BFA in Illustration alumna Julia Denos is living her childhood dream as a children’s book author and illustrator.
A 2005 graduate of our Illustration program, Denos spends her days gathering inspiration and information, breathing life into a fantasy world of color.
Her latest work a picture book titled “Windows,” is her solo authorial debut, meaning that she wrote the text while good friend and fellow local illustrator E.B. Goodale created the pictures. The picture book, depicting an early evening walk through a neighborhood while buildings light up as twilight softly descends, hit shelves on Oct. 17 and Denos and Goodale have been making to rounds to bookstores and schools, reading and taking audience questions. Her busy travel schedule includes a stop at the Boston Book Festival on Oct. 28 where she’ll lead a “window-making” art activity with participants.
From passion to career path
Denos always knew that books were her passion and set off to parlay that into a career with the support of friends and family members.
“I pretty much grew up wanting to make books. I grew up watching ‘Reading Rainbow’ in a family that valued books and bookmakers,” she says. “I loved that you could be a bookmaker when you grew up. I was always writing and drawing and I stuck with drawing through school.”
Illustration was her mode of natural self-expression, from drawing on her own in her room, to illustrating her spelling tests, to drawing inspiration from artists she met.
“Authors came to my elementary school in Connecticut, like Tomie dePaola, and that was a real inspiration to me. I loved ‘Strega Nona.’”
Important internship leads to Candlewick connection
Denos was prompted by a high school art teacher to look at Lesley’s College of Art and Design – then the Art Institute of Boston (AIB) – for the unique undergraduate illustration opportunities. She knew she’d found the right fit when she saw that people were making pictures books here.
She lived on campus in Cambridge for all four years, participated in the Peer Advisor program, and secured an internship with Candlewick Press that began immediately after graduation.
“I was helped so much by the rigorous course load, seven courses a semester,” recalls Denos. “Then, I got the Candlewick Press internship the first summer I was out of school.”
Her internship in Candlewick’s art submissions department wasn’t related to writing or artmaking, but turned out to be the best possible introduction to professional publishing as she worked on filing incoming illustrators.
“I was watching this process happen in real time,” she says, “and I was able to see what art directors were looking for.”
When the internship wrapped up, Denos moved home to Connecticut, continuing to create and build her portfolio. An agent reached out to her after finding her work online and from there, she was paired with her first text to illustrate through a publisher.
“The agent found me through my website. It was a requirement at AIB to leave with a website, but I was easy to find,” she jokes. “I think there were about 15 websites on the internet back then.”
Collaboration and publication
These days, Denos works from her home studio in Quincy, Massachusetts, fielding requests from publishers and taking on pieces that speak to her. Though she could work anywhere, she feels a strong connection to the Boston area.
“I was a student here and I this is where I became independent for the first time. It feels like home,” she says.
There is no typical “day-in-the-life,” for a children’s book author and illustrator, though once Denos commits to a project, a routine tends to emerge. She’ll email back and forth with authors, artists and graphic designers, becoming familiar with the book, laying out text, creating thumbnail sketches, and then proceeding on to the finished piece. Depending on the type of collaboration, she’s either writing and illustrating on her own or solely providing the artwork. And exercising, which she advises all illustrators and authors to do.
“I exercise every day,” she says. “I got injured once so now I always tell artists to exercise because you can get injured from sitting hunched over all day.”
Her work on “Windows” marks a new way of creating for her that she’ll be sharing around the Boston area now through December, by visiting libraries, bookstores and schools. Through her dedication and lifelong love of book-making, Denos has become the inspiration that sparked her own fascination back in elementary school, visiting schools as a professional bookmaker and sharing her own stories with the next generation of storytellers.