Thursday, December 5, 2013

Life's like a Whirlwind

Whoa it's been over a month since I've blogged. Time is a flyin'! Like this Fall semester at Ringling - where did it go? Today was our final critique for 2D Design. Can't believe we went through 8 projects that fast.

Speaking of projects, I have become really good at keeping secrets. There are 3 different projects that I'm illustrating right now, and I can't show any of the process work or announce anything yet. AGH! Once I get the green light, there's going to be LOTS of new stuff to show.

Meanwhile, I did make it to our last faculty figure workshop. This time I tried out my gouache paints and did a few sketches. I liked the way this one turned out, the mark-making seemed to be simple and show form the best. Light side/dark side!

Something else kind of cool to share... 
I got to have a "mini showcase" in one of the illustration cases on campus. Here are a few snapshots of what I had on display. On the left are recent book illustrations, and on the right are a few paintings from my Guardians of the Heart series. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Educational Weekend


It's November 2nd. It's raining outside. And it's humid. It's also Saturday and a perfect opportunity for blogging about last weekend's incredibly enlightening workshops at Ringling College of Art & Design.

First, on Friday at lunch artist Bobby Chiu gave a lecture on what makes an image go viral. He used his own artwork as examples of which images appealed most to people and generated a reaction, and which ones did not. On average, the pictures with some sort of narrative idea, happy/funny/or awe-inspiring emotion/ or pre-established fan base did better than images that were just a nicely-painted character.

The one line that really stood out to me the most was when Bobby said, "Idea trumps technique every time". I have to admit that he's right! I came home that day and looked at a recent painting I did for fun that I was going to post on Facebook for Halloween. And then I had nice technique but there was no story, no emotion, no idea..well maybe a slight beginning of an idea. It was just a nicely-painted character in an environment doing the presentation pose. Uh oh.

So, the very next day I attended an SCBWI event on Visual Voice. My friend Fred Koehler talked about what makes an illustrator unique - things like your world view, how you choose to portray a character's body language, technical style, how you describe the scene and what palette to express the mood. 

The big takeaway for me was this: All your experiences affect your worldview and your voice (good excuse to TRAVEL!!!) Everyone has a unique voice. Get in touch with who you are, journal and capture the memories of life, and bring those details into your work and it will be authentic. 

We did a great exercise where we had to answer personal questions about our life, like "what is something that you saw that changed you forever". The purpose was to remind yourself about what makes you unique. The next exercise had us sketch from a prompt, and make two drawings. The first was how any old illustrator would illustrate the prompt, and the second was how I would illustrate it - being the unique, experienced individual that I am. It was a really thought-provoking exercise that again, made me come home and rethink my work and say to myself, "how can I make this more unique?" 

On Halloween Eve, I decided I would rethink my Halloween idea and make it into something more narrative and playful. So I sketched out this:

I didn't have time to paint it, so being inspired by Bobby Chiu, it occurred to me that I could offer it as a coloring page to my followers on Facebook as an experiment to see if it would generate any interaction. I went to bed and then it occurred to me again that I could make it better! So I got back up and reposted this:

The thought was, if I erase the pumpkin face, that will allow my audience to be creative and invent a face for the pumpkin character. And if they color it in and repost it on my wall, I'll give away the original painting that I made. I got two responses, maybe could have had more if I'd thought of it sooner? It was all a fun interactive experiment, and I feel like I really learned a lot from the process. 

Anyway, hope you found this helpful for your own creative process!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cobblestone Magazine

In July I was contacted by Cobblestone magazine to create a few color spot illustrations for their November 2013 issue. Today I got my free copies in the mail! 

It was fun getting to illustrate this colonial time period (which seems to be a theme lately considering my trip to VA).

Cobblestone has a fabulous website where you can learn more about the magazine, which is for kids age 9-14.

Oh Inspiration, How I Love You!

I recently went on a business trip to Richmond, Virginia to represent Ringling College of Art & Design at the National Portfolio Day, hosted at Virginia Commonwealth University. It was a really great experience and always fun to talk with eager students who are so incredibly talented!!

While out there in VA, I had a bit of spare time to go exploring. It was dreary weather all weekend, and on Sunday I got up early to attend church at Saint John's where Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty, or give me death!" Ifollowed an old red brick pathway that meandered around tombstones that were so old the inscriptions had been worn off.

