Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Chat With Illustrator Rachel Hoffman-Bayles

This week, I'm pleased to introduce one of the most gracious and talented women that I know, Rachel Hoffman-Bayles, who also happens to be my little sister. She's in the middle of an illustration job, but she took a few minutes to chat with me about her life as a Mormon Mommy Illustrator:

Rebecca: So, first off, tell me what you've done to prepare to be an illustrator.

Rachel: Well, I certainly didn't know I was preparing for this when I really started. I started like anyone with just drawing as a kid, and I did a lot of it.

"Illustration" was a term I didn't really hone in on until 11th grade. I idolized an artist named Susan Dawe, who airbrushed unicorn pictures for Mead folders. We had a "shadow day" for school where we could choose to follow around someone in the career we wanted to pursue. Somehow I got her phone number and got up the courage to call her.

Rebecca: So what did you learn on your shadow day with a real live professional illustrator?

Rachel:I learned the difference between fine art and illustration. There is certainly some overlap, but I learned that an illustrator's art is for reproduction. One of the biggest appeals is that I get to keep the originals. An illustrator usually has to express a specific idea. There is usually an article or a story to enhance. You answer to an art director, who dictates some of your creative process.  That can be seen as a draw-back.  But you also get to be a story-teller, and I really enjoy that part. A fine artist, on the other hand, says what they want to say whenever they want to say it, and hopes that someone likes what they said and wants to purchase it. And then you kiss your baby goodbye and send it off. IF it sells. An illustrator gets commissions. And deadlines. And paychecks.

I also learned that a free-lance illustrator's life can be a little lonely, so I'm very grateful that I have a husband and children to keep me grounded in reality! Susan lived alone...I think with several cats.

Rebecca: Authors get into publishing by writing a manuscript and then trying to sell it. Illustrators have a different process, is that right?

Rachel: Yes, almost the opposite. An illustrator still has to have something to show, but the art you submit to an art director is just an example of what you CAN do. You introduce yourself to a publisher's art director by sending a postcard or a packet of sample illustrations showing your very best work. The packet should include a cover letter that explains you are an illustrator seeking work. You can mention what you like about their publishing house, and promote yourself by listing past clients or accomplishments.

Rebecca: Is that how you got the illustrating job you're working on now?

Rachel: Sort of... hahaha!  I have had so many unusual paths to my jobs!  It just goes to show how important networking is. I believe my current job was the result of a postcard, but I never mailed one to this company, or the company they said handed my postcard along to them. Someone handed it to someone else who handed it to my publisher. It's a great mystery, but I have no complaints!

Once you've sent a packet like I described, it's good to send follow-up postcards showing more recent work, probably at least every 6 months. This helps keep you fresh on their minds, and gives you the chance to show more and more of your work, which hopefully will be better and better as you go along. Having an online portfolio these days is also ESSENTIAL.

Personal contact is, of course, very helpful. For instance, for a long time I wanted to illustrate for the Friend. After I spent several years trying to get their attention, I finally met the art director at an event, and he recognized my name on my name-tag from a recent submission I had sent to them. That's when the job offers started coming. Even though he was impressed enough by my submission to remember my name, I don't know that I would have gotten an actual job without meeting him.

Consistency is key. You have to show you're serious about your work. Then someday, you get a call or an email asking if you are interested and available to illustrate a manuscript they have. And you say YES!!!

Things are a little different if you write the book yourself.  I haven't gotten one like that published yet, but someday I hope to. In that case, you prepare what's called a "dummy" which is a mockup of the book. The text should be in it's proper place on the page, and the illustrations sketched out clearly enough that an art director can visualize the pages. A few illustrations should be rendered to finish level so the art director can also see your vision for the style of illustration you intend to use. You turn that in with a cover letter, very much like an author would submit a manuscript.

Rebecca: Can you tell us a little more about the project you are working on right now?   

Rachel: The title is Sensing Peace. It's a full-length (32-pager) children's book about sensing peace in the world around us. I have lots of urban scenes, multi-cultural characters, architecture...that really scared me. I'm not good at architecture, especially modern urban, but I've learned as I go.
Rebecca: In picture books I sometimes see the illustrations telling a side story that isn't implied in the text. Is that something the illustrator decides to do?

