A ‘Writing Process’ post

My friend, San Antonio SCBWI Illustrators Coordinator Akiko White recently tagged me to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour. It was fun because it got me thinking about how the kind of online journalism I’ve been doing lately is much like the writing I’ve always done as an author-illustrator of three books for upper elementary grades, a free-lance writer and small town newspaper reporter.

Seeing Stars

“Seeing Stars: McDonald Observatory and its Astronomers” written and illustrate by Mark Mitchell (Eakin Press)

The questions are the same for everyone, so I’ll get right into them.

1.) What are you working on?

I’m writing educational content to stitch together the more than 100 videos I’ve made for my online course on illustrating children’s books, Make Your Marks and Splashes.

It feels like writing copy for a very large magazine article — or a big nonfiction book, requiring that same organization and the continual effort of trying to say more with less, which is the writer’s burden and bliss.

2.) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’d like to answer this from the perspective of someone who has written nonfiction books for children. In researching and reporting my subjects, I try to create a vivid sensory experience and a feeling of place to try to put the reader inside the situations I’m writing about.

I also like to have a a storyline — if I can find it in the material.

"Raising La Belle" cover

“Raising ‘La Belle': the Story of the ‘La Salle Shipwreck'” written and illustrated by Mark Mitchell (Eakin Press)

3.) Why do I write what I do?

My reporting experienced has influenced how I write.

I try to follow the rules of journalism while also remembering that I want to incite the reader to keep reading, to go on to that second paragraph.

So I think that curiosity and suspense are ways to hold a reader (of any age) and also a way to set fire to a reader’s imagination, which helps the reader to identify with a story.

In a creative nonfiction story those suspense-creating elements must arise from a foundation of solid reporting.

As children’s nonfiction author Russell Friedman has said, “A nonfiction writer is a storyteller who has sworn an oath to tell the truth.”

4.) How does my writing process work?

First research and making notes, then interviews, followed by lots of personal observation of locales, if possible and making more notes. Then a few thumbnail outlines, trying to tease out the ‘plot points’ ‘dark moments’ and the climax, if I can find them in the material.

Next a rough draft, ‘the sloppy copy’ as they say in elementary school, typed in an inspired burst or a series of inspired bursts over many months.

Then editing, untangling all those knots of bad prose fishing line. Simplifying, smoothing out and lots of cutting, until the language feels alive and like it has found its voice for the story.

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Next up on the tour, author-illustrator and watercolor fine artist Rob Smith who will post next Monday April 7 on his own writing process — writing in words and pictures. Rob is the author-illustrator of the Kindle e-book, Undead Ted as well as the author of the self-paced video course, Buildling EZ Picture Books for Kindle.

And author-illustrator Laurie Edwards whose first-in-a-series new YA book, Grace and the Guiltess (Curious Fox – UK) under her nom de plume Erin Johnson has just been published. Three other books in the WANTED series will be coming out in May, August, and December, Laurie says. Laurie’s in the middle of edits on her NA/adult nonfiction book, Cyber Self-Defense, written with cybercrime expert Alexis Moore, which is set to release in October from Globe Pequot.

Stay tuned for more details/authors on the Writing Process Blog Tour.

“Speak the language.” Children’s book illustrator E.B. Lewis shares his emotional work and words

Earl Gradley Lewis demonstrates at the Austin SCBWI conference

“Art is a language,” Children’s book illustrator E.B. Lewis told a roomful of illustrators, aspiring and professional. “Speak the language.”

What is a language, Lewis asked. “In spoken language, it’s the letters of the alphabet that join together to form words, then paragraphs. And finally stories and jokes,” he answered his own question.

The mark of fluency? Maybe not what you think. “Telling a story is not the most important part. It’s telling the joke,” he said.

“Being able to tell the joke — and everybody in the room gets the joke and laughs — is when you know you’ve mastered the spoken language.”

The conference had reserved this informal session for those who’d submitted portfolios in the Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 2013  Conference, Kick it Up a Notch. 

