Tuesday, August 31, 2010

International Mail Art Exhibit – in Honor of Judith Hoffberg

No matter how long I know about a museum exhibit, I generally don’t manage to get there until the last day of the show!

This is a very unfortunate habit since I so often wish I could return for another viewing, for more inspiration. It also means I can’t recommend the show to my friends, no matter how much I think they, too, might appreciate it.

I've done it again. I recently visited the Caldwell Gallery at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena -- on the closing day of an exhibition!

International Mail Art was a show comprised of over 8000 pieces from more than 25 countries. The exhibit was dedicated to Judith Hoffberg, who was an editor, archivist, curator, librarian, lecturer. She was, in fact, a great promoter of artists and a supporter of both mail art and artists books. All mail art included in the exhibition has been donated to the Judith A Hoffberg Archive at the UC Santa Barbara Library. Many of the entries were moving tributes to her – they made me wish I’d known her.

My sister makes artists books and we are both long-time fans of mail art, as admirers and creators. We enjoyed this show thoroughly! (There's an excellent slide show of the exhibit on flickr.) The pieces were done in a wide variety of techniques:  collage, rubber stamps, photography to name a few! My favorites were the ones incorporating drawings or paintings.

Mail art (also known as correspondence art) is described in the press release from the exhibit as “art which uses the postal system as a medium.” This means that it might just be art with postage stamps (real or not) on it, or be made to look like or include an envelope, postcard, or package.  Mail.

My personal interpretation is that it is a decorated envelope or postcard which is actually mailed……real mail, but decorated. Of course, few people write real mail any more…..

The modern mail art ‘movement’ evolved from the 1950’s on, but I have long been a fan of earlier mail art I’ve seen (though it wasn’t a ‘movement’ yet). Thursday I’ll blog about illustrated letters of artists and writers, going back to the 18th century. Apparently artists have never been able to resist the urge to draw on a variety of surfaces – and a blank envelope just cries out to be decorated!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Blog Tour -- Laura Lacamara's Floating on Mama's Song

Laura Lacámara and I are members of the fabulous SCBWI Westside Illustrators Schmooze. (Yes, my friend is multi-talented – an author AND an illustrator!) Last autumn we both spoke on an SCBWI panel, about what then seemed to be the far-off release of our first picture books – which we each wrote for, and dedicated to, our mothers. On Wednesday Laura’s first book, Floating on Mama’s Song – “a lyrical, uplifting tale” and “a magical celebration of family, music, and happiness” illustrated with the “stunning art” of Yuyi Morales – will be released by Harper Collins. I’m so pleased to be kicking off Laura and Yuyi’s virtual book tour!

Laura is guest blogging today, with information about her tour:

“Thank you for visiting my blog tour for Floating on Mama’s Song, and I hope you will come visit my website. The tour continues all this week. Friday please come back here to Diane’s site and I will announce the winner of a copy of Floating on Mama’s Song. Everyone who posts a comment here or on the tour stops listed below will be entered in the drawing. Good luck!

Tuesday Megan Frances (On Beyond Words and Pictures) will interview me. Megan asked to interview me months ago, before the idea of the blog tour. Thank you, Megan!

Wednesday Tina Nichols Coury (Tales from the Rushmore Kid) will be interviewing my editor at Harper Collins, Katherine Tegen. Tina created the beautiful tour banners – thank you, Tina!

Thursday René Colato Laínez (Latin Baby Book Club) will have an interview with the co-creator of Floating on Mama’s Song, illustrator Yuyi Morales.

Friday I announce the book drawing winner, here again at Out of the Paintbox.”

Thank you Laura. And here’s a preview of your lovely book, for those who will have to wait until Wednesday to buy one. Floating on Mama’s Song is a bilingual book, written in both English and Spanish, with both languages sharing each page. What a great way to learn a language!

Floating on Mama’s Song is the story of Anita, whose Mama loves to sing. She sings such beautiful, happy songs that one day something magical happens. Everyone who hears her music floats high above the ground. But then Mama stops singing. Can Anita find a way to bring back happy times and magical moments for her family?

In addition to being a Junior Library Guild children’s book selection for Fall 2010, Floating on Mama’s Song is getting great reviews:

Booklist praises it as a folklorish collaboration between Laura’s smooth-flowing story and the glowing colors of Yuyi’s illustrations.

Kirkus says “Together author and illustrator offer a story filled with whimsy and humor about the power of voice and family.”

Library Journal declares “a stirring Caribbean tale…..both the English and Spanish versions of the story are fun and easy to read.”

Remember, tomorrow the tour will be hosted (and Laura will be interviewed) by Megan Frances on her blog On Beyond Words and Pictures.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

SCBWI 2010 Summer Conference: Random Photos

Here's Ashley Bryan in action, reading poetry......

and signing books.... 

Bruce Hale and Christopher Cheng present workshops...(Skyping and Book Trailers)

The Golden Kite Luncheon......                                            and the Portfolio display..........

