Friday, May 12, 2017

Introducing Kirbi Fagan, the SCBWI-MI 2017-2018 Illustrator Mentor

SCBWI-MI’s 2017-2018 Mentorship is for illustrators, and the submission window is fast-approaching. The grand prize is a one-year mentorship with acclaimed illustrator, Kirbi Fagan.

Kirbi is a Metro Detroit based illustrator who specializes in creating art for book covers and comics. Her illustrations are known for their magical themes, nostalgic mood, and feminine heroines. She received her bachelor’s degree in Illustration from Kendall College of Art and Design and currently teaches at College for Creative Studies in Downtown Detroit. Kirbi's work has been acknowledged by organizations such as Spectrum, Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and New York, ImagineFX and the International Writers & Illustrators of the Future. Recent clients include, Orbit Books, Marvel, Stone Arch Book, and Dark Horse Comics.

SCBWI-MI is so excited to offer this opportunity, and Mentorship Coordinator Ann Finkelstein is here with an introduction and interview. Read on to learn more about Kirbi and what to expect during her mentorship.

Ann: What do you like best about illustrating?

Kirbi: I love being a problem solver! Each project puts me in a box, an art director needs this and that with the look of this and the feel of that! I love the challenge of making these needs come together in a beautiful way.

How do you know when an illustration is both good and done?

That's a hard question that is asked often. The romance of "spontaneous" art making is not in my vocabulary. Illustration is planned, calculated and created for a specific client's needs. The truth is, I'm an artist that enjoys the process of making art not necessary for the joy of the final product. My "favorite" piece of art is always the one that I'm currently working on.

You can labor on something forever, eventually it must be abandoned to serve the client and for the artist to move on and grow. I had a professor once, Jon Mcdonald who said "you'll learn more from finishing it then starting over," and I tell my students that now.

What is a typical illustrating day like for you?

My studio-mates in college always knew I was already there in the morning by the empty diet cherry Pepsi can in the recycling bin at the door. Not much has changed, I like to paint in the early mornings when my brain in fresh and everything is quiet. With so much sitting I often hit the gym for class or two before noon. Then on to more drawing. The late afternoons I can't seem to focus on anything so I often walk the dog and answer email. On to another burst of whatever I'm working on and usually my husband, my 5 o'clock hero comes home just in time to catch me napping. Hey, creating is exhausting work. My husband is an engineer by day and musician by night, his studio is in the room next to mine so we often tinker away in the evenings.

How much of an illustration is art? How much is craft? How much is creativity?

To me, illustration is simply image making for commercial purposes. Some types of illustration is certainly more creative and artful than others. Call me crass but being able to "draw or paint well" is the most basic requirement of working in this industry. It's the illustrator who can match unique original ideas with masterful painting techniques who will find the most success.

Where do you search for inspiration for your art?

Just simple moments of life. Riding in the car seems to always bring on ideas. A walk in the woods with my dogs. Good YA fiction. A solid nap. The hard part about being an illustrator is that not everything you are paid to illustrate is something that you like. The challenge is finding a way to connect to it anyways. I keep a working list of things that I like visually, things that ignite narratives in my head. When I'm faced with a story that doesn't inspire me, I go to this list and see what I can incorporate to make it me.

What will the mentor expect of the mentee?

I wasn't able to really grow in my art until I was able to look at my art critically with the willingness to try anything and everything to make the piece work. A nothing is precious mentality is not easy but the results are worth the fight. As creatives we can feel "panic-y" about where we would LIKE to be in our work, I challenge them to be where they are and put in the time they need to jump to their next level.

Thank you, Ann and Kirbi! Illustrators, get ready to submit your best work, and go here for the complete mentorship application instructions. The submission window will be open June 5th-26th.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: a School Visit Toolbox, take-aways from the SCBWI-MI Marketing Boot Camp, behind the scenes with our Co-Regional Advisors, creating teaching guides, crafting voice, and more MI kidlit advocates.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz


  1. Thanks again, Kirbi! This is going to be a fantastic mentorship. The submission instructions are on the SCBWI-MI website. The link is below Kirbi's picture.

  2. I would So apply for this mentorship if I wasn't ineligible! (Having won the mentorship before.) Kirbi has great insight and is very action-oriented in her method of teaching. I think anyone could learn a great deal from her.

  3. This is such a generous gift of your time, Kirbi. Thank you and best of luck to our eligible (sorry Bradley D. Cooper ;) illustrators!