In this same conference room at St. Edward’s University the year before, the group had listened to Senior Art Director Patty Ann Harris of Little, Brown Publishers. The year before that,  illustrator, designer and SCBWI advisory board member David Diaz had huddled with the illustrators.

Now it was Lewis, one of the finest watercolor artists in the U.S. and an illustrator since 1992 with 58 picture books and many awards to his credit, including a Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award. A few hours before he’d delivered the conference keynote address. Now he was hunkered down with his art colleagues, discussing…hmmm, of all things, languages.

The Caldecott Honor winning "The Other Side" by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

The Caldecott Honor winning “The Other Side” by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

So what was the basic building piece or element of a work of visual art, he asked the gang. “For writing, it’s the word. For music, it’s the note, right? For dance, it’s the step,” he said.

“For drawing, it’s the the stroke. A painting is a string of strokes. With these building blocks, basic units there’s a thought process that takes place, right?

“Most of you are just learning the language. You can’t tell a story yet. You definitely can’t tell a joke.”

Fluency in a language demands practicing what you love, investing those requisite 10,000 hours into your craft — even if it’s at the price of sleep, Lewis said.

For illustrators fluency means knowing your story characters — their thoughts and sensations, “nuances and small movements,” he added.

From "The Other Side", watercolor illustration by E.B. Lewis
From “The Other Side”, watercolor illustration by E.B. Lewis

“Take your characters to lunch. Research your scenes. Immerse yourself in your subject and dig in the dirt until you can smell it.

“For every composition you’re developing an entire world. Because we’re storytellers.”

EB Lewsi watercolor demonstration

At a special workshop session on Sunday, after the conference he was pressed to demonstrate his watercolor technique, off the cuff and handed paints, a palette and some magazine photos for ideas. That’s what you’re seeing in the videos. Sorry I couldn’t get in closer. I didn’t want to disrupt him or the attendees packed 360 degrees around him.

EB Lewis talking to elementary students at The Legends School

A few days before the conference at a private K-12 Classical Christian school in West Austin called The Regents, Lewis had told a library teeming with first graders “The reason you come to school is to discover your passion and prepare yourself for it.”

“Meet your tribe,” he exhorted the 6th and 7th grades. Not a false tribe, like a gang they had to conform to, but their “true tribe,” the group who shared the same passion for a subject that they did. Students seemed to hang on his words.

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“Each Kindness” by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

His message to the kids stayed consisted that day about self-direction, finding one’s own way, never settling or giving up or feeling badly about coming from behind. Perhaps because that’s his story. He didn’t really find his way as an artist until his thirties. The children’s books came even later.

Not one of his youthful experiences suggested the success he enjoys now in the arts and publishing. Lewis is quick to describe himself as an elementary grade under-achiever. Dyslexia made it hard to read or study and his clowning antics did a poor job of masking his lack of confidence in the classroom. He flunked the third grade. The problems with teachers continued through middle school. But Lewis credits a college professor uncle for getting — and keeping him in Saturday morning art classes, starting in the sixth grade. In those museum classes, under the tutelage of painter Clarence Wood, Lewis discovered drawing and painting.

For another, recent picture book by Jacqueline Woodson, "Each Kindness." Illustraiton by E.B. Lewis

For another, recent picture book by Jacqueline Woodson, “Each Kindness.” Illustration by E.B. Lewis (Putnam)

He found his way, eventually to voracious reading — nonfiction and literature. The arts became his passion and those who painted, his tribe. After high school, he pursued graphic design, illustration and art education at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University.

Still the road was slow. He worked for many years in the public schools, first as a teacher’s assistant, later as an art teacher. The watercolor work he did on weekends and late at night, while his family slept.

Illustration by E.B. Lewis for "Each Kindness" by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin)

Illustration by E.B. Lewis for “Each Kindness” by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin)

So a long, roundabout journey of working quietly behind the scenes, perfecting his art.

One day a children’s book artists’ agent, Jeff Dwyer contacted Lewis. His agency partner Elizabeth O’Grady had read a feature about him in and seen his watercolors in The Artists Magazine.

