Victoria Jamieson: 20 Questions

Image © Victoria Jamieson

I first "met" Victoria Jamieson  almost a year ago when I googled "illustration blog" and hers was the first in the search list. Since then I have been an avid reader: she has a series of posts called Illustration Correspondence Course which are must reads for anyone wanting to get into children's books, or just looking to refresh their inspiration.

She draws animals with attitude. Her most recent book is called Bea Rocks the Flock, published with Bloomsbury. And, her upcoming book is called "Olympig" and is to be published with Dial in 2012. Victoria says, "It's about a pig with gold-medal dreams but a benchwarmer's talent." [See image below.]

One thing that struck me about Victoria's interview was the curious combination of stubborn confidence and crippling self-consciousness that plagues every author and illustrator. One famous author once said, "You have to believe you are better than sliced bread, but know that you're not."

So, without further procrastination... here is Victoria's interview!

1. What was your first illustrating job?

I guess my first "real" illustrating job was the interior illustrations for The Gollywhopper Games, by Jody Feldman. I was working in the design department of Greenwillow Books at the time (the book's publisher), and they needed someone quick, local & cheap, and I fit the bill.

Even before that, however, I'd always try to sneak my illustrations into my freelance graphic design projects. I think a big part of getting illustration jobs is being willing to put yourself out there- which can be awkward and embarrassing sometimes! I've built up a pretty tough skin and a high tolerance for embarrassment over the years.

2. How long have you been an illustrator?

I'd say I got really serious about illustration several years after graduating from art school- so maybe 7 or 8 years ago. Like many illustrators, however, I'm still an "illustrator and..."- meaning I still have to work part-time at other jobs to make ends meet.

3. Which success, either personal or professional, are you most proud of?

I'm quite proud of recently joining a roller derby league! For me, thesuccess was in overcoming something that terrified me and living to tell the tale. I actually really enjoy throwing myself into somewhat crazy situations and seeing how I survive. I remember standing outside the

practice rink on the first day of roller derby, thinking, "I have no idea what is going to happen to me for the next two hours", and getting that scared-yet-excited twinge deep in the pit of my stomach. If you get yourself used to the feeling of withstanding crazy situations, then nothing- not speaking in front of 500 schoolkids, or asking your boss for a raise, or introducing yourself to an editor at a cocktail party- seems all that scary.

4. Do you have any comfort routines to cope with rejections?

See above! Nothing like smacking into some ladies on skates to get the aggression out! Even before derby, however, I liked to work things out physically, like taking a nice long run.

I think I have two parts of me that deal with rejections in different ways. I got a mild-to-poor review once, and the front part of my brain, near my forehead (yes, I can feel it), responded "WHAT-EVER!! What do you know anyway, lady?! Let's see you write a book, flibbity jibitty &*#($ (that's the part not appropriate for a children's book blog).

But another part of me, deep in the pit of my stomach (next to the derby butterflies) admitted, in a small voice, that some of her criticisms were TRUE. I listen to this small voice because it reminds me of things I can improve upon in the future. I think it's good to be slightly bipolar in

this way: learn from your rejections, but never, EVER let a critic stop you from doing what you love.

Olympig - Image © Victoria Jamieson

5. Which illustrators or artists do you admire the most? Why?

Oh, goodness. Mo Willems' books are genius, pure and simple. I never get tired of that pigeon. I also have a copy of Peter Brown's The Curious Garden next to my drawing table. That book is so beautiful it makes me almost physically sick (that's a compliment). It has such a subdued,

beautiful color palette. I also love No, David! by David Shannon- another deceptively simple tale, but that always gives me goosebumps by the end. And Beverly Cleary depicts childhood with such stunning honesty. And, and, and...!

6. What was your favourite book as a child? Does that book influence you now?

I love going back and re-reading my childhood favorites! I'm always surprised how such short, simple books with very few words could make themselves so large in my mind. I loved a book called Molly's Moe by Kay Chorao. I haven't gone back to re-read that one, but I remember thinking the black and white illustrations were so beautiful. Even though we went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art practically every Sunday, picture books really were my introduction to fine arts, because I could hold them in my hands. And they depicted things I cared about, like kids, and not historical scenes or blocks of color.

