“A marvelous way to tell a difficult story”

The upcoming Austin SCBWI Graphic Novel Workshop on Saturday, October 5 promises to be a day for writers and illustrators, writer-illustrators and anyone interested in exciting alternative literary forms for children, teens and young adults. OK, plenty of adults read them, too.

Webcomics creator, animator, digital content creator and our SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) chapter’s intrepid webmaster Erik Kuntz of Square Bear Studio talked with me about graphic novels, why they matter and what workshop attendees can expect from what could well be the first SCBWI  conference devoted solely to graphic novels that we know of.

You can see the full playlist of Erik’s and my video discussion of the workshop and the art form here.

Austin is a natural location for such a workshop, having been home  to many notable cartoonists and comic book artists in their earliesh careers, including William Sidney Porter (otherwise known as the short story writer “O. Henry” who illustrated his Austin humor newspaper The Rolling Stone with a lot of his own humorous line art; Roy Crane, who pioneered the ‘adventure comic strip’ with Wash Tubbs, Captain Easy and Buz Sawyer, Gilbert Shelton, who also attended the University of Texas at Austin and conjured the Wonder Wart Hog and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in some of the first ‘underground comics’ of the early 1960s — and children’s book author-illustrator Berke Breathed, famous for the Pulitzer Prize winning Bloom County strip of the 1980s, ten years after he did his first comic strips for the University of Texas at Austin  student newspaper The Daily Texan. 

Dave Roman's "Astronaut Academy"

Dave Roman’s “Astronaut Academy” (First Second Books

As Erik shares with us in the video playlist, The Graphic Novel workshop will feature First Second Books senior editor Calista Brill, graphic novelist author-illustrator Dave Roman, whose children’s graphic novel series Astronaut Academy is published by First Second, and graphics novel writer Cynthia Leitich Smith, whose graphic novels Tantalize: Kieran’s Story (Candlewick Press) and soon to be published Eternal: Zachary Story (also Candlewick Press) stem from her own best-selling Tantalize YA Gothic fantasy series. (Candlewick Press.)

Tantalize: Kieran's Story by Cynthia Letiich Smith, illustrated by Ming Doyle

Tantalize: Kieran’s Story by Cynthia Letiich Smith, illustrated by Ming Doyle

The workshop will occur on the St. Edward’s University campus at 3001 South Congress. Registration tables open at 9 a.m. and you can also register online and read more about the workshop here.

You can check out Erik’s own webcomics series, Hex Libris here.

Enjoy the interview of Cynthia in Cynsations by Austin SCBWI regional advisor Samantha Clark about her work in graphic novel and this Q&A style post, Graphic Novels: What are they and why should I care? on the Austin SCBWI website.

"Hex Libris" webcomic serial by Erik Kuntz
“Hex Libris” webcomic serial by Erik Kuntz

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Mark Mitchell, who wrote wrote this post teaches a children’s book illustration class at The Contemporary Austin Art School at Laguna Gloria and his online Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! course.

Click on the below image to enjoy the recent presentation by author- illustrator CS Jennings.

CS JUennings presentation banner

What the heck is an e-book, anyway?

Children’s book illustrators, artistrators, writers take note:

These guys kind of say it all. The trailer is by animator, web designer, online comics creator Erik Kuntz  (who also happens to be our SCBWI chapter’s webmaster.)

Briefly, the Second Annual Austin SCBWI Digital Symposium is October 6 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. But for the schedule and more details on the workshop and presenters, go here.

Google+ tools for artists and illustrators — a free workshop

Pooja's Google+ workshop screenshot

Watch Pooja Srinivas’ video presentation, Google+ for Artists and Illustrators  — and discover how to network, find and build community, extend your reach and promote your art and illustration with free Google+ tools.  Go here for Pooja’s superb 1.3 hour workshop.

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Children’s book author-illustrator Mark Mitchell is also the author of this post.  See Mark’s short video about the “best drawing secret” here.

Erik animation screenshot

A party in February

Erik KuntzAmy Rose Capetta and Nick Alter made this video of the Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 2012 Regional Conference, Something for Everybody. 

I get a kick out of how the thumbnail on YouTube shows me in the crowd, getting a hug from illustrator Marsha Riti. So of course I had to include it here.

Erik, our web designer and webmaster and Nick, our chapter’s social media strategist produced the video around Amy Rose’s wonderful portrait photography. They put it all together on the fly — while the event was still happening, in time to show the attendees at the day’s end.

You don’t want to miss hearing the Muppets in the video’s second half.

My own photos will never be as good as Amy’s — but they’re illustration-centric and include shots of the illustrators’ intensive session by Patti Ann Harris, senior art director for Little, Brown and Co.

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Yes, it was all back in February! But the experience feels fresh still. Highlights for me were a session Patti did with Random House (Golden Books) editor and author Diane Muldrow on the art director/editor relationship at a house  — and a special award that our chapter presented to two of its beloved members:  Authors Cynthia Leitich Smith and Greg Leitich Smith. The award recognized this married pair for being our chapter’s friends/mentors and Ambassadors for the Austin Kid-Lit Community to the world.

