An amazing way to learn illustration

So what is musician-performer-dancer-composer Lindsey Stirling doing on this blog about children’s book illustration? She’s an artist but she works in a different medium. She hasn’t published a children’s picture book. (Not yet, anyway, but give her time.)

I’m sharing this video of her 2011 tune Shadows, because twenty-two million YouTube viewers are not wrong — it’s a great music video. It also helps me to make a point about something I see happening that I like to call:

Are you ready?  (It’s a big phrase.)  Ahem... The toppling of the hierarchy of learning.

Lindsey has studied classical violin since age six. Private teachers for 12 years.

But my question is…

Where did she learn to dance like this?

Answer: YouTube! She says so here on her website. She analysed music videos, studied the footwork of the dancers, put her own moves together and practiced in front of a mirror.

So my next question is:

If Lindsey can learn her choreography from the Internet, do you think you can you learn to design and improve your drawing and painting similarly?

I  certainly think so! Good thing, too because in recent weeks four new art courses have launched online. Two of them, focusing on illustrating children’s books start next month (June, 2013)

Mira Reisberg (aka: The Picture Book Whisperer) is offering The Craft and Business of Children’s Book IllustrationJune 3 — July 15.

Will Terry and Jake Parker are offering Illustration for Storytellers, June 10 — July 10.

Last week I interviewed these teachers to discover more. We decided to open up our discussions so that anyone watching could ask questions. You can catch the replay of our session with magical Mira here or by clicking on the graphic below. (You’ll be asked for your e-mail address. It will be worth it.)

The Picture Book Academy

Mira Reisberg’s Picture Book Academy

Mira’s class promises a full-immersion experience into the world of children’s publishing, with her own video interviews with editors, art directors and author-illustrators. There will also be wide-ranging lessons on craft/technique and the business/career-building side of being a children’s book artist.

Will’s and Jake’s training will take you through design, draftsmanship, painting and building flowing storyboards and successful full-colored final art. They’ll cover how to prepare your art for a traditional print book, e-book, story app, help you to understand traditional vs digital illustration, file types, pagination, pacing, layouts — and how to build your online presence as an artist. The live interactive class is already full, but through July 15 you can still register for the lite version, to receive the recordings.

You can access our amazing two-hour session with Will and Jake here or by clicking on the graphic below. Will and Jake each taught a very cool, generous lesson that you won’t want to miss.

Mark Mitchell, Will Terry and Jake Parker

Mark Mitchell, Will Terry and Jake Parker

Of the two classes, which one should you pick? It’s a no-brainer! Take both!

They’re by gifted people, professionally experienced artists who are also natural teachers (as you’ll see in the replays.) Their curriculums are different and as rich and rewarding as any you’d find at a brick and mortar campus. (This is not surprising, since Mira, Jake and Will all teach or have taught at brick and mortar campuses.)

And when you finish their classes, consider taking my Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks! online course, too! It’s also about children’s book illustration. Online art classes like these rock! They’re fun. They’ll make you better. And they’re re not as difficult as teaching yourself to dance while playing the violin.

At author-illustrator Mary Sullivan's launch party for her one word picture book "Ball!" (Houghton Mifflin) at the Writing Barn. Left to right Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor and author-Illustrator shelley Ann Jackson, Austin SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator Amy Farrier, Mary Sullivan, author-illustrator Mark Mitchell, author Julie Lake, author-illustrators Erik Kuntz and Jeff Crosby. Photo by author Bethany Hegedus.

At author-illustrator Mary Sullivan’s launch party for her one word picture book Ball! (Houghton Mifflin) at The Writing Barn, in Austin Texas on May 4. Left to right Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor and author-illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson, Austin SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator Amy Farrier,  author-illustrator Mary Sullivan, author-illustrator Mark Mitchell, author Julie Lake, author-illustrators Erik Kuntz and Jeff Crosby. Photo by author Bethany Hegedus. To see a recent post and video interview featuring Mary, go here.

A spread from Mary Sullivan's "Ball!"

A spread from Mary Sullivan’s new picture book Ball! published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

From Mary Sullivan's new book Ball!

From Mary Sullivan’s new book Ball!

