Your “Epiphany Essay”

It should have something to do with children’s book illustration, or illustrators or drawing or painting or simply communicating to younger readers with your art.

American painter Aline Rhonie working on wall mural

Aline H Rhonie learned mural painting from Diego Rivera.  She painted the large aviation themed fresco mural in Hangar F at Roosevelt Field.


By it,  I do mean — your epiphany.

What epiphany, you ask.
The epiphany that you’re going to write and tell me about in your essay.

What essay?  I can almost hear you.

Your  essay for the contest to win illustrator Will Terry’s eight video course, Children’s Book Illustration.

Will  Terry's video course on children's book illustration

Tell us that aha insight you had, or were keen enough to see when someone showed it to you or you  saw, heard or read somewhere.

Keep it under 400 words and e-mail it to me at Mark@HowToBeAChildrensBook Illustrator.com

Or leave a comment here on the blog.

Or,  if you prefer, use the form above. If you don’t want to enter the contest, use the form to express where you think children’s publishing is going, or what you’d like to see in the way of  informal online trainings for visual artists.  Your comments will get you a soapbox here.

But they won’t get you the prize.  The prize will go to the writer  of the best short essay about his or her aha moment or uniquely personal learning experience pertaining to drawing, painting or children’s book illustration.

No, your epiphany does not have to be a result of my lessons.  As much as I’d appreciate the references, your essay probably will be scored higher if it’s on your own inspiration or problem solution.

Many good essays already have been turned in since the launching of the contest a few weeks ago. You can enter more than one, by the way. But I want to make this an open competition. Open to everyone — not just those caring, responsible souls who always get their homework in early.

There’s a real deadline, though. It’s this Wednesday (April 6.)   The winner will be announced here Friday (April 8.)

All submitted essays will be published at some point — along with attributions and links to sites and/or blogs, contributors willing.

Thank you to all of you who have taken pen in hand and submitted fun pieces.  Good luck to everyone who’s  been or will be daring enough to try.

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WordPress for Artists workshop

You’ve probably already heard from me, or others how awesome it was.
If you haven’t received an e-mail with the link to the recording yet, you can get that e-mail by signing up for the replay here. Web developer and animator Erik Kuntz of  Square Bear Studio brilliantly walked us through how to install great looking and elegantly functioning picture thumbnail galleries on our WordPress blogs.

If you’ve ever wondered how to get your portfolio up and looking smart on line,  here’s a great way to do it with some free WordPress plug-ins.
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Houston SCBWI Conference set for this Saturday

Get your details and registration form here.   Editors from Disney Hyperion and Scholastic and an art director from Simon and Schuster will present there, along with author-illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw.  Simon and Schuster art director Laurent Linn will do a 90 minute breakout session with illustrators and portfolio reviews.

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When was the last time you really doodled?

See the amazing Sunni Brown of the  “Doodle Revolution” in the video made of a presentation she gave at Duarte Design. It’s up on my blog, Illustration Course and you really don’t want to miss her or her ideas.

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Courses page

Check out the new Courses page, which compiles all the “ala carte” offerings from the Marks and Splashes course — for those who like their learning in small doses.

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WordPress for artists?

Children’s book illustrators,  like all artists, can reach their markets and audiences more easily than ever before, thanks to the Internet!

And I believe that WordPress, the open source content management system is one of the best ways to establish a presence on the web.

Erik Kuntz, designer, web consultant, instructor and web comic artist feels the same way I do about WordPress. Except he knows tons more about it than I do.  He consults with small businesses and big companies on this stuff.  (He’s also the intrepid webmaster of our Austin, Texas SCBWI chapter.)

Erik Kuntz with Austin illustrators

Erik (standing, right) is joined by Austin illustrators and writers and friends (left to right) Jeff and Libby Byington, Don Tate, Christy Stallop, Amy Farrier, Torran Anderson, Louise Shelby, Ross Carnes and Martin Thomas.

A couple of weeks ago he conducted a special online workshop session for my Make Your Marks; Make Your Splashes class.

He did a brilliant presentation, showing us different ways to put up our illustration galleries on our WordPress blogs.  By galleries  I mean the tiny thumbnail pictures you click on to see much larger higher res versions of them.  After showing us a trick for doing it on WordPress.com blogs, he showed us how to do it on our WordPress.org blogs using the free plug-in, NextGen Gallery.

