SLIDER

ARTIST INTERVIEWS: An Keegan



Hi, everyone! I invited for a little interview An Keegan (Anastasia Bakhchina), New York-based Russian illustrator


We'll talk about:


- how illustration work begins,
- how an illustrator and a book relate,
- how to keep your work-life balance,
- changing of art name,


and more. 


Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog
Anastacia Keegan, photo from her instagram profile





Hi, Nastya! Thank you to agreeing to this interview! Please, tell us about yourself.


Hi, everyone! My name is Anastacia Keegan. I’m a person and an illustrator. I live in New York. I love earrings, baking pies and imaging what adult people around me were like in childhood.

I’ve been lucky to have worked with the biggest and the best publishing companies and drawn illustrations for more than a dozen books.


My books are here and here.



Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog
by An Keegan, pic from her instagram profile



How did you start working as a book illustrator?


To be honest, It wasn't a goal to be a book illustrator. This profession was like a flying unicorn for me. Something that cannot be ever achieved.

I worked in advertising as a designer at first, and then I became an art director in Moscow, Russia. Then my husband and I moved to St. Petersburg. I didn’t find a full time job as an art director and didn’t want to work as a designer anymore. At this time I need to say thank you to my awesome and supportive partner who gave me an opportunity just take a breath, take a calligraphy class, draw and think what I want as my next step.

In that time I replenished my portfolio on illustrators.ru and noticed a post from the BHV-Peterburg publishing company searching for artists to illustrate a series of children’s book. I responded to this post. Ekaterina Trubey, an editor at BHV, said “Let’s try!” and gave me Stepan Pisakhov's awesome book to illustrate.


The book was published, and then it was republished several times. Since that book, I hadn’t had to look for a job.



Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog
Arkhangelsk Fairy Tales, Stepan Pisakhov, illustrated by An Keegan, pic from her instagram profile


Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog
Arkhangelsk Fairy Tales, Stepan Pisakhov, illustrated by An Keegan, pic from her instagram profile



Such an inspirable story! Sounds like a dream! How many books have you already published? Is that your main job?

I have 15 books in my portfolio right now. And It is what I do mostly. It is what I think, live and dream about.

You are a lucky person! Tell us how you build your book illustration process, please!

It looks different every time. At first on the road, in different countries, in different conditions. Sometimes I didn’t have a studio or even a work place. I didn’t have an opportunity to pin my sketches or make a pre-project mini book. I had make everything on my computer screen. It was hard but it worked.


A working process begins with trying to get a feel for the atmosphere of every book. It is the longest stage. For an entire month, I can walk around trying not so much to see in my head what the book will look like, so much as trying to just get a feeling for it. What atmosphere my characters will live in. What do I want my readers to see in full detail and to imagine by themselves. How airy I want my illustrations to be. How many details I want to add. It is really important time. And I try to not skip or hurry it.


Then I make sketches of characters and scenes from the book in my sketchbook. I love to invent visual jokes. I like funny books. At this stage, everything begins to become clear for me.

On the next stage, I switch on my disciplined mode. I lay out all the sketches before me, make accurate illustrations and choose a color set. It is the hardest stage of all the process; I just throw myself into my work and try to be focused only on it.


Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog
An Keegan's sketchbook, photo from her instagram profile


This is so useful and interesting! Thank you for so clear and honest answer! It would be great to see your sketchbooks! You work from home. Do you like it? How do you do your work-life balance?

It’s really hard for me. More and more people leave their office job to work remotely or as freelancers. They don't understand what they will face. They begin to work 24/7 or, vice versa, to procrastinate instead of work. It is important to keep the balance and discipline. You need to organize your work place and set up your schedule. It can sound boring, but it helps.

Also you need to keep your energy level. You cannot give something if you don’t have anything. That’s why I need to meet people, to walk, to travell, to go to museums and concerts, to read the books, to learn something new about topics far from my job, to laugh my head off and to wear beautiful dresses.

Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog
By An Keegan


What is the book your favorite so far?

Every time when new book is out, I take it and understand how much things what I'd do differently now! It is ok, because it could take a year or two from drawing illustrations until publishing the book. You constantly improve your skills and see your mistakes from the past. But I’d say that a book of poetry by Natalia Ivanova “The Big Cabbage Constellation” was the funniest. I love her poetry! I think she is a fabulous poet! I was laughing all the time while I drew illustration for her book!



Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog
The Big Cabbage Constellation by Natalia Ivanova, illustrated by An Keegan, photo from the instagram profile of The BHV-Peterburg publishing company
Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog
The Big Cabbage Constellation by Natalia Ivanova, illustrated by An Keegan


Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog
The Big Cabbage Constellation by Natalia Ivanova, illustrated by An Keegan



How do you choose books to work with?

Getting a connection with the book is important to me. Sometimes you read the book and understand that it is not yours. Sometimes you make test sketches for a book and cannot grasp its atmosphere and characters. It’s ok, it means this book is for another illustrator. Sometimes it clicks in your head. Like some kind of magic that makes everything clear - "it’s mine!"

In fact, it is so good that we have so many illustrators, that we are all different; we can share our experience, work and inspiration with each other. It is the perfect environment for the development of authors.

You recently changed the artist’s name. Was it difficult? How long does it take?

It is hard. You need to have really good reasons to do it. All my books in the stores are grouped on both my names now. But I’ve been drawing book illustrations for 5 years and I want to develop my career in the USA. That's why it makes sense for me to change my name. My new last name sounds more familiar and fit to the US then the old one. Also all my publishers follow me on social media, so there aren't any problem here for them.

 
Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog
Illustrations by An Keegan

15 books in 5 years! Wow! You have a great experience! Could you please give piece of advice to newbie illustrators?

I think that contemporary newbie illustrators are the lucky ones! They have access to any information they need and can see everything that's happening in the world. They have more information off of which to make decisions.

I won’t surprise anyone with my advice. Work hard on your portfolio, post your illustrations on the Internet, be active online, participate in art challenges, competitions and exhibitions and don’t be afraid be yourself. We’re all different and everyone’ll get their own special project.

It all sounds simple and everyone who has conducted seminars or taught illustration lessons has said this a million times, but it is true. No one will know you if you don’t represent yourself. That’s why you need to get involved in professional marathons and competitions; think of books, series, a story; draw your friends or famous people; think of worlds and games. And when you look at your portfolio and think “Wow, did I do that?” write publishing houses with confidence, although I think they’ll find you on their own if you actively promote yourself. The main thing is it to not hide in your shell.

 
Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog
Sketch by An Keegan

“Wow, did I do that?” are very difficult words to say, it’s true! And it’s so important to say that to yourself. Thank you so much again! Speaking for myself, I feel a surge of energy and inspiration after our discussion. Can you give us a hint of what you’re working on now? 

Now I’m drawing my own book which I thought up and wrote myself, though it’s very bold to say I ‘wrote’ it- there’s actually very little text. I’ve been carrying it around inside of me for a few years already and it’s a very precious project for me personally. It’s not going to be an instructive book, but rather a fun and amusing one that is meant for kids, not their parents. It’s the book which I needed and didn’t have in my own childhood.

It sounds like it is very important for you. I wish you success!



An Keegan's links:



All the books illustrated by An Keegan are here and here.




Artist interview, An Keegan, Sonia Nezvetaeva, artist blog


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