ALA honors for Austin authors; SCBWI conferences and illustration classes for you

It’s been a landmark week for Austin children’s writers.  Three of our gang scored top honors– a Caldecott Honor, a Sibert Honor and a Newbery Honor from the American Library Association.

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Our Austin, Texas  chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCBWI) is a little dazed after last weekend’s 2010 award announcements.  Austin’ s Jacqueline Kelly received a Newbery Honor for her YA novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate about a girl growing up at the turn of the 19th century.  The  picture book poem All the World penned by Liz Garton Scanlon of Austin and illustrated by Marla Frazee was named one of the two Caldecott Honor books. (Frazee’s second Caldecott Honor.)

All the World

"All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee

The Day Glo Brothers by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani

And The Day-Glo Brothers written by Chris Barton of Austin and illustrated with retro lines and Day-Glo colors by Tony Persiani won a Sibert Honor for children’s  nonfiction.  (From the ALA – “The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year.”)

Our SCBWI chapter claims all three of these writers and we’ll claim Frazee, too.  So that makes four.

All four,  as it just so happens  had been scheduled to present at the Austin SCBWI regional 2010 conference “Destination Publication” next weekend (January 30) with an already honors heavy lineup of authors, editors and agents. Marla  is giving the keynote address along with Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson (Hatti Big Sky)

Another Texan, Libba Bray won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature for her novel Going Bovine. We’ll claim her, too — so that’s five.

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney - 2010 Caldecott Medal

The Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious award for children’s book illustration in the United States  went to Jerry Pinkney for his wordless telling of the Aesop’s Fable The Lion and the Mouse.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for most distinguished beginning reader book went to Benny and Penny in the Big No-No!, written and illustrated by Geoffrey Hayes. We discussed Benny and Penny and other Toon Books in previous post.

Cheers and tears

Many of my Facebook buds are SCBWI  illustrators and writers. You should have seen how they were afire this week with exclamations, congratulations and jubilations over Austin’s harvest of trophies.

A number of our tribe were out of town at the Vermont College of Fine Arts for a residency semester for the MFA in writing for children and young adults. Their FB reports segued from fascinated discussions of snow and cold to tearful excitement over the ALA announcements (especially pertaining to Texas) which they followed on a streaming net feed projected on a large screen in the venerable campus lunchroom.

There are stories behind the stories as there usually are.  For example —  the 23 rejections for The Day-Glo Brothers before the manuscript was accepted by Charlesbridge then a five year wait before the  book rolled off the presses. You can read a little about its  nine year journey to publication on Chris’s blog Bartography.

Liz has her own story about coming to an impasse in her writing — until an editor’s chance comment got her riffing  again on a string of rhymes and word images, which turned into All the World.  I hope you get to hear or read her account of her process one day.  Liz and Marla will discuss their collaboration on the book at the Austin conference.

Texas Conferences

I keep hitting them here, but here are the links again.  You can download PDF information, schedules and enrollment forms. Austin SCBWI’s “Destination Publication” (January 30th) was nearly sold out, but here  you go; there might be a spot left. At last report there were still a couple of portfolio critique slots open with the wonderful illustrator, Patrice Barton. She’s the other illustrator in the day’s faculty lineup.

The Houston SCBWI conference is February 20 and will feature author Cynthia Leitich Smith, senior editors from Simon &  Schuster Books for Young Readers and Scholastic Inc.  and the art director for Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, Patrick Collins, who will review portfolios.  Collins also will teach a special breakout workshop for illustrators on “Making a Picture Book Dummy” during the day.  It’s an opportunity  not to miss.

Let’s take a break…

And see this fun video that’s remarkable for its characterizations and dialogue.  Animator  Caroline Ting overheard the two boys talking in a comic book store and used them as the voice actors for her little film she titled RAM (Random Access Memory) about…well,  an addiction peculiar to the 21st century (and I’m not talking about Farmville. ) I recognized  myself in it and you might, too.

Animals in the classroom?