I loved how the Girllustrators organized the illustrators’ print and original art donations for the silent auction and ran herd on the portfolio room and portfolio competition (won by Jeff Crosby.) They represented our group splendidly.

Others’ thank yous were given out many weeks ago. But I’ll add mine now — thanks to the Girllustrators, our terrific guest faculty, especially author Lisa YeeDebbie Gonzalesour chapter’s regional adviser (RA) and assistant RA Carmen Oliver, also Meredith Davis, Shelli Cornelison, Samantha Clark, Sheryl Witschorke  and so many volunteers, and Sister Donna Jurick, Ramsey Fowler, PhD. and Rebecca Rodriguez of St. Edward’s University who allowed their beautiful campus to be our base for the second year in a row.

Girllustrators at the conference

The “Girllustrators” who coordinated the Portfolio Showcase and portfolio contest. Left ro right standing are Emma J. Virjan and Shelley Ann Jackson, seated – Divya Srinivasan, Marsha Riti, Patrice Barton and Amy Farrier — with Emma J. Virjan, Marsha Riti, Patrice Barton, Amy Farrier and Shelley Ann Jackson at the Mabee Ballroom at St. Edward’s University. Not pictured are Lalena Fisher, Tiffany Vargas and Amanda Williams.

A Crystal Kite for Patty

Austin SCBWI’s own Patrice Barton joins Michigan SCBWI’s author Shutta Krum in winning a 2012 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for their picture book Mine!

The Crystal Kite is given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators each year to recognize the best books from 15 regional SCBWI divisions around the world. Peers, children’s book authors and illustrators in the 15 divisions, vote for their favorites.  Mine! was the winner for the Texas-Oklahoma Division.

Last summer we interviewed Patty for Marks and Splashes course students. In this excerpt from video interview Patty did for students of the Marks and Splashes course  she talks about working on the illustrations for Mine! 

 And remembering Maurice Sendak

Who brought many of us back to children’s books — when we thought we’d left them behind long ago.

Conjuring a young witch’s world in watercolor

University of Texas BFA grad Marsha Riti worked at her first creative love, ceramics before she saw an opportunity to make some extra money with her studio art craft — illustrating books for children.

She did some additional study (including taking my class at the AMOA Art School), joined the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and built up her portfolio.

Eventually she landed the assignment from Pelican Press to illustrate the picture book The Picky Little Witch by Elizabeth Brokamp.

In these excerpts from a video interview she did for students of the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! online course, Marsha shares her process for illustrating a picture book.

Her technique of patching together and occasionally manipulating her watercolor illustrations in Photoshop has served her well.

Her blog that she fills with her images and interviews with her illustrator and artists friends caught the attention of an agent, which led  to a contract to illustrate a series of chapter books for the Little Simon imprint of Simon & Schuster.

In the slideshow below you can see Marsha garbed as her witch-in-training heroine at last month’s book launch party.

She’s joined by friends from her Austin SCBWI illustrators’ critique group, the Girlustrators who came out to support, babes and broomsticks in tow.

Marsha Riti signs at BookPeople, surrounded by her Girlustrator pals.

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InteractBook contest winners announced

Our judging team has named the winners for the create your own iPad
book app  contest by InteractBooks.

The first place winner in the contest for creating an interactive book using the InteractBuilder software received an iPad2 and a publishing contract.

Other contestants received prizes, too.

First Place –  It’s Time for Carrots by Dan Byrne

Second Place –  Put the Ow in Meow by Adreienne Jervis

Third PlaceThe Magic of Lizzie Boo by Leslie Dennis

Coming in fourth and neck in neck with third place – CAE Club gets Ready for a Great and Scary Halloween by Ann Kesselman.

Congratulations to all contenders!

Stand by for some videos about the entries, an interview with the winner and news about the next InteractBooks contest.

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Read a fun post by South African artist and new student Helga Pearson about the Marsha Riti interview and her experience of her first lessons of the Marks and Splashes course.

Find out more about the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! online course on illustrating children’s books in a changing publishing world.

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.

Karien Naude

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

Art aloft: The ‘Golden Kite’ children’s book illustrations

It’s hard to explain the thrill of being inches away from an original watercolor by Uri Shulevitz, or Jerry Pinkney or the late Trina Schart Hyman.

"The Huntsman" from "Little Red Riding Hood"  by Trina Schart Hyman,

“The Huntsman” from “Little Red Riding Hood” by Trina Schart Hyman, 1984 Golden Kite Medal winner

You just have to be there.  The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) working with  The Society of Children’s Book Writers and  Illustrators (SCBWI) has now made that possible for  thousands of people  with a new exhibit, Golden Kite Golden Dreams that opened last Thursday at the Center in Abilene, Texas.

Located 180 miles west of Fort Worth,  the NCCIL (they pronounce their acronym nickel)  “enhances visual and verbal literacy by celebrating the best original art published in children’s literature” as their mission states.  Their previous shows have celebrated the  art of Mike Berenstain, Eric Carle, Kevin Henkes, William Joyce,  Robert Sabuda, Diane Stanley and N.C. Wyeth — to mention just a few. Golden Kite Golden Dreams, like  previous NCCIL exhibits will tour major cities around the country when its stay in the  rugged Texas hill country ends.

