Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Outline a picture book? You've got to be kidding!

I've never been an outliner, not for novels, and certainly not for picture books. Who has ever heard of outlining a picture book? That's just weird, right?

Maybe not.

I tried for years to write picture books and never had success (or a plot, or character development - just ask my former critique groups). I worked through revision after revision and story after story (and so did my wonderful critique groups). I vowed I would NEVER write another picture book ... I was only going to write novels. (Remember that? Ha!)

Recently, I've been rethinking my stance on outlines for novels. I've also been working on my picture book portfolio, which is a little scary, because the requests I get are usually for images that don't have a story behind them. Going forward, all the picture book images in my portfolio need to have a story attached to them, whether it's one of my stories or a retelling (3 Little Pigs, Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.). So now I have to write picture books again.

Which brings me back to outlines. If I'm going to write PBs, even if they are just for my art portfolio, I'd like them to be good, or at least not embarrassing. How do I make sure my PBs have a plot, character development, and all that other cool stuff? By outlining.

Really? Yes. I'm going to outline my picture books.

Maybe it will be easier if I start with one of my old picture book ideas. I wrote an outline! The story has a shiny new plot! There are new characters! Action that builds; it's not just episodic! There are lots of illustration possibilities (even more than before)! Hooray!

Outlines for picture books ROCK!

Now I just have to write it ... that's the easy part, right?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Art Day Interview: Illustrator Laurie Allen Klein - Part One

Today’s Art Day Interview is a two-part interview with illustrator Laurie Allen Klein. Read on to find out more about Laurie and her art in part one. Read part two here.

Q: How did you get started illustrating for children?
A: In a way, I have always illustrated for children; or perhaps, more accurately, always illustrated with stories in mind. As a little girl I loved picture books and the work of Walt Disney and I would make up stories in my head and draw pictures to accompany them. As I got older I grew to appreciate the wonderful art of a wide range of illustrators and just always knew that was what I wanted to do. In school I was always the one doing the art for the class newspaper or yearbook or literary publication so it was just a natural progression.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the recent book you illustrated.
A: My first children's book (for Sylvan Dell, and first children's book in general) was “If A Dolphin Were A Fish” by Loran Wlodarski. I met Loran when I was showing my portfolio (looking for freelance work) and he mentioned a children's book he'd written. He was looking for an illustrator and I loved the story - a dolphin imagines herself as different animals, morphing into them to demonstrate different physical features and adaptations - so happily jumped at the chance to work on it with him. It was Loran's skill (as a science writer) that eventually brought him in contact with Sylvan Dell. They liked his story and they liked my drawings, all of which were done with Prismacolor color pencils. “Dolphin” won the 2007 Florida Publishers Associations President Award.

My second book, “Little Skink's Tail”, came about as a result of my work on “Dolphin”. The story concerns a little skink that loses her tail in a tragic crow encounter and winds up imagining what she would look like wearing the tails of other animals found in her forest. The little skink doesn't technically morph fully into other animals, but her tail does change each time until, at the end of the story, her own tail has grown back. Sylvan Dell asked me to use paint so all the illustrations for “Skink” were done with acrylic paint on banner canvas. To date “Skink” has won four awards: 2008 The Florida Publishers Associations Best Picture Book and Best Overall Book Awards, 2009 Learning Magazine Teachers' Choice Award, and, most recently, the Mom's Choice Award.

The third book, “Where Should Turtle Be?”, comes out in February. This story is about a baby sea turtle that gets confused by the lights and winds up crawling away from the beach. He gets lost in a variety of different habitats and is unsure of just what kind of turtle he should be or where he should live. Other animals suggest different kinds of turtles, such as a Box Turtle, a Painted Turtle, and a Diamondback Terrapin but eventually our little hero discovers his true identity and returns to the sea. There was an obvious danger that this story could become yet another “morphing” one but fortunately both Sylvan Dell and I agreed to approach the illustrations differently, with the sea turtle meeting the different turtles but not turning into them. The illustrations for “Turtle” were done with a combination of color pencil and acrylic paint.

Q: What are you working on right now? Do you have any other books or art projects you’d like to talk about?
A: At this very moment I am waiting, with crossed fingers, to hear if Sylvan Dell has a new title for me to illustrate but I have a ton of things to keep me occupied in the mean time. I am the on-staff artist for the education department of a local marine park and my desk is full of projects, new and on going. It's a dream position because I am called upon to do such a huge variety of things: everything from outdoor wall murals of life-size whales and polar bears (right now I have a life-size wood cutout of a mother polar bear that needs some touch up leaning against the wall in my hall), to 7' x 22' stretched canvas Florida landscape paintings, to activity book illustrations, camp field guides, and birthday cards. Currently I'm in the process of painting an arctic scene for a behind-the-scenes viewing area, working on a poster illustrating rainforest and ocean depth layers, and soon I'll be starting my first residential home wall mural (of undersea reef life). Loran also has several new stories he'd like me to illustrate and I have a couple of my own I'm trying to finish. And when I'm not drawing I'm always on the lookout for more freelance work and promoting the books I have done. Actually, figuring out a schedule to squeeze it all in is the hardest part!

