Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Holy Homework Batman!!!

I'm taking an intensive comics class (read updates and see pictures here). So far it's a great class, but there's a ton of homework, so I probably won't be around much for a couple of weeks. I'm crossing my fingers that I can get everything done when it needs to be done (tonight's homework is iffy).

The best thing is that I'm doing a Sheila the Zombie Cheerleader mini comic! Hopefully I'll have a finished comic by the end of class. There are a couple of other comics I might try to get done too, but I don't think it'll happen. Sheila is very demanding.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

14 week novel, wk 11: follow your own path

Last week I asked other writers to weigh in on writing novels. If you haven’t already, check out the excellent answers that everyone gave on both blogs: Live Journal week 10 , Blogger week 10. Thank you so much to all the authors that commented!!!

It’s week eleven and we’re almost to the finish line …

Goal for week #11: Follow your own path. Find a way to work that works for you, whether it’s the 14 week novel, NaNoWriMo, fast drafting, slow drafting, BIC, or your own process.

What’s my path? The last couple of weeks I’ve been fighting a cold and unable to work (or worry) about my WIP the way I usually do. It’s made me realize that the way that I write might not fit well into the 14 week novel challenge, and that’s ok. I’m glad I did it because I like trying new processes, and it might work for someone else. I’m going to continue with it until the end, because I think it’s still a valuable exercise and it helps me to keep working on my projects. And anything that keeps me moving forward is worth it.

Why isn't it working? I think it’s because I need time to let my ideas percolate; they aren’t always ready when I want them to be. Or it could be because I’m not a one-project person, even though I’d like to be. I’m a multiple-project girl and I need to (finally) embrace that craziness. As long as I’m working on something and working towards the finish, that’s good for me.

What is working? I have learned to stick with a project (like Sheila the zombie cheerleader), even when I need to stop and work on another project for a while. For instance, I finally figured out a novel that’s been bugging me for a while and has been everything from a PB to a comic strip. The next few days are going to be devoted to writing it all down. Then I’m going back to working on Sheila’s story and taking a intensive comics class to help me learn more about writing and illustrating graphic novels.

What process works for you? How long did it take you to figure it out or are you still trying to find your process?

doctors, medicine, old characters with new lives, and cookies

I’m back from the doctor. Don’t worry, it’s not the swine flu. I didn’t think it was, but with the news lately, I thought it would be good to reassure everyone that the piggies haven’t gotten me, well other than the ones on my toes and the character in one of my books.

My doctor is a bit like Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) from NCIS (he could be a Jimmy look-a-like, although a few years older). I’ve been going to my doctor before NCIS existed on TV; I didn't just pick him because he looks like one of the cast members. Just like Jimmy, my doctor likes to talk about interesting medical things, whether it’s what I’m there for or not and non-medical things (a lot like Jimmy and Ducky on NCIS). It always makes it fun to go to the doctor, because I never know what we’re going to talk about. Today we talked about jury duty, since that’s where I got my cold, and since my doctor had recently did jury duty too.

He gave me a couple of prescriptions (here’s where I channel my grandma) … one of them was $50, for five pills! That’s $10 a pill! And we have prescription insurance! Grama used to complain about the cost and tell us that she counted her pills to make sure they were all there. I totally get what she meant now.

Along with my prescriptions, I got some chocolate, chocolate chip cookies, because you know the old saying, “a big chocolate cookie makes the medicine go down.” No wait, maybe that was, “a spoon full of sugar.” The two guys behind the counter looked at my cookies, and their conversation went something like this:

“Oooh, those are the dark chocolate cookies.”
“You mean the good cookies.”
“You have to have them with milk. Cold milk, not warm milk, like some people like.”
“Warm milk? No. You have to have cold milk.”

At this point, they are off in milk-and-cookie land and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I like my cookies sans milk (it dilutes the chocolate). For some reason it made me really happy that they approved of my cookie selection. Maybe it’s because they were saying, “if you eat chocolate cookies, it will make you feel better.” I want to believe that, because this might not be the first batch of cookies I’ve eaten since I got sick.

