Wednesday, February 27, 2013

suspense vs. stupidity in movies and TV shows

Sometimes when I’m watching a movie or a TV show, and somebody does something really stupid, I just want to yell at them. I know they can’t hear me, but someone should yell at them. Here’s an example. I was watching a show where there’s a killer in the house, and the character knows that the killer is in the house. So what does she decide to do? She goes into the basement! And then I had this conversation running through my head:

Wait, what are you DOING? Don’t go in the basement. Do NOT go in the basement. ACK! OMG! Why aren’t you listening to me fictional character lady? Why do you want to go down to the basement? Haven’t you ever seen a horror movie? I don’t care if you’re an FBI agent and have a gun. There’s a killer. In the HOUSE! Probably in the basement, where you’re going! And if they aren’t in the basement, they will be soon, so get out of there! Better yet, LEAVE THE HOUSE! If you’re not there, they can’t kill you.

Oh, and another thing, why is it that the lights never seem to work in the basement and they always have to use a flashlight? Turn on the light people! Okay, that would alert the killer that you were coming downstairs, but so will the flashlight and the creaking stairs. So, turn on the light! That way you can see the killer when he or she jumps out at you!

Oh No! The scary music is playing. Now you did it! Yes, I know you already called for backup, because, let’s face it, killer in the house! That’s why you should stay upstairs, where they can find you, until they come, you know, to back you up! No, don’t go down those stairs! I’m going to tell your mother! There’s nothing down there you really need to see or do that can’t wait until after the other people get there so that the killer doesn’t kill you.

Good job! You made it to the basement and you’re still alive! We’re all proud of you, you risk taker. No GET OUT!

Seriously. Leave the basement! Leave it NOW! Just DO IT! Just get out of the basement! Just GO! UPSTAIRS! NOW! RIGHT NOW!

---If you & your friends continue being too stupid to live,* I’m going to stop watching.---

They’re hiding behind the curtain. The killer. Is behind. THE CURTAIN!


She’s right behind you! RUN! No, not that way, the other way!


---Watching movies and/or TV is fun, when it doesn’t give you a heart attack.---

Oh goody, here's another show. What's this guy doing? Dude, do NOT go in that basement! Get out of the house and call the POLICE! Seriously! Did you not learn anything when I was yelling at the FBI lady? Great. He's not listening to me either. Shocker! But he hasn't gone to the basement yet. He looks too scared:

Do you think he's going to the basement? Do you ever yell at the characters on TV or in the movies when they're doing stupid things?

How does stupidity build suspense on the screen? It doesn't! It just makes the viewer frustrated.
* She lived to see another episode. The killer got caught, and all ended happy-happy, well except for the people who were already dead. They probably weren’t too happy.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Whispering Jerboas for Illustration Friday

The prompt this week for Illustration Friday is whisper. I had a lot of ideas, but the one below got sketched out first. It's one jerboa whispering to another jerboa.

(A jerboa is a small rodent with big ears and long tails with a fluffy bit at the end, sort of like a kangaroo+mouse+bunny - yes, it's a real animal.)

I wasn't completely satisfied with that sketch. It looks like the words the jerboa on the right is saying (whisper whisper whisper ...) is actually a tongue. Then I remembered that I started a picture last year of a jerboa that looks like a dragon, who had accidentally stepped on a smaller jerboa. I remembered it because the background color is purple too. The dragon is whispering that he's sorry, and the smaller jerboa is whispering, "ouch!" I cleaned up the sketch a bit and decided to post it too (it saved much lighter than the original).

It's a bit hard to see the smaller jerboa, so here's a close-up:

I think this might be my favorite part of the image, other than the fluffy clouds, because even though he's smashed, you know he'll be okay ... eventually. None of these images are going into my portfolio, but that doesn't mean there won't be a jerboa in there somewhere!

Friday, February 22, 2013

my inner editor is an angry tiger

Do you ever have days where you feel like an angry tiger trapped in a tiny glass box? My inner editor does! That's why I had to snap this picture* recently. This is totally what my inner editor looks like when she gets angry and throws a temper tantrum (usually because she wants to play instead of let me work on my writing or illustrating - my inner editor is good with distraction):

In the end, I always find a way to work around her (usually when she's asleep). Lucky for me, cats like to sleep a LOT. Unfortunately, they also like to play a LOT! And my inner editor kitty is too big to ignore. Plus, look at those teeth! Her claws are huge too. Trust me, you don't want to mess with her.

