Thursday, March 25, 2010

3 Types of Dream Agents

There are three types of dream agents.

Dream Agent #1: An agent that an author/illustrator has already signed with. They are in sync with the needs, dreams, and careers of their client.

Dream Agent #2: An agent that an unsigned author/illustrator hopes to sign with.

Dream Agent #3: An agent that you had a dream (or nightmare) about when you were sleeping.
I don’t have an agent, so Dream Agent #1 doesn’t apply to me yet. However, I do have a Dream Agent #2 in mind. Who is it? It’s not a specific person. It’s more like an agent wish list:

* Loves my work, but pushes me to make it even better.
* Will help shape my career.
* Reps YA and children’s books.
* Communicates in a professional and timely manner.
* Loves things that go bump in the night, as well as things that are funny, wacky, or downright strange (but in a good way).

Speaking of Dream Agent #3, last night I had a dream that I signed with an agent. Woohoo! I have no idea who it was, but that might not be a bad thing. Writing, “I had a dream about you last night.” would probably land your query in the auto-reject pile.

Do you have a dream agent?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesday – Cartwheels (Zombie WIP)

I thought it would be fun to post another teaser from the zombie novel I’m working on. In this scene, Sheila and Janelle are trying to convince Kira to try out for cheerleading, even though she doesn’t want to.
” … Besides, I can’t even do a cartwheel.”
“That is so sad,” says Janelle.
She and Sheila shake their heads in sympathy, as if it’s a tragedy that I don’t know how to do a cartwheel, which it’s not.
Can you do a cartwheel? I used to be able to do a wobbly one, but I was never very good at it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

bubblegum cows and bubblegum girl

I’ve been painting tiny pictures lately (see the elephant here and the bunnies here), in order to fit painting for fun into my schedule. My third tiny painting was a girl blowing a bubble with her bubblegum. I broke out my watercolors and colored pencils and painted a picture so horrible that I had to rip it up. Seriously. All it takes to ruin a small watercolor painting is a couple of misplaced brush strokes. However, I still liked the sketch, so I made the bubblegum girl into a digital illustration. The image is 2″ x 2″ like the paintings.

Bubblegum Girl

Bubblegum Girl

I like how she turned out, but I still wanted to paint something. A picture of a cow blowing a bubblegum bubble seemed like a fun take on the original, and worked out well, because it fits several art prompts all at once (see list below the picture). I used watercolor and colored pencil to make the image. I’m happy with the way both pictures turned out, but I have to say, the more I look at them, the weirder they look. Of course, if you looked at a photograph showing a side view of someone blowing a bubblegum bubble, that would probably look weird after a while, too.

Bubblegum Cow

Bubblegum Cow

The CBIG prompt this month is fantasy – a cow blowing bubblegum bubbles is definitely fantasy! Bubblegum Girl also works for fantasy. She wants to blow the biggest bubble ever and win the national bubblegum bubble blowing contest (which they actually have – I saw it on TV a couple of years ago).

The Watercolor Wednesdays prompt for last week was to create a greeting card image for a child – the bubblegum sort of looks like a speech balloon, where the cow could say, “Happy Birthday!” Bubblegum Girl also works for this week’s prompt, to illustrate a favorite toy or game … not  that gum qualifies as a toy, but trying to blow the biggest bubble could be a game, so I think that counts (or at least it works for me – I went to art school; I can justify anything).

The Illustration Friday prompt this week is brave – that cow is really brave to be blowing bubblegum bubbles. What if it pops and goes all over her face? Bubblegum Girl also works for brave. She knows what will happen if the bubble as big as her head pops!

Are tiny paintings the next big thing? Maybe not, but I’m having fun with them :) 

Monday, March 8, 2010

painting tiny bunnies

I don’t have a lot of time to paint these days, so I’ve started to paint smaller (a whole lot smaller – 2″ x 2″). It’s been fun to create tiny paintings, which surprises me, because I love to painting large. My first tiny painting was an elephant.

Here’s my latest mini painting:

Tiny Bunnies

Tiny Bunnies

If you don’t have a lot of time to paint, consider shrinking your canvas or paper!
Do you have any tips on how to fit in art for fun when you don’t have a lot of time?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

painting on a smaller scale

I’ve wanted to break out my acrylic paints for a while, but I just haven’t had the time. Once I get started on a painting, I want to continue with it until I’m finished. Today I found a solution. Instead of painting as big as I did in college (48″ x 24″ or larger) or as big as I usually do now (around 8″ x 10″), I decided to go smaller. A LOT smaller. Here is my tiny painting for today (2″ x 2″).

a tiny painting of a very large elephant

a tiny painting of a very large elephant

So, next time you want to paint but don’t have the time, think small!

