Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Leeza Hernandez & Giveaway

We are so excited to present author-illustrator Leeza Hernandez, whose latest picture book, CAT NAPPED! just came out on June 12. Be sure to enter her giveaway for a signed copy of both CAT NAPPED! and the companion book, DOG GONE! 

Update: A runner up will receive 4x6 silk-screened art cards from Leeza.

Tell us about your background and how you became a children's illustrator.

I’m originally from England, and after art school, pursued a career in editorial design—first in newspapers, then magazines and books. During that time, I would illustrate editorially, too, if there was a call for it. 

It wasn’t until after I moved to the US, that I became involved in illustrating children’s books. Because of participating in Illustration Friday (a great website to help keep the creativity flowing), I clicked on a link to view someone’s work that then led me to SCBWI. I joined, learned as much as I could about how to illustrate books for young readers, and of course, I’m still learning today!

I met you at the SCBWI conference the year you won the Art Showcase award. Did that open doors for you as a children's illustrator? 

Absolutely! SCBWI has played a HUGE part in helping me get to where I am today for sure, and it continues to do so. I will be forever grateful. This organization rocks!

Can you tell us about your books that will be published this year?

I have two books coming out this year: CAT NAPPED! (G.P.Putnam’s Sons) which released yesterday (June 12), which is a companion book to DOG GONE! that came out in 2012; 

and EAT YOUR SCIENCE HOMEWORK (Charlesbridge) releases August 5 which is a sequel to EAT YOUR MATH HOMEWORK (written by the lovely Ann McCallum) that came out in 2011. 

I’m excited for both to release—it’s going to be a busy summer!

What was the most interesting thing that you learned from working on these projects?

One of the interesting things I learned when working on CAT NAPPED! was something that art directors talked about but the penny never really dropped for me until working on this book: everything in your illustration is a character. Not just the animals or people, but trees, vehicles, buildings, plants, props, even a garbage can. 

© Leeza Hernandez

The truck that’s featured in the book started off as a box truck, then revised to be a pick-up. I drew hundreds of trucks, but just couldn’t get it quite right. As soon as I shared the sketches with my editor (this amplifies the importance of communication) she was able to pinpoint the issue right away. The truck was too modern and angular. I needed to soften the edges and round out the vehicle. It was a light bulb moment! Starting from scratch, I researched vintage pick-up trucks and eventually found a character for the truck that suited the tone of the book and the rest of the illustrations.
What projects are you working on now?

I’m currently working on EAT YOUR HISTORY HOMEWORK, also written by Ann McCallum, which comes out next year with Charlesbridge.

What is your typical work flow for an illustration?

I work a couple of different ways, depending on what medium I use, or whether the illustration is for a promo piece or an actual book/dummy. 

The majority of my promo pieces come from spontaneous inspiration. I don’t really think too much about them, but hear a phrase, read a quote, or think of some fun word play to riff off. There’s usually one sketch. I scan it in and move things around in photoshop to get the right composition. I print it out, create a more solid line if the sketch is … er… sketchy…then I go straight to color. 

© Leeza Hernandez

If I work in pencil, I go straight to final from the print out. If it’s a silk screen then there’s more work to be done, with many screens to separate out the layers of color, that would then be used to build the print. 

Book dummies are a longer process for me where I need the most time to work out sketches as I think, rethink, and think some more. This can take several months, but once I’ve nailed the sketches, and they’ve been approved, jumping to final typically doesn’t take long at all.

Do you have any process pieces you can share with us?

Here’s the background story to this promo piece. It’s only happened to me once so I like to share . . .

The piece, came from, dare I say it, a dream! Bleary-eyed at 3am, I remember waking up, grabbing my sketchbook and scribbling down what I could remember—a girl who let’s her hair grow wild and crazy things happen. 

After a few days, I explored the character a little more and from sketch to revised sketch to lineart, and came up with this portfolio piece. 

For the final image I created the lineart and textures by hand, then collaged digitally with some final tweaking on color in photoshop. 
© Leeza Hernandez

I sent it out on a postcard to publishing houses and received some great feedback. 

