Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Search of More Color

I’m still in the mood for color!

I needed more paint from my favorite acrylic paint company....

I was delighted to also find another dose of inspiring joyful color. 

Enjoy! And Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Children's Book Illustrators Show at Chemers Gallery

Every year I look forward to the exhibition of original work by top children’s book illustrators at the Chemers Gallery in Tustin. It was doubly wonderful that the artists whose work is being shown were on hand on the first day of the exhibit -- to speak, to demonstrate their techniques, and to sign their books.

This year’s talented artists were Raul Colon, Mary GrandPre, Elisa Kleven, Robin Preiss Glasser, and Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.


I particularly enjoyed hearing Raul Colon describe his distinctive style, which involves many layers of watercolor washes and colored pencils on Arches watercolor paper. He also described how he makes his signature wavy lines in his illustrations with a favorite scratchboard tool.  Also fascinating was the workbook he shared with us.  In it he has experimented with various color combinations, studies of favorite artists’ palettes and recipes for his own color palette for projects he has done, complete with tiny notations of which colors were layered over which to achieve a particular glowing color.


I’m embarrassed to admit I was unfamiliar with the work of Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher -- but now they are new favorites.  A talented and innovative husband and wife team of illustrators, they shared with us their unusual methods of collaboration.  Once they’ve agreed on a color palette, materials, and the effect they want to create, they both work on the same illustrations, passing them back and forth to add touches and details.  Each artist has their own strengths, and the combination of his art school training and her innovative ideas works well for them as a team.  The couple doesn’t always initially agree on how to approach an art project but have truly learned the art of compromise.  With exquisite results.


Mary GrandPre entertained us by telling us who -- including a couple of dogs -- had inspired the illustrations of characters in the Harry Potter books -- which included her 2 dogs.  She always chooses projects which are meaningful to her in some way, and said that illustrating a book was like being a movie director.  She likes to vary her style, between that associated with the look of her Harry Potter illustrations and her more sculptural geometric illustration designs, inspired by her love of African art.


Robin Preiss Glasser wanted to tell us that though everyone claims Fancy Nancy’s appearance must be patterned after their own daughter or granddaughter or some other person known to them, actually the real inspiration for the look of little Nancy is her own niece, Jessie.  She spoke of her illustration schedule, which is usually from the hours of 4 p.m. until 2 or 3 a.m.


Elisa Kleven is known for her charmingly childlike illustrations and she spoke of the childhood realization she wanted to be an artist, and of her love of paper dolls and dolls which have resulted in several delightful picture books. Her desire, she said, was to take dreams and visions and to share them.  She drew several examples of her distinctive and delightful little characters.

The exhibit runs through Saturday.  I hope to get back to see the wonderful illustrations again!  And I can't wait to see who Chemers invites next year.......

Friday, November 25, 2011

In Search of Color

Maybe because the darker days of winter are finally beginning to appear here in southern California I’ve been thinking a lot about color lately. Or it could be due to working on new pieces for my illustration portfolio... The SCBWI Illustrators Day (one day conference) was a few days ago... Color choices in illustrations are always important as they can help convey emotion and even the setting of the piece. The color palette I used for Signed Abiah Rose was based on early 19th century folk artists’ work. Mostly untrained, they worked with a limited palette -- just primary colors with little use of color mixing. The manuscript I’m now working on will require a darker palette due to the moody setting of the story. But I personally have lately felt a need to be surrounded by bright colors. A foray last week in a search for COLOR -- yummy color combinations -- was more successful than I’d even hoped. Gorgeous colors were almost everywhere I visited.

