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!

Thursday, November 12 a chicken with it's head cut off

It's been awhile. I've been keeping my nose buried in books and pencil shavings. I 'm currently working on my book dummy for The Messy Bed, and a stack of other projects. Busy busy and wishing that house elves would work on that pile of laundry already! Yay art. Boo housework!

Tuesday, September 29

I got interviewed by the lovely KidLit Artists blog!

...which, let's be honest, was really neat. Have you seen the artists on there? They are soooooo talented. And I am now a member of the kidlit club. Yippee!!! Anyhow, I was asked to share my experience  as a Mentorship Winner. If you are interested, you can click here to go to the post. But if you would like a summary, let me just say it was a brilliant experience. It was so validating to be among the talented few who were awarded the SCBWI LA Mentorship. And I feel like I am more confidently stepping towards my goals. Thanks so much to the mentors!! And thanks to you, friends, for supporting me. Life is so good. (Especially when it's sprinkled with chocolate.) And if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go and powder my octopus. ;)

Wednesday, August 5

What the what now?! I just won the SCBWI Los Angeles Portfolio Mentorship!!

Oh my goodness oh my goodness! I cannot believe that I am a mentee! For those of you who aren't sure exactly what this means (this includes you, Great Auntie Alma) I thought I'd share specifically how neat this is. (Pssst. It's pretty neat!)

So I went to the annual SCBWI LA conference. This is where over 1200 children's writers, illustrators, publishers, editors, agents, art directors meet. There were inspiring keynote speakers talking about the craft of writing/illustrating books, what goes on in the industry... but more on that in another post.

I submitted my portfolio to the annual portfolio showcase. I remember just before entering the showcase I saw the editors, agents, and art directors looking around at the portfolios on the patio. It was pretty intimidating. Somebody turned to me and told me they were nervous about the competition. I told them that I wasn't. I wasn't going to win. Last year there were two Disney concept artists at the showcase, whose work was salivatingly beautiful, and they didn't win. There were too many talented people this year to even think I would be in the running. So I was in complete shock when they called my name. To be honest, I'm still pretty shocked.

Lots and lots of portfolios - Photo taken by Laurent Linn

I believe there were around 175 brilliant portfolios submitted and I was one of the six hand selected as an "up and coming artist whose publishable work shows great promise and potential"  for the Mentorship program. Totally bonkers.

All the tiny people - Photo taken by Candace Camling

Here are my fellow Mentees and their websites. (Prepare to salivate.)

K-Fai Steel, Molly Ruttan, Nicholas Huong, Anne Berry, Me, & Kisoo Chai

(She also won an Honor Award for her Porfolio.)

The the best part of the award is that we got to be mentored by these industry giants:

Brenda Bowen - Agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Inc. She represents a lot of movers and shakers in the publishing world including Rosemary Wells and Hilary Knight.

Peter Brown - Author & Illustrator of 7 books that are loaded with awards including the Caldecott Honor he got for his illustrations for Creepy Carrots, written by Aaron Reynolds.

Priscilla Burris - Author/Illustrator of some really sweet children's books she also is the National SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator.

Pat Cummings - Author/Illustrator of over 30 books that are smattered with a variety of awards. She is a professor at Parsons and Pratt and has so much insight in the craft and process of creating children's books.

Laurent Linn - Art Director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. He started his career as a puppet designer/builder (pretty cool huh?!) and became the Creative Director for the Sesame Street Muppets winning an Emmy Award.

Paul O. Zelinsky - Author/Illustrator creating over 30 books, winning many awards including a Caldecott for his Rapunzel book, and has also received 3 Caldecott Honors.

So we had the privilege of being critiqued and to received personal career advice individually and as a group by our 6 mentors.  I basically wrote a novel of notes and have a big fat "To Do" list. I feel super blessed to have received such a wonderful opportunity. There have been several Mentees, from the past, that had careers launched from this award. So hopefully I can capitolize on the momentum of this. I feel like my compass is now pointing to true north, thanks to this lovely experience. 

