Author-illustrator Keith Graves: Ace kids’ yarn spinner

You might not learn all you want to know about children’s book author illustrator Keith Graves from his website — like, what is the name of the rock band he was founding member of and still plays in? (Answer: The Whispering Javelinas.)

But you’ll find answers to the important questions, like,  How did he learn to draw?

His response (see the site’s FAQs):  “I have been obsessed with drawing since I was knee high to a slug…

“I’ll bet I have drawn at least five or six billion pictures, mostly of things with one eye, in my life. Most of them stunk, but some came out OK.

“That’s the thing.  If you draw lots of pictures, chances are a few will be really cool.”

Reviewers have used words like zany, quirky, twisted and rowdy to describe his pictures and stories that are also just plain funny and kid-friendly.

If you’ve never read any of his books, the video below with Keith reading his Loretta, Ace Pinky Scout (Scholastic) accompanied by the movie theme from The Great Escape offers a fine introduction to his oeuvre.

His latest work is the first in a series of chapter books that he illustrated with white colored pencil and acrylic paint on black illustration board.

In these video excerpts from a longer interview that he gave for students of the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! course Keith talks about his happy experiment with long form writing and his new series character, Thaddeus J. Hibble.

Keith’s long professional art career has included editorial illustrations for some of the country’s top publications, music album covers, posters,  ads, Hollywood animated film projects,  his own children’s picture books and those of other authors’ (including Margie Palatini, Mary Alice Fontenot,  Helen Ketteman and Sandy Asher.)

He earned his B.F.A. from the University of Southern Louisiana, studied at the Parsons New School for Design in N.Y.C. and finished an M.F.A. from the University of Texas at Austin.

But not before he tackled essential boyhood tasks like building a W.W. II submarine out of cardboard boxes in his (New Orleans neighborhood) backyard, learning to play the guitar and immersing himself in the lore of movie monsters, the hot rod cartoon monster (plastic kit) models of Big Daddy Roth and a particular uncle’s hilarious tall tales about growing up on the bayou.

"Chicken Big" cover

Further down in this post we mention the winners of the SCBWI Tomie de Paola Illustration Award. The contest required artists to render a certain scene from Chicken Licken (or Chicken Little or Henny Penny. )

So we can’t omit mention of Keith’s strangely endearing take on the same tale that resulted in his 2010 picture book Chicken Big  (Chronicle Books.)

Watch the discussion below for his insights into developing a visual character who rings true.

Page  from "Chicken Big" by Keith Graves

St. Edward's University, Austin Texas

Something for Everyone

That’s the theme for the 2012 Regional Conference of the Austin Chapter of the Society of  Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 

It’s no exaggeration, either — with its insanely good lineup of name authors, agents, editors and a few other top children’s publishing industry professionals.

Conference logo design by Erik Kuntz

Come meet Patti Ann Harris, senior art director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers who oversees the design of the picture book list and novelty book imprint, LB-Kids,  Bonnie Bader, editor-in-c hief of Grosset and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan, two imprints of the Penguin Young Readers Group and Diane Muldrow,  editorial director at Golden Books/Random House and editor of the famous Little Golden Books.

Hobnob with agents, Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary Agency),  Erin Murphy (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) and Jill Corcoran (Jeff Hermann Agency) along with YA novelist Lisa Lee,  picture book author and writing teacher Anastasia Suen and Kirsten Cappy, who owns the children’s author-illustrator marketing consultancy Curious City.

Conference logo design by Laci Morgan

Registration is still open for Something for Everyone, set for February 17-19 on the St. Edward’s University campus in Austin, Texas.

SCBWI Tomie dePaola Illustration Award winner announced

For first place, from more than 300 entries from around the world, dePaola chose the scene composed by Yvette Piette Herrera for the Chicken Licken fable.

See Yvetter’s wonderful piece and the other winning submissions by Carrie Eko-Burgess,  Rotem Omri and Lori McElrath-Eslick, along with Tomie dePaola’s comments on the SCBWI site.

See more great work (178 of the contest submissions so far and counting) in a special “Unofficial” Tomie dePaola Awards blog initiated by Houston SCBWI illustrator coordinator Diandra Mae, including four pieces by Marks and Splashes students Joanna Strybosch, Catherine Jacobs, Cynthia Iannocone and Virginia Rinkel.

PB Dummy Challenge for kidlitart challenge Twibbon

Twibbon design by Diandra Mae

#KidLitArt Picture Book Dummy Challenge 2012

Here’s what you want to know about this year’s Kidlitart #PBDummy Challenge:

Sign up here, start work on your pencil dummy drop by the #kidlitart Twitter chats at 9 pm (U.S. Eastern Time) every Thursday to visit with your creative colleagues.

You’ll find additional challenge-related discussions on Twitter using the challenge hashtag: #PBDummy.

Try to register for the challenge by January 15 to be eligible for the Agent Pitch contest at the end of the six months.  The challenge extends to July 1.

(Live anywhere near the St. Louis, Mo. area? PB Dummy Challenge co-founder Wendy Martin will teach art and painting classes this Spring at Jefferson College, including Watercolor Pencil Techniques, Narrative Illustration, Cartoon Animals and Basic Logo Design. Check out page 11 of the Jefferson College Continuing Education 2012 spring catalog or contact Wendy directly through her website for more information.  She’ll teach at the Festus, Mo. campus.)

If you feel instead like concentrating on picture book story structure and writing,  consider the 12 x 12 in 2012 Picture Book Writing Challenge.  “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write one picture book per month for each of the twelve months of 2012,” states challenge instigator, author Julie Hedlund in her blog, Write Up My Life. 

“This means a first draft: beginning, middle, end.  NOT a submission-ready piece,” she says.

Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby inscribes a book for illustrator Lalena Fisher, while his wife and co author-illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson chats with Lalena.

Triumphs and tallies

Picture books by Austin SCBWI artists Jeff Crosby and Patrice Barton made the Texas Library Association’s 2×2 list for 2012. Wiener Wolf  that Jeff wrote and illustrated and Mine! written by Shutta Crum and illustrated by Patrice made the top 20 books (winnowed down from 700 nominated titles) for children ages two through the second grade.

Patrice’s illustrations for Mine! were also included in the Society of Illustrators 2011 National Exhibition in NYC.

Both illustrators have been profiled on this blog and interviewed on video for the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks students.

 Liz Rosenberg’s “Best Books of 2011” for children article in the Boston Globe leads off with Austin SCBWI’s own Divya Srinivasan’s Little Owl’s Night  (Viking.)

Elizabeth Bird, youth collections specialist for the New York City Public Library compiled her list of 100 Magnificent Children’s Books of 2011 in her blog, A Fuse 8 Production  for School Library Journal.

Illustrator Patrice Barton with author-illustrator Mary Sullivan

You don’t want to miss the 2011 Retrospective for Julie Danielson’s  7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog that  includes interviews with Brian SelznickGenevieve Cote, David Ezra Stein, John Rocco, Beth Krommes, Beth Ellis, Betsy Lewin and many others.

And see the 2012 picture book preview by Kirkus Reviews.

Check out “Tech Tuesday” posts on the new Girllustrators Tumblr blog  and Just Picture This: A one stop blog for all things Children’s Illustration. News, events, links, articles and more— compiled by illustrators Diandra MaeCasey G.Dani JonesKelly Light and Jez Tuya.

Art by Sylvia Liu (for an Illustration Friday theme, "Separated")

Marks and Splashes course assayed

Many thanks to Sylvia Liu (illustrator, environmental attorney) for reviewing  the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! online course  — and interviewing me on her richly informative kid lit art blog Sylvia Liu LandRead the review.