Rachel: Yes, and that's something I LOVE to do. Children's book text is usually best when it stays very simple. The pictures tell a lot of the story. For instance, in this book, there is no central character implied in the text, but I felt like a thru character would help tie it all together.  I actually have 2 main characters, a boy and a girl who are friends. I've decided things about them, such as the boy's favorite color is orange and the girls mom is an avid gardener. Those things show up in the pictures, and may or may not be noticeable to the reader, but they give me a sense of reality to work from.

Rebecca: You have three children and are expecting your fourth one in May. So how do you find time to pursue your dream while raising your beautiful family?

Rachel: Well, I honestly haven't done much since I got married and started having kids. I really struggled with that for many years. I shed many tears, and I have many journal entries talking about how frustrated I was that I didn't have time for art. When I read them now, I remember feeling that way, but I can't create those feelings in my heart anymore. They just seem to be gone.  I still love art, but I no longer define myself as being an artist---that when I'm not creating art, I'm somehow not being my full self. It's just something I can do, not something I must do.

The funny thing was, once I truly fully reached that point, things started falling into my lap. This book came out of the blue, then I had another book offered, and another commissioned project through an art gallery. Those are all in the lineup for whenever I feel ready after the baby comes. I look at it as a blessing in connection with my willingness to turn this part of my life over to the Lord, and let him decide when and how I use it, rather than my demanding more time for it. Funny how that works.

Rebecca: God remembers our dreams even when we forget them.

Rachel: Yes, he does.  I think that a lot of our dreams, the ones that really matter, are in us because they are connected to our purpose in life.  So of course He won't forget those.

Rebecca: This has been a GREAT interview, Rach. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and your thoughts.

Rachel: You are so welcome.

To see more illustrations by Rachel Hoffman-Bayles, visit her on-line portfolio at ladyrachelsgarden.com.


  1. Wow! As a mom getting to see a post of one of her two daughters interviewing the other, I would say this ranks right in there with other family events that give a mom that sense of tasting the joy of the fruit of the tree of life that Lehi spoke of! When all is said & done it really is all about family!! Thanks for being such awesome & wonderful daughters, Rebecca & Rachel. It is truly a joy to get to call myself your mom here in mortality. Keep up the good work, both of you!

  2. Rachel, I am excited to see the finished product of Sensing Peace! And Rebecca, I love, love, love the line "God remembers our dreams even when we forget them." Thanks for a great interview.

  3. Hi Emily! Great to see you here!

    I know it is true, because there are so many things I've wanted to do that I've had to set aside, or thought I could never attain, and then later in my life the opportunity comes to me in an unexpected, marvelous way.

  4. Rebecca! You need to tell us what Susan Dawe said when Rachel called her!! :( What medium does your sister use? I love what you said, "God remembers our dreams even when we forget them." Did you come up with that?

    How wonderful to meet your sister! What an achiever!

  5. Elizabeth, you are right! I guess we left that out because Rachel and I both know that she got to fly out to San Diego and spend a day with her favorite artist!

    Yes, I came up with that line a few weeks ago. Call me and I'll tell you the story.

  6. Good work, Rachel! And thanks for sharing all this information with us. It was really interesting!

    What do you use to create your pictures? And is there a preferred medium in the illustration industry?

  7. Thanks, Kristy!

    Choosing a medium was a big issue for me at college. I had spent years drawing with colored pencil, only to have one of my teachers warn me that it does not reproduce very well in print, and ought to at least be used in combo with another medium. I experimented with several other media before settling on watercolor, and that is primarily what I use now. My first attraction to it was the way it preserved my original drawing better than opaque media, but most of my reasons were not aesthetic. Watercolor is cheaper, cleaner, less toxic, gentler on brushes, reusable even after drying out on the palette, and watercolor paper is far less of a hassle than canvas (I use arches hot press 150 lb, by the way). I also do some of my work digitally, mostly if I feel like it needs a slicker, cleaner look, or if time is an issue. But I love the texture and spontaneity of watercolor, and I just can't give up the smell of the wet paper, the spring of the brush bristles, and the sparkle of wet paint on my palette!

    There really is no preference of media in the industry. It has a lot more to do with style. I have a friend who uses a unique combination of hand drawing, digital painting, ink-jet printer, colored pencil, acrylic, and whatever else he feels necessary. His work is amazing (http://www.gregswearingen.com/).



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