Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Highlights of St. Lucia

I just got my copies of the December 2015 issue of Highlights magazine for kids! I had the privilege of illustrating a short story called "The Lights of Saint Lucia". It's such a sweet story, and it's always thrilling to see one's work in print. I don't think it will ever grow old :) I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the editor-in-chief spotlights the story in the "Dear Reader" section. I highlighted the part below ;)

 Look for it at your local bookstore!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cardinal Christmas

I'm making new work for an upcoming holiday show and was recently inspired by a story a friend told me about Cardinals, and how they appear to some people as signs of hope during dark times.

So, the beautiful red bird found its way into my first painting for the show. This is painted in gouache, 11x14.


I've been exploring acrylic gouache lately and I think I like it more than oil painting. Yes, I can't believe I just said that, but for illustration work, it is true in my case. I repainted this image to see the difference and I like it SO much better, not to mention it was about 5x faster.

I really am drawn to the velvety matte finish, how it covers the paper quickly with nice flat color, how it dries in 10 seconds or less allowing one to see the painting develop quickly and gauge progress. It's easy to paint from dark to light just like oil, and best of all I don't get all caught up in blending it to death. It's actually great for making design shapes and motifs, which creates a nice optical blending.

So, onward with the gouache painting I go!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sunday, May 31, 2015

NYC 2015 Highlights

Hello! There's a lot to share with this update, all very exciting! I will try to keep it short...

I recently went to New York City because a picture book that I illustrated, I Forgive You, written by Nicole Latiaf, won a Christopher Award! The awards ceremony was on a Wednesday evening, which of course was very out of my normal routine! I had to keep telling myself, "you are actually here and this is happening" as I stood in a room with decorative people and giant windows looking out across the city.

Nicole and I both won an award for creating a book that "affirms the highest values of the human spirit" (the motto of the Christopher Awards). I met Nicole a few years ago at an SCBWI conference in Miami, and her vision reflects my own philosophy of bringing something new, something beautiful and something filled with light into the world. It has truly been an honor to have collaborated with Nicole on this powerful book and have it be recognized as something that "shines light in the darkness" by teaching children how to forgive just as Christ forgives.

I stayed a few more days in the city and made arrangements to meet with two publishers, creative director David Saylor at Scholastic, and editor Julie Matysik at Skyhorse. They graciously spared some time to review my portfolio and offer feedback. It's so nice to meet people in person since all we do nowadays seems to be via email. I had met David once before when he was a guest juror for the Best of Ringling show at Ringling College last year. And it was my first time meeting Julie, who was the editor for Kerry O'Malley Cerra's book Just a Drop of Water, of which I illustrated the cover.

I also made it to Sketch Night at the Society of Illustrators! They had a themed modeling session described as "human kinetics", where two dancers wore a sort of stretchy red costume that connected them to one another. They would use the tension of each other's body weight as a counterbalance that would allow them to assume really dramatic poses. So cool! For the first 20 minutes, they continuously moved at a very slow pace, so I tried to capture a sequence of gestures.

I also did some sightseeing. 

I visited the 9-11 Memorial Museum. When I visited NYC in 2012, the One World Tower and museum were still under construction, so I was looking forward to seeing the progress and paying my respects. The museum was sobering. Everyone walked through slowly, quietly, as though in a daze of disbelief that such a horrific event actually took place. You could see people's own recollections of that day on their faces...people from all over the world. It's a struggle trying to describe the feeling of being there, but this motto from the gift shop says it best:

 On the other hand, the One World Tower was stunning! I was one week early of it's grand opening so I didn't get to go inside, but will next time! 

Did I mention that the weather was BEAUTIFUL? Clear skies, sunny, a light jacket required. And spring was in full swing at Trinity church with blooming irises (I'm fascinated by the centuries old graveyard, I visit it every time). Later on, I was delighted to see a small traveling collection of Van Gogh's irises and roses at the Met. Interestingly, Vincent experimented with a different red pigment and over the years it completely faded and left the roses white.

I also visited my ALL TIME FAVORITE thing in NYC - the dioramas at the Natural History Museum! They are world class and oh so beautiful! The background paintings and the seamless integration into the foreground create such a realistic illusion, I stand in awe and marvel every time! I found myself sketching in good company with a few art instructors and students from Syracuse.

Late one night I decided to go to the top of the Empire State Building. It was awesome seeing Times Square at night from up there (so bright!)

I could go on and on about other *almost* buying this cute dress I found at Saks 5th Avenue (LOL yeah right!)

