Friday, June 16

Literary Lifelines


I went through a series of traumatic events when I was a child that unfortunately still affect me as an adult. When I was young I didn't know that my experiences were not at all normal. Thanks to many years of therapy, I've been able to deal with the trauma, but I've often wondered what was it that got me through as a kid. I felt I had no one to talk to, or identify with. I didn't know that adults could or would help me. I didn't have the common sense or maturity to put everything into context. So what was my saving grace? Books. Books were my lifeline.

As soon as I could walk my mother took me, my siblings, and our red Radio Flyer Wagon to the library. Every week we would fill out the entire wagon with books. It was already a habit for me to read.  So when things got unbearable for me, I turned to my books. If I ever needed to escape from the day-to-day I could always be carried off by a tornado to the Land of Oz, or fall through Alice's looking glass. I knew that if I needed strength, that Matilda Wormwood would take a stand with me and invent a delightfully wicked punishment for the baddies. It felt as though the characters from some of my favorite books were reaching out to me. I gained strength and comfort through them and their stories. I am so grateful for all the kidlit creators, whose books I grew up reading. They have helped me through some very dark moments in my childhood.

 I feel like it is important to share my wounds with you because I know my experience isn't singular. Unfortunately there are so many other children out there that are suffering; children that need relief, children that need to know they are not alone,  children that need your empathy, children that need your stories.

As kidlit creators, we will likely be a lifeline for some other child. Let us keep that in mind as we are creating the stories and crafting our illustrations. What we do is important. What we do does makes a difference.

Tuesday, February 21

Putting Together a Dummy the Smart Way

Ok. So you've poured your blood, sweat, and tears into a picture book dummy and it's time to present it to an art director, an editor, or maybe at a conference. How in the worldy world do you put that blasted thing together?!  Here are a few tips and tricks that have helped me and that hopefully will help you too. 

Woohoo! I've finished my roughs. Now what?!


1. Scan your roughs and label them.

After you've completed your rough sketches for your dummy (big pat on the back to you), scan them in full sized at 300dpi. In my case a spread's full size is 11x17. I try to label my roughs in the least confusing way possible. I use the picture book's initials and then the page number so that I can easily identify them and organize them. (So an example for my dummy would be MMWCUHB_4-5.tif)


2. Open up InDesign.

Truthfully, I knew next to nothing about Indesign before putting together a booklet. The program seems pretty intuitive, for this simple task. Create a 'new document.' Put in the number of pages you need in your dummy, and click the facing pages button.



When you open up your new document, it should look something like this.


3. Place Roughs in the empty pages

You can drag and drop files into the empty pages that you see above. Once you've inserted all your spreads, make sure that you right click on your rough -> click on Display Performance -> click on High Quality Display. If you don't some of your illustrations may end up looking pixelated. 




4. When emailing your dummy, export it as 180 dpi as a PDF.



And congratulations! You are done. Let's go celebrate with a cookie!


...oh wait. You want to print your dummy?!  Ok. Hold on. Just a few more steps. 

This is where it get's wacky, so pay attention!


5. Open up your individual spreads in Photoshop.

Open up the spreads and cut them in half. (No, really!) 

So this 11x17 spread will become...

two 8.5x11 pages.






















6. Open up Indesign and create a New Document.

Only this time don't click 'facing pages.' 


Your document should look like this.

7. Drag and drop your divided spreads into the pages.



8. Export your pages as a 300 dpi PDF.

Do not click the spreads button.



9. Take the file to FedEx Kinkos to print.

Tell them to print your PDF file as a booklet

I am not sure why you need to have the pages separated, but anytime I have tried to print a booklet at Kinkos, they have always had me separate the spreads. The nice thing about having Kinkos print the dummy, is that they have a printer that will perfectly align the pages, the paper is nice and not too costly, and it gets stapled for you. Easy peasy. (Somewhat.)

Perfectly aligned pages. Yippee!

Now if you are heading to a conference, all we need to do is attach the dummy to your portfolio. (For this example, I'm using a screw post portfolio.)


10. Attach a string or ribbon to the dummy.

Take the printed dummy and open it at the centerfold. 

Use an x-acto knife and cut a slit in the pages about a 1/4 of an inch down.

Attach the string.

Tie a loop at the other end of your string.

Place the loop on one of the portfolio's posts.

Screw the portfolio back together.

Gently pull the string.
Voilà! All done. That wasn't too complicated, was it? ;)


Now, about that cookie... Nom! Nom! Nom!

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!