Friday, February 27, 2015

New Year, New Things -- Eliza Wheeler

It's hard to imagine two months have already passed in this new year of 2015! And a happy Chinese New Year to those who just celebrated it. With a new year comes new things. Here's an update on what a few of these things are for me:

Picture Book Builders Blog 
I'm excited to join a handful of children's book writers and illustrators on new blog that's solely dedicated to discussions around picture-books. For each post, the blogger chooses a picture-book or a quality of picture-books to discuss. We cover a range of picture books, from new to old, well-known to little-known. So far I've written about: 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier' (Andersen/Rylant/Corace), 'The Little House' (Burton), 'The Spider and The Fly' (Howitt/Diterlizzi), 'The Arrival' (Tan), and Dan Santat's newly Caldecott Medal-donned book 'The Adventures of Beekle: an Unimaginary Friend'.
Check it out at

On April 21, 2015 a new picture-book I illustrated comes out called WHEREVER YOU GO (Little Brown), written by Pat Zietlow-Miller, author of SOPHIE'S SQUASH (which received SCBWI's Golden Kite award last year!). We were thrilled to get a star and absolutely sweet review from Kirkus:

"A rabbit's cross-country bike excursion introduces the open road . . . through an animal kingdom of forests, treehouses, country cottages, bustling seaside villages, glimmering cities and mountain overlooks. The sunshine-hued, delicate artwork embraces both the panoramic vastness of the countryside and the definitive details nestled in its valleys, meadows, towns and treetops. Each double-page spread invites readers to stop and look closely at the lichen hugging the tree, the bending roses, the bouncing musicians, the twinkling carnival, the romantic dinner parties, the ships' many sails, the cactus' sharp needles, the wisps of clouds on a mountain ridge . . . Children, thanks to captivating artwork and rhyme, will want nothing more than to ride his handlebars, bouncing and merry."

Here's an interior spread from the book: 

Another book coming out in May 2015 sporting my illustrations is an early middle-grade called CODY AND THE FOUNTAIN OF HAPPINESS (Candlewick), written by Tricia Springstubb, which is the first in a series.  
For whimsical Cody, many things are beautiful, especially ants who say hello by rubbing feelers. But nothing is as beautiful as the first day of summer vacation, and Cody doesn’t want to waste one minute of it. Meanwhile, teenage brother Wyatt is moping over a girl, Mom is stressed about her new job as Head of Shoes, Dad is off hauling chairs in his long-distance truck, and even camp has been closed for the summer. What to do? Just when all seems lost, Cody bumps into a neighborhood boy named Spencer who is looking for a runaway cat. With a new friend and a soon-to-be-found cat, Cody is on her way to the fountain of happiness.

Tricia Springstubb's writing is playful, musical, and endearing. Through the process of illustrating this book I found myself grown attached to lovable Cody and her friends and family. There are over 30 black and white interior illustrations in the book. Here's one of them:

After over a year in the making, I'm eager for these new projects to go out into the world and be shared with everyone!

~ Eliza Wheeler

Author/Illustrator of NYT Bestseller Miss Maple's Seeds
Illustrator of Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow-Miller (coming May 2015)
Illustrator of The Grudge Keeper by Mara Rockliff
Illustrator of Newbery Honor book Doll Bones, by Holly Blackvisit, Wheelerstudio on Twitter and Instagram, Eliza Wheeler on Facebook

Monday, January 19, 2015

Inspiration: Simon Varela

Lately, I've been inspired by concept artist Simon Varela, who has worked on a number of films including Finding Nemo and The Croods. He does gorgeous, epic charcoal environments. Unfortunately, it's hard to find a lot of his work online, but his work is prominently featured in The Art of Finding Nemo, which is my favorite concept art book. 
I just love the depth of his images, his lost edges and how he's not afraid to use absolute black values in his designs. If you're looking for some art books to get lost in, I really love many of the "Art of" Pixar books. There is a lot of beautiful work by very talented artists in them.
Jen Betton writes and illustrates for children. You can find her work at
@jenbetton on Twitter

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Point of Focus -- by Eliza Wheeler

Many illustrators include black and white work in their portfolios, in addition to color work, in order to appeal to those publishers looking to hire artists for chapter and middle grade children’s books. I’ve worked in both black & white and color, and in both cases, creating a strong composition is all about hierarchy and focal point. 