7. What are the essential items to take with you when you go out? (sketchbook, journal, camera?)

I like the thought of having a dedicated sketchbook, but really, that's too structured for my style of sketching. I sketch A LOT, and on EVERYTHING. A sketchbook makes it seem so formal, like the sketches have to be good. I like to have an army of pencils when I go out and a stack of scrap paper to scribble on. I am also a stinker when it comes to my camera, and always forget to take pictures.

8. What is your favourite medium for illustration? When did you first start using it?

I like acrylics, and am trying to create more of a drawing/painting hybrid. It's a work in progress. I was introduced to acrylics in art school. I pooh-poohed them originally, because I was a Serious Oil Painter - but truthfully I was Not A Very Good Oil Painter because my Colors Always Got Muddy - and I learned to love the quick-drying nature of acrylics.

Image © Victoria Jamieson

9. How good is your handwriting? Do you use your own handwriting in your illustrations?

I like my handwriting alright! I've always liked the process of physically writing things down. The thing I liked best about math homework was physically making the marks on the paper- weird, right?

No, I don't usually use handwriting on illustrations. I've learned from working in publishing to separate text from the art. That way, text edits or foreign editions are much easier.

10. What do you collect? Why?

Children's books! Because I have a one-track mind! And I can justify them by telling myself they're tax write-offs and that I really need them for the classes I teach.

11. Do you have a ‘style’ or do you vary your methods for each project?

I'd say I have a style. For shorter projects (for my graphic design clients), I'll often create illustrations digitally- I'll scan my pencil drawings and add color in Photoshop. But for my books, the finals are all done traditionally.

12. Do you scribble in the margins of books?

I would not treat my books so! Although I may have been guilty in high school with my textbooks. No, I scribble in everything BUT books!

Bea Rocks the Flock - Image © Victoria Jamieson

13. Do you have a morning routine in the studio to prime your inspiration?

If I'm in the middle of a project that I really love, I honestly don't need much priming- it's harder for me to put myself to bed at night. Now, if you have some recommendations for getting in the mindset for projects I DON'T want to do, I would love to hear them!

14. When do you work best, in the morning, afternoon or evening?

I wrote and illustrated my first book while I had a full-time job, so I learned to utilize every possible moment available to me. I think I still work best at night- that way, you don't have the pesky sun reminding you of how much time is passing! And I do tend to get sleepy in the mid-afternoon.

15. What is the one art supply you could not live without?

Hmm, I guess my acrylic paints! I have a nice rainbow of Prismacolors that I'm pretty fond of, too.

16. Do you have a favourite café or restaurant in London?

Oooh, la la, fancy! I guess if you LIVE in London it doesn't seem that fancy! :) I did go to London for 5 days when I was a student in Rome. I can't remember any specific cafes, but I do remember loving the way a waiter pronounced "Mooooooshy peas". I had to order them after that! For months afterwards my traveling companion & I would crack each other up by asking, "And how did you like your moooooooooshy peas?"

[Author's note: I should have asked for your favourite café


, not just in London. :-) ]

Victoria's Studio - Image © Victoria Jamieson

17. When you look out the window in your studio, what do you see?

Trees! And my neighbor's manicured lawn. Once I saw a runaway bunny hopping down the street- that was an exciting day. The owner came chasing after it- it was madness!

18. How do you like your coffee, or tea?

Coffee!! I've tried to like tea, but much like pickles, I can't make myself love it. My husband & I moved to Portland, Oregon largely because of the excellent coffee here. I like it light and sweet, and I always gauge the beginning of summer by my first iced coffee. Yum!

19. What’s on your nightstand right now?

Unfortunately, I thought it would look really nice to gather some dead sticks from outside & display them artistically on my nightstand. I think I saw it in a Martha Stewart magazine. I didn't have any artistic vases, however, so they're in an old yogurt container that tips over really easily. It's time to get rid of them.

20. Any words of advice for other illustrators?

I think it helps to be a slightly delusional optimist. It's hard work, you have no social life, and face nearly constant rejection. And yet, maybe that next postcard you send out...

Victoria's collection of books and art supplies - Image © Victoria Jamieson

To see more of Victoria's work you can go to:

Her blog:

Her website:

Bea Rocks the Flock: