The miracle month

You might have noticed that the blog has been left with the lights still on, but untended lately.  Not a lot of discussion about illustration, drawing or painting has been going on here.  I’ve been distracted by worry — not an uncommon ailment in families.  Yes, I’m going off the topic of children’s book art — just for today. Because  I want to explain whats been happening and ask your indulgence in my failures to post this first quarter of the year.

My stepson Glenn had been taking an intravenous drug to keep his multiple sclerosis in check. It was a true wonder drug, brand name, Tysabri that had allowed him to remain at work in a demanding telecommuting job and stay highly engaged as a wonderful parent, with his wife, of two small children.

family photo

Perhaps the drug worked too well. It completely suppressed his immune system, leaving him vulnerable to an intruder, a strange little virus carried by most of the  human population – the John Cunningham (JC) virus.

Glenn’s first symptoms were failing vision, weakness, blurred speech and a loss of balance. Just after New Year’s Day he was diagnosed with progressive multifocal leukoencephalitis,  a rare, often fatal viral disease (called PML for short, mercifully.)

The virus, which most of us catch in early childhood, never troubles us much — unless our central nervous system immune barrier stops working. Then it can pass from the blood into the brain and trigger the condition of PML.

PML attacks the myelin sheathing of our nerves. Myelin is the white tissue of the brain, an electrically insulating material that wraps our nerve fibers and actually speeds the transmission of electrical signals.

In fact the auto-immune disorder MS acts the same way as PML, chewing up these insulated nerve pathways and leaving scars that block the nerve signals. But PML is more aggressive and there’s no medicine or cure for it except the body’s  natural immune defense system.

Tysabri molecules were removed from Glenn’s plasma in an emergency series of blood transfusions.

But it didn’t slow the progression of symptoms.  Over the next few weeks we watched in helpless terror as he lost his vision, his abilities to speak clearly and remember what had been said to him just  moments before.

His brain stopped communicating with the left side of his body. He could no longer walk, sit or hold up his head (although he still had use of his right hand and  right leg. )

myelin sheath diagram

A watch and wait vigil began. Glenn’s own immune system (suppressed since 2006 by the the Tysabri) would have to wake up and confront the virus.

But that first month, his body did not want to engage the enemy.

He was moved from the hospital into a skilled care nursing facility.

No one knew where this was going — not even his doctor, a highly regarded MS specialist.  Glenn was his first case of  PML induced by Tysabri.

A new threat appeared, even more life-threatening than PML.

Glenn was now joining the battle. But sometimes when a CNS immune system awakens to danger, it over-reacts. The result is the brain swelling, like you see in severe head injuries.

Steroid drugs were administered to counter the  inflammation. Doctors wanted Glenn to fight — but not overly hard. They wanted to manage the immune reaction like a controlled burn — and wait for the forest fire (the PML) to rage itself out.

There was nothing for us to do but hope and say our prayers. There was nothing for Glenn to do but try to survive

He turned the corner ten days ago. His sentences became longer and his speech, more coherent. (I should say that a therapist at the center had been working with him every morning on these abilities.

For the first time in nearly four months, he moved his left foot.  The next day Glenn was  lifting his left leg off the bed, demonstrating for anyone on the floor who could stop and watch.

One evening while he sat propped up in bed, visiting, his left arm moved on its own. It straightened out a little at the elbow, almost as if by accident. Glenn paused mid-sentence. He looked at his arm and started to cry.

“I don’t want you to think I’m crying because of pain or sadness,” he told us. “These are tears of joy.”

Last night I saw Glenn stand by himself — and my eyes had difficulty believing the sight. His nursing attendant Blanca was helping him from his wheel chair to his bed. But she didn’t pull or lift him this time. She just stood close for support. “Okay you can do it, Glenn,” she said.

He raised up somehow on both legs, holding on to her shoulder for balance. He turned a quarter of a circle and sat himself on the bed.

He has a long road ahead and he knows it.  He’s still blind. Yet his vision, or much of it could return.

He’s still quite weak — his muscles have atrophied after four months in bed. But the therapy will be stepped up and expectations are for him to be able to walk again.

His MS has not gone away — and Tysabri is no longer an option to help him. But we’ll take — and celebrate  — this day and future days as they come.

His physician, therapists and caregivers have been superb and kind.  Glenn has shown uncommon bravery, toughness, patience and wisdom (typical for him, really) — as has his family.

The most devastating thing I’ve ever seen has turned into the most extraordinary thing. We’ve seen enough miracles unfold in the past few days to last a lifetime. Or maybe I should say, we’ve seen enough miracles now to know that life teems with them.

So, if you’ve seen me not “showing up” lately here’s my why —  my “dog ate my homework” story.

To my friends: if I’ve seemed distracted while dealing with you since the first of the year or rude in the way I’ve not responded to invitations or replied to e-mails or phone calls, please excuse, understand and forgive me.

Now that things actually might be returning to normal, I’ll take my cue from Glenn — and strive for improvement.

Portfolio Room

Portfolio room at the Austin SCBWI 2012 Regional Conference, “Something for Everybody” at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas

And you thought this was a blog about children’s book art crafting…

Oh, it still is. I have photos of the Houston and Austin SCBWI 2012 regional conferences and from Dan Yaccarino‘s Picture Book workshop and  some interviews from the 2012 Digital Heroes Tour to share with you in the coming days.

There’s a one- question trivia contest newly up on the other blog.

We’ll select a winner Wednesday so there’s still time for you to enter.  The winner will receive a link to Dauntless Design, a lesson from the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! online course.

I have a guest post up on the KidlitArt blog — part of their Picture Book Dummy Challenge series. The topic is how to turn a thumbnail scribble into a full-sized finished sketch. I think you’ll enjoy checking out the entire series of guest posts on the blog there and reading the chat transcripts for the KidLitArt Twitter sessions on Thursday nights that you’ll find there.

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Conjuring a young witch’s world in watercolor

University of Texas BFA grad Marsha Riti worked at her first creative love, ceramics before she saw an opportunity to make some extra money with her studio art craft — illustrating books for children.

She did some additional study (including taking my class at the AMOA Art School), joined the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and built up her portfolio.

Eventually she landed the assignment from Pelican Press to illustrate the picture book The Picky Little Witch by Elizabeth Brokamp.

In these excerpts from a video interview she did for students of the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! online course, Marsha shares her process for illustrating a picture book.

Her technique of patching together and occasionally manipulating her watercolor illustrations in Photoshop has served her well.

Her blog that she fills with her images and interviews with her illustrator and artists friends caught the attention of an agent, which led  to a contract to illustrate a series of chapter books for the Little Simon imprint of Simon & Schuster.

In the slideshow below you can see Marsha garbed as her witch-in-training heroine at last month’s book launch party.

She’s joined by friends from her Austin SCBWI illustrators’ critique group, the Girlustrators who came out to support, babes and broomsticks in tow.

Marsha Riti signs at BookPeople, surrounded by her Girlustrator pals.

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InteractBook contest winners announced

Our judging team has named the winners for the create your own iPad
book app  contest by InteractBooks.

The first place winner in the contest for creating an interactive book using the InteractBuilder software received an iPad2 and a publishing contract.

Other contestants received prizes, too.

First Place –  It’s Time for Carrots by Dan Byrne

Second Place –  Put the Ow in Meow by Adreienne Jervis

Third PlaceThe Magic of Lizzie Boo by Leslie Dennis

Coming in fourth and neck in neck with third place – CAE Club gets Ready for a Great and Scary Halloween by Ann Kesselman.

Congratulations to all contenders!

Stand by for some videos about the entries, an interview with the winner and news about the next InteractBooks contest.

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Read a fun post by South African artist and new student Helga Pearson about the Marsha Riti interview and her experience of her first lessons of the Marks and Splashes course.

Find out more about the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! online course on illustrating children’s books in a changing publishing world.

Karien’s Creative Cache

We first interviewed children’s illustrator Karien Naude of South Africa back in May 2009. Back then she was just starting, completely self-taught as an artist and working as a paralegal at a law firm in downtown Johannesburg.

By Karien Naude

Art by Karien Naude

She was among the first students to sign up for Make Your Splashes Make Your MarksSomehow we were friends from the start — because Karien is — well — that sort of person.  Even my mother wants to adopt her.  (Unofficially she has, with Karien’s bemused consent — though I should say Karien has loving parents and family in South Africa.) Still, she’s h a citizen of the world, with a network of artist friends that extends to the Austin, Texas SCBWI illustrators’ community,  New York,  the UK and New Zealand.