I love graveyards. They always stir me inside to appreciate life, rethink my priorities, urge me to pick up the phone and tell my family I love them. I love the indescribable feeling of pondering who the person was who is buried here, and wondering if George Washington or Patrick Henry or even Abraham Lincoln stood in front of the same tombstone when they visited this church.

This visit to the Saint John's church primed me for an even more adventurous walk to the Poe Museum a few blocks over. It began to rain and silly me did not have an umbrella. I was very damp when I arrived, and for some reason that feeling just made the experience of touring the Poe artifacts all the more lively! Rain has that affect of carrying off one's mind into deeper mystery and thought. All I can say is that it was REALLY COOL walking through the Poe houses, reading the original Raven manuscript, and marvelling at the very desk where Poe sat to write with it raining outside. 

To conclude my thought-provoking morning adventure, I happened upon THIS BOOK in the Poe gift shop. My day could not have suddenly become any brighter!!! This book is a gem written and illustrated by one of my favorites, Scott Gustafson. OH JOY!! Inside almost every page has gorgeous dynamic illustrations. I went to lunch after and poured over the pictures, making a copy of the cover in my sketchbook. J'adore! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Website Design, Same URL

I have a new look to my website!!

After running into issues again with iWeb, I decided to scrap it and set up a new fresh site. This new site has a shopping cart so I don't have to link to Etsy, and it has a built-in contact form so visitors can email me from the site. AND, it has a blog...which means I'm going to stop posting here on Blogger and try to move everything under one roof and see what happens. So please, stop by my new website and take a look! 

Thank you for following my blog (old and new!)


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mister Capybara in color

Here's another little oil painting from my ABC animal series. These are so fun to make! I made a few changes in this painting compared to the drawing, such as repositioning his left foot so that it looks like it's bearing more weight. The first drawing didn't look as convincing, but I think this works better. Next is D...still deciding on what to do...

A quick snippet of exciting news - I've been asked to illustrate another picture book! Contracts are being exchanged this very moment. Pretty much all of the details have to remain on the DL until the book is published next year. But, I'm really excited for this project - I can tell you that much!! :)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

C for Capybara

Well finally, here is Mr. Capybara!

When I was researching Capybaras (the largest rodent in the world!) their faces all seemed to look stoic and aristocratic to me, so I combined the two ideas and came up with a "Gangs of New York" inspired dandy with flowers in his hat. He is obsessed with his looks even though his suit is starting to show wear and tear. It was fun to sketch capybaras, although I must confess it took me a while to get a character that I liked. I'm going to paint this guy in oil to continue with my ABC Animals series. Check back in later to see the painting!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Paolo's Brick in Color

Hey, so here it is! The finished oil painting that I started for Demo Night.
The process went like this:

I started with a charcoal drawing, which was originally created as a interior spot illustration.
Then, I did a color study in photoshop on top of the charcoal drawing, which I had printed out on thick matte photo paper. Next I spray mounted the print onto double-thick hot press illustration board and sealed it with acrylic matte medium.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Anteater in Color

Here's a color version of the Anteater! Can't think of much else to say about it right now...besides "continuous forward motion!" This is just one in the line up of my ABC animals. I started this painting as a demo for Ringling's Demo Night, and then finished it up later in my studio. Looking at it now, I want to keep layering on a few more colors to separate his fur color from the ground. I think it'd be more fun if the fur was an exaggerated color, like a little more red-violet or something. We shall see!

Oil on illustration board.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wee 'Lil Bandicoot in Color

Hello and thanks for stopping by!

This past Tuesday was Demo Night at Ringling College, where all the Illustration faculty set up and do demos for students. It's a really fun event organized by the students, and there's always a great turnout from a variety of majors, not just illustration.

I brought a few paintings in progress to demo. This one here I had finished to give an example of what the final painting would look like. I'm going to be finishing up the other two demos this weekend and posting them along with a few pics from the night.

The wee 'lil Bandicoot here was painted in oil on illustration board.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

B as in Bandicoot, mate!

Going with the same flower theme, my next animal of choice was the Eastern Barred Bandicoot from Australia. They are kind of like rabbit rats. Their main feature is a long dainty snout that tapers into a point, and stripes on their rump.

I've also been working on drawings of a Binturong, aka bearcat. It's so hard to choose which "B" animal to draw! I think I should move ahead to the letter "C" and then come back and post the Binturong when he's done.

For "C", I'm thinking Capybara....

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A is for....Anteater.