Alas, things do not always work out perfectly.  The recording did not take.

We were all so counting on the replay.  Erik shared so much with us that it was hard to get it all down in our notes!  I did what I had to:  Asked him if he’d be willing to walk us through the workshop again.

He agreed to — characteristically, because he’s a helpful soul.

So we’re doing the same workshop again. This time we’re throwing the doors open a bit, broadcasting on UStream.

The recording will stay up on Erik’s UStream channel. This way students won’t miss a thing.

But it will also be available to anyone with an interest in WordPress galleries.  Marks and Splashes students will get the first crack at questions, though.

We’ve set Thursday, March 31 as our evening for the workshop.  If you’d like a reminder with details about how to find the broadcast, please sign our guest list.

What else would you like to know about using WordPress?


Thank you for participating in our poll!
Here are links for Erik’s webcomic, Erik and Monkey (talk about life) and blog and signing up for the broadcast reminder.

Photoshop Basics

A Bare Bones Intro to Photoshop is a video lesson by another talented teacher I know. 

Steve Connor (pictured left) teaches animation, film and design media software at ITT Technical Institute and the Art School of the Austin Museum of Art. He’s also enjoyed a career as an art director for firms in the San Francisco Bay area. He  also creates lyrical abstract art.

In the video he shows how to work with layers, the brush toolshapes and effects. His information applies to any edition of Photoshop you might have.

After seeing the lesson, if you feel so moved, please take Steve’s survey to help him determine what you’d most like to learn from a series of informal trainings — on Photoshop and other software thought of as OMG-This is too hard for me! Here’s the survey: Learning Digital Media. And the tutorial link again:  A Bare Bones Intro to Photoshop.

"Marks and Splashes" course author Mark Mitchell ( second from left) with the Inklings, an Austin SCBWI children's picture book critique group. To the left (of Mark) is writer-illustrator Martin Fry. Going around the table to the right (of Mark) are Amy Farrier, Andrea Weissenbuehler, Erik Kuntz, Martin Thomas, Robyn Honig and Margaret Jonon Buford. They're holding 150 million year old oyster fossils that Fry had brought to the coffee.

Marks and Splashes course

The Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks course moves into a new phase of life next month, adding video interviews with working children’s book illustrators and more content and trainings. All current and past students will receive the new material as it rolls out.

But students who sign on after the new course “launch” date will pay a slightly higher tuition than present students did.

You can head that calamity off at the pass! Go here to get the new, bigger version at the old  price.  You’ll be glad you acted with alacrity.

Here’s the course info page link: Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks

Houston SCBWI 2011 Conference set for April!

The Houston SCBWI 2011 regional conference The Art of Book Craft is set for Saturday April 9 at Merrell Center in Katy, Texas.  Get your details and registration form here.

Editors from Disney Hyperion and Scholastic and an art director fronm Simon and Schuster will present there, along with author-illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw.  Simon and Schuster art director Laurent Linn will do a 90 minute breakout session with illustrators and portfolio reviews.

Build your book? Children’s book illustrators have new options.

Illustrations that move and make sounds at the touch of a finger.  The age of the interactive children’s book app has arrived.

We talked with Ezra Weinstein and Richard Johnson of InteractBooks,  a publisher of books for iPads back in December in Austin.  Weinstein is a programmer, app developer and the son of a school librarian. His business partner Johnson has a background in the computer gaming industry.

Things have moved right along for their company InteractBooks since that Saturday lunch visit.  Their free InteractBooks (Version 1) app is scheduled to be released on the Apple AppStore on February 28,  2011.  (If you want to download their free app for your mobile device you get it from iTunes right here.) Several new Interact children’s picture book s will be ready for download by then.

The company is already working on InteractBooks App Version 2.  When it comes out,  Weinstein and Johnson will also  make available their  free InteractBuilder tool that will run on Mac and PC platforms.

“The InteractBuilder will allow developers of all ages to create and publish their own InteractBooks to their supported tablet and smart phone devices,” Weinstein says. “Publishers can use the InteractBuilder and our InteractPublisher tools to publish their own books for sale in our online marketplace. ”

“If you want to build your own children’s book, graphic novel, or educational content into an InteractBook, please be sure to sign up for the InteractBuilder Community on our website and we will send you details as they are available,” Weinstein says.

