Artist Interview: Sarita Rich

Artist Interview: Sarita Rich

SaritaRich-HYPNOSIS-HARRYNo pajamas at the park. No toys in the toaster. Harry’s parents say no to everything! That is, until Harry learns about hypnosis.

With a little practice, and Grandpa’s watch, Harry puts his parents in a trance and envisions a future full of fun and yes’s!

Comic books by the crate, night-vision goggles for his teddy bear, a pet monkey (or two)—no request is too big or too bizarre. Harry loves his new freedom and, not to mention, all that bacon. So what if his robot goes rogue and playmates are hard to find? But when his ninja moves result in a playground pile-up, Harry starts to wonder if he really wants his every wish granted.

Hypnosis Harry is a wildly funny, sweetly silly look at the real meaning of the word no. Children will delight as little Harry answers the delicious question: What would you do if you could do anything? This charming romp is perfectly captured in the lively, layered illustrations of Sarita Rich. Each read reveals clever new details, making this the perfect reread for parent and child.

Sarita Rich bio picGrowing up in rural northern Alaska, Sarita spent lots of days snowed in, decorating the living room walls with Pollock-esque compositions in purple crayons.

She loved art but studied English teaching first, and taught middle school language arts for several years before moving to Rhode Island. Sarita rediscovered paintbrushes as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design.

One day, she wants to ride in a hot air balloon and have two cats named Bodoni and Didot, but she’d also settle for a red panda. Sarita lives in California with her lively little daughter and marvelous husband. Occasionally the little girl sleeps and the husband does laundry so Sarita can draw and write.

Now for the interview. I learned a lot from talking with Sarita, so I hope you’ll enjoy it (and take notes!).

I met Sarita as a grad student. We were both in the English department, and if I remember correctly, Sarita, you were studying British Literature?

Yes, I was writing a thesis on references to alchemy in Shakespeare’s Othello, teaching 7th grade reading and language arts part time, and teaching a first year writing course as part of the grad program—doing a little bit of everything.

That’s a lot to juggle! You’re incredibly smart and a fantastic writer, so I knew you would be successful at whatever you did, but I was surprised that your first big publication was as an illustrator, not a writer. Can you tell us how you ended up where you did?

In grad school I was a summer institute fellow with the Central Utah Writing Project (CUWP), where I rediscovered personal writing after so many years of academic writing. CUWP got me thinking about picture books. When I moved to Rhode Island shortly after grad school, I went to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) to create pictures for my own stories. In two years at RISD, I learned about the picture book industry, the book making process, and watercolor painting. A few months after RISD graduation, I agreed to illustrate HYPOSIS HARRY. Shortly after the book’s release in March 2016, I signed with Lara Perkins at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Now you’re working on writing and illustrating your own book, correct? Can you tell us anything about that?

I’m working on my own stories, but they’re still in the concept development stage. I wish they were ready to come out of hiding! I can say that I’m illustrating Laura Krauss Melmed’s THE MAGIC HOUR (forthcoming from Sky Pony Press). It’s a father and son story about the evening ritual of exploring outside and settling down before bedtime.

That’s so exciting–congratulations! You have a really great discussion of your process on your website, so I would encourage everyone to pop over there and read it, but could you tell us briefly about your methods and what inspires your art?

I work in traditional and digital media: drawings printed on watercolor paper and colored with watercolors and colored pencils, with textures added digitally. I started illustrating while living in apartments without room for studio space and the high-tech equipment I dream of owning one day, so I’ve always worked on a laptop (using the trackpad to navigate PhotoShop!) Childhood memories are a great source of inspiration, as well as being around my own child and other people’s kids.

Your portfolio is amazing. Your art is beautiful and so unique. How would you describe your style? (Check out Sarita’s art portfolio HERE)

I would say it’s “cute.” But smarter people have said it has the “vintage charm but modern palette and textures of Sergio Ruzzier’s or Eliza Wheeler’s work.”

Are there any artists you’ve been particularly influenced by?

Early at RISD, teachers said my pencil sketch lines weren’t bold enough. Looking at Molly Idle’s line work has been insightful. When another RISD teacher said I didn’t know how to use color, I found the color palettes of Juana Martinez-Neal inspiring.

