“How to Illustrate Children’s Books” A review

Last month we awarded Will Terry’s instructional video series How to Illustrate Children’s Books to the winner of our “Epiphany Essay” contest, Maya Scharke.

Lesson 3 - character design - Will Terry

This is a screenshot from the video, not a video player. To see the lesson, click on the linked name of Will Terry's course in the text above the image.

Since I proffer my own online course on children’s book illustration I was ready to take a fine tooth comb to this “competitor” that several of my illustrator buddies and colleagues were giving high marks to.

By Will Terry

By Will Terry

I didn’t get too far into the videos, though,  before I put away the comb.  How to Illustrate Children’s Books is a wonderful resource  for anyone interested in doing any kind of narrative illustration.

Will Terry has illustrated children’s books for Houghton Mifflin, Random House, Simon and Schuster and Scholastic. He’s also published his own e-picture books, like Monkey and Croc, which he sells for the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook readers, as well as a downloadable PDF.  So he’s able to speak to the digital revolution confronting traditional children’s publishing.

He teaches a course in children’s book illustration at Utah Valley University.

Will Terry's course

He explains how he’s painted most of his children’s books in acrylic paints, but tried his last couple in Photoshop after a friend showed him how to use the software. Now there’s no going back, he says.

He also sells separate videos on painting in acrylic and in Photoshop.

TheIllustrate Children’s Bookseries consists of  eight 20-30 minute video lectures that feature mini-demos, mostly done in Photoshop.

Will shows how he starts by making gobs of 1.5 inch diameter pencil thumbnail sketches in his sketchbook — to get a feeling for the scenes in a story, article or editorial and how to “manage the space”  in each picture.

He enlarges his favorite thumbnails (via Photoshop or photocopier) to more comfortable 4 x 5 inch dimensions. He traces this.  It becomes the comp, where he works out the most important shapes and details.

By Will Terry

By Will Terry

He next enlarges the comp — to a size that the finished illustration will be. When he’s completed his detailed outline drawing, he paints (via stylus, Wacom tablet and digital “brushes”.)

The final stage (one often short-changed by aspiring illustrators, Terry says) is the tweaking and refinements necessary to bring the image to a professional finish.

Reading words about any artist’s process is one thing. Watching it demonstrated in a crisp live action or screen capture video is a whole other experience.  Here’s where the series shines — not just in the visuals but in Terry’s plain-language commentaries that give the universal lesson in what we’re seeing.

I particularly enjoyed #4, Illustration design and # 6, Working with color where he makes sophisticated ideas simple for the viewer.

I also appreciated the last one, #8, Submitting your work where he talks to us like an artist buddy about self-publishing opportunities and the “Oklahoma Land Rush” of the new digital publishing marketplace (and how it won’t last forever.)

Will Terry Cover

That’s a refreshing virtue — that he doesn’t shy away from the hard issues such as “How much is your time worth?” and the imperative of having passion in your work and putting in that “time in the saddle” —  significant time (as in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours) to achieve any real mastery of craft.

I’ll leave you with a couple of his quotes from the lessons — and my strong recommendation that you include How to Illustrate Children’s Books  in your art instruction arsenal.

“You’re making characters from shapes and their placements. Be deliberate.
Shapes really matter. Shapes communicate your ideas.”

“Color harmony is colors relating.”

“Don’t let the image design your thumbnail.”

See the complete  lesson #3,  Character design on the website that also contains Terry’s online portfolio,  store and blog that’s characterized by the same good information and candor as his video presentations.

You can orderHow to Illustrate Children’s Books along with Will’s other instructional videos on his Folio Academy website here.

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We have another Epiphany Essay — this one by Lacy Morgan.  (Readers were asked to write about, “What epiphany in connection to drawing, painting or children’s book illustration have you experienced in the past year?”)

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Children's Book Illustration Class at AMOA Art School

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Becoming Child-like Again

By Laci Morgan

Epiphany Essay no. 2  

As a freelance illustrator and animator, I think it’s important to learn from others to keep up on your skills.

This last year, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend a few conferences in my industry by becoming a student volunteer.

At the Creative Talent Network Expo (CTN-X), a conference that focuses on character design and animation, I was in charge of directing VIPs like Pixar and Disney artists to their panels, making sure that everything ran smoothly and according to schedule.

During the talks, I would stand in the back of the room and observe the audience.  What surprised me more than anything else is the sheer number of attendees that whipped out a sketchbook and were drawing their fellow seatmates or the speakers.

Though they were listening to the speakers intently, they were also using the time to brush up on their skills and add to their sketchbook!

It struck me as being something unique to artists…at no other type of convention would you find audience members doodling and have it be not only “OK to do,” but actually encouraged!

(It took me back to the days where my elementary school teachers would catch me doodling behind my desk when I was SUPPOSED to be learning math, and end up having to skip recess) I was hit by the thought that this is a mindset I myself need to get into.