The objective is to guide the viewer’s eye around a scene in an intentional way. With color work, an easy way to create a focal point is to use a limited color palette overall, then bring in a bright pop of a contrasting color to your main subject. Since this isn’t an option for black and white work, the main emphasis is more simply on lights and darks. Try including a range of tones, from pure black, to medium gray, to bright white. 
A focal point is created where the lightest and darkest areas of the piece are paired together. This painting, ‘The Dream’, by Rousseau, is a great example. The overall colors are muted tones of green, with the pale white figure placed against a dark rust-brown object. The entire painting is packed with detail, yet the eye is instantly drawn to the reclining figure.   

While this painting works beautifully in color, its focal point is still strong when converted to grayscale. I would encourage illustrators to bring color pieces into Photoshop and see how they work in black and white. If the illustration flattens out considerably in this process, the intended main subject may need a greater range of darks and lights in order to emerge as the visual point of focus.  


Eliza Wheeler illustrates and writes for children's picturebooks and middle grade novels. Author/Illustrator of NYT Bestseller Miss Maple's Seeds
Illustrator of Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow-Miller (coming May 2015)
Illustrator of The Grudge Keeper by Mara Rockliff
Illustrator of Newbery Honor book Doll Bones, by Holly Black

@WheelerStudio on Twitter and Instagram

Friday, December 5, 2014

Removing Texture from Watercolor Scans

A lot of watercolor artists have a texture problem – when the painting is scanned, all that lovely texture that grabs the paint also grabs the light from the scanner, and it can be overly noticeable in light areas of the image. So what are some ways to soften or eliminate this texture? 

Some of the KidLitArtists were discussing the different ways they address this issue, and I've compiled their methods here, along with links to tutorials on other sites. 

1. Scanning Trick
You scan your image twice, the second time flipping the image 180 degrees on the scanner bed. Then you use Photoshop's Auto Align feature to perfectly line up the two images (this feature is in CS3 and all later versions, it's found under Edit>Auto Align Layers). You can then adjust the opacity of the top layer until you have a nice blend between the two – and the opposite direction to the shadows means they sort of cancel each other out. You can also use layer masks to make more detailed adjustments to the layers.
Image by Elizabeth Baddeley
Tutorial here:

Good for small paintings that fit entirely on the scanner (unless you have the patience to scan your image in multiple pieces, merge them, and then do it again at 180 degrees!) and paintings that don't have a lot of fine lines and details that might not align perfectly.

2. Smart Blur Filter
For this technique, use the Smart Blur Filter (found under Filter>Blur>Smart Blur), and adjust the settings till you find the right ones to maintain a crisp image while blurring out the texture. (I personally like to duplicate the layer prior to using any filters, and then mixing the two using opacity settings and/or layer masks).
By Gordon and Susan Pritchard

I haven't used this one much myself, but I think it will probably work best when you have clearly defined edges, and a flat background. 

The following two methods basically use different selection methods to isolate the background, and then either delete it, or (my preference) use a layer mask to hide it.

3. Channel Mask 
This one removes the background entirely and makes use of the Channels Palette (open it with Window>Channels). You compare the separate channels till you find the one with the closest match to the information you want to select, then you duplicate that channel and use it to select that part of the image. Then Select>Inverse and delete the background. The tutorial goes through this technique in much more detail. 
This one is good for when you want a white or transparent background, or if you want to replace the background with a different image. The tutorial includes a variety of other selection techniques. 

4. Color Range

Andy Musser uses the Color Range feature in Photoshop to make a selection based on color, and then remove the background:. 

Use Select>Color Range. Your cursor should be an eye dropper, click on the color you want to remove. To add more colors, or shades of the original color, select the “Eyedroper +” tool (in the Color Range controls) and click on them. The black and white image will show your selection, white is selected and black is unselected. 

After creating the selection with Color Range, using the “Refine Edge” controls will refine the selection. Then invert the selection and use a layer mask to remove it.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Interview with new SCBWI mentee, Suzanne Kaufman

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

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

The mentors confirmed I was headed in the right direction and that was great to hear.  I was shocked that almost all of their feedback and critique were pretty much saying the same thing.  So I focused my questions on how they would approach revising.  It was great to hear how all these great artists would attack the same problems.

I attended the New York conference and was lucky to get an impromptu critique at the bar by the kind Giuseppe Castellano, Art Director at Penguin.  Coming from an animation background there was a ton I didn’t know.  He was so nice to let me ask a ton of questions. After we chatted I madly ran to the bathroom to write down the notes.  The big thing I got out of that and applied to my LA portfolio is only put in your portfolio work you still want to do.  I had some old pieces I kept because they were published, but since then my style had grown.  So I gutted my portfolio and only made new pieces that were for current book dummies.  I also attended Steve Malk’s Saturday morning session on portfolio and had my portfolio reviewed by conference roommate Andy Musser who helped me rearrange it starting with color and then ending with black and white.

