Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tips for introverted children's book illustrators attending the SCBWI Summer Conference for the first time - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Who else is hyped about the upcoming SCBWI Summer Conference in LA? (insert hand waving wildly here) I had to miss last year's because I was sick so am EXTRA excited for this year's!

I've been attending regularly since 2009, when I was incredibly nervous about not knowing very many people and being a pre-published author. In 2010, I was chosen for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program as well as winning an Honor Award...and that's also when Simon & Schuster Children's Justin Chanda offered me my very first children's book illustration contract (and why I dedicated my first solo picture book to Justin).

While I am still far from expert, I have learned a few things that I'd like to share here for those attending for the first time. I've shared bits and pieces in various other posts, but have some advice specifically for fellow introverts:

Q. I hate schmoozing! Plus I'm an introvert! Any advice?

First of all, I'd suggest NOT using the word "schmooze." Though not all, many people use this word in a negative context. Using it this way is only going to make you more nervous and more resentful.

Instead of thinking, "I hate schmoozing but it's something I have to learn to do even though it's going to be torture" try "Even though I'm nervous about it, I'm going to try meeting people in the industry. And hey, maybe even make some new friends!"

If you consider yourself an introvert, I strongly recommend you watch this excellent TEDtalk by Susan Cain, "The Power Of Introverts." It really helped me:

I loved the video so much that I ended up buying her book, QUIET: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking and just recently discovered (thanks to some of my nErDcamp pals) a version of the book aimed at kids and teens: Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths Of Introverts:

As for meeting people at the convention, try to remember that many of the people probably feel exactly the same way you do.

One thing I found worked for me: instead of aiming to meet as many "important" people as you can, aim to have a few meaningful conversations with like-minded individuals (regardless of whether or not they're an agent, editor or Big Name Author/Illus). If something someone says to me compels me to change the way I approach my craft or business in a positive way that helps my career or mindset (or both) or I meet a potential friend, then the conference is already worth the cost.

A note to those who are experienced and more confident: do remember what it was like to attend your first SCBWI conference, and make it a goal to talk to at least one new person who is looking a wee bit nervous. Always pay it forward.

Q. There are only two weeks left! What kind of prep should I be doing that will make it easier for me at the conference?

Before the event, browse the #LA16SCBWI hashtag on Twitter or other social media to see what people are posting. You can start interacting with people NOW, which will help make it easier for you at the conference. If you see someone say "So who else going to #LA16SCBWI?", speak up! Or talk about how your prep is going, post a photo or two of your postcards or sample from your portfolio (if you post your art, always include your name or URL or other identifying info in your image, in case it gets shared out of context). Make sure you include the hashtag in your tweet. If you need guidance on Twitter, feel free to check out my Twitter Guide For Authors & Illustrators. Also see my "Three Social Media Tips For Children's Book Writer And Illustrators" post.

Research the faculty. If there is anyone you especially want to meet, find out what they're excited about (their social media is a great way to do this), read their books or look through their recent books in the library or bookstore. That way you won't be tongue-tied when you find yourself standing next to them at one of the social events, the elevator or other public venue. Example: Simon & Schuster art director, Laurent Linn, just had his debut YA novel come out recently!

Q. I plan on entering my portfolio in the showcase. Any advice?

There is plenty of specific and practical advice in this blog from portfolio showcase winners like Andrea Offermann, Eliza Wheeler and Juana Martinez-Neale as well as posts in this blog from the Mentees. I also suggest you read this recent post from SCBWI's Insight: "Portfolio Trips From SCBWI Mentorship Winners."

My biggest piece of advice: Think longterm and have realistic expectations. Even if you don't win an award, you will have MANY people in the industry looking through your work. Make sure you have postcards or business cards (I advise postcards because it's easier to include a sample of your art).

DO read over the Portfolio Showcase specifications and rules, to make sure your portfolio won't get rejected. That page also has info about how to sign in, when to drop off your portfolio, etc. The more you research ahead of time, the better prepared you'll feel when you get to the conference.

