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!