“I don’t do children’s book illustration. I’m a fine arts gallery painter,” Lewis responded (in my distillation of their conversation.)

From "Each Kindness", illustration by E.B. Lewis

From “Each Kindness”, illustration by E.B. Lewis

“Yes. Have you looked at any children’s picture books lately?” Dwyer replied before tossing out some names — Jerry Pinkney, Barry Moser and Chris Van Allsburg — for Lewis to check out.

The rest of the story you can find on the book blurbs and Lewis’s website.

It’s that meandering come-from-behind journey I think that informs his striking empathy for children — in the ways he depicts them with such vulnerability in his pictures and interacts with them in life. It’s something special to see. Even the seventh graders listen intently and believe when he tells them, “Mediocrity is self inflicted. Genius is self-bestowed.”
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My plaque for serving three years as Austin SCBWI Illustrators Coordinator and the special surprise that came with it -- the first two books in the Critter Club series by Callie Barkley, illustrated by Austin SCBWIer Marsha Riti, whom I met in the children's book illustration class I teach at AMOA/Arthouse Laguna Gloria. Marsha will be illustrating the entire series being published by Little Simon.

My award for completing a three year term as Austin SCBWI Illustrators Coordinator and special surprise that came with it — the first two books in The Critter Club series by Callie Barkley, illustrated by Marsha Riti, whom I met a few years ago in the children’s book illustration class I teach at AMOA/Arthouse Laguna Gloria. Austin SCBWI’s Marsha will illustrate the entire series being published by Little Simon, Simon and Schuster.

The Critter Club books (first two) illustrated by Marsha Riti of Austin SCBWI

Award winning author Cynthia Levinson reads from her hit nonfiction children's book "We've Got a Job"(Peachtree Publishers) about the  1963 Birmingham Children's March. It was one of several readings and talks at the "Kick It Up a Notch" pre-conference Friday receptionat the Austin Children's Museum.

Award winning author Cynthia Levinson of Austin SCBWI reads from her hit nonfiction children’s book “We’ve Got a Job”(Peachtree Publishers) about the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. It was one of several readings and talks at the “Kick It Up a Notch” pre-conference Friday receptionat the Austin Children’s Museum.

Picture Book author Shutta Crum and SCBWI Crystal Kite Award-winning illustrator Patrice Barton talk about their collaboration on the picture book "Mine!" (Knopf)

Picture Book author Shutta Crum and SCBWI Crystal Kite Award-winning illustrator Patrice Barton talk about their collaboration on the picture book “Mine!” (Knopf) at the Austin conference.

I'm joined by SCBWI author friends Julie Lake, Cynthia Leitich and Liz Garton Scanlon at the Friday reception. (Photo by Greg Leitich Smith)

I’m joined by Austin SCBWI author friends Julie Lake, Cynthia Leitich and Liz Garton Scanlon at the Friday reception. (Photo by author Greg Leitich Smith)

EB Lewis talking to middle schoolers at the Legends Schoolo

Redesigning lost treasures

Hardy Boys, "The Tower Treasure

Students of the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! online course on children’s book illustration are busy re-designing covers for the first-ever Hardy Boys book or the first ever Nancy Drew mystery in a mock assignment given them by art director Giuseppe Castellano of Penguin/Grosset & Dunlap, which was the original publisher of both series. Students have until April 20 to complete their final art, following Castellano’s specifications. Many thanks to Marks and Splashes student Pooja Srinivas for digging up some of the original covers for class reference!

Nancy Drew Covers

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Talking Dummies with Wendy Martin

Catching Willie Mays (in a children’s book illustration)

How perfect that award-winning children’s book artist Terry Widener has done the pictures for the new picture book by Jonah Winter (just released by Schwartz and Wade) about the greatest all around baseball player ever – Willie Mays.

Terry brings a background of high level advertising and editorial illustration and something else to the many children’s books he’s done on sports figures: The sensibility of a gifted athlete.

Too small to play football on school teams, Widener focused on baseball and mainly golf, which he still avidly plays. In fact he attended art school at the University of Tulsa on a golf scholarship.

