Illustrator Spotlight: Stephanie Fliss

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 Stephanie Fliss! Stephanie discussed her process and what she loves about being an illustrator. Check out her answers below!

How did you get in to illustrating?  What made you decide to pursue this career?

Except for a short period of time when I dreamed of being the first female NFL football coach for the Green Bay Packers, I always knew I would pursue a career in art. Illustration combines my passion for drawing and narrative. I love storytelling, and I particularly enjoy reading children’s books; even as an adult I continue collecting picture books. I wanted to be an illustrator because of a dream my sister, Valerie, and I share. Growing up, we wanted to create our own stories together where Valerie writes and I illustrate.  We call ourselves the Sisters Fliss. So far, we have self-published two books under this title.   

Illustration from “One Good Turtle” by Stefan Burns

How would you describe your art style?

My art style is naturalistic with a focus on detail. My independent art depicts personal narratives and emotional responses to life experiences using color, line quality, pattern, and metaphor.  My metaphors draw from art history, religion, world cultures and folkloric traditions. How do you decide what kind of style will work best for the book you’re working on? The story itself informs the style or aesthetic of my illustrations. I treat each story or book I work on differently because each has its own personal identity. One of my favorite moments of the illustration process is reading the book’s manuscript for the first time. It feels similar to meeting a new person. My imagination and creativity get inspired by the endless possibilities of how to illustrate the book. I have a blast figuring out how to represent what I see and understand of the story’s personality for others through pictures. The author also informs the style. Just as I strive to render the story’s portrait for others to see, I endeavor to translate what the author envisions.

Illustration from “Chrismouse: A Christmas Story”

How long do test sketches usually take you?

The time it takes me to complete test sketches varies. Some test sketches take no time at all while others take days of redrawing. I know a test sketch is done when I see it on the paper and I no longer visualize it in my head.

What do you enjoy most about being an illustrator?

I really enjoy the relationships involved in illustration: my relationship with the author and my relationship with the story. I feel like a translator at times. I listen to what the author says, to what the story says. I love learning about people and hearing their stories then sharing their stories through art. However, nothing compares to holding the published book for the first time and flipping through the pages. It is wonderful seeing all of the hard work come together in the final product.

Do you do any other forms of visual art?

I do graphic design work on logos and signs as well as design embroidery collections for a sewing company. I like to keep a sketchbook where I create some of my most self-expressive art (quirky personal fact: when I go purse shopping, I always bring my sketchbook along because the new purse must be able to hold my sketchbook). I also knit and sew. I see clothing as a way to express and participate in my day-to-day personal narratives (as if I am wearing a costume).

How many books have you worked on?

I have worked on eleven published books so far. Most have been with Mascot Books and two are Sisters Fliss works.

Cover of “A Cavalier Cat”

What is your favorite Mascot Books project that you’ve worked on recently?  Why?

My favorite Mascot Books project from the last year is A Cavalier Cat, which is based on the true story of the author’s cat, Pretzel. I greatly appreciate the personal significance the story has for the author and her family. As a native Virginian, A Cavalier Cat struck a personal chord for me and gave me my own sense of “homecoming” because of the story’s association with the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I also got to explore a slightly different illustration style and I really enjoyed researching the 1960’s and 1970’s for the setting of the book.

What’s your favorite kind of story to illustrate?

I love illustrating fantastical and fairytale influenced stories—anything that allows my imagination to dream up magical creatures or explore exotic landscapes and fill me with childhood nostalgia.

What are you currently working on?

There are three projects with working titles I am currently working with Mascot Books.  Swan Princess, which tells the story of a girl with cerebral palsy who overcomes her disability to become a dancer. Another story empowers children to better deal with their emotions and emotional responses through the metaphor of a shirt that one can change—The Feeling Shirt. The last story, Rita the Remodel Girl, describes the process of remodeling a house through the eyes of a little girl as she learns about her mom’s remodeling business.

What are you looking to do more of?

I would never turn down a story with a fantasy and/or fairytale influence. I also would enjoy working on more animal stories. I have received many book commissions through Mascot Books with animal main characters and they have been my favorites. But really, I am happy and curious to illustrate anything.     

About Stephanie Fliss

Stephanie Fliss is an artist and illustrator. She is one half of the Sisters Fliss, a writing and illustrating sister duo who tell stories. They have currently completed two books: Rabbit and the Cloth of Woven Dreams and Idony and the Alchemist; both of which are self-published through Lulu.com. Stephanie has worked with Mascot on several projects and has done great work on each of them. Learn more at stephaniefliss.com

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