Karien's telling of a Sherlock Holmes tale

A lot has happened since 2009. She’s gone full time as a free-lancer. She’s learned — taught herself, tons about the craft and business of illustration.  So it really is time for another visit.

She’s a huge Tolkien and Terry Pratchett fan.  She’s been on safaris. She loves to cook and loves music so much so that you’ll rarely catch her drawing or painting without her earphones on.

Remember as you read her responses to my interrogation that English is not her first language. Her native language is the Afrikaans of her ancestors, Dutch Protestants who settled in southwestern South Africa in the 17thcentury.

In 1979 she agreed to serve as a bit of a guinea pig for the ongoing experiment of my online course.  She’s actually been ready for us to check in with her.

Mark:  Karien, when we last talked with you in 2009, you were working with South African comics group Comicworx Studios and you worked full-time for a Johannesburg law firm. You had not published yet, not yet hooked up with the South African SCBWI chapter.  All you knew was that you wanted to try to illustrate some children’s books. Can you bring us up to date on yourself since then?  

Karien: Since I started your course in 2009, my life changed dramatically. I’ve switched my mind from comics to children books and I know more what children like and in the procces I’ve rediscovered my inner child again.

Now I hang out more in the children’s section at the book stores or at the library than in the fiction and comics department. I’ve also done a lot of research and now I know more about the market and have a good understanding of how publishers work. My dream was always to do illustrations full time. It was very hard work, but this year it came true.

I’m now a full time freelancer doing work for four major publishers in South Africa. I also joined SCBWI in South Africa and I’m learning so much from the other members. I’m always inspired after meetings.

Karien Naude in "Artists Alley" at the RAGE Convention

Mark: You’ve been doing illustration for several Macmillan academic titles and some education presses, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Maskew Miller Longman.

Can you tell us about some of these assignments, how you got them, what it’s been like doing them and how you met those deadlines?

Karien: I’m part of a professional webpage for South African illustrators and we usually get work through them. They sent out an email one day stating that Macmillan Educational needed an  illustrator and that if anyone was interested, they should forward their portfolios directly to the art director.

Karien's blog banner

I never worked for publishers, but I took the chance and forwarded my portfolio. I was leaving for the UK the next day for a holiday and that afternoon the art director, Mandi Laign phoned me and gave me my first brief.

I had to do 30 illustrations in 2 weeks! I never had a holiday as planned. I was working 24/7 on the illustrations. But it was my big break.  Since then a lot of publishers have seen my work on my blog and online portfolio and have contacted me directly.

Educational illustrations are very hard work and the deadlines are very tight, so I actually go into my “Zombie” mode where I don’t sleep and sometimes don’t even eat, cause time is so precious.

PostPigeon by Karien Naude

By Karien Naude

In the beginning it was very hard because I was working full time at the law firm. I worked until 5 and when I got home I started working on the illustrations. I got used to sleeping three or four hours  a night.  A lot of illustrators don’t want to do educational because it’s very hectic. But I learned to draw faster and to trust in my ability to push and work hard.  At the end this gave me the change to become a full-time illustrator.

"Shadows" by Karien Naude

Can you talk about the transition you’ve made in the last couple of years from doing pencil sketches and some airbrushing to experimenting with watercolor and digital paint programs?  Which mediums have served you the best and do you prefer? How do you teach yourself to use these new art techniques and tools?

Watercolor was hard in the beginning because I wasn’t use to it.

It was messy.  My colors didn’t come out right and they looked muddy.  The paint ran over my lines and I was feeling like crying.

But I took out some library books and learned the tricks and tips working with watercolor and now it’s the medium I prefer above the others. I got Corel Painter and I played around with it. With my first brief with Macmillan Education I used Corel Painterbecause I didn’t have time to wait for paint to dry and it was easier to make changes they needed.

I still learn a lot about Painter and I do enjoy doing digital illustrations, but you will always find me in the garden painting with watercolors.

A jaunty Alice by Karien Naude

What went into your decision to try free-lance illustration full time? What was it like for you prior to that,  doing illustrations for clients on a part time, moonlighting basis?  

In the beginning,  it was great working part time for clients because I was still an amateur and the briefs or projects were little.  So I worked at night and weekends.