See the InteractBooks website, Facebook page or iTunes page to learn how to sign up to be a beta tester for the InteractBuilder.

Lots of companies are jumping into the iPad and mobile device book space,  including, of course the major children’s publishers.  Yes, it’s a new technology scramble and you do hear allusions to the Rushes — for Oklahoma Land and 1849 California Gold.  Rush.  This is a virtual landrush that has long-time publishers and media companies drooling — and maybe a little bit frightened. No one is quite sure yet how the business model should work.  In publishing, supply typically exceeds demand and so the trick remains: How do you capture public imagination and achieve mind share?  It’s the same old quest for readers and eyeballs, though the platforms seem to be changing.

You can read more about how entrenched traditional publishers like Harpercollins are gearing up for the new era of “reading media” and discover a few tips about how to evaluate children’s book apps in this School Library Journal round-up by Elizabeth Bird.

Weinstein and Johnson, though both love books and the idea of being publishers, are also interested in selling their platform software to existing publishers, educators and marketers. And they’ve found that children’s picture books — with their artwork that drives the stories — make a marvelous vehicle for showing off their interactive book-building and publishing technologies.

Watch more of the interview with Ezra and Richard Johnson (seven short videos total) on the IllustrationCourse.com YouTube channel.

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2011 Caldecott Medal awarded to Erin Snead

The Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association (ALA) awarded the Caldecott Medal to Erin Snead for her illustrations for the picture book

A Sick Day for Amos a few weeks ago, during the annual ALA Conference.  Named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, the medal  is awarded each year to the  artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published in the U.S. that year.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee was written by Philip C. Stead, and is a Neal Porter Book, published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing.

Below are the runners-up — the two Caldecott Honor winners.


Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet Slave
illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Laban Carrick Hill and published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.


Interrupting Chicken Written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, and published by Candlewick Press

We have winners!

We have our winners for the free portfolio critiques and the group intensive sessions at the Austin SCBWI 2011 Regional Conference coming up in two weeks.

Illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson of Austin has won a free portfolio consultation with illustrator Julian Hector and Illustrator Debbie Meyer of McKinney, Texas has won the free portfolio critique with David Diazcourtesy of the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels.

Author-illustrator Frances Yansky's portfolio display

Debbie Meyer, Bobbie Dacus and Debra Haun won free front row seats at the group intensive session with Julian Hector. And Bobbie Dacus won a portfolio review session with me.

Congratulations, gang! Thank you to everyone who entered the contests!

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Enter to win Will Terry’s video course

I’ll be giving away a free pass to children’s book llustrator and instructor Will Terry’s wonderful eight video course on children’s book illustration! The prize will go out next month to whoever writes me the best e-mail short essay on the following topic:

“What’s the major discovery you’ve made or the biggest insight you’ve learned this year in drawing or  painting, or marketing oneself as an artist in  the children’s publishing field?”

So that’s it. Just write about your best discovery or insight into the craft gleaned over the past 12 months.  Your essays do not have to be long — just fun to read and genuinely helpful. Look for the award to go out  in March.  I’ll review Will’s first online video course in an upcoming post.

"A Dragon Moves In" written and illustrated by Lisa Falkenstern

Name chosen for Lisa Falkenstern’s book!

New York illustrator and now author-illustrator Lisa Falkenstern reports that she has completed and submitted all of her finished art for her picture book A Dragon Moves In, to be published later this year by Marshall Cavendish. You might remember that we ran a poll for her back in June to help her decide on a title for her picture book. Lisa and I want to thank all 367 readers who voted or offered write-in suggestions for titles! The feedback helped her and her editor  choose from the list of possibilities they were considering but a little stuck on.

Austin SCBWI wrapping up registration for” Boots”

Yikes! Boots, Books and Buckskins has just about filled up and the gates are about to close.  The cut-off date for registering for the 2011 regional conference of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is this Thursday, February 10.

St. Edwards University, home of the Austin SCBWI 2011 Conference

Spend a day at one of the most beautiful college campuses in Texas, St. Edward’s University hearing from Caldecott Medal winning illustrator David Diaz, author-illustrator Julian Hector, National Book Award winning YA novelist Kimberly Willis Holt, publishers, editors and the agent (Emily van Beek)  who represents this year’s Caldecott Medal winning illustrator-author team.

