Spherical Thinking

More from the amazing Dick Termes.  His one-man show, Thinking In the Round will be on display through the end of this in Rapid City, South Dakota.

What can children’s book illustrators learn from his work? I think, that we grasp artistic perspective most easily when we think in a round way.

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Austin illustrator and designer Marsha Riti  gave a great interview to children’s author and kid lit blogger Tara Lazar, recently (and I’m not just saying that because she mentions me there.) You can read about Marsha’s path into the world of illustration, and the art history that inspires her here. 

Marsha has a B.F.A. from the University of Texas at Austin and is active with both the Austin Society of Children’s Book Illustrators and its elite swat team of  picture book scribblers, The Inklings.

She also maintains what I would describe as an exemplary illustrator’s blog. I recommend that you check it out — for fun and also if you are looking for ways to do an art blog right. It’s on our blog roll and  right here.

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Tuesday night we conducted our first group conference call for the
Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks! children’s book illustration course.
We looked at students’ work and just talked about it as if we were all sitting around in a studio classroom eating pizza — except we were at various points around the country — California, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Texas, as it happens. We had all four directions covered!

And you can be a part of this!  Technology has made distance-learning suddenly very, very easy. How easy? Find out for yourself by signing up for the  course — and join the  meetings. 

You can test drive  a huges section of the course content for free, while it’s still available,  by going  here. 

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And now back to our spherically scheduled programming.

Mark Mitchell hosts the How to be a Children’s Book Illustrator  blog.

“Let’s Board It Up!” The Magic of the Storyboard

 This Google Video clip from the promo documentary Finding Lady: The Art of Storyboarding  has been circulating around the art and cartoon blogs recently.

Disney animator Eric Goldberg explains how the Disney artists have always used storyboards as a developmental first step in their animation productions.

The clip goes on to show how movie makers from Alfred Hitchcock to Kevin Costner have used them as perhaps the crucial planning tool in a film.

Finding Lady came out to herald the 1991 release of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the “renaissance of the animated film” that some say began with The Little Mermaid  in 1989. 

It’s not exactly the way storyboarding is covered in our course  on how to illustrate children’s books. 

The storyboard thumbnails we talk about are quite different animals from the sketches and drawings you see tacked up on Disney’s storyboard wall.

But the same big ideas apply:  Using the storyboard to work out the the  “bits” of stagecraft,  the action and gags. Pacing, story flow and the economy of the viewer’s or reader’s attention.

For the movie director, storyboarding saves costly waffling around on the set, the video points out.  Because the details and the sequences have all been worked out in advance, the director can “edit in the camera.”

For the children’s book artist, storyboardings helps to gestalt the entire book on just one page. The simple very exercise  of it can spring  ideas free and save weeks of unecessary drawing and painting. 

To enlarge the video for better visibility, click on the Google Video box, then hit the enlarge screen button under the video on the Google Video page.

For information on the online Children’s Book Illustration 101 course”  look here.

Or to check out the free color lessons from the course (while they’re still available)  click here.

Take a Chance on Art (Disaster Relief For Texas Libraries) and Royal Bats












 The Texas Library Association  (TLA) has been raffling a chance to own this beautiful original art piece by children’s book illustrator Don Tate. 

The $5 you spend for your raffle ticket will go to the  TLA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which will go to help libraries hit hard by Texas storms along the coast last year. The Rosenberg Library in Galveston lost its entire children’s book collection (it was on the first floor) in the flooding that followed Hurricane Ike. (Most of Galveston Island went under water.) It was one of many libraries along the Texas coast that suffered damage.  

The TLA Disaster Relief Fund auction has been helping Texas libraries contend with natural disasters since it was started by Jeanette Larsen and Mark Smith in 1999 —  always with original art donated by children’s book artists. 

Read an interview with the co-founder Jeanette Larson by Cynthia Leitich Smith in Cynthia’s blog Cynsations here.

Tate, of our Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) joins the ranks of  renowned  
 illustrators such as Rosemary Wells and Diane Stanley who have furnished paintings for the fund. 

The winning raffle ticket will be drawn at the TLA annual conference, held this year, appropriately enough,  in storm-pummeled Houston March 31 – April 3.   You can buy as many as you want. Go here, print your raffle tickets and mail them (with your check, of course) to the TLA office  at 3355 Bee Cave Road, Suite 401, Austin, Texas 78746-6763. Straightout donations to the Relief Fund are also accepted of course.

