Hollie Mengert is our Featured Illustrator for April! Hollie is currently a character designer and illustrator for children's literature, with a background in animation in the entertainment industry. Art, in all forms, has always made Hollie tick from a very young age, especially the ability to tell a story with drawings and paintings.
Can you briefly explain your creative process, favorite mediums, etc?
Whether working digitally, or with inks or watercolor, I always start with a sketch. It doesn't matter whether it's my story or someone else's - before going any further I want to get a rough idea down of what the characters are feeling, and what's important for the reader to see and feel. Sketching helps me keep ideas loose and change my mind often. Once I'm happy with a rough layout of background and characters, I start to lay down basic color to fit the mood of what's going on in the story. I block in the environment over the sketch. And then once I feel like I have a good sense of the colors I want to use, I start to block out characters and details. I try to keep my shapes clean, but my details a little messy. I love it when illustrations have texture to them. So I try to keep a rough brush stroke here and there.
Where do you find your ideas? Do you have a process?
Like many artists, I feel like most of my ideas come from everyday life! I try to capture moments and feelings that have affected me, whether positive or negative. I believe stories are most impactful when they are influenced by personal experience. So whether a character is a human, or a horse, or a mongoose, I try to find a common ground between that character and my own life experiences.
How do you deal with creative blocks?
Creative blocks can be so frustrating, and you never know when one will pop up! When this happens to me, I always try to change up my daily routine. Maybe that means going for a run, or getting out of my comfort zone for an activity that I wouldn't normally do. I think a change of environment can really reset your brain. Sometimes that might mean just sketching something you wouldn't normally sketch. You might find a new idea, or even a new favorite thing to draw.
Who are your illustrator heroes?
Ooh, there are so many to choose from! The ones that come to mind first are Tove Jansson, Aurelius Battaglia , and Mary Blair. I really admire artists who push and play with shape and composition. Some of my favorite illustrations don't include a lot of rendered detail. They have just enough visual information to evoke a particular feeling in a particular part of a story.
Did you have any favorite children’s books as a child?
I had so many. My mom would always ask me to pick out books for story time. And I would come to her with a huge pile and say "a couple books!"... it was always far more than a couple. I loved the 'Miss Spider' books by David Kirk. Not only was it an art style that felt really fresh and different, I also loved his protagonist character: A large spider, with big eyelashes, who was a kind-hearted vegetarian. It really made me think of spiders in a more sympathetic way. What more could you ask for from a children's book?
What’s inspiring you and your work right now?
Keeping things simple! When I was first learning the ins and outs of art, I tried really hard to make my paintings more detailed and rendered, and it wasn't always best for the piece. Now I find inspiration and joy in trying to simplify what I'm trying to communicate as much as possible. Rather than "what can I add?" I start to look at a painting and think, "what could I remove while still making this communicate well to the viewer?" I find a lot of inspiration in hand-drawn animation and graphic design. Both mediums often require art to be more simple so that it reads well.
Any words of wisdom you want to share?
It's never too late! I didn't find my path to illustration overnight, even though art has always inspired me. If illustration is something you're passionate about, then it is absolutely worth pursuing, no matter where you are in your life. The cool thing is, as individuals we all have unique styles and one-of-a-kind experiences to contribute to this field. The more voices, the better!
Thank you, Hollie!
You can view Hollie’s portfolio at hollie-mengert.squarespace.com or follow her on Instagram and her blog.
Below: the artist's studio.