Richard Jesse Watson illustration
Closeup photo of “Tom Thumb is kidnapped” egg tempera painting for “Tom Thumb” by Richard Jesse Watson. 1990 Golden Kite Medal winner.

The SCBWI, which sponsors conferences, workshops and a wide variety of informational services to writers, illustrators and  others engaged with children’s publishing, awards the   Golden Kite Medals and Honors each year to the best books in four categories — fiction, nonfiction, picture book text and picture book illustration.

Golden Kite Golden Dreams pulls together original art from the winning books of the past 36 years.
Significant, I think that the first retrospective of Golden Kite Medal and Honor winners comes in the way of an art show. And this is a dazzling one:  75 pieces by 47 artists, curated by designer and children’s book illustrator (and SCBWI board member)  David Diaz.

David Diaz draws

Illustrator and SCBWI board member David Diaz draws for kids at the Abilene Public Library

Illustrator David Diaz

Here he talks to them about face proportions and facial feature relationships, while they sketch notes!

Tomie dePaola illustration

"What the Mailman Bought" illustration art by Tomie dePaola, 1988 Golden Kite Honor

Representatives from every Texas SCBWI chapter — Houston, North Central North East Texas (Fort Worth-Dallas) Austin and Southwest (San Antonio)  and Brazos Valley (College Station-Bryan) —  joined their fellow  illustrators, author-illustrators and SCBWI national board members and executive leaders for the opening  weekend activities, talks and workshops.

Illustrator Kristen Balouch

Kristen Balouch's digital illustration for the Golden Kite Honor book "The King and the Three Thieves" is featured in the exhibit. Here she makes a face.

Kristen and a young illustrator collaborate on the drawing

Larry Day illustration

Watercolor illustration by Larry Day for "Not Afraid of Dogs; Not Afraid of Dogs" -- Golden Kite Medal winner for 2007

Illustration byu Jerry Pinkney, pencil on watercolor paper for "Home Place", Golden Kite Medal Winner 1991

Richard Jessie Watson

Golden Kite Medal winning author-illustrator Richard Jesse Watson demonstrates painting in egg tempera

Fairy -- egg tempera demonstration by Richard Jesse Watson

Fairy -- egg tempera demo before the group by author-illustrator Richard Jesse Watson

Lin Oliver, executive director and Steve Mooser, president of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)

Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser

Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser created the SCBWI in 1971. The Society now has 22,000 members in more than 100 regions around the world.

In a Saturday presentation, SCBWI founders Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver told how they literally knocked on doors of top children’s authors to round up board members — and presenters for the first SCBWI conference (in 1971.)

For the organization’s first book award  in 1974 (for Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene)  “We picked the kite as our organization and contest logo,”  SCBWI executive director Lin Oliver said, “because [author and SCBWI board member] Jane Yolen’s father was an expert kite flier.”

Debra Lillick, exec director of the NCCIL

Debbie Lillick and Alexandra Howle of the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) Debbie is NCCIL executive director.

as SCBWI contingent and National Illustrator Coordinator Priscilla  Burris

Illustrator, designer and SCBWI National Illustrator Coordinator Priscilla Burris huddles with the SCBWI Texas contingent. Left to right: Millie Martin, Heather Powers, Priscilla Burris, Mark Mitchell. Carol Cooke Barrayre, Allan Stacy, Jacqueline Gramann, and Liz Mertz. The statue behind them is inspired by the William Joyce's picture book Santa Calls.

Kevin Hawkes illustration

Closeup of "By the light of the Halloween Moon. The Ghost Who Trips the Ghoul" acrylic illustration by Kevin Hawkes, 1994 Golden Kite Medal winner

“One of the things we want to show is how complex an art this is,” Oliver said, speaking of of the original watercolor, gouache, tempera, acrylic , papercut and inkworks on display and children’s  book illustration generally.

“For many, children’s books are the first exposure to literature and art and philosophy and what it is to be human,” SCBWI president Steve Mooser said.

National Center for Children's Illustrated LiteratureNCCIL in Abilene, Texas

Golden Kite Golden Dreams exhibit at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) on quiet Cedar Street in Abilene, Texas

Also in attendance were author Illustrators Pat Cummings, Diane Stanley (a native of Abilene),    Priscilla Burris (SCBWI National Illustrator Coordinator),  Richard Jesse Watson, Larry Day, and Kristen Balouch Alan Stacy and Barbara McClintock and artist, art director and VP at Penguin Young Readers Group, Cecilia Yung.

Watson, Day, Balouch, McClintock and Stacy have work featured in the exhibit.

Burris, Cummings, Diaz and Yung  serve on the International SCBWI Board of Advisers.

The NCCIL show will attract some wonderful attention to children’s book art and artists as it starts to tour the country this fall.

SCBW Scroll of Scribbles

SCBWI scroll of scribbles featuring the improvised art of Heather Powers, Priscilla Burris, Allan Stacy, David Diaz, Lin Oliver and several others.

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Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator from his drawing table in Austin, Texas.

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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