But becoming professional it started to get harder to work at night. The briefs got bigger and I didn’t have enough time to finish things up. As I mentioned before I didn’t sleep much. I had to turn down a lot of work from publishers because I knew I couldn’t make the deadline and it was very hard on me. But all the payments I received for my work,  I saved up and when I had enough, I made the decision to beccome a full time illustrator.

Bookmark by Karien Naude

Karien crafts her own "wicked" (her word) bookmarks, which she sends out as promotional mailers, along with postcards and other items. This one netted an immediate phone call from an editor.

What are you thinking about when you start an illustration? What about when you get to the middle of the process and what about when you decide your about to finish a picture? Can you walk us through your process a little?

Well usually I start with “day-dreaming” about the picture. I draw and paint in my head so that when I actually start with the illustration I know exactly how it will look and what I must do.

When I start I usually put the radio on and then my thoughts are put in a cage and I work with a clear mind and in this state I can work for hours and hours not realizing that I’ve worked the whole day.

I can’t work in silence. I was also told by a teacher that some students study with music on and they get great results.

Can you walk us through some of these images and share with us how you got the ideas, who were the pieces for and how you executed your final versions of them?

I usually get my ideas by what I’m doing at that moment. I get ideas from listening to music, watching movies or reading books. I was reading Alice in Wonderland when I did Alice and the White Rabbit. The mouse and the Lizard I did a few years ago as part of a commission to do pictures for a baby’s room and I fell in love with the characters and started playing around with them, adding background or dressing them up.

Now that you’ve got some real experience as an illustrator for hire, what are your goals now as an illustrator for children’s books? Have your goals changed? What activities, education, training and/or networking do you see yourself doing in the next six months to a year to help you achieve some of your important held goals?

My first goal is to have my own picture book published in South Africa and the UK which I’m still working very hard on.

I always dream that I would walk into a book store and see my own picture book with my name on it on the shelf.

On the educational side,  I want to try and do work for all the educational publishers in South Africa.

The next phase begins next month and I’ll be busy for 2 or 3 months again. In October, I will promote and sell my work at a very big convention in Johannesburg , called Rage. It’s a technology convention where they show the latest technology in the computer industry, as well as the latest games.

Karien Naude

Karien Naude sports elfin ears at the Rage Expo, a technology conference in Johannesburg. Photo by Kay Carmichael

Our comics / illustrators / designer group have an “artists alley” every year and a lot of game developers walk around the alley seeking illustrators to do work for them.

Hopefully, I’ll learn more about ebooks and how they will change children books. I’m also busy putting up my work for online prints at RedBubble. By this I’m hoping to get my illustrations to the public to enjoy and to get my name out in the world.

Art by Karien Naude

How is that Zulu folktale picture book you’ve been working on coming along?

It’s been two years since I started with the Tokoloshe but I can gladly say that I’m finished tweaking the writing. Going from 1000 words to 500 words is very had to do. But I’m happy with the final result. I’ve started thinking about the illustrations and it’s almost planned out in my head, but the next stage for me is actually doing the dummy book. This will hopefully be done before the end of the year.

Karien, what advice and practical tips would you give an aspiring illustrator , say someone who is in the shoes you were in two years ago?

Do lots of research, be passionate about what you do and work hard. Don’t let your dream fade away.

Be annoying. I know it sounds funny, but send your portfolio out a hundred times to publishers. You’ll fade out of their minds if you don’t, but if you send them postcards, bookmarks or portfolios regularly, they will start remembering you and you will get work.

Don’t be upset if you get rejections. At first it bothered me a lot. but its part of our illustration world. You get use to it and sometimes you see the funny side of it and will laugh out loud when you get them.

In the end it’s worth it and you’ll be a happy illustrator living your dream. If you need help, I’m always there.

Karien Naude

“Little toddler feet and hands all over my wall…”

Children’s book illustrator Patrice Barton begins a picture book with a spiral ruled notebook that she soon fills with ideas, tactics and to-do checklists related to the project.

It’s almost as if the words come first. The drawings, which for her are a series of tireless explorations only a tiny fraction of which make it to the book, spring forth after she’s worked out the notions, notations and marching orders for herself.

In the previous post she told how she assembled her scraps of sketches on tracing paper to develop finals for Sweet Moon Baby by Karen Henry Clark (Knopf Books for Young Readers.) This time she reveals the earliest stages of her artwork for the picture book Mine! by well-known children’s author Shutta Crum.

