Friday, August 29, 2014

Illustrator Studies -by Eliza Wheeler

At the recent SCBWI LA Summer conference there was a lot of discussion about where a strong authorial or illustrative voice comes from. Great artists don't find their voice in a vacuum -- they study the masters that came before them. I loved hearing that Hunter S.Thompson re-typed 'The Great Gatsby' in its entirety to feel what it's like to write a great novel. Art Students are required to sit in museums and sketch off the work of painters and sculptors.

Study of Ernest Shepard, india ink

A similar practice that I use involves creating copies of illustrations that I love, using my own ink and watercolor process. Using the materials that I feel committed to gives me a chance to feel what it's like to make the artist's image with the marks of my own hand. I find this to be an incredibly clarifying (as well as meditative) process. I get glimpses of an elevated voice that I'm always reaching for.

Study of Lisbeth Zwerger, india ink and watercolor

Study of Lisbeth Zwerger, ink and watercolor

Study of Rebecca Dautremer, india ink and watercolor (special thanks to Lisa Anchin for introducing Rebecca's beautiful work to me)

It should go without saying that these are for study purposes only -- you cannot sell them, or claim that these works are yours (don't display them in your portfolio).

I hope you decide to try this process out and learn something for yourself!

~Eliza Wheeler
Author/Illustrator of NYT Bestseller 'Miss Maples Seeds'
Illustrator of Holly Black's Newbery Honor book, 'Doll Bones'
Illustrator of 'The Grudge Keeper', by Mara Rockliff
See her work online at

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Welcome, 2014 SCBWI-LA Illustration Mentees!

You can read a short bio about each Mentee plus explore portfolio and social media links at the 2014 Mentees page.

Some of the Mentors along with the Mentees. Photo: Rodolfo Montalvo.
This year, the Mentors were members of the SCBWI Illustration Committee -- along with one guest judge: Cecilia Yung (Art Director, Penguin), Priscilla Burris, E.B. Lewis, Paul O. Zelinsky, Laurent Linn (Art Director, Simon & Schuster Children's) and David Diaz. Laurent's been my art director for picture book projects at S&S, so I was excited to see that he was the guest judge this year!

First meet-up of the Mentors and Mentees. Photo: Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

During the Portfolio Showcase. Photo: Debbie Ridpath Ohi.
Congrats also Portfolio Showcase winner Cindy Derby as well as Honor Award winners Kara Kramer and Pedro Antonio Piedra.

Even if you didn't win an award for your portfolio at the Showcase, keep in mind that many industry people looked at your work. I've heard of illustrators getting contacted months and sometimes years after their work was seen at one of these Showcases, because someone in the industry picked up one of their postcards or remembered their portfolio.

New Mentee Jeslyn Kate Cantrell. Photo: Debbie Ridpath Ohi.
It was great getting a chance to chat with some of the new Mentees at the conference, and I look forward to following their work and careers.

Don't forget to check out the brand-new page about the 2014 SCBWI Illustration Mentees! You can also find out more about each Mentee at the links below:

Photo: Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

Robin Rosenthal - Website - Twitter
Ana Aranda Balcazar - Website - Twitter
Suzanne Kaufman - Website - Twitter
Kathryn Ault Noble - Website - Twitter
Jeslyn Kate Cantrell - Website - Twitter
Dorothia Rohner - Website - Twitter

Debbie Ridpath Ohi has illustrated books by Michael Ian Black and Judy Blume. Upcoming book projects include SEA-MONKEY AND BOB written by Aaron Reynolds, and WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? written and illustrated by Debbie, both coming out from Simon & Schuster Children's in 2015. Twitter: @inkyelbows.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Illustration Tech, Apps, & Books

Howdy All,

In this post I've gathered a list of tech, apps, books, and miscellany that I use frequently in my studio and I think would be helpful to other illustrators. 

