RMCAD alumna shares why diverse representation is essential in children's book illustration

RMCAD alumna shares why diverse representation is essential in children’s book illustration

After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from RMCAD, Abbey Bryant moved to New York City and has now illustrated over 10 published children’s books rooted in inclusivity and diversity. From getting her start to finding her style, we invited Bryant to share her experiences and advice with the RMCAD community.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, such as your education and career path.
I moved to Denver in 2016 for RMCAD’s children’s book program and graduated at the end of 2019. I was first represented by Shannon Associates, but didn’t have much success with them. Instead, I saw a lot of success by showing my work on social media, through self-publishers, and from handing out postcards to the right people. My first job was with Scholastic Klutz toys, illustrating a fairy toy book. Now, I am represented by T2 Agency and have worked on 10+ books since graduating, with Penguin, Harper Collins and Macmillan Publishing. My next release is Same Love Different Hug, by Harper Collins, coming out this summer!

What inspired you to pursue a career as a children’s book illustrator?
I drew and painted my whole life, filling up sketchbooks and cupboards with paintings. In high school, I started selling my paintings at local art festivals and started looking into programs for illustration. My art was always happy and colorful, so children’s books seemed like the perfect market for me. There’s endless inspiration to be found in children’s books, both new and old. My goal is to capture the hope and beauty I see in the world around me and use it to inspire the next generation of kids who read my books.

How would you encourage students at RMCAD to find their style/aesthetic?
I think it’s really important to study and find your favorite artists that are in the market already. Find the niche style you like, and compare the things you like and don’t from different artists’ work. Find ways to bring in your own artistic strengths while also comparing them to the market and seeing how your work fits in. Be critical and don’t be afraid to change your style. Your work is always going to adapt, and experimentation is so important. No matter what you do or how different you think it looks, it will still look like YOU made it, if you follow your instincts.

Can you talk us through the process of illustrating a character? How do you incorporate their personality into a drawing?
Creating a character is one of the most fun parts of a book project. For me, the best characters are inspired by real people in my life, or at least some complication of their traits. I think about how different everyone in my life is, and how everyone has their own story, habits, feelings, and experiences. I think about a character’s context, things they do for fun, how they like to dress, or what their favorite colors are. All of these things come into play when you start designing your character’s accessories, bedrooms, outfit changes, etc. I always do loose character sketches at the beginning of a project, where I imagine them in all sorts of situations. I reference these throughout the project to maintain design continuity.

What stories/projects are you the most passionate about pursuing?
I’m currently working on a few really exciting projects, one being a book about the LGBTQ Pride festivals. This project introduces little ones to the history and importance of Pride festivals! As a queer illustrator, I want to show under-represented communities in my books and this is the perfect opportunity to do so.

What book are you the most proud of?
I’m most proud of my book Same Love, Different Hug coming out this summer. This book teaches kids that love doesn’t always take the same forms, and that some people show affection in different ways. It’s a book I think every kid needs to read. It explains big concepts like boundaries and love in an easy-to-understand story. It is out June 13 with Harper Collins, available anywhere you buy books!

What do you hope children and parents will take away from your illustrations?
I hope everyone sees themselves somewhere in my books. I want everyone to see my characters as inspiring and to feel something from their stories. I want my stories to bring peace, comfort and hope to kids. I want to show them they are capable of their wildest dreams and inspire creativity and new ideas.

Can you talk more about the importance of inclusivity in your work?
I really want everyone to see themselves in my books. I know there are so many groups of people who are not seen in children’s books often, so I want to focus my work on these groups. Highlighting stories by and about people of color, disabled people, and the LGBTQ+ community gives my work a deeper meaning to me. I strive to show the beauty and strength of these communities and the outpouring of love they offer to the world.

To learn more about a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from RMCAD, check out our online and on-campus programs. We also recommend reading Becoming an expert sketch artist one step at a time for additional illustration stories.

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