P.J. Lynch: Story illustration A-Z

The childhood thrill of make believe looms large for Dublin-based artist P.J. Lynch, 2X winner of England’s Kate Greenaway Medal for IllustrationHe may not come out and say this. But you can’t not feel it in his children’s book illustrations and murals, YouTube videos and lectures about art and painting in Ireland and the U.S.

He puts pretending first, which makes his formidable technical skills as a draftsman and painter accessible to all.

Lynch created two remarkable murals on the theme of Gulliver’s Travels for the Johnston Central Library — in Cavan County, Ireland (where Johnathan Swift wrote most of his classic satire.)

In the video Lynch shows us how he acted out the character roles for one of the large panel paintings.

Illustrators are actors, as Howard Pyle suggested to his students more than 100 years ago.

In the above BBC film short Lynch talks about illustrating the old Norwegian folk tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon and how he asked his mom, girlfriend, neighbor “and anyone who was handy” to pose for him as characters in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.

In the videos above and below an older Lynch walks us through the stages of creating illustrations for American Frank Stockton’s The Bee-man of Orn. 

He shows us how he uses the computer to re-arrange his drawings and compose his scenes to best effect.

Elements from his piles of sketches can be “moved about like paper cut-outs,” he says.

“The great thing is they can be enlarged or reduced and you can even change the shape of them. You can even flip them over, like this…”

“Then all I have to do is paint the pictures,” Lynch says with a hint of drollness.

Some of these pictures will take up to a month to complete, he says.  He’ll make sketch after sketch “before the image ever starts to take shape.”

His watercolor demo speaks for itself. At the end he adds touches of gouache for highlights. You’ll enjoy peeking into his blog, where you’ll find more examples of his spellbinding art.

Voyage to Lilliput mural for Cavan County Library

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by George Webbe Dasent (translator)

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See what happened when Walt Disney (and Boy Scouts  movement founder Lord Baden Powell, too) discovered Baloo, Mowgli and other characters from Rudyard Kipling’s darkly themed stories about animal society in the Indian jungle. You’ll enjoy the latest video post up on the Illustration Course blog.                                                                                                                                                      * * * * *

Check out illustrator and teacher Will Terry’s guest post on  preparing your picture book dummy to send to publishers.  The post is part of the terrific on-going PBDummy Challenge series by illustrators on the #KidLitArt blog.

Will offers  some great video courses on illustration and other art-making at his Folio Academy website. My favorites are How to Illustrate a Children’s Book and his two Photoshop video courses. You can read more about them here.

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Are you interested in writing children’s books as well as making pictures for them? You can download two free examination copies of the Children’s Writer newsletter at the newsletter’s website here.

The newsletter is a publication of the Institute of Children’s Literature. Writer Mary Furlong has profiled Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! (On Your Mark, Get Set…Illustrate!) in this month’s edition of the Children’s Writer  (June 2012).

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Discover an instant way to righteously better drawing in these free videos.

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Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell teaches an online course on children’s book illustration that you can read more about here.

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Take a Chance on Art (Disaster Relief For Texas Libraries) and Royal Bats












 The Texas Library Association  (TLA) has been raffling a chance to own this beautiful original art piece by children’s book illustrator Don Tate. 

The $5 you spend for your raffle ticket will go to the  TLA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which will go to help libraries hit hard by Texas storms along the coast last year. The Rosenberg Library in Galveston lost its entire children’s book collection (it was on the first floor) in the flooding that followed Hurricane Ike. (Most of Galveston Island went under water.) It was one of many libraries along the Texas coast that suffered damage.  

The TLA Disaster Relief Fund auction has been helping Texas libraries contend with natural disasters since it was started by Jeanette Larsen and Mark Smith in 1999 —  always with original art donated by children’s book artists. 

Read an interview with the co-founder Jeanette Larson by Cynthia Leitich Smith in Cynthia’s blog Cynsations here.

Tate, of our Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) joins the ranks of  renowned  
 illustrators such as Rosemary Wells and Diane Stanley who have furnished paintings for the fund. 

The winning raffle ticket will be drawn at the TLA annual conference, held this year, appropriately enough,  in storm-pummeled Houston March 31 – April 3.   You can buy as many as you want. Go here, print your raffle tickets and mail them (with your check, of course) to the TLA office  at 3355 Bee Cave Road, Suite 401, Austin, Texas 78746-6763. Straightout donations to the Relief Fund are also accepted of course.

