Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Interview with new SCBWI mentee, Robin Rosenthal

Robin Rosenthal was the recipient of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2014 Summer Conference. Kidlit Artists would like to officially welcome Robin to the blog, and ask her a few questions about the Mentorship experience and about what she is up to these days.

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?

The mentors confirmed I was headed in the right direction and that was great to hear. Before the conference I had pulled out five older gouache pieces that I no longer felt strongly about and added three new pieces. (And after Steven Malk’s Saturday morning talk about building the perfect portfolio I rearranged the order of my book right before I handed it in for the showcase.)

Across the board, the mentors noted that I needed more pieces that felt like they were part of a story and that emotionally connected with the reader. To paraphrase one mentor, a great children’s book illustration has “three elements: emotion, narrative, and anticipation.”

One of my favorite pieces of advice came from two different mentors, said in slightly different ways. Each suggested that I start with illustrating episodes or scenes as opposed to trying to create a whole story, and to not worry about the words yet. This was a breakthrough thought for me and took a lot of pressure off.

In general the mentors loved my color marker pieces, like the rooster, but were more divided on my block prints. Some felt that they belonged in the fine art world and some saw them working in children’s books. I am going to be exploring that technique more over the next few months and see how it plays out.

What kind of projects are you working on now?

Right now I am focusing on incorporating the feedback I’ve received from the mentors. I walked out of the critiques with a concrete list of next steps that I am very excited about. There are a few pieces in my portfolio that I want to develop further and some new pieces I want to create. I also have an idea for a children’s book I’d like to write and illustrate but I want to shore up my portfolio, technique, and visual storytelling skills first.

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

I would love to illustrate a picture book and continue to do editorial pieces. I’ve also been really into wordless comics lately, especially those in the Nobrow series, so I may try creating some of those in the near future. I love incorporating typography in my work and would like to do more of that as well.

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration? Any one piece of bad advice?
I was very moved by Kate Messner’s keynote speech at the 2014 NY Winter SCBWI conference. She talked about learning to be okay with failure. She noted that athletes and engineers expect to experience a lot of failure before they get it right. Another quote from that same speech that I love: “You learn to make your work by making your work.” 

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

I loved Meg Rosoff’s keynote and her breakout session on the power of the unconscious mind. In her keynote she said, “Don’t be afraid to engage in the difficult parts of yourself,” and that stuck with me (as a person who has some difficult parts of herself.)

I also found Steven Malk’s talk, Building the Perfect Portfolio, immensely helpful. He began with emphasizing the importance of the portfolio. “These pieces can change your life. An art director or agent can look at [your portfolio] and decide they want to work with you…. Commit to slowing down…. Your portfolio deserves your complete undivided attention.”

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

These were the books that I went back to again and again as a child:
The Seamstress of Salzburg by Anita Lobel. (I wrote about it here: )
The Giant Jam Sandwich illustrations and story by John Vernon, verses Janet Lord Burroway
The Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.
Nobody is Perfick by Bernard Waber
Sometimes I’m Afraid by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Hilde Hoffman
The Big Tidy Up by Norah Smaridge, illustrated Les Gray
The Practical Princess and other Liberating Fairy Tales by Jay Williams, illustrated by Rick Schreiter
Barbapapa’s Ark by Annette Tison and Talus Taylor
One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Draw Me a Triangle and Draw Me a Circle by Robyn Supraner, illustrations by Evelyn Kelbish

Where can we find you online?

You can see my work at and follow me on twitter: @robinarosenthal. I am also one of the bloggers at, a blog about children’s book illustration (@penandoink).

 Thanks, Robin!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Interview with new SCBWI illustration mentee, Dorothia Rohner

Dorothia Rohner was the recipient of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2014 Summer Conference. Kidlit Artists would like to officially welcome Dorothia to the blog, and ask her a few questions about the Mentorship experience and about what she is up to these days.
Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?  Are there any specific examples you can share?

Each mentor confirmed to me that the strongest, most successful portfolio pieces were the ones that were created from a place of joy, without over-thinking the process or outcome. 
Their specific input on composition, focus, developing characters, body language, emotion, motion and narrative storytelling helped me to see my work in a different light.  I am so grateful to have this information to integrate into my new illustrations and stories. I feel that I have a clearer idea on what is working and what needs to change.  A huge thank you to all the mentors!  

What kind of projects are you working on now?
Currently I am working on picture book illustrations.  After returning from such an inspiring experience, I feel that I have a new vision of where I need to go with my work.  Besides that, I am writing stories, painting, drawing and sketching every day. I browse my old sketchbooks hoping to see if anything might jump out and grab my attention. 

