Before winning the Portfolio Showcase grand prize at LA19, Andy Musser had racked up an impressive list of awards, including an SCBWI Mentorship Award, two SCBWI Summer Conference Portfolio Showcase honors, and a Portfolio Showcase 2nd place award at the SCBWI Seattle conference. Musser quickly became known in the SCBWI community for his bold chimerical illustrations.
Andy Musser was gracious enough to answer some questions after his triumphant win.
How would you characterize your style as an illustrator? Are there certain themes or subjects you’re particularly drawn to in your work?
I’d describe my work as colorful, painterly, and whimsical. Some of my favorite subjects/themes are: nature (especially plants & animals), kids from all backgrounds, adventure stories, music, and silly poetry.
In addition to children’s book illustration, you also do animation. Does your animation work inform your illustrations in any way? Do you plan on animating your own book trailers one day?
My recent animation work has been for corporate clients, and bears little resemblance to my illustrations. But thinking about commercial design does inform my kid lit work: I use the same approaches for simplifying compositions and storytelling in both fields. I do plan to animate my book trailers! Earlier this year, I animated a trailer for the picture book BRAVE MOLLY by Brooke Boynton Hughes, and I can’t wait to make a trailer for my author/illustrator debut in 2021. I’ve also been dreaming up ideas for narrative short films, and I hope to make time for them in the near future.
Your use of color and texture in your illustrations really stood out to the judges. What are your favorite materials to use? And what inspires you or helps you think about color?
My favorite materials are gouache and color pencils. And Procreate on the iPad is quickly becoming a favorite as well. Much of my inspiration comes from studying art history, at the moment Tonalism and Neo-Expressionism are giving me lots of color and texture ideas. When I think about color, I find a color wheel to be invaluable. I often start with two interesting colors, and then use a color wheel for finding color combinations. For practice, whenever I see colors I like (in art or nature or wherever), I visualize a color wheel and try to figure out the color combination.
How has your work evolved over the past few years?
When I was chosen for the mentorship in 2013, my portfolio featured a variety of styles. Over the next few years, I continued to experiment and try different materials (acrylics, collage, Photoshop, etc). When I started using gouache and color pencils, a more cohesive style began to emerge. For a time, I worked traditionally as much as possible, simply because it was the most fun. But to speed things up, I now have a hybrid process, using paint for messy things and digital tools for clean lines and editing.
What other advice do you have for SCBWI illustrator members?
Take your time! Kids are waiting for the very best books you have inside, and it’s worth the long (sometimes painful) incubation period. Read lots of children’s books, and familiarize yourself with classics and new book alike. Illustrating isn’t always fun, but pay attention to what brings you joy and steer yourself in that direction.