Mariana Ríos: It’s my pleasure to welcome Eliza Kinkz to our Las Musas Blog in order to celebrate the book birthday of Goldie’s Guide to Grandchilding, a picture book written by Clint McElroy and illustrated by Eliza. Before jumping into the interview, here’s a little bit about the book in Eliza’s words.
Little Goldie is an expert on grandchilding. She knows that grandparents are special creatures who thrive in a structured environment, need plenty of opportunities for imaginative play, love having dance parties, and will never turn down a cuddle. When it comes to the care and feeding of her beloved Grandpa, Goldie knows her stuff. And, as readers will discover, Grandpa knows a thing or two about grandchildren, too.
M.R. Congratulations, Eliza! I’m so happy I get to talk to you about this delightful picture book, which I know is your first one. How special!
Eliza Kinkz: I’m so happy as well! Having a physical book I helped create coming out seems unfathomable. I’m so excited to just hold it in my hands soon.
M.R. I’ve had the chance to read the book and I think it’s such a sweet and funny story, really creative too. I loved it! To get this conversation started, I’d like to know a little bit more about you as an illustrator. Can you share when did you realize you wanted to be one?
E.K. In Kindergarten, we did an activity in weekly rotations where we made books. I LOVED IT!!! So I lied that I didn't do it... so I could do it again the next day, and the NEXT.
Unfortunately, my teacher caught me on the third lie, and said I couldn't make any more books.
Took me only 20 years to realize that I could! After I finished high school, I went on to major in Animation in college as that seemed the best way for me to tell stories. But, after having kids, I rediscovered picture books, and that 5 year old in me burst out. Now I can’t stop making, and creating books. And I hope I never do.
M.R. How lovely that you discovered your passion when you were a little girl. I’m glad you realized you could make books as a grown up too, and that you were able to reconnect with your childhood’s dream. What can you share about your career as an illustrator so far?
E.K. I was very fortunate in that I was able to take a few years off when I had my two kids. So the transition from animation to illustration came very naturally as I was immersed in the world of young children. What they like, what they don’t like, what makes them happy, what makes them crazy…that became the most meaningful part of my days, and luckily I had a sketchbook as my constant companion to capture all these moments.
We moved back to Texas, and I was welcomed by local illustrator Marsha Riti to join the Girllustrators. An amazingly supportive group of Women Children Book Illustrator/Authors, and they provided countless support on my journey to publication. From there, I was encouraged to join my local SCBWI chapter, and took classes at The Writing Barn. Finally, after attending the Austin SCBWI Conference in 2019, I won a Portfolio award, and met an Art Director there who hired me to illustrate my first Picture Book!
M.R. I can totally relate to what you said, my children also inspired me to enter the picture book world. What an interesting journey you’ve had! It’s funny how everything comes together, right? Do you currently have an agent?
E.K. My journey to get an agent was very slow as I thought agents were 1940s wise guys with bowler hats, and big cigars. So you can imagine my disappointment of not finding one like that. With a heavy heart, I talked to a few illustrator/authors on their agent experiences, and got recommendations on who they like, and who doesn’t share donuts… Anywho, a friend recommended I reach out to my Agent, and we talked the following week. I signed with him, and just photoshopped a bowler hat on his head. Problem solved!
M.R. Yes, the path to finding an agent can be slow and hard in some cases. I’m so glad you were able to find the perfect one for you. Now, could you share a little bit about your style as an illustrator and how did you develop it?
E.K. I was definitely working on my style since I was 12. I would cut out pictures from magazines of anything I found inspiring, and make these huge collages. Which I still do to this day, but now the collages are made up of my kid’s drawings, illustrators that I find inspiring, and my own work.
I would describe my style as pseudo naive with a big dose of manic elephant in tap dancing shoes and a flying mud pie coming directly at your face in 3-2-1!
Some illustrators that are currently inspiring me these days are James Marshall, Ludwig Bemelmans, Torr Freeman, Gusti, Jessie Hartland…honestly there are so many amazing current illustrators today, I feel like the list could go on and on.
M.R. How fun that you now include your kid’s drawings on your inspiration collages! That’s so sweet and very special. I love that! Thanks for sharing about your life as an illustrator, Eliza. Now let’s move on to Goldie’s Guide to Grandchilding. You’ve mentioned the opportunity to work on this project came up in an SCBWI conference. What did you think when you read the manuscript and when you got the offer to participate on this book?
E.K. Like I said, this opportunity came about as I met my Art Director at an SCBWI conference! But I should add the reason my portfolio was awesome is that I signed up for a Portfolio Review with Dan Santat. So of course, I made sure my portfolio looked top notch, and that resulted in the job.
Honestly, it was appealing as it was my first offer to illustrate a book with a major publisher. And it was a cute story, which I knew I could help push up a notch to make super-funny.
M.R. It’s really a funny story for sure! Illustrating a picture book is definitely a huge part of bringing the story to life. What process did you follow when working on this particular book?
E.K. Lots of coffee and thinking and drawing and rolling around in my drawings and then drawing the craziest things I can think of on top of those drawings is my usual process for making a book.