So I've got my work cut out for me.

What does your inner editor look like? How do you work around him/her/them?

*Picture taken at the Museum of Natural History. This really was an angry tiger in a glass box!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

4 movies in 4 days: A Good Day To Die Hard, Argo, Warm Bodies, Wreck-It-Ralph

Last weekend was a long weekend due to the President's Day holiday on Monday. Since my husband and I haven't been able to see a movie in many months (something always seemed to come up), we decided to make up for it over the weekend by seeing a movie every day. BTW, the last movie we saw in theaters was The Avengers.

The first movie we saw was: A Good Day To Die Hard. Since it was the day after Valentine's Day, we wanted to see a romantic movie. Ha-Snort! We've seen and enjoyed the other four Die Hard movies, so it was fun to see bullets flying, things exploding, and John McClane (Bruce Willis) not dying when he should, or even getting seriously injured. If you liked the first four movies, then you know exactly what to expect. Despite rumors, there is a plot! Can't remember the last time we went to see a movie on opening weekend (usually too crowded for us).

Movie number two was Argo. We had wanted to see it for a while and were happy it was still in the theaters. Argo was an excellent though intense movie, with edge of your seat anticipation of what you knew was going to happen, based on the real story, but not knowing how it was going to happen. If you haven't seen Argo, I recommend seeing it in the theater if it's still in your area. Amazing story, even more so because they all lived and were able to keep the secret for many years. The real photos, juxtaposed with the movie stills at the end, show how close they got to the real people and events.

The third weekend movie was Warm Bodies. I LOVED this movie. It's a funny zombie love story that shows one way the zombie apocalypse could play out. If you know me, you know that I love zombies, but that doesn't mean that I love all zombie movies and shows. This movie was smart and funny, and full of hope for the world if the zombies ever take over. It has all the qualities of a really great YA novel in movie form (though I think the original book by Isaac Marion was published as an adult novel). See this movie, even if you don't usually go for zombies.

Wreck-It-Ralph was our final movie choice. We couldn't believe it was still in the theaters (verrrrry limited showtimes), but were happy to finally get a chance to see it. I was really psyched that Q*Bert got a role in the movie. I love Q*Bert! Also fun to see all the other video games and remember the days when I used to go to the arcades. All-in-all, a fun movie for kids and adults, with jokes for both age groups. It was smarter and funnier that I thought it was going to be, with several quotable lines. One of the funniest bits wasn't on the screen though. It was a scene in the bar where the bartender is mixing up a drink. One of the kids behind us asked another kid, "why is he shaking that grenade?" I'll never think of a cocktail shaker the same way again!

As if four movies in four days weren't enough, in one of the theaters, we got to learn fun facts about movies! At which point we realized that the person who typed up the fun facts did not know what fun facts are. Mostly they were just facts, without the fun. It made for many giggles and groans, which in retrospect was fun, so maybe the person typing up the facts knew what they were doing after all! My favorite fun fact was this one:

If you can't read it, it says, "Thor's weapon of choice is a hammer."

A fun fact indeed, especially if you like hammers, or weapons, or superheroes who use hammers as weapons, or if you saw the movie, or if you know who Thor is, or if you've ever owned a hammer, especially if you've used the hammer to hammer in a nail, but not if you've used it as a weapon, because really, who uses a hammer as a weapon? Oh right, Thor. See, that was fun!

Fun facts. Fun movies. Fun weekend. We're hoping to go to movies more frequently this year. We may never make up for all the movies we missed last year, but it will be fun to try!

Did you see any movies last weekend? What did you watch? What are you looking forward to seeing?