1. The Epson Perfection V600 Scanner & Photoshop Photomerge

I recently upgraded to the Epson Perfection V600 to scan my illustrations. After researching brands, Epson was repeatedly recommend for their high quality standards. Epson has a range of scanners in the V series, but I found the V600 to be the right balance of price (around $200) and functionality. The edges of the 8.5"x11" scanner bed are flat and only slightly raised from the glass, making it possible to scan sections of large pieces of paper without shadows or blurriness. After the V600, Epson only appears to offer three options. There are the V700 & V750-M, but they cost $700+ and have the same size scanner bed as the V600. Beyond that, there's the Expression 11000XL Graphic Arts Scanner, a large format scanner with a scanner bed measuring 12"x17". It looks like a great solution for digitizing illustrations, but at $2,500 it's much more of an investment. 

I love painting big, but for the longest time I found scanning my illustrations to be a challenge. Then I was introduced to Photoshop's Photomerge function. It allows you to scan an illustration in sections and then automatically stitches them together, just like magic! Marsha Riti wrote a great blog post for illustrators on using Photomerge.

2. Mobile Apps

(Example of using my iPad as a second monitor using AirDisplay)

Adobe Nav: Turns your iPad into a remote for Photoshop, with customizable button layouts.
AirDisplay: Allows you to use your iPad as a second monitor for your computer.  It connects via wifi, which has the pro of being cordless but the con of slow response speeds. Highly portable and great for spreadsheets and reference. You can also draw on the iPad with a stylus, which is handy for making small corrections to drawings.
Art Rage: Painting app with a variety of customizable tools.
Dropbox: Great for making your portfolio or reference material portable, as well as sharing and delivering files.
Paper: Elegant mobile sketchbook.
Photoshop Express: Useful for basic image editing.
ProCreate: My favorite app for painting on the iPad.

3. Free Music & Podcasts 

(Image credit:

Coffitivity: Ambient coffee shop sounds.
Grooveshark: Free online music library, curated by users.
Jazz & Rain: Ambient rain sounds and jazz music.
Pandora: Online radio, channels are based on specific musicians and songs.
Slacker Radio: Online radio, similar to Pandora with different playlists.
Songza: A library of curated playlists based on activities, moods, and genres.
Spotify: Free online music library, like an all-you-can-eat iTunes.
NPR Podcasts: My favorites are Radiolab and This American Life.

4. Illustration Books

Framed Ink, by Marcos Mateu-Mestre. A guide to composition for visual storytelling, a quick read with many illustrated diagrams. I found the methods useful for arranging the flow of my illustrations and laying out dummy books.

( Image credit:

Imaginative Realism, by James Gurney. This book offers great practical advice on a how to illustrate scenes that don't exist in reality, topics range from taking reference photos to building maquettes.

( Image credit:

5. Customized Workspace

When talking with other illustrators, the topic of back and wrist pain has been coming up more and more lately, so I thought I'd share how I deal with long hours in the studio. After spending many years sitting at a desk and cultivating bad posture, I've altered my studio to allow for less sitting and more movement:

Standup desk: I simply put a sturdy end table on top of my desk, this allows me to stand or sit.
Easel: I bought a solid model that has a quick release trigger allowing me to quickly slide it up and down, perfect for alternating between standing and sitting.
Fitness Ball: Constantly requires you to use muscles to stay balanced, puts less pressure on the spine, and is fun to sit on. My friend has a version that comes with a sand bag inside to prevent the ball from roaming freely around the room.
Kitchen Timer: After getting similar advice from both my eye doc and chiropractor, I now take a 20 second break every 20 mins to look 20 feet away and stretch. This can sometime disrupt my flow, but after a long work day my body is definitely thankful I took those breaks.

Thanks for reading, I hope this post was helpful. Happy illustrating!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Inspiration by Brooke Boynton Hughes

I love the title of Linda's post, "Imagination is just memory in disguise".  So, I thought I'd follow Linda's lead and talk about the books that I loved as a kid and that continue to inspire my work as an adult.  I mentioned these books a couple weeks ago in this blog post, but I thought I'd go into a little more explantion here.