A shelf in a vintage store

 Wall art advertisement for a funky and arty coffeehouse -- Busters in South Pasadena -- a favorite of mine.
                                 A mosaic in the patio behind the fabulous Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena

The culmination of my search for color was found in a favorite shop -- Zinnia in South Pasadena. The extremely talented and creative folks there have created a delightful, bright and joyful haven-- a feast for the eye. It’s also a great place to shop for treasures and to take classes.
 Gorgeous floor paintings

Delicious painted and collaged furniture displays for merchandise

.....Artfully colorful inspirations

The effect of all these reds, blues, greens and yellows?  As a human being I was cheered and happy -- as an artist, I was inspired and energized with food for the soul.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Illustrator's Process -- Preliminary Sketching for a Magazine Story

I recently illustrated a story for Spider Magazine which will run in the February issue of the magazine. I love the ‘bug’ magazines—Babybug, Ladybug, Spider and Cricket.  And I really enjoyed the story by J.S. Webster Jessica Van Dessel, which is about Quakers, a family thought to be run-away-slaves, and spiders.

The deadline for the assignment was short, and a considerable amount of the time was spent in research and preliminary sketches. Thanks to my agent Abigail’s husband supplying the name of the type of spider I needed, the spider research was considerably shortened. With library books, my own private supply of books, my file of research clippings -- and, of course, the internet -- my research was accomplished!

Here are some of my sketches..........

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Still Worried About E-Books?

Author Alexis O'Neill
I recently attended a ‘Breakfast with the Authors’ event sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Education Office.  A dozen authors and illustrators as well as a panel of experts were on hand, trying to answer what role books are going to play in the electronic age.

The general consensus was that there will always be physical books but that the process of presenting them will become different. People are adaptable and can embrace an infinite variety of media, though some of us may be reluctant to see this change in publishing!   An opinion was expressed that actually children’s books, poetry books and novels will be the least affected by electronic publishing. Non-fiction is the most likely to thrive in an e-book format--especially text-books and travel books. (I do like the idea of not having to lug books around when traveling!)   The reading of digital non-fiction books is a also a vastly different experience than the reading of a physical non-fiction book since it’s possible to enhance the images, provide definitions on demand and link to other sources, etc.  Text books could conceivably become exclusively digital within the next ten years. (That would be an improvement on the backpacks full of books kids have to carry around!)

One of the points I was most interested in (and concerned about) was about illustrated picture books.  They may be greatly affected, as it is possible that publishers will choose illustrators whose work will best translate to electronic format--illustrations with sharp edges or a cartoon-like look.  Could this limit the wonderful variety of images we see in physical books?   High resolution illustrations will be the ones that translate best to e-books, but hi-res work is more expensive to produce.  So publishers may be very careful about which and how many images are used in a book. 

A quote I liked, from Greg Trine:  'As long as there are kids learning to read, teachers will demand physical books.  What's important for writers is not to be threatened by e-books; what's important is always the same -- character, story and voice.'

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Big Draw Has Come to Los Angeles

October is half over but I just learned about a fun celebration of drawing -- Big Draw L.A.   This is a month-long initiative to get the people of Los Angeles participating in art projects, by providing fun opportunities to be creative.  It’s also a way to communicate and interact with others.

Drawing, after all, helps us to see, think, invent, communicate and just play!

The L.A. event  is sponsored by Ryman Arts—a free program that teaches classical drawing and painting to talented  and motivated high school  students in southern California.  They were inspired by a very popular Big Draw event in London which was sponsored by the Campaign for Drawing.  The Campaign for Drawing was created by the Guild of St. George, a small charity founded by artist, writer and educator John Ruskin in 1871 to assist in the education of artists. A lovely chain of events!  Now there are Big Draw events in countries around the world.

Ryman Arts launched the L.A. event last year with 30 venues.  This year there are over 55. The London event has a head start of 10 years and this year they have over 1000 events scheduled.  Hopefully the Los Angeles Big Draw will be even bigger next year—as well as embracing the philosophy of the Campaign for Drawing.  Their long-term ambition is to change the way educators (and everyone else) thinks about drawing.  Since the trend now is to eliminate art classes in our schools this is a truly worthy pursuit.  The Campaign for Drawing group  believe that drawing is fundamental  for  the education  of students, and that drawing is useful  in all walks of life---a basic skill. Their hope is actually to erase the phrase “I can’t draw” from our vocabularies!

