Today, we have the incredibly talented Valeria Wicker here sharing insights and advice from her journey as an illustrator. She was born in Rome, Italy and graduated from art school with the intent of becoming a fashion designer. After moving to the United States, her passion evolved into writing and illustrating children’s books. She has illustrated picture books for independent authors and embraced the children’s literature community through the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). With English as her second language, she works restlessly to hone her writing skills as she develops her own author/illustrator books.
1. Valeria, thank you for stopping by and CONGRATULATIONS on recently becoming represented by the talented Adria M. Goetz with Martin Literary Management! You are a busy, busy lady. Married, mom to 5 kids (WOW!), pet owner, and artist working in a variety of mediums. Do you enjoy the hustle and bustle?
Thank you for having me! I am thrilled and blessed to be working with Adria. She is such a great cheerleader toward my work and very driven toward what she loves. I really have faith in what she does and the way she does it. Do I love the hustle and bustle? Always!
I wouldn’t have it any differently. My family is what keeps me going and also what inspires me to do what I love. Things get tricky at times but my husband and I are used to it. I can see us bored out of our minds once those kids will be adults, so for this we hope for lots of grandchildren to spoil!
2. We will get into life as an illustrator and all of your work as an artist soon, but before we do, all the parents out there are just wondering (me included), how do you keep your sanity with 5 children and still have time or energy to work on anything else?
I get this question a lot! I always find a way to do something at home that helps me relax. I am into all kind of things related to art. From wood carving to clay sculpting to drawing and painting. I don’t know what I would do without an art related outlet to help me decompress. Lots of moms and wives would prefer a manicure or pedicure, shopping, or a day at the spa.
Me? Just hand me a paint brush or ask me to make a craft and I’ll be a happy champ!
3. OK, now that the elephant in the room is out of the way (maybe not entirely), let’s talk about your art. Being an Italian Art School Graduate, you must have known early on in life that art was a central part of who you were and who you wanted to be later in life. Where there any moments that reinforced this understanding and helped you make the decisions necessary to prioritize creative pursuits?
Yes, many indeed. Growing up, believe it or not, my choice in education wasn’t necessarily made to pursue my current career. When you are young, there are so many dreams and not enough willpower to pursue them. At least in my case, since I graduated as a fashion designer. For me, the call came when someone told me “Hey, you should illustrate children’s books!” and I was like, “Yeah, OK…how?!?!”. And this very response is what actually put everything in motion.
I knew how to draw. I was a bit rusty at painting but I could definitely do it. So I did my research. I created online profiles on freelancing sites and I kept studying children’s illustrations until my very first client came along. And that was that.
That is when I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. That was when I was so grateful my parents paid for my art education. They always knew one day it would pay off. The starving artist concept is only a myth as long as one persists and finds their path toward what they love.
4. Besides drawing or illustrating, you also carve wood sculptures, restore antiques, and refinish furniture. Is there something about creating or finding beauty in unlikely places that appeals to you?
My creative mind, for some reason, works best when I am surrounded by nature. There is just something about being connected to the Earth that calls to me. Being surrounded by trees and wildlife gives me that creative connection. It’s almost magical.
5. When working on a new piece of anything, how do you mentally work towards the final product? Is it something you can already see or does it unfold for you in real time as you work?
It all begins with a vision. Before something gets on paper, or on wood, my mind already knows what the finished product will look like. I work with that image in my head and the rest just happens. When I teach kids about drawing, I always ask them to imagine what they want to draw and how they want it to look. Then, I tell them to hold that image in their mind. Once the mind accepts that thought, it will tell the hands what to do.
6. Are there any creatives out there that you admire? Who are they and why?
Oh, goodness! There’re so many talents out there! I was influenced by a few. Will Terry, of course. He is the master of children’s illustration resources. Anything he draws looks like a million bucks.
I love Charles Santoso and the delicate textures he uses in his artwork.
And at last, my friend Russ Cox, who coached me on several occasions especially during my transition to the digital era. His character’s style is amazing! I love anything that exaggerate realism in a funny way
7. If you could have a Sunday brunch with any children’s book author, illustrator, or author/illustrator alive today, who would it be? What about this person influences you so much?
Definitely Tomie dePaola. I don’t know any Italian-American that has not read Strega Nona. With him and his stories, it’s about the world his books brings you in. I can relate with every Strega Nona book from the settings to the way the character’s act. They take me back in time to those tiny Italian towns I have seen growing up where you can find real Big Anthonys and Nonas.
I would have so many questions to ask Tomie! It will be interesting to know where his inspiration came from and if there was a special person in his childhood that drove him to write those stories.
8. A picture can have an incredible impact on someone’s thoughts and feelings. Is there any repeated message you often intend to express through your work?
Yes. My main goal is to communicate happiness and empowerment. I like to create funny characters that will make kids and adults laugh out loud. I believe laughter is the most powerful medicine after love.
There are times, though, in which my art goes a bit according to the way I feel. There is a sacred link between art and emotion. It comes out according to the way one feels. For this reason, I tend to withdraw myself from creating art when I feel crabby.
9. How would you describe your illustrative style? Is there a single style you enjoy illustrating most? What illustrative style do you find the most difficult or arduous?
Hmm…maybe semi-realistic? Developing a style wasn’t very easy for me since I was always loyal to nature. I know in children’s books the sky is the limit but I always try to find a way to make things reasonably believable. The most difficult and arduous style for me is definitely realism. If you go with it, you have to go all the way. It’s very strict, I think.
10. Many artists find themselves treating character’s they’ve drawn as friends. Same goes for authors. Do you have any characters that you wish would come to life? What makes a character memorable to you?
I am so glad you’ve asked this! Yes, I have a character I created that I feel so close to. It’s a panda named Miranda. I know her personality like the back of my hand! I love everything about her and if she had a voice in real life I can even imagine what she would sound like. Hopefully, you and the rest of the world will get to meet her one day.
When I read books and can feel, understand, and imagine the characters speaking in real life, that is when I know I have found a memorable character. Just to give some examples, when I first read Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins, I thought holy cow! This guy is brilliant! The voice of the character is so strong you can almost hear it.
Another memorable one is Olivia by Ian Falconer. She is so driven in what she wants. She is unstoppable and ingenious at the same time. Those are the traits that make a character unforgettable to my opinion. When you find them in a book, you know you have found gold!
11. What can supporters expect to see from you in the next 1-2 years? How about the next 5? What’s the best way for everyone to stay up to date on your work?
Adria and I are in the middle of cooking up a project as we speak. Stay tuned is all I can say! We have another one we will be working on right after and a bunch more in the works. The best way to find updates and news about my work will be through Twitter and Instagram.
Wonderful things are truly in store not just for Valeria but the entire children’s book market! We will certainly have to circle back later on to get the inside scoop on all these secret projects!
**UPDATE** Valeria Wicker DID circle back later on so be sure to read that second interview with Valeria.