Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Illustration Friday: Instinct

Joe Bearamore was all ready for a leisurely dip in the pool when his instincts told him that there was honey nearby. It should be noted that if your neighbor is a bear, and you break open a box of Honey Nut Happios that you'll probably be having an unexpected guest for breakfast.

After posting days of conference notes I thought this blog was in desperate need of some illustration. I wanted to experiment a bit this week with a different background texture, and with a slightly different color palette.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

2009 SCBWI Winter Conference -Sunday

The final day of the conference started off with the Portfolio Awards. Big congrats to all the winners! I was glad to have been able to meet honor award winner, Pat Cantor, who's portfolio is stunning!!

It was an especially exciting moment when Cecilia Yung announced that my conference buddy Leeza won the Tomie dePaola Grand Prize Award!!! Her work is amazing! I can't wait to see her books on the shelves. :)

Our first speaker of the day was brilliant author extraordinaire, Bruce Hale, who treated us to a song. I recorded a portion of it on my little camera, and asked Bruce's permission to post it on Youtube. To which he replied that it was ok as long as he didn't hit any clunker notes. I didn't hear any, and thought it was a fabulous start to a great speech. You can view it here. One thing I realized at the conference is that besides illustrating I would like to write my own stories, and after being amongst so many talented writers I know that to do that I have a lot to learn about how to write a good story. So, Bruce also sent me a link to sign up for his newsletter filled with writing tips to keep me inspired. In his speech, Bruce said that during his childhood he lost someone very important to him. His tv died. His parents said they couldn't afford a new one, and that's when he learned that a book can be a man's best friend. Kimberly J. Sabatini, who I met just briefly in the lobby when she and her friends were coming back from dinner with Jay Asher, wrote up a great recap of Bruce's 8 recommendations to middle grade writers.

The agents panel consisted of Michael Sterns, Edward Necarsulmer IV, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, and Michael Bourret. It started with a discussion of the topic that is on everyone's mind this year, the economy, and how it will effect the industry. On the plus side, children are the last ones that people are willing to scrimp on. It was pointed out that John Steinbeck found a way to profit from the depression, and that, "Most people don't realize that there is as much money to be made from the wreckage of a civilization as the building of it." That's a bit grim, but maybe inspiring as well?

The wonderful Richard Peck then took the stage, and reminded us that "We can't be fired. We're unemployed." He gave us eloquent words of encouragement, and story writing advice. He said at some point the story needs an epiphany. He says he only gets one idea at time, so he always thinks this one will be the last. He said a manuscript is like a sick friend that you don't want to leave alone for too long. Richard said, "We hunt. We gather. We observe. We listen to other's stories and research."

Jack Gantos was our final speaker. Jack Gantos is one of those people I could listen to all day. He has such a distinct, colorful inflection to his voice, and a wonderful way with words into which he injects tons of great humor. He said the best part of a story is when the character is affected by change. I'm afraid I don't have more notes from his talk because it was our checkout time. You can find more at the Official SCBWI 1oth Annual New York Conference Blog. You can also find some better photos there.

We wrapped up the day at the Autograph Signing where Jarrett Krosoczka signed my copy of his 'Punk Farm On Tour', and Jay Asher signed his 'Thirteen Reasons Why' which I'm glad I bought the day before since they sold out. (see pics in last post).
With hungry overtaking us, I walked over to Pershing Square with Andy, Leeza, and Sara, and we had an early dinner, and reflected on the last few days. We were all feeling the conference 'buzz'. I'm so glad I went. It's a great introduction to the business, and provides more then any Google search can. It's also very honest. No one told us that it would be easy. To be successful takes an enormous amount of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, and most likely a bumpy road with setbacks and disappointments. But, if you truly want to write and illustrate for children that passion can be is it's own reward.

Something about being in that SCBWI crowd felt right, so I plan to keep working to be a part of that world, and to go to more conferences to meet more great friends!!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

2009 SCBWI Winter Conference -Saturday

I wanted to wrap up the rest of the conference, but I'll keep it brief because Alice Pope did a nice job of live blogging the event with photos. You can read it here and here.

