Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Challenging Critique

I've been loving Andy J. Miller's Creative Pep Talk Podcasts for a few months now. I highly recommend them for ideas about improving your craft, your art business, and for lots of inspiration. When he decided to join Patreon to let people support him with small amounts for each new podcast, I liked what he was doing so much I wanted to help! He also made available 10 openings where he offers quarterly reviews of your artwork and online presence to help you with strategy. And I got one of the spots!

Boy, Andy is thorough. He recorded my own personal podcast with lots of great ideas and impressions.  And he made me a private Pinterest board with examples of art that show what he was talking about. Of his suggestions, there's one that especially resonated with me and I've been working really hard on already. He suggested that I simplify all of my shapes- people, animals and objects. Make them less realistic and more stylized. That's the kind of art I like best, but I've always had a hard time getting there with my own drawings.

So to begin with I redrew one of the pages from my dummy over and over about 5 times. Each time I was able to take it a little further into a simplified style. This is the latest version of it above on the left. In this photo are also Book Fiesta illustrated by Rafael Lopez and Blue on Blue illustrated by Beth Krommes. It helps me to have art I admire with those clear, rounded, simple shapes to keep me in the right frame of mind.

I feel like I'm making some good progress in the right direction. It's challenging to redraw my entire dummy keeping this style unified throughout. But I'm happy with it so far!

I wanted to share a few of the illustrations that Andy picked to show me what he meant about simplifying and creating a more memorable, stylized look.

This is the girl from Extra Yarn illustrated by Jon Klassen.

The Musicians by Carson Ellis

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Thoughtful Picture Books

When agents or editors list their preferences in conferences or online the phrase "quirky, funny, character driven picture books" is a common one. That desire for funny picture books with a strong character is so common because they are great to read! You fall in love with the character, you have a good time, you want to read it again. Perfect, right?

But there are so many great books that aren't any of those things. And that seems to be the type of book that I am drawn to creating, so I keep my eye out for them. Have you read a book that was more about a place or an idea than a character? A book that was thoughtful and enlightening instead of funny? I love those books! And that's the type of book that I'm drawing right now. So I wanted to share some favorite picture books from my shelf that are NOT quirky, funny, or character driven, but ARE beautiful, thoughtful, and interesting. Please let me know if there are some you love like this also! 

Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow Miller and Eliza Wheeler

Look at this beautiful spread below!!! Every page in this book takes you someplace wonderful. I wish I could live in this world created by Eliza Wheeler.

Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin

This is a sweet bedtime book with lovely illustrations by Emily Winfield Martin. My daughter's grandmother gave it to her and we love reading it while snuggling.

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski

This book of poems is illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Pamela Zagarenski. The mood changes throughout the book with the change of seasons and colors.

Sun and Moon by Lindsey Yankey

Lindsey Yankey is a new author/illustrator and I've bought both of her books. She's a brand new favorite! Her artwork is really different and interesting to me, and her stories are thoughtful without being sappy. I also recommend Bluebird by this wonderful artist.

Home by Carson Ellis

I just love Carson Ellis' color palette in this book. Although there isn't a storyline, there are enough other things tying this gorgeous book together that it still works and makes you think about what you love about your own home.

Blue on Blue by Diane White and Beth Krommes

This is a story about weather changes at a family farm near the ocean. There are so many opportunities for the masterful Beth Krommes to show off her beautiful layouts and detailed illustrations.

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

This is one of the best books ever! Marla Frazee takes on the challenge of illustrating All the World with grace and skill. Thank you for this beautiful book, Marla Frazee and Liz Garton Scanlon!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dummy Update

I was lucky to have a portfolio review with Lauren Rille at the SCBWI Conference. She is an art director at Simon and Schuster who works with the imprints Atheneum Books for Young ReadersMargaret K. McElderry Books  and my favorite, Beach Lane Books

Lauren really understood linocuts because she's worked with Ashley Wolff who created Baby Bear and Beth Krommes who works with scratchboard which is similar to linoleum printing. She suggested I use pattern and texture more in my carving and rely less on paint to finish the image. I liked her ideas and I'm going to try being a little messier as she suggested.

I'm currently redrawing the images in my Our Home dummy. I'm doing the drawings full size, cleaning them up, using some of the pointers I got at the conference, and drawing them with black pencil so they will look good when I print them back out. Then I should have time to finish one more linocut before the Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI Conference September 19. But I have other things going on too, and I'm feeling pretty rushed! Wish me luck getting it all done!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Back from the LA SCBWI Conference

Even though it's inspiring, the LA SCBWI Conference is also exhausting. When I finally made it home Tuesday afternoon, my brain was mush. It's starting to act like a brain again.

