ALA honors for Austin authors; SCBWI conferences and illustration classes for you

It’s been a landmark week for Austin children’s writers.  Three of our gang scored top honors– a Caldecott Honor, a Sibert Honor and a Newbery Honor from the American Library Association.

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Our Austin, Texas  chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCBWI) is a little dazed after last weekend’s 2010 award announcements.  Austin’ s Jacqueline Kelly received a Newbery Honor for her YA novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate about a girl growing up at the turn of the 19th century.  The  picture book poem All the World penned by Liz Garton Scanlon of Austin and illustrated by Marla Frazee was named one of the two Caldecott Honor books. (Frazee’s second Caldecott Honor.)

All the World

"All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee

The Day Glo Brothers by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani

And The Day-Glo Brothers written by Chris Barton of Austin and illustrated with retro lines and Day-Glo colors by Tony Persiani won a Sibert Honor for children’s  nonfiction.  (From the ALA – “The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year.”)

Our SCBWI chapter claims all three of these writers and we’ll claim Frazee, too.  So that makes four.

All four,  as it just so happens  had been scheduled to present at the Austin SCBWI regional 2010 conference “Destination Publication” next weekend (January 30) with an already honors heavy lineup of authors, editors and agents. Marla  is giving the keynote address along with Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson (Hatti Big Sky)

Another Texan, Libba Bray won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature for her novel Going Bovine. We’ll claim her, too — so that’s five.

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney - 2010 Caldecott Medal

The Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious award for children’s book illustration in the United States  went to Jerry Pinkney for his wordless telling of the Aesop’s Fable The Lion and the Mouse.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for most distinguished beginning reader book went to Benny and Penny in the Big No-No!, written and illustrated by Geoffrey Hayes. We discussed Benny and Penny and other Toon Books in previous post.

Cheers and tears

Many of my Facebook buds are SCBWI  illustrators and writers. You should have seen how they were afire this week with exclamations, congratulations and jubilations over Austin’s harvest of trophies.

A number of our tribe were out of town at the Vermont College of Fine Arts for a residency semester for the MFA in writing for children and young adults. Their FB reports segued from fascinated discussions of snow and cold to tearful excitement over the ALA announcements (especially pertaining to Texas) which they followed on a streaming net feed projected on a large screen in the venerable campus lunchroom.

There are stories behind the stories as there usually are.  For example —  the 23 rejections for The Day-Glo Brothers before the manuscript was accepted by Charlesbridge then a five year wait before the  book rolled off the presses. You can read a little about its  nine year journey to publication on Chris’s blog Bartography.

Liz has her own story about coming to an impasse in her writing — until an editor’s chance comment got her riffing  again on a string of rhymes and word images, which turned into All the World.  I hope you get to hear or read her account of her process one day.  Liz and Marla will discuss their collaboration on the book at the Austin conference.

Texas Conferences

I keep hitting them here, but here are the links again.  You can download PDF information, schedules and enrollment forms. Austin SCBWI’s “Destination Publication” (January 30th) was nearly sold out, but here  you go; there might be a spot left. At last report there were still a couple of portfolio critique slots open with the wonderful illustrator, Patrice Barton. She’s the other illustrator in the day’s faculty lineup.

The Houston SCBWI conference is February 20 and will feature author Cynthia Leitich Smith, senior editors from Simon &  Schuster Books for Young Readers and Scholastic Inc.  and the art director for Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, Patrick Collins, who will review portfolios.  Collins also will teach a special breakout workshop for illustrators on “Making a Picture Book Dummy” during the day.  It’s an opportunity  not to miss.

Let’s take a break…

And see this fun video that’s remarkable for its characterizations and dialogue.  Animator  Caroline Ting overheard the two boys talking in a comic book store and used them as the voice actors for her little film she titled RAM (Random Access Memory) about…well,  an addiction peculiar to the 21st century (and I’m not talking about Farmville. ) I recognized  myself in it and you might, too.

Animals in the classroom?