Released in June, Mine! is Patty’s second book for Knopf.  Patty’s work for Mine! is being included in the Society of Illustrators Original Art Exhibit, 2011!

At the end of our video interview minutes before class time at the Art School of the Austin Museum of Art Patty walked through the F&G’s for her third Knopf title, Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine by Knopf editor Allison Wortche — due for publication in December. Here are sophisticated first graders, not babies or toddlers. With their glances, gestures and placements on the pages, Patty orchestrates a very funny elementary school drama of evil plans, remorse and redemption.

Watching her interpret Wortche’s scenes as text gives us insight into how she thinks about her characters and re-constructs a story in its most telling images.

SCBWI happenings for your calendar

Southern Breeze Illustrators Day poster

Southern Breeze Society of Children’s BookWriters and Illustrators Illustrators Day   – Friday, September 2 on the lower floor of the DeKalb County Public Library, Decatur, Georgia.

Kristen Nobles, art director for Candlewick Press will give the keynote, Thinking Visually: The Illustrator as IlluminatorKristen Nobles

Michael Austiin will mentor 12 illustrators (first come, first serve) with an assigned project before the workshop. Also featured will be Robert Agis, Editor from Sterling Children’s Books, Illustrator Mike Lowery  speaking on Self Promotion and Sketchbook  and picture book author Laura Murray. There will also be a portfolio review.

The Annual SCBWI Eastern PA Illustrator Day, Saturday, September 24 is a one day intensive at the University of Pennsylvania Golkin Room,  at the Perelman Quadrangle featuring Clarion Books senior designer Kerry Martin. Kerry’s workshop involves an exciting pre-workshop home assignment. You’ll receive the assignment when you register. He and illustrators agent Kirsten Hall with The Bright Agency will be doing portfolio reviews.

Storytelling in the Digital Age – Embrace the Change  – Saturday, October 8 at St. Edward’s University, Austin Texas. Austin SCBWI symposium on the fast-evolving  e-publishing scene features presentations by professionals who are doing it in the Austin area and the key address, via Skype by SCBWI Executive Director Lin OliverSCBWI  and Digital Storytelling.

St. Edwards University, Austin Texas

St. Edwards University, Austin Texas hosts “Storytelling in the Digital Age”

Other scheduled sessions:

Creating and Maintaining Your Web Persona by Erik Kuntz,

Standing Out in the E-book Crowd: Storybook Apps, Enhanced Content, and Digital Marketing Extras by Deanna Roy

Your Story as Electrons: Breathing Life into Words in the Digital Age by PJ Hoover

There’s an App for That by the illustrator and art director of  Spider, the Secret of Bryce Manor  Amanda Williams

Spider - the Secret of Bryce Manor

“Spider – the Secret of Bryce Manor” game app

How Do They Do That? Creating Digital Books by Meridith Blank Taylor

From Oop to App: The Transformation of Picture Books to Apps by Lindsey Lane

Paper to Pixels: The Art of the Digital Paintbrush presented by Clint Young

Extranormal: The Storyteller’s Dream Software
 by Zack Gonzales

YouTube and the Science Behind Visual Learning by Joel Hickerson

Storytelling in the Digital Age: Imagine by InteractBooks’ Ezra Weinstein

Children’s Book Illustrators and Technology by the Girllustrators

Social Media 101 by Nick Alter

Getting Discovered: Why You Should ABSOLUTELY Give Your Stories Away for Free by Bear James

Traditions and Technology: The Transformation of Children’s Publishing  is the theme of this year’s North Central/North Texas SCBWI regional conference, October 7-8 at the Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. The Saturday event features Simon and Schuster art director Laurent Linn, a line up of editors from Scholastic and Random House, an agent from Andrea Brown and authors Bruce Coville and Tammi Sauer.

More fine notes

Illustrator Amy Farrier’s blog Three Ravens Press has a great interview with talented illustrator and Etsy artist Audrey Lopata. Audrey meanwhile, interviews illustrator Dallion McGregor on her blog  with fun results. (Dallion was recently interviewed here about his winning logo design for the Storytelling in the Digital Age Symposium.)

Hugo Cabret

School Library Journal asks Brian Selznick about many things, including his new illustrated children’s novel Wonderstruck  (Scholastic) and the Martin Scorcese movie adaptation of his Caldecott Medal-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Read the story here.

