Mary’s magic

Children’s book illustrator Mary Sullivan will add “author” to her extensive illustration credits when her new picture book Ball comes out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt this Spring.

Based on the ball chasing dog Mary never had, Ball uses only one word, repeatedly to tell of a dog who dreams of chasing a certain red ball.

The Junior Library Guild, a library collection development and review service used by school and public libraries across the U.S. has selected Ball for its Spring 2013 catalog. I predict more nods like this in the coming months because the book is a treasure — a wacky treasure in the Mary Sullivan drawn-style, which is to say that it’s universal and very funny.

Originally from San Antonio, Mary graduated with a B.F.A from the University of Texas. While raising her family in Austin she ran a personalized greeting card business that featured her original designs and “cartoons” (a word not really up to capturing her art that you can see in the videos above and on her blogwebsite and agent’s site.)

Drawing cards led to illustrating a story for Highlights for Children magazine, which led to more assignments from Highlights and book publishers such as Scholastic, Innovative Kids, School Zone, Oxford Press UK, Pearson and other educational and trade presses.

Most recently she’s completed a series of picture books for Zondervan (HarperCollins) by popular TV evangelist and author Joyce Meyer.

Below she talks about the challenge of keeping her drawings fresh as she moves them through the stages to final art.

Actually Mary did have a dog and Ball is dedicated to the memory of him. He was more interested in joining her for soulful walks in the woods than playing sports. He never played ball, but he kept Mary company while she worked long hours on deadlines.

I first interviewed Mary back in 2008 on my blogA second post showed a black and white dummy draft Mary did for the picture book Frog Jog by Barbara Gregorich (School Zone Publishing.)

She talked with me again recently — this time for students of the Make Your Splashes — Make Your Marks! online course. She showed F&Gs for Ball and gave us a glimpse into her illustration process that involves pulling her done-by-hand drawings into Photoshop and adding colors and shadows digitally. The videos here are a snippet from our recorded interview for the class.

A hands on Digital Symposium

Entrepreneurial artists and writers convened on the third floor of Fleck Hall at St. Edward’s University October 6 to learn about tools of the “new” publishing. Guest instructor, author and consultant Kirsten Cappy, with the digerati of Austin SCBWI introduced The Nuts and Bolts of Success with WordPress, Photoshop, Book Creator, iBooks Author, social media, making video book trailers for the web and more.

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Austin SCBWI assistant regional adviser Carmen Oliver set up a conference blog on Blogger on the spot to electronically seize the day of discovery, helping, fun and friendship.

Google + for Artists

Pooja's Google+ workshop screenshot

Watch Pooja Srinivas’ video presentation, Google+ for Artists and Illustrators  — and discover how to network, find and build community, extend your reach and promote your art and illustration with free Google+ tools.  Go here for Pooja’s superb 80 minute workshop.

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Illustrator E.B. Lewis heads up the Austin SCBWI 2013 conference, Kick It Up a Notch

A few years ago  American Artist Watercolor magazine assigned me to interview E.B. Lewis for an article. His realist watercolors were so exquisitely sensitive yet seemed so effortless. I was just as struck by his passion for excellence in his work and teaching and inspiring)his fellow artists.

He insists on watercolor even when he’s painting for galleries and collectors. Watercolor is an anomaly in a market fixated on oil and acrylic creations. Except for the signature Earl B. Lewis that he uses for his fine art pictures, it’s hard to tell the difference between these and his children’s story illustrations that are among the “finest art” ever produced for book publishers.

Lewis will deliver the keynote address for the Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 2013 conference. Kick It Up a Notch, set for February 8-10 at St. Edward’s University will also feature Crystal Kite award winning illustrator Patrice Barton and author Shutta Crum, Caldecott Honor author Liz Garton Scanlon, author Cynthia Levinson, editors Neal Porter, Kathy Landwehr, and Tamra Tuller and literary agents John Cusik, Erzi Deak and Rubin Pfeffer. Learn more about the gang on the conference faculty sheet.

