Catching Willie Mays (in a children’s book illustration)

How perfect that award-winning children’s book artist Terry Widener has done the pictures for the new picture book by Jonah Winter (just released by Schwartz and Wade) about the greatest all around baseball player ever — Willie Mays.

Terry brings a background of high level advertising and editorial illustration and something else to the many children’s books he’s done on sports figures: The sensibility of a gifted athlete.

Too small to play football on school teams, Widener focused on baseball and mainly golf, which he still avidly plays. In fact he attended art school at the University of Tulsa on a golf scholarship.

After graduation Terry had to choose between two job offers — one as the golf pro at a country club, the other as an ad agency art director. It could have gone either way; Terry went the advertising art route because it paid just a little more per week.

He went on to do design and illustration work for major publications and ad agencies — for national and international clients like Coca Cola, Burger King, The Franklin Mint and Aesculap (a German orthopedic implant manufacturer. )

His first kids’ book illustrations were for Lou Gehrig — The Luckiest Man by David Adler (Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace) named a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor book, a Texas Blue Bonnet Reading List selection, an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year and an SCBWI Golden Kite Finalist, and received the IRA Teacher’s Choice Award.

Since then his books have attracted more honors and recognition,  including Smithsonian Notable Book of the Year, School Library Journal  Best Book of the Year, the Junior Library Guild List, the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show, the Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year and other awards.

Terry paints in acrylics. He’s experimented with a variety of styles in this medium, though now he works in a more painterly, naturalistic style, in the “Old School” children’s book art style of N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle.

That he’s done so many children’s biographies of sports heroes is purely coincidence, he says. What’s no coincidence is the sophisticated-simple design that he brings to these pictures of action and excitement in the ball field, boxing ring and competitive swim lanes — and the comfy authority with which he treats historical settings and scenes.

These videos are excerpts from an in-depth interview Terry gave me for students in the Make Your Splashes — Make Your Marks! course. For more information about this online course on illustrating children’s books, or to receive e-mail news from the “Marks and Splashes” online learning community, go here.

You Never Heard of Willie Mays? by Jonah Winter (Schwartz and Wade) features a lenticular cover illustration. You know those “wiggle pictures” that seem to move when you look at them from different angles? You’d find them  sometimes as surprises inside Cracker Jacks boxes. Schwartz and Wade wanted to use lenticular printing for the covers for this series of picture book sports bios.

The process required Widener to come up with three paintings for the cover. The paintings would animate Mays knocking the ball out of the park, in one of those 50 home run hits of his career.

Terry had to model himself swinging a bat to avoid relying solely on the photos and videos he’d pulled together of the real Willie Mays in the moment — lest he and the publisher end up in a battle with The New York Times and Sports Illustrated over intellectual property!

When dealing with images of sports icons and other stars, be careful to not copy your source material, Terry cautions. Your references are probably all copyrighted!  He couldn’t even render newspaper sports pages of the day as they were, he says. To use them in an illustration he had to change them up a bit — even the wording in the headlines!

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With his art director wife Leslie Widener (also a children’s book author-illustrator) Terry lives in a 100-year-old house in historic McKinney Texas, a few miles north of Dallas, Texas. They’re members of the North Texas chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.)

Terry enjoys doing school visits and receives many invitations for them each year. He can often be coaxed to draw for students in a collaboration where they “art direct” his improvised sketches on the white board.

For a list of Terry’s books and awards go here and to see the covers of some of his books, go here.

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Terry doesn’t illustrate only books on sports heroes. He takes on a variety of projects, like this series of picture books on folks songs with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.

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IMAGMark and Terry (Laura photo)

Mark Mitchell and Terry Widener share a chuckle at Texas Educational Service Center Region One school librarian’s conference in Harlingen, Texas in September 2012.
(Photo by children’s author-poet Laura Purdie Salas) http://www.laurasalas.com)

Austin SCBWI Kick It Up a Notch! conference delights and inspires 

Renowned illustrator and fine artist E.B. Lewis headlined the Austin SCBWI 2013 conference, Kick it Up a Notch! last weekend at St. Edward’s University. (Below) E.B. drew for pre-K and K students at the Regents School in Austin, Texas.

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He also inspired middle grades at the school.

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E.B. Lewis dazzled illustrators and writers alike with an impromptu watercolor demonstration at a Sunday workshop following Kick It Up a Notch!

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Austin, Texas based illustrator Patrice Barton received the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for her art for the picture book Mine! by Shutta Crum (Knopf) in the reception that kicked off the Austin conference. She and Crum presented a workshop about the making of Mine!.
See the video interview Patty did with this blog about illustrating Mine!