The conference is being sponsored by St. Edwards University and InteractBooks, the iPad book publisher featured in this post.

Register online and/or download the conference information and registration packet.

"Make Your Marks; Make Your Splashes!" course“Marks and Splashes” sale ends Thursday

A 25 percent off sale for the  “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks” course extends through the end of day Thursday, February 10.   It’s to  draw attention to the 2011 expansion of the online course, which teaches how to draw and paint effectively for children’s book illustration.  The price for the 2011  version will be higher, but students already enrolled in the course will receive the upgraded features and benefits at no cost.

If you’re interested in enrolling at the sale price, you have about 24 hours from the date and time of this post to go to this page, click on the “enroll now” button near the bottom and enter the following coupon code in the field box on the registration form where it says, Enter coupon code:   Here’s the code ED292AF0DC

The code is good through the end of Thursday.
Current and past (online) students do not have to re-enroll.  You’re already in.

Houston SCBWI 2011 Regional Conference

“The Art of Book Craft” –  Houston SCBWI 2011 Conference slated for April

The Houston SCBWI 2011 regional conference The Art of Book Craft is set for Saturday April 9 at Merrell Center in Katy, Texas.  Get your details and registration form here.  Let me just telegraph some of the line-up of presenters:

Ruth McNally BarshawAuthor-Illustrator of the Ellie McDoodle Series
Laurent Linn, Art Director
, Simon and Schuster
Brenda Murray, Senior Editor
, Scholastic
Abby Ranger, Editor
, Disney Hyperion
Anna Webman, Agent
Curtis Brown
Kate Fletcher, Editor
, Candlewick

and more authors, agents and editors. Diandra Mae,  a friend and the illustrator -coordinator for the Houston SCBWI chapter says that Laurent Linn, the art directorfor Simon and Schuster plans to  “do a general assembly presentation as well as a ninety minute breakout session for illustrators, portfolio critiques.”

“He’ll also judge the portfolio showcase,” she adds. “We’re ironing out all the details of his sessions now, but I’ve heard he’s  a fantastic presenter!”

Is your buffalo ready for kindergarten?

Austin SCBWI illustrators enjoyed meeting Daniel Jennewein,  illustrator of Audrey Glassman Vernick’s picture book Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten (Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins) on his swing through Austin on a U.S. book tour that was scheduled to include an appearance at the SCBWI National Winter Conference in New York City.  Jennewein works as an illustrator and commercial designer in Frankfurt, Germany.  Some members of the Inklings, a picture book critique group under the Austin SCBWI took him and his wife, YA literature blogger and Texan Lenore Applehans to lunch at the Shoal Creek Saloon after Jennewein’s appearance Saturday January 22 at BookPeople. They were accompanied by several other Central Texas YA blogger friends.

Austin illustrators meet with German illustrator Daniel Jennewein

Austin, Texas SCBWI illustrators meet with German illustrator Daniel Jennewein and friends.

Left to right (top) are authors, writers and  illustrators Jeff Crosby, Shelley Ann Jackson, Daniel Jennewein, Martin and Marie Fry, Amanda Gignac (Zen Leaf), Daniel’s wife Lenore Appelhans (Presenting Lenore), (bottom) Maury Tieman, Mark Mitchell, Jenny Bragdon and Sarah Pitre ( both of Forever Young Adult)

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Richard Johnson and Ezra Weinstein, founders of InteractBooks at Tokyo Sushi. See all of the interview videos at http://YouTube.com/user/IllustrationCourse

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.

Should you advertise in an illustration directory?

For some children’s book artists this interview might be a little hard to hear and to bear.  For others it could offer new hope.

Jo Ann Miller of Serbin Communications’ Directory of Illustration suggests that illustrators think a little bit outside the book.

Jo Ann Miller of Sebin Communications' Directory of Illustration
Jo Ann Miller of Sebin Communications’ Directory of Illustration greets a Transformer at this year’s San Diego Comic Con

You’ve seen artists’ directories —  glossy annuals combined with online portfolio galleries where artists or their reps buy display ads. The Directory of Illustration is the dreadnought battleship of illustration directories, aiming its marketing guns at the entire waterfront of graphic arts, not just children’s publishing. That means children’s products,  fashion and cosmetics merchandising, corporate promotions, retail advertising, medical illustration, the animation industry and even landscape design — to name a few.

