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.

* * * * *

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.

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

Author-illustrator Mary Sullivan

“How to Illustrate Children’s Books” A review

Last month we awarded Will Terry’s instructional video series How to Illustrate Children’s Books to the winner of our “Epiphany Essay” contest, Maya Scharke.

Lesson 3 - character design - Will Terry

This is a screenshot from the video, not a video player. To see the lesson, click on the linked name of Will Terry's course in the text above the image.

Since I proffer my own online course on children’s book illustration I was ready to take a fine tooth comb to this “competitor” that several of my illustrator buddies and colleagues were giving high marks to.

By Will Terry

By Will Terry

I didn’t get too far into the videos, though,  before I put away the comb.  How to Illustrate Children’s Books is a wonderful resource  for anyone interested in doing any kind of narrative illustration.

Will Terry has illustrated children’s books for Houghton Mifflin, Random House, Simon and Schuster and Scholastic. He’s also published his own e-picture books, like Monkey and Croc, which he sells for the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook readers, as well as a downloadable PDF.  So he’s able to speak to the digital revolution confronting traditional children’s publishing.

He teaches a course in children’s book illustration at Utah Valley University.

Will Terry's course

He explains how he’s painted most of his children’s books in acrylic paints, but tried his last couple in Photoshop after a friend showed him how to use the software. Now there’s no going back, he says.

He also sells separate videos on painting in acrylic and in Photoshop.

TheIllustrate Children’s Bookseries consists of  eight 20-30 minute video lectures that feature mini-demos, mostly done in Photoshop.

Will shows how he starts by making gobs of 1.5 inch diameter pencil thumbnail sketches in his sketchbook — to get a feeling for the scenes in a story, article or editorial and how to “manage the space”  in each picture.

He enlarges his favorite thumbnails (via Photoshop or photocopier) to more comfortable 4 x 5 inch dimensions. He traces this.  It becomes the comp, where he works out the most important shapes and details.

By Will Terry

By Will Terry

He next enlarges the comp — to a size that the finished illustration will be. When he’s completed his detailed outline drawing, he paints (via stylus, Wacom tablet and digital “brushes”.)

The final stage (one often short-changed by aspiring illustrators, Terry says) is the tweaking and refinements necessary to bring the image to a professional finish.

Reading words about any artist’s process is one thing. Watching it demonstrated in a crisp live action or screen capture video is a whole other experience.  Here’s where the series shines — not just in the visuals but in Terry’s plain-language commentaries that give the universal lesson in what we’re seeing.

I particularly enjoyed #4, Illustration design and # 6, Working with color where he makes sophisticated ideas simple for the viewer.

I also appreciated the last one, #8, Submitting your work where he talks to us like an artist buddy about self-publishing opportunities and the “Oklahoma Land Rush” of the new digital publishing marketplace (and how it won’t last forever.)

Will Terry Cover

That’s a refreshing virtue — that he doesn’t shy away from the hard issues such as “How much is your time worth?” and the imperative of having passion in your work and putting in that “time in the saddle” —  significant time (as in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours) to achieve any real mastery of craft.

I’ll leave you with a couple of his quotes from the lessons — and my strong recommendation that you include How to Illustrate Children’s Books  in your art instruction arsenal.

“You’re making characters from shapes and their placements. Be deliberate.
Shapes really matter. Shapes communicate your ideas.”

“Color harmony is colors relating.”

“Don’t let the image design your thumbnail.”

See the complete  lesson #3,  Character design on the website that also contains Terry’s online portfolio,  store and blog that’s characterized by the same good information and candor as his video presentations.

You can orderHow to Illustrate Children’s Books along with Will’s other instructional videos on his Folio Academy website here.

*  *  *  *  *

We have another Epiphany Essay — this one by Lacy Morgan.  (Readers were asked to write about, “What epiphany in connection to drawing, painting or children’s book illustration have you experienced in the past year?”)