Stories that move (really they do)

See some interactive digital books in action (videos) ofs in action and read about the latest InteractBooks Contest (prizes include iPads, an iMac and more)  for artists and authors using the free InteractBuilder software. You’ll find more on the latest post,  Stories that move and talk when you touch them on the lllustration Course blog.

Richard Johnson of InteractBooks

Sign up for free sessions, tutorials

1.) From idea to iTunesAuthor-illustrator David Tribble walks us through how he created his children’s picture book for the iPad, Lord of the Scribes.  See the 90 minute-replay.

2.) Building interactive books for touch screen devices:
A presentation featuring children’s author Dan Byrne who won last year’s InteractBooks competition with his picture book on nutrition and gardening for kids, It’s Time for Carrots (illustrated by Jenna Matsalla) and the developers of the InteractBuilder software. Hear it here.

3.)InteractBuilder Bootcamp online —  a complete training on building interactive books for the iPad, iPhone and other touch screen devices

Three more live Saturday sessions to go with InteractBuilder developers Ezra Weinstein and Richard Johnson teaching how to use their groundbreaking software.  Replays of the previous trainings are available for only three more weeks. Find more information, temporary replay links and upcoming class registration links.

American fine artist Emiy Barto

American artist Emiy Barto

4.) Fabulously free: 

Open source software for artists and illustrators, presented by architect and illustrator Jim Larson. Enjoy the replay.

5.) Build your online gallery on a WordPress.org or WordPress.com blog

Erik Kuntz and Mark Mitchell demonstrate  how to install thumbnail portfolios on WordPress blogs.  Access the replay and videos.

6.) Is there a “best secret” to drawing? Find out here.

"The Three Gnarlies" Interior Page

Interior illustration by Keith Graves for his picture book, "The Three Gnarlies"

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When kids’ book illustrators go wild…

Children’s book author-illustrator Jeff Crosby says he came up with the idea for his funny new picture book, Wiener Wolf  (Hyperion) while he was in the shower one day.

For a long while after that he asked his wife author-illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson if she would write the story for him so he could paint it.

Shelley suggested that he try his own hand at putting just the right words together in just the right order to tell his story.

Then he’d be that appealing combination (for some children’s book editors) — an author-illustrator.

Jeff’s response was to work up a little pencil sketch dummy that told the story without any words at all. But later his and Shelley’s agent urged him to add at least a few words to his pictures — to appease that segment of the market that believes that picture books are meant to be read.

The result is Wiener Wolf  about a dachshund who hears the call of the wild and decides that he’ll leave Granny’s home  to run with the wolves.

The release party for the book is Saturday, July 2nd at BookPeople, 11:30 a.m.  (Yes, there is a dog costume contest, but check the store for details.)

For anyone in the Central Texas area Jeff will teach a University of Texas informal class on illustrating children’s books starting Tuesday, June 28 at 6 p.m.

The above video is from a 90 minute interview I did with Jeff and Shelley for students of my online course on children’s book illustration Make Your Splashes-Make Your Marks.

You can see a little more from that interview here.   

And  you can see how their four year old daughter Harper responds to her daddy’s picture book below.

Author-illustrators Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby

Author-illustrators Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby

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Mark Mitchell hosts this blog and conducts the online course Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! that teaches how to draw and paint for children’s books and other media.

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

Ridin’ down to the “Boots, Books and Buckskins” conference? Here’s your chance to win unbelievable contest give-aways for illustrators!

Hey,  illustrators and aspiring illustrators! Be the first kid on your block to win an in-person portfolio critique from Caldecott-Medal winning children’s book  illustrator David Diaz!  How?

Illustrator David Diaz

David Diaz draws a face for children at the Abilene, Texas public library.

It’s easy! First register for the Austin SCBWI 2011 Regional Conference  Boots, Books and Buckskins coming up February 18-19. You can do that right here and read all about the conference and the amazing faculty of  top authors, illustrators, children’s book publishers, editors — an agent and social media expert, too —  right in the packet  along with hotel information, campus map, schedule, break-out sessions,  author intensives and portfolio reviews and your EZ-peazy registration form.  Handy and amazing, right?

You don’t have to belong to the Austin SCBWI chapter to attend Boots, Books and Buckskins.  But you’ll  receive a discount for belonging to the National Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.)

St. Edwards

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

Good so far? OK,  next step is to e-mail the Texas Sweethearts, let them know that you’ve registered. You’ll be automatically entered into the contest to win the free portfolio reviews.  Who are the Texas Sweethearts? A small  group of dynamite published Austin area  Y.A. , middle grade and children’s authors you’ll want to know about, anyway.  See their blog here.

What if you enter the contest and don’t win a portfolio review with David Diaz?  It’s OK. Because this  is a big contest with more than one prize!

You might win a portfolio review with author-illustrator Julian Hector, another presenter.

Gentleman Bug by Julian Hector

Or you might win a review with author-illustrator Frances Yansky.

Or manuscript critiques by authors Jessica Anderson,   Bethany HegedusKari Ann Holt P.J. HooverJeanette Larson or Brian Yansky.

I could go on a bit about these authors because I know  them.  Instead  I’ll focus in on the two illustrator stars of Boots, Books and Buckskins David and Julian.

(The lineup of non-illustrator stars includes National Book Award author Kimberly Willis Holt, Egmont USA, vice-president and publisher Elizabeth Law, Arthur Levine Books editorial director Arthur Levine, agent Emily van Beek and many other wonderful presenters.)

David Diaz talks to kids

Illustrator, Designer, Caledcott Medal winner David Diaz

David Diaz

David Diaz was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1995 for his work  in Smoky Night, about the L.A. riots, written by Eve Bunting.  His other award winning books include  Eve Bunting’s Going Home and Newbery Honor winner,The Wanderer by Sharon Creech.  Diaz’s colorful illustrations in Margaret Wise Brown’s The  Little Scarecrow Boy led to the book being named the New York Times “Best Illustrated Book” for 1998.

1995 Caldecott Medal winning "Smoky Night" by Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz

Most Most recently  David has teamed up with renowned author Joyce Carol Thomas to create The Gospel Cinderella, a soulful retelling of the classic Cinderella story.  He’s on the advisory board for the SCBWI Nationa. He recently curated the national touring Golden Kite; Golden Dreams – an exhibit of original illustration art from SCBWI Golden Kite Award winning- books over the past 30 years.

Julian Hector

Julian Hector was born in Los Angeles, raised in rural Texas and received a BFA from Parsons the New School for Design, in New York City.  His clients include Disney-Hyperion, Scholastic, Harper Collins, and Simon and Schuster Julian Hector is represented by Rebecca Sherman of Writers House.  His books include Gentleman Bug (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) and The Little Matador (Disney-Hyperion).

The Little Matador by Julian Hector

The Little Matador by Julian Hector

So why,  you just might ask, are the Texas Sweethearts giving away the free portfolio critiques by David Diaz and Julian Hector — instead of — well for example,  let’s say an un-named children’s book illustration blog  by someone who just happens to share the same SCBWI chapter as them ?

Luck of the draw.  Ever-alert Sweethearts Jessica Lee Anderson and P.J.  Hoover won the portfolio critiques as door prizes at our recent Austin SCBWI Christmas Holiday party.  Since they’re not illustrators, they decided to exploit the windfall on their blog as a way to promote our regional conference.  Because everybody loves a contest!

So read PJ’s explanation to make sure you  understand the rules.  In a nutshell:

1.) Prepare yourself to come to Austin, Texas if you’re not already here. And Register for the conference here. (You’ll find the enrollment form to fill out and send in on the last page of the PDF.)

2.) E-mail the Texas Sweethearts to let them know you’re in.  Here’s the address:
texas_sweethearts@yahoo.com

Truly, these are your last chances for consultations with Diaz and Hector at the conference.
The paid portfolio sessions with them have all sold out!