With the Toy Industry Association as a partner, the Santa Barbara, Ca. based publisher also produces Play! “Illustration for Toys and Interactive Games — a website for hiring toy and interactive game artists.
Best of Photography Annual, the Medical Illustration Sourcebook and Designer Jewelry Showcase are some other annuals from Serbin Communications.

The Directory of Illustration is going on its 27th year. It’s not cheap being in a dominant industry directory . $2,500-$2,600 gets you a full page with 30 portfolio images. Artists re-up year after year, sometimes sharing pages with others who have the same art rep or agent.  Program benefits include, hardcopy distribution to 20,000 illustration buyers and art directors, national online advertising, free website design and cross promotion with Contact, a leading talent directory in the UK and Europe.

If you’re like me and many freelancers who keep a death grip on their wallets,  you might question spending the equivalent of a small book advance every 12 months to participate in a showcase with a few hundred of your keenest competitors.

Why do it when you can upload  images for free to your Flickr page, WordPress.com  blog,  SCBWI portfolio,  or favorite art web ring. Or mail out your own printed Christmas postcards to the small ranks of active children’s book editors?

You can do it to  reach markets for your art that you might never have thought of,  says Jo Ann.
So lets let her talk us through some of this.

What does the “Directory of Illustration” offer artists who have their hearts set on illustrating children’s books?

I love children’s book illustration and I work with many children’s book illustrators in the directory, but they also do other things.

The children’s publishing market can pay very well but advertising and design generally pays better. The market for children’s book art ebbs and flows.  The in-between target group — ages 12 – 15 (particularly girls)  — based on what iour clients tell me, happens to be very active.
So the first question I always ask illustrators is,  ‘Who is your target audience? What is your age group?’

Illustration by Lisa Falkenstern
Illustration by Lisa Falkenstern

New York illustrator Lisa Falkenstern generally works in oils, but also in egg tempera, acrylic, and digitally. Here’s her directory portfolio page. After 20 years as a professional illustrator,she’s just finished illustrations for The Busy Tree, by Jennifer Ward for ages 5-8, published by Marshall Cavendish.  She’s also written and illustrated her own children’s work that is currently in production.  Treat yourself to a look at her magical website.

Is that what you told aspiring illustrators in the Portland chapter of  SCBWI, when you were invited to speak to them recently?

We discussed how the art buyer looks at the target audience and the age group within that target audience, and things like color — the palette. Right now purple and magenta colors dominate in advertising, so  illustrators showing a lot of purple in their portfolios are getting looks.

I can remember a few years ago when the Razor Skooter first appeared in stores — if an illustrator had a child on a razor scooter, he was appealing to art buyers who were looking to market to that age group.

When Starbucks was ready to launch its franchises around the country every illustrator who had an image of a coffee cup on his page in our directory was getting calls.

So you’re saying it comes down to the marketplace.

Yes. So if you understand how to tell a story and emotionally connect with people in the pages of  Scholastic magazine or a picture book —  can you make the attitude shift to collaborate with an art buyer or a designer to put together a product or package?

If you can, if you can interpolate the needs of the art buyers and you’re  not afraid of taking art direction or design direction, you’ll strengthen your repertoire and make a little more money.

Your children’s illustration on a children’s clothing hang tag.

Tom Kerr illustration
Tom Kerr illustration – a mother bunny

Tom Kerr,  a directory artist based in Omaha works in acrylic, colored pencil, watercolor. pen and ink and digital media. Here’s his directory portfolio page. His light humorous  style has found its way into newspaper editorial cartoons,  magazines, animation characters and 25 books, the most recent being “Math Wizardry for Kids” by Margaret Kenda and Phyllis S. Williams (Barron’s Publishing.)

New meadows to graze

So your message to artists is,  try to expand into different venues?

Over the years I’ve seen illustrators getting their names in editorial publications because they were doing storytelling art for merchandise packaging. I’ve seen it work the other way, too  — illustrators’ success grow from the editorial audience to the design audience.  That’s  because the same age group that buys a book will buy the game, the cereal, the clothing and the McDonald’s happy meal set with the character toy and all the packaging.

The art buyer looks at the children’s market as being intertwined with comic books, graphic novels, sci fi market and merchandising and advertising. I  don’t think illustrators are always thought of as having a style.  They’re thought of in terms of solving a problem.