*  *  *  * *

Children's Book Illustration Class at AMOA Art School

* * * * *

Becoming Child-like Again

By Laci Morgan

Epiphany Essay no. 2  

As a freelance illustrator and animator, I think it’s important to learn from others to keep up on your skills.

This last year, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend a few conferences in my industry by becoming a student volunteer.

At the Creative Talent Network Expo (CTN-X), a conference that focuses on character design and animation, I was in charge of directing VIPs like Pixar and Disney artists to their panels, making sure that everything ran smoothly and according to schedule.

During the talks, I would stand in the back of the room and observe the audience.  What surprised me more than anything else is the sheer number of attendees that whipped out a sketchbook and were drawing their fellow seatmates or the speakers.

Though they were listening to the speakers intently, they were also using the time to brush up on their skills and add to their sketchbook!

It struck me as being something unique to artists…at no other type of convention would you find audience members doodling and have it be not only “OK to do,” but actually encouraged!

(It took me back to the days where my elementary school teachers would catch me doodling behind my desk when I was SUPPOSED to be learning math, and end up having to skip recess) I was hit by the thought that this is a mindset I myself need to get into.

These artists had a sketchbook on them at every moment, and grabbed any opportunity they had to draw. I realized that I can’t even remember the last time I randomly whipped out my sketchbook and just drew what I saw around me…most of the time my “creative powers” are channeled into client work or school work, not creating for myself.

I was inspired to start bringing the sketchbook with me on a daily basis, and I’m trying to become more aware of the fact that it’s OK to draw just to draw…I don’t HAVE to be creating for the paycheck or the degree.

I also recently sat down with a client whose 7 year old daughter had “helped” her dad by drawing out some logo ideas with crayon for him to take to our meeting.

While some artists would roll their eyes at this (“oh no, ANOTHER client who has an “artist” in the family), I have to admit that I was amazed at the creativity this little girl possessed in her drawings.

She had come up with pages of ideas and drawn detailed, intricate patterns and lettering, not limited by what logos “should” look like.  (In fact, those drawings reminded me of myself at that age!)

I think as we get older and keep hearing things like “you can’t do that” and are forced to conform to what the public thinks looks good, we begin to lose that magical quality of imagination that children posess.

We start to get afraid that our ideas will be rejected, so we don’t push the envelope and stay with “safe” ideas. We as artists need to learn how to be unafraid to think outside the box, and brainstorm without fear of acceptance.

Because of some of these insights, my goal in 2011 is to find a way to go back to that creative, child-like place again, and begin to “dream” and create more art for myself again!

I think that having this new mindset will really show itself through my work this year, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes me!

Laci Morgan

* * * * *

Learn how to impress an art director…

Illustrator Intensive Fla SCBWI FLorida Illustrators’ Intensive 2011

Join Lucy Cummins, associate art director with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Priscilla Burris, SCBWI National Illustrator Coordinator and  author- illustrator  Linda Shute for a one-day event for committed illustrators who wish to hone their craft through hands-on activities and discussion.  Read more and register for the Saturday, June 24 SCBWI FLorida Illustrators’ Intensive 2011

* * * * *

Animator,  illustrator and now author Laura Jennings has launched her new science fiction e-book, The Highsong Project.  (Amazon Kindle users can go here to order.)  She’s produced a compelling video book trailer, which she animated herself and  a new blog, The Highsong Project, to promote her book and share  experiences and discoveries on her e-book self-publishing and marketing journey.  I’m pleased to add Laura’s blog to my blogroll.

* * * * *

"Marks and Splashes" courseMark Mitchell is the creator of the “Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks!” online course on illustrating books and other media for children. He also hosts this blog.

* * * * *

Is it time to really learn Photoshop?

Children’s book illustrators increasingly are using Photoshop to bring their images into the “final art” stage.

Photoshop files are the raw materials for building interactive digital books for the iPad and smart phones.  In a previous post Ezra Weinstein,  publisher of InteractBooks discussed the need for Photoshop layers from illustrators.

Here in the above video abstract artist Steve Connor discusses uses of Photoshop and different ways to learn the program that is fairly oceanic in applications and features and, Steve suggests, becoming a part of everyday work and life.