For anyone living in the heart of Texas I’ll be teaching spring semester classes in children’s book illustration beginning next week at the Art School of the Austin Museum of Art .  The  six week  “Level 1” class begins next Wednesday evening 6 to 9 p.m.  January 27 — and runs through March 10 (with no class February 17. )

Level II is set for Tuesday evenings 6 to 9 p.m. March 23 – April 20 (five sessions.)  To register or if you have any questions contact the Art School at (512) 323-6380 or go to the website: www.amoa.org/artschool

If you want to take a course but live nowhere near Central Texas,  remember you have an online home-study option,  Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks! Drawing and Painting for Children’s Book Illustration

Childrens Book Illustration class at the AMOA Art School at Laguna Gloria

Austin Museum of Art Art School at the Laguna Gloria campus, Children’s Book Illustration fall semester 2009.  Left to righ: Anney Rehm, Paula Engelhardt, Laura Smith, Naomi Smith, Halli Hollister, and April Richardson and some guinea pig friends.

Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts this blog.  He teaches children’s book illustration at the Art School at the Austin Museum of Art and through the “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!” online course.

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Tiny Dummies

Who would have guessed that Caldecott Medal Winner Brian Selznick’s final pencil illustrations for his picture books were so small?

This  video emulates the silent film montages that are in the spirit of the book that won the American Library Association’s 2008 Caldecott Medal.

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Michele Ammon interviews  Selznick for a nifty Expanded Books video on “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”  He explains his interesting reasons for working in such a small graphic style — with his original  images  one quarter of the size they appear in the finished book!

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In this video Niko plays Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the piano as we see selected illustrations from the book unfolding some of Hugo Cabret’s  story.

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For anyone in the Austin area this Saturday(July 11), don’t forget author Chris Barton’s signing for his just released picture book, “The Day Glo Brothers”  (Charlesbridge, 2009)  at 1 p.m. at BookPeople on the second floor.

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Author Cynthia Leitich Smith interviews  Chris Barton on the publication of his picture book bio “The Day Go Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors” (Charlesbridge, 2009)  illustrated by Tony Persiani. The book has been getting great reviews  and you can learn how to enter to win a free copy in the post in Cynthia’s  blog Cynsations.

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Mark Mitchell hosts the “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” blog.
To enjoy some free watercolor lessons from his online course
on how to illustrate a children’s book go here.

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Dogged Daily Drawing

Cartoonist,  comics artist-author, web designer  Erik Kuntz drew a dog every day for a year.

And now he can draw them out of his head quite easily.

I know this because I saw him do it with my own eyes a few weeks ago.  I was sitting across the table from him at Central Market Cafe at an Inklings critique session. He had his sketchbook out. (A lot of folks bring their sketchbooks to Inklings gatherings.)  He was doodling as he listened to the various conversations that were going on around the table.

Suddenly this friendly,  rough and ready four pawed canine fellow appeared on the page — and everyone stopped talking.

I was always  impressed by  Erik’s decision to create  regularly  (by drawing then posting to his website a dog every day so we could keep tabs on him.  And not the same dog, either.)

It was the sort of character building put-your-time-and-money-where-your- mouth-is goal that I’ve always aspired to.  (Alas, I’ve found that other peoples’ deadlines motivate me more than my own.)

Erik never missed a day– and no one ever told him to do it.

He talked with us a few weeks ago. 

Why a dog a day, Erik?

I came up with the idea in 2000.  I even designed a logo for it way back then. Somebody said  if  you do something everyday,  it’s not possible to get worse at it.  Some of the newer studies, like those quoted in Malcom Gladwell’s  book Outliers have suggested that genius is over-rated.  I read something about that in 2002. 

I thought I should force  something ;  I really should be drawing more. But I let my own personal insecurities  get in the way.

It did bother me for six years.  I kept thinking,  where would I be now in my skill if I’d put more effort into it years ago.

On January 1, 2008, I launched my web comic Hex Libris and I thought,  as as long as I’m doing this, I should start doing a dog a day at the same time.

Dog a Day wooden model conceived by Erik Kuntz

Dog a Day wooden model conceived by Erik Kuntz

And why dogs?

People like dogs. It’s not like doing  a cat a day, because with cats you don’t get the huge difference — all the variations that you get with dogs.  Dogs are funnier than cats and have more personality.
I knew more ideas would come from them.

Plus I was working on a children’s book about a Dalmation, and I knew that the reason I wasn’t  drawing the way I wanted to was because it’s easier to just not work.

And so how did you proceed?

