Agy Wilson grew up in a house, filled with paper, Agy’s father was a paper coating engineer and Agy had LOTS of “me” time. Agy had an innate understanding and love of how important books and art are. And yet she grew up with “But what WILL she do when she grows up? She can‘t make a living at art!”
This is Agy Wilson’s story!
Not sure there's anything people NEED to know about me, lol. From what people who loves me, tells me, I can come off as a bit of a know-it-all. But in my defense, I've had a wide range of experiences (perfect for a writer, don't you think?) and I tend to be a bit passionate and opinionated. So I think where that comes from. I of course don't know it all. Just a bit of it.
What drawn you to writing?
|A Short Story|
I've dabbled for a long time. I wanted to be an illustrator first, but after entering the Margaret McElderry Contest (I didn't win, there were no winners, but I received a nice personal rejection) and being encouraged by some of my online writing friends, Cynthia Lord, R.A. Nelson and Marian Hale, I became a little more structured and worked on my own things.
How did illustrating come about?
I've always been an illustrator. When I did my portfolio review for art school the director Bill Collins liked my work, but disparaged it at the same time "You're good, but your an illustrator. We don't offer that here. But I think you'd be good in graphic design (I was not) or painting (I think so)." If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have gone to THAT school but one that offered illustration as course work. When I lost my singing voice my husband asked me what I wanted to do. I told him, I'd always wanted to be a children's illustrator (when I worked as a maid in Sedona, I would make sure I could watch Reading Rainbow, boy I loved that show and still find it inspirational). He encouraged me to try and I've been working at it ever since. Because I didn't formally take classes, I've done my best to expand. I've taken a number of Will Terry's classes- he's an exceptional teacher and illustrator. I suspect I will forever be working at it.
What is your self publishing story?
It's very expensive to submit as a writer/illustrator. The time and effort of creating a book dummy and finished art and sending the Ms. copies of your work, etc, and the wait was anywhere from 6-to two years to hear back. I've been lucky, I've had lots of editorial feedback, and had only personal rejections so I was able to build upon what I did, but it was just too much waiting to hear back and usually to a rejection. You have to be a bit psycho- you have to LOVE your work enough to go indepth and give it what you can, but removed enough that when someone says "no" for whatever reason you can pick it up and move on. It was getting harder to get work in front of people, and when 9.11 happened, it changed the print industry forever. It didn't help either that most houses were corporatized and started using the bottom line as the only measure. A lot of great editors were let go and the midlist author all but disappeared. Meanwhile self publishing was ascending. It was not only becoming easier and easier to self publish, but the terms were far more lucrative. So for time and consideration of my diminutive budget, I started self publishing. I've had to learn a great deal about a great deal (metadata, writing copy, formatting, etc) adding to that knowing-just-a-bit status.
Yes and know. The illustrations are purely my family and those I love. The illustrations were an act of love and I'd often find myself smiling when creating them. The recipe really was my grandmother's for instance. But the story itself was purely fictional. My Gram lived to 92 and at 80 she took care of my then little girl (has since grown and is a mommy on her own). I wanted to not only pay homage to my Gram and daughter (and pets, the cat pictured in the book, Tigrr just passed away last year at the ripe old age of 20), but I think we need to interact more. With animals and with each other. I wanted to strike at ageism. I showed my book to an older lady at the Butterfly House in York Animal Kingdom and asked her if she thought kids would like it. She replied "Yes, but I like it too!" My book has been bought as much by adults as kids, who enjoy the language and the gram depicted. They usually had fond memories of their grandmother. So that felt good.
Agy, your second book, Duke Day For Annie is a special story. Tell us about it?
Thank you! I like to think so too! It's based upon the recollections of my friend Ann Cummings Searcy. She was the first African American certified by the state of Maine to teach. She also grew up in Old Orchard Beach during it's heyday. Though we didn't have Jim Crow laws here in Maine, the bias still ran as deep. So her mother, needing to make a living when she divorced Ann's father, started a bed and breakfast for black people. Anne grew up around porters and maids, true, but she also knew W.E.B Dubois, Cab Calloway and Countee Cullens. But her especial friend was Duke Ellington. She had a life long friendship with him. The story is told in what I call syncopated rhyme (what Duke did with his Jazz), and has quite a few old-timey phrasings. Ann passed as I was working on the book, and her daughters and granddaughters helped me complete it. It truly was another labor of love.
What is the process for you coming up was the illustrations for another author if the author leaves it up to you?
How I work, whether an author has input or not, is to do a quick sketch (or two or three). Then I do a more completed drawing and then I paint it. At each stage I run it by the author, as it's easier to change things earlier in the process rather than later. All told it can take upwards of a week to do one illustration from start to finish. It's about the same amount of time 3-7 days on my coloring pages as well.
You also published a coloring book for adults. How did it come about?
