Monday, August 8

2016 SCBWI-LA, Part 2: Illustration Intensive Brilliance

I am a big Illustration Intensive fan. Creative people, in this industry, have to be life-long learners. Sophie Blackall, this past weekend, talked about herself improving as an artist and compared it to yoga. Even when you are improving, you can always stretch deeper, reach farther... I love that analogy!

I was particularly excited for this intensive because I have never done am intensive that focused on character design.  I am sure you are familiar with #WeNeedDiverseBooks. This is something I feel really passionate about. I've moved around a lot, and many of my friends and their kids, that are from a variety of different ethnicities and races, are not usually represented in picture books. So this intensive started off by prompting us to draw someone from a specific race or ethnicity, from our imagination, and afterwards by reference. After using my imagination (which was occasionally reliable for this sort of thing), it was incredible to see reference of a broader spectrum and larger variety of people belonging to a certain race or ethnicity.

Next we analyzed facial expressions and were prompted to illustrate that emotion on an animal or object. This was all very fast paced... you had to be on your toes in this intensive! One of the prompts that I had a hard time wrapping my brain around was an angry barn. I wish you could have seen the other illustrators designs. There was so much talent in that room. Here is my very disgruntled owl for you. :)

Art director Laurent Linn, who worked in Sesame Street for many years, brought some puppeteers to act out some seenes for us. Something interesting I found out was that a majority of the puppets in Sesame Street are not built with a smile. So when you think you are seeing a smile, or a warm expression, or conversely an angry expression... it is ALL body gestures. 

Later on, we watched some live actors act out scenes or emotions. They emphasized that the less cliche their actions were, the more sincere and impactful the moment could be.

It really was a brilliant intensive. Before we came to the intensive, we were all asked to bring studies of 3 original animal or human characters. Here are mine:

We analyzed what was working and what was not working. Afterwards, we had some time to synthesize what we had learned and to sketch our characters. I think I want to develop a story out of this little witch. 

Anyway, it really was peachy. Next time I create a character, I will have a lot more to think about. Alrighty, back to work. Good luck to you and me on our projects!

2016 SCBWI-LA, Part 1: Crispy nuggets of wisdom. Yum!

It's been a week since the LA SCBWI summer conference was over.  I am delighted I went, and sad it's over. I have a mountain of notes, so I thought I'd share a few blurbs and quotes with you that knocked me off my socks, pointed me in a new direction, or gave me a warm fuzzy hug. 

Pam Muñoz Ryan
"Any success in writing is the tip of an iceberg of accumulated failures." - Pam Muñoz Ryan

"If you are not struggling, you are setting your goals too low." - Pam Muñoz Ryan

Justin Chanda
"Diversity is not a trend. Diversity is not the new Vampires." - Justin Chanda 

"Children's Book people are good citizens of the planet." - Justin Chanda

Melissa Manlove
When creating quirky picture books Melissa Manlove said,"You can't do things badly. But if you do them well, you can do whatever you want."

Jon Klassen
"Don't wait 'till you get better to start." - Jon Klassen

"You don't have to own success or failure." - Jon Klassen

Marie Lu
"There is no such thing as 'being behind.' Everyone goes at their own pace." - Marie Lu

Lauren Rille
When writing your picture book story, Lauren Rille says, "Pack all the pages with heart and emotional punch."

"Don't be precious with your work. Especially at the beginning." - Lauren Rille

Carole Boston Weatherford
"A premise is a promise that your manuscript will deliver on." - Carole Boston Weatherford

Susan Rich

"We expect picture books to be revisited a gazillion times... to stand up to weary parents and antsy toddlers, over and over again. - Susan Rich

Sophie Blackall
Concerning your ideas: "Do not hoard what seems good for later." - Sophie Blackall

Richard Peck

"If our readers don't like the first line, they'll never see the second." - Richard Peck

It was such a delightful conference. I'm so grateful to meet knew friends, rejoice with old friends and their successes, and to be reinvigorated and rejuvenated on my own projects. Like I said, I'm sad it's over. But I'm happy to be home, working on my projects, with my corgi sitting happily on my feet.

(Do keep posted for Part 2. I'll share some of my character sketches from the illustration intensive sometime this week. Yippee!)

Tuesday, May 10

Promo Power

Pssst. Hey you. Guess what? I just won 'Best Promo' at the SCBWI-CenCal Artworks this last Saturday. 