What kind of projects are you working on now? 

I am revising a picture story for a publisher, revising my portfolio based on the mentor’s feedback, and cross your fingers I will be illustrating a book for a great publishing house this winter.  Thanks to Priscilla Burris I will continue to do a sketch of the day.  I am using daily paintings to try techniques and refine story ideas.

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

I live and breathe picture books so that is my first love.  I saw a great talk by Laurent Linn on middle grade and left inspired that this would be a great area to pursue in addition to picture books.  I'm hugely inspired by what my daughters read, so I love the idea of doing both as they are moving from picture books into middle grade in the next few years. 

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

Ok, this is so hard.  I've received so much great advice that I created a word document on my inspiration board.  But the one that I use the most is from Cecilia Yung, the Art Director and Vice President at Penguin Books for Young Readers.  She wanted me to think about these three things as I grow as an illustrator: action, reaction and interaction.  She jokingly recommended getting it tattooed on my wrist but I actually write it on my hand every day before I work. 

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

In Steve Malk’s portfolio presentation he kept on saying “Just slow down” and talked about giving yourself time to grow.  I left his talk feeling like it was ok to take your time to hone your craft.  Another great quote by my big inspiration, Judy Schachner, was “Creative Procrastination”.   This referred to her amazing process of creating these gorgeous character bibles for all her books.  I just started my own character bibles to “Creative Procrastination”.   They are simply brilliant.

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

I was a huge Curious George and Golden Books fan.  I still have a lot of my original books and look at them for illustration reference.  As I got older I still collected vintage Golden Books and exchanged picture books as presents with my then boyfriend, now husband.  He made me a big fan of Bill Peet and P.D. Eastman. 

Where can we find you online?   

You can find me at these different locations: 
 Twitter: @lilmonkeydraws
 Instagram: @suzannekaufman
 Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you around!


Thanks, Suzanne!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Interview with new SCBWI mentee, Ana Aranda

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

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

The feedback that I received confirmed that the pieces that I liked the most and had the most fun at creating were the strongest ones.

Some mentors pointed out that some of my individual illustrations had a potential story in them. This helped me to realize that many of my illustrations already had a great untold story that I would love to tell. My mind was bursting with them! This left me completely inspired and ready to work in new and exciting projects! I came back home, reopened my writing book and started looking for inspiration.

I am very grateful for all the meaningful critiques and for all the inspiration that I got from them!

What kind of projects are you working on now? 

Right now I am focusing in creating new pieces for my portfolio and new stories thanks to the Mentors’ suggestions. I’m also working on a picture book about a tree written by the poetic voice of Julia Billet for the French editor Éditions du Jasmin. I am very excited about this book since I’ve been working on it for a long time and I am very fond of the story. Julia’s metaphors and stories are beautiful to illustrate! I’m also getting ready for the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco where I will be sharing a booth with my super talented friend Jean Kim on October 4-5th. If you are reading this and you live in San Francisco, come visit us, we’ll be happy to see you! 

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

I would love to continue creating picture books and create playful board books. I would also love to create graphic novels about childhood memories.


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

The best piece of advice I’ve received has been from my family, who have always encouraged me to follow my dreams, as crazy as they may seem. A good friend told me once “Art is one of the few places where liberty still prevails”. That made me feel that as long as I create some art, I would feel free doing something that is completely mine to play and dream with.

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

My favorite quote in the conference and the one that gave me the most goosebumps (the good kind of goosebumps) was when Judy Blume said: “Do not let anyone discourage you. If they do, get angry, not depressed.”

Also I loved Tomie DePaola’s quote which inspired my whole day: “Courage!”

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

When I was a kid, I loved reading the books from “Barco de Vapor” (Steamboat) collection in Mexico, which had beautiful stories for kids; from world exploring in fantastical places, to the beauty of the everyday life for a child.

I loved exploring magazines and encyclopedias for kids. My favorite book for a while was Rod Ruth’s “Album of Prehistoric Animals”.

Later on, some of my favorite books were “Little Women” and “Hamlet”.

Where can we find you online?  

You can find me at these different locations:

Twitter: @anaranda2

Instagram: @Anarandaillustration

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you around!