But that's pretty much all the highlights it in a nutshell! And before I close and get back to work, I do have two more quick exciting announcements:

1. I Forgive You also won an "Excellence in Publishing" award from the ACP! (Association of Catholic Publishers)

2. Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O'Malley Cerra won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award!

As for me, I am currently finishing up a small picture book called My Pet Spider and illustrating an article for the December issue of Highlights magazine. Here's an almost finished sample:

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Game of Thrones and Other Inspiration

I've recently been binge watching the Game of Thrones series, thanks to a few friends and students who insisted I watch it, loaning me all 4 seasons. "You'll love it!" they exclaimed. "It's fantasy, with sword-fighting and dragons!" 

They know me too well. 

To abate my guilty pleasure of staying up late and watching one episode after another (did I mention that they only loaned me the DVDs for 2 weeks? I've had to catch up quickly) I decided I would at least be somewhat productive and sketch the characters. So here are two pages from my giant Moleskine of characters inspired by Game of Thrones (notice how everyone looks either angry, depressed, or miserable in some fashion...)

Other inspiration this week has come to me in the form of a picture book:


I am absolutely thrilled to announce that I have signed on with Christy Ewers of CATugeau Artist Agency! Check it out!

How did this happen?

Back in February, I had an opportunity to attend a free SCBWI workshop with Christy's mom, agent and founder of CATugeau, Christina Tugeau. Attending that event had a lot to do with finally finding the right agent for my work. At the workshop, Chris gave an overview of the agency, discussed the publishing industry and provided plenty of tips on how to assemble a strong portfolio. Then she reviewed everyone's portfolio, which was a great learning experience for us all. Somehow, my work caught Chris' attention and she shared it with Christy, and it resonated with her as well!

Not long after, we were talking on the phone discussing representation. One thing that sealed the deal for me was when I asked Christy what she liked about my work. She proceeded to describe (without me saying a word) exactly what I love to do, and what I've been striving to achieve and pursue with each illustration. In other words, she totally gets my artistic vision!! And even more amazing, she sees market potential with the publishing genres I've been pursuing. Nothing could be more exciting than that!

It's truly an honor to join the CATugeau family. I'm so excited for what this new step in my career will bring!
A quick sketch of Christina reviewing portfolios at the SCBWI workshop.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I Forgive You wins the 2015 Christopher Award!!

OK. I can FINALLY announce it! 

I Forgive You, a picture book written by Nicole Lataif and illustrated by yours truly, wins a 2015 Christopher Award for Books for Young People!

Both Nicole and I will be receiving awards and attending the ceremony in NYC! This is truly an honor and I am thrilled to the core. 

Here's more information about The Christopher Awards:


Who are The Christophers?

Father James Keller, a Maryknoll priest who believed that every individual has the power and responsibility to change the world for the better, founded The Christophers in 1945.  Rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of service to God and humanity, The Christophers embrace people of every nation, religion and age level.  The ancient Chinese proverb, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,” continues to guide The Christophers’ publishing, TV, radio and Awards programs to this day.

What is the genesis of the Christopher Awards?

First presented in 1949, the Christopher Awards acknowledge that the role of the media is unique and its influence far-reaching.  The Awards were established in accord with the principles of The Christophers to salute media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”  The Awards are noncompetitive and their goal is to encourage men, women and children to pursue excellence in creative arenas that have the potential to influence a mass audience positively.

Define “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”

In a nutshell, Christopher Award winners celebrate the humanity of people in a positive way.  Award winners encourage audiences to see the better side of human nature, and motivate artists and the general public to use their best instincts on behalf of others.

Are Christopher Award winners strictly religious, family-oriented or G-rated?

No.  Christopher Award winners remind audiences, young and old, of all faiths and of no particular faith, of their worth, individuality and power to make a difference and positively impact and shape our world.  Themes include, but are not limited to:  profiles in courage, stories of determination and vision, and chronicles of constructive action and empowerment.  Titles may be age specific, ranging from, but not limited to, Pre-K through adult.  MPAA ratings of winning films run the gamut from G through R.

What categories of Awards are presented each year?

