Then let us all with one accord…

Stepping away from the news and business this evening, I poked around on YouTube for a nice Christmas video to share with you.

For some reason I started wondering if Sitka, Alaska, where I’d spent 2-3 of my childhood years still celebrates Christmas.

I remember how Christmases there would light up the dark Alaskan winter. One year it seemed like half the town turned out in the late afternoon to skate on frozen Swan Lake late and roast marshmallows around a bonfire.

Sitka lies a little closer to the North Pole than central Texas does. I hope the Davis family will not mind if I share their public video of a beautiful carol sung by them for their congregation at Sitka’s Grace Harbor Church.

And I hope Nate and Genelle don’t mind my sharing their sighting of a breaching humpback whale in Silver Bay last Christmas Eve.

Somehow these beautiful recordings say exactly what I wanted to express to you this evening after a terrible week. I wish for all of you and your loved ones a wonderful, restorative holiday and a joy-filled New Year.

How to build a robot in Quark

Children’s book author-illustrator Annette Simon works hard to make her picture books playful. Or, maybe more accurately, she plays hard to make her picture books work.  

Her Robot Zombie Frankenstein! (Candlewick Press) delivers an exhilarating,  escalating battle of wits, creativity, costumery and dessert in 72 words.

The bright pictures suggest Colorforms — the plastic stick-ons found in kindergarten toy boxes — but they’re not. Annette illustrates with her computer mouse, using QuarkXpress, an old program for creating page layouts.

To make a shape she clicks and drags the Quark “photo box” across her screen, then pops a color into the outline.  She develops her characters by artfully layering these colored slices.

And somehow she makes them — her characters, the mechanical dueling bots — feel like people we know as well as our own siblings.

A savvy, award-winning creative director, Annette worked at the national advertising and graphic design firm GSD&M in Austin, Texas for several years before she and her husband moved to Neptune Beach, Florida. Today she writes and draws books for young readers and works part-time at the indie book store The BookMark.

Below, more nuts and bolts re: her Robot Zombie Frankenstein! art-making:

The videos are excerpts from an on-camera interview, including a discussion on book cover design that she gave for students of the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! course. You can see more of her interview and photos from her July signing party with her Austin SCBWI pals here

Below (as promised in the video), the steps for constructing a robot in Quark, starting with a purple box: (courtesy of Annette Simon) 

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Jump to see more of Annette’s interview, including her thoughts about her process, revising and working with her long distance critique group.

Digital Symposium II October 6

The second annual Austin SCBWI Digital Symposium set for Saturday, October 6 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, features hands on training on digital art-making, WordPress, book video-trailer making for YouTube and lots more.

These Xtra Normal guys say they definitely are going. The symposium trailer is by animator and online comics creator Erik Kuntz, who is also our SCBWI chapter’s webmaster and will lead the workshops on Anime Studio and Manga Studio. You’ll find details on the workshop and presenters and your registration packet here.


Illustrator E.B. Lewis headlines 2013 Austin conference, Let’s Kick it Up a Notch

E.B. Lewis Art

Watercolor illustration by E.B. Lewis

It’s official! Renown children’s book illustrator and fine artist E.B. Lewis will review portfolios and conduct a special Sunday illustrators’ intensive at the Austin SCBWI 2013 Regional ConferenceFebruary 8-10 at St. Edward’s University. He’ll be joined by an extraordinary conference faculty that will include agents, authors, editors art directors and senior children’s book publishing execs.

To drop just a few names: SCBWI Crystal Kite award winning illustrator Patty Barton and and author Shutta Crum, literary agent with S©ott Treimel NY John M. Cusick, best-selling YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith,  Senior VP and publisher of Simon and Schuster Books Rubin Pfeffer, Caldecott Honor author, poet Liz Garton Scanlon, Macmillan Children’s Books publisher Neal Porter.

And that’s not everyone. Download your copy of the Kick it Up a Notch faculty sheet and the registration packet

P.S. The August 26 post on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast features E.B. Lewis’ stunning illustrations for Jacqueline Woodson’ s picture book on children’s cruelty,  Each Kindness.

Google+ tools for artists and illustrators — free workshop

Pooja's Google+ workshop screenshot

Hey illustrators! If you haven’t yet seen Pooja Srinivas’ Google Hangout presentation, Google+ for Artists and Illustrators you’ll probably want toIn her fast-moving 80-minute recorded workshop, she shows us how to find and build community, network and promote our art with free Google+ tools. Discover a fabulous, huge resource that’s as close and accessible to you as your Gmail account. See Pooja’s free workshop.