Q. Any other tips?

Bring business cards and/or postcards, even if you are pre-published. Too often I meet new people and have a great conversation, but they don't have a card with them. SCBWI-LA attendees tend to meet a lot of new people over the conference, so having a card or postcard after the event helps remind them of how wonderful it was for them to meet you. :-) I also sometimes take photos and use social media (adding people to a private "met at xxx conference" list, for example).

And try to have FUN. Sounds clichéd, but it makes all the difference and should be one of your goals. If you're an introvert, I strongly advise you set specific, achievable goals like "I'm going to meet at least one kindred spirit and have a fun conversation with them" than "I'm going to get a book contract!" or "I'm going to get business cards from at least 100 people!"

And if you see me around, please DO come up and say hi!

Debbie Ridpath Ohi wrote and illustrated WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? (Simon & Schuster Children's).  Her illustrations also appear in books by Michael Ian Black, Judy Blume, Lauren McLaughlin and Rob Sanders. Her next book: SEA MONKEY AND BOB written by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Debbie, coming out from Simon & Schuster in April 2017. She blogs about reading, writing and illustrating books for young people at Inkygirl.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Portfolio: The Importance of the Series

A couple of weeks ago, SCBWI Insight included a bunch of portfolio tips from the KidLitArtists, and a number of them mentioned including sequences of related images in your portfolio. When developing a portfolio for the children’s book market, you want to demonstrate your ability to tell a story, and a series of images is a key way to do this. 

Pick a picture book, and then select 3 of the images from it – they will all look related. They will have a similar feel, palette, and usually show the same characters, just in different situations. Putting a similar set of images in your own portfolio shows art directors that you can maintain consistency with your characters and that you can develop a narrative. Those are both very important skills in picture book illustration. It can be good to have not just one, but several series of images in your portfolio. (When Juana Martinez-Neal won the portfolio showcase in SCBWI LA 2012, her portfolio was a set of 4 different series of images, with one stand-alone image at the end. You can see it here.)

What kind of illustrations you include in your series is up to you, but they should all vary from one another. You want each individual image to show the widest range of your abilities. If you have two in a series that are very similar to each other, it’s just redundant. I’ve done this myself. Here is an example of two images that go together which are essentially the same. Although the composition and color palette are different, the perspective and scale are the same, and the actions and emotions of the mice aren’t significantly different either. 

 Redundant images in a series © Jen Betton 2016
Here is a series of images I have in my portfolio that I think is successful: There is an environment shot, establishing where the characters are; a closeup, highlighting the relationship of the characters; and an action shot. Each one is different in composition, scale, pose, and perspective. 

Varied images in a series © Jen Betton 2016
In the end, it is all about telling a story, in the most interesting way you can. 
Jen Betton writes and illustrates for children. 
You can find her work at www.jenbetton.com
@jenbetton on Twitter
She is currently illustrating TWILIGHT CHANT, by Holly Thompson, 
which will be published by Clarion in 2018. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

An Interview with Author/Illustrator, Tina Kügler

I'm so excited to have Author/Illustrator, Tina Kügler visit KidLit Artists today!  

Tina is the illustrator of THE CHANGE YOUR NAME STORE by Leanne Shirtliffe, NO MORE BEIGE FOOD, also by Leanne Shirtliffe, the co-author/illustrator of IN MARY'S GARDEN, and the author/illustrator of her most recent book, SNAIL & WORM: THREE STORIES ABOUT TWO FRIENDS.  

I've been a huge fan of Tina's work for many years and I loved learning more about her books and  her process.  I hope you will, too!   

Please tell us a little about SNAIL & WORM.

One of the reviews described it as "cheerfully screwy," which is the best description I could come up with. It is three stories about two characters, Snail and Worm.

My youngest was really struggling when he was learning how to read. I was trying to find something for him that was simple enough but also funny, where there was the payoff of a gag or joke that he would get as he was slogging along through the words.  I couldn't find what I was looking for, so I wrote it!

