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

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mini-interview with Martha Rago: Associate Creative Director at HarperCollins Children's Books on the SCBWI and Illustrators - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I'm so enjoying working with Martha Rago for RUBY ROSE ON HER TOES, a new picture book written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by yours truly, coming out from HarperCollins Children's in Winter 2016.

In case you missed it, also read Lisa Anchin's interview with Martha Rago last year, where Martha talks about what she looks for in an illustrator portfolio and other tips.

Q. Has the SCBWI Portfolio Showcase helped you find illustrators for book projects at HarperCollins Children's?

Here's Martha's answer:

I've found several illustrators for projects at Harper who were members of SCBWI, but none specifically through the Portfolio Showcase. I owe thanks to SCBWI for bringing Eugene Yelchin, Daniel Jennewein, Maple Lam, James Horvath and you, Debbie Ohi, to my attention. We've published, or will publish, quite a few successful books together.

But the Showcase is a great way to see a lot of work all at once which helps when I'm looking for something in particular. If I like the style but don't see something specific to a project I have in mind, I may follow up later and ask for a specific kind of image or character studies based on my text. I don't always have the right project for an artist whose work catches my attention but it does plant the seed which can grow into something later, and that's valuable.

SCBWI Portfolio Showcase in Los Angeles
An obvious immediate benefit of the showcase for the artists is that it seems to connect quite a few of them with agents, giving them access to many publishers at once, and therefore a greater chance of finding the right fit and probably more quickly. I've seen really strong work from the show get picked up and published elsewhere. That can be bittersweet but still, it's mostly sweet. It's gratifying to see a talent that I recognized rise and shine whether or not I had a hand in it or get to share in the glory. I like artists to get work!

Debbie Ridpath Ohi received her first children's book contract because of the Portfolio Showcase at the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference. Her illustrations appear in the just-released picture book NAKED! written by Michael Ian Black and on the covers of seven Judy Blume classics being reissued in middle grade format, all from Simon & Schuster Children's. Twitter: @inkyelbows.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mini-interview with Lauren Rille, Associate Art Director at Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I had so much fun working with Lauren Rille, who designed the new covers for the Judy Blume middle grade and chapter books. The middle grade just came out from Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Children's, and you can read about how I became illustrator for that project.

Lauren has a blog about her design and art direction work at, and you can also follow her on Twitter at @ElBoogieSparks.

Lauren designed these new Judy Blume middle grade covers!
Cover illustrator: Yours truly. :-)

Q. What is the biggest mistake or misconception that aspiring children's book illustrators tend to make/have, in your experience?

Lauren Rille's answer:

I think people new to the process have the misconception that being asked to revise means they are doing it "wrong"—that they've somehow missed the mark, when in fact that couldn't be further from the truth!

Several rounds of revision are standard; I consider that part of the expected process, and I think it's actually the fun part, too! At that point, you've got the job—we KNOW you can kill it in a final piece, so it's time to stretch, grow, play, experiment, push.

Sometimes, even if something is working, we'll ask for a revision to see if we can get it working BETTER; the first solution isn't always the best, so we'll push to see what lies beyond.

It's in those revisions that some very pleasant surprises come about, new sparks of ideas that will turn into really amazing pieces.

Chapter books coming out from Atheneum/S&S on
May 27 (paperback) and June 3rd (hardcover).

Q. What upcoming book project or projects are you especially excited about? 

Lauren Rille's answer:

There are so many!

Off the top of my head (and to-do list ;) I can think of "Blue on Blue", by Dianne White, illustrated by Caldecott Winner Beth Krommes—a really beautiful, simple text paired with really stunning art—it feels like a modern classic!

There's also REX FINDS AN EGG by Stephen Weinberg—it's his first book, and its funny, and wry, and fresh and a touch snarky, which is always a great combination.

And then for novels, MOUSEHEART is a middle grade by Lisa Fielder and it's just a great read; dynamic, adventurous, and with absolutely amazing art by Vivienne To.

And finally, THE SECRETS OF EASTCLIFF-BY-THE-SEA by Eileen Beha seems like another sorta modern classic to me—it's got intrigue, precious (and magical?) family heirlooms, some mystery, and tons of sock monkeys, so how can that go wrong? It's illustrated by Sarah Jane Wright and her work on it is wonderful.


Debbie Ridpath Ohi worked with Lauren Rille while creating illustrations for Judy Blume classics being reissued by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Children's as middle grade and chapter books. Twitter: @inkyelbows.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Congrats to Jen Betton, winner of the 2014 New England SCBWI Conference Portfolio Showcase!

This month on, we're going to be doing interviews. I'll be posting mini-interviews with art directors Lauren Rille (Simon & Schuster Children's) and Martha Rago (HarperCollins Children's) later this week.

But first, we at KidLitArtists want to congratulate our own Jen Betton (Mentee Class of 2012) on winning the Portfolio Showcase at the New England SCBWI Conference this past weekend!

I'm sure Jen will be posting about the NESCBWI14 conference and the showcase on her blog soon but until then, I encourage you to visit Jen's website and browse her amazing art at


Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Mentee Class of 2010) just came back from her very first book tour celebrating the launch of NAKED!, a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black and published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Also recently launched: seven Judy Blume classics reissued as middle grade by S&S with Debbie's illustrations on the covers. You can follow Debbie on Twitter at @inkyelbows.