Yes,  the cameramen should be fed more tranquilizers — or go out and get a tripod for his Kodak Zi8 camera. (We’re working on the problem.)

Meanwhile  Steve, who teaches art and multimedia at ITT Technical Institute and other campuses in Austin does great in the interview.  Trained in the fine arts at Syracuse University and Pratt Institute, he worked as a designer and an art director for advertising agencies,  corporate marketing departments and in his own creative services agency in the San Francisco Bay area.  He teaches a wide range of design, media-editing  and publishing programs including InDesignIllustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, 3ds Max and Premiere. He also provides online training and consulting. You can read about him and the  beautiful compositions (lyrical abstractions) that he creates on his website and blog.

Steve has put up a short and easy  survey,  Learning Digital Media to determine what you would most like to learn from an online Photoshop class series and he’d appreciate any of your responses on it.

For participating,  you can watch his  video lesson,  Bare Bones Intro to Photoshop.

Roughly 15 minutes long, it shows how to work with layers, the brush tool, shapes and effects. This will  help you get started — no matter what edition of Photoshop you have. 

Actually, Steve says that even if you don’t answer the easy questions on the survey, you’re still welcome to see  his  video. You’re asked to register with your name and e-mail address to see the lesson. But otherwise it’s free.  Watch the lesson.

Sign up to watch the replay of Steve’s 90 minute online tutorial:  An Intro to Photoshop Art-Making: Vector and Paint.  (It’s excellent!)

But your responses on the  survey will help Steve put together a course that might be exactly what you’ve been looking for in a Photoshop education.

Here are those links again:

Survey:  Learning Digital Media

Video Lesson Presentation: Bare Bones Intro to Photoshop

 An Intro to Photoshop Art-Making: Vector and Paint

Then there’s WordPress

Speaking of tech trainings,  Erik Kuntz of Austin gave a fantastic presentation to our Marks and Splashes students last week.

He showed us different ways to build picture galleries on our WordPress and blogs.  He covered lots  more in his offhand conversation and answers to our questions during the session.

A web comics creator, writer,  illustrator and website developer for small and large businesses, Erik has long championed WordPress as a most plausible web platform for artists and other creative people.

So there’s a survey up for him, too, because he’s considering putting together a series of trainings,  WordPress for Artists. Tell him what you’d like to see in informal trainings for WordPress and his other software specialties, Corel PainterAdobe Illustrator and Manga Studio for cartoonists, graphic novel artists and children’s book illustrators. Take Erik’s WordPress survey.

Austin SCBWI Conference Photos

Books, Boots and Buckskin, the 2011 regional conference of the Austin Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators was a happy success, thanks to the many chapter volunteers, extraordinary presenters and faculty and the wonderful  historical campus with its intimate theater auditorium and state of the art presentation rooms.

The conference was hosted by St. Edwards University, which provided the gorgeous setting and wonderful support staffand —  an Austin, Texas-based  publisher of interactive children’s picture book apps and a developer of software building tools for iPad and mobile phone book and rich media content apps.

David Diaz

Caldecott Medal winning illustrator David Diaz illustrates a scene from a manuscript by one of the conference attendees.  He’s illustrating on the back of a door bought from Home Depot.

He’s joined by Austin SCBWI assistant regional adviser Carmen Oliver and illustrator Clint Young.

David Diaz’s completed illustration on the back of a door.  See more photos from the conference.

English illustrator Sarah Wade shows us how to “colour” with a digital brush

Children’s book illustrator and surface pattern designer Sarah Wade of Design House Studios in Ipswich,  England has put together a short Photoshop tutorial for us. We’ll get right to work with it in a minute.
But first let’s meet the two characters she’ll feature in her tutorial.

Hey Pretty Kitty from Sarah Wade on Vimeo.

A Short Photoshop Tutorial:  Colouring up
line art

Pictures and text by Sarah Wade

1.) Create your line art and scan at 300 dpi. I tend to use fine liners on layout paper to create my illustrations. Layout paper allows you to trace up consistent elements within a series of illustrations. This works really well if you are animating characters.

