Thursday, September 30, 2010

Black Bear

I was thinking of using this little guy has my new banner, but I'm leaning towards doing this one as a print. I think the graphic quality of the block print would lend itself nicely to the play of pattern. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Start of Story

A quick little bit of research on Amazon yielded over 2000 books for kids about bears and 800 about squirrels.  Here is a list of some of my favorites.  So what happens when you want to write a book about a topic that has already been done 2000 times?  You get right to the heart of the story and find something unique and universal told in the relationship of your characters.  Easy as pie.  Ha.  Oh muse hurry along...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More Watercolor Experiments

Practice will eventually make perfect, right? This was an experiment using ink outlines with watercolor. I think I like my lines with the brush more. Hard to say which ones of these I like the best, probably the last one. I like different parts from each one - hmm should I paint it one more time? Which one do you like the best?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Creating Without an Undo Button

I've been finding my way with the watercolors, looking to add another technique to my portfolio.  Watercolor is such a challenge and I find that even with printmaking I had an 'undo' that I miss when doing watercolor. 

You see, I never print just one print - I'll print 3-5 at a time and play with the colors like a coloring book.  With a block print, I create a proof - if something isn't right I can carve a little out or use tiny 'rubber stamps' to fill in things that may have been carved away or to add texture or another object.  With watercolor there is a point of no return and it can be hard to see a painting ruined by my over zealousness!

Here was my first attempt with this painting.  Can we say dingy?  Oh, I can almost hear my paint brush saying, 'Stop - you are overdoing it.  There goes the freshness.  Yep - Houston we have mud."  But it's okay, the first ones I like to call a color study and then I see where I needed to lighten up and relax.  It's a fun learning process and I do have to admit I love the immediate results of watercolor.  Just some days I do envy those who have that undo button a click away.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bears and Birches

This sketch is one of those surprises where you start with something (bear engrossed in a book) and then some little character just moseys on into the picture. Which prompted the lifting of the eye and falling leaf and hmm, there is a story there - I will have to work on that. It's funny how just the smallest change can tell a completely different story in an image.

I have been working on some ideas with black bears and birch trees with glowing yellow leaves. I think I will try them in both block print and watercolor, see which ones suits me better.

I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,

And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk

Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,

But dipped its top and set me down again.

That would be good both going and coming back.

One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

-Robert Frost (Birches)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Creating an Award Winning Portfolio - Part 6: Improve Your Odds

Join a critique group or start one!

Sketch daily
Keep a sketchbook where you take daily breaks - instead of eating a snack or chatting about the office gossip, doodle for 15 minutes.

Sketch for 10 minutes at the end of lunch.

Keep a sketchbook in your bag - sketch while you wait for appointments or waiting for children to finish activities.

Sketch during the commercials of your favorite TV programs.

Have kids? Pull out paper for them and tell them it's drawing time and draw together for 10-15 minutes.

Take classes
Check out local art centers & community colleges for affordable classes on techniques.
Attend SCBWI workshops and conferences.

Participate in online challenges

Friday, September 24, 2010

Creating an Award Winning Porfolio - Part 5: Editing Your Portfolio

Cecila Yung, Art Director and Vice President at Penguin Young Readers Group said, “If I can life with an artist’s weakest piece, I can work with them.”

Would your weakest piece hold up to the critical eye of a trained designer?

Is your weakest piece still strong enough to win you assignments?

Reasons to remove a piece from your portfolio:

If you have to make excuses for why a piece is weak, take it out.

Don’t keep a weak piece in your portfolio because you are too attached to it.  If you love a subject matter do revisit a it or rework on a piece that you feel could be stronger.

Ask 3 trusted friends to look through your portfolio and tell you their least favorite piece.

Does one piece stand out because it’s in a radically different style or medium? Remove it until you have a collection of portfolio pieces in that style.

It’s better to have a portfolio of all animals done well than a mix of animals and kids if you can’t draw the figure. If you are struggling with drawing kids, take a class, read books on figure drawing and sketch from life until you master this skill.

The best way to weed out weak work from your portfolio is to create new work on a regular basis. The more work you create, the quicker you’ll see pieces in your portfolio that need to retire.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Creating an Award Winning Portfolio - Part 4: Improve Your Skills

Improve your artwork by going back to the basics of design and visual story-telling devices.

A strong composition is vital to portfolio pieces that stand out.

Play with the size of elements in an image to enhance the mood of a story.

Find unusual viewpoints to create dynamic compositions.

Color and Value
Do you use color to express mood? Use color theory to help create sophisticated color palettes.
Use lights and darks to create atmosphere in an illustration.

Are your characters interacting with each other and their environment?

Study facial expressions to breathe life into your work.

Illustration tells a story, avoid still lifes or portraits.


Fundamentals of Composition - A great blog post to read.

Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang

The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating Children's Books by Desdemona McCannon, Sue Thorton and Yadzia Williams

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Creating an Award Winning Portfolio - Part 3: Finding Your Niche

A strong portfolio doesn’t try to illustrate everything in every style. An artist who has found a niche illustrates specific topics as an expert, like historical illustration or illustrations for the baby/board book market. Or an illustrator fills a niche using a medium like printmaking, watercolor, digital collage, etc.
Pop Quiz:

What are you favorite things to draw/paint?

What is your dream assignment?

Are you an expert in a topic or have a passion for something outside of art?

Digger Deeper:

If someone was talking about your portfolio today how would they finish this sentence, “Oh yeah, they do great _________________.”

How do you want them to finish that sentence?

