Author- Illustrator Spotlight: Stephanie Olivieri
|© Stephanie Olivieri
Today we welcome author-illustrator Stephanie Olivieri. She posts her fun and whimsical sketches at her blog, www. stepholivieri.com Be sure to enter her giveaway for a signed print.
Tell us about your background and how you came to write and illustrate for children.
I was a theatre major at the University of Arizona and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in soaps actually, but after landing a part in New York City on a show, I moved across country. I lost that part just as fast as I got it, character's age changes, so I finished school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
One day I went to an audition for the singing voice in a Disney film and I was nervous. I started doodling people in the waiting room on my call sheet. Well, Disney being Disney, they wanted it back and right in the middle of my audition they asked me if I ever considered being an artist and working in animation. Well of course I was deeply offended, being an actress and all, but a couple years later I was back in Los Angeles, waiting tables. I had lost another soap part so I decided to go into animation. I did take a year of animation and life drawing classes at the animation guild and then I started my art career in animation in 1996.
I worked at Warner Bros. Feature Animation for a couple months and then went to Disney Feature Animation. I was an assistant animator/clean up artist for many years for Disney, Warner Bros. DreamWorks, Sony and others. I even moved overseas three times to work on feature films and direct to DVD. Traditional animation was slipping away.
In 2006 someone from animation recommended me to a friend who wanted her kids book illustrated and that is how I got started. I have been illustrating kids books at least one a year ever since and just completed my 18th. I have worked with independent authors mostly and have been taking classes and learning while I am working. Currently this is how I am making my living and I love it. I am hoping to get into a bigger publishing house if the opportunity is there. I just LOVE the draw so I am happy that I get to do this.
For writing for kids it was a little different. When I was 13 I was mad into S.E. Hinton and was living by myself, and feeling sorry for myself so I wrote a book about a kid called Larry Winston in the vein of the OUTSIDERS, RUMBLE FISH and THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW. That was my first novel and I wrote it on a typewriter. I have no idea where it is now.
When I was in New York in the early 90s I wrote and illustrated a picture book about a purple elephant. I got it published by a small independent publisher and honestly I have no idea what happened to it, but have been thinking about redoing it.
In 2001, I started writing middle grade because I loved the genre, even though I didn't know that it had a name then. Silly me, I decided to follow the chick-lit trend and I went into writing for adults. After two books were sold and published by small publishers, I switched to pursue working in film and television. I had a few things optioned and I worked on a couple shows freelance, but was making my living mostly as an illustrator and picking up animation jobs when they came.
In 2011 during NaNoWriMo I wrote a MG novel-that is the one I am back working on now-but I set it aside as I was in desperate need of work and got an animation job working freelance for a Disney project via an outsource studio and pulled over 100 hours a week for about 6 months. In 2012 I got a job with the mobile app FarFaria out of San Francisco as a picture book writer. The deadlines were hard and fast and after writing about 16 books for them, I decided to get back to my own writing. So it's sort of been all over the place for me, but now I am focused and back to working on my MG novel and I have some YA ideas floating around as well.
I also wrote an early chapter book that is heavily illustrated in the style of a comic book that I have recently sent out. The idea was actually one I had for a television drama pilot, then a comedy, then a teen show and then finally I lowered her to a second grader. It is called, ULI DRISCOLL IN TROUBLE.
|© Stephanie Olivieri
How does illustrating your own stories differ from working on someone else’s stories?
As odd as this sounds, I haven't done that many of my own books that combine the two. I just finished ULI DRISCOLL and it was a lot of fun to do because I loved the style. That is hopefully going to be a chapter book series. I am thinking about doing a fully illustrated no words picture book because people keep telling me that I should, but honestly my MG series is really where my focus is at the moment. I know that sounds strange, but I have always kept the two separate. It would be great to be someone who gets to do the cross platform thing and have everything from picture books to YA, but right now that would spread me too thin.
|© Stephanie Olivieri
What projects are you working on now?
I am working on my middle grade novel. As far as drawing, I am doing a lot of work to send out for licensing. I have been working really hard and taking classes in pattern design and also illustration this year. I am constantly learning new styles and growing as an artist.