The main event started on Saturday with all of us illustrators and writer folk, all 1056 of us, in the main ballroom. It's not often that I get to hang out with so many creatives, so this in and of itself was a treat. Lin Oliver and Stephen Moser reminded us that this isn't high school, and in this group it's cool to stick out your hand and say hi.
Our first speaker was award winning author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka who talked to us about the highs and lows of the the biz, and about changing gears. In 2005 his book, Punk Farm, was going to be turned into a movie by Dreamworks, but then in 2006 the movie 'Barnyard' came out, so his movie deal was scrapped. Personally, I would have preferred Jarrett's rock star farm animals to whatever 'Barnyard' was any day. I mean, really, can anyone yet explain to me why the boy cows had udders?

Jarrett shared with us the process of turning Lunch Lady into a graphic novel.

Then he showed us his new video with multiple cameos from well known kid's lit stars. It's a must see for any children's book junkies: BOOK BY BOOK: the making of a monkey man

Jarrett said he was working at a camp for kids with cancer when one day he had just read a bad review, and bumped into Paul Newman, the camp's founder, who told him to not pay any attention to reviews. Newman said nothing good comes from reading reviews. The good ones will give you a big ego, and the bad ones tear you down. Jarrett also mentioned that at his very first conference he was sitting all alone at lunch, and none other than my Illinois chapter's very own Esther Hershenhorn came over and befriended him. I can see why he's always remembered this since I was fortunate enough to meet Esther last November at my first local meeting. She's one of the most supportive and encouraging people you will ever meet.

Then it was time for my first breakout session with Tamson Weston, Senior Editor at Hyperion. She said she's always loved music lyrics, and she still loves the rhythm of the words. She talked about how wonderful it was to work with Adam Rex on 'Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich' because of how receptive he is to feedback.

My second breakout session was with Caitlyn Dlouhy, Editorial Director at Antheneum Books, and imprint of Simon & Schuster. She likes picture books with a twist and feisty characters. She publishes based on voice, and not plot so much because she says she can help or change the plot, but she can't create a good voice. She said that revising is just as important or more important than writing.

We were then back in the ballroom for lunch, the highlight of which was the delicious mini cheesecake. Jay Asher gave a wonderful keynote speech titled "How to Sell a Book in 12 Years or Less. He broke down his journey year by year and agent by agent. In 2003 he wrote the first 11 pages of Th1rteen R3asons Why, but didn't know if he wanted to spend time on such a serious topic. He talked about the importance of entering the SCBWI joke contests, and how Henry Winkler was once in the audience when Jay won, and later asked if Jay would be interesting in doing a show, which didn't happen, but it's still a cool story. He gave an amazing speech that had everyone caught up in the emotional moment when he thanked his wife for supporting all his efforts towards his first published book. She broke down in happy tears, and many in the audience shed a couple too.

My last breakout session was with Timothy Travaglini, Senior Editor for G.P. Putnam's Sons. He's looking for: great voice, narrative tension, a strong first line - first paragraph - first chapter. Someone asked if he's ever regretted passing on a book that later became a big hit with a different publisher. He says that he knows a lot of people who have passed on books that became popular, and that none of them regret it. He says that if he had worked on it the stars may not have aligned the same way for him. There are so many intangibles in the process. The book was fated to go where it did. This was especially encouraging for me to hear. I love that it's all about creating the best work. He also said that it's not just about getting published, it's about staying published, and for that you have to keep at it.

We were then all back in the ballroom for our final speaker, Richard Jackson. He said that we should write not as teachers, but as artists. He said, describe what you see, either actual or imaginary. He said, so many books today are written like movies, but there's so much less to imagine in a movie.

Wow, I really need to learn how to summarize with fewer words. I'll write up Sunday in the next post.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Illustration Friday: Celebrate- 100th Post!

This is a late post, and I'd still like to finish coloring it, but I thought it was too perfect that it was my 100th post, and I wanted to celebrate along with the IF topic since most of the posts here have been created for Illustration Friday. So woohoo 100!!!

