Turbo Monkey Tales is a group blog focusing on the craft, production, marketing and consumption of Children's Literature. We are illustrators, writers, animators and media mongrels. We are readers! We are published, unpublished and self-published; agented and searching, and 100% dedicated to our Kid Lit journey, no matter where we are on the path. Join our Tribe and grab a vine. The more the merrier!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

An Illustrator's Bucket List by Hazel Mitchell

Last night I thought, 'Oh lummee! It's my turn to blog tomorrow.  And I hadn't a clue what I was going to write about. And then, happily, two illustrator friends messaged me on much the same subject: AGENTS.

Alright, that's a misnomer, I am NOT going to yak on about agents. (Important though they are.)

What those conversations did get me thinking about was my 'ILLUSTRATION BUCKET LIST'.

This began just about as soon as I started to think seriously about my 'career'. (Or lack of one.)

IN THE BEGINNING the list was pretty short:
  • Have the nads to spend more than 10 minutes in a children's book store without feeling overwhelmed/excited/suicidal.
  • Get published and be fabulously famous. And rich.

I missed a hell of a lot of interim steps out! Like the whole illustration process for one (and two, three, four and five). Luckily I got me to a workshop.

  • Learn more about kid's books. 
  • Go to a conference. Meet some people.
  • Get published and be fabulously famous. (And rich).
I reacquainted myself with the children's library and recalled books I loved as a kid plus reading a **** load of new books.
I went to an SCBWI conference.

  • I know nothing. (Do something about it.)
  • Create a portfolio. One that I would dare show to people.
  • Create a website.
  • Get a platform.
  • Get an agent.
  • Get published and be fabulously famous. (And rich).
I DID do something. I read, I listened, I networked, I went to more conferences.I began to draw like I hadn't in years. I started working on dummies. I submitted. I got rejected. I got rejected. I got rejected.

  • I know nothing. (Do more about it.)
  • Create a portfolio. With better work in it.
  • GET A STYLE. (What is style??)
  • Change website (again).
  • Mail out postcards.
  • Work on platform. And Blog. And Facebook. And Twitter. And ...
  • GET an agent.
  • Create more time to work on CRAFT. (gulp. This will mean analyzing my life and work)
  • Get published and be fabulously famous. (And rich).
I continued to immerse myself in gaining as much knowledge as I could. I worked on my illustration. I submitted and mailed out. I got rejected. AGAIN. and AGAIN.

  • I know nothing. (Do more about it.)
  • Work on portfolio.
  • Try not to worry about style.
  • Simplify website.
  •  Mail out postcards. Work on contact list.
  •  Work on platform. And Blog. And Facebook. And Twitter.  Don't spend too much time online.
  • Get an agent.
  • Work on CRAFT. 
  • Get published and be fabulously famous. (And rich).

So a few years passed. I found I could now spend a lot of time in bookstores without breaking out in a sweat and feeling totally inadequate.
I was beginning to recognize a glimmer in my work that looked like SOMETHING and not the hodge podge of regurgitated learning from my past life as a fine artist/graphic designer/other. It was - voice.
The time and effort in giving myself a fast education in the children's book industry (via conferences, workshops, internet, books) was paying off.

I got my first real book to illustrate.

  • Work on CRAFT. Seek out places to learn more. Be a sponge. Be INSPIRED!
  • Create.
  • Enjoy.
  • Promote.
  • Wait for the right agent.
  • Hope to work with great art directors and editors.
  • Find the balance between work, supporting everyday life, living, and letting the stories out.
All I want to say, (really), is that everyone's list is different, and rightly so. I am amazed at the paths of my fellow artists and writers. There's NO right or wrong way, there is only YOUR way. Our wants and needs change. For me it was from a 'tick list' that gave me a lot of stress, all of those things I thought would lead me on the path to 'success'. Not that we don't find those things helpful along the way! And I needed them to get me motivated. But the 'along the way' is where we are, not where we are going. The most important thing to me now, is to do work that inspires the reader and inspires me. That's where satisfaction lies.

So far I wouldn't change a thing.


My newest book is out March 1st '1,2,3 by the Sea',
written by Dianne Moritz and published by Kane Miller.

In the coming months I will be presenting workshops at 'Europolitan 2013' Paris, France and NESCBWI 2013 Springfield, MA.


  1. I love how your list changed over the years. I, too, started out where you did--write a book, get published, be rich. And while I haven't accomplished everything I want, I can at least look at my progress and be proud of all I've learned. And that's a nice feeling. Thanks for reminding me.

    1. Hugs Amy ... suddenly you find the space when you begin to SEE. Right? Glad to know you, and your writing is inspiring.

  2. Fabulous creative Bucket List! I can really relate :-)

  3. Hazel, you are amazing. This is a fabulous reflection, and not too far off from many other illustrator's lists, I presume! I have only met you in person once, but just from that experience I can tell that you missed something on your list: "Be delightful."

    Many congratulations to you!

    1. Renee ... that's too sweet. And having bet you only once ... I should have had, a wonderful smile is helpful! I hope our paths cross in 2013! x

  4. Hazie, I love you words. Both here in this blog and in your manuscripts. It is amazing that we have the same list...ok just that last item!

    1. Thank you Craig! What a nice compliment. That last item is perfectly valid.

  5. This is not only a great lesson, but it's entertaining. Thank you, Hazel!

  6. Thank you for sharing your brilliant bucket lists. I still get quite giddy in the children's section of a bookstore or library. Can't help it!

    I look forward to saying hello at NESCBWI in May!

    1. Thanks! Oh, me too! See you in Springfield.

  7. Love seeing the evolution of the dreams and your life! Thank you for the inspiration, Hazel!

  8. LOVE this post...SO much fun to read...and I suspect, for most of us...timely and inspiring!

    1. Thanks Beth ... I have already changed it ...