Tuesday, June 30th, 2020 is a special day! Author-illustrator Skylaar Amann’s debut picture book, Lloyd Finds His Whalesong, splashes onto the kidlit scene today, hot off the presses of Page Street Kids. I love this book and am so happy to be chatting with its very talented creator.
Please, introduce us to your brand new book baby!
Thanks! Lloyd Finds His Whalesong is about Lloyd, a young humpback whale, who can’t sing. His family’s whalesong guides the whales through danger and connects them to each other. But Lloyd is too quiet to join in. When Lloyd finds a magical, mysterious object with supersonic seaweed strings, it could be his chance to be part of the song. He practices and practices, nervously preparing to show the other whales. But before he can perform for them, a noisy disruption scatters the pod. Lloyd’s powerful new instrument may be the only thing that can reunite them—if he can find the courage to share his unique song.
What can you tell us about your journey to publication? How long have you been pursuing this dream?
Publishing was always something I was interested in, but I have only been working seriously toward it for the last six or seven years. I quickly realized I wanted to (and needed to) improve my illustration skills. While I was tinkering with picture book idea (including Lloyd), I was mainly taking classes focused on art and illustration fundamentals. I studied and worked long hours. It was weird to be a student again, producing work that I didn’t like, that wasn’t “Instagram worthy” and so on—but it changed the course of my work and life forever. Even though I’m still learning to be a better storyteller and illustrator, I finally felt like I could tackle the style of illustrations I wanted, and I revised Lloyd several more times.
Eventually I sent a promotional illustration postcard to Page Street Kids, and Kristen Nobles responded with a very nice email about my work. Soon after, I submitted Lloyd to her. I went through many (many, many, haha) drafts with Kristen and Courtney Burke, and eventually landed in a place where the story was solid, and I finally got that “yes.”
How wonderful! Your hard work has certainly paid off–the book is gorgeous. From what age did you consider yourself a writer-illustrator? What spurred you to pursue this path professionally? And have you worked in any other fields?
I wanted to write as far back as I can remember, even before I wanted to illustrate. I wrote tons of stories during elementary school that were bound and “published” for the school’s Author’s Tea Party, during which we read excerpts of our books to students and parents!
I studied fine art (drawing, printmaking, and bookbinding) in college along with creative writing. I made artist books and zines and published poetry for many years before refocusing my work back to my childhood dreams of writing and illustrating books for kids.
Professionally, I work as a corporate copy editor and freelance illustrator, and am working on expanding my work into online teaching and mentoring. I’m excited to be back for my second year as a picture book mentor for WriteMentor this spring.
What themes do you gravitate toward in your writing and illustrating? What are your preferred genres/target audiences and preferred media/art techniques?
My favorite subject in all media is the ocean. It is my life’s greatest inspiration and humanity’s lifeblood. I grew up on the rugged Oregon Coast, with the rocky shoreline, pounding waves, diverse tide pools, commercial fishing fleet, and marine science center practically in my backyard. That environment colored the way I think about and approach everything in life, from marine conservation to sustainable fishing to the poetics of the tide to our pressing climate emergency.
I like to create work that infuses real science and real creatures with emotion and narrative. That might look like a painting of a shark (with googly eyes) or a story about the amazing properties of humpback whale song (enhanced by a ukulele). When I’m not working on a project about the sea, I’m still usually drawing or writing about some aspect of nature, like the forest, or a specific animal, or the lifecycle of a tree.
How do you feed your creativity as an artist in order to keep the creation flowing? What do you do when you feel “stuck”?
Nature and the ocean definitely feed my creativity, but I live in the city right now, so a lot of my ideas come from walking around aimlessly and thinking and jotting down notes in my phone’s notes app. I often get an inkling of an idea and let it sit for a while (days, months, even years sometimes!) before I do anything with it. If I know it’s something I definitely want to work on but can’t figure out the story, I will sketch the characters or environments to help build the world. As great as inspiration and creativity are, routine is more important to me. If I treat my work like a job, it will become one. That means sitting down to work even when I don’t want to or can’t think of anything. If I’m really stuck, I’ll watch an online class or practice art fundamentals.
When I’m stuck with writing, I’ll print my draft and then edit with a pen. I’ve also developed some page layout templates that I can jot notes and doodles on to think in a fresh way. I find this works extremely well, (especially with pacing).
Great strategies. What other advice would you have for fellow creatives?
Figure out what your goal is and work toward that. If an opportunity pops up, evaluate it against your goal. If it won’t move you toward that goal, politely decline. There are so many distractions and pressures with social media, and tons of small projects that don’t pay or aren’t worth your time. Set your goal, believe in it and yourself, and work logically and pragmatically toward it.
Now, back to your debut, with that burning question: How did the idea of Lloyd Finds His Whalesong come to you? Do you remember your lightbulb moment?
My original title was something like “Lonely Lloyd and His Little Ukulele.” All I knew at that point was that the story was about a sad little whale who finds a ukulele. It was around the time I myself started learning to play the ukulele. I didn’t have an opportunity to pursue music education as a kid, so picking up the uke as an adult was a really moving experience for me. (I still can’t sing very well though, haha!)
As of today, your dream of publishing your very first picture book has come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?
My next steps are to find a literary agent who can help me continue along my publishing and illustration path. I would like to continue writing and illustrating picture books and hope to branch out into more illustration projects as well. I very much want to pursue novel writing as well and have been hard at work learning plot structure and pacing for the last few years. It definitely doesn’t come easy to me, but I am working hard at it and am excited to see where it goes!
What promotional events for do you have planned for Lloyd?
I will be doing some virtual events in July for Lloyd Finds His Whalesong.
Beyond that, the best way to stay up to date with my events is to sign up for my newsletter.
How can readers found out more about you and your work?
Skylaar, thank you so much for being here with us today! Happy Book Birthday, and here’s to many more.
So many live author events and book launches have been impeded by the current pandemic. Help support author-illustrator Skylaar Amann today by ordering her book at any of the links below.