Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Once upon a time, long ago-ish, I was an Art Director working on automotive advertising in Detroit. And surprisingly, many things that I learned as an AD apply to my present career as a children’s book illustrator. Here are some of the parallels I gleaned from the experience. Perhaps you can benefit from them, too.

1. The best ads tell stories. The same is true of your illustration portfolio. At my mentorship review with Art Director Laurent Linn last summer, he said it best: “Do your illustrations show a particular moment, either right before something happens, or right after? Or are they stuck, with the character stagnant in the middle of the page and portrait-like?” There also should be an emotive quality to your work, a tug at your heart, in one direction or another. You should feel the moment. 

2. You gotta work quickly. You have seconds (if that) to capture someone’s attention and keep it, whether it’s a television ad, or a book mockup. It’s gotta be riveting from the get-go. And when it comes to creating, especially in the rough draft stage, your best work sometimes occurs when you’re going fast. It helps tune out that inner critic in the back of our heads. I took a workshop with illustrator Matt Faulkner, who suggested using an egg timer, to keep us moving, loose and nimble. It can do wonders to combat the blank page, or if you’re spending too much time in the polishing stage, noodling an illustration to death. 

3. “Deadlines are your friend,” is perhaps my favorite saying from Creative Director Ernie Perich. I came to appreciate the short deadlines in advertising, as crazy-making as they sometimes were. If there’s no deadline, there’s no urgency, no fire under your butt. 

During my pre-published years as an illustrator, I struggled with the lack of deadlines. It felt so hard to prioritize my illustration work if I wasn’t getting paid for it. So I used upcoming SCBWI conferences, paid critiques and applying for mentorships as carrots, which had built-in due dates for submitting work. I also joined a critique group that kept me accountable for future goals and projects. And I tracked my time creating each day, just like I would if it were a freelance project. Seeing the hours add up on a project made it feel more “real” somehow.

4. Fewer is better. An AD will always remember your weakest piece. So if there’s anything you’re lukewarm about, take it out. Never include more just to fluff out your portfolio. Choose 10-15 pieces max. A lot is riding on an Art Director’s decision to go with you, especially if you’re a new illustrator they haven’t worked with. Don’t give them a reason to say no. Lead off with your best piece, keep the pieces in between lean and stellar, then end on an equally strong piece.

5. Always take time to say thank you. If you have a personal meeting with an Art Director (truly a rarity these days), thank them. Chances are, they gave up time from something else to see you. The best illustrators and photographers I worked with sent actual snail mail thank you notes. Anything hand written in this day and age is special. And you will be remembered.

I am guilty of not sending enough. But I just signed up for “4 Out the Door,” a postcard challenge hosted by SCBWI Michigan for illustrators from any region. Email fouroutthedoor@gmail.com and you’ll receive info on mailing lists, postcard design, and recommended online printers. You’ll also learn when the most optimal times of the year for sending are.

Yes, it’s hard when you send out postcards, not knowing if they’ll be trashed or kept. But you never know when your card will strike a chord. Case in point—I had sent postcards to an Editor and months later, I had the unexpected opportunity to visit him. I saw what he called “The Great Wall:” a bulletin board filled with his favorite postcards. I was amazed to see two of mine were up there! 

Every time someone receives your card, it cements your presence in their head. Art Directors and Editors have so much to keep track of. Don’t make them have to remember you. They won’t. Unless you’re stellar. And you keep in touch.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Intentions- by Diandra Mae

I know the New Year is all about stepping off on the right foot towards something BIGGER, BETTER, NEWER, etc. but this year, instead of starting over I want to keep doing what I've been doing. 

You see, every year I pick one word as my focus. It's my Intention Word. It's the reminder for the next twelve months of what it is I want to accomplish that year. Where I'm going to put my energy. 2017 was the year of 

North meant closing my eyes and tuning myself to the pull on my heart, towards the stories I've been waiting to tell, the characters I've been wanting to create. North meant ignoring all the noise about style and design and trends and figuring out what is I'm meant to do. North meant listening. 

And so I did. I participated in a six month online art challenge that I help moderate, pushing myself to draw the things that scared the pants off me (vehicles -*shudder*) in order to encourage growth. 