How do you squeeze in creativity when you don’t have enough time to make art?

Friday, March 5, 2010

notes from 3 illustrator workshops: Steve Metzler, Patrick Collins and Regina Griffith

I attended three illustration workshops in January and February. The talks were given by Steve Metzler (Dutton), Patrick Collins (Henry Holt), and Regina Griffith (Egmont). Here are some notes from those sessions that I thought might help both illustrators and writers.

Steve Metzler gave a talk about Dutton, then reviewed several portfolios, including mine. I learned almost as much from what he said about other portfolios as I did from what he said about mine. If you have a chance to have him review your portfolio, take it.

- Characters are selling in picture books and graphic novels, especially quirky characters (like Fancy Nancy, Skippy Jon Jones, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Baby Mouse).

- A good character leads to a good story.

- He likes to see people in portfolios, not just animals.

- 2012 is supposed to be the height of the new PB market (baby boom in 2006).

- If you’re an illustrator, also be a writer.

- He works on everything from PB to YA.

- Sees a need for graphic novels for boys (7-9 year olds).

- Don’t ever do a PB dummy where it’s all the same (all full page spreads, all vignettes, all single pages, etc.)

Patrick Collins gave portfolio reviews to three lucky people, followed by Q&A at a local SCBWI meeting. He didn’t review my portfolio, but I learned a lot from the portfolios he did review.

- A publisher might choose your art or your writing, but not always both – even if you do both.

- Try to have a focus in each image. How do you get the focal point of the image to come forward and have everything else fade into the background? Try varying the tones/values.

- Kid’s books are all about characters and storytelling.

- Pay attention to how you draw people and animals and how you incorporate them into your backgrounds.

- You really need to put in the time to make progress if you want to have a career in art.

- Make sure you have character in your characters. They should look like living people, not mannequins. (You can achieve this through expressions, body language and interaction between characters.)

- Need to have more than one perspective/point of view.

- Think about how you can show focus in a busy image. You don’t want people to miss the important part of the scene.

- The reason an art director looks for a consistent style is so they know what you can/will do if they hire you. You can always market a different style later. Show your best style at the time.

Regina Griffith gave a talk about Egmont, then reviewed several portfolios, including mine. As with Steve Metzler’s talk, I learned almost as much from what she said about other portfolios as I did from what she said about mine. Regina was really great about reviewing a portfolio and then talking about what was working or not with the whole group. If you have a chance to have her review your portfolio, take it.

- Not publishing many PBs right now. Focusing on older books.

- She’s looking for a broad range with real kid appeal.

- Most of the books on their list right now are US books, but they do have a couple that are foreign books.

- No graphic novels yet, but maybe in the future.

- Can’t imagine not liking animals in clothing. It depends on the text though. (In response to a question about anthropomorphized animals.)

- Picture books should have a plot.

- In a crowd scene, everyone should have different personalities.

- Page turn surprises in picture books are a good thing.

- It’s good to show you can fill a page with spots/vignettes or with full page spreads.

- It’s good to have black and white images in your portfolio when picture books are in a slump.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

notes from the NY SCBWI conference

SCBWI NY Conference Notes:

Friday – Illustrator’s Intensive
There were really great speakers and a portfolio exhibit. This was a good year for the illustrator’s intensive. The only bump in the road was not finding out we had an assignment until the day before the conference. Lots of other people didn’t know either.

Paul O. Zelinsky (my favorite speaker of the day – even if it was too early in the am):
- He uses the style/medium that fits the story he’s illustrating and not just the style that people expect him to use.

- When he’s inspired by something, he doesn’t do a copy of that picture or style, he finds his own unique way to do it.

- Did the art project with us later, when Kevin Hawkes was speaking. Paul gets the creativity award for the day. He didn’t have any glue for the project, so he used the mints on the table … brilliant!

Lisa Desimini:
- It’s important to do personal work and what inspires you. It will find a way into your work.

- After reading a poem/story to illustrate, she circles the main concept words. Then she takes those words, or phrases, and brainstorms about them to figure out what to illustrate for each scene or poem. (*This is something I’m going to try in the future to illustrate something other than what’s expected.)

Kevin Hawkes:
- Curved lines are not static.

- Curved diagonals have a lot of energy.

- Figure out where the emotional center of the story is going to go, then try not to hijack that (especially when working with another author’s text).

- Shapes that come to a point can be scary to a 5 year old.

Art Director Panel (All said they don’t look at source books – look online instead):

Ann Bobco (Atheneum, McElderry and Beach Lane):

- Make sure pictures are not redundant to the text. The example she showed was from Seven Hungry Babies (out this spring). The story the illustrations tell is why mama bird gets so tired by the end of the book. Each time she gets food for the baby, she faces some kind of challenge, which is not in the text.