Kisoo Chai, Nicholas Huong, Me, Molly Ruttan, Anne Berry, Priscilla Burris, Laurent Linn, K-Fai Steele, Pat Cummings, & Paul O. Zelinsky. (Peter Brown and Brenda Bowen were signing books.)

...and there was much rejoicing!

Yes that is Peter Brown right behind me (!!!!)

Tuesday, May 12

Moving Makes Me Crabby's to being out of boxes in the near future. 

Sunday, February 1

28 Day LOVE FEST! Wooooo!

Hey friends. Welcome to the warmest, fuzziest, and of course chocolate filled, month of the year. In honer of this lovey dovey month, I'm going to take on KidlitArt's challenge to post a sketch of something I LOVE for all 28 days. Day #1 has got to be a pirates. Because pirates are so very lovable. Yes they arrrrrrrrrrrre. ;)

Sea Side Joe is especially lovable because he's been hit in the head too many times...
(I will more likely post the rest of the 27 days on my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr accounts so check me out there.) 

Sunday, January 25

New beginnings, fresh starts, and chocolate. Can't forget the chocolate.

Hi friends! So it's the beginning of the year and I'm ready to rock and roll with some new goals. I decided that I really needed to keep my goals attainable. I'm usually the "I'm going to swallow this whole elephant" kinda gal. This year I'm focusing on the small bites. I'm writing and painting around the same time of day. I'm cutting out most of my TV watching (boohoo ;) I'm only eating kale and wheat grass. (Just kidding.) Anyway, I thought I'd share with you a journal I created for Lilla Rogers' Bootcamp. If you like this design feel free to click here. Anyway, here's to you and your attainable goals.

Tuesday, August 12

“Run for your lives, she’s got rabies! No, she’s just inspired.”

Judy Shachner

No, that was not just a voice in my head. I was privileged enough to go to SCBWI’s LA conference last weekend. That was a direct quote from the talented Judy Shachner, author and illustrator of the Skippyjon Jones series. 

It was a wonderfully manic experience. Let’s just say I came home feeling like I got hit by a semi and my “To Do” list’s size has tripled.

I thought since you all love children’s literature like I do, that there was a good possibility that you were a writer or illustrator yourself and that you might be interested in what was said. But since I typed like 20 pages of notes I think I would be better to share a few quotes and ideas that inspired me.
Meg Rosoff

"The imagination can be dangerous. It can change the world. And that is why we write." - Meg Rosoff

“Embrace your flaws.” - Meg Rosoff

Stephen Chbosky

“Do you recognize what’s beautiful and transcendent in you?” - Stephen Chbosky

“There's no such thing as an aspiring writer. If you write, you are a writer.”  - Stephen Chbosky

Justin Chanda

“Your individual voice is the biggest capitol you have in this industry.” - Justin Chanda 

Bruce Coville

“You can use coincidence to start a story, but the farther in the story it occurs, the less believable it becomes. Coincidences to get a character into trouble are great. If you use them the get out of trouble you are cheating.” 
- Bruce Coville

Maggie Stiefvater

         “I don’t write for a living. I observe for a living. I steal for a living.
          I stylize for a living.” - Maggie Stiefvater 

Megan McDonald

“If you want to write, find your splinter. Find the thing that pierces you and won’t let you go.” - Megan McDonald

“If you listen to your own voice, unknown friends will come and seek you.” 
- Megan McDonald

Linda Sue Park

   “I try to make everything I write worth reading 62 times.” - Linda Sue Park

Eugine Yelchin

“Sometimes the goal we want the most is the hardest to pursue because we are afraid of failure.” - Eugene Yelchin

Yes, THE Judy Blume spoke at the conference!

“Do not let anyone discourage you. If they try, get angry, not depressed.” - Judy Blume

“Determination is more important than talent.” 
- Judy Blume

Nick Clark


“Creativity is rarely a virgin birth.” - Nick Clark

Some friends and the former Knights who say "Ni!"
I’m sad it’s over. I miss my community. Hugs and warm fuzzy appreciation to the brilliant publishers, editors, art directors, agents, writers and illustrators that inspire the next generation. And many hugs to my old and new friends that I've found from the SCBWI community. I LOVE how warm our clan is. Till next time chums