Sign up for a special illustration intensive workshop with E.B. Lewis and/or portfolio and manuscript consults with the agent or editor of your choice (while time slots remain.) Download the complete conference info packet with registration forms.

Help Save the Farm

My friend Richard Johnson is on the home stretch of his Kickstarter campaign for his novel Saving the Farm — a fictional account of a marriage counseling workshop at a bed and breakfast in Maine and the documentary crew that comes to film it.

Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson

See the video on his Kickstarter page and consider kicking in as a backer.

Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects, everything from films, games, and music to art, design and technology,” states the main page of this site.

If you’ve never explored Kickstarter, Richard’s endeavor provides a fine introduction. Take a look at his video and positive proposal. For a keen understanding of the crowd-funding phenomenon, jump in with a small pledge.

It’s SCBWI conference scholarship time

National SCBWI is now accepting applications for scholarships (for full-time college or graduate school students) to the 2013  SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. For more information and instructions on how to apply, go here.

Entries now being accepted for the Tomie dePaola lllustrator Awards

December 14 is the deadline for the 2013 Tomie dePaola Illustrators Awards 2013. It’s all about classic chapter books this year.  Try a black and white scene from a novel by Louisa May Alcott, Tom Sawyer or Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Read the official guidelines and learn how to send your art to the contest’s “unofficial” online gallery established by SCBWI Houston Illustrator Coordinator Diandra Mae.

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Children’s book author-illustrator Mark Mitchell penned this post and did a short video on the “best drawing secret.” 

Author-illustrator Mary Sullivan

A new milieu for an old art form: Erik Kuntz and a spellbinding (kid-friendly) “Hex Libris”

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Who is the creature lurking in the library in Erik’s Webcomic? I think I know, and I’ve entered Erik’s contest, but I can’t share my guess with anyone. But I will say this much — it’s a character from a book we know. After all, the strip is Hex Libris, in which Kirby, the main character is charged with taking care of a ginormous enchanted library. 

Ever read a novel that just comes to life before your eyes? Well, Hex Libris seizes that theme and runs down the field in an unexpected direction with it. The webcomic by designer- writer Erik Kuntz of Austin, Texas began as a New Year’s resolution. So did his illustration blog A Dog a Day Project  that features Erik’s unstop able canine imagery — with doggy bites of daily commentary.  But that’s a subject for a future post. 

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Erik was thinking of the classic Nancy Drew stories of the 1950’s, mulling  how they compared to and contrasted with the Nancy Drew graphic novels being created for today’s teens.

“I wondered, ‘What if there was a place where characters could wander out of their books?’ ” Erik says. “‘And what would happen if the real Nancy Drew ran into the punky Manga style Nancy Drew?'”

Our hero Kirby meets them both as a result of his new archival responsibilities. And so it is inevitable that the trio and who knows who else (stay tuned…) join forces to solve a mystery or two.

Kirby’s story unfolds in  semi-weekly panels that move us cleanly, easily — even sweetly —  through space and time.  We care about Kirby and Amy (a girl who likes him) and teen girl detective Connie Carter ( the “original” Nancy Drew) and even the little old lady (or is she a witch?) who leases Kirby the uptown apartment that, somehow, magically contains a Library of Congress-like basilica within its tiny walls.

Erik hatched the idea at last year’s Summer Arts Workshop at California State University. He studied comics and animation in the summer program.  He knows and adores comics.  He’s studied under Scott McCloudthe author of Understanding Comics, Re-inventing Comics and other titles all about the ‘language’ of an art form that goes back to well, let’s just say paintings on cave walls. 

One of the teachers at the summer workshop, comic book writer-illustrator Trina Robbins encouraged Kuntz to see it through  — his Hex Libris storyline.