Not to be eclipsed by the Sweethearts’ generous contest, I want to give away something too.

I’ll give away two front row seats to the two small group intensives that Diaz and Hector are individually doing on the afternoon of the conference.  Spots in these  “special sessions” are going fast for $20 apiece.

I’ll also give away one  portfolio review by me — since I can’t give away any by David Diaz or Julian Hector.  Since the Sweethearts are doing that.

To compete for my three prizes:

1.) Register for the Boots, Books and Buckskins Austin SCBWI Regional Conference before it sells completely out (seriously, it will.)

2.) Post a comment on this blog — or send me an e-mail — letting me know you’ve registered and which small group intensive session you’d like catch during the conference.  My e-mail address is: Mark@HowtoBeAChildrensBookIllustrator.com

I’ll pick three winners a week or two before the conference.  Note: You can  enter the Texas Sweethearts contest and mine at the same time to double your chances for a prize or prizesa! Try for everything!  You might win from me and the Sweethearts!

Now I have to show the Texas Sweethearts video.
Because I think you’ll see from this how it’s hard to stay peeved at them very long for winning  the Diaz-Hector portfolio critique doorprizes and making the most of their windfall with a blog contest.

Clearly these particular door prizes,  in a more perfect world,  should have been won (to be given away) by — let’s just say a more illustration-centered blog.  I won’t mention any in particular.  (In fairness to the Sweethearts, they recently expanded their ranks to include two author-illustrators Emma Virjan and Don Tate, along with authors K.A. Holt and Jeanette Larson. Now they go by the moniker Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels — because Don’s in there.)

Anyway the video with its honky tonk soundtrack by Sharif hits so many of the same color notes as Boots, Books and Buckskins that it could be the conference theme as well.

The Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels

Go here to Register for the Austin SCBWI 2011 Conference –  February  18 and 19,  2011.  Send the Texas Sweethearts and me your messages (details above.) Prepare yourself to possibly win one-on-one professional consults,  portfolio reviews, manuscript critiques and/or front row seats at exclusive small group intensives.
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Clint Young Interview on “Literary Asylum

Clint Youngs "Toast"

Wonderful interview with Austin SCBWI’s own superbly talented Clint Young on D.N. Cunningham’s Literary Asylum blog. Clint talks of how his daughter’s name for her pet stuffed pig  inspired the picture book Toast that was acquired by  Feiwel and Friends, of creating his own Photoshop brushes to paint, and his work for LucasArts as a Star Wars concept artist. Read it here.

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Hop on to Mark Mitchell’s Make Your Marks; Make Your Splashes online course — about drawing and painting good illustrations for books and other children’s media — before the price goes up in January!  Learn a great secret for better drawing here.

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Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby share their art

Author-illustrators Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby shared their work with the Inklings, a picture book critique group under the Austin SCBWI chapter Sunday.

Nick Alter and Jeff Crosby at the ” Inklings”  get together at the Green Muse Cafe.  The artwork being shown in this  binder is by Tiffanny Varga, an Inkling  illustrator and fine artist.
“Inklings” checking out the art of Jeff and Shelley.

Shelley Ann Jackson
Illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson shows off work done by her and her husband illustrator Jeff  Crosby for their book “Little Lions, Bull Baiters and Hunting Hounds: A History of Dog Breeds” (Tundra Publishing) and several other book.

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Book producer Margie Blumberg adds something new to the tried and true

Children’s book illustrators would do well to make note of the pathfinders as the tectonic plates of publishing, communication and commerce are shifting under our feet — as we speak.

Content providers are rushing to the market, knowing that this day and age are like the Oklahoma Land Rush. In a matter of months, the virtual “land grab” will be over — the first round of it anyway.  The dust will have settled and the publishing landscape will be changed. Those trade books with a foothold in the new media will have an edge.

One of these pathfinders is Washington D.C.  author, publisher and patent holder Margie Blumberg, who is making her children’s books available as not only hardcovers but as iTune downloads for iPhones and iPads. Her two picture books,  Breezy Bunnies and Sunny Bunnies, featuring the art of English illustrator June Goulding.

She blogs about grammar and has an e-book available for all ages on the subject, and she’s exploring other formats as well for all her books.

Margie Blumberg, Publisher

Margie knew she wanted to write at an early age.  But like many writers, she took a detour on the way to her dream (in her case, law school and legal internships at the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Science in the Public Interest).

Undeterred in her heart’s goal, she self-published what she describes as an “autobiographical recipe calendar.” It featured delightful comic strip illustrations by illustrator John Thompson chronicling the  trauma Margie says she faced as a young adult when her doctors ruled out chocolate for her for the rest of her life!

So she was already thinking outside the box,  or “the book,”  embedding her personal yarn and favorite dessert recipes (sans chocolate)  in a desktop calendar!

With co-author Colleen Aagesen, Margie went on to write Shakespeare for Kids: His Life and Times – a biography with 21 activities for kids for the Chicago Review Press’s For Kids series.

But the frosting on the cake (not chocolate, we hope) in preparing her for life as a contender in the new publishing/media was the award of a patent in 2008 for an electronic memory pad. She tells us more about that in the interview.

Margie graciously answered our questions about her books, her apps and collaborating with U.K. illustrator June Goulding on her first digital project.  Breezy Bunnies, a book for the i-Pad, and Sunny Bunnies, a hardcover trade book  are both available through  iTunes as downloads and apps for iPhones. Two other books in the series are in the works.

So let’s meet our New Publishing pathfinder.

Hi Margie! You’ve created a publishing company at a time when the industry is going through a remarkable transition and you’re also reaching out to a broad market range “From illustrated books for preschoolers to nonfiction books for adults” as you state. Why did you set up this challenge for yourself and what do you see as the challenges and opportunities in a marketplace that seems about to redefine itself?

Margie: Our goal is to create books of distinction that satisfy the universal need to connect to the world through art and words.

I founded MB Publishing, LLC, a few months before the publication of Avram’s Gift in May 2003. Technology then was not what it is today. Now, with the advent of Kindle, iPad, etc., the industry is redefining itself.  Assuming books made of paper survive [as I write this, my order from Amazon.com has just arrived], I hope the elimination of book returns will be part of this defining moment. In terms of our economy, I think apps could not have come along at a better time. For the price of one hardcover book, a family can download about five to eight picture book apps. That’s great for families on a budget (that’s most of us in America) and it’s wonderful for publishers, too.

Breezy Bunnies Spread

Spread from "Breezy Bunnies:  illustrated by June Goulding

Do you see your market as trade, mass market or education or all three and more? How are you engaging these markets?

I am a trade publisher. One of my biggest challenges is to get the word out about my company’s books—whether in paper or app form. That’s every publisher’s challenge, actually. That’s why there are so many social media experts, SEO experts, and PR experts. Blogs like yours are wonderful also for discussing issues, of course, and to bring attention to work and ideas that might otherwise be hidden from view.

I have engaged Susan Raab of Raab Associates to get the word out about my company and the books that I produce. She has done a marvelous job in reaching out to the media. I have also engaged an SEO expert to help people find my site, which includes information about each book, look-inside features, and downloadable coloring pages. I’d love to hear from Web site mavens and readers alike as to what else my site could offer to make it more engaging and worthwhile.

How can your illustrator help you in this process?

June Goulding has a blog (http://junegoulding.blogspot.com/) with which she keeps in contact with fellow illustrators worldwide. They are a very friendly and supportive online community, and June is able to share news about her work whenever she wants. In general, I think illustrators can help publishers by doing book signings, reaching out to children at local schools and libraries to show their work and inspire future artists and writers, and keeping in touch around the world through their blogs and via groups on LinkedIn or SCBWI, for example.

