really give the impression of the progression of night, so I used very little light just the moon and a few lights, until the final brilliant dawn.
Do you have a favorite illustration in this book?
I have two favorites. I loved how the cover came out. I tried hard to instill a sense of wonder and magic in that moment when Leen sees the horseshoe crabs in the surf. My second favorite is Bobie running towards us with his tongue flapping. He just looks so goofy!
What challenges did you face in illustrating Moonlight Crab Count?
While I’ve illustrated for middle-grade books, Moonlight Crab Count is my first picture book, which is quite different. It was a great learning opportunity. There’s a lot more art required, and illustrators have to keep the character consistent throughout the book, so it’s a bigger job. I loved doing it!
The next book that I’m working on is The Lizard Lady. It’s about a scientist working with endangered land lizards in the US Virgin Islands. It’s a lot of fun because who doesn’t like tiny little lizards?
What advice can you offer to aspiring illustrators?
There are a lot of skills you need to learn to be a successful illustrator. Draw everything you see around you. Draw your favorite characters (like Spiderman!) but also the things you don’t like to draw, like feet, or cars or the trees. Try to learn different media like paints, pastels or markers so you know which are your favorites. Practice telling stories with your art.
Do you visit schools and/or teach illustration to children?
I’m very excited to start visiting schools to tell them about my work as an illustrator. Every summer I teach art classes to kids and teens at my local recreation centers. These classes aren’t long, but they’re FUN! I love to hang out with kids and see the world from their point of view, so I’m really looking forward to getting into classrooms and meeting more kids.
Get Moonlight Crab Count at arbordalepublishing.com or request a copy from your local bookseller!