Q: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?
A: As noted above, I do a wide variety of art and I have illustrated a few books that are more adult or science-oriented (the “Out To Pasture” series would be an example of the former, “Killer Whales: Creatures of Legend and Wonder” an example of the latter) but my overall style is still very much in the children's book vein. Even my “serious” stuff has a kid-friendly look and story-telling quality, that's just the way I draw. Though I often talk about doing some fine art or gallery-type work (and I love all sorts of different styles - abstract, surreal, primitive), I always seem to be too busy to try it. The only time I actually sit down and take time to do a drawing that might be considered just for fun, non-children's book work is at Christmas when I design my annual Christmas card - but really that's just like a book illustration in a smaller form - at least the way I do them (my Christmas cards always wind up with a long and involved story, whether fact or fiction, behind them).

Q: When someone else has written the text for a picture book or novel, how do you decide what scenes and details to draw?
A: It often comes down to the Art Director. Sometimes the AD has a very firm idea of what they want, or at least some suggestions, other times it's left entirely up to me. I'm comfortable either way, but in all cases I do rough sketches first and submit them for approval, making any changes the AD or publisher may request before going to finished art. When the decision is totally mine I tend to read the manuscript a few times and make little written notes on the side. Generally the selection winds up being determined by how many illustrations are needed. Obviously if the publisher only wants 4 illustrations, for example, I have to decide what are the 4 most important or dramatic scenes to illuminate. In the case of children's picture books, at least those that I've worked on, where there are words on every page, I just try to go where the narrative dictates.

Q: When illustrating picture books do you include a visual storyline that’s not in the text or include animals or people you know?
A: Oh there is certainly more going on in most of my illustrations then simply following the text, at least when possible. “Dolphin” wasn't a traditional story, so there really wasn't the opportunity to put in any subtext storyline drawings in that book, but I did include special little visuals when possible. In the illustration of “If a dolphin were an octopus”(that describes how a dolphin has bones and an octopus does not) I put coral and jelly fish in the background, to further illustrate the concept of hard vs soft bodies. Also the St. Augustine Lighthouse can be seen in the background of another picture.

In “Skink” I purposely included a little caterpillar that wasn't mentioned in the text but who shows up every few pages building a cocoon. At the end of the story, when the skink grows a new tail, the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Also in “Skink”, every time the skink tried out a new tail the next animal that was going to be featured was tucked somewhere on the proceeding page. I live by the state park, a salt marsh and the beach so a lot of Northeast Florida flora and fauna winds up in my illustrations simply because that is what is right outside my back door (or living in my garage) and an easy reference.

The “Turtle” book, for example, features quite a bit of St. Augustine landscape because each of the habitats mentioned in the story could be found in my neighborhood. As far as including people or animals I know, I often use my friends and family and pets as models and it is also well known that I hide my daughters name somewhere in the murals and paintings I do. Her name can be found tucked in one or two of the illustrations of all three books.

Q: Can you explain your art process?
A: I go into a huge and lengthy description of my mental and philosophic process in the Meet the Authors and Illustrators section of Sylvan Dell's website, but the shorthand technical description can be summed up with thumbnails and tracing paper. Whether I'm designing a wall mural, coming up with my annual Christmas card, or roughing out book illustrations I always start by doing small, loose, very (very, very) rough thumbnail sketches on tracing paper, attempting to figure out the best angle or layout. It's often the hardest part, I guess because I'm trying to be instantly creative and pulling ideas out of the ether. Once I start getting some scribbles on the page it gets easier, with ideas building on each other and I enlarge the thumbnails to full size (or as large as reasonably possible, either way the picture is enlarged in proportion to it's final size). Inevitably I hit a technical snag and have to go on a reference hunt but when I finally have some ideas on paper I love the editing process of cleaning up and fine-tuning the sketch. All the preliminary drawing is done on tracing paper because I like being able to lay alternative ideas under the rough sketch to see how it looks and it's a quick and easy way to make changes ( I think I started doing that after watching how old hand-drawn animation was done) and when the rough pencil sketch is right/approved it is transferred to the final material (canvas, paper, a wall) for the finished product.