There's a part in the last story, where Snail has a misunderstanding, and the animal that is pictured is not the one described in the words. For kids just starting to read on their own, they all get the joke, it's a reward for working their way through the story.

I chose these characters because most kids can find them outside. They have limitations, for example, snails are slow, so it helps set up the gags. Of course the snail is racing against a rock, or a stick, it's the only time he can win a race.

What was your process like for SNAIL & WORM? As an author/illustrator did
the story idea start visually or with the text?

I always think visually, the words come after. It's like, I'm a storyteller, not a writer. From working in storyboards for animation, it actually comes to me as scenes from a film before anything else. SNAIL & WORM's text came out as all dialogue. It's like a puppet show, the way it is staged, it's flat.

For your book, IN MARY’S GARDEN, you collaborated with your husband,
Carson Kugler. What was the collaboration process like? How did you arrive
at the finished images?

Yes, and we are still speaking. ;)

We both come from a background in animation storyboarding, so it helped us tremendously in collaborating. In animation, artists work in teams, no one person takes ownership of a cartoon-- it is passed back and forth and everyone does the thing they do best. So we treated it like that, we bounced thumbnails back & forth until we agreed. Then we did roughs, and each of us would do a pass, again & again until we agreed.

Mary Nohl used found objects, and essentially other people's garbage, in her artwork-- so I scanned found papers like old receipts, vintage postcards, old dictionary pages, and coffee-stained paper to use in our collaged illustrations.

Carson would trace our roughs onto watercolor paper and paint the main elements with watercolors. I prefer to draw and paint on my tablet, so I scanned in his paintings, and layered them with the found papers and my own digital paint.

For the final step, I drew on top of everything with a lot of hatching and shading.
We created something together that neither of us could have created individually. The difficult part was retaining Mary Nohl's personal style and design motifs as well as our own styles.

What were your favorite books as a kid?

WHAT DO PEOPLE DO ALL DAY? by Richard Scarry.
A GREAT BIG UGLY MAN CAME UP AND TIED HIS HORSE TO ME by Wallace Tripp. He is my all-time favorite illustrator, just masterful. He also did SIR TOBY JINGLE'S BEASTLY JOURNEY.

I would get lost in ANNO'S JOURNEY by Mitsumasa Anno, I spent hours staring at the spreads. It inspired the background hatching in both IN MARY'S GARDEN and SNAIL & WORM.

I also really loved the illustrations of Nancy Ekholm Burkert, she won a Caldecott Honor in 1973 for illustrating SNOW WHITE, it's still in print in paperback. I would highly recommend tracking down a copy of her version of THE NIGHTINGALE, it's out of print but tooootally worth finding. Beautiful and frightening.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on now or about any
upcoming projects?

I just submitted the final art for SNAIL & WORM AGAIN. I am super excited because it is really funny, maybe even better than the first one. And a little sad. But then funny again.

Carson and I are working on another picture book biography together that we are almost ready to pitch. It is very visual so we need to have a sketch dummy together.

I am also working on an early chapter book idea I have brewing.

Where can we find you online?

My online portfolio is at tinakuglerstudio.com. I am occasionally on Twitter at @tinatheatre, more frequently when I am procrastinating.

Thank you, Brooke!!!

Thank you for visiting, Tina!

You can also hear more from Tina and her husband, Carson, on their Let's Get Busy Podcast interview with Matthew Winner of All the Wonders.  

Friday, June 10, 2016

Interview with author- illustrator Jean Kim

Jean Kim is an Korean illustrator living in San Francisco.
She won the SCBWI Portfolio Honor Award at the NYC Winter Conference in 2015 and the Portfolio Award at the 2014 SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference.
To learn more about Jean’s work, you can visit her website: http://jeankim.me/

I have followed her work for a few years and am always inspired by her beautiful technique, playful characters and sense of wonder. 

© Jean Kim 
I am very happy to share with you an insight of Jean’s process and her work:

Q. Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?