I wanted to share a few impressions and some photos. I took plenty of photos, but darkish indoor photos of people standing together and smiling don't make the most captivating images. I was thinking about that during the conference and I realized just how much you get from being there. And mostly it's not a visual experience or it would probably translate better into photography. It's a listening experience. You hear amazing things from the speakers. You hear tips from the publishing professionals. You meet other people and hear their stories. And when you are brave you speak up to tell a bit about yourself and other people listen.

One of the greatest people to listen to was Mem Fox. What a storyteller and comedian! She has drama, she has surprise, she has crazy expressions! I could listen to her read books for hours. She was a treat better than any cake ever.

My other favorite speaker was Kwame Alexander, winner of the Newbery Medal for The Crossover. He was so captivating that I was riveted to my chair and didn't even realize I didn't take a photo. So here's his publicity photo and if you ever get a chance to hear him speak, DO!

While it wasn't the main point of his talk, I was really glad I was there to hear him tell about trying and trying to be published, and then finally self-publishing many books. And still trying to be traditionally published, and self-publishing again and SELLING TONS OF BOOKS! He even sold books successfully at a farmer's market every weekend for an entire summer! This man is loaded with charm, rhythm, and an infectious smile. What a total winner. He made us all feel like we were winners, too.

Here's the room between speakers. So many grown-up kids, there to talk about kid's books.

Finally it was the much anticipated Portfolio Showcase. I don't know how many portfolios there were but it looked like hundreds! I really tried to look at them all, then I tried to look at the most eye-catching ones, then I just tried to keep my sanity. I wish we could have a whole day with them available so we could take our time. There we some real beauties there.

Here's a photo of my friend Dow Phumiruk taking a peek at my portfolio. Dow is a fantastic illustrator who lives in the Denver area. I was so happy to hang out with her throughout the conference. We met many years ago at a Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI Conference. She's doing great things, so keep an eye on her!

Not only does Dow create amazing illustrations, she also creates amazing costumes! She made SCBWindex!! Look at that hat! Sue Ganz-Schmitt went as a window and I went as Brawny paper towels. We were the cleanest, sparkliest trio! We came in second in the costume contest at the Saturday night gala.

And I couldn't resist sharing this photo of Laurent Linn, the sparkliest, classiest guy.

Meal times were a nice way to regroup, meet people, talk about what we'd loved so far, make plans, oh, and eat! Adam Rex had a little time for dinner and no plans, so we dragged him to the food court. Here he is smiling like a gentleman with me, Dow, and Heidi Yates.

And here we are another day having lunch on the hotel lawn. On the right is my roommate, Allison Ritchie. I was happy to have such a great roommate!

I took notes and doodled throughout the conference, but proportionally, I took the most notes at the Illustrator Intensive. That was an all day event on Monday featuring a great cast of illustrators, art directors, and an agent. They shared tools for creating successful images and lots of examples. My favorite was John Rocco, a Caldecott Honor winner for Blackout. My first line of notes says, "He looks like a lumberjack!" And in fact as a young man he was a commercial shell fisherman in Rhode Island. Here's his Twitter photo:

He shared great tips, but again like Kwame Alexander, what I needed to hear most was about his struggle. He didn't start drawing until college and it took him a while to find his way. Although he draws beautifully, he says it takes him a long time to draw an image. And I can relate to that. You fast people have no idea how intimidating it is to watch you dash off the perfect image! Some days my best friend is the eraser. Anyway, I loved hearing the story about the blizzard that snowed him in as a child. And how he finally realized after telling the story to his child repeatedly that it would make a good picture book. Sometimes the obvious things take a while to reveal themselves!

And how's this for a send-off? At the end of the Illustrator's Intensive, these 12 powerhouses lined up to give us quick tips. From left to right: Peter Brown, Pat Cummings, John RoccoDan Santat, Patti Ann Harris, Alexandra PenfoldMelissa Sweet, Lauren RilleEliza Wheeler, Cecilia Yung, Laurent Linn and Paul Zelinsky. They also gave us some banter, and silly business, and inspiration. At the end of the day, that's the most important part for me. At every conference, I stock up on as much inspiration as I can to last me through another year. And SCBWI never disappoints. Thanks for another dose of inspiration!