After graduation Terry had to choose between two job offers — one as the golf pro at a country club, the other as an ad agency art director. It could have gone either way; Terry went the advertising art route because it paid just a little more per week.

He went on to do design and illustration work for major publications and ad agencies — for national and international clients like Coca Cola, Burger King, The Franklin Mint and Aesculap (a German orthopedic implant manufacturer. )

His first kids’ book illustrations were for Lou Gehrig — The Luckiest Man by David Adler (Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace) named a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor book, a Texas Blue Bonnet Reading List selection, an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year and an SCBWI Golden Kite Finalist, and received the IRA Teacher’s Choice Award.

Since then his books have attracted more honors and recognition,  including Smithsonian Notable Book of the Year, School Library Journal  Best Book of the Year, the Junior Library Guild List, the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show, the Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year and other awards.

Terry paints in acrylics. He’s experimented with a variety of styles in this medium, though now he works in a more painterly, naturalistic style, in the “Old School” children’s book art style of N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle.

That he’s done so many children’s biographies of sports heroes is purely coincidence, he says. What’s no coincidence is the sophisticated-simple design that he brings to these pictures of action and excitement in the ball field, boxing ring and competitive swim lanes — and the comfy authority with which he treats historical settings and scenes.

These videos are excerpts from an in-depth interview Terry gave me for students in the Make Your Splashes — Make Your Marks! course. For more information about this online course on illustrating children’s books, or to receive e-mail news from the “Marks and Splashes” online learning community, go here.

You Never Heard of Willie Mays? by Jonah Winter (Schwartz and Wade) features a lenticular cover illustration. You know those “wiggle pictures” that seem to move when you look at them from different angles? You’d find them  sometimes as surprises inside Cracker Jacks boxes. Schwartz and Wade wanted to use lenticular printing for the covers for this series of picture book sports bios.

The process required Widener to come up with three paintings for the cover. The paintings would animate Mays knocking the ball out of the park, in one of those 50 home run hits of his career.

Terry had to model himself swinging a bat to avoid relying solely on the photos and videos he’d pulled together of the real Willie Mays in the moment — lest he and the publisher end up in a battle with The New York Times and Sports Illustrated over intellectual property!

When dealing with images of sports icons and other stars, be careful to not copy your source material, Terry cautions. Your references are probably all copyrighted!  He couldn’t even render newspaper sports pages of the day as they were, he says. To use them in an illustration he had to change them up a bit — even the wording in the headlines!

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With his art director wife Leslie Widener (also a children’s book author-illustrator) Terry lives in a 100-year-old house in historic McKinney Texas, a few miles north of Dallas, Texas. They’re members of the North Texas chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.)

Terry enjoys doing school visits and receives many invitations for them each year. He can often be coaxed to draw for students in a collaboration where they “art direct” his improvised sketches on the white board.

For a list of Terry’s books and awards go here and to see the covers of some of his books, go here.

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Terry doesn’t illustrate only books on sports heroes. He takes on a variety of projects, like this series of picture books on folks songs with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.

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IMAGMark and Terry (Laura photo)

Mark Mitchell and Terry Widener share a chuckle at Texas Educational Service Center Region One school librarian’s conference in Harlingen, Texas in September 2012.
(Photo by children’s author-poet Laura Purdie Salas) http://www.laurasalas.com)

Austin SCBWI Kick It Up a Notch! conference delights and inspires 

Renowned illustrator and fine artist E.B. Lewis headlined the Austin SCBWI 2013 conference, Kick it Up a Notch! last weekend at St. Edward’s University. (Below) E.B. drew for pre-K and K students at the Regents School in Austin, Texas.

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He also inspired middle grades at the school.

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E.B. Lewis dazzled illustrators and writers alike with an impromptu watercolor demonstration at a Sunday workshop following Kick It Up a Notch!

