Interview with Author/Illustrator Hazel Mitchell

Hazel Mitchell recently finished working with Priscilla Burris in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program and illustrated HOW TO TALK TO AN AUTISTIC KID by Daniel Stefanski.  Currently she is illustrating a series of chapter books for Kane and Miller by Anastasia Suen, and a search and seek book for Charlesbridge Publishing about New Jersey. She stems from Scarborough in Yorkshire England and now lives and works from her studio in Maine. She attended art college in York and Sunderland in the UK and worked as a graphic designer in the Royal Navy before running her print and design business in England.  Her art has even been presented to the British Royal Family. Now she is working on writing and illustrating her own books as well as illustrating for other authors.
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
My favorite quote is by Oscar Wilde;

‘We are all lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’

I think it speaks of the equality of humanity, and the state we are in – but some of us are dreaming and that’s what makes life worthwhile. I hope I can help even just a few children dream.

If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?
Believe in yourself and what you can achieve and stick with it. I have wanted to be an illustrator and writer from my earliest memories. I was always doodling and writing little stories and plays and comics for friends. And yet I always got sidelined by something else. I guess I didn’t have an ideal childhood; my parents divorced when I was five and we moved around a lot. Although I showed early talent I don’t feel my school was geared toward arts. I did have a great art teacher from the ages of 16 to 18 though, and his teaching kept me motivated for a long time. I don’t think I was ready for art college. I did 2 years of my degree course and dropped out. I wanted to do fine art and my work was very illustrative … here’s where I should have believed in myself and asked for help! I didn’t. But I am a great believer that life gives you what you need, when you need it. So my career path was a little crazy … I joined the Royal Navy and I found myself working in graphics studios with excellent civil servant artists and learned a heck of a lot. It was a kind of apprenticeship. When I left the Navy I ran my own business in print and design. It was great experience. I started working with computers in 1988. Now, as I am starting to really follow my ambitions as a children’s illustrator and writer, I find the experiences I had in my former work invaluable as well as having a wealth of life experience. It makes me what I am today! I also have professional consistency and persistence and that’s important when you are dealing with publishers. I never forget that they are investing money and time in me. Yes, I wish I could have been where I am now fifteen years ago – but life gives us what we need, when we need it. (IF you are looking at the stars of course!)
In your writing career, who’s had the biggest influence on you? What did they do to inspire you?
I can’t recall the picture books I read as a child. I started reading chapter books pretty early, and then moved on to adult works quickly. So as an illustrator I have had to go back and rediscover books that I didn’t read, or have forgotten. I also have no children of my own so I didn’t do the whole rediscovering children’s books thing. Robert Louis Stephenson, AA Milne (and the drawings of EH Shepherd), Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs. These are the books I remember. Then I moved on to classics, loving the Brontes and Jane Austen, Dickens. Like most children in England of my era I was addicted to Enid Blyton. What I really loved was pony stories … ponies, ponies, ponies!
Right now I am being inspired all over again. And I am discovering a whole new set of writers .. because what American children grew up with is not what I was reading in England. So I have been discovering all the classic books here. I think what inspires me to keep doing what I am doing is what is happening right now in the children’s book world. It’s exciting to see and read about people like Dan Santat, Mo Willems, EB Lewis, Loren Long, Marla Frazee, Paul O Zelinsky and follow their careers, see how they are evolving. Just knowing that they are out there having the same struggles in their studios on a daily basis even at their level of success. Kind of like being in one big universal illustration club … that’s what keeps me going.
Are there ever times you feel your creative spark dying? If so, how do you light it back up?
I do run out of energy. But not out of ideas. Not yet!! My wall is covered in post it notes with ideas and projects. There isn’t enough time. I am not good at leaving my studio though, once I am working, and that is the way to burn out. You have to balance your day. I get my mojo back by chatting with other illustrators and writers. Right now being part of SCBWI and attending conferences and workshops really keeps my fire burning. If I am feeling really jaded it’s good not to work on anything for a little while. But sometimes that is not possible with deadlines. I think routine is important. Sitting down with a pile of books always gets me inspired. Going outside and remembering there is life beyond the drawing board. Having a snooze and a cup of Yorkshire Tea. Yeah, that perks me right up!!
Do you have a favorite illustration you could share with us that has a story behind it?

This is a picture that has been in my head for about 8 years. I started a story about a boy and a dog with hidden powers and doodled a rough sketch in a notepad. This story has been evolving a good while and has gone from a picture book to a middle grade, back to a PB. I found the sketch and worked it up. I really like this kind of sketchy style and colour palette. I don’t know if I will ever finish the story. But I kind of feel like this boy is me. Everything is spread out before him and he just has to follow the path. He’s not sure where the journey will end, but whatever is over the mountains is sure to be marvelous! That’s where I’m going too!

If you could pick a word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Enthusiastic. (Just one??? REALLY?)

Thank you so much Hazel.  You are an inspiration! I too look forward to watching your career.  And please do visit Hazel’s blog, website, pixel shavings, and flickr to learn more about this inspiring author/illustrator! 

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