Illustrator Spotlight: Daniel Miyares
Happy Monday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
Before we start, I just wanted to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for the outpouring of love and support after my announcement of finding representation. To be honest, it still feels a little like a dream and at some point I'm going to wake up. If you happen to be a querying author or illustrator and you're struggling with rejection, please know that even after 600 rejections...it's possible! Be encouraged. You have a voice. It matters. Keep going!
If you missed my post, 5 Things My 600 Rejections Taught Me, check it out! I hope it lifts your spirit to continue on.
Enough about me. Today, I am so thrilled to bring you a fantastic Spotlight interview and our first giveaway opportunity with author-illustrator, Daniel Miyares! If you aren't following Daniel on Twitter or Instagram YOU NEED TO! There are few picture book creators as open and generous with their process as Daniel. But don't go away just yet. The good stuff is straight ahead. Did I mention there's a giveaway? Well, there is. But first...the interview.
Hypothetical scenario: In a dystopian artistic wasteland, you are relegated to using only one color of paint...FOREVER! What do you choose and why?
I would choose black. It’s extremely versatile. I would get a lot of mileage out of black. My work wouldn’t be all that cheery, but at least you would be able to understand it.
Name three things you can’t do your job without.
Time, a mark making tool, and an idea
What is something you simply must have in your refrigerator or pantry?
Greek yogurt and granola. It doesn’t feel like a day without those things. I don’t know why.
Tell us a little about your background, books you are known for, and how you stumbled into kid lit. Why picture books?
I was born and raised in South Carolina. I left home at eighteen to attend art school at Ringling College of Art & Design. After college I moved to Kansas City to work at Hallmark Cards, Inc. I married my lovely wife Lisa and now we have two children and a dog. Years ago I was doing freelance illustration for the Kansas City Star newspaper on some serial books they were publishing in the Sunday paper. I did a chapter a week for about four years with them. After that a friend of mine suggested I share my work with a book rep he worked with. At about that time my daughter Stella was born so that idea started to make a lot of sense to me. After that I began working with the fabulous team at Studio Goodwin Sturges. My first book as an illustrator was Waking Up Is Hard To Do written by Neil Sedaka. I discovered that making picture books was a great way to use my love of painting and telling stories. It really suited my personality, but it had to find me.
I love following you on Instagram. So do over 20,000 other people. You're a great example of someone who is generous with their process. Nearly every image you share I end up thinking...there’s a story here...and I want to read it! There’s some really thought provoking, visually striking stuff. Are these posts just artist exercises? Random artwork? Why share so much on the gram? How has engaging in this particular platform impacting your career as a picture book creator?
I’ve loved working in sketchbooks since I was in the third grade. It’s how I process the world around me. I see Instagram as a new form of that, except it’s public facing. I could use my feed as just a promotional tool for the books I make, but I think people would get bored with that. I know I would. I’ve found that being generous with your process does open the door for others to appropriate how you work and think, but is that really a bad thing? As creatives, I think all boats rise when we share in that way. Besides, any negative outcomes seem to be dramatically outweighed by the rich community and encouragement you receive. It also builds immense mutual respect between fellow makers. I’ve gotten to know so many amazing creators through the process. I’m thankful for that.
Tell us a little bit about your studio space and what your daily routine involves.
My studio space is a room in the lower level of my house. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. It’s got all the things I need to make stuff. I’ve set up one side as my painting area and the other is my scanner/computer setup. When I have a studio day, I wake up get ready and help the kids to school. After that I can head down into my cave of creativity. I like to focus as much of my studio time as possible on art making. There are a lot of tasks that need to happen in a day that don’t include painting, but I try my best to keep the bulk of my time on making. I try to take care of a lot of my emailing, and administrative stuff when I’m taking breaks. There just aren’t usually enough hours in a day for all the art I want to get done. I do still spend many a night completing things.
Most of the work I’ve seen from you is traditionally painted. What’s your favorite type of paint to work with? Do you use any digital medium? If so, what do you use?
I do mostly paint traditionally now. I’ve moved slowly towards that over the past five years or so. Currently I use a lot of gouache and colored inks to paint with. I have gotten to where I crave the directness of painting on a piece of paper and letting it be what it is. Everything I make does still end up being scanned, so I use Photoshop to clean things up and get them print ready.
What is some practical advice for artists looking to jump into picture books?