I get inspired by most things in everyday life, especially from conversations with people. It may be  friends, family or sometimes even strangers. For my personal works, I create my work to express stories of loneliness and alienation from different experiences and relationships. This is why I tend to ask people about their loneliness, and their stories become my biggest inspirations. 

© Jean Kim 

Animals are one of my biggest inspirations too. For my children's book projects I like having animal characters better than human characters. I love their unique shapes and their pure and simple emotion.

© Jean Kim 

Q. Can you describe your process? Which are your favorite tools?
I use mixed media. Currently my favorite tools are pencils and pen & ink. (I get excited every time when I try a new medium) I love tools that leave special texture effects on the paper. 

 I start my drawings with a black and white layer, using either graphite pencils or pen & ink. In my approach, I gently rub pencils on cold press paper or do a cross-hatching technique with a pen to create textures.

Then, I scan my drawing in a high resolution in my Epson scanner and add a color layer in Photoshop. I color the illustration with a Wacom tablet. 

© Jean Kim 

Q. Congratulations on winning the 2015 SCBWI NYC Honor Portfolio Showcase! How has that experience helped you with your career in children's book publishing?
Thank you so much Ana. It has been over a year, but it still feels like yesterday. Receiving an award from the SCBWI conference was such an honor and means so much to me. I believe that this honor gave me strength to believe in myself as an illustrator and kept me dreaming.  

© Jean Kim

 After I graduated in 2014, I decided to go to one of the biggest conferences in NY (SBWI), it was a huge challenge for me. When they were awarding honors, I couldn't believe my ears! After the conference, I was contacted by several good agencies, including my current agent Rebecca Sherman from Writers House who truly understands my voice and my work. 

© Jean Kim 

Q. What are your favorite children’s book(s)?

I am a huge fan of Shaun Tan. 'The Arrival' is my favorite. I also love 'Chester' by Ayano Imai.

Tan, Shaun "The Arrival" Arthur A.Levine Books, 2007

 Imai, Ayano "Chester", Miniedition, 2007 

Q. What projects are you working on right now?
 I am currently working on two picture book projects. The first one is called 'Wide Awake Bear' (Harper Collins), written by the great Pat Zietlow Miller. The second one is called 'Rabbit Moon' (Arthur A. Levine Books), a story written and illustrated by myself. Both will be published in 2017 and I feel very lucky to be working with these great publishers.

© Jean Kim 

Thank you so much for the inspiration Jean!

Ana Aranda writes/illustrates for children and creates murals.
You can find her work at 
these different locations:
Twitter: @anaranda2

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Little About Printmaking

Welcome back to the blog! Have you ever tried printmaking before? It is a great method not only for completing entire illustrations, but for creating unique textures and patterns as well. Prints can be used in drawings, paintings, and collage.

In this post, I am going to share my process of creating illustrations using the linocut printmaking technique. But first a little history….

Printmaking is an ancient technique that originated in China around AD 105 after paper was invented. It all began as stone rubbings so that the Chinese scholars could study their holy scriptures. They started creating woodcarvings in the 9th century and their method spread throughout the world by the 15th century. Since then, the process has evolved to include linocuts as well. 

The linocut printmaking technique was first used in 1905 by a German artist named Die Brucke. It has provided relief printers with a quicker, cheaper alternative to the woodcuts that have been used to create art for centuries. I often use the linocut technique when I am creating prints for illustrations. It is a much quicker process because the material is easier to carve. 
Here are the supplies you will need to create a linocut print.

Supplies from left to right: rice paper, japanese carving tools, linoleum, glass with 
the edges taped, oil-based ink, water based ink, brayer, baren, Cobalt dryer

Like all illustrations, this method begins with an idea and a LOT of thumbnails.


After you have a solid composition it’s time to work out a final sketch. I like working on tracing paper for my final sketch because it is easier to transfer to the linoleum piece (or pieces) I use to make the finals. 

