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.



“Let’s Board It Up!” The Magic of the Storyboard

 This Google Video clip from the promo documentary Finding Lady: The Art of Storyboarding  has been circulating around the art and cartoon blogs recently.

Disney animator Eric Goldberg explains how the Disney artists have always used storyboards as a developmental first step in their animation productions.

The clip goes on to show how movie makers from Alfred Hitchcock to Kevin Costner have used them as perhaps the crucial planning tool in a film.

Finding Lady came out to herald the 1991 release of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the “renaissance of the animated film” that some say began with The Little Mermaid  in 1989. 

It’s not exactly the way storyboarding is covered in our course  on how to illustrate children’s books. 

The storyboard thumbnails we talk about are quite different animals from the sketches and drawings you see tacked up on Disney’s storyboard wall.

But the same big ideas apply:  Using the storyboard to work out the the  “bits” of stagecraft,  the action and gags. Pacing, story flow and the economy of the viewer’s or reader’s attention.

For the movie director, storyboarding saves costly waffling around on the set, the video points out.  Because the details and the sequences have all been worked out in advance, the director can “edit in the camera.”

For the children’s book artist, storyboardings helps to gestalt the entire book on just one page. The simple very exercise  of it can spring  ideas free and save weeks of unecessary drawing and painting. 

To enlarge the video for better visibility, click on the Google Video box, then hit the enlarge screen button under the video on the Google Video page.

For information on the online Children’s Book Illustration 101 course”  look here.

Or to check out the free color lessons from the course (while they’re still available)  click here.

Awesome Austin Writers roll up their T-shirt sleeves

Awesome Austin Writers Workshop in session

Awesome Austin Writers Workshop in session (Photo by Cynthia Leitich Smith)

A mega-critique of 26 children’s and YA published and soon-to-be-published authors, the Awesome Austin Writers Workshop  ended Sunday, June 29, and everyone drove home in shock.  Shock because it was over and had gone so well and we realized  that we weren’t coming back to hang out with each other again the next day.

The workshop took place in the 1920s-vintage Austin, Texas home of authors Greg and Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Cynthia, who teaches in the children’s and young adult writing MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts thought up and organized the event with help from her author-attorney husband, Greg and other friends from the Austin chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.)  

For three days she led the critiques in a tour de force of quick wit, good fun, practical erudition, zinging (as opposed to stinging) professional insight and Kansas Pioneer Woman stamina. 

Months before we’d been asked to submit up to ten pages of our works in progress. These were the beginnings of picture books, parts of YA novels and sci-fantasy chapter books, poems and nonfiction stories. Each writer got 40-45 minutes of vociferous attention from the group, moderated by Cynthia. 

Liz Scanlon, Alison Dellenbaugh, Erin Edwards, Phillip Yates get their papers in order. April Lurie is in the background. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Leitich Smith.)

Liz Scanlon, Alison Dellenbaugh, Erin Edwards and Phillip Yates get their papers in order. April Lurie is in the background. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Leitich Smith.)

It’s an odd sensation to be on the receiving end of so much focus — 26 bright minds reacting to your prose or verse, while you’re not allowed to talk back. It feels like a surgical procedure is being done — a double cataract removal. 

Like the other dazed & AAWW’ed patients after their operations, I got my copies back scribbled with thoughts, kudos, suggestions for fixes, often accompanied by typed notes. We clutched our precious stacks like they were our medical charts and we were on our gurneys in the recovery room.

Since I was one of two illustrators present, I was invited to pass around a couple of sketches to accompany my picture book offering — for additional AAWW-some scrutiny.

There was a lot of sharing, bonding, helping and a lot of eating going on.  Our graceful “pages” (fellow SCBWI’ers)  Donna Bratton and Carmen Oliver kept us supplied with coffee, scrambled egg kolaches, chocolates, juice and jokes (bad pun jokes — relentless pantomiming on the theme “turning pages”,  “flipping pages.” At one point they donned tunics with labels: “Page #1″ and “Page #2.”)

The founder and first regional adviser of our Austin SCBWI chapter, Meredith Davis was there, along with our current RA Tim Crow and former RA Julie Lake and our 90 year old member Betty X. Davis, who frequently outpaces us.  Participant Gene Brenek wrote later, “These relationships have been years in the making.” It was true and probably contributed to all the magic we felt around us. Still, not  everyone present was an Awesome Austin writer. You see, Awesome writer Varsha Bajaj joined us from the Houston SCBWI chapter. She became one of us quickly, though.

Taking time out from their pagination, Donna Bratton (left) and Carmen Oliver (right) visit with author Lindsey Lane at the Saturday night party at author Helen Hemphill's home

Taking time out from their paginations, Donna Bratton(left) and Carmen Oliver (right) visit with author Lindsey Lane at the Saturday night party at author Helen Hemphill's home. (Photo by Cynthia Leitich Smith.)

We enjoyed a relaxing Saturday night party in the lovely loft residence of YA author Helen Hemphill and her husband Neil. Children’s writers settled right in to flowing wine, a spectacular catered supper and twinkling night views of the downtown.

Sunday around lunchtime everyone drove home in shock, as I’ve explained above. Many, after recovering somewhat, went straight to blogging about their experience, which is why the Awesome Austin Writers Workshop is all over the Internet today, as it should be.

I’ll borrow the list of attendees from Cynthia’s blog Cynsations.

Here are some of the blogposts::

Jo Whittemore, Julie Lake, Liz Scanlon and Betty Davis prepare for the next critique round. (Photo by Cynthia Leitich Smith)

Jo Whittemore, Julie Lake, Liz Scanlon and Betty Davis prepare for the next critique round. (Photo by Cynthia Leitich Smith)

Mark Mitchell, who wrote this, teaches a summer class in “How to Illustrate Children’s Books” beginning next Tuesday, July 15 at the Art School Austin Museum of Art Art School at 3809 West 35th Street, Austin, Texas 78703.  The class will run Tuesday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. through August 19. For more information on any of the AMOA summer art classes (for adults or children) call the Art School at (512) 323-6380 or visit the AMOA  website.