MARY A. LIVINGSTON
1,) Describe yourself in five words:
INTJ, tall, slim, graying brunette
(Police describe the suspect as) Medium height, boxy head, effusive.
2.) Tell me something about the place where you were born?
I was born in Hoopa, a town located within the Hoopa Valley Reservation, the ancestral lands of the Hupa people. I moved to Burnt Ranch when I was eight. These lands along the Trinity River are a part of my being. I am not a city-girl.
3.) What pictures influenced you as a child?
I was more influenced by colors and textures of nature. I really liked the patterns in the native baskets and nothing thrilled me more than the color of a storm-laden sky from the branches of a tree.
4.) Did you have a favorite book as a child ?
What I liked most about books was reading them to other kids, especially when I started school. They were always so thrilled to have another kid read. As much as I liked reading books to my classmates, I never really developed a favorite.
5.) Did you like to draw as a child ? Where you encouraged ?
I loved to draw as a child and my Grandpa was very encouraging. I started hiding my drawings after a gifted program teacher told me I was not good at art and that I should focus on math and science. I carried that teacher’s words for decades. Had I shared them with Grandpa or my regular curriculum teacher, either would have set me straight.
6.) What is your earliest memory of making art?
I remember drawing with Grandpa before I started school. Some of my earliest memories are of Grandpa drawing for me. We took envelopes apart and drew on the blank inside with pencils he whittled to a point with his pocketknife. My aunt was close to my age and she used to have me draw outlines of dresses for her to cut out for her homemade paper dolls. It was probably her way of keeping me occupied and out of her things, but I enjoyed it.
I also liked designing roads and towns in the dirt for our matchbox cars. Road patterns from above still fascinate me.
7.) Where you the class artist ?
When no one was looking, I would sneak art in. I tried not to get noticed. Drawing became my secret world and a side I kept hidden. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard, “You illustrated this? Really?” Even when one of my liturgical designs graced a magazine cover, my friends and family were not as surprised as they were when they saw No Place for UGLY Birds or Percy Learns to Fly.
The winning comment from family has to be, “Wow, you did this? It’s actually good.” He may as well have said it doesn’t totally suck.
8.) Did your parents draw ?
My maternal grandfather did wonderful pencil sketches. I do not recall anyone else in the family drawing.
9.) Did you go to the public library as a child ?
The closest thing available was a school library.
When I became a mom, I took my sons to the library regularly. We bought lots of books and have shelves of them here at home.
10.) Did you have books at home as a child?
I read the pages ragged of the few we had. I would memorize books at school so I could relive them in my mind. Someone gave us some recorded Disney stories. I had those memorized in no time. Sometimes there would be a book giveaway at school. You know the kind where people donate old books for kids in underprivileged communities. I treasured those days and gleaned what I could of the old discarded books. Then I would climb my favorite tree and run my fingers across the pages as I read them. I felt connected to feel the tree beneath my bare toes and the paper under my fingertips.
I overindulged our children with books, same with our grandkids. Our home has an abundant stock of books and art supplies.
11.) Did you have a teacher who influenced or inspired you?
Yes, Phyllis Stockel was my teacher in 4th and 5th grades. I cross-aged-tutored in her class while in 6th-8th grades. I worked for her after school grading papers and designing bulletin boards. Her influence is still with me today. Exceptional woman.
12.) What did you do BEFORE you got started with children’s book illustrations?
Camera store manager, professional photographer, writer, publishing project manager, liturgical designer, Mom, Grandma, community volunteer… I have worn a lot of hats.
13.) When did you realize you were interested in illustrating for children?
When I was in first grade, I recall sitting on the grass while upper-grade kids read stories from books they wrote and illustrated. I was so impressed. I thought I could do it too. I later tried the illustration part, keeping that desire to myself. I think the only person not surprised when I expressed an interest to illustrate was my husband.
14.) When did you become an illustrator ?
If I look at it honestly, I have always been sneaking illustrating in. I drew art for my high school newspaper, I designed liturgical environments, I have contributed illustrations to a few cookbooks and educational books over the years. As an event and wedding photographer, I told the story life in photographs. For years, the camera was my medium for illustrating. I just did not recognize these activities as illustrating until recently. When I started to illustrate children’s books, all of the experience I snuck in over the years came in handy.
I decided I was going to illustrate No Place for UGLY Birds in November of 2011. I signed the contract for Percy Learns to Fly (ABTA Products and Publications) in September 2012. Both titles became available 2013.
15.) How did you get started in picture book illustration?
I hired an illustrator who had a nice portfolio, references and an art degree to illustrate No Place for UGLY Birds. The work was late and not quality. The artist agreed it was not good enough, but did not “feel” like fixing it. My contract was not tight enough and I lost a lot of money. After a lot of swearing and a good cry, I decided to do it myself. After struggling for a few months, in April of 2012 I signed up for Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! a wonderful online course and community by Mark Mitchell. I highly recommend it.