“I’ve done so much study over the last few years as to what makes a comic a comic as opposed to an illustrated story,” Erik says. “It’s a constant struggle between what needs to be put in the picture and what needs to be said ‘out loud’ in words.”  For inspiration, he looks to the late “father of MangaOsamu Tezuka and the late  E.C. Segar, the creator of Popeye and Thimble Theatre.

Kimba the White Lion  was my favorite show as a kid,” Kuntz says. “It was cartoony without being overly simple.”

“I like the older style of newspaper comics, where the adventure strips had a more realistic look.”
As much as he enjoys comic books,  Erik says, “it’s the comic pages in the Sunday paper that I most enjoy and try to emulate here — their sequential nature and the art style and sense of humor — especially from the 1940s to the 1950s, where they could work bigger and there was more possibility.” 

Alas, the gorgeous graphics of Prince Valiant (Gary Gianni carries on with the storybook imagery first created by Hal Foster in 1937) and For Better or for Worse  (Lynn Johnston) have been scrunched to near-insignificance as newspapers continue to shrink their content. 

Newspapers themselves seem to be folding (no pun intended) as a mainstream media and the ultimate cartoon delivery vehicle. But perhaps the World Wide Web can do for the old newspaper “funny pages” what Manga has done for comic book and graphic novel publishing.

“I think every artist who does children’s or cartoony stuff would do well to look at the web as an opportunity.” Kuntz says. “There is a huge number of people publishing strips. Often the content is poor. You won’t ‘get’ it if you weren’t out drinking with the cartoonist and his friends the night before. Other webstrips cater to extremely specific readers, such as Penny-Arcade.com.  “If you don’t know anything about video games, you’ll be mystified by the strip,” he says. 

“There is a stunning amount of good work out there. There are quite a few brilliant child-friendly comics.  More kids are reading comics on the Web. Half of them are newspaper strips in syndication — the traditional old newspaper strips like Calvin and Hobbes, which is being run again and again on the Web. That’s where kids go now to read Calvin and Hobbes.  My browser opens all the comics I want to read each day in tabs. I don’t read them in the newspaper any more.

“I decided some while back that the Web would be an ideal way for me to do an old fashioned serial strip.  It’s an inexpensive way to put work out there and a much easier way to get in front of somebody. With the Web and the 2.0 social networking, everyone’s sharing things, pointing their discoveries out to each other.  It’s a new milleu. It’s an old art form, but a different way of delivering it.

Some cartoonists endeavor to make an income from their sites. “The business model is web advertising, or accepting donations or sale of merchandize, such as T-shirts, mugs or print versions of their work. Others are willing to do it for free,  for the artistic expression or to have an online portfolio or as just another way of posting,” Erik says. “It’s an interesting way to get people to your site. ”

 February panel of \

 He begins by writing a synopsis of what’s going to happen in the chapter, without the dialogue.

“With a serial strip, just like in the Sunday funny papers, you kind of need to have a stop every day. You want each page of the comic to be a beat  Each one has to be a sort of mini cliff hanger. And each chapter must have its own arc. That’s the other thing I work with to get right.”

Then he sketches in the panel and the individual frames. Once upon a time it was pencil on paper. “But now I’m working directly on the computer, starting with rough sketches in Corel Painter using my Wacom Cintiq tablet monitor,” he says. “To be more precise,  I use Painter’s Mechanical Pencil brush set to a light blue color.”

“They look a lot like my traditional sketches look, since I use a col-erase blue to do my roughs on paper,” he says.  “I’m most of the way done with this roughing, I have some poses to adjust, some faces to finish and I’ve got to fix the perspective on the backgrounds, which are currently just scribbled in.  Oh, and I need a background in the final panel. Painter has a perspective grid,  which is useful for simple 2-point perspective, so I’ll be using that to get the kitchen sorted properly.”

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Erik’s ‘pencil rough’ for the March 13 panel of “Hex Libris”, except he’s done it digitally, using the “mechanical pencil” brush  (set to blue) in Corel Painter.  

