Illustrator Spotlight: Maile McCarthy

© Maile McCarthy

Sept. 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 Maile McCarthy and her work.


© Maile McCarthy


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

Thank you so much for this opportunity! Like many artists, my path has been full of twists and turns. As a child, I often wrote and illustrated pictures books. I even “published” one (laminated and bound with brads!) for my dentist’s waiting room. As I grew, so did my professional interests— philosophy, midwifery, and art in many forms, but it feels inevitable that I’ve circled back to picture books. Author Bruce Coville said something beautiful at this year’s SCBWI conference (I’ll paraphrase): “In a world that can feel so uncertain, the right story at the right moment has the power to shift the world a tiny bit toward the good.” It is an honor to play a part in that.


© Maile McCarthy


Congrats on your entry for the Kidlit411 banner contest! How did you go about approaching this assignment?


© Maile McCarthy


This was such a fun assignment for me as I love to draw goofy birds. I had just spent some time researching pelicans for another project, and the idea of a pelican on a wire struck me as really fun. I’m also a sucker for animals in costumes— I think a lot about identity and the masks we wear as people. It’s so natural for us to try to present as someone we’re not. But if you think about a bird doing it, it highlights how absurd it is. So I knew that the pelican on the wire would try to disguise himself as a song bird. Of course, he fails miserably. 

Please walk us through your illustration process.

My writing and illustrations all start from the same place: Daydreams. Next, comes the mad scribbling phase. This is a mixture of words and sketches … just getting the ideas out of my head and onto paper. Then I comb through the mess and pull out the gems. 


© Maile McCarthy


Once I’m ready for thumbnails, I pull out this wonderful worksheet from Debbie Ridpath Ohi (http://inkygirl.com/inkygirl-main/2015/11/4/free-picture-book-thumbnail-templates-for-writers-and-illust.html). It’s so easy for me to get caught up in perfectionism when I get to the sketching phase, and this pulls me right out of my head. 

From there, I take my favorite thumbnails and pull them into photoshop to flesh out the sketches and get them ready for paper cutting. At this point, I’ll also start mixing and matching paper swatches and making little color maps. 


© Maile McCarthy


Finally, it gets to my favorite part. Paper cutting! I print out the guidelines I’ve made in Photoshop, turn on one of my favorite podcasts (I’m listening to a lot of Lexicon Valley at the moment) and cut up all the little pieces. I glue them together in layers, ink in a few details, and then scan them back into photoshop for cleanup. 

If you’d like to see more, I’ve created a studio tour video (https://www.mailemccarthyillustration.com/about/) that shows my methods in vivid color (oh how I love color!). I also share a lot of process pics on my instagram @MaileMcCarthy.


© Maile McCarthy


What projects are you working on now?

Inspired and energized after this year’s SCBWI Summer conference, I’m in the thick of revising and querying my picture book dummies to potential agents. I’m also creating more picture books as part of Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 challenge, and I am just beginning RenĂ©e LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab! Additionally, this summer’s The 100 Day Project took an unexpected turn into stop-motion animation. It was so much fun! I predict there will be more of that on the horizon.

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

As an Air Force Brat, I spent several of my formative years on an air base in Northern Maine picking wild berries and chasing grasshoppers in the woods, right alongside the bombers and refueling planes of the Strategic Air Command.


© Maile McCarthy

Where can people find you online?

My website is MaileMcCarthyIllustration.com. I’m also active on Instagram @MaileMcCarthy. If you have questions about my process, supplies, etc. or just want to say hi, feel free to contact me. I would love to connect!

Maile McCarthy is a children’s book author and illustrator. She is a current participant in Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 challenge as well as an active member of the SF-South chapter of SCBWI. She lives in Silicon Valley, California with her husband and son. When she’s not working, she can be found meditating, playing banjo, and growing giant pumpkins (and so much more!) in her suburban front yard.


6 comments:

  1. Great interview! Love seeing the work in progress. :) Also love the banner and the birds!

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  2. Maile, I love your art and style. Thank you for sharing your work and process with us.

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  3. Thank you David and Angie. It was really fun to participate.

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  4. What a fun read! I love seeing your process and all the expressions in your work.

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