A big shout out to Dana Sullivan for introducing me to the work of Julie Hampton. I was thrilled when Julie agreed to be my Friend Friday because illustrators are less frequent contributors to this blog (a situation I would love to change, hint, hint). And I am always grateful when someone shares about their writing journey, especially as honestly as Julie does for us below. And I cannot wait to share Betty Builds It (West Margin Press) with my grandkids.
I have had an extra-long road to publication, and I am always pleased to share that adventure with anyone. Of course, all the failures and setbacks are lessons, and part of the journey, but there’s no point in detouring through Texas and Pennsylvania when you are just trying to get from San Diego to San Francisco. Unless there is…
I started to get more serious about my writing and illustrating by taking tons of classes, and workshops. University of San Diego Extension has certificate programs in both Children’s Book Illustration and Children’s Book Writing. I completed both programs. I have loved going to SCBWI events and conferences, a Highlights Picture Book Bootcamp (Pennsylvania), and ICON conferences (Texas, Michigan). All these things helped me learn the nuts and bolts of story creation, writing, editing, and creating narrative art. I have had such great teachers and mentors. And my crit group, of course. All those things that we have already heard before about getting published, we heard for a reason!
Betty Builds It is a humorous tale about seeking friendship, but it is played out in the context of a girl building things. I tried to show how she somewhat methodically plans, builds, tests, and refines the contraption she is making to fulfill her dreams of a friend “that likes to do the same thing she likes to do”. (Don’t we all sort of want that?) She has setbacks, small and large, and the story develops all while sneakily depicting a girl doing those STEM activities one rarely sees women doing because they are so underrepresented in mechanical engineering, for example. But I never mention engineering, in fact I never mention the word “robot” in the story. Betty’s abilities are just assumed, as any little person should be able to assume that they can one day do these things too.
To support Betty in this, I created a strange factory-like, (with homey-touches) workshop house, with industrial colors of brick and metal and wood. Her little interruptor brother Toby is basically a barbeque with training wheels. Because I wanted Betty to have lots of movement, I gave her a flippy skirt and springy hair.
I am not a purist, I create with Micron pens, Copic Markers, and Prismacolor pencils for things that need texture, like Betty’s copper torso. I also cheat with drafting tools, because I like a good straight line and perfect circles, sometimes, but think I am going to loosen up a bit in the future as I reinvent myself next time. I use some watercolor, especially to help with backgrounds, which are layered in with Photoshop. My illustrations are about 20% digital. The fact that the illustrations were heavily layered in Photoshop was a big bonus when I made the animated book trailer (I took an animation class at my local community college). There’s nothing like seeing your character jump and zoom around!
I’m so grateful for the broader community of writers, illustrators, agents and publishers who make books for children. It is phenomenal that it is such a competitive industry, yet there is such generosity and sharing among the hive! I’ve made so many friends in this kidlit world, I won’t have to create them from scratch, like Betty attempts to do, before she realizes that what we need is already right here!
Julie Hampton is an author/illustrator/architect in California. She likes to create offbeat stories and use humor and art to punctuate these little oddities. She adores the intersection of the odd and the familiar and believes the need for this kind of wackiness is universal. Her debut picture book, Betty Builds It (September, West Margin Press) is an expression of this, where robot children seek friendships and work out sibling relationships. And have goofy fun while they’re at it! To learn more about Julie visit her on her website, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.