As best I could.  I tried to do them in one sitting.  Some of the pieces would take more than one day. Generally they took a couple of hours.  I didn’t intend for  them to take  me as long as they did.  Some days I wished I had more time  — and came away a little bit discouraged. But as I started to improve and become more proud of the stuff I was doing, I would ask myself, what do I need to put into this image to make it a piece I’m happy with?

I worked mainly with a Wacom tablet.  I discovered that the ‘happy accidents’  that you often get in watercolor –can happen in digital mediums, too.

Working digitally you could just go back and work it to death.
But I learned to just stop and post the piece. I discovered the freeing nature of just stopping when I was reasonably done and telling myself, ‘This is what I did today, and I’ll do another one tomorrow.’

I put them up on the web as I completed them to keep myself honest.  I never missed  one. But one day something happened to my webserver  and the dog that had been up went down.  And I heard from eight people.

Dog a Day ala Dr. Seuss

Dog a Day ala Dr. Seuss

How did you give yourself ideas?

There were some days when I would sit down and just not know what I was going to do. Often I would begin by noodling around with the Wacom.  For the one dog I did in complementary colors, I just put on a sphere and started to form a dog out of this. I spent an hour and a half on that,  just finding the dog hiding in the raw thing.

Complementary Colors Dog

Complementary Colors Dog

Some of the dogs I did with Bic pen or Sharpie marker on typing paper.  Sometimes I would scan these and repaint them digitally.

People would send me ideas.  Some people would send me photos of dogs and I did drawings.

Some days I would search the web for interesting dogs. Some days I would work completely from my imagination.  I would do these three minute-dogs, stopwatch running.

I’d start with a really loose gesture, with some fuzzy notion of an action or a composition. I’d work really rough and light with blue pencil on paper, or the blue digital pencil  on the computer.  I used to be one of those kinds of people that tried to get every line right and I was really slow and cramped in my drawing. I felt like there was some sort of freedom missing in it.

Now I know I can get away with a fast, loose gesture. I learned that I could draw the arm as an arc, and everybody would be fine with it and nobody knows…

Fu Dog a Day

Fu Dog a Day

And now,  the book: You’ve repackaged your drawings in a new format!

I was thinking initially of  a small run of books that would be a Christmas present for family and some friends.

I started with one print on demand publisher but had problems with their color. Later I  turned to CreateSpace, owned by Amazon. They were substantially cheaper but they didn’t have the high grade glossy paper. But now the book is available  through their store.

I’ve designed books in the past, but never an art book. I used Adobe InDesign, which is a great program.

You know,  the Dog a Day project was never meant to be anything commercial.  It was meant to improve my skills and yes it did.

The idea was to challenge yourself and accept that if it wasn’t very good, then at least you drew.

I’m still drawing every day. And, yeah,  I can draw dogs with my eyes closed — no peeking.

"Hex Libris" Dog a Day (Connie and Watson)

"Hex Libris" Dog a Day (Connie and Watson)

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You can order your personalized softcover copy of  “A Dog A Day”  at Erik’s webstore here.

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Erik is also the creator of what is probably the most charming comic created for the web, the kid-friendly Hex Libris . Since its launch on January 1, 2008, the series has been unfolding a narrative about Kirby,  caretaker of a magical library and his fictional friends. (They range from a Nancy Drew-like character and her big dog Watson — to Frankenstein’s very literate monster.) You can read our early interview with Erik about Hex Libris here .

Bat Girl Dog A Day

Bat Girl Dog A Day

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The narrator in the “Dog a Day Project” video, of course, is Erik’s wife, brilliant actress, comedian writer Maggie Gallant. They met in London while both working on start-up team for America Online – UK .

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Author Cynthia Leitich Smith interviews author Chris Barton on the publication of his picture book bio “The Day Go Brothers: The True Story of Bogb and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors” (Charlesbridge, 2009)  illustrated by Tony Persiani. The book has been getting great reviews  and you can learn how to enter to win a free copy in the post in Cynthia’s  blog Cynsations.

* * * * * *

Mark Mitchell hosts the “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” blog.
To enjoy some free watercolor lessons from his online course
on how to illustrate a children’s book go here.

Shadow Dog a Day by Erik Kuntz

Shadow Dog a Day by Erik Kuntz