Julie Lake reads "BalL!" at The Writing Barn.

Julie Lake reads Ball! at The Writing Barn.

Bethany Hegedus with page proofs of her new picture book "Grandfather Gandhi"

During Mary’s signing party at The Writing Barn, Austin SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator Amy Farrier, authors Greg Leitich Smith, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Bethany Hegedus, author-illustrators Jeff Crosby and Erik Kuntz and author Julie Lake review the early page proofs shared by Bethany from her upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored by Arun Gandhi and illustrated by Evan Turk. Due out in March, 2014.

Cover of the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk.

Cover of the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk.

From the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi,

From the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored by Bethany Hegedus and Arun Gandhi and illustrated by Evan Turk.  Scheduled for publication 3/11/2014.

From the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi,

Illustration by Evan Turk from the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi by Bethany Hegedus and Arun Gandhi.  Scheduled for publication 3/11/2014

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Post by Mark Mitchell.

Mary’s magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hands on Digital Symposium

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Google + for Artists

Pooja's Google+ workshop screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help Save the Farm

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

Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson

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

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

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

It’s SCBWI conference scholarship time

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

Entries now being accepted for the Tomie dePaola lllustrator Awards

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

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

Author-illustrator Mary Sullivan

A 24 Hour Comics Day album

On October 3, illustrators and comic book creators in cities around the world hunkered down  to produce original content.

It was Twenty Four Hour Comics Day — an annual happening launched last century by cartoonist and teacher Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics. (You can read the rules at that link.) Bawls, a company that produces caffeinated energy drinks  sponsored this year’s event.

Erik's laptop with a panel from his new comic --work in progress.

Erik's laptop with a panel from his new comic --work in progress.

In Austin the comic artists conclaved at a store,  Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy, where lots of tables had been set up for them.  There were all kinds of things going on in the store that rainy night — people were putting models together, browsing the shelves, visiting their friends.

I wasn’t a participant. Only  a curious bystander with a camera. Plus a pal–   cartoonist and writer Erik Kuntz, part of our enchanted SCBWI tribe —was doing  the marathon again this year. Erik is the author-artist of  Hex Libris, a witty,  kid-friendly webcomic with wonderful characters.

(L. to R) Bonn Adame, Erik Kuntz, Justin Rogers and Jeremy Guyton create at their table during 24 Hour Comics Day in Austin, Texas.

(L. to R.) Bonn Adame, Erik Kuntz, Justin Rogers and Jeremy Guyton create at their table during 24 Hour Comics Day in Austin, Texas recently.

I don’t do comics much anymore but they were important to me growing up.  I read them and drew them.

I acquired my own formidable classical education by reading Classics Illustrated Comic Books. Better than CliffsNotes.

A panel of sketches for "Action Packed Gorillas", a new web comic being developed by Erik Kuntz.  The dialogue balloons always come first. (Note: The character featured here is a chimp, not a gorilla.)

A panel of sketches for "Action Packed Gorillas", a new web comic being developed by Erik Kuntz. The dialogue balloons always come first. (Note: The character featured here is a chimp, not a gorilla.)

Comics are not exactly children’s book illustration.  An d yet…

Another SCBWI and Inklings Group pal,   illustrator Martin Thomas is a professional colorist of comics.

Mary Sullivan,  supremely talented illustrator for Highlights and other magazines and books and part of our Austin clan — has illustrated a beautiful and funny children’s comic book and she draws in comic panels for her own amusement.

Austin SCBWI  illustration chair Christy Stallop does great black and white  comic strip panel style illustrations

Kads and Matt. Matt has the webcomic http://ayellowworld.com

Kads and Matt. Matt has the webcomic http://ayellowworld.com

Kads and Matt (above) working on separate comics. By the way, Matt’s blog has a good recap of his experience of the 24 Hour Comics Day here.

My stepson Glenn remains  a connoisseur- collector of graphic novels.  School librarians are making more space for graphic novels on their shelves.  Scholastic Books is whipping up  its own graphic novel brand.