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

In the past, I’ve done many types of illustration including; scientific, computer games, licensing, educational, graphic design and technical drafting. However, I have always had a burning desire to do children’s stories. Life is short and I plan to spend my time doing what I love—reading and creating illustrations for children's books.

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?  Any one piece of bad advice?

I’m fortunate to have been blessed with many supportive people in my life that have encouraged me in my art.  My husband told me years ago. “Each painting you do is a stepping stone. Where you are tomorrow will not be where you are today.” That always helped me when I wasn’t completely satisfied with my work.

The worst piece of advice on illustration I received was, “Chase the trends.”

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

It’s so hard to pick just one. Here are a few favorites that I jotted down.

“Find the story no one else can tell.”
“The most powerful tool you have is your unconscious mind.” ~Meg Rossoff

“Live in the world of memory and imagination.” ~Megan McDonald

“Being an artist is always a way to live your life. Everywhere must have beauty.” ~Tomie Depaola

“Do not let anyone discourage you—if they do, get angry, not depressed.”~ Judy Blume

Last but not least, Judy Schrachner’s talk on how to get to know your character by creating a character bible. From knowing her characters so well, the plot unfolds.  

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

My favorite childhood memories of books were fairytales. I really liked Rumpelstiltskin and always felt sorry for him. I spent a lot of time looking at the illustrations and re-reading the poems in the big orange Child Craft books.  I loved the old favorites: Are You My Mother? Go, Dog, Go, Sam & the Firefly, (any PD Eastman or  Beatrix Potter Books),  Make Way for Ducklings, Frog & Toad,  A Kiss for Little Bear,  Trumpet of the Swan, The Secret Garden, Mouse and the Motorcycle. When our boys were young, I read them many books and discovered Graeme Base, Kit Williams, William Joyce and so many more. 

Where can we find you online? 

You can find me online in the following locations:

Twitter: @dorothiar  
 Thank you, Dorothia!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Interview with new SCBWI illustration mentee, Jeslyn Kate

Jeslyn Kate was the recipient of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2014 Summer Conference. Kidlit Artists would like to officially welcome Jeslyn to the blog, and ask her a few questions about the Mentorship experience and about what she is up to these days.

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?  Are there any specific examples you can share?

The feedback that I received confirmed the direction that I was going in. Earlier this year, I bit the bullet (so to speak) and re-designed my entire portfolio with a completely new style that I had only been dabbling in before.

When the mentors sat down with me, they really liked my style and urged me to push it even further. I definitely have a lot to keep working on, but it was really exciting to know that I am headed in the right direction for me.

What kind of projects are you working on now?

Currently, I am working to further improve my portfolio based on the amazing feedback that I received. I am also creating characters for my own story right now and hope to move into the storyboarding/dummy-making phase soon. 

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

I would really love to illustrate picture books! Eventually, I would like to write and illustrate a picture book.

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?  Any one piece of bad advice?

My Momma has always told me, “You should follow your heart and do what you love to do. If you do this, you will never work a day in your life.” Those words have stuck with me throughout my life. They have made me brave, determined, and willing to take the exciting risks that have gotten me where I am today.

In terms of bad advice…well, we have all had some of that, I think. My favorite piece of bad advice was this:

“What do you mean you are going to ‘clown school’ (I had just been accepted to Ringling College of Art and Design) to be an artist? You should have a plan B!”

I still giggle a little bit when I think about that conversation.

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

There were so many gems that I feel I took away from that conference that it is difficult to choose only one lesson or quote as a favorite. I really enjoyed what Meg Rosoff had to say about stories. They can change the world and help anyone in any field. I also loved what Maggie Steifvater had to say about stealing the essence, the soul, the truth, the “why” of your observations to create richer stories. However, if I had to choose only one lesson, it would be what Tomie DePaola said to us on that last day. “Courage is the secret to a lifelong career.”  It does take a lot of courage to face a blank, white page and be ready to tackle the adventure of creating. 

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

I was a huge fan of fairy tales when I was a kid. Honestly, they are still some of my favorite stories to read. I have this book (which is officially held together with layers of clear tape because it has been read so many times) called “The Children’s Bedtime Book”. The book was a gift for my first birthday. It is filled with Mother Goose rhymes and the most popular fairy tales (the nice versions, of course). I remember being fascinated by the images long before I could read the words on my own. I used to try to copy the pictures from the book over and over again. When I learned to read, this was one of the books that I insisted on learning first.

I also loved “Mirette On The High Wire”, “Oh The Places You’ll Go”, and “The Very Quiet Cricket”.

Where can we find you online? 

You can find me online in the following locations:

Twitter: @JeslynKate

Thanks, Jeslyn!

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?