April Halprin Wayland.....................                    and Jesse Joshua Watson with dad, Richard Jesse Watson

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cats on Wednesday – I Research Migrating Piebald Polydactyls

All my life I have collected odd bits and pieces of information, for literary or artistic inspiration and/or research. Who knows when these tidbits might be useful?

I recently came across an old article I had saved from a 1986 Natural History magazine. The author, Andrew T. Lloyd, was, I believe, a geneticist, studying cat genes, tracing where cat ancestors come from. Why could this possibly be of any interest to a writer/illustrator/blogger? Who knows? Because obscure and fascinating snippets of information can be very intriguing and potentially useful.

This is a bit of what I learned:
  • There weren’t any domestic cats in the New World until they were brought from Europe by sailors and immigrants to New England and the Canadian Maritimes.
  • Even today, the cats of New York City have a similar genetic profile to the cats in Amsterdam. Many NYC cats have short hair, and piebald (many-colored) spots. There aren’t many orange cats there, and you rarely see polydactyl (many toed!) cats.
  • Cats in New England bear similarities to their British ancestors, and many-toed cats are quite common. (I had a charming one with extra toes….I had no idea she probably had New England roots!) Turns out, they are extremely rare in most parts of the world. There’s an especially large number in and around Boston. They also have them in Yarmouth and Halifax, Nova Scotia, because of visits by Boston traders, fishermen and immigrants -- with their cat companions, apparently.
  • This article was written over 20 years ago, but as Mr. Lloyd claimed that cats migrate very slowly – under a mile a (cat?) generation – “a Boston cat might now be approaching New York, having passed through 200-300 generations on the way.” I love that quote!
So if I ever write a book with cat characters from Boston, New York or Halifax, I intend to remember Mr. Lloyd and his migrating cats…….

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SCBWI 2010 Summer Conference: Notes and Quotes – Agent Steven Malk (on Illustration)

Think carefully about your portfolio. Be selective: don’t include the ‘kitchen sink’. Include no more than 20 samples. Every piece needs to count. This is your chance to make an important first impression on publishers and agents. Keep adding and subtracting over time. If you have a new piece you’re proud of, add it. You may have some samples from two years ago and some from two days ago in your portfolio. Include examples of children, animals; also black and white sketches, but not super-rough sketches.

Steven Malk
Have a clean, well-organized website. You don’t need fancy bells and whistles, you just need a portfolio. You can have more than 20 samples on your website. Make it easy to navigate. Make it distinctly you. Attend many conferences. Illustrators have an advantage having their portfolio seen at a conference, and you can hand out your card with your website information on it at conferences.

Don’t dabble. Publishers and agents hate it when you dip your toe into publishing and then get out. You have to be in it for the long haul. Commit 100%. I don’t believe the gloom about the end of picture books. The bar is raised for all of us. We’re more selective, push yourself harder, and develop your own distinct point of view. A favorite artist may influence your work, but develop something new and exciting of your own in your work.

Biggie point: don’t give up. One of the best things about conferences is to get the support of your peers, then go home and work. There are so many examples of someone who has made it after many years. When you’re discouraged, read the classic picture books and don’t give up.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

SCBWI 2010 Summer Conference: Notes and Quotes – Writers Gail Carson Levine, Marion Dane Bauer

Gail Carson Levine:

I encourage you to make lists – no idea is stupid.

We all create plot, as we create our lives.

I am an unconscious writer. I don’t discover for years what my books are about. I learn about myself from my books.

When I am writing I don’t think in terms of the rules, story arcs, crises, etc. I think more in terms of not being boring. Not putting anyone to sleep.

Marion Dane Bauer

Marion Dane Bauer:

Write your stories. Discover your own personal truth.

I found I was writing about the need to cry. About tears, mortality, and living for today. About escaping, and returning.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

SCBWI 2010 Summer Conference: Notes and Quotes – Nonfiction Panel

The members of the panel (Elizabeth Partridge, Tanya Lee Stone, Deborah Heligman and Susan Campbell Bartoletti) all described themselves as extreme researchers. In order to write their books they have done such things as learn languages (Gaelic) in order to translate original source material, travel widely and use academic libraries and current databases. They use secondary material only sparingly.

Elizabeth Partridge, Tanya Lee Stone,
Deborah Heligman, Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Elizabeth Partridge
  • We are all archive rats.
  • We all love to dig into research.

Tanya Lee Stone
  • Learn all you can about your subject before you interview them.
  • Check even published facts. Even autobiographies can be incorrect.
  • Let the interviewees read your manuscript and ask them if you have represented them accurately.
Ken Wright, Moderator

Deborah Heligman
  • When interviewing, always get a release. It protects you and the other person. Publishers always want a copy of signed releases.
  • Don’t let form dictate content. Let content dictate form.
  • Keep yourself open. You never know what you’ll find.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

SCBWI 2010 Summer Conference: Notes and Quotes – Writer Gennifer Choldenko

Kids need voices to reflect their circumstances. One 11 year old is not like another. Some kids are more outwardly sophisticated – inside they’re no different. If they’re growing up faster, why is it that no one ever actually gets there?

If kids’ attention spans are shorter, why are shorter books not being written? That’s not happening.