Sunny Bunnies

Sunny Bunnies, a conventional picture book by Margie Blumberg, illustrated by June Goulding

How did you find June and can you describe the process of working with her on both the traditional and i-Pad books?

After searching through hundreds of portfolios online and scouring children’s book departments, I found June’s portfolio on a site that featured 100 other illustrators. I fell in love with her style immediately
and e-mailed her about my interest in working with her on my “bunny books” project. Naturally, she asked for details (and she was thrilled because bunnies are her favorite to draw) and after a few back-and-forths, we talked. You should know that she is a modern-day Beatrix Potter, taking in hurt or stray animals, such as hens and birds and hedgehogs, and bottle-feeding them back to health. In her compassionate and capable hands, Carrot Cake Park is a beautiful and reassuring place for children.

June and I have a nice routine. As soon as I have “finalized” the text, I e-mail it to her to live with for a week or so. Then she plots out the book in thumbnail form. When I receive her thumbnails, I call her at home in Bristol, England, to listen to how she envisions the illustrations in the
layout, page by page and spread by spread. It never ceases to amaze me how two people—once perfect strangers, separated by an ocean and a language (British English is often quite different from American English, we have learned)—are able to see so completely eye to eye, book after book. By the way, this same simpatico feeling happened when Laurie and I worked together on Avram’s Gift.

It’s during this thumbnails phase that we can spot big problems—perhaps we have too many full-bleed double-page spreads in a row,  for example. If we can move around verses, or turn some spreads into spot illustrations, we do that. It is now that the rhythm and pace of the story and important page turns are set before we move on.

Next come the pencils. Any problems in the text—if they haven’t been caught already—are glaring now. I go off to my little corner and try to figure out a better verse or a better segue or perhaps a better word. I’ll often ask June for ideas, as she’s living with the text as much as I am by this point. I like brainstorming this way, and June doesn’t seem to mind (I think). [June Goulding: “I don’t mind. I like to bounce ideas around.”] Often it comes down to just a few different words, but sometimes I’ll have to create a whole new verse. If it’s a problem with the illustration, on the other hand—for example, which direction the hayride is going in (this was an issue in our fall 2011 *Busy Bunnies*), we talk it out. June has asked me to draw out my solutions, but it’s usually much better when June draws out thumbnail sketches of possibilities based upon our conversations. The obvious solution usually presents itself this way—and June doesn’t have to be subjected to my dreadful sketches.

The thing about the word *problem *is that I actually *like *to work out these issues. It doesn’t always feel like work because I’m enjoying the process so much. I remember how I loved my favorite books growing up; if any of our bunny books become a child’s favorite or part of a happy remembrance of childhood, then, well, I’ll be thrilled.

iPad book Breezy Bunnies scheduled for hardcover publication this summer

Breezy Bunnies, written by Margie Blumberg and illustrated by June Goulding

Once pencils are done, June decides upon a palette. She sends me illustrations of the two main characters, each wearing the outfits we talked about but in several different color combinations. I must sound like a broken record by now, but we inevitably pick the same two color combinations for “the kids.” Once the palette is set, June begins to paint. She uses watercolors, ink, and colored pencils. June’s art is a gift, and every time she e-mails me new finished  illustrations, I feel as though I’m being showered with presents.

By the way, if we ever discover a problem in the illustration after the art has been scanned, June fixes it in Photoshop.

How do you, as a publisher and author, foresee illustrators working on these new digital children’s books that will soon be zipping at near-light-speeds into the consumer market ?

Because of the way PicPocket creates the apps, I don’t see too many differences yet. Illustrators will always be focused on creativity. Whether they work with watercolor, oil, pencils, pen and ink, or digital software, creativity will always be the key.

The one area that needs extra attention right now concerns the sound aspect of the app. Now that parents and children can touch something on the screen—a duck, for instance—and a sound is heard, artists and writers will be thinking more and more about new opportunities for adding sound elements to the app. Lynette Maatke, the co-founder of PicPocket Books in Silver Spring, Maryland, has a wonderful ear for sounds. After we go through the book, discussing which sounds will be important and fun, she goes to work locating the MP3 sounds.

Other book app developers and illustrators are doing more with animation. And I’ve seen others creating apps utilizing different camera angles—close-ups, wide shots, etc—and orchestrations. How fun! A book app can be as close to the real book-reading experience as possible or it can be like a cartoon or it can be something in between.

But no matter how sophisticated the software or the end product, it all comes down to the story and the illustrations: Whether static or animated, if the words and the art work beautifully together, well, that’s everything really.

From a spread illustrated June Goulding

Double spread page illustrated by June Goulding for Margie Blumberg's "Sunny Bunnies"

How is conceiving, writing,  illustrating, then publishing an electronic children’s book for a mobile digital device different from those same tasks in the creation and publication of a traditional illustrated children’s book?

At this point, I’m not creating books specifically for a digital device. The
new scanning technology allows each reader to manually move across the page at his or her own pace, so creating an app with pages instead of spreads is not something that I feel we have to limit ourselves to. I suppose I’m lucky that I got into apps at just the right time for these bunny books, which have lots of spreads.

Sunny Bunnies came out in hardcover first. Then it became an app, after Breezy Bunnies Breezy Bunnies which isn’t in print yet, was designed in the exact same way as Sunny Bunnies. My plan is that once all four books are out as apps, we’ll bring them out in a boxed set of four small hardcover books. Of course, by that time, technology may have evolved to the point where children’s books can be carried around in a flexible device that allows readers to interact with the story in a landscape format. Once the technology for children’s books can mimic the hardcover’s or paperback’s look and feel, then I think we will be in a new era. Apple should create a washable device called iPictureBook—or perhaps something fun like iPB&J (PB & J = Peanut Butter and Jelly), the idea being that even kids with sticky fingers can enjoy their books.

Right now, PicPocket Books, the publisher to whom I’m licensing the bunny books, simply needs jpegs of the art (including cover and endpapers) and the title and copyright pages; my text is sent separately in a Word document. Therefore, June, Andrew Smith (my graphic designer), and I don’t have to worry about choosing a charming but readable font anymore. For my part, the publisher asked me to find the narrator for the books. I held taped phone auditions with young actresses through Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland. Once Lynette and I decided on the perfect narrator, we all gathered at the studio to record the first two books. I was able to help with readings of lines and we all got to see how a recording studio works. The engineer was fantastic. He noticed everything and was patient with us as we redid lines wherever necessary.

You mentioned that your graphic designer was Andrew Smith. What happens to the role of designer in such books? Do they now become multi-media designers?

I work with graphic designers on my hardcover and softcover books. And my full-color e-book on grammar, too, required a cover designer and an interior designer. As for the apps of the picture books, our full-bleed art makes a design for the frames unnecessary. However, a designer is a must for the covers and the title page. I work with Andrew Smith at PageWave Graphics on the bunny books.

Avram's Gift by Margie Blumberg, illustrated by Laurie McGaw

Avram's Gift by Margie Blumberg, illustrated by Laurie McGaw

Whenever the conversion does change the layout—on Kindle, for example—you need to work with a converter—or learn how to do it by yourself. I hired Joshua Tallent to convert my chapter book, Avram’s Gift, into a book for Kindle.

What is the royalty or fee arrangement for illustrators who work on MB titles? Or if that is too specific a question, what is the compensation model for illustrators of e-books and multi-media children’s products generally?

This is an area that is in flux right now and is being discussed by publishers, authors, and illustrators. I’ve heard of percentages ranging from 24% to 50% (for authors and illustrators to split 50-50). There’s much debate and terms are being redefined, but for my company, with regard to the picture books, as I am also the author, I give a 50% royalty to June for her illustrations.

