Adam S. Doyle


Today LitPick is excited to have Adam S. Doyle join us for Six Minutes with an Illustrator! Adam illustrates books and book covers and creates images for card games, greeting cards, album covers, theater and concert posters, package design and dreamscapes. His paintings exhibit in New York City, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Europe. Adam talks about providing the illustrations for Fat & Bones by Larissa Theule during this interview.  Adam’s clients include publishers, magazines, The March of Dimes and the New Zealand Mexican-Pacific street food truck Mexi Kai.

How did you get started as an illustrator?

The short story is, I’ve always been an illustrator. I got started as a little kid, drawing from imagination. I loved and bonded with my picture books. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Where the Wild Things Are, Harold and the Purple Crayon. In the fourth grade I switched schools and found that kids liked my pictures and asked me to draw on their notebooks. High school had me doing posters for school plays and shows. From an early age drawing pictures was a means of connecting with people. That's still at the core of why I enjoy it.

The decision to go to art school was the biggest step in the direction of this career. I knew early on that I wanted to be an illustrator, so I saw everything art-related as applicable towards that - classes in school, internships, summer courses at a local college. An internship at Charlesbridge Publishing the summer before my senior year at RISD led to my first published kid’s book called Once Upon a Dime. Even though I'd always been dedicated to this vocation, it’s never been an easy path. Every day I wake up and want to do my best work.

Who influenced you?

I am a fly on the shoulders of giants. The artists and illustrators who continue to teach me range far and wide through history. John Singer Sargent for his eye-bending paint, MC Escher for his mind-bending worlds, the Wyeths, Bill Waterson, Marina Abramovic, John Tenniel, and Barry Moser. Once I start naming people it's hard to stop. A legion of authors actively engage and compel me. When I was around 11 years old, CS Lewis’ Narnia series opened the door to reading as a truly enjoyable personal experience. I haven’t been without a book since. Also scientists and sociologists like Oliver Sacks and Neil Postman. Filmmakers, musicians and composers, activists, actors, entrepreneurs, and of course teachers. Too many to appropriately list here. The support and encouragement of my parents and my mom’s father in particular, who was a playwright with a powerfully creative heart, has had an unquantifiable impact on me.

For a greater understanding of stories as a concept and our world of symbolism a scholar who has been particularly insightful to me as an adolescent, and I still refer to regularly, is Joseph Campbell. He was a writer and teacher of mythology who revealed the connective narrative inside all religions. His book The Hero with a Thousand Faces was the template George Lucas used to fashion his space samurai script into the soulful Star Wars trilogy. Campbell's understanding of the human condition, which shares roots with Jung, gets beneath the fray of modern life and highlights the journeys we all share. I like to revisit his writing to be reminded of the significance of symbols and metaphors. He once said, “The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth.” That idea continues to inform how I see the world and our place in it. 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an illustrator?

Find appropriate venues for your images and introduce yourself to art directors. Be brief and considerate of their time. Being a freelance illustrator is as much maintaining a business as making pictures.

Don’t be concerned with style, which to me is about just the look of something. It has a “realistic” or “cartoony” style. Please, please, please don’t let the answer to why you do what you do be “because it looks cool.” Focus on material that interests you and coming up with inventive solutions. This is how you’ll find your visual voice, your own vocabulary. The look of my work has come out of a love of nature, of the magic of the human mark, and a curiosity about capturing the unseeable, such as energy. In fact, you could interview yourself with these same questions I’ve been answering. You may discover something.

It takes a lot of discipline to be freelance. You have to be well organized and manage your time well. Getting jobs done requires even more focus than they used to because of our virtual access to everything. Posting to fans is a good way to feel relevant, but be careful of the addiction to the attention. Stepping away from the screen is important for keeping a clear head.

Go for jogs, meditate, live abroad, and seek out soul-supporting wisdom. When you’re stressed about having no work, when you’re overwhelmed with too much, when you’re not getting paid, or disagree with the art director, you'll be better equipped to handle it all. This is a very do-it-yourself career. It’s scary not knowing if you’ll be able to pay your rent. Being grounded is important. Spending time in other countries can be an amazing perk to being a freelancer. Seek out insights that will help you through the daily stresses. I mentioned Joseph Campbell. I also really admire the sociologist Neil Postman. You may respond to Thich Nhat Hanh or another who speaks directly to handling daily frustrations. 

Where is your favorite place to work?

Currently it’s my office, which is in my apartment in Boston. However in the past I’ve enjoyed having a shared studio with other artists. I’d also say there are three distinct places where work happens. On the page with a pencil- sketching, thinking, and more sketching. On a run- where the ideas dance around and often times pop into place. And on the canvas- when paint is stubborn or willing, coming alive in ways unexpected. 

What else would you like to tell us?

I’d like to tell you about working on Fat & Bones. Larissa Theule's story is really charming. I was thrilled to be asked to illustrate it by Andrew Karre at Lerner Books (now at Dutton). He contracted me for around eight images and the cover, but I couldn’t help myself and made a lot more. There were just so many characters, scenes, and nuance to the story. I’m grateful that he and the team opted to include most of the imagery. As for my process, it was about figuring out that sweet spot that could balance the story’s sinister yet playful tone. As a firm believer in the power of the human mark, I prefer to have my pictures visibly come out of the paint they’re made with. That transformation is a magical thing that I believe strongly in. With F&B I realized that ink could be the device. Black drips and spatter are distinct, also bringing interesting abstract shapes, as well as being reminiscent of blood, which suited all the characters plotting against each other. From there it was a matter of honing down the look of each mouse, spider, maggot, and the farm, and so on. That was really fun. Credit also goes to editor Greg Hunter and art director Zach Marell, who did a terrific job taking the text and tons of images and crafting them into an exquisite book. Their idea for the emblem in the hardcover was really the icing on the cake. 

I’ll close here with a big thank you to LitPick. Your interest in sharing my work means a lot. 

Adam, thank you for spending six minutes with LitPick! It is always a delight when a book’s illustrator pays us a visit and shares some of themselves with us, and your visit was no exception! Your advice to someone who wants to be an illustrator is excellent advice for anyone. Thank you very much!