Monday, February 18, 2013

sheep and woolly mammoth for Illustration Friday and President's Day

The prompt for Illustration Friday this week is wool. Of course the first thing I thought of was sheep. The second thing I thought of was a woolly mammoth! Then I realized that Monday was President's Day in the US. All three of those ideas swirled together to make this image:

One of my favorite things about this picture is that the background looks like a ball of blue yarn exploded, which is exactly the effect I was going for. I also really like the stovepipe hat and ball of yarn. The wig on the woolly mammoth doesn't work quite as well as I wanted, but it does still give him a George Washington vibe. I don't know about you, but when I think of woolly mammoths, I think of George Washington (okay, not really, but I will now).

To celebrate President's Day, Abe the sheep and George the woolly mammoth are going shopping at the mall. Abe is hoping to get a new pair of knitting needles, and George is planning to get a new hat (he's jealous of Abe's). After the mall, they're going for pizza, because they didn't get to eat a whole lot of pizza as president (state dinners tend to serve more formal food).

What are you doing today? Are you celebrating President's Day? Going shopping? Enjoying the day off of work? Or just having a regular Monday?

I'm planning to go to a movie!

See more art on my website:

Friday, February 15, 2013

my new motto, thanks to Mo Willems

I have a new motto, thanks to Mo Willems:

“The glass is half full of poison.” – Mo Willems (NY 2013 SCBWI Conference)

Some people might find this depressing, but to me, it’s optimistic.

Yes, seriously.

Mo said this right after Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton finished speaking. The very last question they answered was about the positive message of their books. In her answer, Julie Andrews talked about being a glass half full kind of person.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a glass half full kind of person. When asked, I’ll usually say I’m a glass half full person too, but that’s only because the other option is glass half empty.

I never liked that there were only two options.

Who wants to always be Happy! Happy! Happy! Or clinically depressed and thinking the world, or at least your world, is all about to end?

I always wanted a third option, or a fourth, or a fifth!

So, when Mo got up and said that the glass was half full of poison, not only was it funny; it also opened a whole world of possibilities. Today the glass is half full of poison, but tomorrow it could be full of chocolate chips or tiny swimming fish (or roly-poly fish heads).

Someone out there is probably saying, “But what if I drink the poison?”

That’s not the point. The glass is either half full, or half empty, but the liquid (or whatever) is never going to be consumed. The contents are what they are. The level never changes, because if you drink part of the half full glass, it makes it half empty, and if you drink the half empty glass, there’s nothing left.

Now someone is probably commenting on the fact that it’s a stupid question.

Yes, yes it is.

But at least now there’s another, more interesting question to go along with the original: “What is the glass half full (or empty) of?”

That question is a glass half full of possibilities, and the reason that my new motto is: The glass is half full of poison.

Thanks Mo!

Want to know more about the NY 2013 SCBWI Conference? I posted two sets of notes from the conference: Illustrator’s Intensive on Friday and the main conference on Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Octopus and Clown Fish in a Snowstorm - for IF

The theme for Illustration Friday this week is storm. It was announced the day winter storm Nemo hit, so I decided to include a few clown fish in a snowstorm. Since the first thing I thought of when I heard the theme was the iconic movie poster from Firestarter (the one with Drew Barrymore's hair raging around her), I added a octopus whose tentacles rage around in the storm.

It's hard to see the details, so here's a crop:

Here's another crop. I actually like this one as a complete image by itself!

See more art on my website,

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

NY 2013 SCBWI Conference - Part 2: Main Conference Notes

The NY SCBWI 2013 conference was inspiring and informative, and it was great to see old friends and meet new ones too. Note: speakers are paraphrased unless there are quotes – I couldn’t scribble fast enough to keep up. Also, I don’t have notes for all the speakers. Sometimes I listened without taking notes. Here are some highlights from Saturday and Sunday:

Molly O’Neil (Editor at Katherine Teagan Books/HarperCollins):

- Questions she asks when evaluating a ms submission: Do I love it as a reader? Am I fascinated by it as an editor? Can I see others having a similar reaction? Who is this book for and who is going to love it first? Do I have a specific vision for this book? Can I publish this successfully? Is the timing for this book right?
- Some books have great questions or concepts, but other aspects aren’t as strong. The whole book has to live up to the concept.
- Loves beautiful writing, but story, plot, and characters need to be there too.
- The story needs to be respectful of the key moments of being that age (whatever age the book is for).
- An agent is an advocate for the writer. An Editor is an advocate for the reader.
- Need to find a balance between the universal and specific. Readers are looking for themselves in the story.
- Resonance connects the story to readers so it lives and stays with them. Even if they don’t remember the details, they remember how it made them feel. It has to feel true to the reader.
- Write what you know emotionally. True emotions you have known, no matter the type of story or setting.
- Plotting advice: Take a book you think does what you want to do and outline it to see skeleton of what you think works.