The Duke Ellington piece is for a book Don is illustrating by musicologist Anna Harwell Celenza, about how the young Ellington and composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn collaborated on their own version of Tsaichovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

Publisher Charlesbridge is said to be looking at a 2010 publication for the nonfiction work tentatively titled Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite.

There’s also an interview with Tate on his illustrations for the Ellington story in Cynsations here.  (Cynsations and Don’s blog, Devas T. Rants and Raves!  are on this  blogroll.)  

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Speaking of the storm ravaged Texas coast, I just got back from there last night. I was a guest children’s author at the Victoria Public Library’s 2009 Victoria Reads community reading program, and spoke at the library and a stunning historical museum, the Museum of the Coastal Bend on the Victoria College campus, where I saw Native American decorative pieces — scrimshaw-like carvings and patternings on oyster shells dating back 5,000 – 8,000 years  B.C. 

The region surrounding Matagorda Bay apparently teemed with First Americans. Victoria County was a crossroads of Indian trade routes (not more than well travelled Indian trails, really), which explains why various spearpoints and arrowheads on display at the museum can be traced to South America, Mexico, and Canada.
It’s like NAFTA existed back then. 

I had a great time talking with museum director Sue Prudhomme, volunteer archeologist Jud Austin and many other supporters of the museum.
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Returning home from that trip, I saw a blog post that I wish I’d alerted  you to earlier — about your chance to win, among other goodies, a T-shirt with one of the coolest YA  novel logo designs ever! 

Logo for "Eternal"

Logo for "Eternal"

You have a chance to win a shirt sporting  the impossibly elegant Princess Dracul logo (designed by Gene Brenek), a book,  a finger puppet, a signed bookmark,  stickers and more — well, just look at all the loot.

It’s the Eternal Grand Prize Giveaway  — a contest celebrating the   release  on Tuesday of the second novel (Eternal) in the Gothic YA fantasy trilogy by Austin author Cynthia Leitich Smith, who has been called “the Anne Rice for teen readers.”

Eternal is preceded by Tantalize, which is set in Austin and features vampires and assorted were-folk. (Austin is kind of a bat capital of the South, in truth. ) Eternal also has vampires and other new characters you can sink your teeth into — wait, I mean it the other way around — and one of these in particular, Princess Dracul  inspired the great glyph by artist-author Brenek (also of our Austin SCBWI chapter!)  It’s one of  many supernatural/regal emblems he’s designed for the book. (They convey such a  spooky verisimilitude. ) See for yourself and enter the Eternal Grand Prize Giveaway.  But go quickly. The give-away cutoff is Tuesday, February 10, when Eternal goes on sale!

Cynthia interviews Gene here.

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Author-illustrator Sarah Ackerley, a member of our SCBWI chapter’s Inklings illustrators group  who now lives in San Francisco sent a link to  this funny video about a year in the life of children’s book author-illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka. It features guest appearances by Jane Yolen, Tomie dePaolo, Mo Willems, Jon Scieszka and some of the  Blue Rose Girls .

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You can get some free lessons on color and a group of surefire palette strategies here They’re from  my online course about how to illustrate a children’s book,  Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!   

Northern California artist Susan Sorrell Hill  wrote me Thursday about how  these lessons helped her:

“In all of my research (on-line and in books) in the last several 
years, I have never come across a clearer, more work-able approach to color that can be applied practically to a painting…and I have 
looked far and wide for this information, recognizing that it was of 
major importance…. The need for a sustainable, predictably 
successful approach to color, for illustration as well as fine art, 
became crystal clear to me when I switched from oil painting to 
watercolors…the old ‘keep messing with it until it’s right’ approach 
just was NOT working with watercolor…

“As you predicted, the results are immediately recognizable. I heave a huge sigh of relief!”

You’ll find the signup for the free lessons here

Covering the Caledcott Covers…













No, I haven’t seen the books yet, but I wanted to get the covers in front of you so you can keep an eye out for them.

Always be prepared for the unexpected, and things never happen the way you expect them to (Pittsburgh Steelers aside.)
A lot of people kind of expected Mark Reibstein’s Wabi Sabi,  illustrated by Ed Young to get the Medal.

But last week the American Library Association announced that the committee had chosen a bedtime book with illustrations etched on scratchboard (with a few daubs of watercolor) by Beth Krommes — The House In the Night, written by Susan Marie Swanson and published Houghton Mifflin.

It’s said to be an absolute knockout of a picture book — 
a Goodnight Moon  sort of book that also packs some emotional wallop.