In your FAQS about illustrator submissions, it sounds like you would be receptive to illustrators who work in traditional mediums, such as watercolor?

Absolutely. I love the use of traditional media. If I owned an art gallery, I would fill it with children’s book art and animation cels. So instead, I buy books.

How do you work with Emma Walton Hamilton as your editor in the production of your books? What is that like?

In a word, it’s a joy. I initially contacted Emma via e-mail, and we communicated by e-mail throughout the editorial process. We have since spoken on the phone and we did meet for lunch when she was in town (Washington, DC), but the bulk of our work together has been conducted electronically. Some may think that this sounds cold or distant, but you don’t know Emma. Her warmth and integrity—and her enthusiasm for books—shine through every word of her thorough critiques and her editorial work. Her e-mails sparkle with encouragement. When we finally got to meet in person, she was even more fabulous than I had imagined!

Art by June Goulding

Art by U.K. illustrator June Goulding for Margie Blumberg's "Sunny Bunnies"

You are now one of the pioneers in this world of electronic children’s books. What made you decide to bravely charge into this world of new
publishing technology on your own instead of waiting for capital intensive
giants like the major trade publishers, like Random House or even the newly formed Ruckus Media Group to develop the technologies, strategies and markets for this new book and interesting them in your traditional books?

I know it’s the dream of most writers to simply write and not be bothered with the details of printing books or developing apps or working with artists and designers. But my inclination is to write, work with artists,  and produce. It’s a lot of work—but fun, too!—to be responsible for the whole book. When I bake, I don’t want to make just the batter—I want to bake the cake and ice it, too. I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in working with my graphic designers and with June Goulding and Laurie McGaw. And I had a really great time researching photos and art for my grammar book, as well. As for the apps, I know I could have waited, but waiting is not my strong suit. And the experience of being involved in the first wave of this new technology is not to be missed.

Also, in July, PicPocket Books was chosen as a Huggies MomInspired™ Grant Award recipient by Kimberley Clark Corporation. They will be using the support that comes with the grant to implement additional features to the platform, increase marketing efforts, and add new titles. The award includes individual consulting with one of the nation’s top PR firms for help with branding and marketing. So while PicPocket may not be a giant, it’s certainly on its way!

And now for the technology part of our interview, Margie: How did you come to invent a memory pad and get a patent on it? Does this tie into the production of electronic books?

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” It’s so true. I was trying to remember how often a medical event was happening each night, and when I couldn’t recall the number in the mornings, I decided to invent something that would help me (and others) record events. I shared the idea with a nurse who works in a retirement community, and she told me that the memory pad would certainly make her patients’ lives easier—and hers as well. The patent process was long (about 4 years), and now that it’s done, I’ve begun talking with app developers to create a memory pad app. At the time that I thought of this invention, apps were not yet in our vocabulary.

The app for the memory pad is not related to the e-books. Much as I wish I could, I can’t turn to PicPocket Books and ask them to develop this app.

From "Sunny Bunnies" by Margie blumberg, illustrated by June Goulding

From "Sunny Bunnies" by Margie Blumberg, illustrated by June Goulding

What new projects are you working on with MB Publishing? What other
kinds of books and “thinking outside the book” projects would
you be interested in publishing?

I have recently signed a contract with a new writer to publish her middle-grade novel. June is working on the pencils for Busy Bunnies (for fall 2011), and then we will finish the 4-book seasonal section of our Carrot Cake Park series the following year with Snowy Bunnies.  At some point, we’d love to send the bunnies on adventures abroad. In addition, Laurie McGaw and I are just in the talking stages but we are seriously considering writing a play about our friendship of 10 years and counting. Although we’ve met only once (for 90 minutes on my birthday in Philadelphia over dinner)—she lives in Canada and I live in Maryland—we’ve become the best of friends, talking sometimes every day (e-mail is not lively enough for us).  We’ve helped each other celebrate in happy times and cry through a few horribly painful and sad times. Ours is a friendship that also thrives because we can discuss breakfast, art, men  and kids and always find the funny as well as the poignant. I hope we can do the play. Also, there is a cookbook on MB Publishing’s horizon. I won’t be the author, but I will definitely be one of the tasters.

I would love to work with June and a software designer/developer to create a game based on the sights, sounds, and characters in Carrot Cake Park. I’m also interested in mysteries and reference books, and I would enjoy publishing more chapter books.

It is fair to say, then,  as I said in the introduction, that you’ve been drawn to publishing since your teens, or at least since your 20s when you did your desktop calendar Is There Life After Chocolate? with cartoons and recipes?

Yes, it is. By my teens, I knew I wanted to write books when I grew up. And in my twenties, when I had to give up chocolate, I had one of those light-bulb moments: I had just stopped eating chocolate when I wondered to myself, “Is there life after chocolate?” I was obviously feeling very sorry for myself (at the time, I worked in an office where chocolate-covered donuts were always available). Immediately, I thought that that question would make a cute title for a recipe calendar. I got to work writing the cartoons and eventually started working with a cartoonist (John Thompson) who brought it all to life. I’m now gathering the cartoons to make them available on Zazzle.com. I think they will look great on mugs and mouse pads and other such essentials of life!

Thank you Margie for a wonderful interview!  Read more about Margie and her publishing company, MB Publishing.

Ramp up your command of American-English by checking in with Margie’s blog, The Scoop on Good Grammar.

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"Moon Bear" by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Ed Young

"Moon Bear" by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Ed Young, published by Henry Holt and Co.

Moon Bear

Any new children’s picture book with illustrations by Caldecott Medal winning collage artist Ed Young is an occasion, and Moon Bear,  written by Brenda Z. Guiberson is no exception.

Moon Bear tells of  a  ursine breed  that hides in the mountains and valleys of southern China and Vietnam. This picture book beautifully produced by Henry Holt and Co. features some of the best page spreads ever created by Young.  With poetic language  and riddle-like questions, Guiberson delivers interesting nonfiction account of a female Moon Bear’s daily travels and travails, most of them involving her hunt for the next meal.

This  endangered species of Asian black bear is distinguished by a white marking on the chest.  Every bear appears to be wearing a white bandanna kerchief — or a bib in a fancy Italian restaurant.

Moon Bears eat bamboo shoots, ants and berries, in lieu of the spaghetti and meat sauce they would undoubtedly also eat if they could find it in the forest. They build their nests in trees. And they seem to possess a special genius for staying out of sight. They’re as elusive as the Abominable Snowmen. And yet they’re captured in considerable numbers in Southern China and kept in confining cages. The book tells us this much in an epilogue — without going into more explanation.

Young’s page designs bring us up close to our subject bear so that we have a real sense of her movement, her presence and spirit.  Made of scraps of colored paper, magazine photos and found objects (such as bamboo leaves), the imagery is kinetic, fresh and bright with contrast.
Guiberson’s language and Young’s pictures fuse nicely to introduce us to a mysterious animal.

Read our 2008 interview with Ed Young. He talks about how he lost all of his original collage illustrations for the picture book Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein —  just before turning them in, and what it felt like to start over with them, with a short deadline looming.

"Moon Bear" double page spread collage illustration by Ed Young

"Moon Bear" double page spread collage illustration by Ed Young

Children’s and YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith gives an in incredibly generous and instructive interview to Julie Danielson at the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog about the six year gestation of her newly published  picture book Holler Loudly,  illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton).  The  interview includes some wonderful pagespreads from the book — original outline drawings and finished illustrations. You might also want to check out Barry Gott’s sketchedby book tumblr page .