Could you describe the typical creative process of developing an idea or an image?

For my own stories, I MUST have the words down first before sketching. While I’m waiting for the words to set, I’ll make notes about what might be included in the pictures. Most of my writing process is revision, now that I know what true revision entails. Thank you Mette Ivie Harrison. I recently discovered her great discussion of what it really means to revise.

Sketching starts with taking notes about first impressions after reading Sarita Rich--Process of sketchinga manuscript. Then I work out loose, sloppy doodles and thumbnail sketches for what I want in each spread. I lay out the thumbnails side by side, arranging them in order to see, at a glance, if there’s variety in perspectives and how the pacing is coming along. Next, I work on character design. I draw characters in different poses with different facial expressions that serve as references while I continue sketching. Then I create more refined sketches at 50%, enlarge them in PhotoShop, print on watercolor paper, then proceed with color.

Did drawing under a deadline for Hypnosis Harry affect your creative process? In what ways is it different than drawing for yourself?

The deadlines didn’t affect my process as much as other life changing events. My first baby was born two weeks before the HYPNOSIS HARRY offer. I was also prepping coursework for an online university writing class I’d never taught before. It was grad school all over again—doing everything at once! With a baby and part time teaching, I no longer had long blocks of time to draw. I had to learn to maximize productivity during more fragmented periods of time.

Apparently we need to have you back for another interview about how to manage time and pull everything off so well! What would you say is your strongest skill as an artist?

One thing that comes to mind is being able to handle subject matter on opposite sides of the spectrum. HYPNOSIS HARRY, for example, is a silly story with chaotic action; THE MAGIC HOUR has a quieter, more lyrical tone but there’s still plenty of movement and lively moments in the illustrations. And drawing swing sets—both books happen to have playground scenes with swings!

As a writer?

Being teachable and open to criticism.

Okay, now that the hard questions are finished, let’s do the shotgun round! Tell us your favorite:

Artist: Lisbeth Zwerger

Author: Roald Dahl

Book: To Kill a Mockingbird, Sophie’s Squash, Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters

Movie: The Goonies

Television Show: Parks & Recreation

Treat: Uninterrupted work time

Best advice for aspiring illustrators?

  • Join SCBWI and go to the conferences.
  • Find comfort in discomfort. Researchers find that the moSarita Rich--Find comfort in discomfortst creative people are those willing to explore more than one solution to a problem. Creativity is about wrestling and playing with a problem long after you’ve arrived at the first solutions that come to mind, which can be a mentally taxing and uncomfortable endeavor as you delay gratification while searching for the best solution. This isn’t news, but bears repetition. Molly Idle says it better here, referencing this lecture by John Cleese on creativity. National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones, known to use 400+ rolls of film to achieve just the right shot, offers a similar take on this perspective here.

What’s something people don’t know about you?

I have hardly any experience querying! I’ve only queried two agents to date. I met agent #1 at the Big Sur Writing Workshop in December 2013. My book dummy was really rough, but I splurged on airline tickets and went anyway. Agent #1 actually liked the story and asked me to submit revisions when I was ready. Then in May 2014 I met agent #2 from a different agency at my first ever SCBWI conference. I submitted to both agents in July 2014 and received kind, insightful rejections. I gave up on submitting, and then HYPNOSIS HARRY came along. In fall 2015 I started working on my own stories again when agent #1 invited me to resubmit. Several months later, I sent five manuscripts to agent #1, thinking, “Why not? What’s the worst that could happen?” THEN, while waiting to hear back, agent #2 emailed with news that she had joined the ABLA family and was wondering if I was still seeking representation. So eventually, I got to choose between two stellar agents from the same agency. So, people, it can happen!

I’m completely jealous of your lack of querying experience, but I know you’ve worked hard to get where you are.

Thank you so much for your time and insight, Sarita. It was so fun getting to know more about you and to enjoy your beautiful artwork. We look forward to watching Harry and your other successes moving forward. Best of luck!

Get your copy of Hypnosis Harry:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Independent

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