1.  Come Follow Me, by Gyo Fujikawa.

A lot of my favorite childhood book memories involve reading with my mom or grandma, but this book is one that I loved to look at when I was alone in my room.  I have a really clear memory of how magical Gyo Fujikawa's illustrations felt to me.  The world created in Come Follow Me is one that I longed to inhabit.  The fairies and gnomes and trolls seemed so real and familiar.  The magic that this book contained for me is something that I hope to recreate, even just a little bit, in my own work. 

2.  The Clown of God, by Tomie DePaola

This is a book that my grandma and I read together over and over again.  The story is lovely and touching and the illustrations are beautifully designed.  This book taught me about composition, page design, and pacing.  The ending of this book always makes me cry.  In a good way. 

3. The Maggie B. and The Little Moon Theater, by Irene Haas

I really love the work of Irene Haas.  There's something about anthropomorphic animals living side by side with humans that I find wildly appealing.  Just like Come Follow Me, the worlds of both The Maggie B. and The Little Moon Theater, felt so alive to me!  JoJo, Jip, and Nicolette were my friends and I longed to join their traveling troupe.  Maggie's boat was cozy and comfortable and was a place that I loved to visit.  And my mom always did the voices and sang the songs in The Little Moon Theater, which was so great!  I'm certain that The Little Moon Theater has everything to do with why I love drawing animals wearing hats and sweaters. 

4. Where's Wallace, by Hilary Knight

Hilary Knight's characters are lively and expressive and full of movement.  The relationship between Wallace and Mr. Frumbee is one of fondness and comfort and also a bit of mischief and deception, which was such a great combination as a kid.  I love searching for Wallace in the detailed, double page spreads, while the black and white pages provide a visual break and help build anticipation.

5.  The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher, by Molly Bang

This is such a strange and wonderful wordless story.  Color is used in an unusual and interesting way and the ending is so very satisfying.  The characters are endearing, even the naughty Strawberry Snatcher.  The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher played a huge part in establishing my love of wordless picture books.  I've been working on a dummy for my own wordless story called Brave Molly, which is named after Molly Bang. 

There were so many books that I loved as a kid (Where the Wild Things Are, The Patchwork Cat, Rain Makes Applesauce...) but these six were my very favorites.  There were movies and t.v. shows, too, (The Goonies, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock) that I watched over and over and that inspire my work as an illustrator. 

When I'm feeling creatively stuck, revisiting these books and movies helps get me unstuck.  There is much inspiration to be found in the pages of childhood favorites.  What were your favorites?  Which childhood books continue to inspire you? 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Imagination is just memory in disguise. by Linda Dorn

Inspiration is the theme given to me for this weeks article. About a month ago I underwent the transition from teaching to full time artist. Sounds easy, going from talking about creating art to making it, yet there I was facing down a blank canvas with a question mark over my head.

I had a lot of ideas, but they all seemed contrived, generic. So I left the house and drew. I found a deer in a petting zoo nearby and visited her everyday until I was seeing and drawing something fresh and full of life. This is how I get my kickstart.

Zoo sketches, and the final illustration:

Drawing in public places like this is also a great opportunity to eavesdrop. Yes, eavesdrop.  Now I know what your thinking. I was also rather horrified when my very brilliant writing teacher made it a regular assignment. Write down word for word what you hear, then create a story from it. Best writing advice I've had so far. 

"Imagination is just memory in disguise", hearing this phrase was almost worth the entire cost of the masters degree. We will draw what we know, what we see, so you better fill your head with rich material. Once I accepted this, I was able to select which memories I chose to fuel my creativity, and weed out the cliches. 

I see so many young artists looking at the popular trends for inspiration. But some of the most innovative artists pull their inspiration from the past. Tim Burton (fellow alumni) was highly inspired by one particular film he saw in film school, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a 1920 German silent horror film. Pendleton Ward's (also fellow alumni) tv series Adventure Time, pulls some bits from the old rubber hose cartoons of the 1940s.

