Student Success Stories: Adriana Hernández Bergstrom

I have a fun interview with Adriana Hernández Bergstrom for you today, and a book giveaway at the end of this post. We're just going to dive right in.

Myrna: What is your profession?

Adriana: I’m an artist and illustrator.

Myrna: What made you want to start illustrating picture books?

Adriana: I’ve always loved art. When I went to art school, my original intention was to be an illustrator for kid’s books, but the university eliminated the traditional illustration track my second semester. I was a scholarship student and did not want to give that up, so I went into printmaking and theatrical set design instead. I worked at so many creative things, fearing I wasn’t good enough to be a kid’s book illustrator, having missed the right training.

Fast forward to a few years ago, I overcame that insecurity after exhibiting at a commercial art tradeshow and getting the feedback multiple times that my greeting card characters and critters were quite suitable to picture books. That’s when I finally decided to give it a shot. The response to my work has generally been very positive, and it’s been a very encouraging (albeit slow-moving) industry.

Myrna: I'm so glad you gave it a shot!

Your picture book with Vanessa Keel, BOOMER AT YOUR SERVICE, released on October 15. I know that including diversity was important for both of you. Can you tell us how that played out?

Adriana: I am Cuban-American and grew up in a multicultural, multi-generational and multilingual household. I lived with my grandparents, and it was generally considered the hub of the family. This meant that our house was always full of visiting cousins and extended family. I was a big reader as a kid, and honestly I didn’t really see picture books that reflected my experience.

Working with Vanessa Keel on this book, it was important for us both to showcase characters with different looks and abilities. It was her intention from the beginning to spotlight a human character with a visible disability. I think it helps foster a more empathic and loving world by including people of all kinds in picture books. Hopefully it comes across in BOOMER AT YOUR SERVICE.

Myrna: Oh, I absolutely agree with that. Thank you for sharing your experience.

When you write or illustrate a picture book, you’re only telling part of the story. Do you have any tips for our readers on making collaboration go more smoothly?

Adriana: It helps to have a collaborative mindset from the start. Everyone on your team has the collective goal to create a successful book. If you go into long projects like books with a team-member mindset, it helps keep things in perspective when you face challenges and/or self-doubt.

Myrna: That's great advice.

You mentioned being willing to share your process from thumbnails to finish. I would love to see that. Did you do everything digitally?

Adriana: No, I don’t do everything digitally, I still like doing thumbnails by hand. I get into internet rabbit holes quite easily so I try to avoid them when I’m starting on a project. 

Myrna: Thank you! I learn so much from seeing another artist's process (and I also have to avoid internet rabbit holes)!

How has taking Storyteller Academy classes changed the way you approach picture books?

Adriana: I’d say Jim Averbeck’s course was pivotal in helping me learn a method for revising that is incredibly pragmatic and appealing to my sense of order.

Vanessa’s class on Character Design gave me more confidence to pursue my characters in my own style.

And, I’m currently taking Arree’s Making Picture Book Dummies course to help me overcome my weird mental block about turning my manuscripts into dummies. It’s been really supportive and demystifying. Just do the dummy! Just get out your initial ideas on paper and doodle in the margins. Make an ugly thumbnail dummy. It’s okay. Just start. You’re going to be okay. Here’s a hug:

Myrna: Awwww.

Do you have any advice for readers who’d love to illustrate picture books?

Adriana: Don’t quit your job … yet. If you have a stable and well-paying gig, keep it! I am someone who battles a lot of money-related-anxiety. My advice to keep your day job is rooted in the thinking that being insecure about income makes it more stressful to produce work. My more general advice to aspiring picture book illustrators is to make more work. Turn off social media (which is a huge distraction for me), and make more work.

Myrna: That's fabulous advice. Elizabeth Gilbert basically said the same thing in BIG MAGIC.

I don’t want to be greedy. You’ve already shared a lot with us, but would you mind telling us the story about making a GIF for your author? Please?

Adriana: I had a very short deadline/turnaround time to make the gif leading up to the book launch … and I had to re-learn how to animate digitally practically overnight. Back in the early 00’s I did pixel animation for fun. I’m talking 8-bit painting pixel-by-pixel art. Anyway, I worked late into the night doing Photoshop layer animation to get the GIF to look like Boomer was panting and looking cute in a party hat. I made the GIF using transparent layers like tracing paper, and it was much more time-intensive than anticipated (like most things you agree to do on the spur of the moment!). But after all that laboring, we couldn’t figure out how to share it on Facebook and Instagram! In the end, I did figure it out, but it took me a hot, panicky minute on the day of the book launch.


Myrna: I love it! What's next for you?

Adriana: I’m currently illustrating a lifestyle knitting book. I should be able to share some of it in 2020 (hopefully!). I also have several author/illustrator manuscripts in development and some in submissions. Crossing fingers one of my author-illustrator manuscripts out on submission gets chosen for publication!

Myrna: How exciting! My fingers are crossed for you!

Where can readers find you on the Internet?


Myrna: Where can we buy your book? 


Myrna: Thank you so much, Adriana!

Book Giveaway Details

I'm giving away a copy of Adriana's book. To enter, let me know something that you've learned from Adriana in the comments by midnight on November 22. You don’t have to buy anything or be a student. 

Please share this post on social media for extra entries, and paste the link to wherever you shared as a reply to your original comment.

Thank you for reading!

Blog Contributors

Instructor Photo: Myrna Foster

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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