Sunday, June 24, 2012

Space on the page

Illustration Friday's theme this week is "Space." Some might obviously interpret this cosmically, but for me this week, space has been about telling a story... or more to the point, how my characters take up space on the page.

Before the SCBWI intensive three weeks ago I rushed through sketches for my new book Twelve Months of Monsters in order to have a dummy to show at the conference. Turns out that's a great way to see what's wrong with your book. On the drive home from Kinkos I had a deeply unsettled feeling that something was just not quite right with all these monsters now that they were actually enlarged full size and paginated into a book. So this week I've been reworking some of them and rewriting some of the text in the process. In the beginning I had held back doing so many of my "crazy" angles and cropping... everyone always comments positively on them, but sometimes I think "is it too much, is it just exhausting?" Maybe it is exhausting, but, in the words of Sammy Davis Jr., I just gotta be me. Now my monsters now have turns, twists, and close-ups on their pages. Their space is more dynamic I think (read: i hope.) In the redoing I was able to play up the hidden story of how they come alive from the calendar. Below are the before and after shots:

Week by week and day by day
Twelve months of monsters starts this way.



In March when winter ends,
A kite will soar on monster winds



Week by week and day by day a monster's year goes 'round this way. (this is actually the last page of the book and intended to show the little monster finally getting a bite as she is tucked back into the calendar)


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Just say ya-ya-ya-yes to Va-Va-Va- VBS

Last week, after years of Mommy working on Lifeway's VBS curriculum, Small Fry got to experience the magic first hand. We signed him up for Amazing Wonders Aviation at a nearby church. This worked out especially well because, as he was cruising around the world, stopping at all the natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and Paricutin (which I learned to spell last year since I had to draw it three times) I was at home working on next year's production.

Small Fry was totally hooked and I got to see some of my craft and song illustrations come to life.

I particularly remember working on this one after midnight one night, caffeinated with Mello Yello and Snow Patrol:

I remember redoing the sketch below several times just to get the ages and expressions of the characters right:

During family night at Judson Baptist, the kids put on a show of all the songs they had learned during the week. Over the years I have drawn reams and reams of hand choreography, sign language motions and various poses set to music. Pages of art suggestions and lyrics cover the floor as I twist my hands in front of my mirror trying to create exactly how this looks on a 7 year old. Watching the kids bounce through the actual songs, I couldn't help but laugh at myself thinking how many times I've wondered, "ok, does the left or right hand go first? is it up and then down? then up again??"

By the time the kids got to the final number I was holding a squirmy Sprout and didn't get any video, but I did get this shot:

100 kids singing along! No wonder I do so many music drawings.

Besides the cool factor of seeing my work, it was also the first time I've seen the full scope of every designed, illustrated, and printed piece. Even I had no idea there was that work is one island on a huge planet! I have extra respect for the folks I work with at Lifeway that they are able to direct so many different parts and have them all come out stellar. Walking around the halls at Judson you could see how everyone's effort really put the kids in the moment. In the pick-up line on the first day, Fry said "Mommy I want to go back tomorrow!"

Fry and Sprout are looking forward to starting VBS at our church this week. It's not my work this time, but I can't argue with something that makes my kids get excited about going to church. And while they are swimming around the ocean I'll be working on the top of my to-do list: "work on 2013 craft sketches"

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Pig Who Went up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain

Mostly because I like the symbolism in Ivor Monger's 1995 film, I've chosen to name this post according. It's about working to make great things. As promised my sketches and illustrations from the SCBWI intensive this weekend. The spread I chose to illustrate from "The Favorite Place."

I decided to make the characters piggies because... well .... pigs are easier to draw, and I felt like I need some more animals in my portfolio.

Finally, the finished piece. I need to work on her hair a little bit and darken up the bookshelves in the back a tad but this pig's ready for her close up:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Why was my Saturday awesome? Here's why:

Many months back, sitting in the cozy, fire lit, living room of fellow illustrator friend Susan Eaddy, my SCBWI illustrator's group discussed the possibility of inviting an art director to Nashville for a weekend intensive. At the time I lobbied heavily for Laurent Linn, art director at Simon and Schuster. By the greatest of good fortunes he was available to come for a weekend in the summer, this past weekend in fact.

But my part of this story starts even farther back, more than two days, more than a few months.

My part of this story starts 5 years ago.

In September of 2007 Laurent Linn was the art director visiting the SCBWI Midsouth Conference. At the time he was an assistant art director with Henry Holt. I signed up for all of his workshops just because that's what illustrators trying to catch the attention of NY do. It became clear pretty quickly however, that this guy was in his own league when it came to talking about art in children's literature. For the first time since art school I listened to someone really talk about the art, the craft, of illustration. While I have listened to a great many talented art directors before and since, none have had the ability to so completely articulate why a particular book is beautiful, while also being completely friendly and engaging. I walked away from his workshops rejuvenated.

But the most helpful moment, the moment when the story of this weekend begins, was when he reviewed my portfolio. Up until that point I had been doing good work, getting jobs, but never getting the elusive brass ring of a trade book. And I couldn't figure out why. I knew my work was good... but something was not quite good enough. But what was it?? How did I fix it??? As we sat together on that late summer day looking over my work, Linn crystalized what was wrong. In the same easy manner he'd led the workshops, he pointed out the good and bad, strengths and weaknesses... and a path to fixing it: Get more story in your pictures, think about expressions, everything in the image is a character. After that review, I opened my hand and there was the key, the answer, I'd been looking for.

For the next five years every time I sat down at my drawing table to work on an illustration I hit replay on the memory of that critique. Story, expression, character. Time passed, weeks went by, then months and years. I started this blog partly to journal my progress of rebuilding my work.... story, expression, character. Rejections still came in, at first the same generic ones, then more recently personal encouraging letters, mentioning my illustrations specifically.. and apologizing that there was not a project just now, but they would keep my work. Story, expression, character. Linn moved from Holt to Simon and Schuster and became Senior Art Director. I ran into him at a few other conferences. He was still friendly, and even remembered meeting me in Nashville but I never had another chance to show him my work.

Until Saturday morning.

I got to the intensive early. A few others including Linn were there, we made polite small talk. Then it was time to sit down for the review. I very casually mentioned that I'd really been working on transforming my art since he'd last been in Nashville. "I hope I don't hear the same things again," I joked. He started to flip through the pages. "Wow," he said, and then "this is really nice, you're really getting that cinematic quality."

Then, "these pieces have great story, great character... I love the expressions."

Back and forth he flipped, until finally he said, "you have so many strong pieces here. These are really good."

Instead of pumping my fist in the air, I attempted to be as professional as possible, "well, what should I work on now?" He mentioned a few areas of watching color composition, maybe trying some different colors of line work (but with the addendum, "you know your pencil work is good, it's just something to think about.") I said thank you and that I was looking forward to hearing his thoughts on my piece for the intensive (which I'll post later) and then I stepped onto the clouds and walked away.

I could work in silence again, replaying both critiques in my head, for another 5 years before I ever hear from NY in the form of that trade book job. Or it could never happen. As I write about this happy Saturday morning I realize that is an absurdly real possibility. There are lots of good artists out there and only a few are chosen.

But for right now - in this moment - to hear such high praise from someone I respect so much, to know that the last 5 years have not been in vain, that I figured out how to use the key and follow the path to transformed work, it is enough.

It is enough for now.