Hitchcock and Terry Gilliam use what we call "creative invention" by juxtaposing two things that do not belong together, something new emerges, and that evokes a story. Hitchcock said "if you take a woman dressed in an elegant cocktail dress, and put her in a uptown party there is no story. Take the same woman in an elegant dress, put her in the stoke hold of a cargo ship, then you raise questions, and you have a story." My mentor, a film production designer showed me a grand secret, if you combine images you can invent something new. It does not work if you just think it through because your mind will organize it in a conventional way. But if you lay out a variety of images in front of you, you can begin to see how you can combine them and create something extraordinary. This is Gilliam's technique, he combines old and new, mixes up architectural styles, genres, it is always exciting and fresh.

So if your looking for inspiration, don't jump on the computer to see what is hot and what is not, as tempting as it is. Consider what you love in this world, bring together all the things that have appealed you and see what could be combined. Go outside, look around, draw. If you look hard enough, you'll see it is rather exciting out there and you'll find something to share.

Linda Dorn is an illustrator and animator living in Southern California. To see more of her work go to

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Enemies of Growth - by Jessica Lanan

Over the years I have encountered a few creatures dwelling in my mind that can impede growth. Fortunately, these critters can be trained and kept in check. Below are my field notes from my experiences with the three most common species.

The Ego (Vanus Fragilis)

 Habitat: Your mind
Diet: Flattery and attention
Habits: Strictly solitary

The Ego is a sensitive soul. It craves reassurance and takes failure quite personally. Desperate to convince itself that it is valuable, the Ego and will avoid situations where failure might occur. "Don't enter the contest, don't send the manuscript!" the Ego will plead, because it's easier to say I didn't try than I didn't succeed.

Unfortunately for the Ego, failure is a necessary part of growth. We learn the most when we push ourselves out of our comfort zones and try new things. The best way to succeed is to increase our failure rate, and the best way to learn is to face our failures head on and look at what worked, what didn't, and why.

    Tips for Tempering an Ego:
  • Avoid overfeeding. Egos gorge themselves on attention.
  • Cultivate gratitude.
  • Remember: The Ego is not you—it just lives in your mind.
  • Set up a nice little Ego-cage in the back of your mind where it can stay out of the way.
  • Stay away from junk foods like flattery, which lead to a bloated and irritable Ego.

The Critic (Incuso Virosa)

Habitat: Your Mind
Diet: Negativity
Habits: Venomous. Often nocturnal, brings up worries at bedtime.

A wild Critic can lash out at your work (or life in general) with potent venom. “You aren’t talented enough,” the Critic will whisper in your ear. “Look at this other person’s work. It’s so much better.” The Critic will dredge up your mistakes and mockingly parade them before your eyes at your moment of greatest weakness.

As terrible as it sounds, A Critic can be helpful if it is trained to come out only when needed. The Critic is handy when deciding which thumbnail composition is better and why, or editing that manuscript in the second draft. But if it starts telling you that everything you make is garbage or that you’re not nearly as good as so-and-so, it’s time to go back in the kennel.

Tips for Coping with a Critic:
  •  Use a muzzle to keep it from biting
  • Feed it as little negativity as possible. 
  • Don’t let the Critic’s words become your own.
  • It’s okay to tell it to settle down. (Yes, out loud. Try it, I dare you!)
  • Critics shy away from laughter and fun. Remember fun?
  • Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people.

The Sloth (Choloepus Languidus)

Habitat: Your Mind
Diet: Inactivity
Habits: None

The sloth really wants you to succeed. It does. But it would rather not give up its Netflix marathons and surfing Facebook on its phone.

The Sloth is the creature that will tell you that your first thumbnail is good enough. Why bother trying other compositions? It will discourage you from taking those figure drawing classes you need, because that sounds like a lot of work after all. If you have a feeling that you need to work on your craft but you never seem to get around to doing it, you might be contending with one of these creatures.

