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.

“I just drew baby after baby after baby…”

It was a treat, as always to visit with children’s book illustrator Patrice Barton.  

In these two videos Patty tells us a little about her artwork for the picture book Sweet Moon Baby written by Karen Henry Clark (Knopf Books for Young Readers.)

Patty graduated with a B.F.A in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin and worked as a graphic designer for the Texas Department of Public Safety and a freelance commercial artist before she decided to focus on children’s book illustration, the art specialty she loved most.

She began with assignments from children’s magazines and educational presses. Gradually her client list grew to include major children’s trade publishers — Farrar,  Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers and Scholastic Book Club, in addition to Knopf.

Children's book artist Patrice Barton talks to students

Children's book artist Patrice Barton talks to students at the Austin Museum of Art Art School

Here are some of the takeaways  from our discussion last month.

She says “yes” to the manuscripts that pull her in emotionally. She passes on assignments where the writing does not affect her.

When illustrating a book, she plows into sketches, often working on tracing paper to discover her characters.

She’ll place tracing paper over her drawings and sketch on it to build her compositions and scene interactions.  Much of this work she’ll throw away. The “keepers” she’ll puzzle out out how to fit into her scene composites.

Her process  involves trial and error and a lot of drawing before she comes up with the images that (she feels) will do the best job of bringing the page to life.

Patty likes to show her editors black and white value studies of her sketches (painted on the computer in Corel Painter) before she works out the story’s visual flow, pace and page turns in a series of experimental dummies of various sizes.

When everyone has signed off on her monochromatic sketches she brings her line drawings (that she had scanned into Photoshop into Corel Painter and paints them in color.

 "Sweet Moon Baby" double spread

Double page spread from "Sweet Moon Baby" by Karen Henry Clark, illustrated by Patrice Barton (Knopf)

And she endures with good cheer and good faith the numerous requests from her editors for changes and redo’s that are a fact of life for a professional book illustrator — even one as highly talented and diligent as Patty.

The two videos are from a 90 minute recorded interview Patty did for students of my Marks and Splashes online course on illustrating children’s books. (We’re incorporating monthly interviews with children’s book illustrators into the lessons.)

Next time on the blog, Patty will walk us through her process of creating the art for the well-reviewed picture book Mine!  by Shutta Crum (Knopf) and give us a sneak peek at Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine by Allison Wortche, which Knopf plans to bring out in December.

In more children’s book art news…

The InteractBuilder contest deadline for creating your own interactive touch screen e-book for Interact Books has been extended to October 15.

Version 2.5 of the free software will be released by the end of August or early September, the developers say.

“There are a A TON of new and exciting features that will allow you to create even more compelling interactive books,” this week’s announcement from InteractBuilder added.  “And do not worry, any book you are working on will convert automatically, there will be no extra work needed unless you want to take advantage of one of the new features.”

conference logo

The Austin SCBWI symposium Storytelling in the Digital Age: Embrace the Change  set for  Saturday, October 8 has opened registration.  Among the workshop and panels on the program:  Creating and Maintaining Your Web Persona presented by Erik KuntzThere’s an App for That presented by Amanda Williams,  Paper to Pixels: The Art of the Digital Paintbrush presented by Clint Young,  Storytelling in the Digital Age: Imagine presented by Ezra Weinstein and  Children’s Book Illustrators and Technology presented by the Girllustrators – and really so much more.

SCBWI Executive director Lin Oliver will deliver the keynote from California via SKYPE. Her topic: The SCBWI’s recommendations to illustrators and authors on how to evaluate publishers in the digital marketplace.

The ground-breaking event at St. Edward’s University will be the place to learn about e-books, interactive books for touch screen devices, iPhone game apps from Austin, Texas developers — as well as to meet and network with them. Registration is only $75 for SCBWI members.  You can read more about the symposum here. 

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Mark Mitchell teaches an online course on illustrating children’s books, “Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks!” 

Check out the course Facebook pageFacebook group and companion blog.
Please “like” or join them if you’re so inclined to do so. :-)

Discover a “big secret” of making better drawings. 

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

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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.