I took an illustrator's workshop at Highlights and had a fantastic time with wonderful people, exploring media and technique and really having a hard look at myself and how I've been playing it safe. (Anxiety and Fear are some sneaky jerks, y'all.)

And even though I knew it was just the very beginning of something real and wonderful, I entered my portfolio in the SCBWI LA Portfolio Showcase to show folks that I was still working and creating. Well, we know how that turned out: 😉

Last year was, for the first time in a long time, when I finally felt like I was putting my foot on the right path when it came to my work. Every step I took seemed to click somewhere inside of me and although I couldn't really see where I was going, I was excited to see where I ended up. 

It was to the point that I became a little evangelical to friends about how they approached their art. "Tell the stories you want to tell!" "There's only one YOU!" "Follow this spark!" Pushing and encouraging friends is one of my favorite things to do, and with the personal success I had experienced so far, I turned it up to eleven. I've calmed down (mostly) but still remind them from time to time that their journey is theirs and there's no one like them.

It's a good reminder for me to keep listening heading into 2018. And, inspired by Robert Frost, I'll also keep in mind

"The path can be lonely, dark, and steep,
But I have stories to tell,
And miles to go before the journey's complete,
And miles to go before the journey's complete. 

My Intention Word for 2018 is Persistence. 

Happy New Year, y'all. Do you have an Intention for 2018? Let me know what it is! I hope your 2018 Intentions bring you focus, growth, and joy.


This hangs in my studio. I purchased it on Etsy a few years back: https://www.etsy.com/shop/anavicky


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Our Books: KidLitArtists 2018 Preview!

2018 Books: 

This year has another bumper-crop of books for the KidLit Artists! Look out for these great titles coming to bookstores in 2018!

The perfect bedtime book for young soccer fans. From the opening kickoff to the final goal, a young girl sys goodnight to her most beloved sport: soccer.
available for pre-order here

(February 6)
by Andrea Zuill
Even snails can feel jealous over a new baby! Marigold realizes that her new sister Daisy must be an evil genius, capable of mesmerizing everyone. They even think her pooping is cute! Just when Marigold reaches her breaking point, she discovers that Daisy's amazing skills may come in handy after all.
Available for pre-order here

(March 13)

They blame you when they get in trouble. They seem like your parents' favorite. They are the only enemy you can't live without. Almost everyone has a juicy story about their siblings–even famous people. Meet those who got along, those who didn't, and everyone in between! Middle grade novel.

(March 13)
 edited by Colby Sharp, contributed to by Debbie Ohi (and others)
Colby Sharp invited more than forty children's authors and illustrators to provide story starters for each other; photos, drawings, poems, prose or anything they could dream up. They responded to the prompts by transforming these seeds into any form of creative work they wanted to share! A section of story starters provides inspiration for readers to create works of their own.
Available for pre-order here

Twilight Chant
(March 20)
written by Holly Thompson, illustrated by Jen Betton
As day slips softly into night, sharp eyes catch glimpses of the special creatures who are active at dusk. Melodic text captures the richness of the animal life that emerges in the low light. A picture book that will inspire budding naturalists and anyone who has ever chased a firefly in the twilight.
Available for pre-order here

Cycle City
(March 20)
by Alison Farrell
When little Etta the Elephant goes to her Aunt Ellen's house, she takes a journey through bicycle-filled Cycle City, a town filled with bikes of all kinds! At the end of the day, a special surprise awaits Etta – the most amazing bicycle parade imaginable.
Available for pre-order here

Meddy Teddy: A Mindful Yoga Journey
(March 20)
 written by Apple Jordan, illustrated by Nicholas Hong
Say namaste to Meddy Teddy, a rising star in the yogi world. Meddy practices yoga poses as he emerges from hibernation, greets the springtime, and mindfully gets through a variety of situations.

Welcome to Bark Park! There are dogs running and dogs relaxing, dogs riding and dogs sliding – all before returning home to bubble baths, cozy dog beds, and sweet dreams of – what else? – being back at the park!
Available for pre-order here

(April 10)
by Juana Martinez-Neal
If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of all her namesakes, and as she hears the story starts to think her name might be the perfect fit after all. The Spanish version launches simultaneously.