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Children’s and YA author Greg Leitich Smith, meanwhile has posted on the recent bumper crop of children’s and YA  books by Austin, Texas authors and illustrators.  Illustrators Patrice Barton (Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale, Layla, Queen of Hearts) , Don Tate (She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story), Laura Logan (Nonna Tell Me A Story) and Keith Graves (Chicken Big).  He cites 22 new children’s and YA books just out by Austin area authors and illustrators, most of them in the Austin SCBWI chapter. Read Greg’s post here.

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Sweet Baby Moon by Karen Henry Clark with illustrations by Patrice Barton

"Sweet Baby Moon" by Karen Henry Clark, illustrated by Patrice Barton

Really nice guest post by my friend, illustrator Patrice Barton on Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s blog, Cynsations about the difference between picture book and chapter book illustrations. She also talks about her own illustration process. Read the post here. Her latest release is the gorgeous Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale by Karen Henry Clark (Knopf.)

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Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton)

A trifecta children’s book launch party at Austin’s BookPeople on November 14 for Austin, Texas SCBWI authors Bethany Hegedus (Trouble with a Capital “T– (Delacorte,, for ages 9-up),  Brian Yansky (Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences Candlewick, for ages 12 and up)  and Cynthia Leitich Smith (Holler Loudly – illustrated by Barry Gotts – Dutton, for ages 4 and up ) drew a big crowd, including much or most of the Austin SCBWI membership. (We’re our own biggest fans.)

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Bruce Foster, the Houston-based paper engineer profiled in a recent How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator post has attracted media attention in a  USA Today review for Charles Dickens‘ A Christmas Carol: A Pop-Up Book, illustrated by Chuck Fischer, and a Dallas Morning News feature for, among other accomplishments, his engineering of the official Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter, a Pop-Up Book, illustrated by Andrew Williamson.
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December 15 is the  cut-off date for early registration for the Austin SCBWI 2011 Regional Conference – February 18-19 featuring Caldecott Medal-winning David Diaz and National Book Award YA Novelist Kimberly Willis Holt. Read more about the event and register for it here.

Trifecta Book Launch Party featuring Austin SCBWI authors

The cleverly stocked refreshment table at the Trifecta Book Launch Party at BookPeople featuring Austin SCBWI authors Brian Yansky, Bethany Hegedus and Cynthia Leitich Smith and many other authors, including Anne Bustard (serving chili at the table) and Jennifer Ziegler ( in black leather jacket.) Writers Sean Petrie and Jan Baumer stand behind Anne.

Austin SCBWI Trifecta book release party

An eager audience of parents, children, teachers and lots of Austin SCBWI members are ready for authors Brian Yansky, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Bethany Hegedus at BookPeople.

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Children’s author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts the Children’s Book Illustration and Illustration Course blogs.

Learn a big secret for dramatically improving your drawing here.

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The title is everything!

Award-winning New York City  illustrator Lisa Falkenstern is working on illustrations for her new children’s picture book.  But she and her editor are having trouble deciding on the perfect title. So Lisa has put out an S.O.S.

Lisa's baby dragon

Lisa's Baby Dragon

She’s asking all readers of How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator to help her out! Help her choose the best name for the book. Because she knows that good titles rule. Because the title is the most important decision an author and/ or her publisher probably make on any given book. Good titles sell books. Blah titles seal their doom.

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Lisa has staked out several firsts here.  It’s the first first picture book that she has authored.
It’s the first time that this blog has been asked for help by an artist colleague.  And it’s the first official reader poll that this blog has conducted in its two year history.

How did the dragon story come about?

Lisa: Long story. I keep a file of images that give me ideas for illustrations. I had a photo of an antique silver eggcup that had chick feet sticking out of a realistically done egg. I liked that and when I got around to working on the idea, the chick became a dragon and lost the claws. It didn’t work. then I played around with the egg and it became an Easter egg. So now I had a portfolio piece.

At that time,  while attending a New Jersey SCBWI [Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators]  meeting, a friend and I were invited to join another writing group, the Hunterdon County Children’s Writers and Illustrators.  We did and it was my husband who suggested I turn that dragon painting into a story.  I did and when I showed up for a first meeting, to my everlasting shame,  I showed up with a story called The Easter Dragon. I worked on that and got a dummy ready for an SCBWI workshop. I showed it to an agent and he pointed out that it wasn’t an Easter story, it was a dragon and bunny story. I went back to work on it, took out Easter, added a hedgehog to the characters, showed it to the same agent and he wasn’t interested.

Not deterred,  I kept working on it and finally showed it to the publisher at Marshall Cavendish at an SCBWI  conference who liked it, but had suggestions. About four revisions later, she liked it enough to buy it.

All that from a photo of an egg cup!

Rabbit and Hedgehog -- two friends

Rabbit and Hedgehog -- two friends who befriend a baby dragon in Lisa Falkenstyern's yet-to-be-named picture book bought by Marshall Cavendish. This spread by Lisa may or may not appear in the finsihed book.

Could you give a brief synopsis of your picture book story — even if it’s just a taste? (We won’t give away much of the plot since the book is not out yet.)

My story is about two friends who come across a baby dragon. And what starts out as fun changes to problems. Let’s just say that things things that are cute small, don’t necessarily remain that way when they grow up,


Why did you choose a picture book format instead of an older, more complex treatment of a dragon story?

I’m an illustrator, not a writer. Until now the most I had written were pithy memos to members of my co-0p when I was president, and that was twenty years ago. I never even had the urge to write. I started to write when I realized that I needed to control what I wanted to paint and that was the simplest way. And — this might sound crass to the purists — I wanted to make the most money I could, doing what I wanted and writing and illustrating a picture book mean 10 percent royalties instead of 5 percent. Plus, I made the basic mistake of beginners. I thought, “How hard can this be?”

White cat with veil

White Cat with Veil, illustration by Lisa Falkenstern

Have you always been interested in dragons and sword and sorcerer style fantasy?

I am interested in fantasy but not the usual way it is meant. More fantastic than fantasy. but I have always liked dragons, but never had an occasion to paint one.

Was the story accepted by an editor whom you had already worked for as an illustrator or cover artist?

I had already illustrated a book, The Busy Tree for Marshall Cavendish and I knew the editor and publisher, Margery Cuyler and the art director, Anahid Hamparian. I had done a few book covers for Anahid and I may have mentioned a few hundred times that I was interested in illustrating children’s books.

Why do you think you and your editor are feeling a little stuck coming up with a title that you both like for this story?

This just seems to be a hard book to title. The whole time I was working on it I was calling it Rabbit and Hedgehog Make a Friend.  But Margery  Cuyler wanted the word “dragon” in the title.And it’s not just me. I have been asking everyone I know for suggestions and no one can come up with a title.  Since this is my first book, I wanted a really great title — something like The Wind in the Willows — that type of title.My running joke is, would Where the Wild Things Are been that famous if it had been called Max Goes to Bed Without his Dinner? Where The Wild Things Are is such a great title for a book, so evocative that it makes you want to pick it up. I mean it’s a great book without the famous title, but I just wonder how many great children’s books remain undiscovered behind a bland title and cover art?

Of these titles that we’ve listed here in the poll, which are your suggestions and which are your editor’s?

Dragon in the House came from a friend in the Hunterdon County Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group. The “There’s a…” got added by Marshall Cavendish and they also came up with A Dragon Moves In. To me they are fine. I like them.  But I keep thinking there may be a better title out there somewhere…

So we’ve added in a “write-in candidate” box to the poll.  Do you mind
our including this as part of  our focus group poll (with the understanding that our voters aren’t expecting remuneration — or a cut of the action for their suggestions)? However, if Lisa does select one of the write-in suggestions to be the title of her book, she’s offering to give a signed print of  her art work  to the creative person who comes up with the “perfect title.”  (We’ll  just need to figure out a way to identify the write-in voter. It might have to be the honor system, which shouldn’t be too hard for the readers of this blog — illustrators being honorable by their very nature.)