Christopher Awards are presented annually to films, TV broadcast and cable network programs, books for adults and children.  Special, Leadership and Life Achievement Awards single out individual media achievements and achievers as well.  Honorees include David McCullough, Dave Brubeck, Elie Wiesel, Carroll O’Connor, Robert Coles, M.D., William F. Baker, Margaret K. McElderry, Charles Schulz, Art Linkletter, Mary Higgins Clark, “Sesame Street,” “American Masters,” “American Experience,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “The Today Show,” “Hallmark Hall of Fame,” “ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre,” “Face the Nation,” and “CBS News Sunday Morning.” Since 1987, the James Keller Award has acknowledged a young person or adult who is dedicated to the well-being of today’s youth. Keller Award recipients include Children’s Television Workshop co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney; Special Olympics architect Eunice Kennedy Shriver; hockey Hall-of-Famer and patron of disabled and critically ill children Pat LaFontaine; community activist/actor Andrew Shue; dance educator Jacques d’Amboise; and Big Bird’s alter ego, master puppeteer Caroll Spinney.

To whom are the annual Awards presented?

Christopher Awards are presented directly to writers, producers, directors and illustrators in the publishing, film, broadcast TV and cable industries.

Why single out those individuals from the other creative personnel?

The Christopher Awards specifically honor the storytellers who, whether using fact or fiction, tell us something about the human condition: writers and illustrators who craft words and images into a clear, cohesive vision; producers who package the creative and financial resources for a project; directors who orchestrate the talents and temperaments of hundreds of people who contribute their creative skills.

How are the winners determined?

There are no entry forms or submission fees.  Potential winners are nominated and reviewed throughout the year by panels of media professionals, members of The Christophers’ staff with expertise in film, TV and book publishing, and by specially supervised children’s reading groups.  Friends of The Christophers are also encouraged to nominate titles.  The Awards are presented annually in New York City in the Spring.

How many Christophers have been awarded to date?

Since 1949, more than 1,400 films, books, broadcast TV and cable programs; nearly 4,000 authors, directors, screenwriters, producers and executive producers; and 100 special honorees have received Christopher Awards.  The number of Awards presented in each category varies, depending on the number and quality of titles in release for that year.  For example, there might be as many as five or more Awards presented in one category or no Award, depending on the judgment of the panels.

What do the Christopher Awards look like?

The Christopher Award is a bronze medallion, four inches in diameter.  A stylized candle overprinted with the ancient Chinese proverb and Christopher credo - “Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness” - appears on one side.  On the reverse side: an image representing the Greek word Christophoros, meaning “bearer of Christ.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

New Projects & Exciting News

Hello there! Checking in with a few exciting updates:

1. Just received some very exciting news about a book that I illustrated!!! They haven't publicly announced it yet so I can't say a peep, except for alluding to it like I am right stay tuned!

2. Just got a new book illustration assignment with Heinemann Publishers called My Pet Spider. It's a such a cute story with a great lesson about wild creatures.

3. I will be traveling soon on behalf of Ringling College to meet with Barbara Takamoto, the widow of Iwao Takamoto, who was a cartoon animator. He designed characters for some of the Walt Disney classics such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmations! Then, he worked for Hanna-Barbera and developed characters for The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and Scooby Doo!!!

Iwao and his wife Barbara visited Ringling College a few years ago and fell in love with the campus and all the students. Barbara and Iwao are generously donating some of his work to our Illustration department for reference and teaching materials. What an awesome way to carry on Iwao's artistic legend!! I know students and faculty alike (myself definitely included) will cherish and study his works to glean inspiration and improve our craft.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Other Worlds Group Show at The Hive Gallery

Hello! Just a quick update here.

Last week I finished up a small pastel painting for a group show called "Other Worlds" at The Hive Gallery & Studios in Los Angeles. Here are some of my thumbnails and the final art. I'm excited to develop some of these other ideas into new work, too. As for my piece for the show, I titled it "My Friend Magic". I see it as a middle grade book cover, possibly about a boy who has a friend from another world, whether it be his imagination or an actual place...I don't know yet...but it's the starting point for a potential story!

Friday, January 23, 2015

SCBWI Miami Conference 2015

For the past 4 years I have attended the SCBWI (Society of Children's Books Writers & Illustrators) Regional conference in Miami. I absolutely love attending this conference for many reasons:

1. It's Miami in January
2. The people are amazing! Talented, friendly, prolific, successful, and creative!
3. It's a lot smaller than the LA conference (usually has 1200+ attendees, whereas Miami has 200+) so it's a heckuva lot easier to build friendships and get noticed by all the agents, art directors, editors, and fellow members.

This year, the chapter put on two new events: the Illustrator's Intensive and the Rising Kite Illustration Contest. I participated in both and I must say, the experience was rewarding.

Laurent Linn, Art Director for Simon & Schuster Children's Trade Publishing was a speaker and critiquer for both events. The other guest speaker was the amazing Raul Colon, who works in traditional media and creates beautifully rendered books such as DRAW! On Friday, they spent the day with us, talking about the industry and critiquing our "best and worst" portfolio pieces. It is so enlightening to have an AD and fellow illustrator offer honest critique. I learned alot from them and what they had to say about my work, along with the 15 other artists in the room.

