Author-illustrator, children’s book artists’ den mother

What publishing genre relies on art and pictures more than any other?
Children’s book publishing, of course.   But for a long time the professional organization of children’s book writers and illustrators did not have an illustrators’ spirit guide.

Priscilla Burris "Cheer Girl and Dog"

“Cheer Girl and Dog” illustration by Priscilla Burris aptly describes her role as the National Illustrator Coordinator for the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators ( or the SCBWI.)

The change began when picture book artist Tomie de Paola nudged his fellow board members of the then Society of Children’s Book Writers to add the “I”  for “illustrators” to the organization’s title.

And so SCBW became SCBWI.

Society of Children's Book Writers and IllustratorsThen in 1998 the society introduced the country’s first children’s illustrators’ den mother.  She was Priscilla Burris — illustrator, designer, picture book author and the former Regional Advisor of her own local SCBWI chapter.

She’s talented, professional, vibrant and she speaks quickly. Over the past  25 years she’s illustrated educational, mass market and trade books and other materials for children, parents and teachers. She’s also created art for products such as greeting cards, rubber stamps and apparel designs.

Priscilla Burris

Priscilla Burris

In her role as the SCBWI  National Illustrator  Coordinator, Priscilla  organizes and oversees the portfolio exhibits and events for both the International Winter and Summer Conferences held in New York and Los Angeles.

Along with speaking and presenting workshops around the U.S.A. she also addresses illustration related issues, questions and inquiries received by the SCBWI international office throughout the year.

Working hand in hand with the SCBWI Board of Advisors Illustrator Committee, which consists of top industry professionals, Priscilla helps in planning the Illustrator Intensives, Socials and other illustrator-related activities.

She spreads encouragement, advice and just plain good vibrations to her fellow SCBWI illustrator members wherever she meets them at conferences, workshops and activities  — not to mention the online forums and list-serves.

It all started with art school…

It was as a college student at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) where she began to discover her calling, and it wasn’t going to be as a “fashion illustrator.”

Sketch girl by Priscilla Burris

Sketch Girl by Priscilla Burris

“At one point, I was firmly reprimanded for putting facial expressions on my drawings and models,” she says.  “I was really scolded because expressions were not at all appropriate for that industry, so the instructor was absolutely right.

“It was a good lesson in that it taught me what I didn’t want to do with my life,” she says. “And actually, characters in children’s books do often wear clothing so nothing we learn is ever a waste!”

Initially, Priscilla thought fashion illustration was the only career path available to a young woman who loved sketching, drawing and doodling. However, after obtaining her degree in Fashion Design, she went on to teach preschool, while at the same time earning a degree in Early Childhood Education.

Frogs on Log spread by Priscilla Burris

“Frogs on Log” from “Five Green and Speckled Frogs” retold and illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Scholastic)

A children’s book class project turned on the light

It was the final project for one of these courses that clinched it. She was to write and illustrate a children’s book and read it to her classmates. Several thoughts ran through her mind when her final project was presented and warmly received, but the most delightful was, Could this be an actual job for an artist — creating illustrations for children’s books?

Priscilla Burris

Priscilla Garcia Burris

She’d first encountered the power and love of children’s picture books in the public library built right across her little neighborhood street in East Los Angeles where she grew up and spent countless hours. (Fast Forward note: Priscilla has had the privilege of being invited back to her childhood library as an author/illustrator for presentations to groups of neighborhood schoolchildren.  She treasures the opportunity to encourage the students to write and draw, as well as sharing with them the delights of working in the children’s book field.)

Her first illustration assignment came as a result of a drawing of a little girl happily sketching, printed on her business cards, which had been posted in a local graphic design shop. It caught the attention of an educational publishing editor who saw it and put her to work.

Jack Frost’s talented cousin Latisha for “the Tale of Jack Frost” (Scholastic) written by Marcia Thornton Jones and illustrated by Priscilla Burris

How to get involved with the children’s picture book – creating world

Shortly after joining her local  SCBWI regional chapter in the early 1990s, she  approached her Regional Advisor asking, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”  (A great way to begin one’s networking and making friends, too,  she says.)

Eventually, she became her own chapter’s Regional Advisor, and after serving for a few years she and a couple of other Regional Advisors who were also illustrators brainstormed and created a proposal for an Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI. This was warmly and enthusiastically accepted and welcomed, and Priscilla happily stepped into her new role (always mindful and grateful to Tomie for his initial push and passion for the “I” in SCBWI!)