Not sure how practical anything I say about the picture books business will be. My journey has been full of unexpected and fortunate events lining up with things I’m passionate about. I couldn’t have planned my path. I suppose if you’re sure you want to wrestle that beast, I would start by finding picture books you love. See who’s making them and investigate their approach. SCBWI is also a great somewhat local resource for aspiring book makers. Focus on the craft of telling stories with drawings and paintings. You can’t go wrong by making more. I love my reps at Studio Goodwin Sturges. They’re my creative family. I wouldn’t be in this business without them. Poke around and see what reps are out there and see what their artists are up to. Does that interest you? Once you start identifying specific people in the industry, reach out. Social media is a wonderful thing. There’s a lot of access where there used to not be. You might be turned away, but you might find some great allies to help you move forward.
Tell us about some of the unique challenges you face as an artist and as a picture book creator.
This might not be the biggest challenge I face as a book maker but it’s definitely a unique one: How do I tell stories that are relevant to young readers but also authentic to me? I’m always wrestling with this and never quite feel like I have it figured out. I think the wrestling must be what it’s all about for me. That’s where the gold comes from.
What is a message kids desperately need to hear today?
I can’t claim to know what is the best thing for children today. In my adventures of dad-dom with my two elementary age children and those young people I’ve had the good fortune to share my stories with, I’d say, kids desperately need to hear that they matter. Not because they’re achieving a certain benchmark, or that they represent a certain demographic. They need to know they matter because they are them and they are here.
I’ve noticed a few of your books have a story exclusively told in pictures. These books can be wonderful opportunities to have a discussion about a story rather than to hear the story in words. This helps kids build critical thinking skills, make inferences, and increase overall visual literacy. Talk to us about why it’s important to build visual literacy and why stories told in pictures are important to share with kids.
Visual storytelling has always been a lens that I see the world through. I think it has to do with the ideas you’ve laid out here. Assessing what is being shown to you just as much as what’s being said to you leads to deeper emotional understanding in my opinion. I’m always concerned with how much space do I leave in my books for the reader to bring themselves to the story, because that’s how they’re going to find meaning in it.
Little Fox in the Snow by Jonathan London was a wonderful story with poetic language and equally beautiful artwork by yourself. Tell us what it’s like collaborating with an author vs being the entire creative team?
Working with an author on their manuscript is like being handed a map to a buried treasure, but acting as both author and illustrator is like sailing off into the horizon in search of a new world. Both are extremely rewarding experiences for me. It’s just that the creative journey is more uncharted with the latter. I’ve discovered that I need both in my bookmaking diet. When I work on other author’s manuscripts, I always end up discovering something completely new about myself that I wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s magic.
I recently found That Neighbor Kid, and it really touched me since I moved a lot growing up (proud army brat). The book starts out black and white as the new kid starts building a tree-house. His project catches the attention of the little neighbor girl. Noticing that he has dropped the hammer, she climbs up the tree and they meet. They simply say, “Hi,” and she reveals she’s brought the tool for him. When he extends the bucket of nails as a gesture to include her, the first spark of color shows up on the leaves above him. I loved this! What a great moment to pause the story and ask a kid, “why are the leaves now in color?” Talk to us about your decision to use color as a symbol for a budding friendship and how that affects the overall emotion of the story. What was the genesis of this particular story?
That Neighbor Kid began as a series of ink paintings that I shared on my Instagram feed several years ago. I was really just taking a look at my own shy childhood and comparing it to the present day experiences of my children. My daughter had changed schools three times in as many years and was struggling with making friends. Unpacking that with her led to the premise of the story. As for the color, I think color is like rocket fuel in art. It’s so packed with emotion that a little goes a long way. I try, sometimes unsuccessfully, to keep that in mind when I’m building stories. I look for ways to have the color serve a very specific purpose – as if the color is a character itself.
I really loved Night Out. This story is packed with emotion. Definitely one of my favorite picture books from 2018. What is this story about to you and how did it originate?
To me Night Out is really a letter of encouragement to those feeling lonely and an invitation to readers to escape into the wonders of their imaginations because you never know what that might lead to. The story originated from my experiences as a child. Specifically when I discovered that through drawing and my own imagination, I could enter into a world of my own where anything was possible.
At the beginning of Night Out, there is an image of the main character at the dinner table with his boarding school classmates. He is seated literally on the other page. Alone. I love the drama of that! Was this moment hyperbolic in order to express the isolation he feels, or is he legitimately sitting that far from everyone? Was he isolating himself or was he not accepted by the other boys?
I don’t know if that distinction is always easy to make. Do we find ourselves alone because of circumstances or because of ourselves? Not sure. Also I’ve found it’s easy to feel alone in a crowd of people for whatever reason.