I’m not proud. I need all the help I can get.

Walrus by Lisa Falkenstern

Walrus, illustration by Lisa Falkenstern

What stage are you at now with your work on the book?

I’ve just started on the final drawings for the book. I should be done by November.

Have you found the process of creating your own picture book extremely fun, vexing and /or challenging?  Is it everything you thought it would be?
After this experience will you be ready to try another one?

I have to say the process of creating a children’s book is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Mostly because it is the first time I’ve done it. Learning all of the subtleties of making a book that works on all levels has been an eye opener. Now comes the painting part, which is different than anything else I have done.

So I hope I lose weight and not gain it by the time I am finished.

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Mark’s note: I took the matter to my online class last Thursday evening. You can see the chat that ensued while we studied Lisa’s  baby dragon.  (Of such casual discourse great decisions are sometimes made. Well, you can see at least a bit of consensus developing here. But don’t let it influence your vote.)

I voted for “Problem Child.” But, again, please make your own wise choice.

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T: dragon bebeh yay!

K: Oh Lisa this ones great!

T: Lisa’s work is wonderful: wow so cool!

TR: that’s a serious Easter egg surprise

KF: Very cute!|

S: What’s the story?

K: ye? dragon in a Easter egg?

K: lol

Mav: Love that smirk!!!

D: Surprize!

KF: And the smoke!

T: wow

Ti : such detail…

D: she rocks!

S : This is quite beautiful.

T : title for this or the dragon one?

KF: Very realistic!

L: how about “problem child”

S: Do you know what her medium is?

K: thats cool

KF: Or “What Dragon?”… if they’re trying to hide him.

T: very nice

Ti : it’s so fun

Ta: this is very Berkely Breathed chicldren book style

K: I like this spread

Ta: Dragon in the house

M: I like Kim’s suggestion – What Dragon??

KF: Dragon Moves In

Ta: or there’s a dragon in the house

Ti: i like “dragon in the house” — it’s like “mouse in the house” but it’s not the typical animal in the house…

Mav: Dragon in the House

SCM: Perhaps narrowing it even further, even with a kid’s

perspective: “the Dragon in the Bedroom.”

Ta: dragon moves in has been done & it’s liknked to a very

poor early reader in my mind

L: it seems less about a “friend” than raising a “problem child”

Ti: ooh–dragon in the bedroom is fun!

D: ‘Dragon in the House’ or ‘What Dragon?’

S: Dragon in the House.Mav: what’s the story line???

S: I like [SCMs] idea of using a specific room… Dragon in the bedroom,

kitchen, bathroom, basement?

T: knowing the storyline would help more

Ta: “Dragon in the House!” w/that dragon egg on the cover

or expressional faced rabbit & hedgehog

KF: “No Such Things as Dragons”

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Porcupine Fish, illustration by Lisa Falkenstern
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From Lisa’s website: Lisa Falkenstern has been a professional illustrator for more than 20 years. She graduated from Parsons School of Design and has studied at the New York Academy, School of Visual Arts, Art Student’s League, National Academy School of Fine Arts and Cooper Union.

Her client list includes: Borders Group, Simon and Schuster, Random House, Putnam, Bantam Doubleday Dell, Pocket Books, Scholastic, Marshall Cavendish and Golden Books. She has been in numerous shows including, the Society of Illustrators Annual, CA Annual, and Print. She was in the show The Fine Art of Illustration at the Hunterdon Art Museum.

Recently she’s has been chosen to be in the Showcase’s 2007 Best Illustrators 2007  Edition. She is a member of the Society of Illustrators and is in their permanent collection. She’s a Gold Medal winner of the Society’s Member Show. 2007 edition.

She’s had shows in the N.Y.C. Metropolitan area. Besides her illustrations she also does portraits. Lisa generally works in oils, but also in egg tempera, acrylic, and digital.

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Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts the “How to Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” blog. He teaches an online course in drawing and painting for children’s book illustration. Click to discover the best ever drawing secret.

” I wonder how many great children’s books remain undiscovered behind a bland title and cover art”.

Author-illustrator, children’s book artists’ den mother

What publishing genre relies on art and pictures more than any other?
Children’s book publishing, of course.   But for a long time the professional organization of children’s book writers and illustrators did not have an illustrators’ spirit guide.

Priscilla Burris "Cheer Girl and Dog"

“Cheer Girl and Dog” illustration by Priscilla Burris aptly describes her role as the National Illustrator Coordinator for the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators ( or the SCBWI.)

The change began when picture book artist Tomie de Paola nudged his fellow board members of the then Society of Children’s Book Writers to add the “I”  for “illustrators” to the organization’s title.

And so SCBW became SCBWI.

Society of Children's Book Writers and IllustratorsThen in 1998 the society introduced the country’s first children’s illustrators’ den mother.  She was Priscilla Burris — illustrator, designer, picture book author and the former Regional Advisor of her own local SCBWI chapter.

She’s talented, professional, vibrant and she speaks quickly. Over the past  25 years she’s illustrated educational, mass market and trade books and other materials for children, parents and teachers. She’s also created art for products such as greeting cards, rubber stamps and apparel designs.

Priscilla Burris

Priscilla Burris

In her role as the SCBWI  National Illustrator  Coordinator, Priscilla  organizes and oversees the portfolio exhibits and events for both the International Winter and Summer Conferences held in New York and Los Angeles.

Along with speaking and presenting workshops around the U.S.A. she also addresses illustration related issues, questions and inquiries received by the SCBWI international office throughout the year.

Working hand in hand with the SCBWI Board of Advisors Illustrator Committee, which consists of top industry professionals, Priscilla helps in planning the Illustrator Intensives, Socials and other illustrator-related activities.

She spreads encouragement, advice and just plain good vibrations to her fellow SCBWI illustrator members wherever she meets them at conferences, workshops and activities  — not to mention the online forums and list-serves.

It all started with art school…

It was as a college student at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) where she began to discover her calling, and it wasn’t going to be as a “fashion illustrator.”

Sketch girl by Priscilla Burris

Sketch Girl by Priscilla Burris

“At one point, I was firmly reprimanded for putting facial expressions on my drawings and models,” she says.  “I was really scolded because expressions were not at all appropriate for that industry, so the instructor was absolutely right.

“It was a good lesson in that it taught me what I didn’t want to do with my life,” she says. “And actually, characters in children’s books do often wear clothing so nothing we learn is ever a waste!”

Initially, Priscilla thought fashion illustration was the only career path available to a young woman who loved sketching, drawing and doodling. However, after obtaining her degree in Fashion Design, she went on to teach preschool, while at the same time earning a degree in Early Childhood Education.

Frogs on Log spread by Priscilla Burris

“Frogs on Log” from “Five Green and Speckled Frogs” retold and illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Scholastic)

A children’s book class project turned on the light

It was the final project for one of these courses that clinched it. She was to write and illustrate a children’s book and read it to her classmates. Several thoughts ran through her mind when her final project was presented and warmly received, but the most delightful was, Could this be an actual job for an artist — creating illustrations for children’s books?

Priscilla Burris

Priscilla Garcia Burris

She’d first encountered the power and love of children’s picture books in the public library built right across her little neighborhood street in East Los Angeles where she grew up and spent countless hours. (Fast Forward note: Priscilla has had the privilege of being invited back to her childhood library as an author/illustrator for presentations to groups of neighborhood schoolchildren.  She treasures the opportunity to encourage the students to write and draw, as well as sharing with them the delights of working in the children’s book field.)

Her first illustration assignment came as a result of a drawing of a little girl happily sketching, printed on her business cards, which had been posted in a local graphic design shop. It caught the attention of an educational publishing editor who saw it and put her to work.

