Interview with Amy Farrier

I am delighted to host Amy Farrier for our member interview series this month. Amy is the Illustrator Coordinator for the Austin chapter of SCBWI, she is a constant presence at meetings and events, and she has been instrumental in both growing and encouraging our illustrators. This interview is just another way to connect as our Austin SCBWI web continues to grow. Welcome, Amy, it’s a pleasure to get to know you better.

Where did you grow up, and did that place (or those places) shape your writing/illustrating? If so, how?

I grew up in Corpus Christi, and there's definitely some of that beach town pacing in my work. There's a wild overgrown-ness in a place that freezes only once every ten years or so. When we were little, my friends and I would dream up alternate universes while navigating through big stands of banana trees and bamboo or convening meetings in the fuzzy shade of our giant fig tree. That lushness and sense of being small in a big landscape are both feelings I strive on some level to bring to my illustration, and may be part of the reason I am drawn to watercolor as a medium. Being a Texas girl, I've also got an appreciation for big skies, which translate for me to white space in illustration.

 

Did you always want to be a writer/illustrator, or did that come later? 

Writing and art were a regular part of my life until college, where my civil engineering major didn't allow much space for extracurricular "fun stuff" (note: if your major does not include "fun stuff", you might be on the wrong path). After stubbornly falling asleep over my textbooks for a year and a half, I decided to throw a couple of English literature courses in the mix. That was the "aha!" moment, when I found myself actually excited to do the class reading. I graduated with a BA in English lit and went on to teach ESL to adults in Houston (loved it), then to edit documents for a small firm in NYC, and later to manage communications for a nonprofit here in Austin. 

During my years working at the nonprofit, I designed several newsletters and informational brochures. Those rather dry design assignments were enough to wake up creative muscles that hadn't been used in more than a decade. I took a class on illustrating children's books at the Art School at Laguna Gloria (taught by the wonderful Mark Mitchell), where I found out about SCBWI; and that's really where the path to children's books began for me. The writing part kicked back in a couple of years ago, when I took a creative writing course at ACC (taught by the incomparable Liz Garton Scanlon). Now I'm working on dummying up a few different picture book manuscripts that I've written.

If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see? 

Every day starts around 6am with a small but mighty cup of coffee (Aeropress) and a walk on the trail with my dog, Lloyd (floppy-eared doberman). In gardening season, I might spend some time pruning, weeding or planting. After that, it just depends on what's on the list for the day (painting? website update? sketching thumbnails?), but I spend most of the workday in my home studio, either at the drawing table or my computer. Sometimes I'll take a break to play backyard tennis with my nephews, who are two and four this fall and live next door. One afternoon a week I co-work with fellow illustrator Marsha Riti, which is a nice break from solitary studio life. Unless I've got a deadline, I try to leave the "office" by 6pm. 

How does your everyday life feed your work?

Gardening is the most obvious answer since it's a metaphor for a creative career. Gardening teaches patience (it can sometimes take years to see the bounty from one plant) and flexibility (you may have planted those seeds in a specific spot, but you have to be open to edits by nature). It also demonstrates the importance of a regular routine. The occasional failure is part of the learning process (I don't trust any gardener who has never killed a plant), but there are constant small victories to celebrate along the way.

On a less metaphorical note, the colors in my garden find their way onto my palette and into my work. Right now, the artichoke blooms look like giant electric-lavender thistles, and I'm contemplating how to mix that shade.

Tell us about some of your accomplishments that make you proud (illustrating/writing and/or otherwise).

Picking up drawing and watercolor after a dozen art-free years wasn't easy. I was lucky enough to create some pieces early on that made me believe being an illustrator was possible, but there was a lot of bad art to get out before I could consistently paint the ideas in my head. Getting past the beginner's gap between taste and ability (here from Ira Glass, if you haven't heard it) is something I'm proud of. And it's part of what led me to take on the volunteer role of Illustrator Coordinator for Austin SCBWI. Getting to learn so much from local and national SCBWI conferences as well as fellow members' experiences over the years has made me excited to share some of that, especially with those starting out in their careers.

What surprises you about the artist’s life?

The constant discipline it takes to create on a daily basis when there's no deadline looming. The joy that comes from sitting down and filling several pages with character sketches or achieving a dreamy watercolor wash or revising that one line in a manuscript that makes everything fall into place with a satisfying clunk.

Your work is like a gift for your readers. When they open it, what do you hope they find? (you can talk about a particular piece, or your work in general) 

Emotional resonance. Something that makes them smile. A peaceful moment. Space to imagine.

BIO: Amy Farrier is a freelance illustrator and designer who shares her Austin studio with a large, sweet dog and a small, salty cat. She serves as the Illustrator Coordinator for Austin SCBWI. You can find her work at amyfarrier.com.