An Interview with Artist and Illustrator Barbara Blythe
Today’s guest on the COMPEL Training blog is Barbara Blythe, an experienced and nationally recognized artist who is also a member of the COMPEL Training Communicators Marketplace, our listing of vetted vendors authors often need to make their writing dreams come true.
Barbara Blythe, Artist, Preferred Vendor in the COMPEL Communicators Marketplace
Tell us a little bit about your work as an illustrator and how you got started.
Art and illustration have been a major portion of my life from the time I left college. My first professional job was with Belk Department Stores as an illustrator in their headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. Throughout my entire adult life, I have worked as an illustrator for several large corporations, designing pieces for retail stores which brought in millions of dollars in revenues in the retail market. Yet my love for painting by hand and using my God-given talent remained constant, so while working, I simultaneously continued to do original watercolor and oil paintings, book illustrations and commissioned originals, and I ran my own business called Art by Barbara.
That’s amazing! You must have been a busy woman, especially while raising three kids at the same time — including our own director of COMPEL Training, Tracie Miles! What inspires you as an artist? Where do you get your ideas and inspiration when creating?
My husband at the time was a big hunter, and I began my career painting lifelike wildlife paintings. I’ve always had a love for nature and God’s creation, and this passion allowed me to create small glimpses of God’s world involving birds, animals, dogs and ducks, using the natural habitats surrounding them. I also enjoyed painting pictures of my children growing up, and creating watercolor paintings of photos I would take of them doing different activities, which are now treasured family keepsakes.
Did you ever receive any recognition for all the talent and hard work you put in?
After several years of traveling to do art shows and creating a name for myself, my paintings caught the attention of the nationally known wildlife corporation known as Ducks Unlimited. I was awarded the national DU ticket for two years, which was a huge accomplishment I am very proud of. It even opened doors for me to do designs for well-known companies like Cabela’s and Wild Wings for many years. I’ve also been blessed to run a successful freelance art business for over 40 years and feel that is part of my legacy as my paintings and artistic creations are located in homes and businesses domestically and internationally. Yet my biggest accomplishment was running my own art business, watching it grow and being able to use my talent to bring happiness to others through my paintings.
Have you always worked solely in the United States?
My illustration and design abilities in the corporate world allowed me to travel extensively doing design and product development for decal illustrations, fabric design illustrations, and even designing home décor. Traveling was such a blessing and allowed me to see parts of the world I would have never been able to before, plus it equipped me with a wide range of exposure to art, design and illustration in different cultures, helping me to develop a wide range of styles and techniques as well.
In combining all of these attributes and experiences, I have developed the ability to create and illustrate requests in any direction and any style, from novelty- or reality-type paintings such as realistic portraits of animals, scenes, objects and people to cartoon like characters and animated designs, all using the mediums of watercolor, oils and acrylics.
What has been your favorite project to work on, and what projects really excite you as an artist?
I spent many years doing mainly wildlife art, so that’s always held a special place in my heart. But now I am passionate about helping spread God’s Word through beautiful artwork, even having done some accompanying artwork for my daughter and author Tracie Miles for her recently released books.
Also, this year I had the pleasure of working with a publisher on doing designs for a children’s book about daughters and dads and the importance and beauty of those relationships. It was so much fun being able to be creative and draw different characters of all ages, sizes, shapes and looks as well as coming up with the different activities and scenarios of engagement of dads and daughters. I truly enjoy working on children’s book projects and giving the characters faces and personalities as well as drawing scenes. All projects excite me because I love what I do!
What does your creative process look like, especially since you get a lot of different types of requests for projects?
God blessed me with such a creative mind that I can usually have a picture of something in my head after hearing what an author wants long before I actually put pencil and paintbrush to paper. I get so excited and passionate about taking a blank piece of paper and turning it into something beautiful that will bless many hearts, whether it’s a portrait of a loved one or a fun cartoon or animated character in a children’s book. Because I’m a perfectionist, I always do my very best to meet the expectations of my clients.
Why should an author consider working with you? In other words, what makes you different than all the other designers out there?
The biggest difference is that I have a God-given talent of free-hand drawing and painting and an acute attention to detail. Each of my drawings are original and are not your typical graphic design creations, which is the trend today. Finding an artist who is actually gifted with the ability to draw, as opposed to one who has been trained to generate computer-based designs, is a rarity these days. Since my paintings are all original and unique, they will never look like anything else out on the market.
What can an author expect when they partner with you on their project?
My first step is to set up a phone or Zoom call with the author to get to know them and talk about their dreams for their book and the vision they have for the designs to be included in their book, which is a free consultation, of course. Then we’ll discuss their time frames, budget, overall desires, etc.
My goal is to be a friend to them in which they are entrusting their book’s future success, and as a people person, building a personal relationship with my clients is as important as a business relationship. I also want them to leave the meeting feeling confident I will meet their expectations and work closely with them until they are completely thrilled with the final designs.
What is your ultimate goal as an illustrator?
Whether it’s a book cover or a fully illustrated children’s book, I desire to bring to life the pictures the authors have in their heads of what they want to see in their books. It’s exciting to see the look on an author’s face when she/he sees with their eyes what they’ve been dreaming about in their mind to help bring their stories and words to life.
As an illustrator, working with an author that is trying to accomplish their life’s dream of being published, my ultimate goal is to create the look and vision that the author wants. I want my illustrations to bring their words to life. The story being told by that author makes trying to achieve the right look and projected feelings they want to achieve my own personal priority and goal. Illustrating is just so much fun, and being able to ensure that the author loves the results and is so proud of their published book makes the whole process so rewarding!
Want to work with Barbara?
If you have a book idea — whether it’s a children’s book needing illustrations or a trade book needing a book cover or internal drawings — learn about Barbara below and reach out to her for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out a sampling of her designs and artwork on Facebook by CLICKING HERE.
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