There is still time to join the fun!  Check out the Big Draw LA website……

Thursday, September 22, 2011

2011 SCBWI Illustrators Intensive – Even More Notes!

Richard Jesse Watson

I like to cross-hatch with an exacto knife.
The subject matter (of a painting) tells you what medium to use.
Some mediums ’fight’ you.

I like the challenge of 'making do' (with tools and supplies).

Experiment. Sometimes when you experiment you fail. But then you know ‘don’t do that again!—It was easier in my imagination!’

I like to play with symmetry and design.

He likes to use egg tempera, and has spent as long as three months on one egg tempera painting. The elegance of egg tempera painting comes from the delicate brush work that’s possible as well as its transparency. It’s a dance between opacity and transparency. He thinks you can get similar results with acrylics.

Both oils and tempera need to breathe, that’s why they can be used together. (You can paint oil OVER tempera).

He doesn’t recommend (egg tempera) unless you have a lot of patience.

Strathmore rag illustration board is an elegant amazing surface—either ‘toothy’ or hot press. But hot press is not good with an electric eraser (which he likes to use). It can ruin the surface.

Kadir Nelson

I’ve been searching high and low for notes from Kadir Nelson’s demonstration. I was so mesmerized by watching him paint this amazing portrait, I must not have taken any!

The subject -- a volunteer from the audience -- is illustrator Dan Santat.

These photos speak for themselves.....

Thursday, September 8, 2011

2011 SCBWI Illustrators Intensive -- Some More Notes

More quotes and photos from the August SCBWI Intensive

David Small
I don’t see how anyone can be an illustrator if they can’t draw the human body from memory.

(Retaining spontaneity) is my goal.

Don’t illustrate a manuscript unless you love it.  You will have to read it every day of your life for a year. Don’t do it just for the money.
My eye knows when I’m finished (with an illustration).
Rembrandt was an illustrator!

Synthetic brushes last forever....

On book tours I always take a sketch book. I need to keep drawing!

The artist’s duty is not to surprise the viewer.  The artist’s duty is to surprise himself.

A sort of calm (comes over me) when I’ve done something really good…(something) that welcomes or disturbs the eye in a pleasant way.

Marla Frazee
I stretch every kind of paper (from) Xerox 1 ply recycled paper to series 500 Strathmore hot press paper. It doesn’t have to be watercolor paper.  Getting the paper wet sets the graphite sketch (so it won’t smudge). I don’t use illustration board because you can’t use it with a light box.

I use Windsor & Newton watercolor or gouache and inexpensive brushes.
I paint 50 or more layers (with a small brush!) for my backgrounds. It’s not interesting to watch!

I like to use Prismacolor black Verithin and ebony graphite 5H pencils.
I draw out of my head, from a model or if photo reference is needed I Google it. I also have a scrap file of images. When using photo images (I take care) not to get too close to the photo image or the illustration won’t work.

Think character, scale, setting…
Technique is secondary because if the illustration isn’t working it doesn’t matter (what the technique is).

Think of the rhythm of the story…Where are the beats?
I have no desire to do art on a computer. Work in a way that relaxes you. I get tense on the computer. It feels great (to me) to spend the day in the studio working!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

2011 SCBWI Illustrators Intensive -- Some Notes

SCBWI followed their summer Conference this year with a chance to attend either a writer’s or illustrator’s intensive.  I chose the Illustrators Intensive and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see some of the ‘greats’ demonstrating their illustrating techniques.

I wrote down some snippets of the information (on tools etc.) so dear to the hearts of illustrators’ fans and groupies!

Jerry Pinkney

Some preferences…

2B pencil for sketching

A tint of raw umber or ochre (rather than a white ground) because “it gives something for the colors to bounce off of.”

