Vivian Mineker’s illustrations depict cherished every day moments as well as strong internal emotions.
From a scene at a dog park to a cozy winter cuddle, her illustrations will warm your heart by acting as a gentle reminder of all the moments we should be grateful for. Other creations feature a character navigating various obstacles, such as ‘The Climb’ where the character is up against a large fish, or ‘Phoenix’, where the heroine stands courageously atop a phoenix.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Vivian Mineker, where she offered us a window into her creative process.
P: Pendulum Magazine
V: Vivian Mineker
P: Can you tell us about your background and how you arrived at where you are today?
V: I was born in New York; then when I was about two, my parents and I moved back to Taiwan. I spent most of my childhood in Taipei until I was 14, when we decided to move back to the States, to Portland, Oregon. I attended high school and college in Portland. In college I studied animation, specifically 2D animation, because I’ve always had a passion for hand drawn art and cartoons. I wanted to one day work with it in some capacity. After graduation I got an internship at Nike, because coincidentally there was a Flash animation intern position open at the time. After the internship ended, I was hired on as a full-time Flash animator. Over time, the position changed from animation to video editing, and I transitioned with it regardless of it not being what I set out to do, because I was very comfortable with the stability and familiarity that a job at a big corporation brings.
Before I knew it, I had worked there for nearly nine years. During that time, I stopped drawing as much, and didn’t develop my skills and was artistically stuck. I still wanted to be an artist and work on art projects, so I started doing illustration on the side. I would come home after a full day of work, and dive straight into drawing and painting. I did as much as I could but it felt like I never had enough time. Evenings and weekends are just not enough to develop my illustration career. So after a few years, I decided to take a leap and quit my job at Nike, so I could try to do illustration full time, to put in as much effort as I could and see where things go. That’s pretty much how I ended up where I am now.
P: How would you describe your illustration style? How has it evolved over the years?
V: I would say that my style is a combination of authentic hand drawn style and textures with the precision of digital art. My process is the reason for this combination -- I generally start my illustrations with watercolour and gouache paint on paper, then finish them up on the computer by cleaning up and adding details, as well as adjusting colors. This definitely did not come by quickly, over the years I’ve tried a lot of styles and mediums, from oil to acrylic to charcoal to scratchboards, and styles from very dark and serious to colourful and bubbly. My thought was that I would try as many things as I could and discover what works best for me and my work. The style I have now just organically emerged, and I felt like I have found something that is a happy combination of everything I’ve tried. It could be cute and happy, or a bit melancholic and dark, it is a very flexible style for me.
P: Where do you find inspiration for your work?
V: Most of the time I’m inspired by my surroundings, especially on my daily walks with Darlie. When I walk I look around a lot, trying to notice all the little things -- usually in nature because I live close to a nature park, and we always walk amongst trees and bushes. I love how everything is always changing and nothing is constant in nature. I imagine magical things happening in the woods and around the lake. I like to combine observations from real life with imaginations and stories I made up about what could be living and happening around us that we don’t see, like little animals and ghosts and spirits that have their own lives and stories that I would like to tell through my illustrations.
P: In many of your works, a girl and her dog are depicted as the main characters of the illustration. Are they a reflection of you and your adorable mini goldendoodle, Darlie?
V: I’m so glad that you asked this, because it started off a subconscious thing, I just felt like drawing a girl and her dog exploring and doing stuff, then I realized that it was indeed me and Darlie I was drawing, even though I wasn’t trying to and didn’t particularly make the girl or the dog look like us in real life, but the inspiration was definitely from my perspective, and all the places I imagine Darlie and I would go.
P: You have been an illustrator for a few children’s books. How did those opportunities come about?
V: At first I started out doing a couple books for a friend of a friend, who was kind enough to trust me with his stories. Once I had something to show and put in my portfolio, I started to promote myself more with them and more people contacted me with their stories. So I did a lot of self-published books in the beginning, until I was contacted by small publishers via my website and Instagram. Following that, I signed with an illustrator agent, and that’s when I started to get more publisher works and more opportunities to build my client list. Nowadays, my sources for projects are from my agency, website, and Instagram.
P: How does your work captivate the minds and imaginations of your audience, especially younger children?
V: I think that the vibrant colours and interesting shapes are the main reasons for grabbing people’s attention. I put a lot of thought into the composition and colour combinations I use for each illustration, picking ones that would work the best for the mood and idea I want to convey, as well as being aesthetically attractive. I also think that the various small details in my work give people a lot to look at while not being visually overwhelming. I notice that even when people doesn’t see it right away, they can feel the attention to detail and craftsmanship put into the artwork, it’s sort of an intuitive thing that we all have. So I really make sure that every little detail is of professional quality.
P: What’s your favourite or most memorable project you’ve ever worked on?
V: So far the best and most challenging, and yet rewarding, project I’ve worked on is a book coming out called “The Road Not Taken”. It is based on the poem of the same name by Robert Frost. I was approached for this project to create a visual story to go with the poem, which is quite short and would not fill the 32-page book with its text, so the client wanted to use the illustrations to tell a story concurrently with the poem, adding another layer to it. I was tasked with coming up with visuals that would tell a story of making choices in life, living with the choices while looking back and perhaps doubting them sometimes, and eventually accept them and be at peace with how everything turned out. Another challenge was to not make this message too obvious, so the reader could have the freedom to come up with their own interpretations of the poem and the book.
It took me a few weeks just to think about how to go about doing all that. I wanted to create something that’s suitable for everyone, not just young children but adults too, since we believe that this book would be great for anyone that is at a crossroad in their lives, and facing the challenge of making life-changing decisions.
I am very happy with the way the book turned out, I think that I’ve achieved what I set out to do. It took a lot of effort and struggle but ultimately it’s why I’m so proud of how it turned out and can’t wait to share it with everyone.
P: Besides working with authors, who/what industry would you like to collaborate with in the future?
V: I’ve always wanted to do editorial illustrations, as well as something with comics. For editorial it’s because I would like to try to do more serious works for adults; it’s an area that I haven’t done much in so far but would love to get into, and have the opportunity to try some new things.
As for comics, it’s been my passion since I was little. I used to want to become a manga artist. I have created some sequential art in the past but nothing serious, and I would like to do more of it if I get the chance.
P: Is there an artist that inspires you?
V: I have so many art heroes it’s kind of impossible to count, but for a long time now, the artist I love and look up to the most is James Jean. I was so inspired by his imaginations and skills, I would look at his work to pump myself up and push myself further whenever I needed motivation. The fact that he is also a Taiwanese American made me feel like I could really relate to his work and his story.
P: Are they any upcoming projects you would like to share with us?
V: Aside from the upcoming book “The Road Not Taken” mentioned above, I’m also working on another exciting children’s book set in Tibet. That’s as much as I can say about it right now, but just keep your eyes peeled for a cute book in Tibet by me. I’m also working on a book of my own, one that I wrote and will begin illustrating very soon, I’m really excited about this one and will release more information as I complete it.
We want to thank Vivian for taking the time to share her insights, inspirations and aspirations with us, and we can’t wait to see more of her creations on bookshelves everywhere. To view more of her work, visit her website here.
Images courtesy of Vivian Mineker