The Duke Ellington piece is for a book Don is illustrating by musicologist Anna Harwell Celenza, about how the young Ellington and composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn collaborated on their own version of Tsaichovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

Publisher Charlesbridge is said to be looking at a 2010 publication for the nonfiction work tentatively titled Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite.

There’s also an interview with Tate on his illustrations for the Ellington story in Cynsations here.  (Cynsations and Don’s blog, Devas T. Rants and Raves!  are on this  blogroll.)  

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Speaking of the storm ravaged Texas coast, I just got back from there last night. I was a guest children’s author at the Victoria Public Library’s 2009 Victoria Reads community reading program, and spoke at the library and a stunning historical museum, the Museum of the Coastal Bend on the Victoria College campus, where I saw Native American decorative pieces — scrimshaw-like carvings and patternings on oyster shells dating back 5,000 – 8,000 years  B.C. 

The region surrounding Matagorda Bay apparently teemed with First Americans. Victoria County was a crossroads of Indian trade routes (not more than well travelled Indian trails, really), which explains why various spearpoints and arrowheads on display at the museum can be traced to South America, Mexico, and Canada.
It’s like NAFTA existed back then. 

I had a great time talking with museum director Sue Prudhomme, volunteer archeologist Jud Austin and many other supporters of the museum.
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Returning home from that trip, I saw a blog post that I wish I’d alerted  you to earlier — about your chance to win, among other goodies, a T-shirt with one of the coolest YA  novel logo designs ever! 

Logo for "Eternal"

Logo for "Eternal"

You have a chance to win a shirt sporting  the impossibly elegant Princess Dracul logo (designed by Gene Brenek), a book,  a finger puppet, a signed bookmark,  stickers and more — well, just look at all the loot.

It’s the Eternal Grand Prize Giveaway  — a contest celebrating the   release  on Tuesday of the second novel (Eternal) in the Gothic YA fantasy trilogy by Austin author Cynthia Leitich Smith, who has been called “the Anne Rice for teen readers.”

Eternal is preceded by Tantalize, which is set in Austin and features vampires and assorted were-folk. (Austin is kind of a bat capital of the South, in truth. ) Eternal also has vampires and other new characters you can sink your teeth into — wait, I mean it the other way around — and one of these in particular, Princess Dracul  inspired the great glyph by artist-author Brenek (also of our Austin SCBWI chapter!)  It’s one of  many supernatural/regal emblems he’s designed for the book. (They convey such a  spooky verisimilitude. ) See for yourself and enter the Eternal Grand Prize Giveaway.  But go quickly. The give-away cutoff is Tuesday, February 10, when Eternal goes on sale!

Cynthia interviews Gene here.

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Author-illustrator Sarah Ackerley, a member of our SCBWI chapter’s Inklings illustrators group  who now lives in San Francisco sent a link to  this funny video about a year in the life of children’s book author-illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka. It features guest appearances by Jane Yolen, Tomie dePaolo, Mo Willems, Jon Scieszka and some of the  Blue Rose Girls .

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You can get some free lessons on color and a group of surefire palette strategies here They’re from  my online course about how to illustrate a children’s book,  Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!   

Northern California artist Susan Sorrell Hill  wrote me Thursday about how  these lessons helped her:

“In all of my research (on-line and in books) in the last several 
years, I have never come across a clearer, more work-able approach to color that can be applied practically to a painting…and I have 
looked far and wide for this information, recognizing that it was of 
major importance…. The need for a sustainable, predictably 
successful approach to color, for illustration as well as fine art, 
became crystal clear to me when I switched from oil painting to 
watercolors…the old ‘keep messing with it until it’s right’ approach 
just was NOT working with watercolor…

“As you predicted, the results are immediately recognizable. I heave a huge sigh of relief!”

You’ll find the signup for the free lessons here

A penguin who waddles in his sleep

Author-illustrator Sarah Ackerley signs "Patrick the Somnambulist" (Blooming Tree Press) for a young fan at Bookpeople.
Author-illustrator Sarah Ackerley signs “Patrick the Somnambulist” (Blooming Tree Press) for a young fan at Bookpeople.

The prose is just so beguiling that I want to quote the whole thing — word for word — the whole picture book up here on the blog.

The book would be Patrick the Somnambulist, published by Blooming Tree Press.

The author-illustrator would be Sarah Ackerley, a member of our Austin, Texas  SCBWI group (who recently moved with her husband to San Francisco.)