“As a result of this fresh beginning of representation and focus of our illustrator membership nationally and internationally, we began to see the appointing of local regional Illustrator Coordinators, or Liasons, as being very insightful and helpful illustrator member-links to their Regional Advisors,” Priscilla says.

“Currently, with an international membership of more than 22,000 members, this has been a growing dynamic in new, innovative and incredibly helpful events specifically created and designed for illustrators in the children’s book field.”

Of the total number of members around the world, 16,865 identify themselves as writers and 4,748 identify themselves as illustrators.

Portfolios on display at SCBWI National Winter Conference in New York

Illustrators’ portfolios on display at SCBWI National Winter Conference in New York – 2009

Networking takes place on a global community listserve that Priscilla moderates, along with Bridget Strevens-Marzo, who serves as the SCBWI International Illustrator Coordinator.

Summer Conference portfolio showcase

Portfolio showcase at the SCBWI National 2009 Summer Conference in Los Angeles, Photos courtesy of Priscilla Burris.

What’s in it  for ‘moi?’

So, who better to ask than Priscilla Burris this question.

What does  membership in  SCBWI  offer an illustrator or aspiring illustrator?

“It offers a professional community where you can grow — and it offers a hand to help if you’re willing to take it, and apply what you’ve learned.” she says.

Cowabunga Cow

Cowabunga  Cow by Priscilla Burris

“Although there are many different organizations and associations for artists and illustrators, specifically for children’s books,  the SCBWI is the place to be.

“Here there are widely known and highly esteemed authors and illustrators, editors, art directors, and agents with wisdom to share.  The SCBWI offers a vast array of opportunities where an illustrator can grow and learn and be challenged in his or her career,” Priscilla says.

Beach Artist Girl

“Beach Artist Girl” by Priscilla Burris

“From the events, workshops, and critique groups taking place on a local level, to the international conferences held every year, so much can be gleaned that can move you further in your professional life as a children’s book illustrator.

“These are venues where you can meet and make contacts with like-minded creatives and hear the latest information on the industry from the speakers and presenters.  A lot of information and networking takes place just from meeting and chatting with other event attendees!

“The SCBWI website offers great opportunities for illustrator members to feature their own images and portfolios in the Illustrator’s Gallery — A truly inspiring place to visit.

“There are articles and columns in the SCBWI Bulletin devoted to illustration, which are very useful as well as informative.

Gabriela Diner Table Spread

Family breakfast table spread in “La Cancion de Gabriela” (HarperCollins RAYO), written by Dra. Isabel & Eric Vasallo and illustrated by Priscilla Burris

Professional tips

Since one function of  Priscilla’s role as SCBWI National Illustrator  Coordinator is teacher-mentor-spirit guide, let’s not let her get away without asking her for a few  nuggets of her professional advice.

So what parting counsel does she have for illustrators (beyond urging us to join SCBWI and find a regional chapter to participate in?)

Here are some of her quotes:

“It’s great to come up with an intriguing or endearing character for a story, but in the picture book genre, the challenge is to create the setting, story-telling and page-turning that is so vital.”

Aloha Friends

“Aloha for Carol Ann” (Marimba Books), written by Margo Sorenson, illustrated by Priscilla Burris

“I’ve found that as an illustrator,  it behooves you to listen in and learn from presentations and talks that seem specifically designed just for the writers of children’s books. You’ll be amazed at how much you will glean. I cannot state this strongly enough.”

“Obtaining work in this industry is definitely the right timing, but it’s also being continually ready and always having something newly fresh and ready to send out.”

Don’t dwell on the glamour of it all.  Rather,  focus on the craft of illustrating a story as well as the continual networking with others of the same professional mindset.”

“Besides your social media and online portfolios, periodically mail out your images to prospective clients, as well as those you have heard speak that have proven helpful or inspiring.”

Priscilla Burris promotional image

“Homeroom Decorating Committee” – Promotional piece by Priscilla Burris

“Put together some of your illustrations with stories, along with your other portfolio samples, so the potential client viewing it will have a story to look at.”

“Be careful what you ask for.  In other words, don’t show in your portfolio or promos what you wouldn’t want to labor over for a 32 page picture book and all that entails.”

“Know the characters you are illustrating inside and out — their traits and personalities.

Five Green and Specklled Frogs

“Five Green and Speckled Frogs” retold and illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Scholastic)

“When I am developing a character, I like to get to know a character visually, by creating five or six versions and then set them aside where they can be seen as I walk by. This is what I did for my book Five Green and Speckled Frogs.

