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Illustrator Interview - Jade Orlando (Ally Baby Series)

Jade Orlando; Ally Baby Can

With 16 projects published or in the publishing process, I have gotten to work with some amazing people. I wanted a space to share their knowledge and creative journeys. Formally introducing my Interview Series, where I interview individuals I have connected with on my publishing journey. Meet Illustrator Jade Orlando, who worked with me on the Ally Baby Series, in this interview.

Nyasha Williams; Jade Orlando; Illustrator Interview

When people ask you what you do, how do you answer?

I generally say I’m a children’s book illustrator. Though I also illustrate for products and adults, my projects have definitely led me most deeply into children’s illustration!

What do you love most about where you live?

I live in Atlanta, Georgia. After growing up in a very tiny and sheltered town, I love that Atlanta has so much to do but is also a sprawling city that lets me escape the bustle when I want.

What sparked your interest in illustration?

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. At first, I didn’t know the name of someone who draws for a living, so I’d tell people I wanted to illustrate the characters on the front of cereal boxes. I loved seeing illustrations on products people could buy and enjoy, and I dreamed of having my artwork on those products!

How many projects/books have you worked on so far?

Nyasha Williams; Jade Orlando; Illustrator Interview

I keep a set of wall shelves to hold my projects, and it’s getting quite full. But if speaking specifically of books, I think it’s up to 20. Wow, that sounds crazy when I add it up!

How closely do you get to work with the authors of the projects you illustrate?

Generally, most or all of my communication is filtered through the art director and editor. This helps to keep my mind open in interpreting the text so I can be my most creative. I do often meet and chat with the authors outside of the project bounds, though, which is super nice!

How did you end up in collaboration with Nyasha Williams on the ‘Ally Baby Series’? Why did you choose to illustrate the series?

My lovely agent Anne at the Bright Agency presented the ‘Ally Baby’ series to me, and I was immediately drawn to the subject matter and the idea of following the babies through several books. I loved how Nyasia introduced these challenging topics to kids with her writing, and I felt that even parents could learn from the books. Also, drawing babies is fun!

What is your favorite illustration from each book in the series so far and what makes it your favorite?

From Feminist:

Nyasha Williams; Jade Orlando; Illustrator Interview

I loved featuring all the empowered babies in this spread, especially the baby holding the “You Matter” banner.


Nyasha Williams; Jade Orlando; Illustrator Interview

I like to illustrate real people, and I was excited to introduce people to these powerful change-makers on this spread as Ally Baby gets ready for bed.


Nyasha Williams; Jade Orlando; Illustrator Interview

This spread was so fun because I love to illustrate food, and I got to learn about some of these dishes along with the babies! There’s a Salvadoran bakery nearby that I’ve been dying to stop by and try the pupusas.

What was the most rewarding part of working on the ‘Ally Baby Series’? What was the most challenging part?

It’s always most rewarding for me to see the books enter the world and be enjoyed by others. It tickles that childhood part of me who vowed to get my own artwork out there.

The most challenging part of working on the ‘Ally Baby Series’ was working out how to illustrate such challenging topics in a kid-friendly way. It sometimes took a couple of tries, but I’m so proud of the book Nyasha, and I have created together!

Who or what has been a major influence on your illustrating style?

I feel that my style is always changing and evolving. It sometimes just happens organically as artists absorb the world around them and take on different projects. I’ve sometimes been told that my art reminds them of Sarah Walsh, which would be an honor as she is amazing and I could only hope to one day reach her talent! I tend to admire artists creating in gouache and watercolors, like Helen Dark and Carolyn Gavin. Check them out!

Which children’s book most inspired you as a child, and what children's book has inspired you in recent years as an adult?

One of my favorite picture books growing up was “Good Dog, Carl.” It’s a book about a rottweiler babysitting a toddler and all the mischief they get in. The story is told entirely without words (except on the last page), and I was always amazed at how an entire story could be told using only pictures!

Recently, I was blown away by “Mina,” a book about a little mouse girl who is the only one who sees a dangerous cat for what it is. It’s such a clever book, with the illustrations telling the story even more than the words, and the premise felt very fresh. I can imagine kids laughing along at the idea of Mina’s father thinking a cat is a squirrel, but it also appealed to me as an adult with the elevated and artistic illustrations. I would love to create such a beautiful book!

How do you stay creative when working on multiple projects at once?

