Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tiny Color Studies

One of my favorite parts of the illustration process is the color study.

I used to forego painted color studies, instead relying solely on a digitally rendered study. However, I've found tiny painted studies to be helpful tools before I begin working on a final painting.

While some artists do larger, more detailed studies. I prefer to work tiny to problem solve at this stage. For me, it's the color and painted version of a thumbnail. Not only does it save paper, but these tiny studies are quick. They allow me to do several potential versions in a short amount of time. (For each study shared below, I've included the full-sized measurements.)

My studies are often messy, but I do attempt to be somewhat organized and lay out a test strip of the colors that I'm considering for the piece on the same paper that I will be using for the final. I work with a variety of different papers and each reacts to the paint in different ways.


I usually lay out a basic thumbnail of the larger painting and block in the major colors. On the same strip of paper, I also test different combinations of paint to figure out what works best for the particular piece in question.


When I'm being really organized and taking my time, I label each layer and how it was made.

(paper is roughly 6x5.325", each thumbnail is about 2x1.5")

These studies, though tiny, can still be extremely detailed.


Color studies are invaluable. They can be used to test every part of your painting but on a quick, small, and easy scale.

They can serve as tests for background effects,


for testing details, like patterns and plaids,


or they help answer larger questions, like overall palette.

(paper is 5x4", each thumbnail is roughly 2x1.25")

If your process involves paint, I would urge you to try out some quick tiny studies. I hope you find them useful!

~~ Lisa ~~

_ _ _ _ _
Lisa Anchin is a Brooklyn based children's illustrator doodling her way across the five boroughs. You can see more of her work at, on instagram @lisa.anchin, and on twitter @lisaanchin 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Are You Entering The SCBWI-LA Illustration Portfolio Showcase? Here Are Tips For Before and During the Conference - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Only a month and a half until the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles! I can't wait. Not only is it the conference that kickstarted my book illustration career, but I always come away super-inspired by the talks, sessions and chatting with other writers and illustrators.

For those of you entering the Illustrator Portfolio Showcase, here are a few tips from past SCBWI Illustration Mentees who have since gone on to win top prize in the overall Portfolio Showcase:


A Few Thoughts On Editing Your Portfolio - by Andrea Offermann (2013 SCBWI Portfolio Showcase winner)

Mentee Portfolio vs Grand Prize Winner Portfolio - by Juana Martinez-Neal (2012 SCBWI Portfolio Showcase winner)

Portfolio Comparison: What Made An SCBWI Winner - by Eliza Wheeler (2011 SCBWI Portfolio Showcase winner). Eliza is also doing a portfolio workshop on the Friday 4-5 pm in the Pacific Room; check your schedule for details!

Mentees Roundup: SCBWI Portfolio Showcase Tips - compiled by Eliza Wheeler

For more great advice, do browse other portfolio-related posts on and find out what Mentees have been learning about improving their portfolios.

And here are some of my own tips about what to do AT the conference...


Once you've handed in your portfolio, stop obsessing about it. Don't start making excuses for it, how you weren't quite sure about some of the pieces but put them in anyway, how you wish you had more time to work on it.

Learn how to take compliments gracefully. If someone says something nice about your work, learn how to say "thank you" instead of immediately lobbing back a "I wish I was as good as xxx" or "I totally suck at xxx." See above.

Do make the time to look at other illustrators' work. Not only is this a sign of professional courtesy, but you can also turn it into a learning opportunity. Some portfolios and postcards will immediately stand out for you; ask yourself why.

Try very, very hard to be inspired and NOT discouraged as you browse other illustrators' portfolios. As illustrator Heather Powers says, don't forget that everyone is at a different place in their creative journey. "Get excited - you are just starting out and have a fun path ahead of you! Learn from the best, they will be all around you during the conference!"

Don't be discouraged if you don't win an award. While winning awards is nice, of course, there are so many other benefits to being in the Showcase. Industry people are looking at your work. I have heard of illustrators getting work many months after an event because an art director or editor liked their work enough to pick up a postcard.

Remember the quote that "80 percent of success is showing up". Persistence is essential in this industry. I have heard art directors comment on how they could tell a particular illustrator was working on his or her craft because of the changes in their portfolio from a previous Showcase. The fact that you're at the conference and entering the Showcase already puts you far ahead of many others.