Jack Frost’s talented cousin Latisha for “the Tale of Jack Frost” (Scholastic) written by Marcia Thornton Jones and illustrated by Priscilla Burris

How to get involved with the children’s picture book – creating world

Shortly after joining her local  SCBWI regional chapter in the early 1990s, she  approached her Regional Advisor asking, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”  (A great way to begin one’s networking and making friends, too,  she says.)

Eventually, she became her own chapter’s Regional Advisor, and after serving for a few years she and a couple of other Regional Advisors who were also illustrators brainstormed and created a proposal for an Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI. This was warmly and enthusiastically accepted and welcomed, and Priscilla happily stepped into her new role (always mindful and grateful to Tomie for his initial push and passion for the “I” in SCBWI!)

“As a result of this fresh beginning of representation and focus of our illustrator membership nationally and internationally, we began to see the appointing of local regional Illustrator Coordinators, or Liasons, as being very insightful and helpful illustrator member-links to their Regional Advisors,” Priscilla says.

“Currently, with an international membership of more than 22,000 members, this has been a growing dynamic in new, innovative and incredibly helpful events specifically created and designed for illustrators in the children’s book field.”

Of the total number of members around the world, 16,865 identify themselves as writers and 4,748 identify themselves as illustrators.

Portfolios on display at SCBWI National Winter Conference in New York

Illustrators’ portfolios on display at SCBWI National Winter Conference in New York – 2009

Networking takes place on a global community listserve that Priscilla moderates, along with Bridget Strevens-Marzo, who serves as the SCBWI International Illustrator Coordinator.

Summer Conference portfolio showcase

Portfolio showcase at the SCBWI National 2009 Summer Conference in Los Angeles, Photos courtesy of Priscilla Burris.

What’s in it  for ‘moi?’

So, who better to ask than Priscilla Burris this question.

What does  membership in  SCBWI  offer an illustrator or aspiring illustrator?

“It offers a professional community where you can grow — and it offers a hand to help if you’re willing to take it, and apply what you’ve learned.” she says.

Cowabunga Cow

Cowabunga  Cow by Priscilla Burris

“Although there are many different organizations and associations for artists and illustrators, specifically for children’s books,  the SCBWI is the place to be.

“Here there are widely known and highly esteemed authors and illustrators, editors, art directors, and agents with wisdom to share.  The SCBWI offers a vast array of opportunities where an illustrator can grow and learn and be challenged in his or her career,” Priscilla says.

Beach Artist Girl

“Beach Artist Girl” by Priscilla Burris

“From the events, workshops, and critique groups taking place on a local level, to the international conferences held every year, so much can be gleaned that can move you further in your professional life as a children’s book illustrator.

“These are venues where you can meet and make contacts with like-minded creatives and hear the latest information on the industry from the speakers and presenters.  A lot of information and networking takes place just from meeting and chatting with other event attendees!

“The SCBWI website offers great opportunities for illustrator members to feature their own images and portfolios in the Illustrator’s Gallery — A truly inspiring place to visit.

“There are articles and columns in the SCBWI Bulletin devoted to illustration, which are very useful as well as informative.

Gabriela Diner Table Spread

Family breakfast table spread in “La Cancion de Gabriela” (HarperCollins RAYO), written by Dra. Isabel & Eric Vasallo and illustrated by Priscilla Burris

Professional tips

Since one function of  Priscilla’s role as SCBWI National Illustrator  Coordinator is teacher-mentor-spirit guide, let’s not let her get away without asking her for a few  nuggets of her professional advice.

So what parting counsel does she have for illustrators (beyond urging us to join SCBWI and find a regional chapter to participate in?)

Here are some of her quotes:

“It’s great to come up with an intriguing or endearing character for a story, but in the picture book genre, the challenge is to create the setting, story-telling and page-turning that is so vital.”

Aloha Friends

“Aloha for Carol Ann” (Marimba Books), written by Margo Sorenson, illustrated by Priscilla Burris

“I’ve found that as an illustrator,  it behooves you to listen in and learn from presentations and talks that seem specifically designed just for the writers of children’s books. You’ll be amazed at how much you will glean. I cannot state this strongly enough.”

“Obtaining work in this industry is definitely the right timing, but it’s also being continually ready and always having something newly fresh and ready to send out.”

Don’t dwell on the glamour of it all.  Rather,  focus on the craft of illustrating a story as well as the continual networking with others of the same professional mindset.”

“Besides your social media and online portfolios, periodically mail out your images to prospective clients, as well as those you have heard speak that have proven helpful or inspiring.”

Priscilla Burris promotional image

“Homeroom Decorating Committee” – Promotional piece by Priscilla Burris

“Put together some of your illustrations with stories, along with your other portfolio samples, so the potential client viewing it will have a story to look at.”

“Be careful what you ask for.  In other words, don’t show in your portfolio or promos what you wouldn’t want to labor over for a 32 page picture book and all that entails.”

“Know the characters you are illustrating inside and out — their traits and personalities.

Five Green and Specklled Frogs

“Five Green and Speckled Frogs” retold and illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Scholastic)

“When I am developing a character, I like to get to know a character visually, by creating five or six versions and then set them aside where they can be seen as I walk by. This is what I did for my book Five Green and Speckled Frogs.

“I drew several variations of my frogs. I was afraid they were getting a little too goofy. I wanted them funny but not goofy. They ended up in the final book pretty close to how they were in the first version, but more further developed in the process.

“Learning your market and target audience is so important. From realistic styles, to edgy or cartoony, you should know the places that need and publish your style of art. One of the ways to learn this is by attending SCBWI conferences, networking and talking with other illustrators and writers.”

"Priscilla Garcia Burris Sketch"

“Mama and Baby Lullaby” pencil sketch by Priscilla Burris

Priscilla-Garcia-Burris-Fin

“Mama and Baby Lullaby” piece finished on the computer by Priscilla Burris

“It’s always competitive. But publishers are continually looking for fresh new ideas and characters and stories. There’s always room – and a need – for great illustration!”

Lastly,

“Enjoy what you are working on, what you are creating. Ultimately, you need to be proud of your own creative works.”

Priscilla's Brew Blog Banner

“Priscilla’s Brew” blog banner, where Priscilla is getting to know one of her new characters

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From Priscilla’s International SCBWI profile page:

Her works include Five Green and Speckled Frogs (Scholastic), which she wrote and illustrated, I Love You All Day Long, and Daddy All Day Long (HarperCollins), written by Francesca Rusackas.
Since January 1998, Priscilla has held the position of National Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI. This position allows her to plan for, work with, present, and speak to illustrators and author-illustrators.”

She’s represented by artists’ agent Christina Tugeau.

Priscilla Burris’ website

Priscilla Burris’ blog

Priscilla’s Brew blog

Priscilla interviewed on the Doodle Diner

See and “like” Priscilla’s new Facebook page
Priscilla Burris Illustration-Writing-Design

Twitter: http://twitter.com/PriscillaDesign
e-mail Priscilla

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Dragon Egg

“Dragon Egg” by Lisa Falkenstern

In the next post we’ll be asked to put  our collective creative heads together. In  this blog’s  first ever reader poll, we’ll be helping talented New York illustrator Lisa Falkenstern and her editor to choose a title for Lisa’s new picture book.  So please stay tuned — and be ready to brainstorm.

 

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Mark Mitchell hosts the “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” blog and he offers an online course on children’s book illustration that you can learn about here..
He’s the Illustrator Coordinator for the Austin, Texas Cha
pter of SCBWI.

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"Fireflies" by Priscilla Burris

Counting fireflies with Daddy spread in “Daddy All Day Long”  (HarperCollins), written by Francesca Rusackas.  Illustration by Priscilla Burris

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