“I drew several variations of my frogs. I was afraid they were getting a little too goofy. I wanted them funny but not goofy. They ended up in the final book pretty close to how they were in the first version, but more further developed in the process.

“Learning your market and target audience is so important. From realistic styles, to edgy or cartoony, you should know the places that need and publish your style of art. One of the ways to learn this is by attending SCBWI conferences, networking and talking with other illustrators and writers.”

"Priscilla Garcia Burris Sketch"

“Mama and Baby Lullaby” pencil sketch by Priscilla Burris

Priscilla-Garcia-Burris-Fin

“Mama and Baby Lullaby” piece finished on the computer by Priscilla Burris

“It’s always competitive. But publishers are continually looking for fresh new ideas and characters and stories. There’s always room – and a need – for great illustration!”

Lastly,

“Enjoy what you are working on, what you are creating. Ultimately, you need to be proud of your own creative works.”

Priscilla's Brew Blog Banner

“Priscilla’s Brew” blog banner, where Priscilla is getting to know one of her new characters

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From Priscilla’s International SCBWI profile page:

Her works include Five Green and Speckled Frogs (Scholastic), which she wrote and illustrated, I Love You All Day Long, and Daddy All Day Long (HarperCollins), written by Francesca Rusackas.
Since January 1998, Priscilla has held the position of National Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI. This position allows her to plan for, work with, present, and speak to illustrators and author-illustrators.”

She’s represented by artists’ agent Christina Tugeau.

Priscilla Burris’ website

Priscilla Burris’ blog

Priscilla’s Brew blog

Priscilla interviewed on the Doodle Diner

See and “like” Priscilla’s new Facebook page
Priscilla Burris Illustration-Writing-Design

Twitter: http://twitter.com/PriscillaDesign
e-mail Priscilla

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Dragon Egg

“Dragon Egg” by Lisa Falkenstern

In the next post we’ll be asked to put  our collective creative heads together. In  this blog’s  first ever reader poll, we’ll be helping talented New York illustrator Lisa Falkenstern and her editor to choose a title for Lisa’s new picture book.  So please stay tuned — and be ready to brainstorm.

 

2-19-2013 4-48-58 PM

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Mark Mitchell hosts the “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” blog and he offers an online course on children’s book illustration that you can learn about here..
He’s the Illustrator Coordinator for the Austin, Texas Cha
pter of SCBWI.

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"Fireflies" by Priscilla Burris

Counting fireflies with Daddy spread in “Daddy All Day Long”  (HarperCollins), written by Francesca Rusackas.  Illustration by Priscilla Burris

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Illustrators’ round-up

Gustaf Tenggren “Tell It Again Book” illustration
 Swedish folk art-inspired? From “Gustaf Tenggren’s Tell It Again Book” courtesy of ASIFA- Hollywood Animation Archive

Now that we’ve got the elephant in the room (the year’s Caldecott winner) out of the way,  we can talk of other children’s illustration news.

School Library Journal serves up coverage of the National Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 2007 Golden Kite Award winners and runners-ups, as does SCBWI’s own  website

“Little Night” by Yuyi Morales  Little Night, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales,   published by Roaring Book Press – Holtzbrinck (designed by Jennifer Browne) won the Golden Kite Award for best picture book illustration.  
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April’s The Artist’s Magazine  (F+W Publications) features an interview with Jan Brett (33 million books in print and still going strong.)

Funny, I was reading The Mitten to my three year old-granddaughter just the other night and we were both enjoying this book very much.

Brett’s only formal art training came from museum art classes when she was young.

She works with a very dry (watercolor) brush technique, “almost like a colored pencil,” she tells interviewer Paula Theotocus.  

Loved as much by booksellers and librarians as by children, she  travels the world  researching the locales of the stories she works on, accompanied by her husband, Joe Hearne, who is also her business manager and webmaster.   
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In recent weeks Cynsations, the blog of teen and children’s author Cynthia Leitich-Smith has featured interviews with children’s books folks in anticipation of this month’s SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008

And it has not neglected the art end of the industry, with interviews by guest writer Anita Loughrey  of Caldecott winning illustrator Paul O Zelinksy, French comic author-illustrator Emmanuel Guibert  and Harper Collins executive art director Martha Rago.

For Loughrey’s question, “What makes an artists illustrations stand out for you?” Rago had an interesting answer:

“I would not underestimate technical skills, which are very, very important: anatomy, composition, and perspective, good use of color and line, and effective use of materials,” she said.

“But I am always looking for someone who has not just the technical skills but a distinct individual style, a clear voice and images that suggest narrative through context,emotional tone, and the way they relate sequentially.”  It’s not often you get to peek inside the mind of an art director at a major children’s publishing house. Read the full interview with Martha Rago here.