Here's the mailer I created:

Kristine Brogno, Design Director from Chronicle Books and artist/writer Salina Yoon were the guest speakers. I'm still trying to digest everything. It was a pretty fab little conference. There were a lot of talented illustrators there too, so I was delighted to win. 

(There were tons of other fabulous postcards I didn't snag... because I was eating all the strawberries. Shhh!)
Anyway, thought I'd share. (Squee!) :)

Monday, April 11

Illustration Intensives: Intensely Beneficial

Lauren Rille 
Hi there creative friends! I was at an Illustration Intensive this last weekend, hosted by the SCBWI-San Diego Region, featuring the the insightful, and totally entertaining, Associate Art Director,  Lauren Rille, from Simon and Schuster.

(You can follow her on twitter, and if you would like a sneak peak at her design savvy, check out her blog.)

I love going to conferences, but I especially love going to illustration intensives. The purpose of an intensive is to bring you back to art school (only the knowledgeable professor is replaced with an insightful art director). The assignment is suppose to replicate what working with an art director is like.

Months before the intensive, Lauren sent us the text to a picture book. She asked us to create a thumbnail dummy  (or teeny tiny drawings that map out the pacing of the book). From those thumbnails she asked that we send her 2 roughs (or more finished drawings) of the spreads that we wanted to illustrate. Once we turned those in, she would email us a critique. We were to bring the revised thumbnails and 2 final spreads to the intensive, to be critiqued as a group.

The text we got was a sweet and very young picture book called Baby Love by Angela DiTerlizzi and illustrated by fellow Mentee Brooke Boynton Hughes. I'll be honest, I pulled a few hairs out trying to think how I could illustrate the text differently, especially since Brooke did such a gobsmacklingly wonderful job.

After drawing what seemed like a million and two families with babies, I finally decided to put this family in space... going on a spacewalk, with them bringing their baby home to sleep at their colony on Mars. (Everything is better in space, right?! ;)

Here's what I sent in:

Stick figures in.... SPAAAAACE!!!

This is one of the roughs I sent in. (I do my roughs... extra rough.)

Doesn't this sweet face make you weep?!

Lauren responded with a very helpful critique. She mentioned one reason she had prompted our group with this particular text was because babies are so hard to illustrate; people often get the proportions wrong. So I decided to do some more "research" on babies and ended up waxing nostalgic, thinking of my kid's infancy. Something that I noticed is the lack of neck and the adorable potbelly. Lauren also said babies barely have any eyebrows or eyelashes.

So armed with a refreshed knowledge that babies are not  just miniature adults, I went back to the drawing board and sketched another million babies. 

I redid my thumbnails and revised my roughs.

My sketches are starting to get tighter here. 

Next, I scanned my drawings in, printed them out on Arches 140lb, and painted with watercolor. 

Then I scanned the watercolor in and painted in some digital layers.

Finally, after all our blood, sweat, and tears, we went to the intensive, and had our illustrations critiqued. This is what I submitted:

(You can click on them, to see closer,  if you have ancient eyes like me.) 

If you are not already a believer, I strongly urge you to start doing illustration intensives. (You can check out if there are any intensives in your neck of the woods here.) I've been to many of them in different regions, and I've always learned something about myself as an artist, or about how art directors interact with illustrators, or even whether or not my style is right for that particular art director or publishing house. You have nothing to loose and everything to gain.

Alrighty friends, thanks for dropping by and happy illustrating!

Monday, April 4

Pleased as punch...

If you were wondering why I've been staring off dreamily into space or why I've been looking at you with a placid grin on my face while we discuss the horrors of tax season...

It's because I am going to be represented by the fabulous Linda Pratt literary agent and Co-Owner of Wernick & Pratt Agency!! 

(I know, I know... I'm still pinching myself.)

Pssst! For the record, Linda reps some of my kidlit heroes, whose art and stories will make your heart melt because they are so lovely, and that also have won all sorts of fancy awards.

I'm delighted and honored (and a wee bit jittery.) Thanks for being amazing friends, colleagues, and supporting me in my crazy kidlit obsession.

Thursday, January 14

[Death], the love I bear thee can afford No better term than this: thou art a villain.

Thanks a lot universe for taking away one of my favorite actors who happened to play a large number of my favorite villains. I created this piece today in mopey memorandum. #RIPAlanRickman.

Monday, January 4

The eyebrows are the window to the soul. Quick tips for giving your characters emotion and expression.

I have warm fuzzy memories of when my babies first started looking into my eyes. We are hard-wired to connect to one another, to understand one another, by reading facial expressions. If we want children to connect to the illustrations in our stories, it's imperative that we create characters that clearly convey specific emotions. So here's a list of some tips to help give your characters that emotion and expression.