Arches 300 lb. or 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper “…hot press allows for greater detail.”


Re: dealing with ‘artists’ block’…  ”Sometimes deadlines get you unstuck!”

Interesting info:  He never spends more than 3 days on an illustration. “But that could mean 10 hour workdays…” And it really means 3 days + 30 years experience!

Paul O. Zelinsky


125 lb. cold press watercolor paper because “it’s kind of forgiving.”

Inexpensive brushes are fine if they have a sharp point.

A clean work environment is important “but it never is” (clean).


He stretches his watercolor paper (unless it’s thick enough not to need being stretched).

Concerning avoiding over painting….”Use a lot of hope!”

He uses a medieval technique involving underpainting with water base paint followed by oil painting.

I found the demonstrations helpful as well as inspiring.  I’m going to stop worrying about expensive vs. inexpensive brushes and my work environment not being as neat as I’d like!  And I’m finally going to experiment with underpainting – oils over water-based paint....

More notes and photos from the Intensive on my next post!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Women's Equality Day....and Children's Books

National Women's History Project
Winning the Vote Poster
Today is Women’s Equality Day. On August 26, 1920, after 72 years of campaigning, American women finally achieved their aim of being able to vote.

One of the leaders in the struggle was Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  I remember reading an excellent review of Tanya Lee Stone’s Elizabeth Leads the Way, but being shocked by the statement that most young people would be unfamiliar with Stanton and what she accomplished.  Then I realized I probably never heard of her when I was in school either. 

I have always enjoyed reading history books, so I don’t know when I picked up my knowledge of women’s many contributions to world history, including the American suffragette movement and the women behind it. So I consider the excellent books available for children on this subject vitally important.

Elizabeth Leads the Way begins with these words:

'What would you do
if someone told you
you can’t be what you want to be
What would you do
if someone told you
your vote doesn’t count
your voice doesn’t matter
because you are a girl.
Would you ask why?
Would you talk back?
Would you fight for your rights?
Elizabeth did.'

Elizabeth Leads the Way –Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote is an excellent picture book to read to children—especially girls—today, in honor of Women’s Equality Day.  Another book about Elizabeth, for older kids, is You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton by Jean Fritz.

My next posts will be on the very inspiring and enlightening Illustrator Intensive I attended at the SCBWI Summer Conference.  It included demonstrations by Jerry Pinkney, Paul O. Zelinsky and Kadir Nelson.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More Wise Quotes from the Recent SCBWI 2011 Summer Conference

At the recent SCBWI Summer Conference one of the keynote speakers was a surprise—the amazing Judy Blume, who stepped in at the last minute for an ailing John Green. 
Below are a few wise comments from Ms. Blume, who was interviewed by one of my favorite people:  Executive Director and co-founder of SCBWI, Lin Oliver.

I don't' like to give advice because there's' no one way (to write).  Try a lot of ways and find one that works for you!

The stuff that's going to matter is what's coming from deep inside.

The reason (to write) was always to find out what was going to happen.

I heard (someone say) don't even think of writing something not taking place in the present.  (I say) don't ever listen to anything like that!

I listen--everyone who writes has to get out there and listen and observe.

Writing slang isn't great if you want to write fiction that lasts.

Writing not only changed my life, it saved my life.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Tasty SCBWI 40th Anniversary Summer Conference

The 40th Anniversary SCBWI Summer Conference just ended on Monday.  I’ve attended this exceptional conference for many years and this year’s celebration was one of the very best.  Below are some favorite quotes from this year’s speakers.


Everything we do moves outward and has an effect, like ripples in the pond.  We never know how what we do will affect others.  Our work has the potential to change the world in ways not known.  Go home and drop some pebbles in the pond.


I love deadlines.  I love the whooshing sound they make as they rush by!


Unless you find yourself on a page very early in life, you will go looking for yourself in all the wrong places.