For years the “comic book look” has  been finding its way into wildly popular  “chapter books ” for upper elementary and middle grades.  Dav Pilkey is one example.  The Zack Proton series by Austin author Brian Anderson (of our SCBWI Mafia family) with illustrator Doug Holgate is another.

The Toon Books are comics for toddlers and children just begining to learn to read.

Disney bought Marvel.

Artist-writer Meghan Regis and her technical consultant Jeremy Zunker (an engineering student.) Meghan is the creator of "Yours Truly" a comic published in "The Paisano", the weekly newspaper of the University of Texas at San Antonio. The reason why she needs a technical consultant is that her main character is a young woman on the moon.

Artist-writer Meghan Regis and technical consultant Jeremy Zunker (an engineering student.) Meghan is the creator of the comic series "Yours Truly" published in "The Paisano", the weekly newspaper of the University of Texas at San Antonio. The main main character in the strip is a young woman who lives on the moon. So seriously, that's why Meghan needs a technical consultant around her when she's working. "Because there are a lot of technical terms that are used in the dialogue," Zunker explained.So

And Yes. Women do participate in 24 Hour Comics Day.  In addition to Meghan (above and below) there was Kad (who will let us know when she has her website up) and Melanie Moore working on her strip “Sacred Junk” with Amy Middleton (not shown.)

Meghan Regis with her panels.

Meghan Regis with her panels.

The teamwork of Jason Poland and Austin Havican ( below) can be seen here and here.

Colored comic panels (watercolor washes) on the comic strip "The Ortolan" created by a collaborative team,  Jason Poland, and Austin Havican, whose hands you see here. They described their work as deceptively simple child-like and simply but "definitely not child-friendly." See more of their work at www.robbieandbobby.com. S

Colored comic panels (watercolor washes) on the comic strip "The Ortolan" created by a collaborative team, Jason Poland, and Austin Havican, whose hands you see here. They described their work as deceptively simple child-like and simply but "definitely not child-friendly." See more of their work at http://www.robbieandbobby.com. S

Erik Kuntz laughs at one of his digital cartoons as he draws on a Wacom tablet, while Justin Rogers works with traditional comic artist materials -- paper, pencil, eraser, pen, triangle, T-square, etc.

Erik Kuntz laughs at one of his own digital cartoons as he draws on a Wacom tablet while Justin Rogers works with traditional comic artist materials -- paper, pencil, eraser, pen, triangle, T-square, etc. (In the background with beard is comics writer Tony Franklin. )

As you see, there were fun moments and lots of hard work– or should I say heart work? They go together  — accomplished by a lot of people  in that comic book store.

Erik is suggesting that we get together next year for something a little less intense than a They Shoot Horses Don’t They? draw-a-thon.

He’s calling it the “geriatric version of 24 Hour Comics Day.” I can’t say that I’m in favor of the name.  It sounds, you know, a little ageist — and hits a little close.  But the idea intrigues. Instead of laboring over pages of comic panels, we could be blitzing through picture book thumbnails and storyboards, or maybe even a dummy.

A children’s book illustrators lockdown. Check back with us in September next year to read our rules.

Seraphine

I should mention that I saw the movie Seraphine recently, about an early 20th century painter most of us have never heard of —  Seraphine Louis or Seraphine de Senlis.

Click on the image here to see the larger more detailed view on YouTube.

Seraphine offers an unblinking look at the  art vs. reality dilemma that confronts every artist sooner or later.

“Seraphine” tells us of a cleaning woman who painted “primitive” florals at night,  with paints she  ground herself from materials gathered on her woodland treks.   It’s also about the kindly German art collector who discovered her.  Billed as a fictionalized portrait, it’s still an honest movie —  as unsensational as it is beautiful.  I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve seen it.  Leave  a comment.

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Mark Mitchell hosts the “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” blog.

Connecting Points

A big welcome to talented  illustrators Susan Sorrell HillTina Yao , Diandra Mae and Vanessa Van Cleve Roeder who have joined our blog roll!
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We are also delighted to welcome fine artist, illustrator, plein-air painter, teacher, writer and innovating creator of art instruction materials Cathy Johnson to the our links. You might recognize her work or “voice”  fromThe Artists Magazine”, where she’s been a contributing editor for years.