Hello there!

It's August, and it's thundering outside. Perfect weather for creative thinking! And, the power just went out. GREAT!! Now I can work by candlelight. Ooo wait, it's back on. Earlier I witnessed the powerline across the street sparkle like it was the fourth of July. 

While weather is always an interesting topic, I really wanted to share a few projects in the works. I've come up with a self-directed project to generate ideas, develop my writing and keep up drawing practice. Inspired by Jannie Ho's workshop at the L.A. SCBWI conference, I am doing a fun self-directed ABC animal project. Jannie mentioned it's a great way to show publishers you can draw all kinds of animals. I plan on doing a few rare species along with common animals. So far, I've done "A" :D Next is either Bandicoot or Binturong. Maybe I should do a Bear too just because. 

In addition, today I attended a workshop in Tampa presented by author, Sandra Markle. She has published over 200 books for children, the majority of them nonfiction. She shared all about this market niche and how it can be really fun to write "true stories". Indeed, it does look like a lot of fun. I love to research and learn new things, so I've decided, as an exercise, to write a little true story for each ABC animal as I go. 

I'm also making progress on a middle-grade novel inspired by my trip to the Sierra Nevadas this summer. I signed up for a "How to Revise" workshop which takes place in a few weeks, so better make sure I have something to actually revise :)

Signing off. Hurray for continuous forward motion!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Books of Wonder

During my visit to NYC, I wandered over to Books of Wonder, one of the coolest book stores around! This store is pretty popular amongst the kidlit crowd and so I made a point to visit.

I really like how BoW organizes their store. Their website is structured in a similar fashion ( It was easy to locate the classics, the new stuff, even debut authors had a special endcap promoting their book signing events.  I took pictures of every shelf so I could reference titles later on and get ideas for how books are displayed and covers are designed. They had a wall of framed posters of famous book covers, and also a glass display case with some really old children's books.

Here are some of the photos I took:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

SCBWI L.A. Conference 2013

I'm back from 3 intense days at the Los Angeles SCBWI conference, where I got to hang out with 1200 writers, illustrators, editors, art directors, agents, and...dentists (apparently there were a few in attendance?). As the wonderful Lin Oliver said, we are all sort of weirdos, similar in thinking because we are adults who love children's books. It was so uplifting to be in such like-minded company. If you are interested in writing or illustrating for children, the SCBWI (Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators) is the organization to join, period. It has launched tons of careers and is the main hub for networking with people in the industry.
The Illustrator's Portfolio Showcase!
The Golden Kite Luncheon
The Black & White Ball. I was a Zebra! L-R Eliza Wheeler, Heather Soodak,
Linda Silvestri, Laura Hoffman
Illustrator Buddies! L-R Rodolfo Montalvo, Julia Collard,
Jennifer Gray Olson, Lauren Gallegos

I want to briefly share with you some of this years' conference highlights. Here are my Top 5 Takeaways!

Laurie Halse Anderson - Born to Be Mild: What it Means to be a Writer for Children
This opening keynote really set the tone for me for the whole weekend. Laurie shared a lot of inspiring thoughts. For example, a good rule of thumb for choosing books to read (since there are so many) is to read the first three chapters of a book, and if it doesn't ignite your soul, put it back on the shelf.

Here are just a few more of Laurie's inspiring words....

It's ok to slow down.
Be brave today.
Artists are sorcerers, and books are proof that humans can do magic. You know the incantation, it's etched upon your soul - "once upon a time..."
Stories are light. They help others make sense of the world.
Your job is to defend, protect, and celebrate childhood.
Take every chance; drop every fear.
Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.
Ignore the haters.
Make a promise that you are going to do this.
No more whining. Find something to do. You are going to die, so turn off the damn internet.
Write for fun! Find your angels and your muses.

Giuseppe Castellano - An Introduction to the Art Department
Giuseppe is an Art Director at Penguin Random House and oversees several imprints. His workshops were practical and very straightforward, which I really appreciated! He made it a point to clarify any confusion that illustrators often have regarding working with an Art Director. You can follow him on Twitter @pinocastellano to see more tips. Here are some of the things he said during the workshop:

Work closely with your AD. There will be revisions.
Twitter is his secret weapon for discovering illustrators.
Design simple postcards, blog, websites. Show color and black & white images.
It's your job to send postcards and contact publishers. They understand and are not annoyed by this.
Make sure to have large enough files on your website that he can use to assemble a contact sheet. Watermark your work if it makes you feel better. AD's will not discount your work because it has a watermark on it. They get why you might want to do that.