Q: What is your favorite color?
A: I suppose it would be a cop-out to say I like ALL colors because that's not the question (nor is it entirely true since there are some shades of perfectly wonderful hues that are just ghastly) but my first response is to say I DO like pretty much all colors. However, for a specific color in particular, I guess I would have to say my all time favorite color is blue with the strict understanding that there are a huge variety of blues out there and I like several of them (with variations of slate and blue-grey being top on the list).

Q: What is your favorite medium to work in?
A: My absolute favorite tool is my trusty #2 pencil (specifically Mirado Black Warriors that I find at Publix). Early in my art career, I did most of my personal drawings in pencil and am probably still the most comfortable in that medium. One of my dreams is to illustrate a children's book or YA or adult novel completely in black & white pencil, so I guess I'd better write one. Over the years, however, I have learned to use (and grown comfortable) with other mediums and techniques out of necessity. Learn by doing (and the more you work in something the easier it gets). Prismacolor color pencils are my go-to tools for color work, particularly for small, fine detail pictures. Acrylic paint is what I use for all my faux work, trompe l'oeil and mural paintings. Paint washes work best when I need to cover large areas and while I have worked in oil and water color I happen to like acrylic the best. I also like working in ink and have done a fair number of line art that way. And just recently I rediscovered scratchboard and am now having a lot of fun with that technique (I originally learned the technique in high school but had little need to use it again until a large scratchboard project prompted this new interest last year). My 2008 Christmas card was done in scratchboard.

The Ghost of Christmas Who and Other Relative Dimensions: This is my scratchboard Christmas card from last year. The explanatory story that accompanied the card filled a full sheet of paper (and even then was set in the tiniest point size so it would all fit). For those interested I'll be happy to explain all the details!

All images in this post © Laurie Allen Klein.

Art Day Interview: Illustrator Laurie Allen Klein - Part Two

Today’s Art Day Interview is a two-part interview with illustrator Laurie Allen Klein. Read on to find out more about Laurie and her art in part two. Read part one here.

Q: What childhood art supply brings back happy memories?
A: Clay. I love working with clay but don't think to use it very often - probably because I don't have a good place to work or own a kiln. I've also had some fun success with oven-baked clay and papier-mache. I enjoy the 3-dimensional quality of those things and there's something very satisfying about getting your hands all goopy. And let's not forget library paste - though not necessarily for its art properties (I think of it as more of a food group).

Q: Do you have a favorite childhood picture that you remember making?
A: I wouldn't say I have any specific favorite, but I do still have quite a few of my earliest childhood drawings - mostly of dolphins, dogs, deer, and horses - stored away in my flat file cabinet. I also have a notebook of sketches my best friend and I did together in elementary school. And of course I have all my favorite pieces and Christmas cards in a couple different portfolios. My absolute favorite illustrations I have framed.

Q: Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?
A: Yes. I knew I wanted to draw since I was a little girl. Occasionally I dreamed of working for Disney or Industrial Light and Magic (and yes, I did apply to those places) but it was always as an on-staff artist. And I never abandoned the dream of illustrating children's books.

Q: Do you use models / source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
A: I once had a college art professor tell me the human mind is not nearly capable or creative enough to imagine all the intricacies in nature, and that I should always use a reference when drawing or painting. Of course my initial reaction was one of righteous indignation believing my mind was plenty capable and creative enough - thank you very much! But I have since come to the realization that, at least in my case, my teacher was right. I use my imagination to come up with the initial idea or concept, and certainly rely on my memory to flesh out the sketch, but I have found my work is so much stronger if I have a model or a reference photo handy when I go to the final clean up stage. Even if I'm creating some sort of fanciful fictitious creature, like a unicorn or a dragon, or doing a cartoon or anthropomorphic character, the figure is so much richer if it has some basis in real animal form.

Also, when it comes to doing a series of book illustrations it helps to look at other styles and work to spark the imagination. My first response when roughing out a picture, for example, is to automatically go with the easy, standard, side view - and sometimes that is indeed what the picture calls for. However, often on my second or third revision of the sketch I start searching for a more dramatic angle or unexpected perspective and that's where looking at other poses, or real trees, or a living animal (if one is readily available) gives me a much more interesting approach. I take photos of landscapes and people in interesting poses and I have shelves full of books just to help jump-start the creative inspiration process.

The Taleweavers: I wrote a little story that goes along with this illustration. All the elements represented are taleweavers, or story tellers, in some fashion. The little doll the child is holding belonged to my mother.

Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?
A: Oh there are tons of things - though I'm not sure all of them have an actual title. A marine biologist comes to mind; I'd love to study dolphin interaction and the songs of whales. I also love philosophy and archaeology and history. I'm fascinated by music and so wish I could play an instrument (my daughter is a Vocal major and I love talking music theory with her). I'd like to work in a museum - be it art or natural history, or own a wonderful old bookshop. I'd love to work in films - specifically in the creative concepts departments like WETA or ILM (though I guess that's getting close to art again). Then again maybe I'd like to be some sort of animal curator or a park service ranger. Or perhaps do something along the lines of Francis James Child and collect the ballads and folktales of past civilizations or the songs and music of other cultures. Obviously books and words would be involved.

Tasha & Taliesin In the Company of King Arthur's Bard: This is an example of using my own pet as a model and my manic obsession with research. Tasha was our beloved Welsh corgi of 14 years. She died in November of 2007 and i wanted to honor her memory. I could think of no better companion then Taliesin, considered the greatest of the Welsh poets. Again, there are tons of little elements in this picture that all mean something or have historic significance and the explanatory note that went with the card filled a page.

Q: What gets you through an illustration you’re having trouble with?
A: My neighbor, and the woman who owns the place where I get my copies done. Seriously! During “Dolphin”, “Skink” and “Turtle” (as well as a few other paintings I've struggled with) I was brought to tears a number of times because things weren't turning out the way I thought they should (I am my own toughest critic). My neighbor would come over every day and look over my work and tell me it was fine and I was being too hard on myself. Even now, when I have a new project she'll pop over and ask if I need any encouragement. The other friend has publishing experience and talked me off the ledge when I was ready to give up on one of the books. I raced over to her office one day (again in tears), threw the uncompleted remnants of that book's illustrations on her desk, and asked her when I should call the publisher and tell them I couldn't do the job. She calmly looked over what I'd done and said, “You aren't there yet” and pointed out how much I had really accomplished. Sometimes it just takes a different, fresh perspective or another point of view. I also find it helps to walk away from the picture for the night and look at it with a fresh eye in the morning - inevitably things always look better the next day. Or I have thought of a way to solve the problem.

Q: What was your favorite toy, stuffed animal or doll when you were growing up?
A: Oh, that's a tough one because I still have most of my toys, either in boxes out in the garage or scattered around the house. I'm afraid when it comes to books and toys I just won't grow up (to quote Peter Pan). I have my toys, my mother's doll collection (and all her “Five Little Pepper” books) and even a good number of my daughter's stuffed animals I thought were too cute to give away when she out grew them. I'm often reminded of the scene in “Toy Story” when a once beloved toy is consigned to a box in the attic or the yard sale and get quite a pang when I reluctantly have to bump one of my toys from the place of honor in my art room and move it to the chest in the living room to make way for something new. Heavy sigh. As far as childhood goes - growing up I had the prerequisite plastic horse collection and many of the Stieff animals (still have them all in fact) but if there is one thing I wish I still had, or that was still possible to find, it would be my “Disneykins” - tiny, hard plastic-material, very detailed, Disney characters that I absolutely adored (and played with so much they simply didn't survive). It should be noted, in the interest of full disclosure, that I STILL buy toys - for myself - today, with my current collection full of Star Wars and Doctor Who action figures and collectibles. I just love when I find some new figure in the store or when a box shows up in the mail after an extensive Internet search.

Q: What illustrated books do you remember from when you were a child?
A: On the bookshelf behind me I still have my original copies of “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett with illustrations by Tasha Tudor (one of my favorite illustrators),”Nightbirds on Nantucket” by Joan Aiken with these great line drawings by Robin Jacques, “The Turret” by Margery Sharp (a Miss Bianca Mouse adventure) with illustrations by Garth Williams, “Charlotte's Web” and “Stuart Little” by E. B. White (and Garth Williams again), “Rabbit Hill” written and illustrated by Robert Lawson, all the “Winnie-the-Pooh” books, most the horse books written by Marguerite Henry and illustrate by Wesley Dennis, “Thee Hannah” and “Henner's Lydia” written and illustrated by Marguerite De Angeli, just about all the Beatrix Potter books. And that's not even a fraction of the children's books and picture books I've collected for my daughter, and myself, over the years. Great stories with wonderful diverse approaches to illustration - color and black and white. All memorable.

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now? (You can list more than one.)
A: I don't know that I specifically look for a particular artist, but there are some favorites - Tasha Tudor, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, N. C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, Edmund Dulac, Edward Gorey, Alan Lee, John Howe, Trina Schart Hyman, Brian Froud - that never disappoint. The rest of the time I just buy things I find compelling - either the story or art just grabs me and I'll pick it up. I rarely go into a bookstore and come out empty handed.