These artists had a sketchbook on them at every moment, and grabbed any opportunity they had to draw. I realized that I can’t even remember the last time I randomly whipped out my sketchbook and just drew what I saw around me…most of the time my “creative powers” are channeled into client work or school work, not creating for myself.

I was inspired to start bringing the sketchbook with me on a daily basis, and I’m trying to become more aware of the fact that it’s OK to draw just to draw…I don’t HAVE to be creating for the paycheck or the degree.

I also recently sat down with a client whose 7 year old daughter had “helped” her dad by drawing out some logo ideas with crayon for him to take to our meeting.

While some artists would roll their eyes at this (“oh no, ANOTHER client who has an “artist” in the family), I have to admit that I was amazed at the creativity this little girl possessed in her drawings.

She had come up with pages of ideas and drawn detailed, intricate patterns and lettering, not limited by what logos “should” look like.  (In fact, those drawings reminded me of myself at that age!)

I think as we get older and keep hearing things like “you can’t do that” and are forced to conform to what the public thinks looks good, we begin to lose that magical quality of imagination that children posess.

We start to get afraid that our ideas will be rejected, so we don’t push the envelope and stay with “safe” ideas. We as artists need to learn how to be unafraid to think outside the box, and brainstorm without fear of acceptance.

Because of some of these insights, my goal in 2011 is to find a way to go back to that creative, child-like place again, and begin to “dream” and create more art for myself again!

I think that having this new mindset will really show itself through my work this year, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes me!

Laci Morgan
www.lacimorgancreations.com

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Learn how to impress an art director…

Illustrator Intensive Fla SCBWI FLorida Illustrators’ Intensive 2011

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

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Animator,  illustrator and now author Laura Jennings has launched her new science fiction e-book, The Highsong Project.  (Amazon Kindle users can go here to order.)  She’s produced a compelling video book trailer, which she animated herself and  a new blog, The Highsong Project, to promote her book and share  experiences and discoveries on her e-book self-publishing and marketing journey.  I’m pleased to add Laura’s blog to my blogroll.

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"Marks and Splashes" courseMark Mitchell is the creator of the “Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks!” online course on illustrating books and other media for children. He also hosts this blog.

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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.

 

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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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Paper Engineers!

Two members of our Inklings Picture Book critique group recently made a pilgrimage  to see the original pop-up art of Robert Sabuda and David Diaz in an exhibit “The Wizards of Pop-up.”  It was at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas.

Austin author-illustrators Christy Stallop and Erik Kuntz basically spent the day with Sabuda, Caldecott Medalist Diaz, museum executive director Debbie Lillick and the Illustration Chair of the National Society of Childrens Books Authors and Illustrators, Priscilla Burris. They had dinner with Diaz .

Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart are considered to be the  premier contemporary  pop-up book artists in the U.S.

Maurice Sendak tried his hand at 3-D moveable art with great results.  Mommy? released in 2006 by Michael di Capua Books/Scholastic was  a collaboration between him, author-playwright Arthur Yorinks and pop-up wizard Reinhart.

Erik and Christy’s field trip got me thinking how much I enjoyed pop-ups and  any kind of  “3-D” art as a kid.

Maybe because it broke the picture plane and added one more dimension of  “make believe.”

I once owned a reprint of a Turn of the Century pop-up book. It was  about  a Victorian family’s visit to a  zoo. I don’t   remember the title or the artist.

As you turned each page  you saw the same family and a different cage of animals come to life. The animals stayed behind the bars,  thank goodness.  The book gave you a charming experience of visiting a zoo.

One issue of “Jack and Jill” magazine, I remember ( I was a proud 10 year old subscriber), had a sort of 3-D assemble-it-yourself Dinosaur Diorama.

It featured Pteranadons, Brontosauruses and maybe a T-Rex.
You placed them into a primeval forest stage-set. Its curved backdrop gave depth to a world of  volcanoes, ferns, and Jurassic beasts.
(Of course the best dinosaur is a 3-D dinosaur.)

After doing my part in the assembly, I felt as if I’d done the whole mural myself.  It wasn’t like I’d painted the dinosaurs. I’d  just punched them out of cardstock and inserted them into their places in the scene.
But I’d helped to contribute to the 3-D effect!

Pop up books have been around since the Middle Ages — for kids books, since the 1800s. Here is Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart’s List of “Top 10 Pop-Up Books” , according to Amazon.com.

And speaking of 3-D papercraft, Kids Can Press has re-released the eminently kid-friendly The New Jumbo Book of Easy Crafts by Judy Ann Sadler. A redesign and smartly graphic illustrations by Caroline Price keep176 pages of step by step procedurals from feeling  burdensome.

The New Jumbo Book of Easy Crafts by Judy Ann Sadler and Caroline Price

 

Mark G. Mitchell hosts the How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator blog.