Keep an eye on the eyes.
The first place your eyes usually go to when looking at an illustration is... well, the eyes. So we really have to get them right. Avoid creating a character with dead eyes, or where your character's eyes stare straight into space. (Unless your character is a zombie, of course. Then I'd say a dead eye is apropos.) It's also important to make sure that both your character's eyeballs are pointing in the right direction. Unintentionally crossed eyes can be confusing.

Eyes both pointing in the same direction,
because Carson Ellis is a rock star.
-The Mysterious Benedict Society

The eyebrows have it. 
The emotion your character, expressed from their eyes, is continued and emphasized through the eyebrows. The closed eyes of the girl below, with her wide reaching smile shows us her happiness, but the raised eyebrows show a touch of surprise or delight. But do watch out for floating eyebrows, which can be distracting. It helps to draw a superhero-like mask on your character to see if the eyebrows appear connected to the eyes.

                        by Meridth Gimbel (that's me :)

Mind the mouth.

The mouth can be another way to emphasize or clarify the emotions your character is communicating. Below we see Merida's eyes and eyebrows are showing shock, and her mouth is small and reserved, showing fear. Her mouth is complimenting the emotions that we see with the rest of her features.

Brave Concept Art- Daniel Muñoz

But lets look at another example. Below we see the eyebrows of the little girl. When looking at just the eyes and the eyebrows, we might think she looks concerned, maybe scared? But when we also look at her smile, we see that she is trying to look sincere, sweet, and innocent. The eyebrows and the smile need each other to make this visual story work.

Dave McKean -
The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish

Pick the right nose.
The nose can occasionally stretch in extreme emotions and can be helpful in emphasizing an expression. Look at how King Fergus' nostril is flaring up. We can tell, with his eyebrows, that he is afraid. The flat line of the eye shows seriousness and the flared nose shows grit and determination.

Brave Concept Art- Daniel Muñoz

Yes, even a bushy eyebrow can show emotion.

The face is fleshy.
Its good to remember that the face can be flexible. Our faces are full of muscles, bones, and fat. Look at how high Norman's forehead is pushed from his eyebrows in his shocked expression (#2). His open mouth also lowers the jawline. In his bottom concerned/disappointed face (#3) there is a frown that moves the jaw up from the resting face (#1).

1.ParaNorman Concept Art-
Pete Oswald
(Resting face.)
2. (Shocked face.)

3. (Concerned/disappointed face)

Asymmetry is interesting. 
No face is perfectly symmetrical. I find it more interesting when a smile spreads halfway up one face, or you see one eyebrow rise higher. Asymmetry can add to a character's individuality. Just remember to keep it consistent. Typically a character will always favor the same side of the face.

Annette Marnat - Kat Incorrigible

Keep it simple.
Pat Cummings once said that when we create picture book illustrations we need to create them for three different audiences; kids that are sitting in the laps of their parents, kids reading on their own, and kids that are being read to in a classroom. When I say keep the emotion simple, this is for that kid in the classroom. Kids need to be able to read an expression from at least a few feet away from the illustration. Below we have a disgruntled mom. We can see her eyebrows raised in frustration and disappointment, and her angry, pursed lips. In the full illustration below, even though the expression is small compared to the rest of the image, we can still see the facial gesture because of the simplicity.

Mark Teague - How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight

Take mental notes. Observe from life.
So when my kids have a meltdown, I try to remember what their face is doing (without staring too much, because that does not help during a meltdown). Also, I always have a mirror or camera handy to see what my face would do when feeling mad, sad, glad, etc.

             This is what I look like having a meltdown ;)

Practice, practice, practice.
I'm hopeful that I'll be perfect in my next life, but for now I am content in working my little tail off so that I can continue to learn how to fully emote what my characters need to express. Emotion is key to storytelling, so this is something that I will always focus on.

Suggested tools:    

-Your face! (How very convenient.)
-Pinterest - This is a great place to find reference for facial expressions and all sorts of other fun scrap. 

So many gems on pinterest. But beware, it's a rabbit hole.
 -The Grimace Project - If you are not sure how you would like to draw a specific emotion, have fun playing around with the 'Grimace Project.' You can adjust the scales to make the face show different expressions. 

It's pretty fun. And helpful. 


What are some of your top tips for creating great facial expressions? I know you all are savvy illustrators, so please post if you'd like to share.

Thanks friends for dropping by and happy illustrating!