Friday, December 14, 2012

The Gifts of the Season: Step by Step

Happy Holidays! I hope you're all finding moments of peace and joy this season. I had a lot of fun creating my holiday card this year, and I thought I'd share the step-by-step process for anyone who might be interested. (Click on the images for a closer look.)
As always, I began with a very small, very simple thumbnail sketch of my idea.
Then I worked on creating a finished drawing, which I traced onto watercolor paper using a light board. My current favorite paper is Fabriano Artistico Soft Press, 140 lb.
Next, I did a value study on a printout, using a Wolff's Carbon Pencil.

Back to the watercolor paper. Now I did an underpainting of values using French Ultramarine Blue. (Sorry it's so blurry. The paper is taped to watercolor board, which makes scanning tricky.) Notice I left off the candy cane border. I knew I would be adding that as a layer in Photoshop later.
For the final painting, I used only 3 colors: French Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, and Cadmium Yellow. Though the penguins look black, they're actually a very, very dark purple. I did cheat once, using Viridian Green for the ribbon on the gift, because I wanted it to pop.
Now to make it snow! For this, I used a #1 brush and India ink, painting flakes on watercolor paper. Then I scanned it in and selected the background with the magic wand tool. I erased the background to make it transparent, and then changed the black flakes to white by using the brightness adjustment tool (under the Image menu). I then placed this layer on top of the penguin painting. I played with the spacing of the snowflakes by enlarging and reducing the layer until I felt it was just right.
Finally, I painted the candy cane frame on another piece of watercolor paper, scanned it in, selected the middle section with the magic wand, and erased it to make it transparent. This was placed on top of the other two layers. Viola! All done. Hope you enjoyed this peek into my process!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Loosening Up With Color

I know, I know, he should be doing Downward Dog instead of the Cobra Pose. (Click on the image for a larger view.) This is from an early reader chapter book I've been working on.  I'm really trying to concentrate on making my color palette more harmonious, which is something I struggle with. But I've found a book that's been super helpful.  It's an oldie but goodie called "Making Color Sing," by Jeanne Dobie.  One of my buddies over at PBAA recommended it, so I bought an old copy on Amazon.  (Word has it that the newer edition has lousy color reproduction, go figure, so if you buy a copy, make it the 1986 edition.)  The main lesson so far is to limit the number of colors you use and create your palette by mixing. So for this illustration the only watercolors I used are Rose Madder Genuine, Aureolin Yellow, Cobalt Blue, and Viridian Green.  I think these guidelines really help. What do you think? Do you limit your palette?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Getting Schooled

Many years ago a very talented illustrator (who's name I'm embarrassed to say I've forgotten) came to speak to our class at the American Academy of Art. He left us with this piece of wisdom: the vision that you create with your art will likely never completely meet the vision you have in your mind. Your ambition will always extend beyond your abilities, but that's OK, because it keeps you striving.  Or something like that.  I'm pretty sure he said it better than I did.

The point is, I'm always trying to learn how to be a better illustrator, and fortunately for me, the internet is filled with tutorials to help me in my quest.  I've found that there are two kinds of lessons: there's the tutorial that teaches a new technique or new tool, and there's the lesson that reminds you of something you already knew, but forgot.  I've found both of these kinds of lessons at a wonderful source called Folio Academy.

About a year and half ago I decided to take the digital plunge and bought a Wacom tablet. I'd been fiddling with it for a couple of months, feeling frustrated and a little lost, when a friend told me about a great on line art class by Will Terry called Digital Painting in Photoshop. For about the cost of a good sketchbook, I purchased the video series, and it turned out to be just what I needed.  I watched the videos over and over, taking notes, and then I plunged in. "Frog Boots" was my first experiment in digital art.

I was so inspired by Will Terry that I decided to see what else he could teach me, and I purchased "How to Illustrate Children's Books." The lessons in this series fall under the category: "Yes, I know that, but why aren't I doing it?" The wonderful thing about this on line course is it's broken down into separate videos with titles like "Character Design" and "Working With Color," so if I'm struggling with a certain aspect of a project, I can go back and watch the segment that will help me most at that moment.

In fact, I found Will to be such a great teacher and all around nice guy that I asked him to be a presenter at our SCBWI Illustrators' Conference last May! Here he is with our other presenter, Martha Rago, the art director for Harpercollins Children's Books. (Sorry for catching you with your eyes closed, Martha!) The feedback from the illustrators who attended confirmed what I already knew: Will Terry is a great teacher, whether on line or in person. You can find his and many other on line art classes at Folio Academy. So check it out, and keep striving!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Day Jitters

(click on the image to enlarge)

"Don't worry, you'll make new friends." That's what I always told my kids when they were disappointed not to see any familiar names on a class list.  And they always did make new friends. Whether by sharing a toy or a giggle over something silly, most kids are natural friend-makers.  The other day out walking the dog, I met a little boy who was eager to show me the monster truck on his sweatshirt.  Instant friend.

It seems to get a little trickier as we get older, doesn't it?  I'm always nervous walking into a room full of new people.  Especially if they all seem to know each other.  How will I fit in? What will I say? Maybe I should get a monster truck sweatshirt.

