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

author-illustrator Don Tate at BookPeople

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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Build your interactive children’s book – win an iPad2!

Illustrators can now jump with both feet into digital publishing with the help of some free software and a contest launched by InteractBooks.com

“What better way to showcase all that our InteractBuilder e-book software can do on the iPad and iPhone than holding a contest to find the very best interactive book it can make?” asks the Interact Books website .

“And who better than you to produce this book by using your developer talent and our app software for the Mac and PC?”

InteractBooks

A Youtube video doesn’t do the reading experience justice, but an actual iPad encounter with The Tortoise and the Hairpiece by Don Winn, illustrated by Toby Heflin and distributed on the Apple iTunes store demonstrates how the touch screen interactions and subtle animations of an interactive book (let’s call it an i-book) make for a whole new storytelling language.

An InteractBook, an interactive alphabet picture book on an iPhone

I-books or interactive e-books aren’t quite the same as the e-books now making headlines for trouncing paperbacks in sales at Amazon.com.

They’re a new animal, maybe a new art form nd it may be months or even years before anyone knows where this fusion of tactile interactivity and literacy is going, commercially or aesthetically speaking.

Developers and a few publishers are delving into the format, but no leader for an interactive book-building engine or platform has emerged — yet.

In the meantime Austin, Texas based-InteractBooks wants to push the innovation timeline up a little by launching the first ever contest for an interactive children’s book. Entries must be built with their free InteractBuilder software.

  • First place prize – 16gb white or black WIFI iPad2, or $500.  lnteractBooks will  also publish your title and give you a three year membership in the InteractBuilder community (a $300 value)
  • 2nd Place wins a 32gb iPodTouch or $200* and a two-year membership to the InteractBuilder community.
  • 3rd Place yields a $100 Best Buy Gift Card and a one-year membership to the InteractBuilder community.

All runners up and anyone entering the contest with an InteractBuilder-approved book will have a free year’s membership in the InteractBooks builders community.

The deadline is September 18 and the winner will be announced  October 1, which doesn’t give you much time.

InteractBooks logo

That’s why the InteractBook folks are encouraging illustrators and authors to mull over the books they’ve already done, published or unpublished, with pictures and text ready to go — and see how they might adapt their story to this new media.

“Do you have a picture book already in print that lends itself to interactivity? What about an illustrated story that’s just prime for animated graphics and coloring, tapping, and swiping on a tablet? Have you always wanted to make an e-book?” the website asks.

Read the contest details here.

Yes, I’m one of the judges for the contest.  So I can tell you ahead of time what we’ll be evaluating your submission on:

1) A theme that’s enhanced for readers through interactivity

2) A well-written script that is different from the norm

3) Visuals and illustrations in keeping with InteractBooks’ high-quality standards

4) The ability to leverage the technology of smartphone devices and tablets

5) Effective use of music and sound effects (yes, the books can include sound, voice and video, too!)

6) Voice narration of text recommended but not required

7) An easy to read script by a child and/or parent

Remember, education and entertainment are the basic ingredients. Try to have your picture elements’ interactive behaviors fit in with your story, or better yet, help move the story forward.  If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of building your own book from Photoshop files, team up with a programmer or someone who’s already  working with the InteractBuilder software. Read more details on the contest press release.

And good luck! I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Lisa’s dragon takes flight

You remember Lisa Falkenstern, the illustrator who needed help coming up with a name for her new picture book.  She sought our suggestions and reactions to some of the picture book title ideas that she and her editor at Marshall Cavendish were batting around?

Well it’s out! And, yes, it has a title.  Lisa’s celebrating with a book launch party this Saturday at Clinton Book Shop, 12 East Main St., Clinton, New Jersey.  Reserve your book for signing by the author-illustrator by calling 908-735-8811.

Lisa thanks everyone who participated in our June 1, 2010 poll to vote for and suggest titles  for her book.

Tchaikovsky and Duke Ellington meet Don Tate

There’s a wonderful post with pictures in the Vermont College Journal of Fine Arts, Hunger Mountain by Austin, Texas children’s book author-illustrator Don Tate. In it, he shows us how he came to grips with an assignment to illustrate Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite by Anna Harwell Celenza (Charlesbridge Publishing.)

Spread by illustrator Don Tate

Spread by illustrator Don Tate for the upcoming "Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite" by Anna Harwell Celenza (Charlesbridge)

Don writes that the nonfiction picture book due to be published later in the year tells how composers Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, “collaborated to reinvent a holiday tradition, by remaking Tchaikovsky’s famous Nutcracker Suite into a jazz album.”