Here is her website where you can sign up for her  free newsletter and e-mail art tips! I’ve been enjoying them for a long time. Here is her blog.

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West Texas children’s artist writer Michelle Munger has started a Ning groupManic — The Author/Illustrator Network: For the Author/Illustrator  that does it all.

You don’t have to be West Texan or  manic to be a member — just a double-threat creator of children’s books, published or not.  Click here to join. I’ll see you there.

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Read about the just announced  National Book Award finalists here.

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Si
gn up for Mark’s free best drawing secret videos and lesson here.
He’s giving away the “secrets”  to promote his course on illustrating children’s books.
Get them while they’re hot and available for nuthin’.
Here.

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Austin SCBWI  illustration chair

One action filled storyboard

Here’s a black and white storyboard rough for an early reader illustrated by Mary Sullivan, of Austin, Texas.

The book is Jog Frog Jog by Barbara Gregorich (re-issued by School Zone Publishing for their On Track Beginning Reading series for Grades K-1.)

Mary scanned her rough original pencil sketches, pulled them up in her computer’s Photoshop program — and went to work on them with the Photoshop brush tool and other crafty tricks she’s come up with to give her computer art a painterly look. 

The publishers eventually asked for style changes, so the full color published version looks different, but this draft is too fun to ignore.

Read all about Mary  on the next post.

Mary Sullivan’s storyboard

Can you find the missing pencil? Mary Sullivan paints with a wacky Wacom

Teacher in class for “Highlights for Children” by Mary Sullivan
from “Hidden Picture Playground” (“Highlights for Children” magazine)

There are a few things you should know about illustrator Mary Sullivan.

She is a yoga instructor.

She has a dog named Scout and cats named Rasta and The Cheat who often keep her company in her studio when she’s working.

She draws all the time.

She’s not driven to draw, she says. She just likes to draw.
But — and this is important — she does not much like to paint. Not with a real brush, I mean.

She does paint with the brush tool,  in Photoshop, on the computer.

That speeds things up a bit. And it’s a good thing because in recent years
her workload has grown and grown and grown  — to include hidden pictures, puzzles, stories, poems, nursery rhymes, books, covers,  cartoons and even kids’ comics — for the Highlights Magazine GroupBoyds Mills Press, Phonics Comics, School Zone Publishing, Scott Foresman Co. and other clients.  Last year she was signed up by the Kid Shannon Agency of New York, which means that her assignments won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Scene from ____________ needs description by Mary Sullivan
From “Innovative Kids”

Mary graduated with a B.F.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. As a child she had dreamed of being a fine-arts painter maybe one day.  But early in her college career she was told point blank that she was not a painter. She was an illustrator.

She was devastated– then relieved, because she was already starting to see that she did not care that much for applying pigment to canvases.

Many years later she brought her art-making into the world of the Apple computer, and became one of the pioneers in the digital-resistant-world of children’s story illustration.

She still draws with a pencil and paper. She uses an old fashioned light box to trace her sketches, like the children’s book illustrators of yore.  But when it comes to coloring those sketches and “completing her vision” Mary is all about the electrons.

With Photoshop CS2 and a Wacom Graphics Tablet she has forged her own, unique… —  actually it has moved beyond a style to a kind of personal grammar and syntax, her own freakin’ universe, really, that she creates with a very few software tools.

A few weeks ago she conceeded to being interviewed while she was on a white-knuckles deadline and really should not have been taking to anyone.

First here’s Mary’s artist’s mission statement from her website.

“I am excited by the ability to bring to paper any thought, dream or experience. Drawing allows me to translate emotions and experiences through my own language of line, shape and color.”

Mary Sullivan works on her initial drawing (on a cold day.)
Mary working at her home studio on a cold Texas day.

So you have classical music playing in your studio right now…

The radio. I always have something on when I’m working. The music depends on the mood.

How did you become a children’s book illustrator?

Mostly I just drew all my life. I was a studio art major. But I didn’t take commercial art in school. I’m  really a self-taught illustrator.  I had Michael Frary for life drawing. Life drawing was a big deal and painting was a big deal. It was really cliquish in the Art Department at the University of Texas back then and I didn’t fit into that whole painting scene. I took as much life drawing as I could take and lithography. I think really at heart I was an illustrator. And I think there’s a big difference between a fine artist and an illustrator.