Q: Did you like to tell jokes or stories as a child?
A: I suppose I did, though I really can't say I have a strong memory of it. I certain made up stories for myself (and still do) and I loved when we got creative writing assignments in school. I'm much more a story person then a joke person either way.

Q: If you could be a kid again for just one day, what would you do?
A: That's an interesting question because there really isn't a lot I can't do now, even though I am no longer a “kid.” I still love toys and books (and now I can buy exactly what I want - when I want). I still love costumes and make believe. Probably, truth be told, I wouldn't necessarily want to be a kid again so much as I'd love to just be able to dress up and indulge in all my kid-like fantasies and obsessions and passions, every day - without attracting the attention of guys in white lab coats. I'd like to travel through space and time in the TARDIS with the Doctor, wield a lightsaber as a Jedi knight, sit in the parlor of 22B Baker Street and listen to Mr. Holmes play his violin, communicate with dolphins, ride a flying horse, tame a dragon, swim with Nessie, walk through a wardrobe and wind up in Narnia, be part of the Fellowship that hikes across Middle Earth, have Christmas dinner with the Cratchits, dance with wizards, sing with troubadours, and talk to the animals… and I guess the best way to do that is to just keep drawing!

Bio: Born in Philadelphia, PA, I got my first introduction into the art of illustration watching the local TV affiliate children's program, “Gene London's Cartoon Corners General Store” (where Mr. London told stories, usually along the lines of fairy tales if I'm not mistaken, and drew accompanying pictures before introducing the cartoons). When I was 8 or so, my family moved to St. Petersburg, FL where books and Disney movies (not to mention dolphins and manatees) provided a lot of my creative inspiration. After graduating from high school I went to a small liberal arts college, Maryville College, in Maryville, TN (in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains) majoring in Art. From there I made my way to Atlanta, GA where I worked at a photography and slide show company as a graphic & paste-up artist before eventually going off and trying my hand at a freelance art career. I did illustration work for the Georgia Wildlife Federation, the Atlanta Botanical Society, Callaway Gardens, and Athens Magazine among other clients, and it was during this period that I illustrated my first book, “Out To Pasture” by Effie Leland Wilder, for Peachtree Publishers. Some eighteen years later (give or take) I began to miss Florida and wanted my little girl to have the same sort of “beach kid” childhood I had so, in one of those impulsive decisions that sounds either incredibly brave or simply stupid, my husband and I quit our jobs, sold our house, packed up our daughter (and the dog), and moved to St. Augustine. The rest, as they say, is the stuff of myth and legend. Laurie’s “Meet the Illustrator” profile can be found on the Sylvan Dell Publishing website.

Thanks for the interview Laurie!
All images in this post © Laurie Allen Klein.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Turn and face the strange cha-cha-changes ...

There are lots of changes going on around here. Some are good, and some are wait-and-see. What's change? Glad you asked. Here are some definitions I've been batting around this week:

1. coinage in your pocket (probably given to you by a cashier after you bought something)
2. what's going on in sruble's world right now

1. brought about by revisions to your manuscript (sometimes based on critique group or editor feedback, and sometimes because your brain thought up something better)
2. what an eraser does to your drawing (digital or on the end of a pencil)

1. done in a small room at a clothing store (sometimes there are mirrors, sometimes not)
2. out of clothes and into pajamas before bed (also out of PJs and into clothes in the morning)

1. what your painting is after a transformative process of creativity (try saying that 5 times fast!)
2. what your character should be at the end of your story

Change can be good or bad, but it's almost always stressful. Chocolate and Snood help with that ... or maybe not. I guess it depends on how much you indulge.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Happy Release Day Cynthea! S.A.S.S. The Great Wall of China

Cynthea Liu's first novel, The Great Wall of China (part of the S.A.S.S. series) releases today. Yay Cynthea!

There's a party over at her site, with prizes and a cool video.

There are also a few interviews, here (plus a release party contest), here, and here.

Cynthea has been really great about giving back to the children's book community, with lots of informative articles and info on her website, and from giving free critiques (Free-tiques) too.

So, go join the party and then go buy her book :)

Cynthea also founded the AuthorsNow! site and has a second book, Paris Pan Takes the Dare, releasing in June of this year.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Art Day Interview: Illustrator Wendy Martin

Today’s Art Day interview is with illustrator Wendy Martin. Read on to find out more about Wendy’s art.