Usually I’m working with the art director who is constantly trying to pull me back up for the cliff I jumped off of. There will be lots of back, and forth with the editor until the story and pictures are a good team. It’s a real balancing act making sure the author, and myself are working together as a team on the pages. That’s actually very important to me as an illustrator. I think a lot about where the author is from with these stories. What did the world they grew up in look like, and what are their families like? As I want them to feel like I’m bringing them fully into the stories.
I get a lots of direction, and lots of freedom. What I mean by that is we are all working toward the best version of this story happening, but they realize the life of the story truly bursts forth when the illustrator is allowed to show their inspiration from the story on the page. Seriously, such a balancing act…
M.R. You’re totally right, it’s a balancing act, which by the way was very successful in this case, as the illustrations are amazing and work perfectly with the text. How did you decide which style of characters to develop for the story and what color palette to use? Did you come up with that on your own or did you get insight from the author or the publisher?
E.K. So when I’m working on character design, I usually send a few choices, BUT I always make sure the designs are ones I won’t mind drawing again, and again, and again. BECAUSE if you send a character design you hate, 99% of the time it will get chosen hah. Because, Universe.
With the color palette, I usually do a color script for the story as I like to make sure there are no conflicts in the color throughout as I love to work with very vibrant colors. For example, their clothing mismatching in another section of the story. With this story, I was inspired by the color span of a leaf, but I realized brown at the end was serious BLEH. So I changed to purple, and thought how interesting fall would be with some purples mixed in.
M.R. This is all very interesting to me, since I only know the process of creating a picture book from the viewpoint of an author, so it’s nice to see what happens on the other side. Thanks for sharing.
I wanted to ask about a detail on the book, which is that Goldie only has a Grandpa. The decision to have just one grandparent and for it to be a grandad instead of grandma was the author’s or did you have something to do with it?
E.K. It was the author’s decision, and I think if I could go back in time I would have inquired more about that decision. I encourage any illustrator that if you get a chance to talk to your author before you begin the illustration process, to ASK ALL THE QUESTIONS. Don’t be shy as you both have the same goal of making the best book!
M.R. Asking all the questions, that’s excellent advice! Regarding the scenes with Goldie and Grandpa through the day, which are are super fun, how did you get inspired for these illustrations? Did you use your own experience in some way?
E.K. I’m just very playful, immature, and always on the lookout for silly mischief. So in a way there is a lot of myself in both of these characters. DANCE PARTY!
M.R. As a picture writer myself, I know sometimes authors need to include art notes in the text to clarify certain aspects on a scene, however, the illustrator still needs to get freedom to create. What was your experience with art notes for this particular book?
E.K. There were some art notes, but unless it truly affects the story, I tend to completely ignore author art notes, AND this is not because I don’t respect the author. It’s just that the first interaction is for me to tell my side of the story. What magic is coming up for me in your writing? What is my vision? How can I add my own voice here with making sure the author’s voice is equally strong?
So far my experience has always been that the Author gives some small feedback, but mostly stands back and let’s me create. Which I love, and appreciate.
M.R. I can imagine how valuable that freedom is and that most illustrators must feel the same way. How long did it take to illustrate the whole book and how did you deal with the feedback you received from the editor, art director and author?
E.K. It was over the course of a year, and a half that Goldie took on my end. But there was many pauses during that time as I would wait for feedback from the editor, author, and art director. Which is normal in publishing, and a part I enjoy as long as I’m not told everything is due tomorrow hah! The reason I like it is you can come back to it with new eyes, and easily see what’s working and what’s not.
Usually, I’m very chill with feedback as I always look at this process as a big team effort. There’s so many people working hard at every level to make this book a success! Sometimes it can definitely seem like it’s all YOU as many of us illustrators are working alone, but I keep in mind that everyone is working hard to make this book a success. We all bring important skills to the table with making a book, and I really respect everyone’s role in the process.
M.R. I agree! Creating a picture book definitely requires team effort of all the parts involved. Was there something new you learned by working on this project?
E.K. Definitely try to figure out your color for the cover as well when you are doing your color script! But luckily milkshakes are always available for any catastrophe.
M.R. I’m sure other illustrators will appreciate that advice. Can you share what was your favorite scene to illustrate and why?
E.K. The grandparents waiting in line to pick up kids from school. Was a big reflection of the line I used to wait in to pick up my kid at PreKindergarten. So many different ethnicities, and all of us standing together to pick up kids who couldn’t wait to see us!
M.R. That sounds really special and warm. I can imagine many memories from all those days coming back to you as you worked on the book. How nice! What is something that you loved the most about this book and what do you hope children will be able to take away?
E.K. I loved the slow setup for the final joke at the end. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s a GIGANTIC payoff. And I want children to realize how important it is to spend time with family…and eat humongous ice cream sundaes!
M.R. What a nice message, the importance of family. Eliza, to wrap our conversation up, can you share what comes next for Eliza Kinkz?
E.K. I’ve signed on to illustrate two picture books that have not been announced yet, and I’m writing my own books! Also, you can find me weekly at Sunday Haha for my ‘Flamango’ comics, or at my favorite taquería waiting for my breakfast taco.
M.R. Eliza it was delightful to have this chance to talk to you. Thanks so much for your time and for sharing about your book and your life as an illustrator. It was very interesting and enlightening. I wish you the best with Goldie’s Guide to Grandchilding and your new projects. I can’t wait to hear more about them. THANK YOU!
E.K. THANK YOUUuuuuuuuuuu!!!!
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