“I’d studied jazz album covers of the 1960s, artists like Jim Flora, David Stone Martin, Cliff Roberts. They employed very loose, whimsical ink-line techniques, overlaying solid colors or washes. I wanted to achieve that same look without getting  too cartoony in style,” Tate says.

After a rocky start and facing a punishingly tight deadline, Don pulled out a tour de force of brilliant ink line art with bright watercolor wash.

The post is generously illustrated with Don’s photos of his work-in-progress in his work space.  You’ll see it here.

How do you draw a “werearmadillo” ?

Here’s a great Newsarama.com interview with best-selling YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith and illustrator Ming Doyle on their graphic novel debut Tantalize: Kieran’s story  (Candlewick) that’s due in stores August 23rd.

Smith, who has written successful children’s picture books as well as YA novels nutshells her script for us:

“When the beloved chef at a vampire-themed Italian restaurant is murdered, the crime scene suggests that killer was a werewolf. Unfortunately for our hero Kieren Morales—a teenage human-Wolf hybrid, he happens to be the person who discovers the body and calls the police. That makes Kieren a prime suspect,”  Smith says.

“But in an underworld where vampires can take wolf form and other shifters (the werecat, werebear, werevulture…) stroll Austin’s streets, who’s to say the killer was a Wolf at all? While Kieren tries to solve the murder, his best friend Quincie is courted by a new, too-charming chef who baits the young Wolfman at every turn.”

Wiener Wolf  book release (and dog costume party)

It was Saturday, July 2, 11:30 a.m.  (Hot dogs were served for lunch.)                  

Jeff Crosby reading from his picture book "Wiener Wolf" at BookPeople

Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby reads from his picture book Wiener Wolf  (Hyperion.)

  Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby reads from "Wiener Wolf"

Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby reads from "Wiener Wolf"

Shelley Ann Jackson

Author-illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson as “Granny”, an important character in her husband’s book.  (Yes, they’re a dachshund family. )

Jeff's wife Shelley Ann Jackson

See the resemblance?

A record turnout for the "Wiener Wolf" launch at BookPeople in Austin, Texas. Hot dogs were served by the Austin restaurant Frank's.

Illustrator friends and Austin SCBWI'ers Erik Kuntz of SquareBearStudio.com and Martin Thomas of Spill.com show off their colleague's new picture book

Hear Jeff and Shelly talk about their art-making process here.

Keep up with the summer bumper crop of new picture books by Austin, Texas illustrators and authors.

Late last year I interviewed InteractBooks founders Ezra Weinstein and Richard Johnson as they were launching their company.  You can see  parts of the video interview here. 

Listen to the NPR interview with Erin and Phillip Stead, illustrator and author of the 2011 Caldecott Medal picture book, A Sick Day for Amos.

Read the team blog wrap of highlights and see work by the conference portfolio winners from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 40th Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles, which ended Monday.

Patrice Barton and Shutta Crum team up for Mine! 

Illustrator Patrice Barton’s artwork for Mine!  has been accepted into the Society of Illustrators Original Art Exhibit, 2011. 

Patty was recently interviewed for Mark Mitchell's online, self-paced course on children's book illustration, Make Your Splashes - Make Your Marks!  You'll see an excerpt from the video discussion next time on the blog.

Study buddies help

Now you can enroll in Mark’s course and bring a study buddy with you.

The new study team option (a near “2 for 1” deal) will come in handy as the course enters a new, expanded tech phase on illustrating for interactive e-books for smart phones and iPads.  You can check that out here.   

To learn a  “magic secret” for improving your drawing quickly, go here.

Take a Chance on Art (Disaster Relief For Texas Libraries) and Royal Bats

 

duke_ellington_by_don_tate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 The Texas Library Association  (TLA) has been raffling a chance to own this beautiful original art piece by children’s book illustrator Don Tate. 

The $5 you spend for your raffle ticket will go to the  TLA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which will go to help libraries hit hard by Texas storms along the coast last year. The Rosenberg Library in Galveston lost its entire children’s book collection (it was on the first floor) in the flooding that followed Hurricane Ike. (Most of Galveston Island went under water.) It was one of many libraries along the Texas coast that suffered damage.  

The TLA Disaster Relief Fund auction has been helping Texas libraries contend with natural disasters since it was started by Jeanette Larsen and Mark Smith in 1999 —  always with original art donated by children’s book artists. 

