Friday, August 26, 2016

Palettes: on color combinations & experimentations

When proceeding to the final step in an art piece, it can be challenging to find the accurate colors that are needed to express a feeling for each illustration to create an emotional experience through color.

Here you can find some helpful tips for experimentation, as well as some images with colors that I find greatly interesting and inspiring! 

-Mixing colors
 Finding the right single color for a specific object is the first challenge, here are some mixes of color that I have found very helpful:

  • Emerald or aqua green + magenta = purple, depending on how much you add of each color it can be colder or warmer

  • Hostaperm blue (Phtalo blue) + white = royal blue close to cerulean blue

  • Red-orange (Pyrrole orange) + green-yellow (chromium oxide green + lemon yellow) + white = ochre

  • Hostaperm green (Phtalo green) + Lemon yellow = wild green

-Color combinations
We might say that we love a specific color, but sometimes we might actually refer to a color contrasting other color (or set of colors) which individually might not be as compelling, but when put next to each other are incredibly beautiful.

Example: blue and yellow during the blue hour. Image source: Shutterbug
(Thanks to my friend Beka for the inspiration on these colors) 

Here are some color combinations that might help you create an interesting palette:

  • Contrasting all colds against one warm color / contrasting all warms against one cold color


  • Colors that are very close in the color wheel against one contrasting color from the opposite side of the color wheel

    Source: Prismacolor color wheel, Pinterest
  • Triads. You can vary in saturation and value

    Source: Prismacolor color wheel, Pinterest
-Color charts

Cool  vs warm colors. Background vs foreground?

*All color results here were made with Indart acrylics and Liquitex white

Some helpful links on color: 

What are your favorite color combinations ? What are your color recipes?

Thanks for stopping by!

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

Observing + Understanding + Respecting your Process

This August was my third SCBWI national conference in a row. Part of my planning for it involved making a new dummy, and I had about 4 months to pull it together.

The problem was that I decided I wanted to make a new dummy before I had a solid, workable story. So there was a cart. And it was in front of a horse. And I did a lot of thumbnails, sketches, and freaking out before I realized that I was not doing so well with that need-to-have-a-new-dummy cart standing in front of a story-that-isn’t-working horse.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I’m great at rapidly generating a ton of ideas for stories and scenarios, and I’m not great at testing them to see if the story itself makes sense or feels cohesive. After a month, I had drawn out an entire 32-page dummy before I got the confirmation from a critique group: the story was just not working. I was very frustrated, and I wanted to drop the story entirely. But where had I gone wrong?

Instead of going back to the dummy for edits, I wanted to go further back, to the root of where I was working from. I wanted to look at my process. I wondered what would happen if I were to observe it, without trying to make any solutions or justifications. What would I find?

I came up with this process of self-reflection that I thought might be helpful to other kidlit people when doing long-term visioning and improving their creative practice. The process has four steps:

Step 1: Get it All Out 

I took out a sketchbook and wrote about how I work, and the “things” I was experiencing. It was important at this time to not self-censor (“that’s not relevant”) or try to immediately develop solutions (“what if I try x?”). I kept in the personal stuff (“I want to exercise more” and “call mom more”), because with creative work, personal and professional often bleed together.

This step in the process is all about unloading. You need to know what you are working with before you can start to work and understand it.

Step 2: Look for Patterns, and Identify Problems 

At this point I want to see everything at once and start to identify categories, themes, and patterns in the way that I work. Do I just sit at my drafting table and hope for the best? Am I working on a knife’s edge (deadline to send postcards, portfolio, etc. to the printer) so that even getting a flat tire on my bike would throw my entire schedule off?

Based on this writing, what large problems or issues are surfacing? Can you write them down? What gets lumped together? What needs to be teased apart?

Some other things you’re going to want to ask yourself: what are the implications of the way that I’m working? How are my patterns influencing my outputs, my relationships, my career, and my future goals?