After the final sketch is finished, I cut my linoleum to the size that I need with a sharp knife (if you use a dull one, you might lose part of a finger….) and tape my tracing paper, face down onto the block. Using a mechanical pencil, I carefully trace over all of my pencil lines. I use a mechanical pencil because it creates darker, sharper lines on the linoleum.

When I am finished with this step, I remove the tracing paper (I normally save it just in case something goes wrong later on down the line.) and re-trace the lines with a thin Sharpie. Sharpies is the only material I have found that holds up through multiple layers of oil based ink and clean-up. Every other ink dissolves during the clean-up phase.

Once the Sharpie has been used to go over all of the pencil lines, it is time to start color studies!
When printing, I often try to keep my color palette very limited (1-3 colors). Color studies really help me see how few colors I can get away with so that I can keep my carving to a minimum. Deadlines can come up pretty quickly and if I spend too much time carving multiple blocks or carving away from one block more than twice (this is called Reductive Printing) then I tend to rush the rest of the printing process in order to meet the deadline set. Color studies help me to plan all of this ahead of time so that I am spending less time carving and more time actually printing. Here are a few of my color studies for various projects:

I normally struggle with limited palette color studies a bit because there are so many options! A lot of times, I will complete a set of 3 or 4 studies and hang them up where I can look at them over and over again before making my final choice. If you are struggling, Pinterest has a lot of great information. Also, the Color Index (http://www.amazon.com/Color-Index-Revised-Jim-Krause/dp/1440302626/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1462825385&sr=1-2&keywords=color+index) has been an invaluable resource for me.

After my color studies are complete it is time to start carving! I hand carve all of my prints using Japanese carving tools that I bought here: http://www.imcclains.com/catalog/woodblocktools/namiseioriginalsetof4.html.

I have also found that Speedball makes a pretty good starter set if you are interested in experimenting with printmaking, but don’t want to invest in a high end carving set. You can find it here: http://www.dickblick.com/products/speedball-linoleum-cutters/. This set does not work for wood, but it works great for rubber and linoleum.

Although carving often ends up being the most time consuming part of the printmaking process, it is my favorite part of the process. When carving linoleum it is wise to think about every gouge made. I often create spirals or straight lines going a specific way because when the linoleum is inked up, the carved places can still pick up some ink. If those places have been carved into a pattern, it will just contribute additional texture to a piece rather than ruining it.

After the carving is finished, I prepare for pulling the final prints. When pulling prints, I often use rice paper or Mulberry paper. The traditional way to prepare paper is to wet and tear it…

but sometimes I cheat and cut it with an x-acto blade instead. The clean lines help me with my registration (especially if I am pulling a multi-colored print). Normally, I cut my paper the exact size of my block so I can line up all of the edges when I lay the paper face down on the inked linoleum piece.

Once the paper has been prepared, I mix the ink.  I use Graphic Chemical & Ink Co oil based relief printing inks, but Speedball works pretty good too and it is easier to clean up because you can use water instead of vegetable oil. When mixing,  I use  a palette knife to help loosen up the ink (it gets stickier the more you scoop it around) and then roll it onto a brayer (which is like a fancy rolling pin covered in rubber). After the brayer is completely covered in ink, I roll it all over my carving and place on of my pieces of paper on top.

Using a metal spoon or a baren (a flat, handheld tool traditionally used by the Japanese), it is time to pull the print! I hold the paper in place with one hand and move in smooth circles with the baren my other hand. I try my best to apply the same amount of pressure to the entire piece to get a nice, graphic finish. If you are trying this and your first print comes out a little light or fuzzy don’t worry. Prints are like pancakes: the first one is always a bit funky. Just ink up your block and try again.

When I am printing for children’s illustration, I typically pull 5 prints before cleaning everything up. This way I have lots of duplicates in case I make a mistake. That is one of the really great things about printmaking!