For anyone living in the heart of Texas I’ll be teaching spring semester classes in children’s book illustration beginning next week at the Art School of the Austin Museum of Art .  The  six week  “Level 1” class begins next Wednesday evening 6 to 9 p.m.  January 27 — and runs through March 10 (with no class February 17. )

Level II is set for Tuesday evenings 6 to 9 p.m. March 23 – April 20 (five sessions.)  To register or if you have any questions contact the Art School at (512) 323-6380 or go to the website: www.amoa.org/artschool

If you want to take a course but live nowhere near Central Texas,  remember you have an online home-study option,  Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks! Drawing and Painting for Children’s Book Illustration

Childrens Book Illustration class at the AMOA Art School at Laguna Gloria

Austin Museum of Art Art School at the Laguna Gloria campus, Children’s Book Illustration fall semester 2009.  Left to righ: Anney Rehm, Paula Engelhardt, Laura Smith, Naomi Smith, Halli Hollister, and April Richardson and some guinea pig friends.

Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts this blog.  He teaches children’s book illustration at the Art School at the Austin Museum of Art and through the “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!” online course.

Art and Letters

So many colleagues from the Austin children’s and YA writing community spoke on panels and signed their new books at the 2009 Texas Book Festival this past weekend.  I always enjoy this 2.5 day party on the state capitol grounds.  But I could not go this time because I was on an illustration deadline.

So Saturday afternoon while looking for music on You Tube to ink my drawings by,  I stumbled upon “Foreign Letters” by Israeli singer, composer-arranger Chava Alberstein.  Here’s her performance at a Berlin concert with the Klezmatics.  (You have to click on the “Watch on You Tube”  link.  It’s  worth it.  She’s a spellbinder.)

“Oh, how beautiful. I love foreign letters,” she sings. “They are like drawings. They are like secret signs from magic places, from different worlds.”

Alberstein’s music is typically ravishing.  For her though, it’s about words and language.  She says so herself in songs and interviews.

Chava’s song and the book festival happening downtown got me thinking about the graphic statement of the written word —  of how text =  images and the  alphabets of the world derive from pictures.

On Monday I was reading  a new blogpost by comics creator and teacher Scott McCloud discussing the presentation of text in graphic novels. McCloud linked to an interview with Todd Klein, the graphic artist who did the lettering for Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series, which required Klein to invent a different font for each character! You can read the interview here.

I thought of children’s author Charles Ghigna, aka Father Goose who posts a new poem on his blog each week full of word pictures for “teachers, librarians, parents friends …and kids.

I found myself reaching for Liz Garton Scanlon‘s resonant new picture book All the World with illustrations by Marla Frazee that happened to be lying by my computer.  Publishers Weekly has just named it to its list of  Best Children’s Books of 2009.

9781416985808

"All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

Yes — it was as I remembered!
Her poem text was rendered in
pencil.

Or else set in one very
cleverly executed font.

I contacted Liz to find out which.
She’s one of the leading lights in our Austin SCBWI chapter.

Did Marla Frazee hand letter the text?
I asked her.

“Yep,” she replied.

One more celebration of letters on the page!

“…Letters that are the beginning of everything good and bad in this world. With letters you can create anything you want. You can create disasters.  And you can create hopes and dreams — good dreams.” — Chava Alberstein

Two other authors from the  Austin SCBWI gang have books on PW‘s list of best children’s books of the year.  The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton, illus. by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge) and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly (Holt.)

This just in: The New York Times releases its “Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2009” list tomorrow (Saturday, November 7. ) Yes, you’ve already guessed it:  All the World, by Liz Garton Scanlon with illustrations by Marla Frazee  made the list (and it’s a pretty short list.)

Have your portfolio reviewed by Caldecott Honor illustrator Marla Frazee or the wonderfully talented Patrice Barton at the Austin SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference Destination Publication on Saturday Saturday, January 30, 2010. Find the full lowdown and registration form here

And have it reviewed a month later by Patrick Collins, Creative Director of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers  at the Houston SCBWI  conference Saturday, February 20, 2010. Download information and a registration form  here.

Mark Mitchell, who wrote this post,  teaches children’s book illustration at the Art School at the Austin Museum of Art and online. You can learn about his online course here and receive some free drawing videos and a lesson.

example of Glagolitic alphabet

The Glagolitic Alphabet in action: Codex Zographensis from Medieval Bulgaria

One Illustration Reverie; Two Real Deals

What does this short animated clip have to do with John Singer Sargent or children’s book illustration?

A quoi ca sert l’amour,  a short animation by Louis Clichy, with thanks to illustrator  and animation/game artist Amanda Williams for finding this.  She called  it “brutal and adorable.”