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Austin, Texas based illustrator Patrice Barton received the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for her art for the picture book Mine! by Shutta Crum (Knopf) in the reception that kicked off the Austin conference. She and Crum presented a workshop about the making of Mine!.
See the video interview Patty did with this blog about illustrating Mine!

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Caitlin Alexander won first place in the conference Portfolio Showcase that was judged by E.B. Lewis, publisher Neal Porter and agent Rubin Pfeffer. Caitlin receives full tuition to next year’s Austin SCBWI conference and a $200 cash prize from the social media firm, Alter Endeavors, owned by Austin SCBWI’s Nick Alter. Erin McGuire won second place and Laura Logan and Amy Farrier tied for third place in the portfolio competition. All won gift cards from Jerry’s Art Supplies. Photo by author Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Google Drive for Artists free replay

Sign up to see the full recording of the workshop on Google Drive and other great Google tools for illustrators, presented by Pooja Srinivas. Yes, it’s free!

And finally, here is my nomination and vote for the ultimate Valentines Day book.

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Mark Mitchell, who sometimes edits this blog wrote this post.

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.

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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

Maurice Sendak — “A whole other story that you think is there.”

In this interview clip Maurice Sendak speaks as eloquently as you’ll hear on the roles of the children’s book illustrator and children’s book  illustration.

It’s from the DVD  “There’s a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak: A Retrospective in Words and Pictures” produced by the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia.

According to the press copy,  the DVD  “explores the masterful storytellers extraordinary career through his own words as the author talks about his favorite characters and the many influences and settings of his richest stories. Get the DVD at www.rosenbach.org.”

Sendak, author-illustrator of more than 100 books,  selected the museum to be the sole permanent repository of his artwork  more than 30 years ago.  The museum is said to contain 10,000 preliminary sketches as well as final drawings and Sendak’s original manuscripts.

Listen to the two Terry Gross interviews with Sendak on NPR’s Fresh Air. He really is full of perception.

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Is there a “magic secret” to drawing?

Yes, and I’m giving it away in the  latest  promotion for my online course on drawing and painting for children’s book illustration,  Make Your Splashes Make Your Marks.

The  “secret”  is the  “gesture drawing” of a  special kind pioneered by Kimon Nicolaides in the early 20th century.  I explain why I feel this way and present my take on the  “Nicolaides approach”  in five short videos and a  PDF lesson taken from the Make Your Splashes course.  Sign up at this  “drawing secret” page to access.

Blogging Illustrators and Glowing Reviews

We don’t purport to cover the entire waterfront here.  But every once in a while it’s fun to do a roundup of  children’s book illustration items, which is another way of saying “string some things together that aren’t really  related.”

Or lazy writing, in other words.  But hey — it’s  summertime  in Central Texas.

So let me start with this image of a few Inklings basking  in the July heat at the Central Market Cafe.  It’s a children’s picture book critique group under the Austin, Texas  Chapter of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.)

Some of the Inklings of Austin SCBWI during a recent Sunday a.m. huddle: Louise Shelby, Amy Farrier, Torran Anderson, Salima Alikhan and Marsha RitiWe converge on our own one Sunday morning each month. There’s almost always a new face  and four to 12 familiar ones.

We’ll read each others’ stories aloud  or leaf through a portfolio or  a storyboard or bring our latest book discoveries.

Mostly we all talk at the same time,  like the mice in Diane Stanley’s  The Conversation Club.

(Left to right:  Louise Shelby,  Amy Farrier,   Torran Anderson,   Salima Alikhn and Marsha Riti. I don’t think they’ve had their second cups of coffee yet.)

One Bright Afternoon

was enjoyed by picture book author Chris Barton and many fans at his debut signing at BookPeople earlier this month.

The Day Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors (Charlesbridge Publishers 2009) is narrative science writing for kids at its best.

"The Day-Glo Brothers" by Chris Barton, illustrated by Bill Slavin It’s illustrated in a smart & sassy 1950s cartoon style by Tony Persiani (with day-glo spots evocative  of  old time color separated-illustrations)

The combination of crisp text that keeps you excitedly turning pages and plentiful, high energy art that suits the narrative perfectly has garnered starred reviews for the book  in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

Which is a little like lightning striking three times (in a good way.)

