Self-portrait illustration Jessica did to advertise herself as an illustrator on social media and on Storyteller Academy.


Today, I’m excited to share a success story from Jessica Mercado. Jessica is one of the friendliest, hardest working members of Storyteller Academy. It’s been a pleasure to get to know her better.


Q:       What is your background?


A:        My professional background is in Corporate/Franchise Marketing and Graphic Design. I have a BA in Fine Art from Cal State East Bay where I focused on pictorial art. I took one creative writing class in college but was too focused on my art to think about being a writer (even though my professor was encouraging me to pursue it). I’ve done quite a few commissioned paintings on the side since college but usually just by word of mouth.

It never occurred to me to be a children’s book creator until I discovered Storyteller Academy on Facebook last spring. Felt like a light bulb went on inside of me and now I’m trying to learn as much as I can about this industry and jump in with gusto.


Jessica's Art Style


Q:       I love your art style. Would you mind sharing a few more pieces with our blog readers?


Illustration for our regional SCBWI’s travelling sketchbook.


A:        This was a fun exercise done over the year. One sketchbook traveled to an illustrator to fill up to three pages, and then that illustrator forwarded it to the next illustrator on the list. The sketchbook will be displayed at the regional conference. The prompt was “Stories Connect Us.” It was a neat way to get to know the other folks active in our region.


Here is the series of three illustrations I did for the 2018 SCBWI Narrative Art Award contest: The prompt was “Misunderstood Monsters.” You can see everybody’s submissions in their online gallery:


My colossal squid monster just wants a hug, poor guy . . . rejection stings, eh?



My most recent drawing is just a funny idea I had for Valentine’s Day called “Puppy Love.”



Writing Her Own Stories


Q:       How did you start writing and illustrating picture books?


A:        In high school, I remember creating a comic book of a paraphrased version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night for an English project. I wish I still had it! My Viola (and other characters) looked like Disney animation characters, since I was always fascinated with animation. I made up my own superheroes and tried writing for fun with my friends.

After graduating and going to college, I left all that stuff behind for some reason. I don’t know why, but writing and illustrating picture books never occurred to me as an actual career until last year. I’m about to turn 40 and feel very much like a newbie next to my fellow classmates at Storyteller Academy, who have been working on their dreams for years and years.

I didn’t start writing seriously until spring of 2018, so I only have a few dummies started and plenty of sketches. I haven’t even begun to query or submit anything yet. I’m focusing on building a portfolio for now.


Winning the Logo Contest


Q:       You recently won the SCBWI Spring Spirit 2019 Logo Contest for your region. Congratulations! Your entry was adorable! Could you tell us about your experience?



A:        Yes! This was a huge surprise. I joined my local region right after starting Storyteller Academy and attended one of their illustrator meet-ups at an art museum in Sacramento, CA. I heard about their logo contest and entered during the holidays.

The Illustrator Coordinator, Chad Hunter, contacted me in December to let me know that I had won the contest but needed to work with him on some changes before it was ready to be used. Working with him was a 2-week crash course in illustrating 101, which was awesome. He is an illustration professor at one of the universities here in Central California. And he'd also won a portfolio mentee award at the last SCBWI International Convention in Los Angeles, CA. I learned so much in that short experience and am so thankful for this opportunity to be featured at our region’s upcoming spring conference as the logo winner.



Her Regional SCBWI Conference


Q:       So you’re going to be recognized at your regional SCBWI conference in May. That’s pretty exciting. Could you share how that works?


A:        As the winner of the logo contest, the website and promo materials feature my logo, and I won free early registration to the conference. I also got an exclusive invitation to have dinner with the faculty the night before the conference. I will be introduced to the guest speakers, editors, agents, directors, and other faculty that will be attending the event, which will be great exposure. Tim McCanna is one of the keynote speakers, and he is also teaching an intensive for Storyteller Academy later this year. I’m looking forward to meeting him too.


Advice for New Storytellers


Q:       Do you have any advice for storytellers who are just starting out?


A:        Just jump in! I’m not a naturally extroverted person, but I am eager to learn and connect with people in the industry. Even though I am new to the scene and don’t have years of experience or piles of manuscripts in my back pocket, I just try to put myself out there, make friends, and learn as much as I can. This attitude has helped me get noticed. And because I’m honest about my experience (or lack thereof), most people are quite encouraging. So being humble, kind, and eager to work hard seem to be a magic mix.


Don’t be like Grasshopper and be more like Ant. Get into the habit of working.


Illustration done for Instagram #folktaleweek drawing prompt event.


Where You'll Find Jessica Mercado


Q:       What’s next for you?


A:        I’m in Makers Pro at Storyteller Academy, so I’m continuing to take courses and soak up as much as I can. My regional spring conference is coming up on May 4, so that’s my deadline to get my portfolio pulled together, postcards printed, and my dummies as polished as possible. I’ve begun researching agents to see who might be a good fit but won’t begin to query until I’m confident my dummy is polished enough to pitch.


Here are some sketches and a character study illustration for the story I’ve been focusing on lately. I’ve only done half a dozen revisions, so it’s far from ready. My SA critique group has been helping me through each revision. Hopefully they don’t get tired of it by the time it’s ready to send out for submission. HA! I’m really trying to follow Arree’s advice and not spend too much time on finished art but focus more on getting the story and pacing right first.



Q:       Where can we find you on the Internet?


A:        I have a website that I quickly threw together upon winning the contest using The URL is It’s only a couple months old, so I haven’t started blogging or anything yet. I’m also on Instagram as @jessica_mercado_vv_mama and on Twitter as @vandvplayhouse.


Thanks, Jessica!