You are an illustrator, filmmaker, and you do work in animation and fashion. In the midst of all that, when and how did you get interested in children's books? Do you find that your various interests inform each other?
I went to Calarts—a school Disney-famous for its animation program—not to study animation. But, I did take a couple classes while I was getting my MFA in film. It got me drawing again. I wasn't very good, so I made it a personal goal to draw every day. I had a TON of ideas for movies that I would never have the budget to produce, scripts I had written that would go nowhere, so around that time I had an inkling of an idea to make them into kids books. It wasn’t until a few years later that that idea seemed far more possible. I’m lucky to have found this career path, because before I was all over the place. I've worked as a graphic designer, as a production coordinator on a tv show, I have a background in film and photography, I write, I make jewelry and I love fashion illustration. I had to remove some of this stuff from my website because it was too confusing for people when I was looking for a job. I get inspired by a lot of things and try to learn new metiers for expressing those interests. They typically don’t overlap one another but they all work to inform my aesthetic and understanding of story.
Where along your path did you find SCBWI, and how did you decide to submit a piece to Draw This?
I had heard mention of SCBWI here and there in podcasts and Skillshare videos but for a long time I really didn’t think I had the chops to be an illustrator. After getting laid off, illustration became my main source of income, so in April 2016, I decided to take the plunge into a freelance career. So, at that point I knew I had to join. I was enthusiastic to get involved. I read up on all of the grants and competitions, I listened to all of the podcasts, and read through “The Book.” Right on the front page of the website was a banner for Draw This. I submitted immediately. A few weeks later I was beyond ecstatic to see my illustration placed in the monthly newsletter. For me it was validation that people in the industry thought my work was actually good.
Tell us what happened after you were picked as the winner of Draw This?
The following day I nearly fell over when I received an email from Executive Art Director Lauren Rille at Beach Lane Books. She had seen my illustration and thought my work would be perfect for a book she was working on about Holi the Indian Festival of Colors. I read the manuscript and connected with it immediately—my family is West Indian and we celebrate the holiday in the Caribbean. It would include a ton of flowers, kids and bright colors, all things I like to work on.
I went to the MidAtlantic conference with the goal of meeting as many industry folks as possible, so in the previous weeks I designed a booklet of my work to hand out to the speakers. I wanted to show off my work but I wanted something substantial enough that you might feel weird or bad throwing away. At the very end of the conference as we were milling around I gave a copy of this booklet to Carrie Hannigan, of Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency. A few days later she reached out to see if I was interested in representation. Other than Carrie being super nice and incredibly experienced, I was enthusiastic to work with her because she would provide editorial advice and attention at her boutique agency.
What is your best advice for SCBWI illustrator members who are just starting out?
Make friends, ask for advice and ask for feedback. I really benefitted from having a local chapter. I went in thinking our main goal was critique but I really benefitted from hearing people’s back stories, about freelancing or day jobs or just work/life balance struggles. Be active in your creating, put new work out there and participate in competitions. I’m insecure about my work all the time, but I knew I had to get it out there, to build a platform. Social media was very important for me—for a while it was the main avenue for my main source of income. I don't put all of my work online, or even my complete work, but it’s your main tool to be seen. Art director and editors are out there, quietly looking around for talent.
Vashti’s debut picture book, Festival of Colors, will be released by Beach Lane Books in Spring 2018, and she also just signed a contract for three books with Little, Brown. Thank you so much Vashti, and congratulations!