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Transforming Passion Into a Profession

by Art U News

Visual development graduate Michelle Laurentia Agatha illustrates children’s books for her fellowship at Room to Read

By Caroline Andrade

Academy of Art University’s School of Visual Development (VIS) alumna Michelle Laurentia Agatha recalled being read to by her parents as a kid. Children’s books allowed her to build her imagination while also serving as a great source of entertainment.

During her last few semesters at the Academy, she enrolled in children’s book illustration (ILL 385/485) classes taught by School of Illustration instructor Julie Downing, where she learned how to produce and illustrate children’s book. “I fell in love with illustrating children’s books,” said Agatha.

After graduating from the Academy with a B.F.A. this past spring, Agatha started interning at a nonprofit called Room to Read, an organization recommended to her by Downing. Room to Read works with underdeveloped countries to publish books in children’s local languages and provide support for girls’ education. “I’m working in the literacy part where we help illustrators and authors in nine major country offices around the world,” she said.

An illustration by Agatha for Room to Read. Photo courtesy of Michelle Laurentia Agatha.

“We help illustrators and authors in those countries who are not as privileged, so they can produce their own book. We help them [with] resources and information to publish their own books.”

For a Laotian textbook, Agatha created illustrations within the actual textbook as well as the cover. She has also contributed smaller illustrations for children’s textbooks. In addition to illustrating, she has also worked on editing the English translations of the books.

Another project Agatha worked on was creating an illustration workshop for the office in San Francisco. “The people from each department were grouped into teams and each of the teams created their own version of classic fairytales such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, and others,” she explained. “After that, we helped the team create quick character designs and half-sized book dummies. We chose the best three books and illustrated them.”

Three months into her internship, Agatha was offered a fellowship with the nonprofit and Downing couldn’t be prouder of her. “They liked her so well, they created a job for her. They’ve never had a fellowship before and now they do so that she can be paid and work full-time there, so that’s been wonderful,” said Downing, adding, “Just the fact that she could enter this very busy, million projects, somewhat chaotic work environment and just get right in there and start working … she’s quite amazing that way and she’s using a lot of her illustration skills as well.”

She credited the Academy for preparing her for this opportunity and future illustration-related endeavors. “I learned a lot about the importance of shape language, composition, visual hierarchy, colors, and basically, about the base of creating a good design and good illustration,” said Agatha. “From that, I bring it here as an employee to try to make the design as good as possible and help others.”

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