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Caitlin Alexander won first place in the conference Portfolio Showcase that was judged by E.B. Lewis, publisher Neal Porter and agent Rubin Pfeffer. Caitlin receives full tuition to next year’s Austin SCBWI conference and a $200 cash prize from the social media firm, Alter Endeavors, owned by Austin SCBWI’s Nick Alter. Erin McGuire won second place and Laura Logan and Amy Farrier tied for third place in the portfolio competition. All won gift cards from Jerry’s Art Supplies. Photo by author Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Google Drive for Artists free replay

Sign up to see the full recording of the workshop on Google Drive and other great Google tools for illustrators, presented by Pooja Srinivas. Yes, it’s free!

And finally, here is my nomination and vote for the ultimate Valentines Day book.

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Mark Mitchell, who sometimes edits this blog wrote this post.

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How to build a robot in Quark

Children’s book author-illustrator Annette Simon works hard to make her picture books playful. Or, maybe more accurately, she plays hard to make her picture books work.  

Her Robot Zombie Frankenstein! (Candlewick Press) delivers an exhilarating,  escalating battle of wits, creativity, costumery and dessert in 72 words.

The bright pictures suggest Colorforms — the plastic stick-ons found in kindergarten toy boxes — but they’re not. Annette illustrates with her computer mouse, using QuarkXpress, an old program for creating page layouts.

To make a shape she clicks and drags the Quark “photo box” across her screen, then pops a color into the outline.  She develops her characters by artfully layering these colored slices.

And somehow she makes them — her characters, the mechanical dueling bots — feel like people we know as well as our own siblings.

A savvy, award-winning creative director, Annette worked at the national advertising and graphic design firm GSD&M in Austin, Texas for several years before she and her husband moved to Neptune Beach, Florida. Today she writes and draws books for young readers and works part-time at the indie book store The BookMark.

Below, more nuts and bolts re: her Robot Zombie Frankenstein! art-making:

The videos are excerpts from an on-camera interview, including a discussion on book cover design that she gave for students of the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! course. You can see more of her interview and photos from her July signing party with her Austin SCBWI pals here

Below (as promised in the video), the steps for constructing a robot in Quark, starting with a purple box: (courtesy of Annette Simon) 

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Jump to see more of Annette’s interview, including her thoughts about her process, revising and working with her long distance critique group.

Digital Symposium II October 6

The second annual Austin SCBWI Digital Symposium set for Saturday, October 6 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, features hands on training on digital art-making, WordPress, book video-trailer making for YouTube and lots more.

These Xtra Normal guys say they definitely are going. The symposium trailer is by animator and online comics creator Erik Kuntz, who is also our SCBWI chapter’s webmaster and will lead the workshops on Anime Studio and Manga Studio. You’ll find details on the workshop and presenters and your registration packet here.


Illustrator E.B. Lewis headlines 2013 Austin conference, Let’s Kick it Up a Notch

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Watercolor illustration by E.B. Lewis

It’s official! Renown children’s book illustrator and fine artist E.B. Lewis will review portfolios and conduct a special Sunday illustrators’ intensive at the Austin SCBWI 2013 Regional ConferenceFebruary 8-10 at St. Edward’s University. He’ll be joined by an extraordinary conference faculty that will include agents, authors, editors art directors and senior children’s book publishing execs.

To drop just a few names: SCBWI Crystal Kite award winning illustrator Patty Barton and and author Shutta Crum, literary agent with S©ott Treimel NY John M. Cusick, best-selling YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith,  Senior VP and publisher of Simon and Schuster Books Rubin Pfeffer, Caldecott Honor author, poet Liz Garton Scanlon, Macmillan Children’s Books publisher Neal Porter.

And that’s not everyone. Download your copy of the Kick it Up a Notch faculty sheet and the registration packet

P.S. The August 26 post on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast features E.B. Lewis’ stunning illustrations for Jacqueline Woodson’ s picture book on children’s cruelty,  Each Kindness.

Google+ tools for artists and illustrators — free workshop

Pooja's Google+ workshop screenshot

Hey illustrators! If you haven’t yet seen Pooja Srinivas’ Google Hangout presentation, Google+ for Artists and Illustrators you’ll probably want toIn her fast-moving 80-minute recorded workshop, she shows us how to find and build community, network and promote our art with free Google+ tools. Discover a fabulous, huge resource that’s as close and accessible to you as your Gmail account. See Pooja’s free workshop.

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Jump to see more of Annette’s interview, including her thoughts about her process, revising and working with her long distance critique group.

Children’s book author-illustrator Mark Mitchell wrote this post. Watch his short video on the “best drawing secret.”

Annette Simon addresses a packed second floor at her signing for “Robot Zombie Frankenstein!” at BookPeople in Austin  in July.

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.