You might also think about whether or not these behaviors, in context, are inherently “bad” or unproductive. I’ve noticed that there’s a trend and reward for artists with massive output, usually through social media. But you can’t always have the firehose going at full blast; you need time to process and learn, try different techniques.

Step 3: Small Interventions

So now you see that you’ve had some time pulling your work style out of your head, pulling it apart, looking at all the pieces, re-sorting it all, and identifying some key problems you're facing, what do you do? NOW is the time to develop little suggestions for yourself, based on the evidence you’ve collected.

What are the indicators of me about to fall into these patterns of work that aren’t so useful? How can I keep an eye out for these behaviors? Are there any tools I could try using to prevent me/alert me when I’m about to go down this path?

My big takeaways (after going through this process): I identified that I can generate story ideas well, but I need time to build/live with those stories before I can tell whether or not they can be capital-S Stories. If I understand that this is what I need to do to work well, I can prepare and plan (to the best of my ability) so that I don’t end up spinning my wheels.

It feels great to go through this process. But once you’ve reached this point, you’re at a critical time where you need to remember to regularly check on yourself. Which leads to...

Step 4: Reflect, and Repeat the Cycle 

After awhile, do this process again: write about the way you’re working, what’s going well, what’s frustrating. Identify another problem you’re coming up against (you will have them). Use this as a calibration tool; a repeating process to support your creative practice. Try to not wait for a crisis to realize that you should have been addressing these smaller problems all along. Then you really will have some work to do.

So why this is important for the field? 

There’s an interview with the poet Stanley Kunitz where he talks about how writing gets harder with age. "The poems are there, but they lie under the debris of the life. One has to dig for them very much harder than one had to at the beginning, when poetry is so largely, in one's youth, a glandular activity."

In his keynote at the LA conference, Jon Klassen talked about finding inspiration, and the danger of being inflexible. He stressed the importance of “taking care of your machinery.” I would go further with this metaphor, encouraging kidlit folks who plan to be in it for the long haul to understand their machinery. Observe it and see how it functions, where it works well, and what areas need special attention. And like machinery, different areas function differently in response to outside forces, so your machine is something that needs to be checked and tuned up regularly.

Particularly in the run-up to a national conference, it’s easy to get pulled into the frenzy of preparing dummies, working on stories, working on your portfolio, making postcards, submitting, and social media. The hard part that doesn’t get talked about much, is not just creating good work, but understanding the way you work, and cultivating your practice so that you’re making the best art/writing/output you are capable of making.


K-Fai Steele is a writer/drawer who lives in San Francisco. You can see her process on instagram, twitter, and snapchat @areyouokfai

Monday, August 8, 2016

SCBWI 2016 Summer Conference Tidbits

I have spent the last week or so trying to return to my “normal” life, after spending a long weekend at the SCBWI 45th Annual Summer Conference, which as we all know, took place at the Millenium Biltmore Hotel, in Los Angeles, at the beginning of the month. As usual, the talent, expertise, good will and cheer of everyone involved boggled my mind! It was wonderful to see old friends, and to meet new ones.

I learned so much as the weekend progressed, and became increasingly sleep-deprived and overwhelmed as time went on, but in a good way! I'm still pouring over my sketchbook, which I filled up with notes and drawings. From the scribbles, I have extracted a few inspired quotes to share with you, along with (very!) rough sketches of the speakers, who I drew while listening to their sage words. Enjoy!  