Jennifer Besser (publisher at G.P. Putnam's Sons):

- Emotional investment on the part of the author comes through in the writing.
- If you’re bored, we’re bored (the reader).
- If you’re not invested, we’re not invested (the reader).
- The power of observation: it’s the small details about the character that say so much. (Example of small details: Ramona’s parents tell her to leave for school at “quarter after eight” so she won’t be late. Ramona doesn’t know what “quarter after eight” means. She reasons that a quarter is twenty-five cents, so “quarter after eight” must mean eight twenty-five. She is late for school.)
- The first book she signed up as a children’s book editor was Percy Jackson.
- Penguin doesn’t have an acquisitions meeting. People still have to sign off on books, but editors are allowed to build their own lists.

Margaret Peterson Haddix: One of her latest books is GAME CHANGER, which she talked about and sounds really interesting. I haven’t had a chance to read her books yet, but after hearing her speak, I can’t wait.

- It’s the story itself that matters, not the device that children read it on.
- She made a list, when starting out, of the things she wanted her books to have: 1. Adventure that’s out of the ordinary. 2. Cliffhanger chapter endings. 3. Spunky characters (not necessarily fearless, because that’s not real). 4. Characters she could think of as friends.
- Recommends making your own list of what you want your books to be like. (Note: This was one of my favorite pieces of advice from the conference, and something I intend to do!)
- She pictures her audience as kids who don’t/won’t read and say they don’t like it. She asks questions that make that reader want to read her books.
- Fail big if you have to, but go down trying! You have to take risks with writing and publishing.

Mo Willems: I love Mo’s books and sense of humor. He was the perfect person to end the conference and to follow Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton. They were very positive message people, which was great, but Mo brought humor and a dash of reality to end the conference. His latest picture book, GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE DINOSAURS, is a clever twist on an old classic.

- The glass is half full of poison. (I really love this! Will blog on Friday about it.)
- My job is to make incomprehensible books for illiterates. (Text and art in PBs doesn’t make sense alone. Need them both for PBs to work.)
- He’s trying to make stories that are going to be read, “a million-bazilliony times.” Craft needs to be strong to withstand multiple readings.
- How to Write in 4 Easy Steps, 4 Kinda Harder Steps, and 1 Pretty Much Impossible Step … click here to see the list on his blog .
- Have better dreams because you will never reach your dreams. The goal that makes him work harder is: “I dream that everything I write will change the world for better.”
- The writing works when the writer is invisible.
- Read the very best books of the type you want to write, then find the flaws. The flaws are where you can make your story better. (Example: In FROG AND TOAD, which on is Frog? Which on is Toad? Nobody will confuse Elephant and Piggie from his books.)
- The character is what makes the story, not the hook.
- No one knows what’s funny. Funny people only know what’s not funny. Take away what’s not funny. What’s left is funny. If it’s not, start over.
- Starts art in the middle of the book so the beginning and ending have the best drawings. (Note: This was really interesting and made sense to me. Going to have to try it!)
- Your job is to be some child’s best friend (you might be their only friend – some kids don’t have good childhoods).

Monday, February 11, 2013

NY 2013 SCBWI Conference - Part 1: Illustrator's Intensive

The NY SCBWI 2013 Illustrator’s Intensive had a ton of excellent and inspiring speakers. Here are some highlights from Friday’s Illustrator’s Intensive (Note: speakers are paraphrased unless there are quotes – I couldn’t scribble fast enough to keep up. Also, I don’t have notes for all the speakers. Sometimes I listened without taking notes.):

Shaun Tan: I was lucky to be able to see Shaun at the Illustrator’s Intensive and at the main conference. (Note: I’ve combined both of his sessions here.) His latest book, THE BIRD KING, a compilation of sketches, artwork, and commentary from Shaun about his work, was just released. One of my favorite things about his new book is some of the influences for his art and how that turned into characters for his books. His art is amazing and it was cool to see his process and hear him talk about creativity.