A couple highlights from the Friday Intensive:

  • Postcards are still the best way in! Laurent was adamant on this one. He says he hates email (they are zombies coming to eat his brains and he keeps killing them but they keep on coming back, lol). So the BEST way to get your work in front of him is through postcards. 
  • What does he look for in a great postcard sample? STORYTELLING & EMOTION. Granted, not all samples have to be some epic tale, but it needs to show more than a nice portrait of a girl, for example. There must be conflict, action, expression, good design.
  • The other thing he pointed out is that everything - EVERYTHING must BE a character. A picture book is theatre. The artist is the set designer, the lighting designer, the costume designer, the prop designer, the stage designer. Make it all unique and interesting!
On Saturday, the keynote speaker line up was excellent, beginning with the brilliant author Chris Grabenstein, Verla Kay, Raul Colon, Laurent Linn, and VP Publisher Justin Chanda. Here's a sneak peek from my sketchbook:

After all the keynotes, we had the paid critiques session. I was asked this year to critique four portfolios. I love seeing passion in someone's eyes when they talk about their ideas and work! Lots of talent! I also paid to have a critique with Laurent Linn. His 15 minutes of feedback was golden! I am excited to send him some new work in the near future!

This year's Saturday night gala was themed "Heroes and Villains Masquerade". One thing I LOVE about Miami is that the majority of attendees dress up. If you don't dress up, you actually look odd! Again, this chapter gives the LA conference a run for their money when it comes to partying! (one might think that children's book people don't let loose, but really it's a roomfull of 200+ writers and illustrators - we all have characters living in our imaginations - so it's actually not too surprising I guess to see things like this:

I dressed up this year as Mrs. Incredible, and my villainous friend here is Gaby Triana as Ursula. There are many many more wonderful costumes to be seen here at this SCBWI Miami slideshow on Youtube.

On Sunday, I attended Raul's workshop about Line and Color. He showed us how he creates the beautiful scratching technique that is his signature mark, and also what colors he uses to achieve his palettes. He brought in his sketchbook full of little painted studies with color notes everywhere - it was fascinating to see his process! I left that workshop feeling inspired and ready to make art!

I also attended Laurent Linn's workshop on the Trade, Mass, and Educational Markets and where your style fits. He totally shed light on the differences between the three. In a nutshell:

  • Educational - textbooks sold to schools and libraries, have shorter deadlines, less polished artwork, the style is often dictated and looks less distinctive, more "cartoony" or animation style, not a lot of feedback from art directors.
  • Mass - sometimes has a TV tie in like the muppets or Disney, usually lots of activity books, paperback, cartoon animation styles that are less distinct, sold at the drug store, Kmart, etc. 
  • Trade - classic hardcover picture book, usually considered fine literature, a huge investment on the publisher's end because it's more expensive to produce and buy, artist is hired for their unique vision and given free reign on ideas for illustrating the text. Lots of interaction afterwards with the art director, usually uses more "traditional" art. 

Laurent has worked in all three markets and says there is no shame in illustrating for any or all of them. He also made it clear that there is a lot of crossover between styles (sometimes trade books have cartoony animation styles while mass market books use refined traditional styles). 

Alright, moving on. Last but not least, they announced the Rising Kite Illustration contest winners, and I'm excited to say I received an honorable mention! For the contest, illustrator's had to work with this prompt: "Robin's gift was different from all the others". My focus right now is middle grade book covers, so I wanted to come up with an idea that was more conceptual that could serve as a cover. So, I submitted The Gift of Tears:

Robin's "gift" is the gift of crying (which at first looks like a curse...that's why it's different! Because it's not a curse, it's a gift). I felt I was taking a risk with such a weird concept, but I didn't want to do the first thing that popped in my head (birthday parties, Christmas presents, etc) because I had a feeling other people would create something along those themes (and they did...and they won first, second, and third place) so I was actually really surprised and pleased to have won an honorable mention!! Here's a pic of the winners!

And a few fangirl pictures of me with Raul Colon and Laurent Linn:

Like every other year before, I am once again inspired from a weekend of hanging out with my tribe of creative storytellers. I am so thankful for the SCBWI and all my Florida friends! It's always bittersweet leaving the conference, but it's exciting to know that we are all working on our projects together in spirit throughout the year. I look forward to the next one, and until then, let's make pictures and share our stories with the world!