Interview with the Elegant Marisa Hopkins - Artist Extraordinaire & Designer of My Header

Almost a year ago, I became acquainted with Marisa Hopkins through a Maggie Stiefvater fan site.  She was looking for beta reader for her writing and I was willing to be said Beta Reader.  We clicked and became e-mail and social networking buds (one of these days we will really get to meet).

When I decided to start a book blog, I knew that I wanted Marisa to design the banner for me.  I had no clue what I wanted but I knew I loved colored pencils, Marisa's beautiful designs, and that I could trust her to do a wonderful job.  Recently, she blogged about her process for drawing a picture and used my header as the basis of the post.  Head on over to her blog, Elegant Bloggery, to check it out.  

Marisa graciously agreed to an interview so that you can learn more about her as an artist. 

When did you know you wanted to be an artist/illustrator/designer?

Truly, I can't remember a time when I DIDN'T want to be an artist. Even back to my preschool days my teachers had to force me outside to play because I never wanted to leave the coloring table. I was a freshman in high school when I started looking into Illustration as a college major, though I did change my mind eventually and majored in Creative Arts so I could focus on more than just drawing - I took a lot of English Lit classes, as well as children's theatre and dance and loved them all!

I love that you use colored pencils. It is one of my favorite mediums. Was there a reason that you were led to use colored pencils? Were you influenced by anyone's work?

Hurray for colored pencil lovers! Pencils have been my favorite medium since I was ten and received my first professional set as a present from my grandma for not scratching my chicken pox. Those colored pencils and I just seemed to click, and though I have played around with other mediums over the years, particularly acrylics, pastels, and watercolors, the colored pencils have always felt the best in my hands! I'm loyal, I think. I could never leave my pencils behind. (I just have to say that professional colored pencils are amazing.  I have a set and let me just say "touch them and you'll pull back a bloody stump"**)

In this day of high tech, computers and electronic drawing, using colored pencils seem so "organic" (not sure if that is the word I want). Do you find yourself thinking differently with pencil in hand vs. a computer mouse?

I have always been drawn to traditional art. I love the look of digital art, and sometimes wish I could do it well, but it's the feel of the wood pencils in my hand and the working of the lead into the paper that I love most about creating. Maybe it's a control thing as well... I feel more in control with a pencil than when I'm trying to create digitally - perhaps because I'm not very tech savvy and computers are still a mystery to me!

You are both an artist with pictures and with words. When you are creating a story, do you see it visually in your minds eye and then write it down or do you think of the words and imagine how it would be sketched? Or other?

Hmmm... that is a very good question! When I'm writing, it's mostly about the words I hear running through my head and then scramble to write down before they float away. I actually struggle to see things visually while I'm writing, other than a general idea of what I'd like to achieve. That might be why descriptions are the last layer I add to my stories, and dialogue is the first! But at the same time, I don't often visualize my illustrations before I draw them, either. They just seem to pop out of my pencil tip and then I manipulate them until I'm happy.

Do you have an special rituals for drawing? (i.e., music, place, type of pencils, etc.)

I don't, actually! I'm used to drawing whenever, wherever, with whatever! I think having two high-energy kids underfoot all day long has taken away any rituals I might have had. However, take away the kids, and I would draw all day in my studio, listening to music, with my Design Spectracolor pencils (which I use sparingly, as they were discontinued 12 years ago, and not so easy to come by these days).

Is there a piece of your work that you are most proud of and why?

The first time I sat down and designed a piece entirely out of my head without reference shots was when I created this Blue Leopard Snake illustration during my first year of college. All my art teachers from high school had me working exclusively from photo references or from other people's artwork, and creating from my imagination was what I wanted to do most. Until this snake illustration, I wasn't sure I was capable of drawing from my imagination. Nowadays, I rarely use references, and when I do it's usually because I can't remember the size of a hedgehog's nose, or the shape of a peacock's beak, rather than an entire drawing.

When you are working on a project for someone else, how do you balance out your vision for the final outcome with what might be their vision?

In the last few years I've done many, many custom projects and find I am given a LOT of freedom just about all of the time. I'm not sure if it's that my customers don't necessarily have a complete vision of what they want, or if they are familiar enough with my work that they trust whatever my vision might be, because usually a customer will say something like, "I want a monkey in a car" or "I want a pink cupcake with some flowers and a kitten" and I have to figure out for myself what that will look like. Custom orders are a challenge, especially as I'm never sure of what I'm doing until after I send off my first sketch and get that thumbs up or thumbs down. But if my sketch doesn't cut it the first time, it's always the starting point for more direction ("Sprinkls on the cupcake!" or "Big ears on the monkey!") and that always helps!  [Let me just say...this is true...she takes sparse thoughts and does good work.]

If you could meet or work with any artist living or dead, who would it be and why?

I am such a fan of Mary GrandPre (well known for her work on the American Harry Potter covers) and would LOVE to peek into her workspace and watch her create! Because of her, I have tried and tried, and tried again to use pastels well... but alas, I am no Mary Grandpre and end up with nothing but chalk smears and messy fingers, clothes and hair. Her work is absolutely brilliant and I admire her use of color very much!

Thank you Marisa for sharing with us your love of colored pencils and design work.  If you would like to purchase any of Marisa's work, she has an etsy site that you might want to check out.  

**If anyone can guess where the quote came from, I will give the winner a print from Marisa's Esty site.  Winner may select one print worth up to $21 plus shipping.  (All guesses must be made prior to September 17, 2010. If more than one person guesses right, a drawing will be held for a winner. Leave guesses in the comment section.) Hint:  It is from a TV show - off the air now, but still in syndication- not a book.