Q:How did you get started illustrating for children?
A: I’ve been an artist my whole life. I’ve always wanted to draw and paint. I started out my career as a graphic designer doing fine art in my spare time. I was actually making some inroads into the gallery setting when I discovered I was pregnant. So my spare time was soon eaten up with child rearing. Once, a friend was over as I was putting my daughter to bed and listened with fascination as I told her some bedtime story in answer to a question she had asked. My friend declared I should write children’s stories and illustrate them, too. I laughed it off, but a seed had been planted and 5 years later I started my first children’s book.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the recent picture book you illustrated, RABBIT'S SONG, by S. J. Tucker and Trudy Herring.
A: S.J. Tucker is an amazingly gifted musician. Trudy Herring, who S.J. affectionately calls “Mama Dragon,” has studied Trickster tales for much of her life. S.J.’s performing partner (they are fire-dancers) was having a birthday a few years back and Mama Dragon wrote him a poem for it. She based the poem on her knowledge of Trickster tales and pulled from many different stories to complete the verses. Then she gave it to S.J. to set to music. The musical version came out on S.J.’s CD entitled “Blessings” in 2007. Someone at the publisher’s heard the song and approached them about making it into a picture book. The women agreed and then I was hired to do the illustrations.

The story is about the Trickster God and his search among all the animals of the world for those to represent him and his lessons to man. After his search he finds Rabbit, Coyote, Raven and Crow. The animals say they are not great enough for his needs, but he disagrees and shows them how they will help. The story is a feel good one where the nice guy finishes first for a change.

The art I created for this book really stretched me because there were so many characters. Most of the people who’ve seen my advanced copy make the comment about the illustrations being so detailed. It was a lot of fun to recreate the story Trudy was alluding to in the wording for each animal. I spent a LOT of time on research for this book.

Q: What are you working on right now? Do you have any other books or art projects you’d like to talk about?
A: I’m not under contract for any other projects right now, but I do have several I am perfecting before I start submitting them for possible publication. One is a really goofy picture book about a girl’s hair taking over the world. The ultimate in a bad hair day. I have been working on two YA fiction fantasies. And another author friend of mine and I started a adult non-fiction book a couple of years ago that we are revising (again) before handing it over to an agent to shop to publishers.

I also create monthly coloring pages for the yahoo group the publisher set up for me. The current series is called the ABCs of Lesser Known Goddesses. At this writing I am up to letter “L.” I do a lot of research for these coloring pages, too. Some of the old goddesses aren’t exactly appropriate for a children’s coloring page. So I have to be careful about which ones I choose.

Q: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?
A: I am a member of Watercolor Wednesday. It’s a group of 25 children’s book illustrators (both published and unpublished) and each Wednesday we are given a prompt to paint an illustration from. That’s just for fun. At least it was until just recently when I had the bright idea that we should be creating portfolio pieces! The other artists thought it was a wonderful idea, so now we have a month to work on a prompt for a portfolio piece. The newest prompt is to illustrate scenes from the Brother’s Grimm version of Snow White.

Last spring I was approached by a cross-stitch pattern maker to license some of my art. She asked for some of my older fine art florals as well as my newer style of Art Nouveau flavored kid’s illustration.

I think the only real difference between my single images and my picture book art is the need to include text and not have too much going on behind it. So the book art tends to have fewer background patterns and such.

Sometimes, if I have some spare time, I’ll do cartoony sketches for Illustration Friday prompts. But recently with all the books I’ve been working on, spare time is spent with my family. I travel a lot for book signings and that leaves little room for being with them during the time I’m on the road.

Q: When someone else has written the text for a picture book or novel, how do you decide what scenes and details to draw?
A: I’ve usually gotten some kind of notes from the book editor. They give me general direction in which to head. I’ve heard from writers that their characters take on lives of their own. The same thing happens to my characters when I draw them. I’ll have an image in my head but when it comes time to get it out the end of the pencil onto the paper details and things I hadn’t imagined originally just show up.

It happened a lot in Rabbit’s Song. Even with so many animals actually named in the text, other animals kept showing up while I was drawing. I’ve learned just to go with the flow instead of fighting it. I don’t know where it comes from, but I do know it really adds a lot to the look of the book pages.

Q: When illustrating picture books do you include a visual storyline that’s not in the text or include animals or people you know?
A: For my first book, I was really inexperienced with book illustration. So the images are very straightforward and taken from the text, for the most part. I used my daughter as my model. At the time she thought it was really cool to be in a book and that I was writing and illustrating one “just for her.” I used a lot of friends and family members as characters throughout the book. It was a lot of fun when the book finally came out and they got to see what they looked like in my illustration style. I think most of them were pleased.

By the time I worked on the next book, I’d learned a lot more about book design/illustration. This book didn’t use a model for the main characters. I was also having some health issues with my hand – a kind of tendonitis in my thumb, which made it really difficult to actually hold a pencil or paintbrush for very long periods of time. I think the illustration suffered for both of these things. But in this book, there are hidden pictures in most of the pages. Kids go crazy for the interactive quality of the book. The book is about a fall harvest ritual and I have a squirrel collecting acorns in his own story line completely outside of the text.