Being sick hasn’t been all bad. The head cold wouldn’t let me concentrate on anything for long, so I thought about old stories and characters, my current WIP, and new stuff I want to do in the future. I started thinking in pictures again, which is easier and more creative (for me) than trying to think about how I’m going to write the story. And I finally figured out two projects that have been plaguing me for a while. Yay! (Finally!)

Project One
Then: During a portfolio review a couple of years ago, the art director picked one image in my portfolio and wanted to see a PB dummy with a new story – she didn’t like the other images or the original storyline.

Now: I combined the scene in the picture with an old idea that I couldn’t figure out and it works now! It’s probably too late to sub it to her, but I’m going to draw it out and see what happens. I’m just happy that I thought of a plausible story to go with the picture.

Project Two
Then: Many years ago I had an idea that I just loved, but couldn’t make work. I tried it as a PB, chapter book, MG, and comic strip. I even subbed it to a children’s book publisher (before I had a clue about subbing or children’s books).

Now: I combined the old idea with some characters that I drew last year (that I couldn’t find a story for). Not all of the characters made it into the new version, but I think the ones that did work well with the new plot and story idea. I think it’s going to be a young MG graphic novel. I’m trying to get as much of the story written as possible before next week, when I start my comics class and go back to my WIP graphic novel.

With my new medicine, chocolate cookies, new and improved projects, and NCIS reruns, I’ll be feeling better in no time (I hope). 14 week novel post later tonight.

Happy Anniversary to my sweetie! We started dating 10 years ago today and were married 4 years ago today.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Art Day Interview: Illustrator Kristi Valiant

Today’s Art Day Interview is with illustrator Kristi Valiant. Read on to find out more about Kristi and her art.

Q: How did you get started illustrating for children?
A: While I was in art school, I had an internship at a small children's publisher. Then during my senior year, I won an illustration contest to illustrate a leveled reader by Seedling Publications. Those were my first steps into children's books.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the recent book you illustrated.
A: Cora Cooks Pancit is my latest book; it just came out last month, in April, 2009. It's a multicultural picture book written by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore and published by Shen's Books. In the story, Cora wants to cook but usually gets stuck with kid jobs. When her older siblings head out for the day, she's finally allowed to be Mama's assistant chef and learns how to make pancit, a Filipino noodle dish. The recipe is in the book, and it's super yummy!

Q: What are you working on right now? Do you have any other books or art projects you’d like to talk about?
A: Today I'll be painting an illustration for Highlights magazine. I love Highlights, so this is an especially fun project! I've had a lot of work lately, including interior illustrations for two chapter books, covers for six chapter books, hundreds of black & white line drawings for educational materials, and yesterday, I turned in sketches for an educational project for McGraw Hill. All this work is a huge blessing! But I'm still making time to work on my own picture book dummy that I'd like to start submitting to agents soon. I took part in NaPiBoWriWee last week, and now I have 7 more picture book rough drafts that I'd love to start revising as well.

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 license card designs and illustrations for Christmas cards every year. Some of those illustrations are in my children's book look, but some are very different. I've also illustrated in a fashion vector style for a fashion magazine and a high-end clothing store.

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: Picture books by definition tell part of the story through pictures, so I try to pick out parts that can be expanded upon to tell a deeper or funnier story by "reading" the illustrations. For example, in Cora Cooks Pancit, I added a dog to the illustrations who wasn't mentioned at all in the text. He follows around the main character and keeps bringing more and more toys hoping the little girl will play with him. She ignores the dog all the way through the book, until the very end when she's lying on the floor playing tug of war with the dog. I don't draw only what the text says for picture books, but novels are a bit different. In a novel, the whole story is told in the text and the illustrations usually just show the action or feeling of what's already told.