Available for pre-order here

I'm Sad
(June 5)
 written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ohi
A girl, a potato, and a very sad flamingo star in this sequel to I'm Bored. Everyone feels sad sometimes – even flamingos. Sigh. When Flamingo announces he's feeling down, his friends try to cheer him up, but nothing seems to work. Not even dirt! (Which usually works for Potato)...

Available for pre-order here

100 Bugs! A Counting Book
(June 12)
written by Kate Narita, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufmann

How many bugs can you count? From walking sticks to spittlebugs, dragonflies to katydids, discovering 10 bugs at a time, you just might see 100 bugs!
Available for pre-order here

Hedgehog Needs a Hug 
(June 19)
by Jen Betton
When Hedgehog feels down in the snout and droopy in the prickles, he knows a hug will make him feel better. But none of his friends want to wrap their arms around Hedgehog's prickles, and he's too smart to fall for Fox's sly offer. Then to his surprise, Hedgehog discovers another animal who is feeling exactly the same way.
Available for pre-order here

Good Night, Little Monsters
(June 26)
 written by Kara Lareau, illustrated by Brian Won
Watch little monsters go about their bedtime routines, as Frankenbaby lays down his green head, loosens his bolts and is tucked into bed. Lochnessie is assured of swimming when awake, and snuggles close in the deep cool lake.
Available for pre-order here

All Are Welcome
(July 10)
 written by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufmann
Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms no matter their race, religion, or background. A school where it is normal to wear a hajib, learn a Vietnamese dance and witness a Dragon dance for Lunar New Year.

available for pre-order here

Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse
(August 14)
written by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Adrian Simcox tells anyone who will listen that he has a horse – the best and most beautiful horse anywhere. But Chloe does NOT believe him. The more Adrian talks about his horse, the angrier Chloe gets. But when she calls him out at school, Chloe doesn't get the vindication she craves. She gets something far more important.
(Cover to come)

What Can You Do With A Toolbox?
(Fall 2018)
written by John Colaneri & Anthony Carrino, illustrated by Maple Lam
Discover all the exciting things you can build with a toolbox.
(Cover to come)

(Fall 2018)
written by Jacob Kramer, illustrated by K-Fai Steele
An elephant's love of noodles puts her on the wrong side of the law!
(Cover to come)

Business Pig
(Fall 2018)
by Andrea Zuill
(Cover to come)

Mad Mad Bear
 by Kimberly Gee
A little bear learns to cope with his frustrations.
(Cover to come)

Balance the Birds
 by Susie Ghahremani
A sequel to the popular Stack The Cats counting book.
(Cover to come)

Together With Grandpa (Chinese)
by Maple Lam
A young bear and his grandfather explore the city together.
(Cover to come)

We hope you enjoy our titles in the new year!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Our 2017 Books!

This year was a bumper-crop of books for our group! Here are twenty-two titles by fourteen mentees that were published this past year; so many folks even had multiple books coming out – look at them go! As the years go by it is just so exciting to see more and more of our folks with published books.

2017 Mentee Books

A touching and magical journey as a mother tells her daughter how much she is loved: "I whispered these words as I held you near, for all time, for all space, for the world to hear, I will love you."
Available here

Jayna, Bumsie and Pep are three goats who live in fear of being eaten for dinner by the legendary chupacabra. The impetuous threesome set out on a zany quest to find the beast and scare it away.
Available here


Animals and families celebrate blankets of love, from a blanket of flowers in a field to a blanket of kisses that soothe a baby to sleep. Snuggle up. It's story time!
Available here

Cats of all shapes and sizes scamper, stretch, and yawn across the pages of this adorable counting book. And every now and then, then find themselves in the purrrfect fluffy stack! 
Available here
Seeds can be big or small, round or pointy, and all sorts of colors. They can become flowers, trees, fruits, or vegetables, and they sprout all times of year. But all seeds have one thing in common – inside each is a new plant life waiting to emerge. Wait and see what will grow! 
Available here

