I am young. Like, pretty young to have had as much happen to my career as it has. My first children’s book was published when I was 24 years old. I get asked all the time how I got my first book published when I look “like [I am] 18”. I answered that question in short form on the Macmillan Children’s blog when If Sharks Disappeared was published last summer. I wanted to take the time to back up and dive into this further.
My publishing story started differently than most authors and illustrators in this space. Sometimes I feel self-conscious it is not the story that others want to hear, but it is my truth. Stemming from a family of accomplished career artists, my parents gave me the time and resources I needed to plunge into my art at an early age. I am very lucky and privileged that I have always had their full support and encouragement. Let’s start at the beginning!
I have been drawing since before I could write my name. I remember my kindergarten teacher saying we had to learn how to write our names and I thought, “but why? I can already draw my face.” I love drawing like I love breathing: it is necessary. Drawing to me is something I have to do. A daily joy, like drinking coffee and eating – it’s in my routine! I wrote and illustrated my first book in the second grade. I wrote my first full-length novel when I was 15. I devour books with gumption and need.
Around age 10 I realized I wanted my passion for art to be my career one day and my parents enrolled me in extra art classes. From painting classes in a family friends garage to extended education classes for pre-teens and teens at my local art college (California College of the Arts), I was able to fully immerse myself in my true passion. From 11 until I graduated college at the age of 21, I took classes every year at California College of the Arts. While it sounds crazy that my mom enrolled me in classes so young, she just wanted me to explore what I loved and see what type of art I wanted to do. Being born into a family of artists, this type of voracious art appetite was always encouraged and never shamed. Sometimes my mom would even enroll me in classes I didn’t know anything about — a 24 hour live model draw-a-thon, printmaking, glass blowing, pottery — because she wanted me to find my artistic voice. I loved every minute of it — thanks, mom!!
All of that exploration is why I am where I am today. My parents always encouraged saying “yes” to a leap of faith, then asking questions along the way. So when I had decided I wanted to work in the animation industry, my dad reached out to his friends in Los Angeles. Soon my portfolio has been passed along through the Sony Pictures Animation pipeline to the intern coordinator. I was lucky enough to start my first internship at age 16! I packed up and moved to LA to live with my grandparents for the summer (Sony made a short video you can watch HERE). I learned many things those summers of interning at Sony Pictures Animation, but the one thing that stuck with me is that you have to allow yourself to jump not knowing if there is ground to catch you. Saying yes to experiences is the most beneficial thing you can give yourself!
My mom is always quick to remind me how much I gave up in pursuit of art. Something, I often scoff at. But there is truth to it. Like playing a sport, I practiced my art daily, with diligence, and focus. I set aside time for my art and often chose to draw over hanging out with friends and certainly over partying. I chose to quit swimming in high school when the hours became too many and cut into my ability to practice art at the level of my choosing. Art was my priority. I chose to take summers off of “normal teen” things while I went to LA and interned at 16, 17, and 18.
This ability to choose art over social things certainly has had its drawbacks and I am not necessarily advocating for it. I am just saying it was a combination of the diligent art training and these choices that put my art and creative thinking to where it was when I got that email from my editor at Macmillan Publishing.