 Thanks, Ana!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Interview with new SCBWI mentee, Kathryn Ault Noble

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

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?

Confirm! And change. It confirmed that the piece I thought was the strongest was the one everyone wanted me to do more of. So I am removing pieces that aren't quite in that zone, redoing some pieces, and making new ones based on the critiques.

I had also paid for an individual critique with Laurent Linn which happened before the mentor critiques. Laurent looked through my portfolio and said, "You have a unique voice." That is the part where I struggled to sit still and act professional, but inside I was jumping up and down like a giddy school girl. He pointed out one piece in particular as being the most successful which was also the last one I had done. He tapped on it and indicated I should do more like that one. 

I asked him which piece he would remove as the weakest, and he said he would not remove anything, that I had a "strong portfolio." I smiled thanked him for his time, walked out into the hallway and literally exploded into a happy dance. . . portfolio held high. Of course people wanted to know what had just happened and I told them I had just received the critique I had been working towards since joining SCBWI five years before. It was one of those moments where a thousand pounds of doubt was suddenly lifted from my shoulders and I floated through the rest of the day. That evening when I heard my name called as winning a mentor award, I had a flash thought that I could die happy. But quickly realized it was only a marker in my journey, not the end, but a powerful place where in epic adventures the hero makes a pile of stones to remember what happened there. And now I find that I am not plodding as I work towards my goals, I am running. Skipping even. The positive affirmation from a group of mentors that includes Caldecott Medal Winners was a pot of black coffee to my energy levels.

Are there any specific examples you can share?

This is a crop of an area that was pointed to a couple of times by various mentors as being a direction stylistically for me to pursue. It has outlines, but they are variable and disappear in some areas. Although I had been working at removing strong outlines from my sketches, there were still a couple of pieces in the portfolio that had them, but this particular piece had more areas of loose pencil work.

Also pointed out was just a wee bit of having fun with my pencil. . . a scribble instead of cross-hatch or other tight dashes with the page full of tumbling baby chicks. This is an enlarged crop to show the tiny bit of a loose scribble. What?! How dare I have fun with my pencil?

I put up a companion blog post to go along with this interview that has other close-ups of the tight rendering that I will be moving away from just a bit. One mentor told me I can have two styles, so one will be tighter pencil work with full backgrounds, and the other will be looser strokes with just the characters, no backgrounds. That was also a suggestion from another mentor, that to take the age level down to picture books I should include illustrations with just the characters.

What kind of projects are you working on now?

I am working on characters for a couple of stories which I am taking to dummy stage as soon as possible. I pitched one of the stories to a mentor and received a thumbs up so I'm pretty excited about it's potential. Some of the character work is showing up on my process blog with much looser pencil work. I've been slipping back into my cut paper addiction as well, which seems to happen every Fall. I think it is because I did hand-made holiday crafts for so many years my brain just prompts me to start cutting and pasting when the weather changes.

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

Picture books of course, but I had done educational illustrations back in the early 90s when I was represented by Susan Trimpe and plan to get back into that eventually. I enjoyed producing some of the classroom materials for teachers, actually illustrations that were printed on film and used on opaque projectors. Hard to believe that was just 20 years ago. I am particularly interested in creating stories that not only entertain, but uplift, encourage and guide children as they navigate unknown and often troubled waters.

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

"Don't let go! Don't you dare let go!" Actually that was from Lord of the Rings, but something similar happened when I attended my first SCBWI conference in Seattle when Arree Chung did an intervention as I was crashing and burning. I had been teaching digital painting and concept art for animation and games so my portfolio was only marginally close to something that would appear in a children's book. I had signed up for a personal critique and was not actually feeling nervous. Apparently I should have been, because I quickly realized everything I had in my portfolio was not applicable to the children's book industry. For one thing, I was used to the idea of working with teams. I had worked with a bunch of grads on an animation and very much enjoyed the specialization. I did backgrounds, someone else designed characters, someone else did the pencil test, etc. So I had a portfolio that included pieces that were produced by myself and a friend, one of the grads who did brilliant characters work. Bottom line was I left my first SCBWI critique literally in tears and was thinking about leaving the conference. About that time I ran into Arree Chung. He understood completely the idea of team work but also shook his head, no, not for children's books. I wailed that I was not a character artist, that I am a digital painter and graphic designer. He said, but you can! He basically told me that I was fully capable of doing my own characters and to start as soon as the conference was over. So I stayed. And his words would ring in my head from time to time as I stumbled towards viable character design.

