Calling Illustrators …

h1 February 11th, 2015 by jules

I’m doing something totally different today, something I’ve never really done at 7-Imp before.

The Art Director for the children’s magazine Ranger Rick, Jr. emailed me last year (it’s taken a while to post this!), asking how she can search at my site for newer talent, for illustrators just starting out and looking for work. As you’ll read below, they’re always in need of illustrators (whether new or seasoned), despite the fact that their magazine is a photo-driven one.

For different reasons, I thought she and I could do a Q&A — for those illustrators who might be interested in such work or curious about this type of work in general.

Her name is Cynthia Olson, and our short Q&A is below. (Personally, I enjoyed chatting with her, since she’s a big picture book fan. We had a lot of conversations about our favorite 2014 picture books, a conversation that took place over months just before the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced.)

Jules: Hi, Cindy! Can you talk a bit about what you do as Art Director for Ranger Rick Jr.?

Cynthia: I am always glad that I read the “Design Matters” issue of the Horn Book magazine, where Jon Scieszka talks about working with Lane Smith and Molly Leach. It has a lot of simple language about design, and it helps me explain my job to people (like my parents) by simply saying, “Designers make pictures and words fit together in books and look nice.” And that’s basically what I do for Ranger Rick Jr.

Ranger Rick Jr. is the National Wildlife Federation’s magazine for young children. Our goal is to inspire kids to learn and care about wildlife. So most of the time, I am telling a story with pictures — pictures of really cool animals. My responsibility is to make sure the information flows in an understandable way, while also making it really fun to look at.

I admire the National Wildlife Federation, because they are very committed to finding excellent photography, often of animal behavior that has not been published before. Our photo editor spends incredible amounts of time finding the newest and best pictures of everything from sharks to kangaroos to blue-footed boobies.

Since this is an illustration blog, it’s a little odd for me to be interviewed, because our magazine is very photo-driven. But illustration does play a big role as well. There are two main reasons that illustration is critical to our magazine. One is that some animal facts and behaviors are so much easier to understand when they are illustrated. For example, we have an illustrated feature every month that shows three facts about an animal — we use this feature to clearly show things that you would never be able to discern in a photograph.

The other main reason that we use illustration is for good, goofy fun. We always have games that reinforce the learning from the feature stories, but the illustrations are usually a little silly, very colorful, and not at all realistic. These illustrated sections break up the photo features.

So, along with “making the pictures and words fit together,” my job is to make sure the magazine flows as a cohesive unit with photos, text, and illustration.

Jules: I love that Scieszka article too. It’s a classic.

That makes complete sense, your need for illustration in a photo-driven magazine.

So, I know that you all are interested in adding to the pool of talented illustrators you hire for this kind of work. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

Cynthia: Just as we do with photographers, we are always looking for fresh illustrations that can help readers look at things in a new way. Or make them laugh. Or just give them a new style of art to enjoy.

It’s my job to keep things fresh and mix things up. Of course, it’s also a personal interest. I love picture books. I love the surprise of how illustrators present things. Since this is a young audience, we aren’t super literal with our illustrations, which means that we have a lot of leeway to use different styles of artists.

I’m hoping to connect with more people whom I might not know or might not have thought to contact. And I want look for connections between what we are doing and what illustrators are doing. For example, if I were doing something on flamingos and Molly Idle were available, that would be just amazing. So, if somebody is doing beautiful tigers or cranes or koala bears (and so on), I would love to see them.

Jules: One of the reasons I want to do this post is because I wonder if illustrators, particularly novice ones, know about opportunities like this — from magazines like this. What do interested illustrators need to do to get more information about this?

Cynthia: I’ll give a bit more detail here.

The National Wildlife Federation has two magazines that hire children’s illustrators (Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr.) There are usually four to six assignments commissioned each month. The work is almost always based on a real wildlife subject and, depending on the feature, it may be humorous or realistic. Our rates are competitive, but we do need all rights to a commissioned illustration.

I think it’s a good opportunity, because the illustrations are generally quite fun, and we are able to give the artist a fairly loose description to work from.

I am happy to receive art samples by mail or email. Artists can contact me directly:

Cindy Olson, Art Director
Ranger Rick, Jr.
National Wildlife Federation
11100 Wildlife Center Drive
Reston, VA 20190

Jules: Anything else you want to add?

Also, I know you are a big picture book fan. This is (sort of) off-topic, but I’m curious to know: What are your 2014 favorites? [Ed. Note: Again, this conversation happened right before the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced.]

Cynthia: I feel incredibly lucky to be working in a place where inspirational things are happening all the time. And, by that, I do mean that the work of the National Wildlife Federation is inspiring and that I am honored to be part of it. But I also mean something larger. At NWF I am tapped into a network of people who love wildlife and science — and who are creative and passionate and even a little crazy. People share footage from their favorite animal cams, show incredible time-lapse videos of mushrooms growing, and bring your attention to a new species of snail named after Joe Stummer. (I have included the link because it is so cool).

I come across something almost every day that reminds me how fascinating, rich, funny, weird and beautiful the world is. And I want to try to bring that feeling to the magazine.

So, on to my favorite picture books for the year — a heady topic as the Caldecott approaches.

My family has fallen head-over-heels for Christian Robinson this year. My husband and I are dazzled by Josephine, and my nine-year-old daughter, Freya, wants to adopt all the puppies in Gaston.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole is one of my favorite read-aloud books ever. Mac Barnett is so delightfully weird, and I am a huge fan of Jon Klassen. They get extra points for the “Twilight Zone” ending.

The Right Word is a marvel, a wonder, a surprise, and a darned great book.

And Bad Bye, Good Bye makes me want to take a road trip.

Jules: Award-winners, many of those. This we know, now that the awards are over.

Thanks, Cindy. Happy picture book-reading in 2015!

6 comments to “Calling Illustrators …”

  1. Thanks, Cynthia for the great information about Ranger Rick Jr.
    And thanks, Jules for continuing to be such a great advocate for illustration and illustrators. xo

  2. Thanks Cynthia and Julie! Great way to make connections between an audience of PB illustrators and a wonderful children’s magazine.

  3. What a great reminder to look into magazines for publishing opportunities! Thank you.

  4. Okay, this is a superb bit of information for us illustrators. I just returned from SCBWI’s New York conference and contacting some publishers is next on my list. Thank you, thank you!
    ~ Derek.

  5. Thanks for the great interview. Fun to know that a couple of our family favorite magazines are looking so thoughtfully at illustrators’ work. Cynthia has great taste in books, too!

  6. Thank you Jules and Cynthia for this insightful interview!
    Animals abound in my illustrations and I look forward to this call for illustrators.

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