Come to the Illustrator Social on the Friday from 7:30-9 pm in Olympic I. It's a great place to meet other illustrators as well as some of the faculty. Bring your postcards! Plus do find me and say hello...I'd love to meet you. :-)

Good luck, and don't forget to have fun! And if you're nervous about attending the SCBWI conference for the first-time, these comics might help.

- Debbie


Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author/illustrator of WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2015). Her illustrations also appear in books by Judy Blume and Michael Ian Black. She blogs about reading, writing and illustrating children's books at You can find her on Twitter at @inkyelbows and Instagram at @inkygirl.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Mailing Original Artwork -- by Eliza Wheeler

Illustrators creating artwork for picture books work for many months or even years on a single book, and those working in non-digital mediums often have to go through the terrifying process of mailing that finished work to the publisher for the scanning and reproduction process. Making sure the art is properly packed can help ensure that all that hard work will reach your art director in safe form. I'll share my process of packing up and mailing finished artwork here. 

The materials I use:
- Four large sheets of cardboard
- Packing tape
- Plastic wrap
- Craft paper
- Tracing paper
- Artist's tape

1. Protect and label each illustration. 
Cut sheets of tracing paper to cover the drawing, and secure them with artist's tape on the back. One each illustration, write:
Your name
The book's title
and the page number

2. Wrap the artwork in plastic, just in case the package gets wet in transit. 

3. Make a large envelope for the artwork out of craft paper.
Secure the envelope with tape onto the middle of one of the cardboard sheets. Taping it in place will keep the artwork from shifting into the edges/corners and possibly getting damaged. Add a nice note to your art director, who will be unpacking the art when it arrives. 

4. Layer the four sheets of cardboard together, positioned with alternating cross-grains. Two sheets with ribs going in the same direction can bend easily, so layering them perpendicular to each other creates super strong, non-bendable layers that surround both sides of the artwork.

5. Sandwich the artwork in the middle of the four sheets of cardboard. You can get sheets of cardboard from a shipping supply store or art store. In the photos here, I'm re-using the box from Blick that my watercolor paper was shipped in.

6. Tape, tape, tape. Double-seal all the edges of the cardboard sheets with packing tape. Label each side of the package with ARTWORK.

7. Bring the package to your mail carrier for shipping. I usually use UPS, and buy a large chunk of insurance for the package (once the package reaches the publisher, it should be insured for loss or damage under their policy). Have them add FRAGILE stickers to your package, and make sure it is not scheduled to be delivered over the weekend when no one will be at the publisher's to receive it. Email your art director and editor the tracking info for the package and ask them to let you know when it reaches them.

8. Go out for brunch! Celebrate a triumphant job well-done.

~ Eliza, Wheelerstudio on Twitter and Instagram, Eliza Wheeler on Facebook

Author/Illustrator of NYT Bestseller Miss Maple's Seeds
Illustrator of Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow-Miller
Illustrator of CODY AND THE FOUNTAIN OF HAPPINESS by Tricia Springstubb
Illustrator of The Grudge Keeper by Mara Rockliff
Illustrator of Newbery Honor book Doll Bones by Holly Black

Monday, June 1, 2015

Sketchbook - The Adventure of Discovery

Are you having trouble finding the words for your next story? Do you have a character without a setting? Are you swimming in a sea of ideas without being able to spout out a single one? Open your sketchbook! All of the things that you are struggling with can be worked out between the pages of this wonderful little book that most of us carry everywhere.

"I don't feel like drawing.", you say... Well then look back through the pages that you have already filled. You will be surprised by the elements that are waiting for you to rediscover them.

Just recently I found my new favorite character tucked away in an old corner of a sketchbook that I finished years ago. I carefully collected and dusted off this character and look at how she shines!


 She came fully equipped with a story too, handing it to me as I placed her on a brand new white sheet of paper.

Last year in August I attended my very first annual SCBWI conference in L.A. One of the essentials was a tiny little sketchbook and it turned out to be one of the most important items that I packed! When I got home that little book was filled with notes, doodles, and the makings of at least 3 stories.

 I got to thinking that if I hadn't had my sketchbook where would these thoughts have gone?! Would they have ended up in the margins of a notebook? On a napkin? Would they be lost entirely? I shudder to think of it!