Because I sit around and wait for people to tell me what to draw. And artists don’t do that. They have things they want to say. They had an illustration sequence at U.T. But I didn’t know it at the time. I thought I wanted to be a painter. I wanted to be in the fine arts and have the passion. But one day when I was in college I took I my best work to a collector. I must have been like 19 or 20. And he really liked my work, but he said ‘You’re an illustrator. You’re not a fine artist.’

I was absolutely crushed.

What made him say that?

Well it was my art. My art was very representational. There were some pen and inks of some women in Bali and it was all very detailed. And so he saw right away. But eventually it emerged and I accepted it.

I finished my BFA. It was really hard and it took me forever, but I did. And I had some shows. I have a pile of fine art. I still do it but I don’t have a drive to do it.

Rat outside in the rain Mary Sullivan illustration
From “Banjo”, Mary’s story about a homeless dog
You have a drive to draw.

I have a drive to cook. I don’t have a drive to do anything.  

Everytime I see you you have your sketch open and your working in it. You’re one of the few people I know who really draw in their sketchbook.

I do. And I really don’t want to have to use the computer. But you have to.

So what happened after school? 

I came home and put everything on hold and raised my kids. And of course I was inspired by them the whole time. I would draw for them. I would make them worksheets. ‘Mommy, make me a coloring page.’ ‘Make me a hidden picture.’  Even back then I did  a hidden picture — I don’t know how many years ago — 20 years ago? — pretending that I was a Highlights hidden picture artist. I still have it somewhere.

What got me to be an illustrator was I made some cards for someone once. And I ended up having my own card business. People would give me a list of everything they wanted on the card and I would draw a picture from the list. And I did that for a long time. Ten years. So that was how I got my practice. Not just doing the cards.  But getting the list from the customer and translating it into a drawing.

I got written up in a book and a magazine, about my card business.  These were birth announcement cards. I was busy. They were all hand made, hand painted. I got started in ’89 before there were any computers. I mean I had a computer but I wasn’t using it for my art. I look back and I think they’re really corny. I mean they’re really funny. I look back and I think ‘Oh my God.’ Interspersed with cards I did logos and brochures and posters for people. I was all over the place.

So then after about 2000 I decided that was it, as far as being all over the place. I knew I needed to hone in on one thing. And I decided to do children’s  illustration. So I sat down and did a bunch of self-promo pieces and mailed them off and I got a job working for Highlights. 

Right out of the chute…

Which is crazy. Yeah. Right out of…the blue.

Why did you focus on children’s art?

Well I don’t know if it had something to do with doing birth announcements all of the time. I was drawing kids all of the time. So I think that’s why I did that, probably.

I sent to Highlights, Cricket…Not that many people. I think I went to BookPeople, the book store and looked at what children’s magazines there were and sent to a couple of them. I made little cards. I drew some things. I didn’t know what I was doing really. I was just drawing stuff and I thought, ‘Wow, that looks good. I’ll send that.’

What did “Highlights” tell you?

That they liked my stuff and wanted to keep it on file. And then they called me.

How soon? Soon. It was crazy. I wasn’t even prepared. Because I was trying to make a transition to the computer but I was still drawing and painting traditionally. So my first job for them was traditional. But I scanned it in, so I was able to send them a digital file. It was an illustration for one of their stories in the magazine, Highlights for Children.

Mary Sullivan draws on a warmer day.
 Working on a slightly warmer day…

They have so many magazines I work for. I don’t so often draw for the magazine now. I have. But mostly I draw for the other magazines they have. There’s Highlights. That’s for older kids. Then there’s Hidden Pictures Playground for a little younger age. Then there’s  High Five, which is like for three year olds and four year olds. That’s their new magazine. Then they have sticker books and hidden picture books.

There are a couple of art directors that I work with. There are probably three or four at Highlights.