English Illustrator Sarah Wade Photoshop turorial

2.) Import the scanned image into Photoshop. Make sure that the image is CMYK.  Image > Mode> CMYK

Adjust the contrast and brightness of your image to ensure that you have a crisp white background and solid black line work – this will make it easier for you to select areas when colouring up.
Image > Adjustments > Brightness / Contrast
Also remove any marks and blemishes that might have appeared during the scanning process. You will need to select the Eraser Tool to do this.

English Illustrator Sarah Wade Photoshop turorial
3.) Using the Magic Wand tool, select the area that you would like to colour first. You can hold down the shift key to select multiple areas. Adjusting the tolerance settings at the top of the tool bar will allow you to determine how much of an area you select. As we are working with black and white imagery a high tolerance of about 90 will be most suitable.

When the area has been selected use the Colour Picker to choose the colour you would like to use.

English Illustrator Sarah Wade Photoshop turorial
4.) Now you can select your brush. Choose the Brush tool from the tools panel – this will automatically open the Brush Palette. Here you can adjust the size of your brush and it’s softness. Have a play around with different types of brushes to find one that suits your illustration.

English Illustrator Sarah Wade Photoshop turorial (4)
5.) Once your brush is selected you can start to colour. The brush will only effect the area which you have selected with the Magic Wand tool. To deselect an area use Select > Deselect from the menu. Work your way around the image until all areas are coloured. Adjusting the brush opacity in the header bar will help you to create a layered, painterly style.

English Illustrator Sarah Wade Photoshop turorial
6.) Once your image is coloured up in full , use a smaller brush to make slight adjustments.

English Illustrator Sarah Wade Photoshop turorial 6 or 7

And there you have it! OK, now you can watch the video again!

Sarah studied Graphic Design at Northampton University,  specializing in Illustration.
She graduated in 2004.  ” I went on to work within two large  studios that produced designs for giftware and children’s book publishing.” she says.

“I decided to go freelance in 2006 and have been working from my studio based in Ipswich for the past 4 years. I now produce surface patterns for a variety of applications including textiles, wall coverings, jewellery, fashion, shop interiors, ceramics and  advertising campaigns.  “I also illustrate children’s books and have almost 20 titles in publication.”

You can see some of her images and book covers, and read Sarah’s and  Lloyds blogs at their website, Design House Studio. (Lloyd Evans is her design studio business partner, and as of about a week ago, her husband.)  Here’s the URL:

Sarah’s blog has been added to our blogroll and here’s the URL:

Sarah’s gracious guest post demonstrates that children’s book artists on the other side of the Atlantic are just as fun, creative, charming  and nice as…well, we are.   We’re speaking in generalities, of course.

Sarah and I discovered we had one more connecting point besides our involvement with kid lit art: We’re both students of Salsa dance. And it just so happens that my Rueda Salsa instructor, Esther Weekes is from Ipswich, England.  Esther and Sarah do not know each other, but perhaps someday they will. The world does seem to get smaller every day.

Now,  I’m not sure when Sarah will begin teaching us computer animation classes 🙂
But she tells us, “It is just something that I have been experimenting with at the moment, but I love how it gives characters a whole other dimension!

“The sound effects were fun to work on too, although I’m concerned that our neighbors might think we mistreat our cat! It took a few attempt to get that recording right …’s Lloyd’s voice —  not our cat!”

Thank you, Sarah! It’s been a total treat. Btw, your video makes my day each time I look at it and I look forward to seeing more!

And here are some Austin salsa links for you:

Meneo Space

* * * * *

Austin SCBWI – Picture Perfect!

A “spit-polish picture book workshop” featuring author Lisa Wheeler and illustrators Don Tate and Laura Jennings

St. Edwards University campus in Austin, TexasSt. Edward’s University, Austin Texas — home of upcoming Austin SCBWI workshops

Will you be anywhere near Austin, Texas around Saturday, October 9th?
All right, then. Mark your calendars for Saturday, October 9th when the Austin SCBWI chapter will meet at beautiful St. Edwards University to enjoy an intensive one-day  workshop for author-illustrators, Picture Perfect!

