Interview with Illustrator Riley Samels (We Are the Rainbow! The Colors of Pride)

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What made you want to be an illustrator?

I’ve always had a knack for illustration. Not to have a big head but my art teachers throughout my schooling always told me I was their favorite. Because illustrating was always so fun to me, I wanted to pursue my hobby as a career.


How did you get started?

After graduating highschool I pursued a degree in graphic design with a focus in Illustration and Animation. From there I would work on my portfolio in my free time and sought to find work. 


How did you get started in children’s books?

After graduating college, I started work in the greeting card industry as an Illustrator for pop-up greeting cards. The work I was creating for that studio was so close to children’s lit work that I decided to make the jump and find an agent to pursue more literary work.


What is your advice for a beginner artist?

Find your style. I know it sounds cheesy but what makes you unique is what everyone around you will respond to and want more of. Draw or write what makes you passionate. People love to watch someone gush over something they are heavily interested in. And meanwhile it’s rewarding to put work into the world that you are invested in. 


What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up?

I remember my parent’s renting the studio ghibli film Spirited Away from the local library. Seeing that animated film was a life changing moment for me. I knew I wanted to create art like that. From there it branched into other animation studios, like Laika studios, Cartoon Saloon, Studio Ghibli, and of course Pixar. To emphasize my last point, what I really enjoyed and took inspiration from these films was how different their styles were. Their perspectives were all wildly different and I really enjoyed it. 


What’s your favorite thing to draw? / What is your favorite drawing or painting in your portfolio and why?

I love drawing bugs. And frogs. And wildlife in general. I’m a huge outdoors person and take a lot of inspiration from the wildlife around me. 


What’s your favorite medium that you work in?

Almost all of my work is done digitally, specifically on my iPad in a program called procreate. When I have time to dig out the art supplies I do really enjoy working in gauche. 


What was it like illustrating We Are the Rainbow!: The Colors of Pride? What is your favorite page?

Illustrating this book I feel was really important  for me. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I’m so passionate about representing minorities in my work, and knowing that I can not only represent them but impart some deeply meaningful values and history from my culture was so important to me. The page I probably gravitate most towards is the green spread, as I really resonate what it stands for as well as an avid fan of gardening. 

And just for fun, what is your favorite color? 

Pink. However, as an artist, I’m very specific about what shade of pink. I love a dusty mauve.

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