Q: Can you explain your art process?
A: I work all digital nowadays. I still have lots of great paints and materials from art school, but my mac and wacom tablet are my favorite tools now. I sketch in Photoshop using the wacom tablet and electronic pen. I move around parts of the sketch and resize and redraw until it's ready. To paint, I use some fun Photoshop brushes that I've downloaded and I've manipulated to look like pastels or watercolor or acrylics or whatever medium I want this painting to appear to be done in. My personal taste is to steer away from creating artwork that looks airbrushed on the computer. Photoshop allows you to play around a lot with their brush creator, so I use multiple brushes as I paint. I work in separate layers, so I can move or edit certain parts of the painting if it's not working. Working digitally allows for so much freedom while painting - I love it! If you're working with traditional paints and you mess up, sometimes you can't fix it, and you have to start over. But working digitally allows me to experiment along the way and if something isn't working, I can delete that layer, or recolor just that area very quickly without it looking retouched. The undo button has become a huge part of my process!

Q: What is your favorite color?
A: Cobalt Blue (I've painted my office/studio cobalt blue and yellow with artwork hung all around - it's so energizing!)

Q: What childhood art supply brings back happy memories?
A: Colored pencils. The Museum of Children's Art in Oakland, CA has a show right now called Then & Now. It shows a current picture book illustration next to a piece of art created by that artist when they were a child. I have pieces in that show and my childhood piece is a colored pencil drawing I did in 5th grade.

Q: Do you have a favorite childhood picture that you remember making?
A: I created the childhood picture I have in the Then & Now show in class in 5th grade. I had finished my schoolwork early and the teacher let me draw. I drew this girl in colored pencil and thought she looked like a photograph. Of course, as you can see, it didn't. But I was proud of it, and got in trouble showing it to everyone around me - they were still working on their schoolwork.

Q: Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?
A: Pretty much, yes.

Q: Do you use models / source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
A: All of the above. With source pictures, I have to be careful I don't infringe on anyone's copyrights, of course.

Q: What gets you through an illustration you’re having trouble with?
A: Chocolate and my husband or mom pointing out what's wrong with the illustration.

Q: What illustrated book(s) do you remember from when you were a child?
A: When I was little, I was fascinated with the illustrations by Janet & Anne Grahame Johnstone in Dean's Mother Goose Book of Rhymes. I still am, and I own two copies of that book now.

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now? (You can list more than one.)
A: LeUyen Pham, Holly Hobbie, Adam Rex, Christopher Denise, Amy June Bates, Jen Corace, Adam Gustafson, Elena Kucharik, and more.

Bio: Kristi Valiant loves dancing, cooking, red walls, monkeys, penguins, and mice, all of which can be found in one or another of her children's books. Kristi's newest book is a multicultural picture book she illustrated called Cora Cooks Pancit. She's illustrated dozens of leveled readers and hundreds of black and white line drawings for educational materials. Kristi graduated magna cum laude from Columbus College of Art & Design with a major in Illustration. She grew up in Wisconsin, studied in Ohio, moved to Texas, spent a summer in China, and now lives in Indiana with her husband. You can see more of her artwork on her website: or on her blog:

Thanks for the interview Kristi!

All images in this post © Kristi Valiant.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

novel writers: new, experienced, or not yet started

I'm still fighting a nasty cold I picked up at jury duty last week, so instead of the regular 14 week novel post, I thought I'd ask for comments and opinions from anyone that's written a novel (or novels), is writing their first novel, or hasn't yet started writing but wants to.

Feel free to share any insights or aggravations about novel writing, or answer the questions below (if you like questions):

* What made you want to write a novel?

* What's the one thing you wish someone had told you before you started writing your first novel?

* What author would you most like to have coffee with, and what questions would you ask them?

* Have you ever tried a new format, POV, or genre that was different from what you usually write? Did it work?

* What obstacles have you faced in writing your novel(s) and how did you overcome them?

As always, whether you're on the 14 week novel plan or not, keep your BIC, and happy writing!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Art Day: let the games begin!

Art games are fun!

What are art games? Those are the games that your non-artist friends and family don't want to play with you ... kidding, sort of. Here's an art game that you can play by yourself if nobody will play with you. Or you can play with non-artist friends and family if they're game.