- Style emerges from visual experiences.
- Style is more about how you think and solve problems, that defines who you are, and less about medium and how you use it.
- Style is like personality.
- Stories that migrate are universal (TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA).
- THE ARRIVAL started as a 32 pg. picture book and was influenced by the work of Raymond Briggs (THE SNOWMAN and WHERE THE WIND BLOWS)
- Wasn’t into comics before THE ARRIVAL. He had to learn how to draw them while doing the book.
- Doesn’t ask if it’s a PB, GN, or short story. Just thinks it’s a good idea.
- You don’t need to tell a story to tell a story. Let the reader do the work.

David Ezra Stein: His new book OL’ MAMA SQUIRREL  is out in March – only a short time to wait! He talked about the process of creating the characters and book. Can’t wait to see it when it comes out!

- Only you can make art the way you do it.
- “The secret was getting the right nose for the squirrel.” (Talking about his new book, and how he did all the art over after submitting final art to the publisher. The old art was good, but the new art was great. And it has the new nose. It reminds him of a periscope, or a tater tot.)
- On re-doing all the art: he said that he should have kept going with the character sketches in the beginning instead of just picking a squirrel he kind-of liked.
- Listen to your ideas. Turn off the TV. Write the ideas down. Doodle!

The Brothers Hilts: After I registered, I forgot they were speaking at the intensive, so it was a fun surprise when they got up to talk about the book they illustrated, THE INSOMNIACS. This is such an awesome book. Amazing art and a great story (by Karina Wolf). They talked about the production process for their book and especially the problems they had with reproducing the dark colors in their original art.

- When working digitally, the ICC profile from the printer can be loaded into Photoshop to help you see what the printed art will look like. You also might have to turn the monitor down.
- The actual book itself is the art, not the painting or what’s on your computer.
- When the color looks bad (too bright and garish) it’s probably good (for printing). Or at least this was true for their art for this book.

Mark Teague: He’s one of my favorite children’s book illustrators. I love his art! He’s talented picture book writer as well. The book shown here, FIREHOUSE! is the book he talked about creating. He’s also known for the HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY … series (with author Jane Yolen), the LA RUE series, and my favorite, THE GREAT GRACIE CHASE (written by Cynthia Rylant).

- The work is the most important thing. (He doesn’t do book fairs, school visits, blog, etc. He says he’s a bit of a hermit.)
- “You can do anything, absolutely anything, as long as you can make it work.”
- On picture books for very little kids (like FIREHOUSE! which is a sequel to FUNNY FARM): The pictures do the work and the text is not as important. You need strong characters and a simple story.
- “One of the really most important aspects of a PB is when you turn the page.”
- Starts with acrylics for under painting, then paints layers of water soluble oils on watercolor blocks (so he doesn’t have to stretch paper) for the finished art.
- It takes him 3-5 days to do an image. The whole book (final art) takes 3-4 months. It takes about 6 months per project.
- Key in fantasy is you believe in characters, and the ordinary kid stuff and ordinary details make it more believable.
- As long as you can carry a story (art), you can create a PB. You’re storytellers. Take yourself seriously as a storyteller.
- Illustrators need to find their voice (presence, and something to say, and satisfaction as an artist), just like writers do.
- Think about your audience. “Don’t do dumb work. Do NOT be boring.” (On clichés and recycling ideas.)
- “The only cliché for illustrators that works is, Go Back To The Drawing Board.” Whenever your career, book, etc. not going well or you’re distracted, go back to the drawing board. The work will sustain you.
- Don’t forget it’s fun. Sense of fun will also help sustain you.
- Come to illustration with the mentality like you’re talking about doing something that’s going to get you in trouble.
- If you’re good at illustration, Bring It, and don’t worry about market as much.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

wheel: art for Illustration Friday

The topic for Illustration Friday this week was wheel. When I first read it, I thought it was Whee! I didn't have a ton of time, so I ended up doing a really detailed sketch, a black outline, and a crop of quick color sketch. No finished art in this bunch, but I like the drawing, so I might do another one in the future, or finish the color for this one. I thought people might like to see the process, so I'm posting all three images.