An online course on illustrating children’s books, Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! shows you how to draw nearly anything, unlock beautiful design and color in your art and what to do, step by step when you land that assignment to illustrate a story for a book, magazine or digital product. You can read more about the course here. 

Patrice Barton's "Rosie Sprout"

When kids’ book illustrators go wild…

Children’s book author-illustrator Jeff Crosby says he came up with the idea for his funny new picture book, Wiener Wolf  (Hyperion) while he was in the shower one day.

For a long while after that he asked his wife author-illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson if she would write the story for him so he could paint it.

Shelley suggested that he try his own hand at putting just the right words together in just the right order to tell his story.

Then he’d be that appealing combination (for some children’s book editors) — an author-illustrator.

Jeff’s response was to work up a little pencil sketch dummy that told the story without any words at all. But later his and Shelley’s agent urged him to add at least a few words to his pictures — to appease that segment of the market that believes that picture books are meant to be read.

The result is Wiener Wolf  about a dachshund who hears the call of the wild and decides that he’ll leave Granny’s home  to run with the wolves.

The release party for the book is Saturday, July 2nd at BookPeople, 11:30 a.m.  (Yes, there is a dog costume contest, but check the store for details.)

For anyone in the Central Texas area Jeff will teach a University of Texas informal class on illustrating children’s books starting Tuesday, June 28 at 6 p.m.

The above video is from a 90 minute interview I did with Jeff and Shelley for students of my online course on children’s book illustration Make Your Splashes-Make Your Marks.

You can see a little more from that interview here.   

And  you can see how their four year old daughter Harper responds to her daddy’s picture book below.

Author-illustrators Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby

Author-illustrators Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby

* * * * *
Mark Mitchell hosts this blog and conducts the online course Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! that teaches how to draw and paint for children’s books and other media.

How to win a logo illustration-design contest

Debbie Gonzales, the regional advisor for the Austin Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators wanted a logo.

Dallion's logo

Logo design by Dallion McGregor

Ideally,  the logo would have to say a lot on its own about the premise of our upcoming symposium Storytelling in the Digital Age: Embrace the Change.

We (Debbie,  Austin SCBWI assistant regional advisor Carmen Oliver and I,  as the chapter’s illustrator coordinator)  decided to put a call out for entries.

Dallion's thumbnail pencil sketch for logo

Dallion's original sketch for the logo

Our talent pool would be the Austin SCBWI illustrators community and students, new and old, past and present of my online children’s book illustration course and classes at the Art School of the Austin Museum of Art.

Dallion's line art final after revisions

Dallion's line art final after revisions

The winning logo would be used to help promote the conference and also appear on the conference program and other materials.  The winning designer would be paid to create the final art for the logo he or she had dreamed up.

We asked for rough thumbnail sketches first.

Any one of the many little pencil drawings  that came in as a result would have resulted in a fun, solid logo for our event.  In the end, the nod went to Dallion McGregor, one of our chapter members.

He spoke to us recently. To help with illustrating this interview post, several other contenders in the contest graciously consented to having their entries included in this post.

1.) What made you decide to enter the contest?

Dallion: I entered the contest primarily to help focus my efforts.  I often practice at home, but it’s nice to see something to completion.  If someone is waiting for a finished product it’s harder to get bogged down and over-think it, which seems to happen more often with my personal projects.  I also wanted to prove to myself I could win.

2.) Can you talk a little about your background? How have you happened to attract so much logo design work in your biz?

I used to love drawing when I was a child, yet as a young adult I foolishly overlooked this passion. Distractions and detours eventually led me to a fairly successful career in the tech industry, but despite having obtained a comfortable lifestyle, I soon discovered I wasn’t happy.

thumbnail sketch idea by Ressa McCray

Thumbnail sketch idea by Ressa McCray (U.S.A.)

I began keeping a journal and painting on the weekends, and slowly, my creative side began to re-emerge. In some epic search for myself, I moved from Los Angeles in 2006 and have found Austin a good spot to let this little sprout grow.  It’s been wonderful.  In addition to the fertile creative soil, the lower cost of living has allowed me to devote more time to personal development.

I’ve picked up many logo design gigs simply from knowing people with small businesses.

Often I’ll work for barter. I don’t mind cutting friends a break. It’s good practice anyway!