It’s not a well known story and Barton had to research much  of it first-hand with interviews of suviving Switzer family members.

Through years of trial and error and a few happy accidents the brothers learned  how certain resin and dye mixtures resulted in a color that was  “oranger-than-orange.” Their experiments began as an enhancement to  one brother’s magic act — and led to massive production of the paint during  World War Two. (The colors we take for granted today as “Day-Glo” were used mainly for signaling and signage that aided in rescues and prevented untold accident casualties.)

The book unfolds as a joyous experience of discovery for the reader.

A Glowing Moment for Picture Book Author Chris Barton and his many fans at his debut signing at BookPeople July 11 for "The Day-Glo Brothers."  Photo by Donna Bowman Bratton.

Chris, a young helper and standing-room-only crowd at Austin’s BookPeople July 11. Photo by Donna Bowman Bratton

These days, some of the best information on children’s book illustration is

Found on the Blogs

English  illustrator and author  Lynn Chapman shows us  “before and after” versions of a double page spread for an assignment — with her ‘notes to self’ scrawled on drawings or copies of them.  You’ll find these on her blog, An Illustrator’s Life For Me

She’s just mailed in final art for Bears on the Stairs by Julia Jarman.  Now she’s waiting to hear about the changes she’ll have to make.

Vancouver illustrator Kirsti Anne Wakelin in her blog  My Secret Elephant talks about her tools and how she uses reference in her work — and shows us her line art for a dummy she’s been working on this year. Click on the tab that says “Illustration Process” for progress reports on her book assignment.

James Gurney Amazes…

Yes, the James Gurney — creator of the  Dinotopia books. He also maintains one of  the premier artist’s process blogs (maybe I’ve just coined a new genre) with his daily blog Gurney Journey.

He shares a lot of art instruction here and even allows you to look over his shoulder as he works over his drawing board, via close-up photos and videos.  It’s a treat.

In the post series below you’ll see him complete a commissioned poster for an upcoming festival in France. Then you’ll know why his work is so good. (He goes the extra mile!)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Three (b)

Part Four

Part Six

Part Seven

Jumping Juxtapositions, Batman!

In this post on Just One More Book Mark  Blevis interviews illustrator Raul Colón at the Jewish Libraries 2009 Convention. Click here for the podcast. with /b

In a second interview with Blevis, Colón goes into more detail about how he and his illustration students find inspiration bumping unrelated subjects and themes into each other,  the way Stanley Kubrick paired The Blue Danube Waltz with his shots of the massive spacecraft in 2001, A Space Odyssey.

A post  on Lateral Action, a blog on creativity, says researchers have found that multi-tasking can reduce your performance level to that of someone who is inebriated.

Did you Eat, Stanley?

"Stanley's Beauty Contest" gives us the dog's point of view of one of those dog shows.

"Stanley's Beauty Contest" gives us the dog's point of view of one of those dog shows.

Stanley’s Beauty Contest by Linda Bailey (Kids Can Press, Toronto) is a very  funny romp through a Best of Show competition. (Read: many dogs)

(Stanley’s hungry because he missed breakfast. When the judges pass him by, he leads his  foo-fooed, four-footed fellow contestants on a gambit to turn the table (literally) on the show’s organizers.

The  infectiously fun, warm ‘n fuzzy textured illustrations are by prolific children’s book artist  Bill Slavin.

Famous illustrators are included Publisher’s Weekly’s  exerpt from Anita Sibley’s new book Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children’s Book (Roaring Brook.)

My favorite part:  Thatcher Hurd commenting on Kenneth Grahame’s  The Wind in the Willows. He refers to Mr. Toad as “surely the id personified.”

Ernest Shepard's depiction of Mr. Toad from "Wind in the Willows"

Illustration by Ernest Shepard.

Click on  “Leave a comment” at the top of the post —  to open the op-ed page and share your thoughts on the post items there.

For 12 free tutorials on using color with cunning  click here.