I was really scared. But they loved it. And I went to Highlights after that to a conference. And they were all like so happy to meet me. And I thought, ‘What is this — some kind of fantasy world?’ It was really surreal. I had just gotten into it and I didn’t know what I was doing. They were so nice. Then after that I got a book deal for Boyds Mills Press, which Highlights publishes. That’s their book division.

neighborhood.jpg
From “High Five” magazine (a “Highlights” magazine)

Book illustration is not at all what I expected. I got the job and started on it and I thought an art director was going to be saying, ‘No, this really should go here and this goes here, Move this. Do that…’ You know?  But he pretty much let me do whatever I wanted. He didn’t make any comments. I designed the cover and got to lay out where the text goes and drew everything. I did everything. And they did everything that I said to do. I did it just for fun, you know? And they said, ‘Okay.’

I had a big bowl and cut up little pieces of paper and wrote the page numbers on them. So I would reach into the bowl and whatever page number I pulled out, I would go to work on that page. Because you don’t want to draw the first page first.

Where did you hear that?

I made it up. You don’t always get into the groove of it unitl you’re into the first few drawings. You don’t want to see that progression in the book. And it’s really subtle. Some people might not notice it. But I notice it. And I would rather that first drawing was in the middle of the book. And the second drawing was maybe at the end. It works really well with me. And I always do it.

Except I forgot to do that on this book I’m working on now and I’m so mad. Because I just started with the first book out of five books I’m doing for this contract for Scott Foresman, Co.  I’m really tempted to redo the whole first book at the end of the five books. I don’t know if I will or not. I have to work so fast. You have to work so fast for these people. There are 35 illustrations in each book and I’ve had less than a month to do each one. So I’m basically doing two illustrations a day nonstop.

Highlights Magazines with Mary S. covers 

They’re due Sunday. Actually this one has turned out really cute. I had to draw cars and I hate drawing cars. But it’s not too bad. But look how complicated it is. I had to make them getting in the car and have mom getting the dog. And over here he’s telling the dog, ‘No.’ I had to get all that into the drawing.

This is what I do. I draw the sketch I scan it and send it to the publisher. So this is the sketch I sent to the publisher. They approved it. So I used my light box and traced this original pencil sketch on this nice paper.

You made another pencil drawing?

A tracing.

Why nice paper?

Because I like nice paper. I wouldn’t draw on anything else. I really like these more sketchy things — the roughs that I do first. But you must remember these pictures are for little kids and everything has to be really clear. You can’t have weird lines.


Editor’s note: Mary will scan this second, more finished pencil sketch and open it up as a file in Photoshop. With some rapid keystrokes  (involving ‘load selection’ and ‘edit fill’ on the Photoshop menu) she’ll copy and paste the lines of her sketch on to a “new layer.” She’ll  enlarges her sketch until she can almost see the carbon flecks left by her pencil point. “The lines are really sloppy but when I get them in the computer, I clean them up and erase some of them,” she says. Though she may ‘clean them up,’ she leaves her original grainy pencil lines in the illustration. She does not “fill in” her lines to create the smooth solid outline that you often see in cartoons and comic book art —  because she does not want her picture to look like it was drawn with a software program, which it wasn’t.   When she gets her drawing just the way she likes it on her monitor, she uses the Photoshop “paint bucket tool” to turn the entire layer yellow.

Oil painters like to scumble their canvases with burnt sienna, unifying their picture 
in one giant midtone — before they pick out their lights with turpentine and a rag and move in with dark paints to paint the deep shadows. This is what Mary does, but instead of turpentine and a cloth, she uses Photoshop’s ‘eraser tool’ to remove the transparent yellow glaze in strategic spots.  She erases the yellow to bring out the whites of her picture: a character’s eyes, or clouds in the sky or a button on a sweater. The revealed white is actually the white background behind her first layer.  With the stylus that comes with her Wacom Graphics Tablet and Photoshop’s “brush tool” she then applies the muted pastel colors she likes in a series of transparent ‘new layers.’ Last she adds the shadows, with the Photoshop “brush tool,” applying her “shadow color” in a 30 percent opacity. In fact she tries to avoid the the Photoshop “fill tool” generally because she wants her work to look hand-painted, so she can feel like one of those ‘fine-arts painters’ she wanted to be but was told she wasn’t and then decided she wasn’t.