A sketchbook is like a source of inspiration. It is a place where we can brainstorm or work through ideas that aren’t quite fitting into a story. It is a place to study the make-up of picture books. It is a stream of consciousness where we can record thoughts, notes, and quotes that we love. I follow other artists to see their sketchbook drawings. I love them because it gives insight to their process and thoughts at the time that those doodles/sketches/notes were created. Here are some great ones:

Try drawing once a week, once a day – any little bit helps and you never know when the muse will strike! Try sketching in different places as well. The coffee shop is a great place to practice sketching people! You could also try the park, the public pool, the mall, an amusement park (this is great for food and setting too!), or the library.

I wish you the best of luck in all of your creations and leave you with a challenge: A 30 day sketch challenge! Are you up for it?

I would love to hear back from you. Did you try the 30 day sketch challenge? Did you find your new story? Tell me what your sketchbook means to you!

 ~Jeslyn Kate

Jeslyn Kate writes/illustrates for children and teaches art.
You can find her work at 
these different locations:
Twitter: @jeslynkate

Monday, May 25, 2015

Process: How I keep my portfolio on course by Rodolfo Montalvo

The SCBWI portfolio showcases have been the anchors that hold me steady in the crashing sea of fear, doubt, and distraction. That’s right, trying to be a children’s book author/illustrator is an EPIC journey at sea.

Long ago I understood that being an artist/illustrator, was going to be a life-long venture. It would take lots of dedication, patience, and of course discipline to make things happen. For me, this is where the conferences came into play. I began attending SCBWI conferences in the fall of 2010 and have been attending ever since.

Early on, I found out how useful and informative the conferences were and have held tightly to them. The portfolio showcases at the conferences and the opportunity to share my work with many like-minded individuals is, for me, the most valuable piece of the “building a strong portfolio” puzzle.

I was fortunate to discover the SCBWI shortly before graduating in 2011. So I began to attend the conferences and I tried to soak up every little comment I heard about my work.  Along the way I’ve collected comments and guidance for my work by many great, established illustrators, agents, editors, art directors, and many, many fellow illustrator friends. I can remember at least one thing in each person’s critique of my work. I also have all my written notes, all in little books, stored away like precious treasure maps.

After the conference, I do what we all do: go over my notes, reconnect with people online, and start new, hopefully better illustrations for a new portfolio. I always come out of the conferences tired, inspired, excited, and Oh, SO motivated. I feel like I can reach the farthest points of my journey, like I can reach the stars, all so close.

For the past five years, I have used the SCBWI showcases as my constant yearly goal line where I get to reevaluate my work. Having the physical evidence of my past portfolios gives me confidence as I move forward. I can see how I’ve grown, and each time I reach a little farther. Always reaching for those masterful levels of craftsmanship that we all admire and sometimes fear never being able to reach.

This has been the process I’ve used to help me grow as an illustrator. This may not be the way it works for everyone. But I can say, enthusiastically, that I have found many great friends and the start of what I hope will be a long career in children’s book publishing. So, go out there and find that vessel that will keep you afloat and moving into full sail illustrations one day.

Rodolfo Montalvo illustrated the middle grade novels The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School and The Amazing Wilmer Dooley, both written by Fowler DeWitt ( Simon & Schuster imprint, Atheneum). He is currently working on his first picture book Dear Dragon, by Josh Funk (Viking Children’s books – Fall 2016).
For more of his work visit

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Design Foundations: Part One- Shape

This is a Dear Diary entry to myself about doing the things I know to do. You know what I mean. . . half way through the illustration process the disturbing realization hits like a cast iron face palm. Once again concept, content and style have taken over the forced march to final product with only a hurried and obligatory nod towards foundational DESIGN. Afterall, you know it forward and backwards, right? You learned about the Design Elements and Principles of Organization years ago and it it flows through your mind and into those basic thumbnails without conscious thought, right? Thumbnails that will define the eventual success or failure of the final project, all hanging on those first embryonic sketches and scribbles.

Hey look~one thumbnail!

