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.

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.

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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.  

When is it OK for adults to criticize other adults? Answer: At a portfolio critique session, of course.

Members of the picture book critique group, \
Some members of “The Inklings” picture book critique group review their portfolios at a pre-conference “emergency session” at Austin’s Central Market Cafe in April.  One of many critique groups in the  Society of  Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Austin Chapter, these “Inklings” were preparing to have their work examined by their peers and artists’ agent Christina Tugeau at the Austin SCBWI Spring Conference that Saturday. Left to right around are illustrators Martin Thomas, Diandra Schwartz, Amy Farrier, Austin SCBWI Illustration Chair Christy Stallop, Sarah Ackerley and Clint Young. 

 
Thumbs up, down or sideways?

It was the nonverbal language of the portfolio huddle. Christy Stallop, author, creator of humorous illustrations and the Austin SCBWI illustration chair initiated the Sunday morning “emergency session” review. It would be an RX for those with portfolio jitters before the regional Spring conference that was set for that Saturday.

All right, review may be too milquetoast a word for what came down at the cafe amid sleepy tables of taco breakfasters and laptop mullers. 

Thumbs up and thumbs down, of course, derived from the Romans deciding fhe fates of fallen gladiators. Thumbs sideways is Christy’s contribution to the vernacular. It means “Toss It.”  
 
“Get it out of your portfolio before it ruins everything !”

Sometimes she would say “Out” flatly while also gesturing thumbs sideways — a sort of combo-imperative.  (Christy is a very talented, “tough love” illustration chair.)

Great pointers from Christy and the group:                  

1.) Get a real portfolio at an art supply shop. It does not have to be large, but it should have pages with protective sleeves to slide your work into, like a photo album.  Never put original art in your portfolio. Only show reproductions — scans and transparencies are best. (See more on that below.)

2.)  Avoid a busy-looking portfolio with busy pages. I.e. Don’t stuff your portfolio — one piece per page is best. Then the viewer can actually see the artwork. Of course the corollary to that is the artwork you select for the page must have an impact and be unassailable. Ask yourself, “Is the piece good enough to stand on its own?”

2.)  Don’t worry too much about “rules” of portfolio presentation or format. Use your common sense.  But do find a way to present and organize your portfolio so that it makes good sense for your work. For example, have all of your art pieces lining up the same way in the album so the viewer doesn’t have to turn it this way and that way to examine pieces right side up.  

Grouping  is nice. It breaks things up in a nice way for a better read and gives the viewer a bit of a rest, too, going through. 

Christy suggested that I group my portfolio into two sections — one for color and one for black and white, with each section prefaced by a title page with some spot art (either B&W or color, suggesting what’s to follow.) 

3.) Get business cards professionally printed before an event such as an SCBWI conference. (Christy expressed this a little more emphatically  to me than that.) If you don’t have a print shop handy and you need the cards fast, try a place like Overnightprints.com They have plenty of templates on their website that you can use to hastily throw together your card — and still it won’t look like an amateur effort. Yes, you will pay to have the cards sped to your doorstep. 

4.) Yes you may include a few of your “tearsheets” or color photocopies of your published work. 
But carry some of your best original art to a print shop and have it professionally scanned there. 

If you’ve scanned your own artwork at home (make sure the resolution is nothing less than 300 dpi) bring your flashdrive or  CD to printshop to have the piece professionally reproduced.  Choose a matte rather than gloss finish. Yes, it is expensive to make these professional scans. If you must economize, use just a few as your portfolio showstoppers.

5.)  Remember you’re showing your art to editors and art directors in the children’s book industry. So consider this in your selections. Kids, animals, people — especially in action. are good. Duh.

Industrial art, however well done, should probably go.  Same with the techy-looking digital game art, graphic design, most cartoons, album covers, machinery, cars, monsters, sci-fi, architecture (real or fantasy), space ships, nudes from art classes… Thumbs sideways.

And now for something completely different:

The How To Be a Children’s Book Illustrator  blog is offering four months of free online instruction for anyone who clicks here  — and answers the survey question they see on the screen. 

Good deal, huh? The offer is only good through June.
So click now if you’re interested.
The first lesson goes out about the end of the month.