The art reminds me a bit of the slightly psychedelic, rolling black and white print style of Wanda Gag, that first “superstar” of American children’s books who gave us  Millions of Cats in 1928.





You can see an inside illustration from The House In the Night on Ms. Krommes’ own website , as well as other scratchboard works.  


Her technique involves making  photocopies of her black  and white scratchboard images on archival paper — then she paints on the copies, using watercolor. 


She’s also a wonderful painter as well as a scratchboard artist. You can see some meadow scenes done in sumptious casein on panel in her website gallery pages. 

Here’s a fine example.

Krommes has won several previous awards, including the Golden Kite Award presented by the National Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators.  That was for The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Houghton, 2001.)








Uri Shulevitz is no stranger to Caldecott Medals (and Honors.) He won the medal for the Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, written by Arthur Ransome.

He got into the Caldecott ranks again last week with How I Learned Geography, which he wrote himself and  the New York Times called “a masterpiece.” This Caldecott Honor book published by Macmillan, a division of  Farrar, Straus and Giroux is Shulevitz’s first autobiographical children’s story. It recounts his family’s (and his own, when he was four) bold escape in 1939 from Holocaust and war-ravaged Poland — to Turkestan, a very different land.

Shulevitz is also the author of Writing With Pictures (Watson Guptill  Publishing),  that classic textbook from the early 1980s on the process of  creating four-color children’s picture book illustrations —  and the peculiar storytelling “language” of the children’s picture book. 

He has two other Caldecott Honor Books to his credit, Snow and
The Treasure.


 A wonderful smaller publisher, Eerdman’s produced the other Caldecott Honor Book,  A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams written by Jen Bryan and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

It’s “a picture book biography in which Jen Bryant’s engaging prose and Melissa Sweet’s stunning mixed-media illustrations celebrate the amazing man whose poems about ordinary, everyday things have inspired readers of all ages,” says Eerdman’s website.

An illustrator with an absolutely delightful style and design spirit, Melissa Sweet has more than 40 books to her credit. Her work has also appeared in magazines, on posters, children’s toys and food packaging.  She also has one of the coolest author-illustrator websites around that you have to see.

We’ll talk about other ALA award and honor winners in the coming days. But with so much excitement about the Caldecott illustrators going on, I think it’s a grand time to announce that my online course on how to illustrate children’s books has officially launched, after being (partially) trial-tested over the past five months by 130 survey respondents from around the world —  from England to South Africa, to Okinawa, Japan.

The name of the course is “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks! A Power Course on Creating Great Drawings and Paintings for Children’s Media.”

The best way to learn more about the course is to go to this page and sign up to  my blog list.

I’ll send you the link to the course information/sales page, as well as 14 free little lessons on how to use color expertly in your painting  — material taken straight from the course.

What better way for you to check out the content and the instructional style, and see if there’s a fit there for you!

“Make Your Marks and Splashes”

girl-pioneer3.jpg  The core education of this membership site is 12 (home study)  lessons:  Make Your Marks and Splashes: A Power Course on Creating Effective Illustrations for Childrens Books, Magazines and Other Media for Children.  

This fun, practical unique online class will provide you with the basics of illustrating for children’s books, magazines and other media for children, and will help you with all of your art-making from now on.

Those editors and art directors at children’s book publishing houses want to see samples of your color work. So expect to complete some finished, full color pieces for your story. You can upload your best piece from the course to this site, if you wish. 

You’ll learn all the steps in preparing thumbnails, a book “dummy” and a submission package for an editor and/or art director at a publishing house. 

You’ll discover how to use visual references, transfer sketches to a painting surface and work in an assured way with color. Learn the right methods for submitting your final art (after you land that book illustration contract!) and how to effectively market yourself and your work for future assignments. 

The lessons in this home study program are by Mark Mitchell, an award winning children’s book author and illustrator. (He did the illustration at the top of this post that appeared in Appleseeds.)

More about the course

You’ll receive a hands-on  introduction to children’s book and magazine illustration.

You’ll gain an exceptional understanding of the children’s book market and how to proceed with any book or magazine illustration project.

You will learn to prepare thumbnail sketches, storyboards and a book “dummy,” and find the reference you need to help you to draw confidently. 

The course will provide you with a real understanding of picture and page design, visual perspective, artistic anatomy and watercolor technique.   You’ll also find insights on working with editors and art directors and pointers for marketing yourself and your work in the intensely competitive field of children’s media. 

As you work through the lessons, you’ll find your individual style emerging as you start to develop artistic confidence.