Rising Stars 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
Illustrator Melquea Smith!
Meet Melquea Smith (pronounced "Mehl-kwee-yah" ♥). She's a Black, multi-award-winning, published, children’s book illustrator based in New York.
Certified kid at heart, she adores magical stories with animals, mythological creatures, and dragons.
When not illustrating, you can find her watching cartoons and animated movies, learning all about Japan, terribly dancing with her cat Kilala, and giving her other cat Bumblebee pit-pats on her super fluffy tummy.
Melquea is seeking agent representation and is available for work.
Please reach out if you'd like to work with her. She’d love to hear from you!
Welcome, Melquea! Thanks for joining me for the Rising Stars in KidLit Series and sharing your story. I can't wait to hear more about your work, your inspiration, and look at your gorgeously vibrant art!
AD: Let’s start with a speed round…
AD: I love your three words-especially zealous! You've got to have that energy and enthusiasm to continue chasing the dream! Okay, now down to the serious stuff….please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
MS: I am a quirky, Black, multi-award-winning, published picture book illustrator with an obsession with color, whimsy, and strong storytelling. I am a Black Creators in KidLit member, a SCBWI member, and I have been a paid illustrator for over a decade. I’m looking for agent representation and I’m available for work ;) When I was a kid, I would watch cartoons, movies, and play video games to escape to otherworldly places. I would don ears and a tail and run on all fours with my cat Princess - who taught me all about sneaking into the kitchen undetected. I had so many influences on my life and art growing up. Because of that, I still enjoy the latest children’s shows and read picture books for endless inspiration!
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
MS: I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I’ve explored other paths such as graphic design, customer service, food service, and I currently work as a Data Specialist. However, making an abundant living off of my artwork has and will always be my calling.
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your art? Favorite genres and/or materials/techniques?
MS: Dragons, mythological creatures, and anthropomorphic animals are my peanut-butter and JAM! I work in acrylic, watercolor, and digital paint. For picture books I work in digital media. In the future, I would love to experiment with watercolor.
AD: Yes! I love the unusual and unique worlds and characters you build. Inside your art would be a fun place to be :)
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?
MS: The biggest challenge in any creative industry is getting work and having your work seen. To combat that, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities! I “leave crumbs” for people to find me and my work. I’m doing that by competing in competitions, adding valuable resources in groups I’m a part of, working with organizations like Room to Read, studying SEO and marketing, participating in projects, and partnering with amazing interviewers such as yourself!
AD: Awww, thanks, Melquea! Ecstatic to partner with you :) Sounds like you've been quite busy! I love all your clever and creative food references by the way-peanut butter and JAM and leaving crumbs. Now I'm hungry, haha!
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 illustration journey?
MS: I've had access to a lot of people in the industry. I've connected with fellow illustrators, editors and art directors. Many of them I met through Justin Colon’s PBChat and Black Creators in KidLit. I also illustrated my first picture book!
“Two Homes in Omar’s Heart” - available to read for free here:
AD: Two Homes in Omar's Heart is such a beautiful and necessary read! It's amazing you were able to partner with Room to Read for such a special project. Congrats! Connecting with others is huge and helps us stay motivated and enthusiastic when things get tough. We've said it before on here but it can't be said enough...the Kidlit community ROCKS!
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an illustrator? What makes your art unique to you?
MS: I think outside the box and I’m very easy to work with. I’ve been called “diplomatic” many times by an art director I’ve worked with! I analyze situations and figure out how to succeed using creative tactics. For example, publishing is a very traditional and risk-averse industry. I’ll often take what other industries are doing, such as Animation, Marketing, and Licencing, and weave that into my publishing career to make something uniquely Melquea.
AD: What inspires your work?
MS: Gosh, so much! From anime, to videogames, to Chillhop music to experiencing life. I also take inspiration from random things like patterns on a marble floor, shapes of clouds, or shades of shadows. I notice how sunsets change colors every evening, to how on rare occasions, snowy days are sepia-toned. Nothing is off limits. Inspiration is everywhere!
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
MS: My creative process flows and evolves as I learn and grow. Each project has distinct challenges that would need to be approached accordingly. For example, when I illustrated a picture book in a month. That… was intense! With illustration ideas, I document them in an idea journal. I shared a sneak peek on how I create illustration ideas on my Youtube channel here.
AD: A picture book in a month!! That's crazy! Kudos to your for getting it done on such a tight deadline. You must work well under pressure :) How fun that you keep an idea journal and share on your YouTube. I think it's important for people to see the art-making process and idea building phase. Thanks for sharing some of that process with us below. So cool!
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an illustrator?
MS: Nurturing communities like #BlackCreatorsinKidLit and the Oatley Academy mentorship has been invaluable for my growth. I study with Chris Oatley. With his mentoring, his friendship, and my other coursemate’s support, my skills have been on a steep incline and it’s not stopping any time soon.
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
MS: I don’t like the “just be yourself” advice because it’s not easy “just being yourself.” But, I know that if you dig deep, you’ll find there’s something about your background, your interests, your personality and so much more that makes you unique, and therefore, marketable. If you don’t know, ask a friend! We all have blindspots, and good friends know where they are!
AD: Yes! Recognizing our uniqueness and knowing our why is always something to reflect on. Thanks for the wise words, Melquea.
AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
MS: If you’re interested in working with me: https://www.prettykittypaintings.com/hire-me
If you’d like to keep in touch, please join my mailing list! I share quarterly behind-the-scenes processes of my art and projects. My primary dedication is to my tribe via email than on social media. It’s a pretty intimate and chill space! Make sure to bring your favorite beverage. ☕
But if you’re not ready for that commitment, I’m on
And Instagram: @PrettyKittyPaintings
Thank you so much for joining me on the blog, Melquea! Your work is so unique and recognizable. Congrats again on Two Homes in Omar's Heart. I can't wait to see more of your stories out in the world! Stay tuned for next week where we get to meet another Rising Star in Kidlit, and 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 Melquea and her work.
Who Am I?
Hello! My name is Amanda Davis. I am a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator. I've been writing and creating art in all forms since I was young. Writing and art have always been powerful outlets of expression for me. This is one of the many reasons I was inspired to teach art and pursue my passion for writing and illustrating children's books. You can usually find me hanging out in nature, petting dogs, and immersed in all things creative. I'm inspired by my students, life experiences, and small acts of kindness. I live in the Boston area with my husband and rescue pup, Cora.