“I stay with Painter through the inking process. Then I bring the whole thing into Illustrator to do the lettering. Once in a while when I’m out and about with my sketchbook, I capture a pose I want to use and scan that in and mix it in with my computer sketches.

“When I ink, I use a variety of Painter’s Ink Pen brushes — mostly the Smooth Round Pen one. For the next one, I’m going to experiment with the tools that more closely imitate traditional comics inking brushes. It’ll be looser and I am not certain whether I’ll like it. I’ll know in a day or two when I get to the inking.”

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Erik incorporates a slight shading  – a barely perceptible yellow layer — behind his “inked” panels.  The off-white tinge “warms up” the strip and maybe subconsciously evokes the nostalgia of newsprint, Erik believes. “That kind of pulls it together for me,” he says.

He imbeds his URL on the bottom left and his copyright information on the bottom right. 

Erik and his wife, writer-actress-comedian Maggie Gallant own 2 Bad Mice Design in Austin, Texas. He teaches classes (for children and adults) in animation, digital art and digital cartooning at the Austin Museum of Art Art School.  The “Hex Libris” webcomic can be found at http://hexlibriscomic.com/

Mark Mitchell writes for How to be a Children’s Book Illustrator and The Admiral’s Blog    An award-winning author illustrator, he also teaches classes (for adults) in children’s book illustration at the Austin Museum of Art Art School. 

 

Develop your artistic confidence here

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Illustration by Mark Mitchell from The Trail North by Charlotte Baker Montgomery (Eakin Press)

Congratulations!
You’ve landed on a blog and an education-community site intended for you.

You won’t find another site quite like this. Here you have art lessons. But they’re more than art lessons. More like revelations. You’ll find design and drawing tips. But they’re more than tips. They’re keys to easily tackle most picture-making challenges that you may face.

You’ll learn how to draw without “learning how to draw.” Anyone can do this, with a high interest level, the right information and a little bit of “right practice”.  You’ll get these here.

You’ll find painting instruction  — but a unique kind that can free you as it encourages and dares you to explore several painting mediums, with brush or mouse.

You’ll discover how to grow your illustration from a thumbnail “seed” to a living-breathing, full-sized sketch–  and “make a scene, fusing the  skills of the draftsman with those of the storyteller.

You’ll be shown what I call the “Howard Pyle Theorem” (to remind you that illustration is a special kind of theater) and the “Lynne and Tessa” factor, which proves how story imagery can reach beyond the frame and maybe the page!

In monthly interviews you’ll meet successful children’s book illustrators and see how they work.  They might share some trade secrets with you.

You’ll find news roundups of the field,  mini-lessons by guest artist-instructors, exposure to the books, blogs and projects of your fellow illustrators. You’ll find an online community and support group and a clearing house for an astounding array of resources and information. And gradually you’ll be able to enter the dialogue of illustrators, graphic designers, art directors, editors, agents, writers, teachers and librarians and others who love children’s books and children’s book art.

As enrolled student-members, you’ll have access to the year-long online course, Make Your Marks: A Power Course in Creating Effective Illustrations for Children’s Books, Magazines and Other Media for Children, based on a popular class honed over the years in the studio classrooms of the Austin Museum of Art Art School.

You’ll acquire some  sophisticated knowledge in a surprisingly short time — that ccould save you years of frustration and possibly costly mis-steps.

You’ll love this journey. You’ll have fun. In the strange, quiet way that creators have fun. And you’ll grow.

Maybe a lot.

So bookmark this site. Keep coming back to it. You’ve found a good community for you — but it is partly a gated community.  To enroll as a student-member and have access to the in-depth content and the core training,  e-mail mark@markgmitchell.com.

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Author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell (www.markgmitchell.com) is the editor of How to be a Children’s Book Illustrator.  

Download his award-winning book for young people, Raising La Belle for free at http://shipwreck-book.weebly.com.

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