Now I have a story to go with it which I am working on with my agent for submission. Inspiration can strike at the funniest of times, and I am so glad I keep a sketchbook by the bed, otherwise I probably would have forgotten all about it by breakfast!

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators or author-illustrators? What is something you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out?

If you’re not already a member, join SCBWI! Don’t spend time and energy worrying about trying to please other people, but focus on who you are as an artist and channel that energy to always making new art—even if it’s for just ten minutes a day. And practice gratitude for every moment—ups and downs—because all of it leads to valuable learning and growth.

What is something most people don't know about you?

Er … I’m a crazy cat lady and I love cheddar cheese. The stronger and stinkier, the better. Not the cats… the cheese.

And I collect different illustrated Alice in Wonderland books. Two of my favorites, interestingly, are in black and white—one illustrated by Ralph Steadman, and the other, a beautifully simple little book of mostly silhouettes, illustrated by Jeff Fisher.

Where can people find you on the internet? (although please try not to cringe if you visit, the site is currently being redesigned and hopefully will launch next month) I’m on twitter every once in a while, too: @leezaworks

© Linda Littenberg
Leeza Hernandez has illustrated a handful of picture books including Cat Napped! (Putnam, June 2014) which she also wrote, and Eat Your Science Homework (Charlesbridge, August 2014) written by Ann McCallum. Other titles include: Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo (S&S, October 2013) written by New York Times best-selling author and actor John Lithgow; Cat Napped!’s companion book Dog Gone! (Putnam) and  Eat Your Math Homework (Charlesbridge). She’s currently working on Eat Your US History Homework (Charlesbridge) due out in 2015. When she’s not working on books, Leeza can be found hanging out with her family making clay robots, tie-dying t-shirts, swimming or simply relaxing with a good book!

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  1. Is the wolf and pig picture at the top from a book? or just a one off? I want it! I collect picture book art. Leeza, let me know if you would considering selling me the original or a signed print.

  2. Loved DOG GONE and cannot wait to get my paws on CAT NAPPED!

  3. This looks great!

  4. Thanks for the interview, Leeza. Loved your process pics and the image. It looks like it will be a great story.

  5. So nice of Leeza to stop by and share!

  6. Leeza sounds like my favorite kind of illustrator: a hilarious one! The stinky cheese-cats comment cracked me up. I can't wait to read Cat Napped and Dog Gone; they sound like Dav Pilkey types of titles and I am a huge Pilkey fan. :) I need to follow her advice of doing art even for just 10 minutes a day.

    Thanks for the interview and giveaway!

  7. Congratulations, Leeza! You are a talented artist. It's nice to hear that great things came out of the SCBWI conference for you. And to be involved with a sequel is huge!

  8. What a fun interview. Great stuff. Thanks.

  9. Thank you so much for the interview, Leeza! I'm a crazy cat lady too! I love cheese, but I stay away from the stinky stuff. Thank you so much for sharing your tremendous talents with the KidLit411 world!

  10. Absolutely LOVE the interview - but even more, the artwork! COOL!

  11. Loved the interview! Thank you for the wonderful giveaway.
    fairyfractal at gmail dot com

  12. Great interview from a fun lady! I love the process pics. From a fellow crazy cat lady! (=^・^=)

  13. Congrats! Those pics are perfect to illustrate the process.

  14. Thank you for the wonderful interview Leeza. Liked so many parts of your talking and especially the part of drawing 10 minutes a day at least. Your pictures are so much a great match for the text.

  15. Hi all, trying to leave comments but had tech issues before so trying again .. fingers crossed. Thank you ALL for such kind and lovely words and support. I am so glad you enjoyed this post - thank you to Kidlit 411 for having me over - it was my pleasure! Happy summer everyone... Cheers! leeza

    1. Thanks again, Leeza, for joining us and giving out such fabulous prizes. Have a great rest of the summer too!

  16. Congrats to Lindsay for winning signed copies of DOG GONE! and cat napped! (I hope you like them) and congrats, too to all the folks who entered the giveaway and won a runner-up prize. The runner-up prints are little 4x6 signed, open edition silkscreens of dog from Dog Gone! and are all packaged and ready to mail out. Please expect them to arrive this week and thank you again!


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