Here's a snapshot of Giuseppe's postcard haul from the showcase. He laid them all out (some of them are buried). I spotted my booklet, yay!

Valerie Hobbs - Going Deeper in the Middle Grade Novel
I really enjoyed this writing workshop! Author Valerie Hobbs talked about how fictional characters can (and should be) as real as someone in your family. Why? Because humans are a culmination of every age we've ever been. Children are young and powerless. When you write for children, you need to have characters that find a way to become powerful, and this takes writing with your heart not your head. So how do you do that? One exercise that we did was called "Scar Stories". Draw yourself as a figure and make notes of every scar you have. These can be physical, mental, emotional scars. Close your eyes and re-live the moment you received each scar (everything you can recall; sights, sounds, smells, tastes, etc). Then write about it.

David Weisner - Follow that Story! Pursue the Elusive Story Idea Wherever it Tries to Hide.
What a privilege it was to hear David Weisner talk about his work and creative process! He said his ideas come in two ways: 1. He just draws random stuff and looks for connections, or 2. A specific narrative image comes to mind and he makes additional drawings until he's figured out the story. Here are a few MUSTS for following a story:

If the story leaves behind the initial image, follow the story! Don't cling to the original image.
Explore different avenues and if they lead to nowhere, go back and redesign the character.
Always put your idea in book form sequence.
Let the dialogue fall away...try to tell it in pictures.

I also attended David's workshop called "Building Character" where he revealed to us his entire creative process for Art & Max and Mr. Wuffles (sooooo awesooooome). Here are some of the things he does:

He makes models of his characters out of Model Magic. He then uses a flashlight to get accurate shadows.
A hand mirror or full-length mirror are necessary for transferring expression onto a model.
He puts human eyes on all his characters to show emotion (SIDE NOTE: I also attended Jannie Ho's workshop on anthropomorphic character design, and she too makes sure to design her characters with the whites of the eyes, instead of just a dot, to show emotion. This also helps the reader to know where the character is looking).
Expressive eyeballs!

To draw a character consistently, you must draw it several times for your mind to memorize the face and shapes.
Regarding his work schedule, he sets up weekly goals as opposed to daily goals, so that he has room to explore without feeling guilty.
Bottom line - make marks on paper. It generates an abstract unconscious idea into something that must be reacted to.

Mela Bolinao - Putting Together your Best Portfolio
Mela created MB Artists agency and reps children's book illustrators. In her workshop, she gave great tips on what to have in a portfolio:
Emotional expression
Characters with personality
Details - background, environment, clothing, etc
A range of color palette. Don't stick with one formula.
Scenes in different perspectives (especially for picture books!)
2 or 3 sequential images
Arrange 12-15 images with color in front, black and white in back.

Ah, so, all of that good stuff I just shared with you is but a snippet of what went down each day...A LOT OF INFO OVERLOAD. How has this affected me? Well, the most valuable experiences for me was having my portfolio reviewed by art director Lauren Rille and artist/educator Pat Cummings. Some of the things I'll be working on is how I go about translating my charcoal drawings into oil paintings. It is so easy to render realistically in oil, so I need to work on maintaining a simplified style that matches the same level of drawing/realism in my drawings. I received great feedback on all of my black and white work. However, I need to make charcoal drawings part of my painting process, which will help me control the rendering aspect. Some of my images need a little more contrast as well. Both Pat and Lauren held up one of my book covers as though it were on a bookshelf, and yes, it did need more contrast to really catch a 12 year old's eye. I'll also be drawing more kids in contemporary clothing instead of time period costumes to show that I can illustrate for today's children.

I am so grateful any time I get feedback on my work! Oftentimes we writers and illustrators sit alone late at night working for hours and desperately need a fresh pair of eyes. I'm also really excited to keep building my portfolio and writing stories. I love what I do!!!

There were moments throughout the conference when my illustrator friends and I confided in each other about the moments of self-doubt that wash over us during these big conferences. There is so much competition, so much emotion mixed into creative work, and so many damn opinions! It was refreshing to hear some of the keynote speakers address these feelings, because even after being recognized as established author/illustrators, we all still have moments of doubt. But it really is true that each of us are on our own journey, and it's up to us how we progress.

So go write!!! Go draw!!!