Hindsight - hiring the other artist was the best bad decision I ever made.
16.) What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given as an illustrator?
Wow, it is all so new and all so relevant. I am still learning what to keep and what to let go. For me, it is important to be willing to massage and tweak a piece. I have so much to learn.
17.) Of the six fundamentals of 2D design (line, shape, volume, perspective, shading, and color):
a. Which is your greatest strength?
color, the images first come to me in colors, and limited color palettes make sense to me. I love mixing colors more than colors right out of the tube.
b. Which poses your greatest challenge? shading, specifically value, I have a tendency to hesitate on the darker values, I think it is a matter of building confidence. One of the first comments I tend to receive in a critique is, “Push the darks.”
18.) Tell us about the book that you have written ?
No Place for UGLY Birds is a rhyming picture book about turkey vultures. Yes, I said turkey vultures.
19.) What inspired you to write this story ?
I posted a picture of a juvenile turkey vulture to my personal Facebook. Some friends had all kinds of comments about how ugly the poor creature was. I just imagined what it would be like without them (the turkey vultures, not my friends) and the story evolved from there.
20.) Did you self publish or go through the other publishing routes ?
My book is published by a local company, Red Tail Publishing. Full disclosure, I have a financial interest in the company and was one of its founders.
21.) Is your book available for purchase?
yes, currently it is in hard and soft cover editions. A digital version is in the works. Both versions are available from the publisher, some independent booksellers and on Amazon later in the summer.
I typically awake before the alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m.
Tim and I enjoy a cup of coffee. He always brings me a cup in the morning.
Then we spend time visiting with each other, it is good to be married to my best friend.
I go into the office at 8:00, but much earlier if I am under a time crunch or have a crisis.
A typical day at work may include any or all of the following:
Returning phone calls.
Viewing post from the Marks and Splashes community, commenting if the time allows.
Managing book production to replenish stock.
Design and book layout for customers.
Manufacturing for customers.
Swag for events and shows
A few calls on the home line from family and friends.
Sneak a few photos of wild flowers or wildlife.
Edit web sites if needed.
Replenish paper and other manufacturing supplies
Check on the status of ongoing RTP projects – specifically conversion of all titles to digital form.
Check on the status of my personal projects, I have three new titles to illustrate.
A video chat with my grandkids, including a story and drawing pictures together.
I try to finish work before Tim gets home.
(He is now rolling on the floor gripping his face in a contorted laugh of disbelief.)
I close the office doors and turn off the phone. (Gasp from Tim.)
Okay, lately, I have not been successful at closing the shop, but my rules of separating home and office go out the window when there is overload at the office it flows into home.
Lately, overflow is more like a tsunami.
23.) When you are creating, what music is playing ?
Music distracts me, I get lost in it. I listened to music when I worked in my darkroom, but not while I paint or draw.
When I imagine a piece of art, the colors and line permeate my senses the same way music does. When I create, I like to allow the creation to be the music. I like to repeat the words I am illustrating, like a mantra. I started this with liturgical design. I repeated the scriptures over and over in my head and heart until it began to breathe to life on the page. I know, it sounds weird, but I can’t just create out of thin air. I must transform and get into the piece. This has carried over while illustrating. I know I am in the zone when I make faces and mutter to myself.
24.) If you had to describe your work in terms of your artistic influences, you would say it is
I am so “young” in my life as an illustrator, I believe I am very subject to influence. I am still forming as an artist. I hope to always be growing, but for now I still feel like I am finding my artist’s legs, or is that brushes?
25.) Who are your favorite artists ? Illustrators ? Authors ?
I enjoy a wide variety, I really don’t think in terms of ‘favorite.’
26.) What new projects have you got coming down the pike?
I wrote a fun story with wildlife biologist, Amanda Shufelberger. It is an imagined story about California’s lone wolverine. Buddy, the Wayward Wolverine is illustrated by my husband, Tim.
I am also in the process of converting all of Red Tail Publishing’s titles to digital.
I am committed to illustrate two new books, and Tim and I are teaming up on an illustration project.
I have also signed up for a course with Mira Reisberg at Picture Book Academy
I am always looking for ways to improve and I have so much room to grow.
27.) To enjoy more of a good thing you can visit...
personal blog: http://thebackdoorartist.com
Red Tail Publishing http://redtail.com
AND finally, your contact information
SCBWI profile and gallery http://www.scbwi.org/MemberProfile.aspx?u=3008365309093430
SCBWI profile and gallery http://www.scbwi.org/MemberProfile.aspx?u=3008365309093430
public facebook account https://www.facebook.com/maryalivingston.backdoorartist
facebook page http://facebook.com/thebackdoorartist
google plus profile https://plus.google.com/u/0/115842039706760336979/