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Jump to see more of Annette’s interview, including her thoughts about her process, revising and working with her long distance critique group.

Children’s book author-illustrator Mark Mitchell wrote this post. Watch his short video on the “best drawing secret.”

Annette Simon addresses a packed second floor at her signing for “Robot Zombie Frankenstein!” at BookPeople in Austin  in July.

Karien’s Creative Cache

We first interviewed children’s illustrator Karien Naude of South Africa back in May 2009. Back then she was just starting, completely self-taught as an artist and working as a paralegal at a law firm in downtown Johannesburg.

By Karien Naude

Art by Karien Naude

She was among the first students to sign up for Make Your Splashes Make Your MarksSomehow we were friends from the start — because Karien is — well — that sort of person.  Even my mother wants to adopt her.  (Unofficially she has, with Karien’s bemused consent — though I should say Karien has loving parents and family in South Africa.) Still, she’s h a citizen of the world, with a network of artist friends that extends to the Austin, Texas SCBWI illustrators’ community,  New York,  the UK and New Zealand.

Karien's telling of a Sherlock Holmes tale

A lot has happened since 2009. She’s gone full time as a free-lancer. She’s learned — taught herself, tons about the craft and business of illustration.  So it really is time for another visit.

She’s a huge Tolkien and Terry Pratchett fan.  She’s been on safaris. She loves to cook and loves music so much so that you’ll rarely catch her drawing or painting without her earphones on.

Remember as you read her responses to my interrogation that English is not her first language. Her native language is the Afrikaans of her ancestors, Dutch Protestants who settled in southwestern South Africa in the 17thcentury.

In 1979 she agreed to serve as a bit of a guinea pig for the ongoing experiment of my online course.  She’s actually been ready for us to check in with her.

Mark:  Karien, when we last talked with you in 2009, you were working with South African comics group Comicworx Studios and you worked full-time for a Johannesburg law firm. You had not published yet, not yet hooked up with the South African SCBWI chapter.  All you knew was that you wanted to try to illustrate some children’s books. Can you bring us up to date on yourself since then?  

Karien: Since I started your course in 2009, my life changed dramatically. I’ve switched my mind from comics to children books and I know more what children like and in the procces I’ve rediscovered my inner child again.

Now I hang out more in the children’s section at the book stores or at the library than in the fiction and comics department. I’ve also done a lot of research and now I know more about the market and have a good understanding of how publishers work. My dream was always to do illustrations full time. It was very hard work, but this year it came true.

I’m now a full time freelancer doing work for four major publishers in South Africa. I also joined SCBWI in South Africa and I’m learning so much from the other members. I’m always inspired after meetings.

Karien Naude in "Artists Alley" at the RAGE Convention

Mark: You’ve been doing illustration for several Macmillan academic titles and some education presses, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Maskew Miller Longman.

Can you tell us about some of these assignments, how you got them, what it’s been like doing them and how you met those deadlines?

Karien: I’m part of a professional webpage for South African illustrators and we usually get work through them. They sent out an email one day stating that Macmillan Educational needed an  illustrator and that if anyone was interested, they should forward their portfolios directly to the art director.

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I never worked for publishers, but I took the chance and forwarded my portfolio. I was leaving for the UK the next day for a holiday and that afternoon the art director, Mandi Laign phoned me and gave me my first brief.

I had to do 30 illustrations in 2 weeks! I never had a holiday as planned. I was working 24/7 on the illustrations. But it was my big break.  Since then a lot of publishers have seen my work on my blog and online portfolio and have contacted me directly.

Educational illustrations are very hard work and the deadlines are very tight, so I actually go into my “Zombie” mode where I don’t sleep and sometimes don’t even eat, cause time is so precious.

PostPigeon by Karien Naude

By Karien Naude

In the beginning it was very hard because I was working full time at the law firm. I worked until 5 and when I got home I started working on the illustrations. I got used to sleeping three or four hours  a night.  A lot of illustrators don’t want to do educational because it’s very hectic. But I learned to draw faster and to trust in my ability to push and work hard.  At the end this gave me the change to become a full-time illustrator.

"Shadows" by Karien Naude

Can you talk about the transition you’ve made in the last couple of years from doing pencil sketches and some airbrushing to experimenting with watercolor and digital paint programs?  Which mediums have served you the best and do you prefer? How do you teach yourself to use these new art techniques and tools?

Watercolor was hard in the beginning because I wasn’t use to it.

It was messy.  My colors didn’t come out right and they looked muddy.  The paint ran over my lines and I was feeling like crying.