3.) What brought you into the Austin SCBWI community and how have you benefited by being a part of this group?

You reeled me in, Mark!  Children’s books have been so important in my life, when I saw your class “Children’s Book Illustration” being taught at the AMOA Laguna Gloria campus, deciding to attend was a no brainer.
In that class you introduced me to many new concepts, including the SCBWI.

H.T. Yao's thumbnail for the logo

H.T. Yao's thumbnail for the logo (U.S.A.)

Since then, the Austin SCBWI chapter has been an incredible resource.  I find illustration to be a very solitary experience, but when I emerge from my studio, it’s nice to know the Austin SCBWI is there with encouraging words and a tried and tested roadmap to publication.

4.) What were the challenges you saw in creating a logo for a conference on digital publishing. What ideas did you want to communicate in your logo?

I think the biggest challenge when designing a logo is communicating an idea clearly and quickly. A logo doesn’t exist for its own sake, like a painting. It’s there to essentially advertise, or point to something larger, like a business or event. So the best logos relate their message effectively. Bonus points if it elicits an emotion.

 I saw the announcement for the logo contest, considered entering, but did nothing about it for a few days.

During this time, I suppose my subconscious mulled it over, because by the time the deadline approached the image was there in my head.

That said, it does seem the logo communicates some relevant ideas:

1.) That digital publishing is the next evolutionary step in children’s books and

2.) It doesn’t have to be scary.  In fact it can be exciting and fun.

The night seems to represent the end of an age, while the sun represents a new day dawning.

It almost looks like the children can step into a new world, which is a powerful and magical motif, and how we authors and illustrators feel facing this transition to digital publishing!

color thumbnail sketch by Jenni Davies (South Africa)

Color thumbnail sketch by Jenni Davies (South Africa)

I also feel this logo is effective because the children are dwarfed by this thing we call technology, which while uncomfortable to acknowledge, has become a sort of god to us. We give it our money, our attention, we spend time learning it, and in return it gives us power like never before. Technology is godlike and I think that comes through in the piece.

5.) How do you go about brainstorming for “best images” to communicate your main ideas in a logo design?

The subconscious does the idea making, I just take the credit. Random doodling seems to help.

6.) Can you discuss your process in creating the first rough pencil sketch?

The initial drawing was very crude. Details were not important, nor were proving my drawing skills (I referred you to my website for that). The only important thing was getting across the concept. Since there was no guarantee I would be chosen for the job, I only spent 15 minutes on the initial thumbnail sketch.

Thumbnail sketch by Sylvia Liu

Thumbnail sketch by Sylvia Liu (U.S.A.)

7.) Can you discuss the process of turning your rough sketch for the Digital Publishing Symposium logo into a more finished pencil sketch?

I’m leery of using pencil under-drawings because I feel it undercuts the spontaneous energy of the finished image. Using a ruler to make lines is a big No-No for the same reason. I usually draw directly on the blank page using a Micron mechanical pen. When drawing I’ve learned not to fear mistakes, since it’s easy to erase stray lines later in Photoshop.

I draw each element separately because it removes the stress of creating a single flawless image.

With this project I drew the books and e-reader on their own, then drew the children, the dog, the stars – all separately – then scanned them into the computer and pasted the pieces together in Photoshop.

Dallion's children sketches

This is an effective way for me to work and also seems compatible with the way app designers work since they want the art separated on different layers.

8.) Can you discuss the process of turning your finished  sketch into a colored rough and then final art?

When I’m happy with the finished line work, I print multiple copies on 90lb Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.

Thumbnail sketch proposal by Paola Tavoletti (Italy)

Thumbnail sketch proposal by Paola Tavoletti (Italy)

With multiple copies I can try different color schemes and not be tense about making mistakes. After getting a watercolored version I’m happy with, it’s re-scanned into Photoshop and further adjustments are made.

In this case I added tone, shadows, and a glowing effect around the edge of the e-reader’s screen. With this method I’ve found a happy compromise between traditional and digital techniques.

9.) What is the next project you plan to tackle related to children’s illustration? Care to tell us a little about it?

I’d be happy simply continuing to hone my craft.  I do this through daily practice and by creating gifts for people. There are a few stories I have floating around that would be fun to illustrate and I hope to start producing more of these soon. I try not to think about creating for the masses. As long as I’m having fun, good things will come.