Mice! And Wheels! And ... hey, is that a cat? The original sketch:

The original sketch is a little hard to see, but you can tell that there are wheels everywhere. Or at least I hope you can see all the round circles.

After I scanned it, I re-drew it with black outline. I used thick black lines and didn't worry about fine details because I thought I was going to have time to do more with it before posting. Here's the black layer:

 You can see the line better now, but it's still not finished. I decided to do a small crop and play with color. Normally I don't do this step, but I knew I wouldn't have time to do finished art and wanted to do a quick color study for later.

I cropped the image where the car was to emphasize the wheel theme. Plus I like that there's also a squirrel, a dog, and a mouse reading a book in this part. Hmm. Looks like I forgot to color in the tongue of the mouse on the bottom. If I do final color, I'll make sure to add that in. Here's the color layer:

I've been thinking about wheels a lot lately for a book I'm working on. It was fun to draw them and play with a different set of characters for these sketches.

Tomorrow it's back to the drawing board for the other set of wheel images, but for today, it's all about the mice, and the squirrel, and dog, cat, ants, and birds!

BTW, I almost put a bat into the image, but it didn't work, so there are two birds. Maybe the Illustration Friday topic next week will be bats. We'll find out tomorrow! Until then, the bats are sleeping.

There's more art on my website:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

no more Canadian pennies - is the US next?

They announced on the news today that Canada is no longer minting* pennies because they cost more to produce than they are worth. This makes me sad. I've always liked the penny, and the sayings that go along with it, like:

"Penny for your thoughts."


"Find a penny, pick it up. All day long you'll have good luck!"

I hope that the US doesn't decide to follow Canada's example, but I fear that the writing's been on the wall for the penny for a while now. A lot of people don't value the penny. A girl I used to work with would toss out her pennies. Well, she did, until she found out it bothered me. After that she'd just hand me pennies whenever she wanted to get rid of them. Many stores and public transportation (at least in my area) don't like pennies either. My philosophy is that pennies add up, but even some bank tellers look at you sideways if you try to change in a bunch of pennies for paper money.

Speaking of pennies, I wrote about the value of pennies a while back (September 29, 2008):

Pondering Pennies
Why is it that cashiers no longer think it’s necessary to give you your change if it’s only a penny? This has happened to me several times lately (way too many times, if you ask me). The cashier is always upset that I want my penny, and that I am willing to stand there, while they check out someone else, in order to get the money that is rightfully mine.

The cashier today thought it was funny that she forgot to give me my penny, then was annoyed when I wanted it back. I had to wait (a long time) to get my change because the next person in line had a big order. While checking them out, she asked everyone that walked by if they happened to have a penny she could give me and she’d pay them back. She wasn’t willing to admit she was wrong for keeping my change, but she sure didn’t want management to notice me standing there waiting for change that she didn’t give me. (Nobody had a penny; I waited.)

Now I know that pennies aren’t worth much (roughly a penny on most days), but if cashiers don’t give penny change to every customer, that money adds up for the business AND for the customer. A penny may only be a penny, but if this happens 100 times, then it’s a dollar. If it keeps happening, those pennies and dollars can add up to a lot of money.

Even if I don’t lose hundreds of pennies in the long run, it’s still MY money, and I should be able to decide if I want to pay more for things or keep my pennies to help purchase something else.

Are people taking your pennies too? Do you ask them for your change if they don’t give it to you?
I for one will miss the penny if it goes away. I'm going to miss the Canadian penny too. I didn't see them often, but every once in a while one would slip into a change drawer and land in my pocket when I got change after buying something.

Long live the penny, even if in the future it's only in our memories!

* Thanks to Mirka for pointing out that they are minting, not printing pennies. Though I swear they said printing on the news. Either that, or I'm so used to hearing printing because of children's books that I switched it in my brain before writing the post!