Does your portfolio reflect the type of assignments you’d like to receive?

Portfolios to Check Out:
Here are a few great examples of portfolios that know their niche!
Jannie Ho
Roz Fulcher
Brandon Doorman
David Frankland

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Creating an Award Winning Portfolio - Part 2: What to Illustrate

Go beyond a traditional solution to visual problems. Create a new hook or add a fresh layer to the classics. What non-traditional spin can you add to something well-known?

Places to search for ideas:

Folk & Fairy Tales

Classic Literature

Holiday Scenes

Songs or Poems

School Scenarios

Things Kids Hate

Historic Events

Change it up, don't draw just another version of Cinderella - make her a diva with her step-sisters waiting on her. Or check out Dani Jone's take on a classic holiday song: Frosty the Gourdman.

Use your unique style to retell a classic.

Create an unusual visual twist to an ordinary situation.

Leave a little mystery, the viewer should ask - what's the story here? What's going to happen next?

More Resources:
101 Projects for Illustrators by Dani Jones

79 Things Kids Don’t Like by Tara Lazar

Monday, September 20, 2010

Creating an Award Winning Portfolio - Part 1: Visual Vocabulary

This weekend I presented tips for creating an award winning portfolio at our SCBWI conference.  I will share the session over the next week in a blog series.  I hope you enjoy them!

A basic portfolio for the children's book market is made up of 10-15 of your best images of children, families and animals. There should be at least one series of narrative art with the same character.

An award-winning portfolio includes the above but also tells compelling stories with a unique visual vocabulary, fills a niche in the market and showcases a mastery of skill.

Building a Visual Vocabulary

Learn to craft a consistent world for your audience, follow a visual language that you create and stick to those rules.

Never copy a style or follow a trend, find your own way and stand out from the masses.

Master one or two mediums, divide them into sections in your portfolio.

Your style isn't something you need to develop, it is your unique way of expressing yourself visually.  It's like handwriting, it takes some practice but it's something that comes naturally to you over time.

Three portfolios that showcase a strong visual vocabulary:
Holli Conger
Tracy Bishop
Cassandra Allen

Pop Quiz:

What mediums can you use quickly and get consistent results?

Use 5 words to describe your artwork.

Dig Deeper:

Who are your artistic influences?

Name one book you wish you had illustrated and why?

Use these questions to narrow down your focus.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Building a Visual Vocabulary

In keeping with my no short-cut theme, I have been working hard on building a visual vocabulary in my sketchbook.  I've ordered a few really cute kids clothes catalogs and have been sketching the wee folk and their stylish duds.  Of course the trick is to change their facial expressions to give them some life, no we don't want kids looking like they crawled out of a JC Penny catalog. 

You can't really abstract something until you know it - you have to be able to draw proportions and have a hint of truth in simplified or stylized drawing of kids.  So while these will never be anything more than exercises in observation they are an important step in improving my drawing skills.  It also helps me expand my idea of what kids are wearing and improve upon my small stable of hairstyles.

Of course drawing from life is great too, but good luck getting a toddler to sit for any longer than a doodle!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

No Shortcuts

I know this is such a late conference review - like a month late.  I have been traveling, working on our upcoming local conference and working away on my jewelry book.  Deadlines - aren't they awesome fun?

I've been thinking about what I'd like to share about the 2010 Summer SCBWI conference.  I could give you a round-up of quotes, photos of folks I met, epiphanies that dawned on me.  But you've already read all of that on the SCBWI Blog and from your favorite bloggers.  What I will share is what is still rattling around in my brain a month later.  What has caused a little paradigm shift for me after the conference?

It's one line from agent Steven Malk, "There are no short cuts."  Now he was talking about trends and quick fixes.  But the more those words have settled in my brain, the more I realize what great advice that one-liner is.

There are no short cuts to creating great illustrations. 
Am I sketching everyday? 
Am I working on more than one solution to a problem in my thumbnail sketches?  (Thanks to E.B. Lewis' breakout session that is a question I'm asking myself more and more.)
Am I taking the principles of design and color seriously as I work up my images?
Am I studying the masters in this field, the classics of the genre and what is hitting and flying off the shelves?
Am I finishing projects/dummies that have been on my to-do list forever? 

There are no short cuts to getting published.
What have I submitted this month? 
Is my mailing list current?
Do I have a plan for my next postcard?
Note to self: you must join a critique group again, asap!

There are no short cuts to self-promotion.
Frequent website updates.
Blog and share new work more often.
Use social networking for networking and not just lurking.
Be honest about my efforts - is it promoting or procrastinating?
Am I keeping up with my marketing plan or just making fancy lists?

An agent is not a short-cut to publication.
Getting an agent is not a quick fix but a partnership to grow your career.  Ever grow anything?  It takes hard work, (skill) lots of weeding (editing, critiques), sunshine and water (inspiration) and time.  Well that's just it, it all takes time.

There are no short-cuts. Sometimes it may seem like someone has caught a lucky break, but honestly those are rare and yeah for them.  For most illustrators it takes a few years to learn the ropes, hone their skills and find their way before they make it.  This has helped with some of my own frustration over the 'why not me' feelings and 'oh if I only didn't have a day job rants.' Just me?  Okay, maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


This is an illustration sample I worked up for a breakfast recipe - because come on, who doesn't want dessert for breakfast?

Mixed media - lino block print, hand-colored with oil pastel.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Welcome Fall

I'm so ready for days like this! 

I created this little sketch for our fall banner over at the The Sketchables.