“Only your life can create your voice.”  ­— Drew Daywalt, author. His books include The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home


“If you’re not struggling and frustrated and failing, you’re not setting your goals high enough.”  ­— Pam Muñoz Ryan, author. Her novels include Esperanza Rising and Becoming Naomi Léon

“Diversity is not a trend... it needs to be the norm.” ­
— Justin Chanda, Vice President, Publisher of 

children’s imprints, Simon & Schuster


“Trust criticism & revision, and allow yourself to learn from it.”  ­— Arthur Levine, Publisher and Editor, Arthur A. Levine Books


“Pick things you like, and things you know. You will get something you didn’t set out to do, but it will be yours.” — John Klassen, author/illustrator. His books include I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat


 “Know your premise before you start. It could be the most important 25 words you write.”
— Carole Boston Weatherford, author and award-winning poet. Her titles include Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America and Freedom in Congo Square



“Be brave and listen. None of us know everything. All of us can learn more.”  ­— Mary Lu, YA author. Her titles include the Legend trilogy and the Young Elites series

“Be brave and spontaneous with your ideas. The more you use, the more you’ll have.”  ­­— Sophie Blackall, illustrator of over 30 books, including Finding Winnie, the Baby Tree and the ongoing Ivy and Bean series


Molly Ruttan
instagram: mollyillo
twitter: @molly_ruttan
FB: Molly Ruttan/MollyRuttan Illustration

Monday, August 1, 2016

Fear. Feeling Stuck. How to Overcome it.

Imagining about something and transferring those ideas onto paper is an enjoyable process but at the same time, it requires an abundance of energy. 

We may go through different processes with our rational thought and intuitive feelings.

This may not apply to everyone but I would like to share my past experiences which made me fear, stuck, and how I conquered those fears and what allowed to me to go on forward.

I am certain every artist has a constant desire to improve their work. However, when we try to make the right decisions and choices, there are times when we interrogate ourselves and it might cause us to become pessimistic, have fear, or become lazy.
If you really want to become an artist or an illustrator and if you want to conquer these negative feelings, here are some tips!

These are some points I have followed, which helped me to improve my artwork. I hope this helps some of you if you are looking for a way to improve.

1. Open your mind up for feedback or criticism from others. Think about a sponge that absorbs all external liquid, no matter what the liquid is. Similarly, you have to absorb all opinions regarding your artwork, either if it’s a positive or negative one. I think it’s important to hear about the audiences’ opinions. You should take all feedback or criticism and take them into great consideration, and analyze your artwork to determine why they said such things so you can improve. 

2. Find artists you like and contact them and ask for feedback on your portfolio piece. First of all, this will encourage you greatly because you are getting feedback from someone you like or look up to. Secondly, they might point out some critical aspects you have never thought about, and this allows you to see from a different perspective. 

3. Try using new medium. I try watercolor, acrylic, oil, gouache, markers, color pencils (even different brands) etc. Out of all the medium there are, find one or two that truly speak to you. For me, I found that working with digital medium is the most enjoyable and makes me enthusiastic to go back to my desk every single day. After you find your perfect medium, try to give yourself a challenge. My challenge was to find a traditional feel from digital painting.

Samples of my color study from life with pastel

Samples of my color study from life with oil paints

Create my personal illustration with digital 

4. Explore different style.  What's your taste? Again, find your favorite artists and try copying their style and analyze why it works so well in their work. Find your own way and apply to your work.

5.  Make it marketable. For me, my favorite artists mostly consist of artists that are working for the animation industry, children’s book artists, and independent artists. I think about their work and ask why it looks so appealing to me, and through the analyzing, I learned about the business’ perspective. If I was someone who wanted to publish a book, what kind of illustrator’s work would be best for to convey the feelings of the book to the world?

6. Learn from Life and develop yourself. Once you've gone through all the list and made it this far, now you might be able to view life in different ways. Every individual is unique and you as artist can bring your interpretation of life and your spirit onto the paper.

When these steps eventually become natural intuition to you, it will be much easier to solve problems. It might give you better answers and furthermore, the choice you make will feel comforting and like yourself in the end.

Nicholas Hong
Artist for Animation | Illustrator

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 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
@jenbetton on Twitter
She is currently illustrating TWILIGHT CHANT, by Holly Thompson, 
which will be published by Clarion in 2018.