A few of her ‘rules for aspiring writers’ –
  • Read the great poetry written in your native language.
  • Put your ambition into writing, never into making money. 
  • If there’s no quiet place where you live, find that place within you for a few minutes each day.

There’s always room for something new and different. 
Write the story that only you can tell.

Art disturbs the Universe.  Thank the Gods.  The job of any artist is to disturb. 
Have the courage to explore the stories of your heart.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On Creativity, Collaboration and Dreams

When I was a child my two sisters and I were always writing, illustrating our stories, putting on plays or dreaming up some other creative project.  We (mostly) worked very well together.

One spring afternoon we sat at the kitchen table discussing our latest project (this time a science fiction novel called The Blue Sun).  My mother, who was in an adjoining room, couldn’t resist quickly writing down our bursts of ‘brilliant’ inspiration.  I wish she had done so more often.  Her account is hilarious—and we have a record of our collaborative style.  And in just a few telling words she captured the personalities of our 7, 9 and 15-year-old selves.

My mother was a fashion artist and painter.  She also made wonderful stuffed animals, including a 1” tall teddy bear. I became a ‘designer’ at 7 when I drew a picture of mouse and asked her to make me a stuffed version. She re-created it exactly, down to its over-long eyelashes.  My family includes artists in many fields, and we have talked of having a ‘compound’ of houses where we could live close by and work together and inspire one another. Or have a shared studio (in a barn, perhaps?)—our own Omega Workshop or Bloomsbury Group!
These thoughts have all returned—and inspired these three blog posts—after seeing again the wonderful John Frame exhibit at the Huntington – alas, now closed.  A brilliant and visionary wood sculptor (his work is indescribable—check out his website).  Though he is the creator of his amazing pieces, he has been aided by his family’s many talents—photography, filmmaking, sewing skills—which played a part in his exhibit and his artistic projects.  Frame also curated a show at the Huntington on William Blake; in the exhibit notes he wrote of the artistic assistance of Blake's wife in his work.

My sister and I are planning to write a mystery together. We often exchange wild and fanciful project ideas-- some of which might actually be do-able!  She has been an invaluable critic, editor and technical advisor for my writing/illustrating work—and my blogging!  All three of us still want to collaborate--maybe one day we will yet have our ‘barn’!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Creativity -- and Teamwork

I’ve long been fascinated by authors’ and illustrators’ methods of collaborating on their books. I’ve heard of writers taking turns writing alternate chapters of a manuscript and wondered how it would be possible to keep it cohesive and smoothly moving forward.  I find it very intriguing though and would love to read such a novel or even try one myself!

Alice and Martin Provensen
Illustrators Alice and Martin Provensen worked together for many years creating picture books together.  In a lovely interview by Peter Larsen when Alice was 91, she spoke about working with her husband.  “Martin and I really were one artist.  Sometimes we’d work on the same page.  I’d do something or tell him how to fix something.”

For 50 years the Dillons—illustrators Leo and Diane—created their delightful illustrations, passing their work back and forth, each adding what they thought would improve the work until it was not possible to identify who did what in any given illustration. They have referred to the creator of their artwork as the “3rd artist”—the combination of both their talents and work.

William Morris and his family and friends are famed for their collaborative efforts. Early in his career the artist, writer and designer joined with other artists to form their own company of designers and decorators.  I find the range of their talents and accomplishments amazing.

I once saw an exciting exhibit on the Bloomsbury group of writers, artists and thinkers at the Huntington Library.  I was so captivated not only by their work but their creative relationships with each other that I returned again and again to the exhibit.  Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and others are known for their joint creations in a variety of projects.   Members Leonard and Virginia Woolf started the Hogarth Press in 1917 on the dining room table of their house.  Several artists in the group created book covers and book jackets as well as interior illustrations for the books the press published.

