Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thanks Deirdra!... and hurricane schmurricane

It's nice to have your work be noticed, even its just for a blog that allows me to spout my own opinions. While we were gone to the Bahamas, Deirda at  A Storybook World awarded Fabulous Illustrator the creative blog award!

Ah... did I mention we went to the Bahamas? On a cruise? into a hurricane? While we saw very little of the Irene, our friends and family didn't know this and when the ship sailed back into waters that ATT recognized I downloaded a slew of alarmed texts saying "r u ok?" and "there's a hurricane!" I assumed they did not mean the drink, I was well aware of those.

I wasn't driving the ship (course i don't think they'd let a footloose mom who had a martini glass surgically attached to her hand drive one of those things) but our trip was mostly beautiful. If you're reading this while sitting in front of a zombie computer screen with no vacation on the horizon enjoy this picture of where I was last week:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Amazing Wonders Aviation

Now that the send button has been pressed on my last deadline I just wanted to post some pieces from my work on Lifeway's 2012 VBS Book series Amazing Wonders Aviation. Normally this would by my post for next week, but as I mentioned in my last post - I'm gonna be laying on a beach next week so Nyahhh! You get two posts this week, my luckies.

These are the covers for the series and were somewhat of a departure from my usual more child-centric work. Amazing Wonders Aviation has a 1940's world flyer theme, with lots of old fashioned pilot gear and bulbous colorful airplanes. Each of the books is set around a different Natural Wonder, in my case the Grand Canyon and the Paricutin Volcano. Art Director Extraordinaire Keith and I came up with the idea of doing them as posters in the style of WPA travel posters. I absolutely love that look and had a great time going through piles of old travel posters getting inspiration. I now want to do an illustrations in that style for other destinations. Guess I'll be adding that to my to-do list that now extends almost to the tip of Chile.

Cover and Let Simmer

Most of my favorite recipes have, as their last instruction, a line that reads like this: "Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes." Simmering lets the flavors really permeate the sauce or the meat. If you dump chili straight from a boil into the bowl it tastes like overdone hamburger, there's been no time for the chili powder, garlic, and peppers to work their magic. I've decided it's the same with my experience at the LA conference two weeks ago. I came home from the conference, was immediately covered with Life Shtuff and now hidden bits that I absorbed from the various seminars are starting to soak in. One nugget I've turned over and over in my brain is that a lot of the faculty had stories about what else they did with their life other than try to get published. Many worked around books - as librarians or teachers. Others went in a completely non book direction (Gary Paulsen ran the Iditarod.... twice.) But their experiences definitely came back to haunt their writing or art later. It made me wonder if I'm trying too hard to chase the projects I want. For years I've been laser focused on this goal, and a laser focus is great for getting steady work and making a living, don't get me wrong. But a laser focus hasn't made my perfect publishing project come true any faster. Small Fry started kindergarten this week, a huge milestone. Of course we paraded him proudly to his classroom and took pictures but the laser throbbed away in the back of my mind: I was scoping out the school and staff for potential school visits. Next week Jim Dear and I are getting away for a bit to celebrate ten years of married life. I could worry about what I'm not getting done while I'm gone, what art directors I'm not contacting, what letters I'm not sending to agents. Or I could go to sleep on a beach chair with a pink-alicious cocktail and a blank sketchbook next to me. Turn the laser off and tell myself that this moment will come back later to make my artwork better.

Maybe I need to quit boiling and let simmer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Getting closer to my essence: my story of the SCBWI 2011 LA Summer Conference

If you are able to be yourself, then you have no competition. All you have to do is get closer and closer to that essence. ~ Barbara Cook

Last Thursday after packing high hopes in my suitcase and the kids off to school, Jim Dear dropped me off at the airport for my trip to the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA. The conference is a 3 day extravaganza of publishing stars and schmoozing. It was my first time going and I had been working feverishly for the last 7 months perfecting my portfolio so that I might also perfect my stranglehold on the children's book illustration industry.

Stranglehold or not, I did have a good time, met several new very cool people (including roomies Kay and Renee) and got to shake hands with and hand cards to all of the people on my list. What follows are my high points of the conference and the sketches that accompanied them.

David Small gave a keynote on Saturday centered around his riveting graphic novel, Stitches. Its the story of his harrowing childhood that set him on the path to art and illustrating as a saving grace. He took the audience from a wide eyed horror at some of the depictions of his child hood to foot stomping, hand clapping, singing along to "How Sweet It Is." I'm definitely buying this book. Later I introduced myself at one of the workshops and as he shook my hand he said, "I can feel your illustrator power, you'll be ok." David Small and his co-creator wife Sarah Stewart were probably the highest of highlights for me. This sketch of him is small simply because most of the time I spent listening and gripping the edge of the seat instead of my pencil.

Then, as if the cosmos in the ballroom couldn't bear to be let down into the ordinary, SCBWI Exec Lin Oliver introduced the next guest .... Judy Blume! OK so just about every girl my age, especially if she was not beautiful and vivacious poured over the words of Judy Blume's books as if the author was speaking directly to us. Lin Oliver interviewed her for about an hour and she was just as sparkling funny as her books.

Saturday night was the 40 Winks Ball, the theme was anything having to do with sleep or dreams. All of us Mid-southers went as a slumber party, in matching pajama shirts. We didn't win but it was fun. I had neither camera or sketchbook with me but you can see videos here.

Here's a smattering of sketches from keynote speakers over saturday and Sunday, which included John Scieszka, Norton Juster, Gary Paulsen, and Mary Pope Osborne.

Now I have to include this picture of the dessert from the Golden Kite Awards dinner on Sunday. While it did not have any industry connections or insightful commentary on creating kids books it did look pretty rad. And it was delicious, I couldn't even eat the whole thing.

Portfolio review and epilogue:
The amazing Dan Santat critiqued my portfolio on Friday. Immediately before the critique I found myself sitting next to Tammi Sauer, author of uber-funny Chicken Dance, and a dadgum nice person. When I told her that the illustrator of Chicken Dance, Dan Santat, was about to critique my work she said "oh! you'll love him! Tell him Tammi says hi!" Dan turned out to be a very low key. While he had compliments for my work and a couple of suggestions, I was a little baffled by his lack of enthusiasm, especially when he "said your work is fantastic" Notice no exclamation point. I ruminated on the whole experience for the next 3 days.... until I climbed into the airport shuttle and was once again sitting next to Tammi Sauer. We exclaimed hellos and chatted about the conference and children. I debated bringing up the critique but didn't until she asked how it went. Well, I said, he said my work was "fantastic" but he didn't really sound excited. "Oh" said she, "that's just how he is, trust me if he doesn't just say that about everyone. That's high praise."


Years ago when my mom was a librarian, she would return from ALA conferences, suitcases heavy with treasures inside. One after another she would pull out books, posters, artwork, and more books out for us to salivate over. Often they were signed copies. Monday night it was my turn to recreate the scene with Fry and Sprout. As they swarmed around me, I handed them book after book. Sprout summed it up when she said "Mommy went away, but she brought us better books!" I hope that this trip will one day yield better books for Mommy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In a few days I head to LA for the 2011 SCBWI Summer Conference. I"ve never been before but have heard accolades by the dozens for the conference. There's a small army of folks on Twitter going. My goal, in the midst of my usual summer deadlines, was to finish 5 of my facelift pieces in time for the conference. Happily I was able to do so. I've painstakingly printed out a portfolio and loaded them onto my iPhone so I have a tiny little portfolio always in my hand!