This professional workshop (we did say spit and polish, remember) will help hone your children’s picture book manuscripts and illustrations to radiant perfection.

Author Lisa Wheeler will present the keynote and other author-illustrators will offer presentations and critiques. Here’s the complete faculty lineup.

  • Lisa Wheeler has written 17 books for children. Her most recent picture book for Atheneum is the hilarious Castaway Cats, illustrated by Ponder Gombel. Learn more about Lisa on her website at
  • Sarah Sullivan who has written three picture books. Her latest, Passing Music Down, published by Candlewick is forthcoming very soon. Learn more about Sarah on her website at
  • Stephanie Greene  is a master of the series chapter book. Stephanie has written the Moose and Hildy and Owen Foote series, several middle-grade novels, has earned Horn Book’s coveted starred review for her latest…Happy Birthday Sophie Hartley. Learn more about Stephanie at
  • Don Tate who is an illustrator of children’s books and educational products. His background includes illustration as well as graphic design in the areas of advertising, educational publishing, and visual journalism. Learn more about Don at
  • Laura Jennings who is a freelance illustrator living in Austin, Texas.

Download the full brochure with the registration form and all details about fees, , schedule of events, and portfolio review information here. You can also get it from the Austin SCBWI website.

Notice #1 : You don’t have to be an SCBWI member to enroll in the workshop. It’s just a little cheaper if you are, and you can do that when you enroll. 🙂

Notice # 2: Manuscript critique slots are filled — but there are still some portfolio review slots left, illustrators!

* * * * *

Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators features Carus senior art director Karen Kohn

PSIcon is set for September 25, 2010 at Pittsburgh Technical Institute, Oakdale, PA. Keynote speaker is Karen Kohn, Senior Art Director at Carus Publishing Company, publishers of Cricket, Ask and Ladybug. Karen will speak about the various types of illustration styles their publications look for as well as new developed apps soon to be released. Karen often finds new illustration talent to use throughout the publications from speaking engagements. She’ll be reviewing portfolios as well. Six additional industry-wide speakers are planned.

The one day conference is 8 am – 6 pm. It will be valuable to all levels of experience. Seasoned professionals and young talent alike will benefit. Light breakfast and lunch included.

Continue to check for updates on PSI’s website at:

* * * * *
Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell of Austin, Texas hosts this blog. Check out his online course on drawing and painting for chillren’s book illustration.

* * * * *

Laura’s Medieval Menagerie


Laura Jennings drawing for Shard Studios

Laura Jennings drawing for Shard Studios

Laura Jennings grew up surrounded by animals in the Texas Hill Country town of Kempner.

“I trained my first dog, a Rottweiler for obedience when I was 12,” she says.

Maybe that’s why the dynamic animals she’s created for the role playing game Shard  look like people you might  know — almost  old friends you wouldn’t mind going with you on a harrowing adventure.

 Oh, humans played their parts in her youth, too, and books — fantasy novels mainly — and video games.  “I used to sit and watch my brother play Zelda and Mario for hours,” she says.

After studying fine arts at Central Texas Community College and Texas Tech University, Laurie enrolled in the design art  programming and animation sequence at Austin Community College, She has set her sites on the fields of video game art and character creation.  

Character from "Dardunah", a land where armour is made of crystal, a Shard RPG game, drawn by Laura Jennings

The Lion King changed my life.  I loved the action, the movement.   I don’t have the patience for animation, but that’s what I’m into,” she says.

“At school we’re doing the old  pegboard animation, like the crews did for Bambi , they still ask for the same kind of detail in the industry. 

“Everybody going into this wants to design, do storyboards and be a lead character artist. It’s the very first graphic the public sees.

“I do go for games, and it is pretty astonishing — the emerging media and the economic growth that’s been predicted for games and computer art in the next 50 years. 

“Austin has something like 50 studios; they’re mostly small. In this room there’s an animator and you can walk right next door and take it to the programmer.”