Step one: Think of something to draw (start out with something you are good at drawing, for instance, I would probably pick cows).

Step two: Get out a paper and pencil (make sure it's a big piece of paper).

Step three: Put on a blindfold (you can just close your eyes if you want, but no peeking).
Note: non-artists have the option of looking while they draw - it levels the playing field.

Step four: Draw!

Step five: Repeat, with different subjects, or the same subject (as many times as you want).
Note: If you are making multiple drawings on the same page, you can look after each one and reposition your pencil to a blank part of the page before starting again.

You'll be surprised what happens when you try this, or maybe you won't. I'm always surprised how good it looks, considering that I wasn't looking at what I was doing. Plus it makes me feel better about my real drawings, which look like masterpieces compared to the blindfolded ones.

(BTW, I got this idea from playing Cranium, which is a good game because there's a category that everyone likes, and one that everyone hates. Also, the clay smells really weird, not like real clay at all.)

What are your favorite art games?

Update: I didn't think about adding a picture last night when I posted this (it was late). This morning I couldn't find one to post (I don't usually keep these unless I really like them), so I made a new one (which I actually do like). I also updated step 5 with a note.

Drawing play by play (for those who like that kind of thing): First I made the cow w/o looking, then looked and realized I forgot two of the legs, so I closed my eyes again, which is why they are way off. After seeing that, I moved my pencil over and closed my eyes to draw the elephant (I remembered to draw all 4 legs right away, which is why they look better). The last step was to move my pencil down to write "cow and elephant" and sign it. It's a lot easier to write while not looking than it is to draw without looking! The © symbol was added in Photoshop.

Friday, May 8, 2009

and the winners are …

Running off to jury duty, but I have time to post winners. DH picked the winner out of a hat and helped me choose the runners up from the remaining entries. All the entries were really great; it was hard to choose!

Grand Prize Winner (and new owner of a ceramic chicken): Carrie Harris – Cluck Skellington and Zero

Runners Up:
Mr. Muerte and Margaret - Angeltreats
Mordred and Peep - Ravelda

(Runners up win their choice of either Tunnels by Brian Williams and Roderick Gordon, Robot Dreams by Sara Varon, or a Dramatic Conclusion T-shirt by sruble – size Large … I have 2 of each of these in case you both pick the same thing.)

Honorable Mention: The Colonel and Secret Sauce, which I loved, but found out is my husband (who is technically not eligible to win and unhappy about it – poor DH). I’m going to take him out for ice cream to make him feel better.

** Winners and runners up, please email me – stephanie (at) sruble (dot) com - with your address so I can send out your prizes, and runners up, let me know what your choice is. :)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

14 wk novel, week 9: confessions and subplots

A confession: Remember in week 5 when I inexplicably decided that writing my chosen novel as a graphic novel meant that I could no longer use it for the 14 week novel? Well, that was dumb. I never stopped writing it, and as much as I love the book I switched to, writing both isn’t working and one of them has to go. The original one is the one that’s been constant throughout so I’m going back to it, or maybe I should just say I’m continuing with it. So the zombies win, and Sheila is happy.

I didn’t realize this project would take so many twists and turns! However, if you forget about the novel switch, the only real twist is that my book is now a graphic novel. What’s going to happen to the other novel? I’m still going to write it - after the other one is done. Two novels at once, is too many, especially with all the other projects going on.

Whew! It feels good to get that over with. Plus now I have a clear path and don’t have to feel guilty about working on my graphic novel.

Goals for week #9: At this point you’ve probably got a main storyline, but what about subplots or parallel plots? Have you thought about them yet? The goal this week is to plan out your subplots and/or parallel plots (if you haven’t already done that) and figure out how they work with the main plot and the main character. The other goal is, as always, to keep writing your novel.

Links: Wikepedia on subplot and the ABCs of subplot.

Quotes: (from GN conference 2008)
“It doesn’t have to be pompous to be great, it just has to have a core.” - Mark Siegel (FirstSecond)

“If you’re chasing after your own genius, I’m already interested in you.” - Mark Siegel
(I love this quote because it reminds me to strive for what might be impossible, or just out of my reach if I don’t push myself and take chances.)