I came back from the SCBWI conference inspired and energized, but my head is so packed with information that it's left me a bit unsure of which way to go, and ended up making my mind short circuit and go blank temporarily. I heard a lot about what to do and what not to do, (see previous post), but I'm still uncertain of where to take my style. I think the conclusion I come to is that the only direction to go is forward, and to let my style to continue to evolve naturally, however that may be. The fun thing for me with these IF topics is never knowing what might end up on my sketchbook page. So, I need to turn off that part of my brain that likes to over think everything, and let the creative process do it's thing.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

2009 SCBWI Winter Conference - Art Directors' Panel

The Art Director's Panel was one of the most helpful parts of the day for me. By listening to them critique 3 pieces of art from 30 different illustrators we got to hear what they are looking for. On the panel was Giuseppe Castellano from Simon Spotlight, Scott Piehl from Disney Book Group, and Carla Weise from HarperCollins.

They said they are looking for a distinctive style with a strong narrative and strong characters, strong color, and strong composition.

In an artist they look for: dependability, creativity, humor, ability to be part of a team, and someone who understands that nothing is personal. It's about creating the best work.

Their criteria for judging good art:
• Impact
• Craft - proportions, correctness (Is it a dog or a horse, a child or a short adult?)
• Idea/Concept - Do you want to know more about the story?
• Appropriate for market?

Detail is good as it gives children something to take a second look at. There should be as much concentration on creating a good background as the characters. Be careful about creating work that looks dated. Characters should not be too 'Disney-like' unless you want to work on stories with licensed characters.

When sending 3-4 samples there should be a consistency. Don't show type in an illustration or they will concentrate on that instead. Makes sure art is not too editorial which is a singular image that you can't see the narrative in.

They are looking for something they haven't seen before.

Giuseppe said it's important to send good artist samples without too much information-your contact info type needs to be only big enough to read. Your postcard will only be looked at for 10 seconds. If it's bad it will be thrown away. Don't send anything gimmicky-no puzzle cards. One good postcard is all it takes.

Scott said he prefers mailed samples over email. He's looking for artwork with high impact.

Don't send 10 styles to one art director. If they can't see a consistency they still don't know what to expect from you. Instead, if you work in multiple styles send one style per art director, and make sure to do research to know who would like that style.

Giuseppe says he goes to blogs. He says he loves them because he gets access into your head. And they all love websites and portfolio sites because they can forward your link easily.

After my head was spinning with all the info from the Intensive, which was indeed quite intense, Leeza and I headed off to the Wheeltapper Pub with awesome illustrator friends, Pat Cantor and Andy Mitchell, and fabulous writer friend, Sara Wilson Etienne for the Kidlit Cocktail Party hosted by Betsy Bird and Cheryl Klein. I met agent Stephen Barbara, and the amazingly talented illustrator/art director, Laurent Linn. It was great meeting SCBWI members in a casual setting. I met another Angela, Angela Russell, a writer who was there with her sister, and we had a great chat with NY Times Bestselling author, Jay Asher, who was so wonderful and humble! It was a great first day in NY.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

2009 SCBWI Winter Conference - Illustrators' Intensive

The sun rises over New York as we approach the city

I wanted to post up my notes from the conference as soon as I got back, but here we are, and it's been about 2 weeks, and I'm still trying to process the amazing weekend. I've been wanting to go for a couple years, and decided that this year I must go, but then I started to have doubts as to if I was 'ready'. I contacted Leeza, and after a long talk we decided to be roomies, and it was so wonderful to be around her amazing energy and positive generous vibes.

Day 1 of the conference was the Illustrator's Intensive. On the way down in the elevator a kind woman enters from another floor. Leeza introduces me, and tells me this is Lin Oliver, the Executive Director and co-founder of SCBWI. What a wonderful way to start the conference!

After grabbing some bagels we file into the room with chairs and nice narrow tables which are great for note taking and resting one's plate of toasted bagel halves and ice water. We are told that revolution is upon us. Whatever worked in 2008 will not work in 2009, and 2010 will be a whole new game. We are entering a period of redefinition and reinvention. Our speakers exemplify this. Change is a permanent part of their portfolios. We will redefine children's books.