- Art samples need to speak to her as if they are coming from a real person or tied to an individual working in that voice.

Chad Beckerman (Abrams and Amulet):
- Likes illustrators that don’t need to be pushed, but come up with ideas, character sketches, etc.

- Passion – give more than is expected. Don’t settle just to get the work done. Picture books are a continuous job. It’s a job.

- Art is a constant exploration, not, “I’m done./This is all there is.” It’s easy to work with and give feedback to artists that are used to evolving and exploring.

- He likes what entertains him now and would have when he was a kid/teen.

Lee Wade (Schwartz and Wade):
- Asks all new illustrators, “are you up for this?” There’s a steep learning curve for illustrators of picture books. It’s par for the course to get four pages of illustration notes as feedback on the dummy or sketches. Every round of sketches/illustrations has this kind of feedback from them.

- Consistency is one of the biggest challenges in picture books.

- hear/read the feedback comments and process them/interpret them in your own way.

- Questions she asks when looking at an art sample: Does she feel something? Know that kid? Know what the animal is thinking? Is there emotion? Is there a different take on the subject?


Libba Bray:
- “Find the crack that lets the light in.” – let the characters be human, with cracks/flaws/gritty bits that let the reader grab on.

- “First you jump off the cliff, then you build the wings.” – quote by Ray Bradbury – There is nothing without the leap of faith. There’s no easy way; you have to do the work. You have to jump/feel the fear – if it’s not scary, it’s not worth it. “Join me in a year of writing dangerously.” (I’m in; are you?)

Laurent Linn (Simon and Schuster):
- Art samples – what came before and what came next?

- Characters are important.

- Kids see things in cinematic terms now. Illustrators should think this way too. Think of it like theater. You’re designing the costume, character, hair and makeup, set design, and lighting. Make them specific things.

- Left to right moves the action forward. Right to left can and will stop the action.

Ben Schrank (Razorbill):
- Voice and concept both have to be there, like Reeses Peanut Butter Cups – the chocolate and the peanut butter are both good, but great together.

- If your story has no link to the fantasy life or the real life of a reader, it won’t work for a publisher.

- What makes a success and a successful writer? It really pays to be nice, in addition to being confident and secure.

Arianne Lewin (Disney/Hyperion):
- Most of the books on her list are fantasy.

- Sees a lot of paranormal romance and dystopian.

- Story has to stay true to the MC.

- Ask: Is your concept workable? The world/magic has to have rules. Powers aren’t for sometimes or convenience. You have to account for everything your supernatural characters need. (2 authors with info on world building on their sites: Holly Black and Cinda Chima.)

- Need to figure out an organic way to show world and how it works, not just exposition.

- Keep a few loose threads for possible sequels or companion novels.

- Try to poke as many holes in your story as you can before sending it out because an editor or agent will do that.

- Need to have an end game/stakes. Make sure they are something your reader will care about.

- Think about your book. Who will it interest? Will the world relate to our world?

- Likes: fast paced, horror, being scared, anything that creates tension.


Jim Benton:
- You are not your work.

- Your editors will make you better writers if you let them.

- If you don’t draw/write every day for fun, you should start (even if it’s writing obscenities to a loved one).

Agents Panel:

Tina Wexler: You should have a hobby that’s not related to writing/illustrating/day job. Then bring that into your writing.

George Nicholson: Really consider if your historical needs to be that time period.

Rosemary Stimola: Looks for something that stands out and asks if she can give a new client the time they need/want to be successful.

Jane Yolen:
- Remember: BIC and HOP (Butt In Chair and Heart On Page).

-You may never be the best, but you can always get better.

- No one outside of a fairytale expects a happy ending.

- In a meaningful ending, there must be a lifetime of discussions. Do not be afraid of the hard work.

- Fall through the words into the story. (I love this quote!)

- Sometimes simply simple is best, but not everything should be simplified.

- It’s not the opening line, but what it portends for the story. It’s the DNA of the book.

- There’s no such thing as the time fairy. You have to grab/take time. (I really wish there were a time fairy though. How cool would that be?)

- Details must be specific, like you’ve been there.

- We play all day with imaginary friends … of course we’re crazy.

- There are actually projects you will never complete. Walk away.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Teaser Tuesday – Zombie WIP

Kira’s observation about her cat and her roommate Sheila:
Technically we weren’t supposed to have pets, but there was no way I was going to leave Kitty-Kitty behind to fend for herself. Luckily, Sheila and Kitty-Kitty got along, probably because they had the same personality – stubborn.