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Making it up as we go along…

Author-Illustrator Jeff Crosby

Children’s book author-illustrator Jeff Crosby (Wiener WolfDisney-Hyperion) was talking with young students of the Austin Independent School District the other day — and he let them tell him a story, while he illustrated their scenes.

A bit of a high wire act, yes but he pulled it off with his usual calm and cleverness.

You can see the story somewhere in the following slide show.

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The slides include some of Jeff’s original sketches and paintings from Wiener Wolf as well as for Little Lions, Bull  Baiters  & Hunting Hounds (Tundra Books)  that he wrote and illustrated with his wife, author-illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson.

The event was for a birthday bash of sorts, 100 Years of School Libraries in Austin.

Illustrators recognized as the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference wraps up

Congratulations to Melissa Sweet — winner of the 2012 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration,  for Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of the Macy’s Parade (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), a picture book biography that was five years in the making and has won several other awards.

And congratulations to Juana Martinez Neal, Grand Prize winner, and Mary Jo Scott, Nancy Armo and  Mary Lundquist,  honor winners in the Summer Conference Portfolio Contest.  

The awards were presented at the conference Sunday luncheon in Los Angeles.

Painted motion on glass

Alexander Petrov's "the Old Man and the Sea"

Does the Russian animator Alexander Petrov know a thing or two about using thumbnail sketches to build his stories and move them forward? Of course he does! Read about this and see his complete Academy Award – winning animated film, The Old Man and the Sea (20 minutes), based on Ernest Hemingway’s short novel here on the Illustration Course blog.

On your mouse, get set…go!

Austin SCBWI’s Digital Symposium II: Nuts and Bolts of Success is a hands-on technology workshop for illustrators and authors of all techie levels. Be it blogging or beveling, tweeting or technique sharing, hyperlinking or hashtagging, the intention of this symposium set for October 6 at St. Edward’s University is for the participants to leave with new skills to add their technological tool belts. You can download the full packet here, which includes conference info and an off-line registration sheet.

Parlay your ideas into children’s book art

"Make Your Splashes - Make Your Marks!" online course

“Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks!” online course

Learn drawing and painting the fun way this summer. Take Mark Mitchell’s self-paced, online course Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! 

It teaches a dynamic approach to illustrating children’s books using traditional painting mediums.

Discover a great secret about drawing (four videos) and find more details about the course here.

Kevin Henkes’ gentle brush

Children’s book author-illustrator Kevin Henkes received the Caldecott Medal in 2005 for his picture book Kitten’s First Full Moon (Greenwillow, HarperCollins.)

But that was just a step on the journey that began more than 25 years before when, as a junior in high school, he decided to make a career of illustrating children’s books.The summer after his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Henkes set out for New York, portfolio under his arm.

He was 19. His first stop was Greenwillow Books and there he met the publishers founder, Susan Hirschman who, in the words from his website bio “signed him up on the spot.”

Henkes’s first published picture book, All Alone (1981) was followed by a series of icgture books featuring little mice characters — most famously Owen, named a Caldecott Honor Book (1994) and Lilly of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse (1996.)

“Each book is different. Some come easily, and some are very difficult to bring to completion.
I’ll often think about an idea for months, even years, before I’m ready to write,” Henkes says.

“It’s difficult to say how much time I spend on each illustration. I don’t do each illustration from start to finish; I do them in stages.  I do sketches for the entire book first. Then I’ll refine all the sketches. Next, I’ll do a finished pencil drawing for each illustration in the book.”

He then inks, tests colors for each illustration, then paints in watercolor.

Kevin Henke's "Old Bear"

Time to submit your story in the PB Dummy Challenge

The PB Dummy Challenge crew wraps up its series on the #KidLitArt blog this week with this this post about how to pitch your story to the world and author-illustrator Tara Lazar’s encouraging video in which she shares truths about rejection and “revisions on spec” requests from editors.

Parlay those art skills into children’s book pictures 

"Make Your Splashes - Make Your Marks!" online course

“Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks!” online course

Learn drawing and painting the fun way this summer. Take Mark Mitchell’s self-paced course Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks!which teaches a dynamic approach to illustrating children’s books using traditional watercolor. Discover a great secret about drawing (video) and more about the course here.

How this nonfiction PB “Jes’ Happened”

Children’s book illustrator Don Tate never thought of himself as a writer, despite his many children’s author, publishing and librarian friends — a small army’s worth — and being surrounded by journalists all day in his work as a graphics reporter for the Austin American Statesman

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Don Tate at the book launch party for his “It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw”  at BookPeople in Austin, Texas Saturday, June 9, 2012

He’s illustrated more than 40 educational books and 11 children’s trade books by other writers. His aunt Eleanora Tate is a successful children’s book writer.

