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The making of a watercolor painting mimicking family album photos

All images: Courtesy of Michaela Goade.

Watercolor Worlds

Michaela Goade talks about illustrating children’s books

Scholastic Art: What is your job?

Courtesy of Michaela Goade.

Michaela Goade: I am a picture book maker and illustrator. I have the honor of illustrating stories by Indigenous authors. I’m beginning to write and illustrate my own stories as well, which has been a really fun, new experience. Additionally, I’m a graphic designer, so I also do smaller design and illustration jobs. 

Courtesy of Michaela Goade.

An illustration for the picture book titled We Are Water Protectors

SA: How did you become a children’s book illustrator?

MG: I was always trying to find a job where I get to build worlds. Everything I was drawn to was essentially trying to explore that idea. When I was a kid, I was making picture books and filling sketchbooks. In college, I studied graphic design and dabbled in painting, printmaking, and other 2-D visual arts. After school, I was an art director and graphic designer at a small advertising agency in Alaska when my tribe put out a call for proposals for a grant-funded picture book program. I started working on stories about Native people for Native people. One of those books went on to win an award—the American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Picture Book—and that got on the radar of an editor for a large publishing house. It all fell into place after that.

Courtesy of Michaela Goade.

SA: What is your working process?

MG: My literary agent fields requests from publishers who have stories they would like me to illustrate. We decide if I’m a good fit. Then it’s up to me to come up with the visual narrative. I go through a long sketching process, working with the editor, art director, and with feedback from the author. Then I’m given the green light to paint, which usually takes three to four  months. Watercolor is my primary medium. I love how it captures southeast Alaska, which is a rainforest. Using a water-based medium is really appropriate for the ocean, the mist, the trees, and everything here. Then I scan the illustrations into Photoshop and finish things up digitally.

SA: What is the most challenging part of your work/career?

Courtesy of Michaela Goade.

MG: Sometimes having to be creative on demand can be a challenge, so I think rising above that and finding little systems—like having a clean workspace—is huge for me. Also, finding music that transports me to the environment I’m trying to portray. For me, that means a lot of animated-movie soundtracks. 

SA: Do you have any advice for young artists interested in a career in illustration?

Courtesy of Michaela Goade.

MG: I’m a huge supporter of starting small: those attainable goals that allow you to build your skill set and build connections with your community. 

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