In Rabbit’s Song, the character of Trickster was based on a musician friend of mine. He was totally thrilled to be asked to model. He was even more thrilled when he saw the art and realized that he’d modeled for a starring role. He told me he was very honored with the way I had rendered him.

Q: Can you explain your art process?
A: A couple of years ago I decided to do a time-lapse explanation of one of my paintings. So I’d work on the image a little and then scan it in, work on it some more and scan it. Then I created a web page on my site and explained what I was doing in the images. I plan to update my process page in the near future with how I go from thumbnail to finished book illustration, too.

Q: What is your favorite color?
A: I have a limited palette for most of my paintings. Occasionally, I’ll switch out one color for a “new” color in the same hue. I did that for Rabbit’s Song. I got a new blue. It’s my current favorite color for painting. The company calls it Intense Blue. To see it look at Raven. He’s mostly that blue. There’s also a lot of the blue in the sky. I had 5 different blues on my palette for the book. Each one different.

But my next book may have a completely different favorite color. I love color. It’s hard to have just one favorite.

Q: What is your favorite medium to work in?
A: I work in both watercolor and digital art. At this point, I think my style is matured enough that it is hard to tell the difference in the finished images. The project I am working on really dictates which media I use. I love both of them for different reasons, but if I absolutely had to choose just one, I’d probably go with the watercolor. I am a traditionalist at heart, and while digital art is wonderful, the happy “accidents” that happen with actual paint and water just can’t be repeated on the screen. At least not yet. Some of the new software comes very close, but there’s still that bit of control the digital world has that watercolor doesn’t.

Q: What childhood art supply brings back happy memories?
A: I loved coloring with one of my babysitters. She would outline images in very dark color and then lightly fill in the rest. I still remember trying to color with my crayons the way she did. I guess I had some hero worship or something going on there. After all it was just crayons and a coloring book.

I still use crayons. They are so easy to pack. They are self-contained and because they are “children’s art supplies” I have a psychological license to play. I highly recommend buying the big box with the sharpener in the back for creative bocks. Works every time.

Q: Do you have a favorite childhood picture that you remember making?
A: It’s framed and up on the wall in my dining room. I must have been in first or second grade. We had been instructed to draw a turkey. Always the rebel, I drew a turtle. He was crying. When I was asked why, I said because all his friends were turkeys and they had their heads chopped off so they could get eaten. It was in crayon. The paper used to be black or dark blue or something like that, but the drawing is so old, the paper has changed color to a dirty grey green. It makes me smile every time I see it.

Q: Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?
A: I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else.

Q: Do you use models / source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
A: I do both. I use reference and models to make sure things like proportions and body mechanics are accurate, but once I have those things buckled up, the sky’s the limit on what my characters may be doing.

Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?
A: A spoiled house cat.

Q: What gets you through an illustration you’re having trouble with?
A: I tend to eat chocolate when I am having problems with an illustration. I guess I should try another tact. I’ve put on 20 pounds since my first book!

Q: What was your favorite toy, stuffed animal or doll when you were growing up?
A: I never really had one. I still have the first stuffed animal I ever received. My grandfather was so proud of me. I was his first grandchild. I had bright red hair when I was born, so instead of a teddy bear he bought me a lion. I’ve been collecting lions ever since.

Q: What illustrated books do you remember from when you were a child?
A: Go Dog Go, Fox in Sox, Palutchkia and Tak-tak, Where the Wild Things Are, The Little House series, The Narnia series, Myths of the Greek Gods, and The Patchwork Quilt

Q: Are there any children’s book illustrators whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now?
A: David Catrow and David Weisner

Q: Did you like to tell jokes or stories as a child?
A: No. I was terribly shy. Still am. But, I have learned to tell stories to kids now.

Q: If you could be a kid again for just one day, what would you do?
A: Daydream and watch clouds, read my favorite books and be lazy all day long.

Bio: In addition to illustrating children's books, Ms. Martin has worked on projects for such well known companies as Baker, BIC, Caldors, Physicians Health Service, May Company, Purina, Sears Portrait Studios, Southern New England Telephone, Yale University and The US Veterans' Medical Administration. She is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the Graphic Artist Guild, and the St. Louis Watercolor Society. Visit her web site to learn more:

Thanks for the interview Wendy!
All images in this post © Wendy Martin.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Art Day: drawing or painting what you DON’T know – what happened after the conference

On Thursday, I blogged about writing what you DON’T know. Today I’m going to suggest that you draw or paint what you DON’T know.