Thumbnail by Pascale Mackey

Sketch proposal by Pascale Mackey (U.S.A.)


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Angela Black answered the question that was put to readers of this blog in the spring:  “What epiphany in connection to drawing, painting or children’s book illustration have you experienced in the past year?”

Illustrator Joel Hickerson (far right) shows his illustrated storyboard for an animated video "chalk talk" to students in the children's book illustration class at the Art School of the Austin Museum of Art

Don’t grow up too fast!

Epiphany Essay # 3

by Angela Black

You may already consider yourself a mature artistic adult, but the most
effective tip I have discovered when drawing for children is to look at the
world through “their” eyes. It all begins with *perspective* and the best
advice I can give a would-be children’s illustrator is to do the following
three things:

1. Surround yourself with children! You have to get to know your
audience, and the more personally you take this on, the better your artistic
perspective will be.

2. Become an analyzer of children’s art!  No, not the art made
“for” children, but rather the art made by children! Look at the pictures they draw, and see what stands out most to them. What attracts their eye, excites their imagination, etc.?

Ask young artists questions about the pictures they draw. “What is that?” “Who
are those guys?” “What are they doing?” “Why?” etc.

3. Draw with children!  This is one of my favorite things to do! Find a
child (or several) who likes to draw and who would be willing to draw “with

Let the child lead the way. You may suggest a topic but let the
child tell you what is happening in the picture by asking questions and
drawing whatever the child would like you to add.

Draw on the same piece of paper with the child and remember to *follow the child’s lead*, because you want to see art through a child’s eyes.

When drawing for children, it truly pays off to get a clear insight into their world, and in doing so, you might just have so much fun yourself, that you “feel” like a kid again too!

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Cool conferences to consider:

Coming up this month:

Florida SCBWI Illustrators Intensive

Join Lucy Cummins, associate art director with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Priscilla Burris, SCBWI National Illustrator Coordinator and  author- illustrator  Linda Shute for a one-day event for committed illustrators who wish to hone their craft through hands-on activities and discussion.  Read more and register for the Saturday, June 24  SCBWI FLorida Illustrators’ Intensive 2011.

North Central North East Texas SCBWI Illustrators Intensvie

Join author-illustrator Richard Jesse Watson in several interactive character busting exercises designed for both writer and illustrator in an Illustrators’ Workshop June 25th in Arlington Texas.

In this one day event by the North Central/North East chapter of the SCBWI, HOW TO HUNT, HOGTIE, & TAME A PICTURE BOOK CHARACTER: Character and Story Development Techniques for Writers and Illustrators of the Wild and Elusive Picture Book  you’ll learn how to track down stubborn picture book characters and develop their true selves.

You’ll also discover ways to think outside your own boxes and create memorable picture book text and illustrations based on character driven discoveries.  Read more about it.

Coming up in August:

SCBWI Summer Conference

It’s the big one.  Get the scoop on this year’s SCBWI National Conference in Los Angeles, August 5-8.

Coming up in September…

The Southwest Texas  SCBWI Fall Conference,  Saturday September 17 in San Antonio, Texas featuring Beach Lane Press Editor Andrea Welch and Balzer and Bray Editor Kristin Daly Rens, along with agent Elena Mechlin, InteractBooks publisher Richard Johnson,  author Diana Bertrand Gonzales and online media specialist Kim Murray. Read more and sign up here!

Coming up in October…

NCNE Texas SCBWI Regional ConferenceThe North Central North East Texas SCBWI chapter annual conference, Traditions and Technology  in Arlington Texas, October 7th and 8th features Simon and Schuster Art Director Laurent Linn,  illustrator Alan Stacy and editors from Delacorte,  Scholastic and a host of top authors and agents from top literary agencies.  Read more and sign up!

Austin SCBWI special symposium:   Storytelling in the Digital Age: Embrace the Change ! — October 8 features illustrators Erik Kuntz, Clint Young, Amanda Williams, Ezra Weinstein,  Joel Hickerson, picture book author and playwright Lindsey Lane , author P.J. Hoover and many other emerging stars in digital publishing.  The highlight will be the keynote presentation via SKYPE by the SCBWI National Executive Director (and co-founder) Lin Oliver, about the SCBWI’s stance on digital publishing and how to evaluate those publishers and opportunities in the new marketplace.  Oh my gosh —  Read more! 

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