Illustrator Spotlight: Abi Cushman

© Abi Cushman

July 1, 2018

On the first of each month in 2018, we feature an illustrator who won or placed in our Kidlit411 banner contest, and we switch our website banner and Facebook page cover image. Today we present Abi Cushman and her work.


Tell us about yourself and how you came to illustrate for children.

For the past fifteen years, I’ve worked primarily as a web designer, creating sites for libraries, towns, and small businesses. (And I’m sure this will come as no surprise to people in the kidlit industry, but librarians make the *best* clients. They are wonderful to work with!) Over the years, I also created a few sites for fun, including AnimalFactGuide.com and MyHouseRabbit.com, which provides tips on caring for a pet rabbit inside your home. (I’ve always been a rabbit person.)


© Abi Cushman


My journey into children’s book illustration has been long and bumpy, full of not-so-great book dummies, a myriad of different illustration styles and methods, and of course, lots of rejections. Although I’ve always been interested in illustration, I seriously immersed myself in the kidlit world three years ago, joining a local critique group led by John Himmelman plus a few online groups (like KidLit411). 

In that time, I also went to New England SCBWI annual conferences, entered contests, and landed an agent (BookStop Literary). I’ve found it absolutely critical to have the support of the kidlit community during the lengthy process of improving my craft, putting work out there, facing disappointment, and making progress in small, incremental steps.


© Abi Cushman
Congrats on placing in the Kidlit411 Banner Illustration Contest. How did you go about approaching this assignment?

Since preference was given to pieces that maintained the “birds on a wire” theme, I decided to go with that. I did a few sketches in my notepad and settled on a pigeon reading a Pigeon book to other birds. There were a few things I wanted to focus on. 1. I wanted all the birds to be their own characters - to have individual personalities - but also to be based on real birds. 2. I wanted to maintain a consistent and deliberate color palette. 3. I wanted the illustration to specifically look good as the KidLit411.com website banner.


© Abi Cushman
I took my time drawing the different birds, looking at reference and trying to make their facial expressions and body language/positions dynamic and fun. To ensure the design and colors complemented the KidLit411 site, I took a screenshot of the site and would periodically place my banner-in-progress on top to see how everything looked together.


© Abi Cushman



You recently won the 2018 Portfolio Showcase at the NESCBWI and have some other good news that is not yet announced. Congrats! What are the one or two things you've done that have most helped you reach these achievements?

For my portfolio, I made a concerted effort to push myself a little bit in each piece. I’d give myself little challenges, like “Do a night scene” or “do a birds-eye view.” And by limiting it to just one new thing per piece, it made it manageable. I was also very intentional about creating series of images so that my portfolio wasn’t just a bunch of standalone scenes and characters. And over the past year, I created enough pieces where I could really be selective in what I included.



© Abi Cushman
The other thing that has really helped me grow as an author and illustrator is joining Storyteller Academy with Arree Chung. I was part of the inaugural class in the fall of 2016, and I still meet with my online critique group, which is made up of extraordinarily talented author/illustrators, including Aaron Clark, Ken Lamug, Maral Sassouni, and Emily Wayne. They have helped me develop my illustration skills and stories so much over the past couple years.


© Abi Cushman


Please walk us through your illustration process.

First, I make very rough sketches using a regular gel pen in my sketchbook, trying out different layouts, expressions, postures, etc.


© Abi Cushman
Then I look at reference photos and make a final drawing using a mechanical pencil on computer paper.


©Abi Cushman
I scan that in and adjust the levels in Photoshop. I set the pencil drawing layer to Multiply (which makes the white areas of the drawing transparent), then I use a Wacom tablet to color everything in.


© Abi Cushman
I like this process because I can piece together my final illustration and easily move elements around or replace them if I don’t like the way they turned out. The key for me is that I feel comfortable throughout the process to make mistakes and choose to either leave them in or get rid of them.


© Abi Cushman


What projects are you working on now?
I am in various stages of brainstorming/revising a couple dummies. The one I’ve got on my desk right now is geared towards younger readers and involves little peekaboo windows. I’m having fun. :)


© Abi Cushman

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

One time I got contacted by ESPN to create a painting of the Vince Lombardi trophy and then come to ESPN headquarters to get filmed “painting” it for a segment on Sunday NFL Countdown. The idea was to weave in clips of me painting with a montage of football scenes as a way to add artistic drama to the segment. I had to do the painting in a day so I stayed up all night doing it. Then I drove over to ESPN, and they filmed my hands as I painted. (I was really just painting over my already finished art.) It’s one of the few non-animal paintings I’ve done, but I figured it was a really unique opportunity, so I accepted.


Where can people find you online?
www.AbiCushman.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/AbiCushman Instagram: http://instagram.com/Abi.Cushman



Abi Cushman is a children’s book author and illustrator. She is the winner of the New England SCBWI Portfolio Showcase (2018), the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award (2017) and the Tassy Walden New Voices Award (2017). Abi lives along the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two children. When she’s not working, she can be found running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.)

10 comments:

  1. Abi is as sweet as she is talented! I am so glad we’ve become friends through NESCBWI! I foresee more wonderful things in her future.

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    1. Thanks, Teresa! I'm glad we've become friends too! :)

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  2. Your illustrations have me hooked on your work Abi! I love the way you show emotion in your animals; I connect with them.

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  3. These illustrations are so beautiful. Very talented young lady.

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  4. Thank you for your comments on how you work your illustrations. I need to get a scanner - or a new printer with a scanner. Your work is fun!

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    1. Yeah the benefit to working in pieces and using computer paper is you don't need a very large scanner!

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  5. Fascinating interview! Thanks for sharing with us, Abi. LOVE the birdie banner!

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