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.

Laura’s Medieval Menagerie


Laura Jennings drawing for Shard Studios

Laura Jennings drawing for Shard Studios

Laura Jennings grew up surrounded by animals in the Texas Hill Country town of Kempner.

“I trained my first dog, a Rottweiler for obedience when I was 12,” she says.

Maybe that’s why the dynamic animals she’s created for the role playing game Shard  look like people you might  know — almost  old friends you wouldn’t mind going with you on a harrowing adventure.

 Oh, humans played their parts in her youth, too, and books — fantasy novels mainly — and video games.  “I used to sit and watch my brother play Zelda and Mario for hours,” she says.

After studying fine arts at Central Texas Community College and Texas Tech University, Laurie enrolled in the design art  programming and animation sequence at Austin Community College, She has set her sites on the fields of video game art and character creation.  

Character from "Dardunah", a land where armour is made of crystal, a Shard RPG game, drawn by Laura Jennings

The Lion King changed my life.  I loved the action, the movement.   I don’t have the patience for animation, but that’s what I’m into,” she says.

“At school we’re doing the old  pegboard animation, like the crews did for Bambi , they still ask for the same kind of detail in the industry. 

“Everybody going into this wants to design, do storyboards and be a lead character artist. It’s the very first graphic the public sees.

“I do go for games, and it is pretty astonishing — the emerging media and the economic growth that’s been predicted for games and computer art in the next 50 years. 

“Austin has something like 50 studios; they’re mostly small. In this room there’s an animator and you can walk right next door and take it to the programmer.”

“Video game art is  a combination of animated movie and comic book and it’s  interactive. Some of the most gorgeous art I’ve seen has been in the animation of Nintendo and Capcom games, such as Squaresoft Final Fantasy series and Legend of Zelda.    


"Dardunah" character by Laura Jennings

Laura also feels pulled by graphic novels and children’s books and attends meetings of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (Austin SCBWI). 

“People think children’s book illustration is easy. It’s actually cutting edge. There are similarities to game art, such as the storyboarding and the composition and how you have to know your story visually so very well. The work of James Gurney holds its metal against any fine art happening today and he (and others like him) have chosen literature, which I thank them for.”

"Puffy pants" character from the Shard land, drawing by Laura Jennings

"Puffy pants" character from the Shard land, drawing by Laura Jennings

Laura “liked the idea of puffy pants” for her fantasy
character for the game Shard, designed by art director Scott Jones.

 “I was trying to turn a lot of the animal motifs on their heads.  So I wanted to make this Aesop’s-like skunk a bit coquetish, like she’s waiting for Pepe Le Pew.”

 Shard is a table-top  role playing game “of heroic fantasy, set in the Realm of Dardunah, World of the False Dawn,”
the website says.   “Players may choose from a wide variety of animal  people who are the main cast of the many adventures the world offers.” 

Dardunah is a medieval Shangrila, far east of Middle Earth. (I spent some time poking around the site. I must say I’m ready for the movie to come out.) 

Laura recalls, “I don’t know what it was that got their attention, but they saw some of my art and told me, ‘We see that you’ve done a bunch of animal creatures.'”

“Actually there were  three of us working on the game’s characters. We had to make it look like all of the illustration was done by one person. We each worked in our own category — I didn’t want  the insects, snakes and reptiles so I raised my hand and said, ‘I’ll take the mammals!’ ”

One of the animal people drawn by Laura Jennings for the RPG "Shard"

One of the animal people drawn by Laura Jennings for the RPG "Shard"

 She had to research animals in their natural settings, and come up with props, costumery and accessories that  “fit” into this world with its Persian and Asian flavors, she says. 

“I had to find out what old armour looks like, leggings and foorwear, what kind of robes students of a temple would have worn.” 

Shore dweller of "Dardunah" by Laura Jennings

For the fellow in the game at the right, a seashore dweller, she found photo reference of an otter, stopping by a river, panting.

Pencil drawings were scanned and values were added in Photoshop using the smudge tool and the dodge and burn tool.

“I had a lot of fun with the textures in Photoshop, learning to push things around.

“I was asked to  re-do a squirrel monster because the armor looked too much like beat-up metal. Metal is a material of our world  — whereas in Dardunah, the armor is made of crystal.

 “The  foundation was in natural media,” she says. “But there was a little bit of cleanup in Corel Painter 9, which replicates whatever natural medium you’re using — in this case it was pencil. The art  was finished and polished in Corel Painter 9.

 “There’s a lot of movement and dynamic in my own work,” Laura says.

“I’ve been very gestural for a long time. I’m only just now starting to work on the edges, the contour.

“My sketches are half reference — half imagination. Many of them are just from little thumbnail sketches. As I look at these  I’m seeking that pose that speaks about inner character. I’m asking, ‘What has punch. What is moving, or defining,” Laura says.

“In video games, the silhouette is so important. Their silhouettes define who they are in the game.”

Wolverine warrior by Laura Jennings,from the role playing card game

Ursine warrior realized by Laura Jennings. He's a character from the role playing card game, Shard.

Laura Jennings’ fun blog  is now on our blogroll.  You’ll find her art there, too and on her Deviant Art gallery page, where she’s posted some graphic novel panels, backgrounds and more of her exquisite characters.  Deviant Art features concept art by teen and young adult artists from around the world.

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Mark Mitchell hosts How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator. 
Check out the free lessons of his short course, Power Color: The Keys to Color Mastery  here.