If a child-friendly story had illustrations with these lines — and visual characters as memorable as these  and color the way John Singer Sargent used it in his painted scenes, it would be some picture book, right?

I’m assembling a fantasy football — I mean  illustration project  — team here.

So, starting with the cartoon:  What makes these stick figures tug at your emotions as they do?

The honesty of the emotions depicted?

The “simple” (oh-so-sophisticated) graphics with their varied perspectives and 360 degree “camera revolutions”?

All the fast cutting and the surprise transitions?

The song?  Edith Piaf’s and Theo Sarapo’s singing?

The subject?

Could some of this aplomb be translated into picture book illustrations?

OK,  so let’s add some color and texture.  John Singer Sargent had a knack  for such things. Thanks to Chicago based painter Raymond Thornton for finding this.

I know.  Sargent is the painter who gives all other painters inferiority complexes.  We don’t know a lot about how he made his palette choices. (We know that he looked carefully.)

So enough with dream teaming. We’ve got some news today.

Two power chapters of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) have announced their 2010 pow-wows — both set for early next year.

It’s Time to Mingle in Texas

State Capitol in Austin, Texas

State Capitol in Austin, Texas

Awesome Austin

Austin SCBWI comes first with Destination Publication featuring  a Caldeecott Honor Illustrator and Newberry Honor Author, along with agents, editors, more authors, another fab illustrator, critiques, portfolio reviews and parties.

Mark the date — Saturday, January 30, 2010,  8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.  Get the full lowdown and the registration form here. Send in your form pronto if you’re interested — more than 100 people have already signed up. Manuscript crtiques are already sold out. But a few portfolio reviews are still open at this writing!

Destination Publication features Kirby Larson, author of the 2007 Newbery Honor Book, Hattie Big Sky and Marla Frazee, author-illustrator of A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, which received a Caldecott Honor Award, and more recently All the World penned (all 200 words of it) by Austin’s own children’s author/poet Liz Garton Scanlon.

Frazee teaches children’s book illustration at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA.  She and Scanlon will talk about their collaboration on All the Worldt. You can read each of their stories  Behind The Book at a Simon & Schuster webpage here.

"All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

"All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

The  one-day faculty also includes:

Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic.

Lisa Graff, Associate Editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers.

Stacy Cantor, Editor, Bloomsbury USA/Walker  Books For Young Readers.

Andrea Cascardi agent with Transatlantic Literary Agency (and a former editor.)

Mark McVeigh another former editor who represents writers, illustrators, photographers and graphic novelists for both the adult and children’s markets.

Nathan Bransford, agent.

The conference  will also showcase authors  Sara Lewis Holmes, Shana Burg, P. J. Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, Chris Barton, Jacqueline Kelly, Jennifer Ziegler, Philip Yates and illustrator Patrice Barton.

Read more about everyone here.

Happenin’ Houston

Houston SCBWI has announced a still developing  lineup for its conference just three weeks after Austin’s:   Saturday, February 20, 2010.  Registration has just opened.

Headliners here:

Cynthia Leitich Smith, acclaimed author of short stories, funny picture books, Native American fiction, and YA Gothic fantasies. Faculty member, Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Ruta Rimas, assistant editor Balzer & Bray/HarperCollin.

Rosa

Rosa

Patrick Collins, creative director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. Collins art directs and designs picture books, young adult novels and middle grade fiction (Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?, Old Penn Station and Rosa, a Caldecott Honor book.)

Also featured: Alexandra Cooper,  senior editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Lisa Ann Sandell,  senior editor at Scholastic Inc., and Sara Crowe, a New York agent with Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Download their bios, more Houston conference info and a registration form from this page. No, you don’t have to be Texan to register for either of these “big as Texas” events.

Mark Mitchell teaches children’s book illustration at the Austin Museum of Art Art School — and online. Learn the best drawing secret free here.

Blogging Illustrators and Glowing Reviews

We don’t purport to cover the entire waterfront here.  But every once in a while it’s fun to do a roundup of  children’s book illustration items, which is another way of saying “string some things together that aren’t really  related.”

Or lazy writing, in other words.  But hey — it’s  summertime  in Central Texas.

So let me start with this image of a few Inklings basking  in the July heat at the Central Market Cafe.  It’s a children’s picture book critique group under the Austin, Texas  Chapter of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.)