When Mama hears her boys fighting over yet another toy, it gets confiscated! It's only when ALL the toys are confiscated that these brothers finally learn how to work – and play – together.
Available here
Claudine thinks Santa is a pretty rude guy! After all, he sneaks into your house! Uninvited! She is determined to keep Santa away from her house this Christmas, and the only way to do it is to be as NAUGHTY as possible. Too bad Claudine's actually a pretty good kid at heart...
Available here

This biography examines the life and career of naturalist and artist Anna Comstock, who defied social conventions and pursued the study of science, eventually pioneering a movement to encourage schools to conduct science and nature classes for children outdoors. 
Available here

A little spill could be a small mistake... or the start of a big idea. This deceptively simple story shows how the biggest blunders can spark the brightest innovation. A celebration of creativity and exploration.
Available here

El príncipe knows this girl is the one for him, but, as usual, his mother doesn't agree. The queen has a secret test in mind to see if this girl is really a princesa. But the prince might just have a sneaky plan, too...
Available here

Hush a Bye, Baby
written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani
Designed to be one of the very first books to start sharing with your baby. In this sweet board book, a parent gently reassures a baby that they will be watching over them as they close their eyes for sleep.
Available here

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion 
written by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Andrea Offermann
Eager for glory and heedless of others, Sir Yvain sets out from King Arthur's court and defeats a local lord in battle, unknowingly intertwining his future with the lives of two compelling women in this graphic novel.
Available here

The Last Spell – The Thickety #4 
Written by J.A. White, illustrated by Andrea Offermann 
The spellbinding conclusion to the Thickety middle grade novels: Kara and her brother Taff must find the hidden pieces of Princess Evangeline's grimoire to defeat Rygoth and her army of witches in one last good versus evil battle. 
Available here

Sam & Eva 
by Debbie Ohi
When Sam starts drawing a super cool velociraptor, Eva decides to join in. But Sam isn't too happy about the collaboration. Soon Eva and Sam are locked in an epic creative clash, bringing to life everything from superhero marmots to exploding confetti.
Available here

Mitzi Tulane in What's That Smell?

written by Lauren McLaughlin, illustrated by Debbie Ohi
Mitzi Tulane knows how to follow a trail of evidence and solve tough mysteries. From the strange happenings in the kitchen to the sudden arrival of every family member she's ever met, Mitzie pieces together the clues to her own surprise birthday party!
Available here

Ruby Rose, Big Bravos 

written by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Debbie Ohi
Ruby Rose has the best idea ever: she'll put on a dance recital. But when all is finally ready, her audience gets caught in the rain! Will Ruby Rose let a little thunder and lightning ruin her performance? With some swirling and twirling, Ruby Rose finds a way to star in the best recital ever!
Available here

Sea Monkey & Bob
written by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Debbie Ohi
Two delightfully anxious friends learn they can overcome anything – even gravity. Sea Monkey is terrified he'll sink straight to the bottom of the ocean, while Bob is worried he will float up to the surface. How will they stay together? Sometimes you just have to keep holding on...
Available here

John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien
written by Caroline McAlister, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
John Ronald loved to imagine dragons wherever he went, and especially when life got hard or sad. But he never actually found one, until one day when he decided to create one of his own. This is a picture book biography of the life of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Available here

The Pomegranate Witch
written by Denise Doyen, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
When the witch's pomegranates are ripe, the neighborhood kids wonder how they can get a taste. So starts the pomegranate war – a fun, rollicking romp of a battle between the rascally kids and their clever witch neighbor.
Available here

Hooray for Books!
by Brian Won
Turtle has looked everywhere for his favorite book, but it's nowhere to be found! Maybe his book was borrowed by Zebra, or Owl? As Turtle searches, his friends offer to share their own favorite stories, but other books just won't do! Unless maybe it's time to try something new?
Available here

Spunky Little Monkey 

written by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson, illustrated by Brian Won
Sleepy little monkey won't get out of bed. Mama called the Doctor and the Doctor said: "Apple Juice, Orange Juice, Gooseberry Pies – Monkey needs some exercise!" A dancing, singing book to start the new day!
Available here

An alligator dancing ballet? When the reptile takes her place at the barre, the other dancers are very surprised. They let her stay (Would YOU say no to a 450 pound alligator?), give her a name and even a special ballet to highlight her larger-than-life talents. 
Available here

Jen Betton wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG (Penguin Books) coming June 2018. She also illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT by Holly Thompson (Clarion-HMH).
You can find her here: 

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Power of Routine: Part 1

This year has been full of adventure and change. We moved across the country (from California to Florida), got married and for the first time in my career I have had the opportunity to pursue art full time!

