Monthly Archives: September 2011

Illustration Friday: Ferocious

I’ve been doing some traveling, attending some conferences, and working on marketing materials… so I’ve been out of the IF loop for several weeks now. However, this week’s topic fits in well with the postcards that I just sent to the printer. Some of my followers may have seen the illustration before… it was my response to the word “Bicycle” in late April… and one of my personal favorites. Hopefully one of them will give me the big break I need!

As always… constructive criticism is welcomed and encouraged!

Illustrator’s Day & the Decatur Book Festival

Three weeks ago I spent a very memorable weekend in Decatur, GA. I flew out for the Southern Breeze SCBWI Illustrator’s Day and it was an even better trip than I expected it to be. The speakers and mentors at this event were excellent and I found it very refreshing to be surrounded by illustrators again… something I haven’t had since I graduated.

The speakers at the event included keynote Kristen Nobles, Art Director for Candlewick Press; Robert Agis, Editor from Sterling Children’s Books; Mike Lowery, illustrator and professor of illustration from SCAD; along with author Laura Murray. The event was very casual and I gained a lot of insight from what they had to say. Robert shared a lot about the illustrator selection process he goes through as an editor. He offered insight into ways that illustrators can make their portfolio and marketing materials stand out “in the crowd”… a lesson I will find to be invaluable as I move forward. Mike and Laura spoke firsthand about their experiences creating their book… THE GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE IN SCHOOL (a WONDERFUL story!) Finally, Kristen inspired everyone in the room with her presentation on “giving glory” to your work. She reminded us all that picture books are made of magic… and we need to keep that in mind as we develop the emotions and characters in our work. 

After  the presentations were done, the group went to another room where everyone received a 5-minute portfolio critique from the speakers. This was probably the most beneficial part of my weekend as I learned quickly what kind of first impression my portfolio is making to those in the business. They seemed pleased with what I had brought and most of their recommendations just revolved around diversifying what I am doing. Kristen mentioned that she would like to see me do a few images that are more “simple” to show that I am capable of showing the rise and fall of a book (citing all the detail in my work). Robert suggested doing a few peices which push perspective a bit more… pointing out that a lot of my images seem as if they are actors on the stage. His advice was basically to “make my audience a character in the story” and consider all angles to approach it before showing everything head on. All of them were drawn to my Little Red Riding Hood peice and they encouraged me to do more peices in that “darker” style.  Overall I felt that they offered a lot of insight and I look forward to considering their advice as I move on to new pieces.

That afternoon everyone that participated in the mentorship shared their work and talked about their process with Michael Austin. It was VERY interesting to see how differently everyone handled the topic and to learn what challenges they faced in their own work.

Overall, the conference was wonderful and I hope to go to more Southern Breeze events in the future. Probably the one thing that really resonated with me the whole day was a statement that Robert made. He said to stop working on your portfolio and start promoting your work. He said “even if you just have one good illustration to put on a postcard and a website… do it.” He explained that an artist is never totally happy with their work and you could spend years perfecting. On the other hand… if you share one great piece of work with the right person it could lead to a job.

I felt like he was speaking right to me. (And I’m working on my marketing materials this week!!!)

The rest of the weekend, I spent at the Decatur Book Festival which happened to be going on at the same time. I really lucked out when Laura Murray offered me her tickets to the (sold out) keynote she couldn’t attend. Colin Meloy (author and lead singer of THE DECEMBERISTS) and his wife Carson Ellis (illustrator) spoke that night about their young-adult novel WILDWOOD, which was released last month. Hearing about their collaborative process on the book was amazing and since getting my (signed!) copy I can’t put it down. Beautifully written and beautifully illustrated… Wildwood is definately a work of art. Read it and you will see.

I spent the remainder of the weekend touring the booths at the fair, buying way too much, and talking to a lot of wonderful people. I had the opportunity to meet several small publishers, a few more illustrators, a handful of authors, and dozens of interested (and interesting) readers. Before I headed out I even had the chance (after waiting in line with all the little fans) to meet author/illustrator Judy Schachner of SKIPPYJON JONES fame. If you haven’t heard of her books you should go check them out. They are soooo much fun… and so is she!

Next week I will be headed off to the Kansas SCBWI’s “Lights, Camera, Action… It’s SHOWTIME!” event. With a name like that, it’s sure to be a great conference!


Mentorship with Michael Austin: Launch

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity of completing a mentorship under illustrator Michael Austin. In advance of the recent SCBWI Southern Breeze Illustrators Day, I was given the challenge to create an image based on the theme, “Launch”. Throughout the illustration process, we were encouraged to communicate with Michael to discuss our concepts, sketches, execution and presentation. The advice he offered was very helpful and I expect that I will apply a lot of what I learned to future work. 

Upon hearing the theme, I began brainstorming concepts. Several of my ideas included images of food fights, rockets, etc. As I was sketching, my son Collin was playing in the living room. His new favorite game is to build towers and knock them down… he gets a thrill out of making a mess. Watching him led to the idea of a boy “launching” himself into a block tower. 

After thinking about the concept for a day or so, a scene of sibling rivalry between a young girl and her brother began to emerge. I decided that the girl had meticulously built a tower out of blocks and her brother has decided to “launch” himself into it… sending blocks flying in all directions.

Here are a couple of the initial sketches I sent to Michael:

Michael’s initial advice was to continually focus on three elements which lead to a successful children’s book illustration… EMOTION, ACTION and CONNECTEDNESS. I asked him to clarify his definition of connectedness and he described it as finding ways to “tie your characters, objects and setting together so everything relates and works as one.”  I posted these three words in my studio and I’ve tried to continually think about them as I work.  

Michael also encouraged me to give some thought to the “what happens next” factor… or COMMUNICATION. He explained that it is important to know what just happened in the scene… as well as what is about to happen next. Successfully telling this story will make your reader want to continue turning the pages.

After considering his advice I began to develop the characters in my scene…

At this point, we talked a bit more and he offered several points to consider: 

His first thought was that the girl may look a bit older than a child of a “block-playing” age… and explained that my choices with her pose and clothing could help with this.  He recommended enlarging her forehead, as that area is proportionately larger in small children than it is in adults.   He also suggested that I play around with softening the lines of her nose a bit, in an effort to make her appear younger.

Next, he shared that while he loved the choice of clothing and expression in the boy, he felt that I might be missing a tie in with the “monster theme”. Upon seeing my initial sketches, he had thought about the old Superman line, “Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”  He advised me to carefully consider my concept as I developed my setting in an effort to explain the boy’s motivation. Is he emulating his hero… or just tormenting his sister? Or both?

To furthur develop the story, Michael suggested that I also give some thought to the girl’s movement and emotion. Is she afraid?  Is she fighting mad?  Is she playing along as the superhero’s nemesis?  Michael explained that the information read from her should work to add to the story.

Finally, he encouraged me to consider other factors like setting, unique lighting effects, secondary characters (like pets or parents), color palette and the perspective by which the scene is being viewed.

After making many tough decisions, I completed my final sketch…

Our discussions led to many options for development and he emphasized that the decisions were mine to make. This conversation really opened my mind to the idea that concept development is truly a journey taken by the artist. I am definately looking forward to taking this thought process forward into future illustrations.