Gennifer Choldenko
They said YA books were dead, but now publishers just want YA books. It doesn’t make sense.

We need stories, we always have, and we always will.

Each scene you write needs to be gratifying in itself. Look for doorways in your story, and walk through. Sometimes I have to write till I find it.

Re-read your manuscript to see what you’re avoiding. You have to get to the emotional core of your story. Harness the energy in your dreams. You have to find time for your subconscious. Cultivate the ‘between’ state. Keep a notebook, and write ideas that come after extremes of work and thought.

Keep your distance from toxic people.

After a few years of trying [to be published] I didn’t care what would or wouldn’t sell. I decided to write what I liked to read.

The book industry is hard to break into. It’s not easier now, but there are more ways to get your foot in the door.

Take care of your writer-self.

Write almost every day, so your muse will be able to find you. – Tracy Max

You have to feel your way through a story, not think your way.

Deliver what you promise, but not the way the audience expected.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

SCBWI 2010 Summer Conference: Notes and Quotes – Illustrators Loren Long, E. B. Lewis

Loren Long

Loren Long:

How do you start to illustrate a project? One drawing at a time. When looking at the white page, it’s easy to procrastinate. But do one sketch in one day. Forget about the rest of the [time till the deadline].
I paint in acrylics. I try to make people think I paint in oils.

In 2003, when I didn’t know what I was doing, I told myself “If they can do it, why can’t I?”

It takes me 2-3 months to make sketches. Four to six on final art. I do two books a year, and that takes me a year and a half.

I may not be a writer, but I am a story teller.

Who do you like in our field? Study their art. See what came before us. Strive for an emotional hit.

Believe you can bring something to the table. It’s your work and your talent. Your book. If they can do this, why can’t I? Ask yourself, “What do I want to give this world?”

E. B. Lewis:

E. B. Lewis
In history writers and artists are the first to be persecuted. We’re scary people.

Matisse, on his deathbed, with a bamboo pole in his hand, drew on the ceiling. That’s how I want to go out. Figuring out that last line.

Some of the best art in the country is done in children’s books. Children’s book illustration pulls me as much as fine art does.

I put a hugging scene in all my books.

We spend so much time scratching to get wealth, and miss that the true value in life is children.

As artists we need to fill ourselves up to overflowing, and then give it all back. I hope you have the opportunity to do that.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cats on Wednesday – ‘Atelier’ Cats

My mother was a freelance fashion illustrator, and she worked long hours in her home studio. There was usually at least one cat who chose to keep her company as she worked at her art table.

From time to time she would take time out from her work to draw her companion (or companions) asleep – usually in a pose of wild abandon or cuddled up blissfully.

I would find the wonderful little sketches all over her studio for years, and was always delighted to see them.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SCBWI 2010 Summer Conference: Notes and Quotes – Publishers Panel

The panel (Francisco Sedita, Jennifer Hunt, Stephanie Owens Lurie and Justin Chanda) discussed the state of the publishing business and how well different genres are doing.

A few years ago hard cover fiction was thought to be on the way out. It’s totally different now. They’re selling in numbers not seen in 30 years. Big books are bigger than ever.

The theory is that no child left behind killed picture books. The teachers have to devote all their time to the curriculum. They’re all teaching to the test. Fifty percent of teachers use their own money to buy books. Barnes and Noble only puts up picture books they like, or not at all. They don’t take every title.

Publishers are still interested in picture books. But they need to be smart, and focused.

Jennifer Hunt

  • Great story telling has been around forever, and will continue. Cave paintings were our first picture books.
  • Authors and illustrators need to spend 50% of their time writing, and 50% promoting.

Francisco Sedita

  • If everyone just writes to the trends, the vampires will win. Write what you think is cool. Entertain yourself.

Justin Chanda

  • The last two years have been tough for everyone, but we’re seeing an upswing.
  • Picture books are still down.
  • Midgrade sales are stable.
  • Teen books are all anyone talks about.
  • Ebooks are great, and anyone who doesn’t think so is wrong….in my opinion.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thoughts on the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference

The SCBWI Summer Conference ended on Monday, and I feel the way I do every year after it ends – exhausted, but really sorry it’s over. For the next couple of days especially it’s hard not to wish you were back there, hurrying from workshops to the main ballroom for speeches and back again for more workshops.

Of course deciding which workshop to attend, when there’s always at least three you really want to go to, is always difficult. But I learned a lot, sold a few copies of my book at the book sale, met new people and old friends.

And I got to visit with my lovely editor, Abigail Samoun -- a little business and a little just visiting. We were both tired, or flaky, or both. Abigail discovered she’d lost her phone. I discovered that unbelievably I’d forgotten to pick up my portfolio after the portfolio display. We ran around excitedly. She got her phone back. I found out my portfolio was safe. All was well.

Tomorrow I will write about favorite conference speakers and experiences.

As for Cats on Wednesday….I took a cat-nap yesterday, but felines will be back next week. Soon I’ll have actual author and illustrator cats and their people, reporting on their lives and work.