Nothing like shooting yourself in the foot before even starting, because, hey, you don’t need to do all those thumbnails anymore, right? I literally mumbled outloud to myself recently. . .“Don’t you dare jump into this project before walking through a measured exploration of design. DESIGN. And Contrast of SHAPE. . .Big/Small Light/Dark, Big/Small Light/Dark, Big/Small Light/Dark” How can someone who was trained as a designer and hired to teach design so casually skip over  

This is the mindset I must to tap into every time I sit down to do an “Illustration”.  I have to forget about “media”pencils and ink and paint and paper — as well as style.  But that is simply a matter of semantics, right? Apparently not to my brain. I think about all those years I spent working in a design firm and freelancing, and all those years I spent teaching design. I never took an illustration class. I never taught an illustration class, so if I put on my “designer” hat each time I start a project, I should experience a mental paradigm shift. A shift that will send my brain back to the beginning, back to foundational design, instead of starting with medium and message. And I will be infinitely more satisfied with the final result. Point, Line, Plane, Shape, Color, Value, Texture, Space, Hue, Brightness, Saturation, Balance, Contrast, Dominance , Harmony, Proportion, Repetition, Rhythm, Scale, Unity, Variety, Movement, Symmetry, Curvilinear, Rectilinear, Focal Point. . .

The verb and the noun, the active process and the static final product. I am guessing seasoned illustrators and designers work with most elements and principles without giving them much thought, but perhaps many of us have a few blind spots that need more attention. Well, at least I do! These are screen grabs from a few pdfs that I made for my typography students, showing the design principles as applied to letterforms. 

Did someone say Shape? Shape, shape, shape! Without a solid foundation of well conceived points and lines creating appealing and communicative shapes and forms, no amount of color, value, texture, or space will create an engaging illustration or design. Shape exploration is a powerful vehicle for pushing beyond predictable “realism”  towards unique and expressive “voice”. 
Predictable “Realism” is my default state. It is true that studying an animal’s bone and muscle structure is imperative for developing the confidence needed to freely move towards “abstraction” of shape. However quite often finding an appealing shape, especially for illustrations geared towards children, requires tossing anatomy and physics out the door. Bones in the legs? Elbows? Knees? Forget everything you know about anatomy (not easy for someone raised by a science/biology teacher) and the shape will become more graphically appealing and stylized. 

Some illustrators do this easily, especially those who grew up copying comic book and cartoon characters. I did not. I was the kid who only looked at the backgrounds on animations and was completely mesmerized by their beauty. 

It is not hard to research the “ingredients” for strong character development. . . body gesture and facial expression being the core of the recipe. And to focus on those two things effectively it helps tremendously to have a prerequisite understanding of basic design principles and solid crafting techniques. That is to say it is particularly hard to define personal “style” and “voice” before mastering design and craft, and certainly while simultaneously seeking to define the character’s own visual “voice”. 

Obviously intensive/immersive drawing on a daily basis goes a long way towards developing the chops necessary to free the mind to focus on the character’s body language and facial expressions. As I mentioned before, shape and contrast of shape is particularly important in character stylization. The possibilities are endless when experimenting with contrast in proportions and contrast in types of SHAPE. . . curvilinear vs rectilinear, large vs small, light vs dark, etc. 

Now on to the process for this leaping lambs project. I have a group of lambs that came with an Italian creche my mother purchased for me one Christmas. I keep the wee lambies perched around the studio. . .some sleeping, some eating, some star gazing. . .and for this project they came in handy for turning around in space and sketching. My default to realism is evident in these first sketches. 

But after sketching out a couple of pages of “realistic” sheep and lambs, I put all the reference away and began to push shapes.  Realistic legs with joints? Stick legs? And down the page  I went. These are some of the ones I liked best.

I generally hang around the edges of somewhat realistic representations, but I do push shapes to the point they no longer feel like “me”, then I drop back into my comfort zone. 

When it came time to work on the older sheep I realized that making the shape large and round with very small legs helped show how much older they are compared to the smaller thinner lambs. “Hey, Ralph, remember when we could do that?”

Once I had the basic designs I scanned them into Photoshop. Just as I had done with the realistic approach to the characters, my default is to start painting in a more realistic style for the background. But being mindful of this, I pushed myself past the landscape background mindset and began to “design”, working out basic shapes, then adding hand drawn textures. One thing I noticed immediately was how flat the values were, so looking for something to make dark, I chose the lambs. I found a breed with white bodies and dark faces. At that point I pushed past my default “realistic” color and made them blue! If Franz Marc could paint a blue horse, I could paint blue flying lambies with orange striped blankets. I fell in love with his blue horse the first time I saw it as a kid, and of course I wanted one!