Image © Stephanie Ruble

When the conference ended on Sunday, my friend Emily suggested that we go to see the butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. So Emily, Angela and I went to the butterfly exhibit thanks to Emily’s friend Paul, who was nice enough to get us in and show us the butterflies. Thanks Paul!!!

Image © Stephanie Ruble

I’ve seen butterflies and I’ve even been to a butterfly exhibit before, but this time was different. I made a friend! They released new butterflies into the exhibit while we were there, and this little one flew right to my hand, crawled on top of my camera (which made it hard to take pictures – Paul took the one below). She stayed with me until we were ready to leave, when they coaxed her onto a leaf.

Image © Paul Berger

My new friend and the other butterflies I saw and took pictures of inspired me to draw what I don’t know. I’m not a butterfly artist, or at least I wasn’t before. Since that day I’ve done tons of sketches and several paintings. At first I tried to make them look like the pictures, but I’m not a realistic artist.

Image © Stephanie Ruble

Now I’m painting pictures inspired by the butterflies and they’re much better … although I don’t have any to show yet. Soon! I hope. Until then, I'm posting pictures of some of my other friends, in hopes that you will be inspired to draw or paint a butterfly (or even write about one).

Image © Stephanie Ruble

Image © Stephanie Ruble

Image © Stephanie Ruble

Image © Stephanie Ruble

Or you could paint something else that inspires you. Adrienne summed it up wonderfully said in the comments section the other day, "I guess if you stick only to what your comfortable with, you don't discover any fresh ideas."

Go create something new, different, daring, and fresh!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

write what you DON'T know - more from SCBWI NY

When I go to conferences, there almost always seems to be a theme. Maybe it's not a stated theme, or even a real theme, but it's something that is mentioned over and over from several speakers. It could be that it's something that I need to hear, which is why it jumps out at me, or it could be because of what's going on in the industry at the time. Or maybe the speakers all meet before hand to discuss notes, like deciding to all wear the same color shirt or something.

The theme (that I noticed) at the SCBWI NY conference this year was:

Write what you DON'T know!

This is contrary to everything we're usually told about writing and was mentioned by several speakers, including a couple of editors in break out sessions. Hmmm.

Writing what you don't know could be writing a non-fiction book about landing on the moon. Most people haven't been to the moon, or even gone up in a rocket ship or the space shuttle.

Writing what you don't know could be writing a book set in the 1800s, writing about being a zombie, or writing a story from the view point of a character with a different gender than yours.

You might need to do a little research or a lot of world building, but when you write what you don't know, you can create something new, fresh, and unique. The best part about unique stories is that if you dig deep and infuse the characters with universal traits and emotions, they speak to readers that don't know about landing on the moon, living in the 1800s, or being a zombie.

Next time you start a story, write what you DON'T know, because it might be more real than what you DO know.

Note: On Monday, I'll talk about drawing what you don't know.

Conference Notes: I was going to type up my conference notes, but there are people that have already done that, and much faster than I could! Reading some of these posts was like reading the notes I took, only better, because they managed to get the experience of being there too (with the exception of Jack Gantos - he's hilarious and that just doesn't come across in notes). So here are some great links to conference notes:

The official blog about the conference (by Alice Pope and sanctioned by SCBWI):

Darcy Pattison

Jacqui Robbins (who I got to meet!)

I know that there are other blogs about the conference. If you let me know, I'll add the links to the post!

Blogs Added:
Kimmie Poppins

Kim Kasch (blogged about a similar subject, but not because of the conference - Kim must have editor and agent ESP!)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Art Day: Just For You Projects for Artists and Writers

I was lucky to be able to attend the SCBWI NY Conference this past weekend. Several speakers talked about doing a project that's calling to you, instead of following trends or the marketplace.

Sometimes you need to write a story or paint a picture that's just for you. It's the kind of project that keeps you up at night, or the brilliant idea that nobody but you will understand. It could be inspired by a story on the news, your kids, or a trip to a museum. You're passionate about it. You lose track of time while you're working on it.

Your evil inner voice says, "No, don't do that! Nobody will want that project! It Sucks!"

Tell your evil inner voice to be quiet. Create that story or artwork, even if you think that nobody will ever want to read it or look at it. You'll never know what it could be unless you let down your guard and lose yourself in that crazy idea you have.

The funny thing about "just for you" projects is that they have the potential to be your best work. Art directors and editors love to see art and read stories that the creator is passionate about. When you take emotional and creative risks, it can bring out universal truths that resonate with everyone, not just you.

Write that weird story you think will be boring! Draw that odd image that you think will be ugly! You might be surprised what happens when you stop thinking and just create.

Do a project just for you!