You put an image on a book to sell the book…the magazines…
the product… the ad campaign.

So it’s not just storytelling, but it’s also selling a product.

If  you can show the skill set beyond storytelling, you broaden your appeal to the ad agencies and design shows. That means if you can illustrate a story, but you also have certain digital skills, some animation or flash, or modeling and 3-D skills, you’ll often be considered for a variety of products.

Is there a  place in this commercially driven universe for the traditional illustration, rendered with real paint on real paper?

Digital art  seems to get more attention than traditional art. It’s very popular for packaging and creating characters.  It’s used to communicate just about anything. Digital artists get a lot of people looking in their portfolios.

But there are always people — right now especially — looking for that nostalgic, hands on feel in the art. Watercolor, draftsmanship, the simple pen and ink line have a more important place than they had three years ago.  Everybody’s been touched by someone who’s lost a job. People are going through a tough time. They want an emotional comfort level. That means  images that strike an emotional, warm and fuzzy feeling, that appear hand-made rather than in your face and MTV-like.

Would you want your child, your three year old exposed only to  that hard edged computer or  Disney- look?

No!

There’s always a  need  for the humaneness  in visual images particularly  in an economy that’s struggling. And it’s often found in pictures done in the very traditional mediums like watercolor and  pencil. I think artists of that old school style have shied away from promoting themselves.
When they should be embracing opportunities to showcase their art.

So we have artists in the directory like John Parra whose fine art/folk art traditional style finds outlets in  many kinds of publications — including children’s books.

Gracias Thanks by Pat Mora with Illustrations by John Parra

Gracias Thanks by Pat Mora with illustrations by John Parra
who works in acrylic, oils and digitally. See his website.

How to tout one’s own horn in the arts?

In her own life Jo Ann ran up against this vexing question.
At age 18 she became a national dance champion (having studied dance since the age of 5).
She won the title of Miss Dance of America, which led to an invitation to enter the Miss America Pageant, where she tied for 11th place.

At 19, she won Miss New York  State. She entered the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City with her scholarship from the pageant.  “I wanted to dance but I never knew how to promote myself except to audition,” she says. “My father wanted to help.  He was an engineer. He put together a business card for me that said ‘dancer, beauty pageant winner.'”

After college studies in marketing she worked as a Ford Model in New York City.  But an injury while filming a TV commercial forced a career shift — she launched a public relations firm on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California.
Her client base came to include Vanessa Williams and President Ronald Reagan.

Over the last 17 years  Jo Ann has worked matching illustrators and  designers with buyers and art directors, first with  the now gone artists directory American Showcase, then Serbin Commuinications and The Directory of Illustration.

Tom Kerr illustration

Page illustration by Tom Kerr

Page illustration by Tom Kerr from the Directory of Illustration

Jo Ann, is it true that the Directory of Illustration is not  for everyone?

Not every children’s book illustrator will be right for the Directory of Illustration.
Not all illustrators have the ‘want to’ or the ability to understand the buyer’s needs.

And if the illustrator doesn’t get it and  he’s not seasoned enough to deal with a call like that then it’s embarrassing for us.  Our job is trying to  match qualified art buyers with qualified illustrators. If they don’t match, we’re not doing our job.

If the illustrator is too amateurish or hasn’t developed his  ‘voice,’  he’s not ready for our program.
We don’t want artists spending money for a program they’re not ready for.

We’re not the vehicle to ‘break in’ with.

I’ve turned so many people away, but with generous insight. Part of the consulting I’m doing is guiding these artists. Most want honest feedback, some idea of how they fit into the industry.

If someone wants a discussion prior to investing in the directory or any kind of marketing  program — I can consult with that person and help them out a lot.  When I work with an illustrator, I make recommendations depending on the artist, trends and many criteria. I don’t tell someone what to do. I guide them, and send them back to the drawing board again and again.

She offers one on one consultations  — usually  in the summer months.
Illustrators are welcome to contact her by e-mail at:  joannmiller@serbin.com
She recommends that they send a short introduction and an image or two ( jpgs or a site link.) And she encourages all artists to check out the Directory of Illustration website .  “There’s a lot to be seen there,” she says.

Painting by Lisa Falkenstern
Painting by Directory of Illustration artist Lisa Falkenstern

Don’t forget two big Texas conferences!