After the conference I began to dabble with characters. . . so stiff, so awkward, soooo boring! I kept working with the grad on some commercial projects, not wanting to dissolve our fun collaborations, but gradually it became apparent that I had to cut the apron strings and stand on my own two feet. I copied page after page of Vilpuu and Bridgman. Although I frequently attended the open life drawing sessions at school where I taught, I had never done character work, not even as a kid. When I was a kid I looked at the backgrounds on the Disney animations and tried to draw the trees and vegetation, but not the characters. I can't remember drawing any "cartoon" characters as a kid.

So I copied Preston Blair's book and anything else I could get my hands on that had character development for kids. I looked online for character styles that caught my eye and copied them. I studied and drew, copied, cried, studied, researched, cried and went back each year to the Seattle conference. I signed up each year for a critique and the master class and over the years I received critiques from Dan Santat, Melissa Sweet, Sophie Blackall, Patti Ann Harris, Lucy Ruth Cummins, Scott Magoon, Richard Jesse Watson, Craig Orback. . .and I took notes and made changes, took notes and made changes. One year both Richard Jesse Watson and Melissa Sweet each pointed to one particular illustration and said, "cover of the New Yorker". I was pretty blown away that two people independently said the same thing, but I realized that the cover of the New Yorker was not what I was aiming for. The style was probably inspired by Al Hirschfeld's fluid ink work which I enjoyed but was not really "me". So I went back to the drawing board. I continued to quest through digital graphic styles, cut paper (which I adore), pastels, watercolor, pencil. . .then it hit. Last January I suddenly realized I simply love to draw with a REAL pencil so I began to noodle and cross-hatch my way towards a new portfolio drawn traditionally and painted digitally, which is what I took to LA. Now I am working with all REAL media due to one of the mentors encouraging me to go back to watercolor and other materials I used pre digital.

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

So many brilliant people, it's hard to chose a favorite. I was gobsmacked with Judy Schachner who kindly let me hang out and have dinner with her and her husband. There were so many things she said that I was like a little kid going "me, too!" If we were in the third grade she would have been my new best friend, which is apparently a common response to meeting Judy!

Generally I found the illustrator intensive on Monday to be the time that jelled so many ideas together for me. I loved the presentation by Nick Clark, curator of the Eric Carle Museum. He showed many examples of work done by the children's book greats of the early part of the last century then showed how current illustrators were studying and adapting those styles into their own unique voices. Quite a few of the illustrators he showed had worked for Disney or in animation in the early days, such as Mary Blair. Fortunately because I had lectured so many times on the history of animation, I was familiar with most of the illustrators. But the idea that he was encouraging us to study, copy and adapt was quite a revelation. . .he was giving us permission to not only admit but cultivate the idea that we were heavily influenced by this or that illustrator(s). And that it was OK for their style to be showing through in our own work. Then Peter Brown talked about his influences, such as Mary Blair, and Judy Schachner mentioned Evaline Ness who illustrated a couple of books I have, and of course Alice and Martin Provensen. Back in my studio, I look through a stack of their books on a regular basis, drinking in every little stroke, nuance, color, texture and shape.

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

I doubt anyone has heard of this one, but it was called Cry Baby Calf by Helen and Alf Evers.

I don't remember much about any other books until a librarian turned me on to A Wrinkle in Time in sixth grade. She had seen my art that had won a prize and was hanging in the library, so she had a hunch I might like the fantasy romp. After that I devoured every book in the library that had anything to do with science fiction or fantasy, which pretty much remained my diet for many years. I managed to have not read any of the books that girls my age were reading but I could tell you all about Robert E. Howard books, or J.R.R. Tolkien, Frank Herbert, and Isaac Asimov. :) So when my sons were young, I began to explore children's books in a way that probably other people my age had done when they were young. I soon realized I was buying children's books for ME! 

Where can we find you online?

I enjoy a "process" blog where I often show the steps I used, or the materials, etc., because after teaching 14 years, it's in my blood to help people move along towards their goals, just as people have helped me with mine. I took a break from blogging while I was building a new portfolio earlier this year, but I am working my way back to posting weekly.

I am building out a new website for my portfolio that will include a blog devoted mostly to news and book reviews.

And I dabble in a variety of other social media sites from Dribbble to Twitter to Google+ and recently started a Pinterest page that I will be adding to soon.

But mostly I post on Facebook on my personal page, my illustrator page, and course all the different kidlit FB groups.

Here are a couple of interviews
And keep an eye out for an upcoming interview at

Thanks, Kathryn!