All of this really began last fall. We had been talking about my art career for months. I love to tell stories with pictures, but it never seemed to go anywhere. I was ready to give up and relegate it to the “hobby slot” in my life. To have a solid opportunity to not only pursue art, but to do it full time seemed like a faraway dream!

After multiple conversations my husband and I came to an agreement: move across the country to Florida and spend a full year dedicated to making art. It was a devastating but necessary change. I felt I needed to take that leap of faith and go all in or I would regret it in the long run.

Scoot forward a couple of months and here I am, suddenly a full time, freelance artist! Change is exciting, but it is also SO scary! Here’s what I realized after the first week on the job:

  1. I LOVE making art every day. It’s AMAZING!
  2. I need to be consistent in order to attract clients and work
  3. I need a consistent portfolio that I feel confident showing potential clients

In many ways, I was starting from scratch. I was making a lot of new work, but I often felt that I was running in circles with no clear vision of what I needed. Although I was putting in 12 - 14 hours daily, I still wasn’t feeling satisfied with what I was accomplishing. So I started doing some research to solve this problem.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. You really can’t go on an adventure without a map - Big picture goals are the guides that get you to your destination

  1. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step - Breaking big picture goals into bite-sized tasks is necessary to keep from getting overwhelmed

  1. Plan your tour before you go - Prioritizing your goals helps define your daily routine

  1. It’s okay to get off the beaten path - It’s great to have a daily routine, but if something isn’t working don’t be afraid to be flexible or take a break!

First I needed a map. What are my goals as a freelancer? Do I want to focus solely children’s illustration or do I want to branch out more? If I branch out, what other types of work should I add to my portfolio? Do I want to work with companies who are known nationally/internationally or do I want to appeal to the local community as well?

Once I had those questions answered I needed a way to break things down into bite-sized pieces. First, I tried bullet journaling thinking it would be fun to create goals and lists that broke down each step. Unfortunately, that method didn’t work for me. I spent more time making pretty pages than I did actually organizing my goals and time. I then tried going straight to a calendar planner. I tried to break down every hour with what I thought I should be doing. This left no room for flexibility and added unnecessary stress to stay on schedule. In the end, a good ole’ Google Spreadsheet saved the day.

I broke my big picture goals into categories such as (Marketing, Portfolio, etc.). Then I created smaller goals/projects that fit into each category. For example “Update Website” was a project listed under “Marketing”. Then I took the time to break each project into tasks.
Once I had a list of tasks for each project I began working to create a daily routine. I have discovered it’s important to keep my routine simple so that I can still have flexibility throughout the week. Right now my routine has manifested into two “To Do” lists.

The first is my Weekly List. At the beginning of each week I look carefully at all of the outstanding projects and their deadlines. Then I decide how to best tackle each one so I can move forward and meet deadlines efficiently with (hopefully) no stress. I ask myself questions like “Which of these projects is going to take me the longest?” “Is there any project or piece of a project I am struggling with?” “What am I excited about working on right now?”  The answers to these questions help define what will go into the Weekly List.

I try to take a variety of things and space them out so I am not doing a ton of things I am not excited about all week or really spoiling myself by only doing the things I am excited about and neglecting other projects that will be helpful to me later.

After all of those decisions are made, I take all of the tasks and divide them into 5 smaller lists. Each of those lists becomes a Daily List. I try to keep Daily Lists between 8-10 tasks (depending on how long I think each task will take). This becomes my road map for each day so that I have clear goals, but it also allows me to look ahead so that I can still be flexible enough to take breaks or seize other opportunities that pop up.

There are definitely days that I don’t feel motivated or productive, but I have noticed that giving myself structure and clear goals has helped me be more productive and a lot less stressed on this new adventure!

What are some things that you do that help you feel more productive or give you structure each day?

 ~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/