Austin SCBWI comes first with Destination Publication set for Saturday, January 30, 2010.
The one day event features  a Caldecott Honor Illustrator (Marla Frazee) and Newberry Honor author Kirby Larson. The lineup also includes the wonderful  illustrator Patrice Barton doing portfolio reviews, Mark McVeigh an agent who represents authors, illustrators and graphic novel creators for the adult and children’s markets, and editors Cheryl Klein, Lisa Graff and Stacy Cantor (who did work on all of the Harry Potter books!)
Read more about everyone here. Get the the registration form here.  Hurry, the event and only a few portfolio
review sessions are left.

Houston SCBWI has set its conference for Saturday, February 20, 2010.  Headliners include  acclaimed author of short stories, funny picture books, Native American fiction, and YA Gothic fantasies, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Creative director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers Patrick Collins and editors  Ruta Rimas, Alexandra Cooper and Lisa Ann Sandell.  Download their bios, conference info and a registration form here.

P is for Pinata
P is for Pinata
by Tony Johnston and illustrated by John Parra,
courtesy John Parra and The Directory of Illustration.

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Check out the great drawing instructional videos by Matthew Archambault at Drawing-Tutorials-Online.com

Mark Mitchell teaches children’s book illustration at the Austin Museum of Art Art School and online The next semester of classes begins at the school’s Laguna Gloria campus next month, with Children’s Book Illustration I, January 27 – March 10, 6-9 p.m.

Children’s Book Illustration II March 23  — April 20,  6-9 p.m.

Mark teaches an online course on drawing and painting for illustration “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!” that is self-paced and starts whenever you’re ready. Learn more here.

* * * * * *

Have you drawn an animal today?

Knowing as we do that drawing children, people and  animals is the stock in trade of the children’s book illustrator, let’s draw a difficult animal subject today.

We’ve brought in guest instructor Jon Gnagy to help walk us through it.

Gnagy was the best drawing teacher (maybe the only drawing teacher?)  on television.  He taught Andy Warhol and millions of other American kids to draw during the 1950’s.

I can’t say that he taught me exactly, though maybe he did, but he was a little advanced.  I was all of three years old when my mother (a painter) and I would watch his show together.

But I think he planted lots of seeds and questions in my unconscious. I remember even at that tender age being flabbergasted by his demos. “How does he know  this stuff?” I remember asking myself.  I still wonder about that.

‘Old School’ drawing doesn’t seem to go out of style.  It doesn’t matter if it’s in a courthouse mural by Thomas Hart Benton or a children’s book illustration by Marla Frazee or Tasha Tudor or Robert McCloskey. It just always stays cool. Ask any kid.

The graphic images Marla Frazee renders with such assurance resemble the classic book illustrations of — well, the Jon Gnagy days, the 1950s. They don’t feel  ‘dated’ because they bring us kids, people, animals and landscapes that kids (and the kid in us) can relate to. These subjects when rendered capably seem only to accrue in value.

For a better look at Marla’s work, here’s an animated trailer for All the World,  a picture book illustrated by Frazee and penned by poet Liz Garton Scanlon.

Liz Garton Scanlon

Liz Garton Scanlon addresses the Austin chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) on a packed second floor of Austin's famous independently owned bookstore, BookPeople.

Yes, I know that both of them and the book and Jon Gnagy, too have been on this blog before. (Good subjects deserve repeated mentions. )

Scanlon and Frazee are scheduled to talk about their work together at the Austin SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference Destination Publication on Saturday Saturday, January 30, 2010.  Caldecott Honor artist Frazee will deliver the keynote for illustrators  and also reviewportfolios, as will talented  illustrator Patrice Barton.

Find the full conference  lowdown and registration form here.

Henry Holt Books for Young Readers Creative Director Patrick Collins will review portfolios a month later  at the Houston SCBWI  conference.

Mark your calendars for  Saturday, February 20, 2010 and download information and a registration form for the Houston conference  here.

Liz Garton Scanlon
Liz Garton Scanlon speaks on intuition at the November 7 meeting of Austin SCBWI.
Liz Garton Scanlon
An editor told Liz that she had “an eye for observation and an ear for rhyme.”
So she focused on these strengths to produce her picture book poem All the World that is now garnering great reviews and making all the right 2009 book lists, including most recently a Parents’ Choice Gold Medal.
* * * * *

Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts this blog. Mark 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.


ck Collins of

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