The books I bought!

To read more about the 2013 SCBWI Los Angeles conference, visit this blog!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Queen Dagmar Color Study

Ok! Here's a digital painting study for the Queen Dagmar cover that I plan on creating in oil. I was thinking maybe I could finish in time to put this digital painting in my portfolio...but I'd rather wait and make a final oil painting instead.

This year I've really tried to focus my range of media and make things look more consistent - no digital, no gouache, no acrylics. All I'm showing are pastel and oil for colored covers, and charcoal for black and white because those are my favs!  There's still some last minute prepping to do - researching all the faculty who are speaking, figure out what in the world to wear to the costume gala, and rehearse my elevator pitch.

Can't wait to get started and spend the weekend hanging with a crowd of 1,000+ people who understand this creative endeavor. My mind and heart are open to listen and learn!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Queen Dagmar is ready for the SCBWI Conference

Queen Dagmar


I've been a busy bee making new work for the Society of Children's Books Writer's & Illustrators conference in Los Angeles this coming weekend, August 2-5. 

Here's a glimpse at some of the new work featuring the main character, Queen Dagmar. Right now I'm painting the cover...will post asap and tell you a little bit more about the story soon.

Thanks for visiting :)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Drawing an Expressive Stick Figure

One of my students at Ringling College of Art and Design recently emailed me for some feedback on drawing the human figure in their sketchbook. They were having trouble capturing the essence of the pose...which is a very tricky thing to do when you're at a cafe watching people and they are moving. This is something we artists are always trying to master! 

I wanted to share some of the feedback notes as a sort of refresher because this was a really great exercise to quickly interpret the pose (30 seconds or less). There are a lot of resources on how to draw really amazing gestures, so I am simply passing along the information I've learned. 

Believe it or not, the first thing to AVOID is copying what you see! A gesture is not about the clothing or surface details, it's about the bodily dynamics. 

It's really important to use long fluid lines instead of short scratchy lines to describe the figure. Michael Mattesi, who wrote the FORCE books, notes that each line you draw is a visual statement. Using only one line instead of 50 lines will make a concise powerful statement about what the person is doing. 

There are lots of things to look for in a drawing. Here are just a few things that a strong gesture drawing will have:
- Line of action. This should be a curve/angle of some sort. If it's straight up and down, the figure will look stiff. 
- A squash and stretch in the torso. This helps put the body in action and avoid the rigormortis look of death. 
- Angles. The 45 degree angle is the most dynamic. If the person you are drawing isn't making any angles with their body, then you'll need to push the pose so that they do. A solid understanding of anatomy and perspective is required to invent convincingly. 
- Weight and Balance. This topic can get very theoretical, but oftentimes our innate sense of balance will tell us if something looks off kilter. It's the same concept as in Design - if something is jutting out from the center, then there needs to be something else jutting out in the other direction to serve as a counterbalance. Oftentimes its as simple as moving a foot or bending the torso, which would cause the hips to tilt (creating a lovely angle!)

In the notes above, I wanted to emphasize fluidity and simplicity. The gesture reads much better when you can find places to tie things together into one looooong line. Character Designers like Carter Goodrich are SO brilliant at doing this! 

Pushing the pose is a big concept to always keep in mind. Just as an example, in the sketch above, I played with pushing the pose forward and backward from the original sketch and tried to incorporate more angles and longer lines. 

Above is another example of how to push the pose. If you think of the drawing as a silhouette, you want to make sure that it will read. In order to make it work, you might have to turn the character in space a bit to find a clearer design.  Notice the arms and legs on this drawing. One thing to AVOID like the plague is the concept of twinning, where arms and legs are parallel to each other. Twinning makes a drawing static and predictable. If you push the pose to include multiple angles, try to make ALL of them at different angles. In my blue drawing, I changed the both leg and arm positions to add a little more variety (hands and feet play a huge role in expression too). This created more negative space and brought the prop out into the open so we can better guess what the figure is doing when in silhouette. 

Here are a few resources for more info on gesture drawing:

I subscribe for $10 a month and watch the weekly videos and once a month he has hour long live demos you can join online. 

Wonderful anecdotal essays about the nitty gritty of gesture drawing for animation. Very inspiring!

A site create by one of my college friends, Josh Reed. An excellent resource for handouts.

A collection of figure photos you can draw from at a set pace. 

(Images posted with permission. Artist wishes to remain anonymous).