As I thought about making the lambs much more colorful perhaps with floral fabric on their blankets, breaking completely with realism, I did a few thumbnails. At that point I stumbled onto a photo of baby lambs wearing blue blankets and I knew I had the additional design element that could carry more color and even textures. And of course the idea of “cape” is now added to the mix of these high flying lambs.

Something else that came into play was remembering a comment from a SCBWI mentor, Paul O. Zelinsky, during the round table critiques in Los Angeles. He suggested I make facial expressions more obviously different. In that situation it was a flock of baby chicks. The comment was a concern the chicks were so close in style that they may appear to be a copy/paste in Photoshop. And there I was feeling pleased with myself for keeping them “on model”, considering my own flocks of real baby chicks were generally identical.  But the point was well taken and I put it into play with the lamb project.

Based on that previous conversation, I felt the expressions were probably too similar. As I began to work on facial expressions I pulled out some copy work I had done from one of Wallace Tripp’s books that has a laughing lion. This helped me push the expression on the little lamb’s faces further than I might have normally drawn them. Also adding the floppy ears to the second set gave me another design device to add variety to the characters.

For the sake of this blog post I finished both design directions with identical backgrounds, but with two different styles of lambs. The first set was the original set with more realistic proportions, and the second set were slightly more “cartoony” with larger more expressive ears. As can be seen in this comparison, I had also increased the contrast of size between the four lambs, adding more interest. 
All in all, I prefer the second set, but the laughing mouth on the center lamb could be more exaggerated. I lost something of the expression in the translation.

In closing, for me I know contrast of big/small light/dark SHAPES, or lack of it, has plagued me for years, perhaps because high contrast has such strong visual energy. With design it was a must, as all the logos were designed in black or white. It had a visual punch I most likely avoid in illustrations, preferring soft low chroma/low value graphite drawings and ink washes. Daily life has a propensity for adding a dash of clutter and chaos, visual pan banging (all those logos out there) mixed with honking cars and hippies playing drums on the bus.  

I am embracing high contrast in shape and value, and realizing the Golden Ratio built into my brain is not doing me any favors in that direction. 

But that is another post! Stay tuned for Design Foundations: Part Two- High Contrast (and why the Golden Ratio/Mean/Rectangle is not).


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Character Bibles - Discover Your Story

One of my favorite speakers last summer at the 2014 SCBWI LA Conference
was the amazingly talented, inspiring and funny lady: Judy Byron Schachner.

(Author and Illustrator of the popular SkippyJonJones Books)

The name of her talk was: Thinking in Pictures: My Storytelling Process. 
She shared with us how she finds the story by creating a character bible for her books:  

The example character bible she presented was from her new book
Dewey Bob, Dial Books for Young Readers (Available September 8, 2015)

The basic concept is to discover your story and characters by collecting:
  • reference photos
  • sketches
  • unusual ideas
  • sayings
in a:
  • random
  • non-linear
  • no rhyme or reason
sort of way.

This process appealed to me because I am a non-linear thinker. Through experimentation and by collaging different illustrations, ideas and design elements together, the characters and story evolve visually.  

I couldn't wait to get home to get started on one of my own manuscripts. I experimented with many different techniques and styles so that I could discover the characters and setting that fit with my story.
Below are some of the images from the pages from my character bible for I AM Goose!

Choose any size sketchbook. This is a  6"x 8" sketchbook. Next time I'll use a larger one.
I filled it up and ran out of room so ended up using paperclips and extra pockets to fit all the sketches.

I tested out lots of different styles and techniques for Goose.
I made notes on the medium used and jotted down what was working and what was not.

 More sketches and test palette for Rabbit, Pig, Dodo, Chicken, Squirrel and Pig.

  Color sketches with more of the characters. 

 I clipped out old photos of old buildings, sample palettes and played
with sketches and washes for the setting.

These are some of the pencil sketches for the characters. 

This has been a great learning process for me. My tendency is to finish off every detail in an illustration. But when I look back through this character bible, I realize that the loose sketchy images are my favorite. My next step will be to finish the storyboard, dummy book and final art to get it ready for submission.
Thank You  Judy Schachner for sharing your process at the 2014 SCBWI LA Conference
Dorothia Rohner enjoys illustrating and writing 
stories for children that combine nature and the magic of imagination.
Twitter: @dorothiar
Instagram: @dorothiar