But I took out some library books and learned the tricks and tips working with watercolor and now it’s the medium I prefer above the others. I got Corel Painter and I played around with it. With my first brief with Macmillan Education I used Corel Painterbecause I didn’t have time to wait for paint to dry and it was easier to make changes they needed.

I still learn a lot about Painter and I do enjoy doing digital illustrations, but you will always find me in the garden painting with watercolors.

A jaunty Alice by Karien Naude

What went into your decision to try free-lance illustration full time? What was it like for you prior to that,  doing illustrations for clients on a part time, moonlighting basis?  

In the beginning,  it was great working part time for clients because I was still an amateur and the briefs or projects were little.  So I worked at night and weekends.

But becoming professional it started to get harder to work at night. The briefs got bigger and I didn’t have enough time to finish things up. As I mentioned before I didn’t sleep much. I had to turn down a lot of work from publishers because I knew I couldn’t make the deadline and it was very hard on me. But all the payments I received for my work,  I saved up and when I had enough, I made the decision to beccome a full time illustrator.

Bookmark by Karien Naude

Karien crafts her own "wicked" (her word) bookmarks, which she sends out as promotional mailers, along with postcards and other items. This one netted an immediate phone call from an editor.

What are you thinking about when you start an illustration? What about when you get to the middle of the process and what about when you decide your about to finish a picture? Can you walk us through your process a little?

Well usually I start with “day-dreaming” about the picture. I draw and paint in my head so that when I actually start with the illustration I know exactly how it will look and what I must do.

When I start I usually put the radio on and then my thoughts are put in a cage and I work with a clear mind and in this state I can work for hours and hours not realizing that I’ve worked the whole day.

I can’t work in silence. I was also told by a teacher that some students study with music on and they get great results.

Can you walk us through some of these images and share with us how you got the ideas, who were the pieces for and how you executed your final versions of them?

I usually get my ideas by what I’m doing at that moment. I get ideas from listening to music, watching movies or reading books. I was reading Alice in Wonderland when I did Alice and the White Rabbit. The mouse and the Lizard I did a few years ago as part of a commission to do pictures for a baby’s room and I fell in love with the characters and started playing around with them, adding background or dressing them up.

Now that you’ve got some real experience as an illustrator for hire, what are your goals now as an illustrator for children’s books? Have your goals changed? What activities, education, training and/or networking do you see yourself doing in the next six months to a year to help you achieve some of your important held goals?

My first goal is to have my own picture book published in South Africa and the UK which I’m still working very hard on.

I always dream that I would walk into a book store and see my own picture book with my name on it on the shelf.

On the educational side,  I want to try and do work for all the educational publishers in South Africa.

The next phase begins next month and I’ll be busy for 2 or 3 months again. In October, I will promote and sell my work at a very big convention in Johannesburg , called Rage. It’s a technology convention where they show the latest technology in the computer industry, as well as the latest games.

Karien Naude

Karien Naude sports elfin ears at the Rage Expo, a technology conference in Johannesburg. Photo by Kay Carmichael

Our comics / illustrators / designer group have an “artists alley” every year and a lot of game developers walk around the alley seeking illustrators to do work for them.

Hopefully, I’ll learn more about ebooks and how they will change children books. I’m also busy putting up my work for online prints at RedBubble. By this I’m hoping to get my illustrations to the public to enjoy and to get my name out in the world.

Art by Karien Naude

How is that Zulu folktale picture book you’ve been working on coming along?

It’s been two years since I started with the Tokoloshe but I can gladly say that I’m finished tweaking the writing. Going from 1000 words to 500 words is very had to do. But I’m happy with the final result. I’ve started thinking about the illustrations and it’s almost planned out in my head, but the next stage for me is actually doing the dummy book. This will hopefully be done before the end of the year.

Karien, what advice and practical tips would you give an aspiring illustrator , say someone who is in the shoes you were in two years ago?

Do lots of research, be passionate about what you do and work hard. Don’t let your dream fade away.

Be annoying. I know it sounds funny, but send your portfolio out a hundred times to publishers. You’ll fade out of their minds if you don’t, but if you send them postcards, bookmarks or portfolios regularly, they will start remembering you and you will get work.

Don’t be upset if you get rejections. At first it bothered me a lot. but its part of our illustration world. You get use to it and sometimes you see the funny side of it and will laugh out loud when you get them.

In the end it’s worth it and you’ll be a happy illustrator living your dream. If you need help, I’m always there.

Karien Naude

Covering the Caledcott Covers…

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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.

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

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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.)

 

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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.

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 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!