Read an interview with the co-founder Jeanette Larson by Cynthia Leitich Smith in Cynthia’s blog Cynsations here.

Tate, of our Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) joins the ranks of  renowned  
 illustrators such as Rosemary Wells and Diane Stanley who have furnished paintings for the fund. 

The winning raffle ticket will be drawn at the TLA annual conference, held this year, appropriately enough,  in storm-pummeled Houston March 31 – April 3.   You can buy as many as you want. Go here, print your raffle tickets and mail them (with your check, of course) to the TLA office  at 3355 Bee Cave Road, Suite 401, Austin, Texas 78746-6763. Straightout donations to the Relief Fund are also accepted of course.

The Duke Ellington piece is for a book Don is illustrating by musicologist Anna Harwell Celenza, about how the young Ellington and composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn collaborated on their own version of Tsaichovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

Publisher Charlesbridge is said to be looking at a 2010 publication for the nonfiction work tentatively titled Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite.

There’s also an interview with Tate on his illustrations for the Ellington story in Cynsations here.  (Cynsations and Don’s blog, Devas T. Rants and Raves!  are on this  blogroll.)  

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Speaking of the storm ravaged Texas coast, I just got back from there last night. I was a guest children’s author at the Victoria Public Library’s 2009 Victoria Reads community reading program, and spoke at the library and a stunning historical museum, the Museum of the Coastal Bend on the Victoria College campus, where I saw Native American decorative pieces — scrimshaw-like carvings and patternings on oyster shells dating back 5,000 – 8,000 years  B.C. 

The region surrounding Matagorda Bay apparently teemed with First Americans. Victoria County was a crossroads of Indian trade routes (not more than well travelled Indian trails, really), which explains why various spearpoints and arrowheads on display at the museum can be traced to South America, Mexico, and Canada.
It’s like NAFTA existed back then. 

I had a great time talking with museum director Sue Prudhomme, volunteer archeologist Jud Austin and many other supporters of the museum.
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Returning home from that trip, I saw a blog post that I wish I’d alerted  you to earlier — about your chance to win, among other goodies, a T-shirt with one of the coolest YA  novel logo designs ever! 

Logo for "Eternal"

Logo for "Eternal"

You have a chance to win a shirt sporting  the impossibly elegant Princess Dracul logo (designed by Gene Brenek), a book,  a finger puppet, a signed bookmark,  stickers and more — well, just look at all the loot.

It’s the Eternal Grand Prize Giveaway  — a contest celebrating the   release  on Tuesday of the second novel (Eternal) in the Gothic YA fantasy trilogy by Austin author Cynthia Leitich Smith, who has been called “the Anne Rice for teen readers.”

Eternal is preceded by Tantalize, which is set in Austin and features vampires and assorted were-folk. (Austin is kind of a bat capital of the South, in truth. ) Eternal also has vampires and other new characters you can sink your teeth into — wait, I mean it the other way around — and one of these in particular, Princess Dracul  inspired the great glyph by artist-author Brenek (also of our Austin SCBWI chapter!)  It’s one of  many supernatural/regal emblems he’s designed for the book. (They convey such a  spooky verisimilitude. ) See for yourself and enter the Eternal Grand Prize Giveaway.  But go quickly. The give-away cutoff is Tuesday, February 10, when Eternal goes on sale!

Cynthia interviews Gene here.

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Author-illustrator Sarah Ackerley, a member of our SCBWI chapter’s Inklings illustrators group  who now lives in San Francisco sent a link to  this funny video about a year in the life of children’s book author-illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka. It features guest appearances by Jane Yolen, Tomie dePaolo, Mo Willems, Jon Scieszka and some of the  Blue Rose Girls .

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You can get some free lessons on color and a group of surefire palette strategies here They’re from  my online course about how to illustrate a children’s book,  Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!   

Northern California artist Susan Sorrell Hill  wrote me Thursday about how  these lessons helped her:

“In all of my research (on-line and in books) in the last several 
years, I have never come across a clearer, more work-able approach to color that can be applied practically to a painting…and I have 
looked far and wide for this information, recognizing that it was of 
major importance…. The need for a sustainable, predictably 
successful approach to color, for illustration as well as fine art, 
became crystal clear to me when I switched from oil painting to 
watercolors…the old ‘keep messing with it until it’s right’ approach 
just was NOT working with watercolor…

“As you predicted, the results are immediately recognizable. I heave a huge sigh of relief!”

You’ll find the signup for the free lessons here