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