As with William Morris and his family and friends, working jointly on projects and meeting with other artists and writers seems to have provided valuable inspiration, challenge, encouragement and probably networking possibilities. I‘ve found that true with my own very creative family and with my wonderful SCBWI illustrators ‘schmooze’ group.  Writing and illustration are, by nature, solitary pursuits—not necessarily a bad thing—but there can certainly be an appeal to being able to share both the excitement and the problems present in an artistic endeavor.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Writing of a Book: With a Little Help From My Friends

Writing for publication—even without a writing or illustrator partner—is usually a social experience involving the suggestions, comments and opinions of family, friends, agents, editors and illustrators. After writing the first draft of Signed Abiah Rose my sister was my first “editor”, as well as various other writers, a famous agent and at least one editor who critiqued it at a conference. They all liked it, which was very encouraging, and when the manuscript won an SCBWI Writer’s Day picture book contest I was very much encouraged! When it sold to Tricycle Press my editor, Abigail Samoun, made just the right suggestions and by asking some great questions she helped me re-think certain sentences and ideas. An excellent editor and just the right one for me. Wearing my illustrator hat I came up with ideas to enhance the story by visual collaboration with my writer self. I was able to thank my sister and my editor in my published picture book which was too small an expression of my appreciation of their contributions in bringing Abiah into published “life”. I believe editors’ and agents’ contributions should always be acknowledged by at least mentioning their names in the books on which they have been involved.

At present I’m happily editing a manuscript with my former editor (now my agent! At Red Fox Literary). We were working on it before Tricycle was closed. Previously it had been critiqued by others – my sister, of course, and a good friend who is an excellent writer. Suggestions were made. One editor who critiqued it at a conference was very interested in it which was very encouraging. It won a Writer’s Day picture book contest which was also encouraging.

Though we write the work ourselves, the road to publication is often lined with wise advice and kind and helpful words.

My next post will be on writers and artists whose work is – from the beginning – collaborative. They work together as a team, believing they can inspire and enhance each other’s work and create something better together than they would separately.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Mysterious Pseudonymous Bosch – Teller of Secrets

The guest author at the most recent Writer2Writer meeting was Pseudonymous Bosch, author of the best selling “Secret” series. His talk was fun, entertaining and enlightening. His appearance as himself was a special honor to us, as fellow writers, as he usually wears disguises with his fans (who are delighted by the mysterious persona which goes with his ‘secret’ books).

Books with mysteries lend themselves to anonymous writers. He told us that for the first three years after the series began he was Google-proof—now he’s on Wikipedia. In the spirit of anonymity, however, those who photographed him at our event decided to continue the mystery—as you see in the accompanying photo.

The story of how the former screenwriter came to write his first children’s book was particularly interesting. He had volunteered to be a writing partner to a 4th grader in a Santa Monica school. The project was meant to stimulate and encourage kids to be creative. His young writing partner was very creative and sent him stories, poems and cartoons. Bosch sent his partner a series of installments which would become the first in his series of five books: The Name of this Book is Secret.

Though his publisher gave him the star treatment from the start --a website and a book tour—(book tours really do exist?) he said word of mouth is what made the books so successful. It’s important to Bosch that his books not be categorized as a ‘boy book’ or a ‘girl book’. As a child he secretly enjoyed Louisa May Alcott books and Nancy Drew as well as so-called boy books, and he didn’t want the marketing of his books to be limiting. Most of his fan mail comes from girls, but that also reflects the reading public percentages. Girls are more likely to be readers and to write to authors, but he has devoted boy fans, as well. His favorite emails are along the lines of “I didn’t like to read until I read your books.”

Bosch is very conscious of making books as much fun as possible. He also has to be careful to get the details correct as ‘kids catch discrepancies.’ They consider that he’s writing for them, and nag him to write faster.
Bosch admits he has ‘the writing habits of a neurotic poet’ and would happily spend a week worrying over a simple sentence!

Luckily for his many fans, his fifth book You Have to Stop This will be out in the fall.