Friday, August 10, 2012

SCBWI Summer Conference: Inspiration Infusion

Well, this pretty much sums it up.  I'm back from my first ever SCBWI International Conference, and I'm so inspired, even my dog Buster feels it! (JK, he still sleeps all day.)  It was an incredible 4 days of keynote speeches, workshops, parties, and meeting new people.  I don't think I've been so sleep deprived since my kids were in cribs, which might explain why I cried 3 times during keynote speeches on Saturday.  (I think it was Saturday, it's all a blur.)

I took copious notes which I'm poring through so I can present at least a smidgeon of what I've learned to our Illustrators Network.  It's a lot to try to boil down, and if you want the details, you should really check out the SCBWI Conference Blog, but here are a few highlights:

Tony Diterlizzi, creator of the Wondla books, gave a hilarious keynote in which he impersonated Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Wendy from Peter Pan, and Alice from Wonderland.  I loved this guy before I ever met him, because he brought my sons and me hours of joy with The Spiderwick Chronicles.  He's incredibly talented, hard working, funny, and down to earth.  Great guy.

Melissa Sweet, creator of so many beautiful books, including the Golden Kite winner, Balloons Over Broadway, was a source of lots of great advice, but the one that sticks with me the most is "Do something fun every day in your studio."  Take risks, experiment, don't get too precious.

Gary Schmidt, author of The Wednesday Wars, gave a beautiful keynote speech in which he urged us to "write the stories that will give your readers more to be a human being with."  He said to give the reader questions, just as Dr. Seuss did in The Cat in the Hat when he ended with "What would you do if your mother asked you?"  Love that.

I stayed the extra day for the Illustrators Intensive on Monday and boy, was it worth it.  The day included a "First Look" Panel Review of Book Proposals.  On the panel were Laura Godwin, Vice President and Publisher of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers; Rubin Pfeffer, agent at East West Literary Agency; and Cecilia Yung, Art Director and Vice President at Penguin Books for Young Readers.  They chose 15 submission out of 49 to discuss, looking for "universal issues" that would guide us in our work.

I was delighted to have my book, "Miss Chicken and the Noisy Nuisance," chosen for discussion, and even more delighted that they all liked it!  I can't tell you how encouraging that was! I know I still have a lot of hard work to do to get my portfolio where I want it, but let me tell you, that was a great way to end the weekend.

Well, that's it for now, but if you want to hear more highlights from the conference (did I mention I took copious notes?) then you'll have to come to our next Illustrators Network meeting, which you can find out about here, (but give us a few days to update it). Cheers!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Nature and Nurture

I recently returned from a two week trip with the family to Glacier National Park.  What an incredibly beautiful place, everywhere you look.  It's amazing what unplugging and going out into nature can do for the body and soul.  Nick Kristoff did a good job describing it here. (Although he's way more hardcore than us car campers.)

When I wasn't too tired from hiking, I tried to keep up with my sketch-a-day regime.  Here's one I did of our campsite.
It seems like I just finished unpacking when it was time to pack again ... this time for the SCBWI conference in LA!  I leave in a few hours, and my nerves are starting to give over to excitement.  It's my first national conference, and I'll be sure to post about the experience when I get back.  Though I probably won't see much nature there, it's sure to be nurturing in a very different way!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Charming Alligator

Here's another page from my sketch-a-day exercise.
"He was a very charming alligator, and he explained that he filed his teeth every day, right after brushing, so as not to intimidate people."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Promotional Postcard

I finally got around to ordering new promotional postcards yesterday. (As always, click on the image for a larger view.) I'm beginning to suspect that I'm developing an obsession with squirrels, since they seem to keep showing up in my art. I blame our dog Buster, who is DEFINITELY obsessed with squirrels.

Friday, May 11, 2012

For all the moms ...

Here's hoping your little rascals treat you right on Sunday!

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Tomorrow's Earth Day! Go on outside and get yourself some nature. It'll do you good.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Don't Break the Chain!

A little while ago I celebrated a big birthday (nevermind how big. It's not polite to ask) and I decided to use the opportunity to make a resolution, since I was a little sloppy in the resolution department last January. I had recently read about Jerry Seinfeld's secret to productivity, and I'd been wanting to give it a try. You can read about it here. Basically, he says to get a calendar with all the days on one sheet. Then for every day you complete your task, which in his case is writing comedy, you get to make a big red X on the date. Eventually, you have a chain of red X's. In my case, my goal is to make a drawing from my imagination every day. And the X's are purple. I like purple. So I've been doing this, and it's been great. Sometimes I almost forget, and I'm tired and just want to go to sleep, and I can't think of anything to draw, but I don't want to break the chain, so I draw something. Even if it's just a kid trying to think of what to draw. Or a bug.

I even came up with an idea for my spring promo art this way. (More about that later. )

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Curse of the Pampered Pup

This is from a story idea I have about a pampered pup who longs for the vagabond lifestyle of his nemesis, a squirrel named Scarbutt. (I left the scar off since I thought it would be merely distracting without the back story.) And yes, this was inspired by our dog's eternal torment at the furry hands of the neighborhood squirrels.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Illustration Friday: Prepare

His mother tried hard to prepare him for the new baby, but he wasn't having any.