Rago, Zelinsky and Guiberty are among  the 31 scheduled to speak at the conference set for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy.
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Speaking of SCBWI, the Austin chapters of SCBWI has been preparing for its Spring conference “Write in the Heart of Texas”  on Saturday April 26 at the University of Texas Club. 

The line-up of expected prestenters and critiquers includes artists agent Christina Tugeau , along with Deborah Wayshak, editor at Candlewick Press, Alvina Ling, editor of Little, Brown and Co. and artist-illustrator Christy Stallop and other special guests.  
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Tenggren’s “Rapunzel”

Courtesy of the ASIFA – Hollywood Animation Archives

Check out the March 11 post: Illustration: The Genesis of the Golden Book Style  in the Animation Archive website. The Archive is part of ASIFA-Hollywood, which is part of the International Society of Film Animation. 

The post,  by the society’s director Stephen Worth, focuses on the towering (see above, pun intended) work of Gustaf Tenggren.

The Seven Dwarfs from Disney’s “Snow White”
Hey, who are these guys?


I stared, mouth open at the work of this Swedish born artist who had worked on the Disney classics Snow White, Pinocchio and Bambi,  before storming off to basically create the look and feel of the Little Western Golden Books of  the 1950s. 

Reading Worth’s insights and devouring his digital feast of Tenggren images, I realized that I already knew these.

 Pokey Little Puppy  Poky Little Puppy, which launched Golden Books. Yep, Tenggren’s art illuminated Janette Sebring Lowrey’s text.
 

Tenggren’s “Sleeping Beauty” 
Courtesy of the ASIFA – Hollywood Animation Archives

I never had any idea of who Tenggren was but, clearly, his images have never left me.  They must have been everywhere in my childhood and somehow imbedded themselves in the deep recesses of my psychic tissue. 

This made me think of a storybook that stayed on a shelf  in my little brother’s room. Everytime I opened the book its illustrations cast a spell on me.  Hmmm. The style was like Tenggrens!

Could it be? I Google-searched the title that I remembered for it, Pirate Ships and Sailors  (I was never able to forget that either.) Up popped a certain Golden Book by that name, written by Byron Jackson with Kathryn Jackson and illustrated by Gustaff Tenggren – 1950!

I always remembered that Pirate Ships and Sailors  was not your ordinary pirate book. 

Now I know that it was because of Tenggren’s hypnotic artwork — sweetly beautiful and hauntingly disturbing at the same time.  Great for the Grimm bros, right? In fact Tenggren was the ultimate Grimm’s tales illustrator.

Clearly, his pirate pictures had traumatized me at some level.  I remember one in particular of some emaciated old sailors chained up in a dungeon.

Steve Worth discusses in his post how Swedish folk art probably influenced Tenggren, particularly  in the golden Golden Book days, when he often placed his figures in silouhette-like vignettes against the blank background of the page — perhaps to save labor and time. But it sure made for effective design (as it did for those Swedish arts & crafts folks of earlier generations.)

The ASIF -Hollywood Animation Archive features vast stores of images and scholarship on Tenggren and hundreds of other illustrators, animators and cartoonists. It also makes available courses and tutotials, such as the Preston Blair animation course.
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Speaking of cartoonists The Boston Globe ran a review by Daniel Akst of a new book about comic books, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, By David Hajdu (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) “My mother didn’t like it, but the children’s books of the time were thin gruel if you were accustomed to the thrilling life-and-death adventures of Spiderman, Batman and Robin, and the Fantastic Four,” Akst writes.

“A key thing to bear in mind about all this is that the primary market was children. And in those days comics weren’t just about superheroes fighting injustice. Two of the most popular genres were horror and crime…” 

Hajdu’s book brings home how “New York was the epicenter of this [comic books] creative ferment, just as it was for painting, baseball, and musical theater,” Akst says.

“Everyone knows about Jackson Pollock, Jackie Robinson, and ‘Guys and Dolls,’ but few appreciate the role comics played in American culture. In those days the industry put out perhaps 100 million copies a week, each of them passed among several readers. Producing this colorful weekly avalanche required a small army of artists, writers, letterers, and others who grew out of the Depression and leapt at the chance to work at the intersection of art and commerce.” See Akst’s review.
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Mark Mitchell writes for the new webzine How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator. He is the author-illustrator of the nonfiction children’s book Raising La Belle, which has a few pirates in it.  You can download it for free right  here.