Mary Sullivan Comic Book for “Phonics Comix”
Phonics Comics presents “Clara the Klutz“.  Mary uses an assortment of tricks she’s either invented or taught herself  to “paint” her pictures in Photoshop.

Except for cleaning up your lines a little when you retrace, you don’t re-work your sketches a lot.  You seem to just be able to draw out of your head.

For some reason I’m able to see things on the paper, then I’m able to draw them. I don’t know if it’s photographic memory or because I practice and draw all the time but I can just remember. I can close my eyes and see a hand positon and I can draw it.I’ve drawn all the time. I remember drawing in high school. When the teacher was talking, I’d be drawing feet and hands.I always noticed when other illustrators hid the hands or didn’t draw them too well.It does help being able to draw from my head. I can’t imagine having to look everything up. That would be a pain.

A lot of times I’ll sketch the feeling I want. Then I’ll fill in the details. Like I kind of want this person to be leaning over. I’ll kind of do it in my head, and I’ll draw a line and say, ‘Yes, that’s how I want him leaning over.’ And then I’ll fill it out. It’s like a gesture drawing. Remember that in life drawing? Yeah, I used to love that. I did a lot of it. That’s where you get the feeling of the pose.

For the BFA in college I took the maximum class number of hours in drawing. I wasn’t that good with faces and the small details. I was very good with the body.

Well, there’s something about the way you get the whole thing down and the viewer accepts it and doesn’t question your figures at all.

I feel really fortunate to have that. Editors and art directors like that. And you can tell a drawing that’s very strained.

Mary trying to draw
 Mary trying to draw

Will you talk just a little bit about the computer?

For working on the computer and color, I had to practive a lot to try to find my voice. That sounds really corny, I know, to say ‘find my voice.’  But I really had to find myself on the computer. I could do what other people did. But what was I? I mean that’s a good starting point, to look at what other people do and do that.

You know, you’re unique in your painterly working ways. 

I have a book on paintings of the old masters and one of them — I can’t remember his name — but he always started with a yellow canvas. He’d always paint yellow first over everything. I don’t know what the name of the yellow was but it was some kind of yellow or ochre and I saw that and thought, ‘Hey, I do that.’

I almost never start with a white page. I lay in the midtone and take away for the lights.

Here’s the duck. It’s going to be white. Shadows don’t come until the very end. The shoes will be white. The rocks will be grey but they won’t be white. And then I start with the color. My first layer is this color right here. Then this color comes on top of this color. It’s really complicated what I do. There turns out to be maybe ten layers of color. And at the end, the last layer I do is the shadow layer.

I tend to go with really light, muted colors, more sophisiticated colors. And they always want you to do bright…And I fight that all the way until the very end, when they will not give in. I don’t like the bright primary colors. They really bother me. But once I merge them,  all the color layers together, I ramp up the red so that it gives more of a warmth. It basically turns the black [of the pencil line] to more of a different color.

If you zoom in for a close-up to look at the line, it’s like trashy — broken and sketchy looking, but I really like that. Because that’s how it is in real life. If you were to do a painting, you wouldn’t do it pixel by pixel. I don’t want this to be clean. It looks softer like this. You can see the original pencil sketch lines and where the first transparent yellow has been left in patches.  It looks better. It doesn’t really show up that much in the picture but it gives a feeling of looking less computery.  A lot of people use the fill tool to color their illustrations. But I use the brush tool.

How did you learn to do this in Photoshop?

A friend of mine that I met, a graphic artist was so supportive and he was like a big brother.  He came over to my apartment and put Photoshop in my computer and I said, ‘I don’t know how to use it,’ and he said, ‘ You’ll figure it out.’ And I did. I went through every button on Photoshop and figured it out myself. I get everything I need from it. There’s all kinds of other stuff that I never use.

Mary Sullivan at her computer
Mary Sullivan, who doesn’t like to paint. 

Mary’s sites:
www.marysullivan.com
her artists’ blog
her agent’s site (look Mary up here)

Mark Mitchell, the writer of this article actually knows Mary Sullivan.
His site is www.markgmitchell.com