Some of the Inklings of Austin SCBWI during a recent Sunday a.m. huddle: Louise Shelby, Amy Farrier, Torran Anderson, Salima Alikhan and Marsha RitiWe converge on our own one Sunday morning each month. There’s almost always a new face  and four to 12 familiar ones.

We’ll read each others’ stories aloud  or leaf through a portfolio or  a storyboard or bring our latest book discoveries.

Mostly we all talk at the same time,  like the mice in Diane Stanley’s  The Conversation Club.

(Left to right:  Louise Shelby,  Amy Farrier,   Torran Anderson,   Salima Alikhn and Marsha Riti. I don’t think they’ve had their second cups of coffee yet.)

One Bright Afternoon

was enjoyed by picture book author Chris Barton and many fans at his debut signing at BookPeople earlier this month.

The Day Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors (Charlesbridge Publishers 2009) is narrative science writing for kids at its best.

"The Day-Glo Brothers" by Chris Barton, illustrated by Bill Slavin It’s illustrated in a smart & sassy 1950s cartoon style by Tony Persiani (with day-glo spots evocative  of  old time color separated-illustrations)

The combination of crisp text that keeps you excitedly turning pages and plentiful, high energy art that suits the narrative perfectly has garnered starred reviews for the book  in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

Which is a little like lightning striking three times (in a good way.)

It’s not a well known story and Barton had to research much  of it first-hand with interviews of suviving Switzer family members.

Through years of trial and error and a few happy accidents the brothers learned  how certain resin and dye mixtures resulted in a color that was  “oranger-than-orange.” Their experiments began as an enhancement to  one brother’s magic act — and led to massive production of the paint during  World War Two. (The colors we take for granted today as “Day-Glo” were used mainly for signaling and signage that aided in rescues and prevented untold accident casualties.)

The book unfolds as a joyous experience of discovery for the reader.

A Glowing Moment for Picture Book Author Chris Barton and his many fans at his debut signing at BookPeople July 11 for "The Day-Glo Brothers."  Photo by Donna Bowman Bratton.

Chris, a young helper and standing-room-only crowd at Austin’s BookPeople July 11. Photo by Donna Bowman Bratton

These days, some of the best information on children’s book illustration is

Found on the Blogs

English  illustrator and author  Lynn Chapman shows us  “before and after” versions of a double page spread for an assignment — with her ‘notes to self’ scrawled on drawings or copies of them.  You’ll find these on her blog, An Illustrator’s Life For Me

She’s just mailed in final art for Bears on the Stairs by Julia Jarman.  Now she’s waiting to hear about the changes she’ll have to make.

Vancouver illustrator Kirsti Anne Wakelin in her blog  My Secret Elephant talks about her tools and how she uses reference in her work — and shows us her line art for a dummy she’s been working on this year. Click on the tab that says “Illustration Process” for progress reports on her book assignment.

James Gurney Amazes…

Yes, the James Gurney — creator of the  Dinotopia books. He also maintains one of  the premier artist’s process blogs (maybe I’ve just coined a new genre) with his daily blog Gurney Journey.

He shares a lot of art instruction here and even allows you to look over his shoulder as he works over his drawing board, via close-up photos and videos.  It’s a treat.

In the post series below you’ll see him complete a commissioned poster for an upcoming festival in France. Then you’ll know why his work is so good. (He goes the extra mile!)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Three (b)

Part Four

Part Six

Part Seven

Jumping Juxtapositions, Batman!

In this post on Just One More Book Mark  Blevis interviews illustrator Raul Colón at the Jewish Libraries 2009 Convention. Click here for the podcast. with /b

In a second interview with Blevis, Colón goes into more detail about how he and his illustration students find inspiration bumping unrelated subjects and themes into each other,  the way Stanley Kubrick paired The Blue Danube Waltz with his shots of the massive spacecraft in 2001, A Space Odyssey.

A post  on Lateral Action, a blog on creativity, says researchers have found that multi-tasking can reduce your performance level to that of someone who is inebriated.

Did you Eat, Stanley?

"Stanley's Beauty Contest" gives us the dog's point of view of one of those dog shows.

"Stanley's Beauty Contest" gives us the dog's point of view of one of those dog shows.

Stanley’s Beauty Contest by Linda Bailey (Kids Can Press, Toronto) is a very  funny romp through a Best of Show competition. (Read: many dogs)

(Stanley’s hungry because he missed breakfast. When the judges pass him by, he leads his  foo-fooed, four-footed fellow contestants on a gambit to turn the table (literally) on the show’s organizers.