“Respect the reader and let them participate in the cartoon.” - Paul Karasik
(He was talking about cartoons and comics, but it applies to novels too)

“Moby Dick in 40 pages is always going to suck.” – Scott McCloud
(He was talking about MD, the graphic novel, but it’s really about giving yourself enough room to tell the story, plus it’s a funny quote.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

contests, chickens, jury duty, and a ton of industry links

Guess where I am today (today being tomorrow, but I'm posting this early)?

While I’m away, the chickens have asked me to remind everyone that the deadline for their contest is Thursday, May 7, at 10pm EST. What can you win? The coolest little ceramic sculpture of a skeleton in a chicken suit, like the ones in the picture with me above (see below for a real picture).

All you have to do is comment on this post and tell me what you will name your chicken and his little sidekick. A random drawing picks the winner, and 2 bonus prizes will be awarded for the most creative names that aren’t picked in the drawing. Here’s a picture of the ceramic chicken – isn’t he cute?

Since I’m going to be having fun at jury duty all day (and maybe several more days … I hope not), I thought I’d leave some fun links for you all to check out.

Over at The Five Randoms, Amanda Marrone talks about her hook compared to her agent's hook for her first book, UNINVITED. You should check this out if you're subbing to editors or agents.

There's an auction/benefit for author and teen librarian, Bridget Zinn, who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

There are a ton of art director and publisher interviews on If you're looking for who likes what, art-wise, check them out.

Like contests and have a great opeining? There's an openings contest at The Write Game blog - winner receives first chapter critique.

Want to see a video of author/illustrator Meghan McCarthy painting? It's posted it on the Blue Rose Girls blog. It's really cool - check it out!

Editor Cheryl Klein blogged about the process behind editing the book, MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD.

If you want to make graphic novels, here are some great tutorials from Kazu Kibuishi:
Flatting (preparing line art to color in Photoshop) and a step by step making of his online comic, Copper

I read 2 great webcomics articles recently, the first one is on Visual and Technological Advances in Comics, and the second one is about Author-Reader Relationships and Finances.

Enjoy the links and don't forget to enter the contest to win your very own ceramic chicken. What will you name him or her and the sidekick?

WW: Mommies and Babies, and, IF: Hierarchy

This is a watercolor pencil sketch, after the water was added. There were several other stages after this, including color with more watercolor pencil and regular colored pencils, plus ink. I also started a digital under painting of this stage. After all that, I still like the simple image best, so here it is:

If I continue with the other versions and they turn out, I might post them at a later date, but I kind of like this best. Gives me a few ideas for a new process to try out too, and I like trying new stuff. :)

I figured it worked well for both the Mommies and Babies theme for Watercolor Wednesdays and the Hierarchy theme for Illustration Friday.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Art Day Spotlight: Kazu Kibuishi

Kazu Kibuishi is a comics and graphic novel author/illustrator of several comics for both children and adults. If you don’t know his work, you’re really missing out.

Kazu’s the author/illustrator of my all time favorite graphic novel, Daisy Kutter (there’s a new Daisy Kutter story coming out soon – yay) and the editor and contributor to the Flight and Flight Explorer comic anthologies (Flight 6 is coming soon).

Scholastic did a series of interviews with Kazu last year about his graphic novel Amulet. There are seven videos in all. They’re all good, but make sure to check out the video “Kazu Kibuishi’s Sketches.” It’s a look at his amazing sketchbook, which has art and notes for Amulet, as well as other projects, including a brief glimpse of Daisy Kutter.

If you want to read some of Kazu’s comics and see his amazing art, he has a wonderful online comic, Copper.

If you’re interested in making comics, check out his comics workshop.

If you’re a children’s book author or illustrator, there’s a lot to learn from and enjoy in the work of Kazu Kibuishi. Check him out!

* Note: Don’t forget to enter the contest to win your very own ceramic chicken. Go here to enter.