“Video game art is  a combination of animated movie and comic book and it’s  interactive. Some of the most gorgeous art I’ve seen has been in the animation of Nintendo and Capcom games, such as Squaresoft Final Fantasy series and Legend of Zelda.    


"Dardunah" character by Laura Jennings

Laura also feels pulled by graphic novels and children’s books and attends meetings of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (Austin SCBWI). 

“People think children’s book illustration is easy. It’s actually cutting edge. There are similarities to game art, such as the storyboarding and the composition and how you have to know your story visually so very well. The work of James Gurney holds its metal against any fine art happening today and he (and others like him) have chosen literature, which I thank them for.”

"Puffy pants" character from the Shard land, drawing by Laura Jennings

"Puffy pants" character from the Shard land, drawing by Laura Jennings

Laura “liked the idea of puffy pants” for her fantasy
character for the game Shard, designed by art director Scott Jones.

 “I was trying to turn a lot of the animal motifs on their heads.  So I wanted to make this Aesop’s-like skunk a bit coquetish, like she’s waiting for Pepe Le Pew.”

 Shard is a table-top  role playing game “of heroic fantasy, set in the Realm of Dardunah, World of the False Dawn,”
the website says.   “Players may choose from a wide variety of animal  people who are the main cast of the many adventures the world offers.” 

Dardunah is a medieval Shangrila, far east of Middle Earth. (I spent some time poking around the site. I must say I’m ready for the movie to come out.) 

Laura recalls, “I don’t know what it was that got their attention, but they saw some of my art and told me, ‘We see that you’ve done a bunch of animal creatures.'”

“Actually there were  three of us working on the game’s characters. We had to make it look like all of the illustration was done by one person. We each worked in our own category — I didn’t want  the insects, snakes and reptiles so I raised my hand and said, ‘I’ll take the mammals!’ ”

One of the animal people drawn by Laura Jennings for the RPG "Shard"

One of the animal people drawn by Laura Jennings for the RPG "Shard"

 She had to research animals in their natural settings, and come up with props, costumery and accessories that  “fit” into this world with its Persian and Asian flavors, she says. 

“I had to find out what old armour looks like, leggings and foorwear, what kind of robes students of a temple would have worn.” 

Shore dweller of "Dardunah" by Laura Jennings

For the fellow in the game at the right, a seashore dweller, she found photo reference of an otter, stopping by a river, panting.

Pencil drawings were scanned and values were added in Photoshop using the smudge tool and the dodge and burn tool.

“I had a lot of fun with the textures in Photoshop, learning to push things around.

“I was asked to  re-do a squirrel monster because the armor looked too much like beat-up metal. Metal is a material of our world  — whereas in Dardunah, the armor is made of crystal.

 “The  foundation was in natural media,” she says. “But there was a little bit of cleanup in Corel Painter 9, which replicates whatever natural medium you’re using — in this case it was pencil. The art  was finished and polished in Corel Painter 9.

 “There’s a lot of movement and dynamic in my own work,” Laura says.

“I’ve been very gestural for a long time. I’m only just now starting to work on the edges, the contour.

“My sketches are half reference — half imagination. Many of them are just from little thumbnail sketches. As I look at these  I’m seeking that pose that speaks about inner character. I’m asking, ‘What has punch. What is moving, or defining,” Laura says.

“In video games, the silhouette is so important. Their silhouettes define who they are in the game.”

Wolverine warrior by Laura Jennings,from the role playing card game

Ursine warrior realized by Laura Jennings. He's a character from the role playing card game, Shard.

Laura Jennings’ fun blog  is now on our blogroll.  You’ll find her art there, too and on her Deviant Art gallery page, where she’s posted some graphic novel panels, backgrounds and more of her exquisite characters.  Deviant Art features concept art by teen and young adult artists from around the world.

                                                           * * * * *
Mark Mitchell hosts How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator. 
Check out the free lessons of his short course, Power Color: The Keys to Color Mastery  here.  

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.

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:
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