By Emily Evans-Miller
Here at Mascot, we think it’s high time to recognize the unsung heroes of the publishing community: illustrators and editors. We have an extensive network of freelance professionals who do fantastic work for our authors. This month, our featured freelance publishing professional is illustrator Tristan Tait.
Tristan, one of our international illustrators, took some time to answer some questions about his process and what it’s like being an illustrator. Check out his answers below:
How did you get into illustrating books? What made you decide to pursue this career?
Illustrating books was a bit of a natural progression for me, I think. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawing. Usually it was putting my own ideas and characters out on the page and creating little worlds for them inside my head, so whenever the opportunity came along to do this for someone else I jumped at the chance. To be doing this for a living still seems so surreal.
How would you describe your art style?
This is a bit of a tough question, as I’m always trying to push my style in different directions to suit the job at hand. If I had to sum it up, I usually lean more towards exaggerated and colourful. I like to add lots of character and expression to my art while making it exciting to look at.
How do you decide what kind of style will work best for the book you’re working on?
Everything is usually determined by the story itself. I like to read through the manuscript and try and get a feel for the age group it’s targeting and the story it’s wanting to tell. If it feels targeted to a younger audience and focused on being educational, I tend to go more of a cute and colourful direction. Something aimed at a slightly older audience I might make a little more ‘cartoony’ or character-driven.
How long do test sketches usually take you?
This can vary based on the story. Sometimes I can get three lines into reading through it and I have a strong image in my head of what I feel the characters should be and then it’s straight out on the page. Other times, I might not get a clear first impression, so I’ll go through a few variations, testing different colours and styles until I find something I think that works.
What do you enjoy most about being an illustrator?
The freedom and creativity I have, and the fact it still doesn’t feel like work. I’m doing something I love and getting to work with lots of different authors to find different ways to interpret their words into an entire world. Once it’s finished and the next story comes along, I get to refresh and start it all again. It’s a constantly changing job that never gets boring and keeps challenging and forcing me to think in different ways.
Do you do any other forms of visual art? (Graphic design, painting, photography, etc.)
I’m constantly drawing. If I’m not illustrating books, I’m designing posters, comics, merchandise design, caricatures, logos … always keeping busy. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with inks and working on some more mixed media artworks just to try and broaden my skill set a little.
How much do you rely on the book content to help guide your illustration?
I rely pretty heavily on the story to build up my illustrations. I feel the words and the artwork both need to lean on each other to help tell the overall story. If something feels like it’s taking a darker or happier tone, I like to show that in the colours and character expressions to really emphasise what’s going on. I look at the illustrations as an extension of the story.
How many books have you worked on?
In total, about 23 books. Eleven of which are through Mascot Books, eight are a combination of other US and Australian publishers and another four were independently published by the authors.
What is your favorite Mascot Books project that you’ve worked on recently? Why?
Maybe not so much a recent one, but I think my favourite Mascot Books project was Mallory Brown in Super Fun Town written by David Disspain. I think I enjoyed this one the most as it was a fun and imaginative story and it allowed for a lot of room to express some really creative ideas with the wacky characters and setting. We also decided on giving it a unique layout similar to a comic book/graphic novel to help with the storytelling, which again allowed a lot of room to have fun and experiment with it.
What’s your favorite kind of story to illustrate?
I really enjoy working on things not entirely based in reality–stories that can allow for a bit of imagination where I can try things that might be a little bit weird and fun.
What are you currently working on?
At the moment, I’m working through my second book with author Joel Atman and Mascot Books, based on the Great Parks of Hamilton County. I’ve also just finished the drafts of two other books for an Australian publisher here, as well as a few other non book related projects.
I’ve also been slowly working on putting together my own story… Turns out writing a book takes a lot more work than I thought!
What are you looking to do more of?
I’d love to do a book about monsters. My inner child would love that.
About Tristan Tait
Tristan Tait is an illustrator based in Melbourne, Australia. He has worked on a number of published children’s books as well as comics, band merch and album artwork, caricatures, editorial illustration, trading cards, and artwork for games and film. His first book with Mascot Books was King Alfred and the Queen’s Missing Crown back in 2016. Learn more at www.tristantait.net or on Instagram at @tristan.tait