It’s about a normal penguin child — normal except for one thing: He gets into crazy  situations in the middle of the night.

His parents take him to a doctor who assesses his problem: somnambulism. “a fancy word for sleepwalking,” we are told.  With the diagnosis comes acceptance and with acceptance comes confidence, and — well, I’ve already given away too much.  Oh, well with confidence …let’s just say you too could end up on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

Inspiration came from Sarah’s own husband who will sometimes do silly things while asleep, like look for his ‘missing wallet’ in the blender, or prepare a bowl of cereal for himself.

Loving Your Label” was the headline of a recent Canadian review podcast about Sarah’s book. Husband and wife/parent team Mark and Andrea  devote an entire six minute episode to “Patrick the Somnambulist” on Just One More Book :(A podcast about the childrens books we love and why we love them, recorded in our favorite coffee shop) .  “It’s an instant hit with everyone in the family,” exclaims Mark.

Andrea exults how a label and the understanding that comes with it can sometimes free a self. “It’s like I’m an introvert. I’m acting freaky because I’m an introvert,” she says.

You can listen to their fun conversation here.

Original sketch that inspired the story of Patrick

Original sketch that inspired the story of Patrick

While making ready to move from Texas to the S.F. Bay area,  Sarah graciously conceded to an interview by How to be a children’s book illustrator.

“The story started with a sketch,” she says. “The way I write is I usually have a mental image of the funniest page where it all grows from.”

You can see that sketch above. The parents discover the sleep-walking Patrick standing in the bathroom, a roll of toilet paper over one arm, a toothbrush in his hand, and a toilet plunger stuck on top of his head.

“The parents are looking up like he’s weird, and the whole story absolutely did unfold around that image,” Sarah says. “It took me like an hour to write. I was seeing the pictures as I wrote.  The words kind of poured out like I had the complete story. Then I just went back and crossed out the weaker lines.”

Drawing a Patrick character that satisfied her took a little longer. “I have all kind of images for him. It’s pretty funny to see where he started and where he wound up. He looked really bad for a while. He started out looking like a squash.

“I checked out an enormous stack of books on penguins and I started drawing them from all angles. I l looked at no cartoons, because I wanted him to look like a real penguin. HIs lack of personality is almost the point — I wanted to capture his animal ‘penguineness.'”

Sarah wanted Patrick to look more like a penguin than a cartoon penguin and to not have a cartoony 'personality.'

Sarah wanted Patrick to look more like a penguin than a cartoon penguin and to not have a cartoony 'personality.'

Sarah had not worked in watercolor before Patrick. But she knew a thing or two about the art making process. She’d earned a BFA at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in studio art. (She later finished an M.A. in Elementary Education.)

She’d never illustrated a book. “I thought every picture book was done in watercolor. That was the medium that illustrators used,” she says.

With a little guidance from a $5 watercolor ‘how to’ book, “I did these tiny, tiny images the size of my fist.. on cheap watercolor paper with blocks of typewritten text glued in…I scanned it in at Walgreens and had it bound with a spiral binder at Kinko’s Copies.”

She brought her creation to an Austin SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) picture book dummy-making demonstration given by artist Regan Johnson.

Regan, who had just taken the job of art director for Austin-based publisher Blooming Tree Press, worked with Sarah to come up with a second, larger more professional dummy.

“I wasn’t straight up accepted,” Sarah says, “But it was, ‘Can you develop this a little further and we’ll talk?'”

"Patrick the Somnambulist" defining moment -- once a sketch, now a finished watercolor painting for the inside of the book.

"Patrick the Somnambulist" defining moment -- once a sketch, now a finished watercolor painting for the inside of the book.

For her finished art Sarah used professional grade Grumbacher watercolor tube paints. On 140 lb. cold pressed watercolor paper she painted  over outlines she’d made with a Calligraphy pen. The pen lines smeared a little because the ink was not waterproof, “but I kind of liked the results,” she says.

“I had a lot of troubleshooting problems that I solved in a round-about-way. But it worked out. Making the book was how I taught myself watercolor.”

Sarah’s busy on a number of great new projects, including a picture book about a delightful owl character  with…well, let’s just say a different sleep disorder.

See Sarah’s blog, and her website,  Sarah Ackerley Illustration.

Author illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts this blog and offers an ongoing online course in drawing and painting for children’s book illustration.