For the first edition of Literasia's spotlight, we sat down with Evelyn Ghozalli, known professionally as EorG. We discuss varied topics, from where she got her inspirations, how she processed her works, and her advice to the aspiring and upcoming illustrator.
For our new reader that may not know who you are. Can you please introduce yourself?
Hello, I'm Evelyn. I'm a children's book illustrator. So far I have illustrated several books under the name EorG.
Aside from being a book illustrator, I am also a book designer, art editor, program manager, and a busy body for children’s book illustrator community called Kelir. Other than that, I’m always on the move to do whatever I can to support children’s book illustrator and the industry itself.
How did you start as an illustrator, specifically a children's book illustrator?
I have always been fascinated by children’s books, especially the ones with lots of pictures in it. I would spend most of my time looking at illustration than reading. That brought me to the most booming college major at that time, which is graphic design. While trying to look for work after graduating, I landed on an informal interview by phone with a children’s book writer. That interview was the prolific writer, Arleen A., who asked me to try out for illustrating her third series, “Little Lyly’s Big Adventure”, which later on became my debut work as a professional children’s book illustrator.
What inspires your work?
Visual triggers such as good children's books and of course, other illustrator’s works. When I was a child, the Internet was not developed to be like as it is today. So my source of reference came from books I can find available. Some books that lingered in my head till now, in terms of illustration, are Kumpulan Dongeng Binatang or in the original title, 101 Histoires d’Animaux by Anne-Marie Dalmais, Tini or Martine by Marcel Marlier, and Hans Christian Anderson’s Favourite Fairytale illustrated by Paul Durand. All of those books became a part of my early introduction to children’s book illustration.
I think some still think that being an illustrator would be quite hard for a living. How do you do it? How long is it for you to turn your love for drawing into your source of income? And how do you keep looking for a new project?
Illustrator is an artist. The paradigm in the old days is you would not be able to live as an artist, which is still true. The fact is, only a handful can live well as an artist. So do writers. So do any work that involves dreaming, will have a bigger risk for not having a stable living. Unless there is the exception, that handful exception. As a solo illustrator, yes, you can live from outsourcing works from other higher currency countries such as the US, UK, or Europe, and maybe corporate/agency works.
But no, you can’t certainly live well from local book illustration jobs, with sometimes under fee and under-appreciation. I would not say I have made it by just illustrating. I do other works that can support my dreams. I design books and things that are still related to illustration. Sometimes I teach, mentor, and give classes. An illustrator, especially a freelancer, has to be smart in choosing clients and works. We have to have managing skills for measuring time and effort. In a way, I am a self-agent, so do other freelancers out there.
In most cases nowadays, illustrators disregarding their entry-level can easily promote themselves in social media. In my case, I still do the old school way, which is meeting people and explore opportunities that could arise. This way, I know my client well enough and I can be assured that I am working with the people who appreciate my work.
What’s your biggest project, and which book/illustration that you’re most proud of?
I would not want to say which works are the best because that would mean that I would be favoring certain affiliations. But sometimes I can be amazed at what I have done in the past, thinking, how the “heaven” did I do that? People always say to look ahead, but again… in my case, almost every time I have an illustrator’s block, I would find inspiration and motivation from my old works.
Where or how do you find inspiration for your projects?
The source of inspiration for each project for me can come from other people’s work and my work as I mentioned. Also, a good story tends to ignite my imagination as well. If I can imagine the illustration in my head upon reading the story, it is worth my time to work on.
Tell us how you typically start your day
I don’t have a typical day. As a freelancer, every day for me is like doing one task to another. I will try to look for a new task if I haven’t got any soon. Life as a freelancer is a bit unpredictable. But for a piece of peace, night time is always been the best time to work.
Talk us through the process of illustrating a book; how does it go from an idea in your head to a finished book?
I’m going to narrow down the genre into children’s picture books.
A book started sometimes in a form of short story or already divided into pages by the writer. Once I received the manuscript from the writer, I will start to do some research, on the theme, topic, background, etc.
For example, when I worked on "Dreamlets". This book is based on fantasy. I was having a bit of difficulty researching it at first, but then I looked into similar fantasy books available and create some elements. Another example is Taman Bermain Dalam Lemari or A Playground in My Wardrobe. This book comes with “Batik” themes. So I researched all of the Indonesian Batik that correlates with the story outlined by the author.
As an illustrator, sometimes I suggested making the stories more interesting to children (as the reader). So, oftentimes, I will do a discussion session with the writer to develop the story. But it depends on the openness of the writer itself. Usually, if there’s room for improvement, the writer will allow and develop the story together. Sometimes this is done through the editor.
After all, is done with the research and the story is at least 70% finalized, I proceed with the story-boarding. It is an important step because it will minimalize any unnecessary revisions later on. Story-boarding helps in designing on how the illustration layout will look like, where’s the text going to be, and how it would integrate with the text.
Usually, we make the storyboard in small square panels. After the storyboard is set, it is time to do the detailed sketch throughout the book. These sketches will be the guideline for proceeding to the next step. Try to have major revisions in this stage if there is any. Discuss the layout of the illustration with the editor and art editor for better coordination.
Even though it’s in the form of sketches, the illustrations should be made as clear as possible so the author would understand. If the author understands, we understand and the publisher will understand as well.
After the sketches are good, I will be applying my preferable style that is suited to the story. In this near-final stage, it is best to minimalize revisions. All major revisions should already be done in the sketching process.
Once all of the pages are colored, finalized, and approved, it’s time to either leave them to the publisher or coordinate furthermore with the designer to be turned into a brand new picture book.
Being a freelance illustrator, what are your main challenges?
Self-discipline, time, and appreciation.
What are your ultimate goals?
I would like to be able to create simple and meaningful books of my own.
What are your current projects? And future projects perhaps?
Currently, I just finished several projects on developing books for Room to Read, a non-profit organization in the US. More projects to come in the future.
What do you wish you’d have known to start as an illustrator?
When I started, there weren’t that many Indonesian illustrators or even Indonesian children’s books available. Most available books were imported such as Disney, princesses’ themed books, etc. There were several Indonesian children's books that I could research on. What I’m saying is, if in the beginning I knew other book illustrators and I could ask around about the industry that would be helpful.
Fortunately, I started out working with an established publisher. They already have a sturdy system, a reasonable price, a reasonable timeline, and have more respect for the process of creation.
For other illustrators, the situation might be different. So many started with a low fee and stressful workflow.
So I imagine, back then when I started, if there was an association of illustrators or such kind, it would help a lot. For instance, if there’s a question of “how do I propose the fee?”, “What’s the best workflow for me?”, “How do I measure my abilities?”, there would be people who will help with those answers. Since I’m fortunate that I started with a good company, I can share that experience with my fellow illustrators.
What are the key ingredients to be a successful illustrator?
Work professionally, keep motivated to learn more, and be consistent. I always believe that the artwork will speak for itself. You don’t need to over-promote or bloat about your work. It will open opportunities ahead.
What advice can you give to aspiring illustrators?
Study the material given. Research, research, and research. Always research before you start illustrating. Try to always create and not just work.
And one other thing, please don’t go MIA during a project. Work professionally. If you want to take a break or if you are not comfortable with the project, please inform the client beforehand.
Read more, learn more, create more.