The  infectiously fun, warm ‘n fuzzy textured illustrations are by prolific children’s book artist  Bill Slavin.

Famous illustrators are included Publisher’s Weekly’s  exerpt from Anita Sibley’s new book Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children’s Book (Roaring Brook.)

My favorite part:  Thatcher Hurd commenting on Kenneth Grahame’s  The Wind in the Willows. He refers to Mr. Toad as “surely the id personified.”

Ernest Shepard's depiction of Mr. Toad from "Wind in the Willows"

Illustration by Ernest Shepard.

Click on  “Leave a comment” at the top of the post —  to open the op-ed page and share your thoughts on the post items there.

For 12 free tutorials on using color with cunning  click here.



Tiny Dummies

Who would have guessed that Caldecott Medal Winner Brian Selznick’s final pencil illustrations for his picture books were so small?

This  video emulates the silent film montages that are in the spirit of the book that won the American Library Association’s 2008 Caldecott Medal.

]

Michele Ammon interviews  Selznick for a nifty Expanded Books video on “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”  He explains his interesting reasons for working in such a small graphic style — with his original  images  one quarter of the size they appear in the finished book!

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In this video Niko plays Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the piano as we see selected illustrations from the book unfolding some of Hugo Cabret’s  story.

* * * * *

For anyone in the Austin area this Saturday(July 11), don’t forget author Chris Barton’s signing for his just released picture book, “The Day Glo Brothers”  (Charlesbridge, 2009)  at 1 p.m. at BookPeople on the second floor.

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Author Cynthia Leitich Smith interviews  Chris Barton on the publication of his picture book bio “The Day Go Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors” (Charlesbridge, 2009)  illustrated by Tony Persiani. The book has been getting great reviews  and you can learn how to enter to win a free copy in the post in Cynthia’s  blog Cynsations.

* * * * *

Mark Mitchell hosts the “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” blog.
To enjoy some free watercolor lessons from his online course
on how to illustrate a children’s book go here.

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Dogged Daily Drawing

Cartoonist,  comics artist-author, web designer  Erik Kuntz drew a dog every day for a year.

And now he can draw them out of his head quite easily.

I know this because I saw him do it with my own eyes a few weeks ago.  I was sitting across the table from him at Central Market Cafe at an Inklings critique session. He had his sketchbook out. (A lot of folks bring their sketchbooks to Inklings gatherings.)  He was doodling as he listened to the various conversations that were going on around the table.

Suddenly this friendly,  rough and ready four pawed canine fellow appeared on the page — and everyone stopped talking.

I was always  impressed by  Erik’s decision to create  regularly  (by drawing then posting to his website a dog every day so we could keep tabs on him.  And not the same dog, either.)

It was the sort of character building put-your-time-and-money-where-your- mouth-is goal that I’ve always aspired to.  (Alas, I’ve found that other peoples’ deadlines motivate me more than my own.)

Erik never missed a day– and no one ever told him to do it.

He talked with us a few weeks ago. 

Why a dog a day, Erik?

I came up with the idea in 2000.  I even designed a logo for it way back then. Somebody said  if  you do something everyday,  it’s not possible to get worse at it.  Some of the newer studies, like those quoted in Malcom Gladwell’s  book Outliers have suggested that genius is over-rated.  I read something about that in 2002. 

I thought I should force  something ;  I really should be drawing more. But I let my own personal insecurities  get in the way.

It did bother me for six years.  I kept thinking,  where would I be now in my skill if I’d put more effort into it years ago.

On January 1, 2008, I launched my web comic Hex Libris and I thought,  as as long as I’m doing this, I should start doing a dog a day at the same time.

Dog a Day wooden model conceived by Erik Kuntz

Dog a Day wooden model conceived by Erik Kuntz

And why dogs?

People like dogs. It’s not like doing  a cat a day, because with cats you don’t get the huge difference — all the variations that you get with dogs.  Dogs are funnier than cats and have more personality.
I knew more ideas would come from them.

Plus I was working on a children’s book about a Dalmation, and I knew that the reason I wasn’t  drawing the way I wanted to was because it’s easier to just not work.

And so how did you proceed?