I am scheduled to go onto a couple picture books for independent authors as their illustrator in the fall. I also sell a lot of prints of my own art work. I am in a show at the animation guild in November and so I am getting work ready for that as well. And again I may do a wordless picture book-I have some ideas.
I am also working on some new online courses. A few years ago I ran an online course about writing dialogue. I am going to revamp it because I sometimes do script reading, consult on people's writing and I am also in writing groups, I see that dialogue is still something that plagues writers. I am working on the course now and I will be offering it probably in the spring, but maybe the fall.
I am also working on a simple course for illustrators on character. It is not a character design course, but more the approach for making them unique and standing out. And finally I am working on a nonfiction book entitled I LOVE MONDAYS for people who want to work as a creative but aren't sure what that means or how to do it. Not that I think everyone should quit their day job, but guys life is short and I do love Mondays because I have a job I love.
|© Stephanie Olivieri
What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?
For illustrators I would say the most important thing you can do is be yourself. Have your own style and make it great. Don't copy or mimic anyone else.
Practice and learn your craft, that is the most important thing you can do. I used to be 100% traditional and I was losing jobs all the time because it just took me a lot longer. I used to hand draw and then scan into the computer and sometimes drop color in Photoshop with the mouse, or watercolor and scan in. Now I have a Cintiq and working digital is how I work 99% of the time. It's really important to continue to keep up with the trends. I find that working on the computer is making a huge difference for me. I use Painter, Sketchbook Pro, Photoshop and Illustrator. I have taken classes in all of them and I draw all the time.
If you aren't digital and never have been, I recommend a tablet or a Cintiq if you can swing it cuz they are the easiest to transition and Sketchbook Pro-it's just like drawing on paper and very easy to learn.
The other thing I would say for artists is that you have to be able to work to get work. Meaning looking for the next gig does take up your time. You have to work on multiple things at once and know that sometimes there will be dry spells between jobs. I have several online shops, I am also licensed and I do children's books, logos, doggie drawings, original/custom children's books, cards etc. I have also worked in graphic design. Children's book illustration is amazing, but I find that I have to work in a lot of areas to survive.
Don't get discouraged.
Don't compare yourself to others, but it's great to learn and be inspired from others.
Always be gracious and take jobs that you feel good about.
NEVER work for free, or low wages.
Study from the masters, read tons of children's books, take classes constantly and keep up with the trends.
Join groups like the SCBWI and get involved.
Support your fellow artists, always do on to others as they say.
Never cut anyone else's work down and don't beat yourself up.
If it sucks, it sucks, just move on, chances are it was better than you think it was.
Take criticism with grace and welcome feedback.
Know that we all have revisions, all of us, it's part of the job.
For writers it's basically the same advice. Read all the time. Take courses, get into critique groups, write every single day, repeat, repeat, repeat.
Working as a creative is very rewarding, but it can also be hard emotionally and physically, be prepared to be in and out of work. I think that is one thing that people never tell new people, but it is the truth. I have worked on about 20 films, maybe more, I don't even know and illustrated 18 children's books and done countless other jobs as an artist and I still look for work.
|© Stephanie Olivieri
What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I love airports. I could live at LAX. I love planes and traveling so much. I also love hotels, the more stars the better. I worked for Delta airlines for one year as a flight attendant in training for research for a chick-lit book I wrote a few years back. Animation was slow so I figured why not? I was on call 24/7 but never got called in. I wouldn't mind working at the ticket counter actually, if it paid more, I'd consider it for a day job.
Anchovies on your pizza – yes or no?
Depends on the pizza in question. Chicago pizza-NO! New York pizza maybe. California pizza NEVER, but I will take arugula and pear.
You can find me all over social media.
www.stepholivieri.com is my main site and on the landing page there are links to some of my social media pages.
Every October I publish a blog called The Daily Ghost, this will be the 4th year I have done it. Every day I write a short ghost story, it's really fun and outside of my writing for children but I hope you will follow me. I will post about it all over social media closer to the date. The url changes every year so please check back.
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