Leo and Diane Dillon

Our first speakers were Leo and Diane Dillon who are the only illustrators to have won the Caldecott 2 years in a row. The married couple has worked together for over 50 years, and they were a treat to listen to. Their strength has been their flexibility and their ability to change with the times. They talked about painting layers on acetate, and learning new techniques like tapestry, and woodcarving, and stained glass looks for the first time during actual illustration jobs. They said you learn fast when you have to. I am amazed at how they worked together on the same projects. They said they worked in shifts, and always respected each others space by asking permission if it was ok to look at the others' work yet. They jokingly said the biggest advantage to working as a team is that you can always blame the other one, or the other one can fix it.

We then had our first workshop on digital painting with William Low. He likes to work with a full screen in Photoshop without any palettes showing, so he has memorized just about every keyboard shortcut there is. I don't know if I could fully commit to working that way. That's just a little too much info for my brain to handle. For me it would be like working blind. I like to see my layers palette growing, and my history, navigator, and menu tool bar. To paint digitally Low said to treat layers in terms of physical space, so your foreground, middle, and background are on their own layers. In designing for a book we're not just creating pretty pictures. The type and art must fit like a dovetail joint. He provided many tips in blending , color settings, etc. that even a Photoshop expert could benefit from.

Grand Central Station

Then after dropping off our portfolios and a very quick lunch picked up next door from Grand Central Station it was onto workshop #2 with Elise Primavera. Her advice is that in order to do something fresh do something you are completely unqualified to do. At one point she thought she had nothing to say, and was not a writer. She was living at home with her parents at age 40, but then she wrote a successful children's book. She is now finding success in the graphic novel market which we often heard at the conference is the hot new trend, especially as the format relates to picture books. She split us off into groups, and we created the beginning of a paneled story by each of us introducing our characters, and then passing it to the next person to continue the story. This exercise was a good introduction to the basics of storytelling for me. After some initial confusion it ended up being a lot of fun, and some people went up to act there's out.

After all this the day 1 Intensive was still not over. The Art Directors' Panel is coming up in the next post.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Importance of Quality Drafting Chairs for Illustrators

A great illustrator has many tools at their disposal. While some tools like pencils, pens, and paper are considered staples in the art community, there is another tool that is equally as vital to the creative process. Sure quality art supplies make an artist's job easier, but it's not all about what goes into your hands. Sometimes it's what goes under your butt that matters most. I'm talking of course, about a drafting chair.

Creating art requires great focus and countless hours of hard work. When you first begin a new project, you want to make sure that you are as comfortable as possible. Most artists spend hours slumped over a desk or drafting table, deeply immersed in their work. Very few people consider the physical toll that this can take on your body. When sitting down and digging into a long project, it is important that you sit up straight and have the proper support for your back. Ergonomics aren't just for the office. The more comfortable you are, the easier you'll be able to focus, and that level of concentration will surely be reflected in your work. Having a quality office chair or drafting chair will help ensure that your back will stay straight and upright. This will help make the hours less painful, at least from a physical stand point.

Many artists now-a-days also use computers for digital illustration, graphic design, and photography. The same rules that apply in an office setting hold true for artists as well. You need proper back support or you're going to regret it later. When logging in long hours on a project, the proper posture can help relieve stress, which is always helpful. Different chairs come with different options and some are definitely better suited for your body than others. Try to find a chair that has been labeled 'ergonomic' to help make sure it will help you maintain the proper posture.

You should find a chair that best suits your artistic projects. If you spend long hours at a computer desk, then an ergonomic office chair would be your best bet. If you work primarily at a drafting table however, you would be best suited to use a drafting chair. Drafting chairs differ from office chairs, in that they site much higher off the ground to accommodate higher drafting tables. They also usually come equipped with a foot rest to prevent your feet from dangling awkwardly.

Not only are these chairs good for your body, but finding a designer task chair can help create a modern and fashionable workspace. An artist's desk is the focal point of their studio. It's the first place your eye is drawn to, so you want it to say something about you as an artist. Choosing the right task chair can help accent your desk and turn it into a stylish centerpiece for the room. An artist's work area is the heart of their studio and everything needs to be functioning perfectly in order to create the perfect environment for artistic creation.