As best I could.  I tried to do them in one sitting.  Some of the pieces would take more than one day. Generally they took a couple of hours.  I didn’t intend for  them to take  me as long as they did.  Some days I wished I had more time  — and came away a little bit discouraged. But as I started to improve and become more proud of the stuff I was doing, I would ask myself, what do I need to put into this image to make it a piece I’m happy with?

I worked mainly with a Wacom tablet.  I discovered that the ‘happy accidents’  that you often get in watercolor –can happen in digital mediums, too.

Working digitally you could just go back and work it to death.
But I learned to just stop and post the piece. I discovered the freeing nature of just stopping when I was reasonably done and telling myself, ‘This is what I did today, and I’ll do another one tomorrow.’

I put them up on the web as I completed them to keep myself honest.  I never missed  one. But one day something happened to my webserver  and the dog that had been up went down.  And I heard from eight people.

Dog a Day ala Dr. Seuss

Dog a Day ala Dr. Seuss

How did you give yourself ideas?

There were some days when I would sit down and just not know what I was going to do. Often I would begin by noodling around with the Wacom.  For the one dog I did in complementary colors, I just put on a sphere and started to form a dog out of this. I spent an hour and a half on that,  just finding the dog hiding in the raw thing.

Complementary Colors Dog

Complementary Colors Dog

Some of the dogs I did with Bic pen or Sharpie marker on typing paper.  Sometimes I would scan these and repaint them digitally.

People would send me ideas.  Some people would send me photos of dogs and I did drawings.

Some days I would search the web for interesting dogs. Some days I would work completely from my imagination.  I would do these three minute-dogs, stopwatch running.

I’d start with a really loose gesture, with some fuzzy notion of an action or a composition. I’d work really rough and light with blue pencil on paper, or the blue digital pencil  on the computer.  I used to be one of those kinds of people that tried to get every line right and I was really slow and cramped in my drawing. I felt like there was some sort of freedom missing in it.

Now I know I can get away with a fast, loose gesture. I learned that I could draw the arm as an arc, and everybody would be fine with it and nobody knows…

Fu Dog a Day

Fu Dog a Day

And now,  the book: You’ve repackaged your drawings in a new format!

I was thinking initially of  a small run of books that would be a Christmas present for family and some friends.

I started with one print on demand publisher but had problems with their color. Later I  turned to CreateSpace, owned by Amazon. They were substantially cheaper but they didn’t have the high grade glossy paper. But now the book is available  through their store.

I’ve designed books in the past, but never an art book. I used Adobe InDesign, which is a great program.

You know,  the Dog a Day project was never meant to be anything commercial.  It was meant to improve my skills and yes it did.

The idea was to challenge yourself and accept that if it wasn’t very good, then at least you drew.

I’m still drawing every day. And, yeah,  I can draw dogs with my eyes closed — no peeking.

"Hex Libris" Dog a Day (Connie and Watson)

"Hex Libris" Dog a Day (Connie and Watson)

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You can order your personalized softcover copy of  “A Dog A Day”  at Erik’s webstore here.

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Erik is also the creator of what is probably the most charming comic created for the web, the kid-friendly Hex Libris . Since its launch on January 1, 2008, the series has been unfolding a narrative about Kirby,  caretaker of a magical library and his fictional friends. (They range from a Nancy Drew-like character and her big dog Watson — to Frankenstein’s very literate monster.) You can read our early interview with Erik about Hex Libris here .

Bat Girl Dog A Day

Bat Girl Dog A Day

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The narrator in the “Dog a Day Project” video, of course, is Erik’s wife, brilliant actress, comedian writer Maggie Gallant. They met in London while both working on start-up team for America Online – UK .

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Author Cynthia Leitich Smith interviews author Chris Barton on the publication of his picture book bio “The Day Go Brothers: The True Story of Bogb and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors” (Charlesbridge, 2009)  illustrated by Tony Persiani. The book has been getting great reviews  and you can learn how to enter to win a free copy in the post in Cynthia’s  blog Cynsations.

* * * * * *

Mark Mitchell hosts the “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” blog.
To enjoy some free watercolor lessons from his online course
on how to illustrate a children’s book go here.

Shadow Dog a Day by Erik Kuntz

Shadow Dog a Day by Erik Kuntz

Awesome Austin Writers roll up their T-shirt sleeves

Awesome Austin Writers Workshop in session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the blogposts::

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

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

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