But he wasn’t one. Not until Saturday.

That’s when Don threw a book launch party for himself —  actually his first-ever bookstore signing event — to celebrate the release of It  Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw.

It’s a picture book bio about an impoverished folk artist whose pictures, drawn on scratch cardboard and paper in the 1930s and 1940s now hang in top museums and fetch tens of thousands of dollars from serious collectors.

The book has already received rave and starred reviews in The Horn Book, Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly.

You can imagine the scene: Family, friends and fans (including author and or illustrator pals from the dynamic Austin SCBWI chapter) swarming the second floor of Austin’s renown indie-book store, BookPeople. A kids’ art-making station littered with markers and paper hosted by Don’s illustrator friends. Easels propped up by the podium for a creative sketching showdown by audience members. A refreshments table piled with baked treats. A funny banner unfurled by members of Don’s author group, the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels.

In the two videos — excerpts from a longer video interview Don gave for students of Mark Mitchell’s Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! children’s book illustration course, Don talks about his experience of coming up with the words for It Jes Happened.

The real story of Traylor who began making his drawings when he was 85 and living homeless on the streets in Montgomery is a jaw dropper.

If Traylor drew and painted earlier in his life, which is plausible, there’s no record of it. Though many of his pictures, certainly are mental snapshots from his memories of childhood as an Alabama slave before the Civil War.

“Traylor is recognized as one of the finest American artists of the 20th century,” says the website of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which holds one of the largest public collection of Traylor’s drawings.

“His works are notable for their flat, simply defined shapes and vibrant compositions in which memories and observations relating to African American life are merged.”

“Using a stick for a straightedge, he created geometric silhouettes of human and animal figures which he then filled in with pencil, colored pencil, or poster paint,” says an article on him in Wikipedia. “Much speculation surrounds the identification of mysteriously shaped objects,  usually referred to as “constructions,” and the complex scenes he called ‘Exciting Events,’ which depict groups of people.”

Nearly as fascinating as Traylor’s journey is this PB biography’s long path to publication. Don told Saturday’s standing room only audience how the subject was first suggested to him by an author friend Dianna Aston. She’d decided the idea fit Don better than her–  and sent him the newspaper clipping that had first caught her eye.

Don kept the clipping beside his drawing table — where he would see it every day as he worked on more pressing illustration assignments.

He wanted to let the  message of the life of this prolific, unschooled  black artist sink into him slowly.

He wrote a draft and entered it into the NewVoices contest sponsored by New York publisher Lee & Low Books.The annual award (that includes a cash prize of $1,000 and a standard publisher’s contract) goes to a picture book manuscript by a writer of color.

Don won the New Voices Honor (runner-up) award — with a $500 cash prize — and an offer to publish if he was willing to revise.

Illustrator R. Gregory Christie

R. Gregory Christie, illustrator for “It Jes’ Happened”

The revision process went on for four years — most of this time waiting to hear from editors on Don’s several versions.

Talented illustrator R. Gregory Christie whose electrifying artwork has appeared in The New Yorker magazine as well as several children’s books, was tapped — by Don himself as it turns out — to create the pictures.

Don talks about this in the videos. Christie interprets the scenes as Traylor himself might have, but with brighter (more expensive?) colors. It’s a tour de force of the best kind of children’s book art, integrating the subject with the pictures.

Don’s own illustrations, meanwhile have appeared recently in Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite by Anna Harwell Celenza (Charlesbridge Publishing) and She Loved Baseball — the Effa Manley Storby Audrey Vernick (HarperCollins).

You might enjoy these other interviews with Don

School Library Journal ad

The display ad that publisher Lee & Low ran in the School Library Journal for Tate’s and Christie’s book

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Lee & Low is now accepting entries for the 13th annual New Voices AwardThe deadline is September 30.
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Don and Tamara Diggs-Tate

Author illustrator Don Tate enjoys the rousing introduction by his wife, graphic artist Tamera Diggs-Tate to his book launch presentation for “It Jes’ Happened” Saturday, June 9 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas

Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell is the writer of this post and the creator of the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! online course.
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It’s easy to include How To Be a Children’s Book Illustrator on your radar screen. Just like our Facebook page.

The animated “finger paintings” of Aleksandr Petrov 

"The Mermaid" by animator Aleksandr Petrov

Still from the animated short “The Mermaid” by Aleksandr Petrov, based on a story by Pushkin.

Read about this amazing Russian animator and how he paints on glass to create  illustrations that move and breathe.   See his work, too, in the unusual new video series starting over at the Illustration Course blog.

Make Your Marks!

Looking to improve your pictures? The “Marks and Splashes” lessons can help you. See about them here and discover a secret to better drawing in some great free videos.
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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.