Staying creative can be tricky! Even when I’m busy, I like to take time to explore the outside world. Taking a trip to Barnes & Noble to see the newest books, or even a walk around the city can bring inspiration from unexpected places. When my brain isn’t feeling creative, giving myself the permission to get off the computer and explore my other hobbies can be refreshing. Of course, sometimes there are deadlines and I have to buckle down! So I like to listen to upbeat music and get the job done.

Nyasha Williams; Jade Orlando; Illustrator Interview

Describe your process for creating a series of illustrations that tell a story.

Generally, I start by dividing the story up into super rough thumbnail illustrations just to nail down the pacing and variety of layouts. Sometimes the art director and I collaborate to make sure these are at a good point before I move on to bigger, tighter sketches. Illustrators have to remember to show a variety of viewpoints, characters, and compositions on every page to keep the reader engaged. If every page had the character the same size and position, the book wouldn’t be very exciting!

My favorite part is coloring the final illustrations because I can see the work come to life. I like to use gouache, watercolors, and digital tools to create final artwork.

Do you listen to anything while you work?

I usually listen to true crime podcasts, which may sound like an odd choice while drawing colorful kids pictures! Maybe the balance of seriousness and fun helps. When I’m focusing too hard on an illustration, I’ll switch to my favorite 90s throwback tunes to stay focused.

What do you think is the most important aspect of illustrating?

Illustrators aren’t just drawing for our own pleasure— our job is to solve a problem. Whether that’s telling a story clearly, decorating a beautiful greeting card, or explaining an article in a magazine with a companion illustration. You don’t have to be the very best artist to be a great illustrator, and likewise, the very best technical artist might not make a good illustrator! Being able to tell a story and solve a problem with killer concepts is the most important skill we have.

As an artist, how do you strike a work/life balance? Is it essential to separate your workspace from your living space?

I might not be the best person to ask because I’m a notorious workaholic. (Oops.) I love what I do, so sometimes it’s hard to get away! One thing that is very important for me is keeping my studio separate from the rest of the living space. I’m lucky enough to have a large basement studio out of our current home, and it’s absolutely my happy place! Entering the studio is a cue to turn on my work brain, and I can shut the door at the end of the day. Even without the luxury of a basement space, if an artist can create a little nook or table to use solely for creating, it can be a big help.

Do you have any non-negotiable resources/tools that you use to help you do your work?

Over the past couple ofyears, my iPad has become just as important as my paints and computer. I used to only create sketches on my iPad, but now I use Procreate to speed up so much of the process. My iPad will never replace traditional painting, but It

s an amazing supplement. I love that I can bring it with me when I’m traveling, or when I want to enjoy the sunshine!

Honorable mention goes to my big, ancient scanner. It’s scanned in my paintings for over a decade and is still going strong!

Do you find it challenging to shift when illustrating for different age levels? Is there one age group you most enjoy as readers? If so, why?

I love working on books for all different ages. Younger kids require more clear illustrations, so I have to be very simplified with my concepts. But the illustrations themselves go more quickly, which can be a plus when working on many projects.

I think books for older kids are my favorite because I can be more clever with the illustrations and add lots of fun details older kids can appreciate. Illustrations for older kids take more time, though, so it can be stressful with a tight deadline. I prefer having lots of time to explore!

Besides your work as an illustrator, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

When I’m not illustrating, I’m usually a hermit at home reading books with my husband and cats. I also dabble in other creative outlets, like ceramics!

Nyasha Williams; Jade Orlando; Illustrator Interview

Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?

I’m lucky to have a busy schedule this summer! Unfortunately, they’re all under wraps while I work on them. I can say that I’m working on my first series of author-illustrated board books, and I can’t wait until I can share them with the world!

Of course, Ally Baby Can Be Antiracist is coming out in September, which is super exciting! After that, I have several other books I hope everyone will check out:

‘I'm Going to Be a Princess’ by Stephanie Taylor is coming out in December. ‘A Year of Black Joy: 52 Black Voices Share Their Life Passions’ by Jamie Wilson is coming out in October, and ‘Love, Lah Lah’ by the amazing musician Nailah Blackman drops in January 2024. It’s been a busy year!

If your younger self could see you working in your studio today, what do you think they’d say?

“I did it!”

Support both Jade Orlando and myself by ordering and pre-ordering books from the 'Ally Baby Can' Series

Ally Baby Can: Be Feminist

Ally Baby Can: Be An Eco Activist

Ally Baby Can: Be Antiracist

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