Not to worry! Sloths can be trained. When properly employed, a Sloth can stop you from becoming a perfectionist, particularly on the projects that just aren’t worth the time. If you’re getting paid a pittance for an illustration, it probably isn't time to make the Mona Lisa. All it takes to train a Sloth is a little bit of priority shifting and the adoption of some new habits.

Tips for Training a Sloth:
  • Track your time and identify distractions.
  • If online distraction is a problem, you can use LeechBlock (Firefox) or StayFocused (Chrome) to limit the sites you can visit during specific times.
  • Put your phone out of reach and turn off notifications.
  • Force yourself to work on a project for just 20 minutes. Chances are good that the Sloth will slink away as you start to have fun with the project.
  • Work at a consistent time. Find a schedule that works for you.

In a Nutshell:

If you have a Critic, Ego or Sloth, don't beat yourself up over it. It's normal! Identify the species that is impeding your growth the most, and take a small step this week to help tackle it.


Jessica Lanan is a children's book writer and illustrator living in Boulder, Colorado. See more of her work at, on facebook or twitter.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Interview with Caldecott Honor, Molly Idle - by Juana Martinez-Neal

Author Illustrator, Molly Idle.
Today, we have with us the most wonderful, Caldecott Honor winner, Molly Idle. Her latest book, CAMP REX (Viking Press) has just been released on April 22, and we could not wait to interview her to chat a bit about the new adventures of Cordelia, George, TRex and his friends. 

We met Cordelia and the gang at tea time on Molly's first book with Viking Press, TEA REX. This time, they are back and venturing into the outdoors on this second book, CAMP REX.

Now, let's get to the interview. Good morning, Miss Molly! Thanks for being here with us. 

"Camp Rex" by Molly Idle - Viking Press, 2014.
First, I have to ask- are you Cordelia? 
Ah yes, I am. Or, at least, she and I have a lot in common. Cordelia and I both get so focused on the tasks at hand, and on doing them well, wanting to do them perfectly really... That we often forget to live in the moment and enjoy ourselves and the company of those around us. Luckily, I have my boys here to remind me to loosen up, stay present, and embrace the wonderful mishmosh of everyday silliness that is my life.  They are my Rex and George.

True, we learn so much from our children. Would you tell us one thing you learned while working on "Camp Rex"? 
A note from my art director, about a possible inaccuracy in one of my sketches, led me to research poisonous plants. Did you know that poison ivy grows not only as a creeping ground cover, but can grow as bushes as well?! I get itchy just thinking about it... "Leaves of three- Let it be" folks!

"Camp Rex" by Molly Idle - Viking Press, 2014.
I'm curious... what books did you reference while working on Camp Rex?

Ah Google, how I love thee for instant reference material... Did you know that all the early 20th century Boy Scout and Girl Scout manuals are available as PDFs online? Neither did I before I started working on Camp Rex... But now I do. And now you do too! 

What advice can you share with illustrators who want to start writing?  

Read! You've got to read to understand how to write. My boys are 7 and 9, so for years now, I've been reading a lot of picture books. A LOT! And not just reading them once, but over and over. There was a period of about a year when my boys wanted to hear Jim Averbeck's book "In A Blue Room", 3 times every night! After the first 100 reads, I really got to know that book, why my boys loved it so, and why it worked, as a truly lovely book, on so many levels. 

And before we go... Camping trip essentials?

"Camp Rex" by Molly Idle - Viking Press, 2014.

Thanks so very much, Molly! And, congratulations on your Caldecott Honor. We look forward to seeing you receive your Caldecott Honor in June! 

You can find more about Molly on her website and Twitter.
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Juana Martinez Neal is a children's author illustrator and mami born in Lima, Peru and living in sunny Arizona. She's represented by Stefanie Von Borstel of Full Circle Literary.  Twitter | Blog