Rising Stars in KidLit continues in 2021! Hooray! The goal of this series is to highlight my fellow kidlit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world. These interviews will cast a light on the wonderful work of these pre-published authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars!
Meet Rising Star
Author-Illustrator Bonnie Kelso!
Bonnie Kelso writes and illustrates books for children and adults that encourage individualism and brave creative self-expression. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, she has a background in exhibit design and has worked on projects for NASA, National Geographic, and the Smithsonian Institution. Bonnie traveled all the way around the world… twice! She still enjoys indulging her wandering nature whenever she gets the chance. Currently, she lives in Las Vegas with her partner and two sons with whom she enjoys many real and imaginary adventures.
Bonnie is currently seeking agent representation.
Welcome, to the blog, Bonnie! Thanks for joining me for the Rising Stars in KidLit Series. I can't wait to hear more about your work, your inspiration, your projects and your WHY behind your passion for writing and illustrating for kids!
AD: Let’s start with a speed round…
BK: Hmmm, dirt. I love the outdoors, so I'm no stranger to dirt. I've often gone weeks without a shower. It's fine as long as no one around you takes a shower either. In some ways, my journey in kidlit is the same. Bear with me on this... I've taken the submersion approach— jump in the deep end with everyone else and get to work. There's a lot to learn and then at some point you'll have to apply all that you've learned and write something stinky and then eventually write something fabulous in order to elevate, or take a shower. Connecting with other writers and illustrators of varying stages in their career continues to be the backbone of my journey. Without them, I would be a smelly bowl of primordial ooze.
AD: I love that analogy to dirt, ha! Much like dirt, most of us start our journey from the ground or in the dirt so to say, and work our way up. Like you said, we've got to jump in and get dirty and messy in order to thrive and grow. Brilliant!
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author-illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
BK: Since I was little I've wanted to be a picture book author-illustrator. I still have the piece of paper I wrote that wish down on. But, it has taken me a long time to get to the point where I am right now where I have the right mindset and life circumstances to make it happen. I went to a great art school and graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Art, but my first job out of college was packing staples in a factory. Luckily, I left the factory before I developed carpal tunnel syndrome like the other women working there. Staple packer, bank teller, waitress, pottery shop assistant, gallery host, exhibit interpreter, camp art teacher, counselor, graphic designer, exhibit designer, substitute teacher, mystery shopper, Reiki Master, fine artist, workshop facilitator, and now... aspiring picture book author and illustrator! Tah-dah!
AD: A long and windy road but you made it! And, oh my goodness how special and serendipitous your childhood note is. Our younger selves know best!
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing/art? Favorite genres you like to write in or favorite art materials/techniques?
BK: I've written stories with emotional topics that are difficult for children to cope with, like death, grief, life changes, illness, and divorce. But I also really enjoy humor and creative nonfiction. Mostly I write picture books, but I do have one graphic novel manuscript and a short chapter book. For artwork I love to use pen, pencil, and watercolor, but my final pieces usually end up being digitally remastered in Procreate or Photoshop.
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
BK: When I first decided I wanted to become traditionally published, the hardest part for me was realizing how vast and competitive the publishing arena is. I felt so small and unworthy. But, after getting to know the kidlit community better and discovering how supportive and kind everyone is I realized that there is room for what I have to offer here somewhere if I continue to persevere and create my best work. I don't beat myself up over anything perceived as rejection. It's not a "forever no," it's just a "not right now." As long as I have a pulse, the Universe has a plan for me. I trust in that.
AD: "As long as I have a pulse, the Universe has a plan for me." This is an awesome quote, and so true! I'm adding it to my collection. Trust the universe! :)
AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing/illustration journey?
BK: I am most proud of the fact that I haven't quit. I've worked my way through a steep learning curve. I've learned how to detach from my projects enough emotionally to revise without mercy. Since deciding to go the traditional publishing route, I have written more stories than I ever thought possible. I've unleashed a passion that I was hoping was there, but wasn't 100% sure I would find. Now I am 110% sure that this is where I belong on my journey. It feels like I've finally come home.
AD: Congrats to feeling confident in your path and to pushing yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of. As you said, taking a step back and learning to detach from our work is key toward continual growth and development.
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author/illustrator? What makes your art/writing unique to you?
BK: Good question! My strength is my willingness to try new things. This has made defining my own unique style a challenge, but I feel like it is beginning to show itself. What I see rising up through my work are heartfelt stories that inspire children to explore and express their unique creative voices.
AD: What inspires your work?
BK: As an artist, I love scrolling through my Instagram feed. I follow a lot of living/working artists and illustrators. It keeps me up to date on what is trending. I try to experiment and apply new techniques to my own work. I always have a stack of library books next to my desk. When I hear about a new picture book, I check it out immediately. I set aside time every day to read, study, and enjoy what others are creating.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
BK: My creative process is very reactionary. Sometimes the weirdest, most random things inspire me. The key for me is to take action on an idea as soon as possible before it loses its "umph." My purse, car, and home, are full of tiny scraps of paper with illegible scribbles of genius. The rest of the process is basically showing up to the work every day. I call it work, but it's really so enjoyable for me. I mean, I could be packing staples. Now that's hard work! When I get stuck, I try to get away from it for a little bit, by focusing on self-care. Yoga, meditation, Reiki, and nature walks help me get back in my body when my brain is feeling overwhelmed. When I have a good body-mind balance going on I find that the ideas flow pretty steadily. It's when I overdo one (usually the mind) that things get messy. I'm a sun sign Libran, so it's all about the balancing of those scales for me.
AD: "Scribbles of genius..." another awesome quote! What a cool way of looking at what I normally consider my scratchy little notes. Scribbles of genius feels much more inspiring :) Balance is so important and I, too, feel my best work comes when both my mind and body are in alignment.
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author-illustrator?
BK: Being part of critique groups and showing up as much as possible has helped me reshape my mindset. My critique partners are good at keeping me accountable. I work well with deadlines, so as long as I have a critique coming up, I'm getting work done. Critiquing the work of others has made me a better writer, too. Of course, continued learning through various online sources has been important, especially through SCBWI and Storyteller Academy.
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
BK: Deeply understand why you want to do this work. Intimately knowing your "why" will save you a lot of time and heartache later on down the road.
AD: Yes! Our WHY should be infused into all we do! Thanks for those words of wisdom, Bonnie!
AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
Thank you so much for joining me on the blog, Bonnie! May you continue to persevere! I can't wait to see your stories and sweet artwork out in the world! Come back Friday for another Rising Stars in Kidlit feature to wrap our Double Feature week! Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss out and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Bonnie and her work.
If you are interested in being featured in the Rising Stars in KidLit series, please complete the following Getting to Know You form to be considered. Thank you!
Who Am I?
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of the award-winning picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, Moonlight Memories (summer, 2023) and a yet to be announced forthcoming title. She also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. Amanda has over ten years of experience as a classroom teacher and was selected as Massachusetts Secondary Art Educator of the Year. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.