If you have never experimented with printmaking before, I would encourage you to try it! You can use this method to print all kinds of unique patterns and textures for collage; however, you can get crazy and print with found objects glued to a board for unique collagraphs. You can even use foam pieces cut into shapes for quick, easy stamps! Once you know the basics, the sky is the limit. Take a day to play and let me know what you think. 

 ~Jeslyn Kate
Jeslyn Kate writes/illustrates for children and teaches art.
You can find her work at 
these different locations:
Twitter: @jeslynkate
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeslynkateart
Blog: http://jeslynsart.blogspot.com/

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Printing Variations on a Theme

HP Envy 4520

Recently I purchased an inexpensive black and white printer to facilitate the process of character development. Using graphite transfer has been a mainstay for many years but I wanted to speed up the steps involved and save my hands for the actual drawing part. 

I go through reams of the Georgia-Pacific 110lb white card stock, filling a 2 inch three ring binder almost every month with sketches. I find the surface pleasing to draw on because it has a bit of tooth but is smooth enough to hold detail.

About a week ago a couple of little girls faces popped out onto my paper. Curious as to who they were, I pushed them around a bit and got the feeling they were European street kids from the earlier part of the 20th century. "Rag Girls" as well as the word "Gypsy" kept popping into my head. 

I scanned the first sketches and taking them into Photoshop, I set up a document with repeated faces. Before printing I placed a layer filled with white over the top and slid the opacity down to about 80 percent, just barely enough to the faces coming through. The image above is darker than I would print, but for the purpose of showing up here, I made it a bit darker, you get the idea. 

Some too old
By having the pale image on the page, I could shift the facial features slightly while retaining the overall shape. It is extremely easy at small sizes to add just a bit of a crisp edge to a nose which instantly makes the character appear older. Having the profile image faintly printed I could erase easily without removing the entire structure. I specifically chose profile for this part of the exploration because I was trying to nail down certain ages, between 8 and 12. To me the nose and forehead in profile help establish the age.

I generally create a super quick character template for each face and body type, and again using the scanner and printer I can create many variations on a theme without losing the basic shapes.

There were three distinct girls that came out to play over those few days and I wanted to know who they were, and of course to eventually draw them happier. The first two original girls seemed sad or concerned which can be seen in the lineups below. I don't know what the influence was, they just came out of my pencil that day.

Pardon the transparent dress on the girl below. After I had quickly sketched her and decided to spend more time on her, I erased out her dress and sketched in the basic body shape to see if the proportions were correct underneath. Sure enough her upper arm was too short so her elbow did not fall at the waist, which I corrected in the next group.

The Far Left on Top and Bottom are 
the 2 Original Girls

Second Batch

While I was working on them I saw an Instagram image stating it was Holocaust Memorial day, and suddenly I knew who they were. They were the lost children of World War II. In a conversation on Instagram I commented on a quote I saw in a holocaust article, they were "the children the Nazis hated. . . Jewish, Romani, and African".

As always, I cut all of my sketches apart to view them independently and sort into like kind. Sometimes a new direction will show itself and by having them sorted I can decide if I want to follow it. I literally have piles and piles of little sketches that are generally half print and half fresh graphite experiments. 

Yeah, I don't think so, but fun
And of course there are always those crazy pages like the ones above where I go out on a limb with my playing but those go in the scrap pile if unusable or into a stack for use in perhaps another story. I had planned to sketch teenage older sisters but was probably watching a contemporary BBC drama which influenced the age and time period. So I just had a bit of fun with them.

When I have devoted 12 to 14 hours a day for days of hyper focus (can't seem to stop myself until I have finished the process), I am able to sit down and sketch the character out quickly without any prints because I have memorized their facial characteristics and proportions. In fact I see their faces when I close my eyes. . . they become real to me.

And the bonus is I have tons of sketches for my mother to choose from. The one below, or very similar to it, followed her home on Mother's Day! It is the best of both worlds, traditional and digital, and allows me to have created tangible pieces of process art instead of only tracing paper scraps or purely digital images.

Cheap printer, card stock, and mechanical pencils for the win!