I've always loved coloring books, though I've never really was a "colorer" About five or six years ago, people started sharing with me that they were closet colorists. Two years ago I decided to try do one, which resulted in my first coloring book (out on Amazon) Precious Pets: Kittens & Puppies & Old Places. It was fun to research and do. I'm currently working on two, one I hope to release in the next few weeks, Pieces of Compassion: Variations on the Chalakra Mandala and Angels & Fae: Fabulous & Fantastic Female Forms. I'll be releasing them for a few weeks at slightly above cost in the hopes that people will buy and review them. After that I have bunches of other ideas, for them so I gots goals, lol.
When writing your own stories does an idea for an illustration inspire a story, or an idea, or scene ideas for story inspire the illustrations?
It's a bit of both, actually. My brain is funny (and never shuts up). But I've found that sleeping, showering and walking are conducive to working things out when I'm a bit stuck or need to move to a different level.
Who gave you help and guidance along the way?
OH MY! This list would be so long! There's been people who gave me critiques, like Marileta Robinson, Brian Lies, Peter Jacoby. There's been my various critique groups, with some incredible talent, Sarah Brannen, Lisa Kopelke, Kathy Manchip, Amy Peare, Robert Eberz, Maurie Manning, Abigail Marble, Zeb Deb, Larry Eisenstein, Cynthia Lord, Candice Ransom, Jennifer Ward, Kate Tuthill, Mona Pease, Denise Ortakales. The classes I've taken from Will Terry and Jake Parker. And then the people who have provided emotional and financial support, Christine Stockton, my sister Valorie Snyder, her daughters, my daughters, my grandson who have all provided inspiration as well. Ann Peoples, Penelope Cole, Margot Finke, Verla Kay, Deborah Nourse Lattimer, Emma Dryden. I'm sure there are so many I'm not mentioning, so please forgive me, NONE of us get to a place alone. I've been exceptionally blessed with the people who have helped and taught me.
What suggestions do you have for authors who are also illustrators on getting their combined work published?
Julie Strauss-Gabel once told me she was always looking for the NO. Continue learning, and keep up with what's out there. Styles and preferences change, and though you should remain consistent, it's important to try to be "fresh" and not expected. Illustration is more than making pretty pictures. and make sure you grasp not only your style but color theory and know something of printing. If you're a children's illustrator, be proficient at creating consistent characters who move and emote like children. ONLY SHOW YOUR BEST WORK. If you're unpublished, you're not competing with other unpublished creators. You're competing with the best sellers, if you're traditionally publishing. If you're not, the competition is incredible and there's a lot of schlock to wade through. If you want to rise above, you MUST work with all your talents and tools well. Also be generous with what you do and how you share. It really does "pay". I've been lucky to have all those breaks, but I love sharing good news, so a bit of that I'm pretty sure is that I've shared their work (it's easy, I love their stuff). Don't share or falsely praise though. This isn't a popularity contest, so be professional and realize your credibility is one of your most valuable assets.
Has being published been all you thought it would be?
Hadn't really thought about that. I don't make a living at this (I keep wanting to say YET, but really who knows where any of this goes). I love what I do and want to do the best work I possibly can, so in that regard, I am satisfied.
Who do you read?
I don't read as much as I'd like. I love Jo Knowles's writing. Cynthia Lord, Neil Gaiman, Kim Norman, Marian Hale, R.A. Nelson, Jay Asher. Karma Wilson is very big at our house with the Grand Boy as is Cindy and Kim. But I have so many projects as well as taking care of kids and pets, so I don't read nearly as much as I should.
What illustrators do you admire?
O my goodness, you'd better sit down for this one, because it's gonna be a LONG list, lol LOVE Kadir Nelson, Floyd Cooper, John Steptoe, Lisa Kopelke, Barbara McClintock, Denise Fleming, Maurie Manning, Robert Eberz, Sarah Brannen, Brian Lies, Daniel Kirk, Don Tate, Bweela Steptoe. Javaka Steptoe, Trina Schart Hyman, Chris Van Allsburg, Will Terry, Jake Parker.
Do you have a current project?
I just finished illustrating In & Out, All 'Round About for Penelope Cole (should be publishing with the next week or two). Then I'm illustrating another book for her and one for Margot Finke about Kobi the Koala. Currently I'm working on the Mandala coloring book. Then I finish the Angels & Fae. I hope to do a Valentine's Day- Heart coloring book and one of historical costume paper dolls coloring books, next. Then I'll probably concentrate a bit on some of my writings/books.
What advice would you give to your younger self about illustrating and writing?
Be patient, be more fearless, take more classes and take yourself a little more seriously Except when you're making fun of yourself. Then don't, just giggle. Giggle a lot, because fun and happy is good, especially when you're working. I think it infuses the work.
We're at the end of our interview. I want to thank you, Agy for being here. I enjoyed talking with you, Agy, as always!