Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Building my Portfolio - by Mike Ciccotello

In June of last year, I attended my first NJ SCBWI conference. I had never been to a children's literature conference. As an aspiring children's book illustrator, I knew it was important not to show up empty handed. I gathered some work that was remotely related to picture books, and ventured out with an open mind. I went with the intention of absorbing as much as possible. To my surprise, I was able to purchase a one-on-one with an art director. I also had a sit-down with an agent and a scout. It was more than I could've hoped for. I received critical feedback that I could build on.

From last year's portfolio

Shortly after that conference, I started researching more information about picture book portfolio content. I was trying to apply every rule and opinion I heard. It needed: interior, exterior, animals, children, diversity, nature, city, lighting, color, black and white, etc. My head was spinning. I wasn't thinking about my illustration. I was only thinking about a checklist. I wasn't having fun.  Are those items important for a portfolio? Yes, of course, but I was going about it the wrong way. I decided to start creating new work by participating in an illustration challenge called, Inktober. If I could create 31 pen and ink illustrations in one month, I could pull from that and create finished work to put in my portfolio. I thought it would be fun way to let some ideas develop.

From Inktober 2015
I was able to complete the challenge, and I had a bunch of work to show for it. (click here for my inktober images) I have used those images to develop new characters, environments, and stories. Completing that challenge also put me into a mind frame to continue creating new work on a regular basis. I'm not suggesting that a challenge is the answer for everyone, but you should be having fun while you are creating. Create things that interest you. Draw in a style that you enjoy. 

From this year's portfolio

Here we are, a little over a year later. I'm gearing up for my second conference at NJ SCBWI. I have a new portfolio of work, and a somewhat clearer view as a developing illustrator in children's literature. I know that I will continue to learn and change my portfolio, and that's a good thing. Evolution is an important part of the process. I can't wait to see where it takes me. (click here for my current portfolio)

Twitter: @ciccotello
Instagram: @ciccotello

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I Know! I'll Illustrate Children's Books! by Patricia Keeler


Below is a picture of my mom with the family dog. Ordinary picture? Not exactly.

Mom is wearing a dress made with fibers she spun and wove from our dog! This picture was taken by a reporter for the local newspaper.

"And no, mom, I'm not not not wearing a skirt made of dog fur! What if it rains?"

And talking about smelly things--my childhood home smelled of boiled goldenrod (for fabric dye), rabbit glue (for making hats), and solder (for making jewelry). Mom was an artist--an experimental artist. So embarrassing.

After getting married, Francis McCall and I moved to a big, old house in Virginia with a backyard studio. Actually, it was a two car garage but . . .

I traded a giant painting of a peach to Peachtree Windows for a variety of remaindered windows. Every wall in my studio had windows in different sizes. My studio backed up to the woods. I did oil painting (header image), sculpture, and weaving.

My husband and his daughter would go to the library and bring home picture books. I thought, why not try writing and illustrating children's books? 

I sketched a story about a mouse returning a shard of sunlight to the sun,

a story about snow animals coming to life,

and a little girl who receives a magic gift.

I put my illustrations and dummies in a portfolio, and took a bus to New York City. I mean, after seeing my mother's success at most every artistic chance she took, I thought becoming a children's book author/illustrator was an attainable goal. How hard could it be?

                                             My website is:
Facebook friend me at: PatriciaKeelerBooks        Follow me on Twitter: @patriciakeeler
represented by Liza Royce Agency

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The value of time away from your work... by Barbara DiLorenzo

I love coming up with a book idea that feels solid. If it is strong enough, and I feel a real connection with the characters, I jump into the long process of building (or problem solving) a story using words and pictures. A brief outline of the plot comes first, followed by thumbnail sketches scrawled loosely on a micro storyboard. After this stage, I try out my idea on fellow artists, friends and family members. Sometimes glaring errors pop up and I realize it's time to revise heavily, or possibly rethink the idea. Was it as good as I had imagined? But sometimes folks seem to resonate with the concept, and I feel a green light to move forward. Usually my thumbnail drawings are hard to read, so sometimes the refined sketching stage flags new problems with the plot or the characters. The more I revise and work on a book dummy, the more I lose my perspective on whether certain moments work or not. If I am trying to pull a book together to submit to a contest, I will doggedly work on the drafts without a real break, in order to make the deadline. And that is usually when I run smack into a wall. I show the dummy to someone after weeks of hard work–expecting that their reaction will directly correspond to the huge amount of work I did. (I worked so, so, so hard=they will love it.) Only, normally, it doesn't happen this way. The person recognizes that the pile of pages is a labor of love. But for some reason, they don't love it. Why? Sometimes it's because they don't understand it, and I think, "How could they not understand it? It's so clear to me!"Of course it's clear to me. I'm immersed in the project. I don't know anything else as I sleep, eat and breathe my new book. I have no perspective.

This problem is the result of not stepping back from my work. If I paint a watercolor painting, I constantly work up close, then step back to check everything makes sense. I encourage my art students to take breaks and put their work up across the room from them to see it from a distance. Yet when making books, I sometimes neglect this crucial step. Every book on writing says some version of this. Step 1: Write the best book ever. Step 2: Put it in a drawer and forget about it. Step 3: Start a new book. Step 4: Eventually return to your first book after months away, and you will see it wasn't as amazing as you thought. Step 5: Revise like hell and listen to feedback that makes sense. Step 6: Rinse and repeat until the book doesn't stink. 

Recently I felt guilty about taking about a month away from a book project dear to my heart. I planned to tackle smaller projects and clear time for the big book project. But the small projects kept dragging on and on, and I finally used up the few weeks of free time I had planned to finish the big book project. I felt guilty and frustrated. But amazingly, the extended time away gave me what I never give to myself–perspective. Suddenly I saw the plot more clearly, and in no time I had thumbnails scrawled across most of the pages. Although I had waited longer to get started, I was actually working faster and with more clarity after the time away. 

I point this out only to help other bookmakers, struggling to hammer a manuscript or book dummy into shape. Sometimes all you need is a little time away, and then the work becomes clear. You can see exactly what needs help, as well as what is truly working well. 

Illustration Blog: Paint & Paper
Follow me on Twitter: @wavepaint

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Art & Fear of Crit Groups - by Diana Ting Delosh

Moi at 9 - © Diana Ting Delosh
I've always thought of art and story making as solo activities and just shown when you were ready. As a student, you created your art and brought it in for a crit once it was done. Back in my school days, some of the crits were quite savage and not always constructive. Thankfully, the overall experience of being among other creatives striving towards similar goals was very inspiring and empowering.

Dragon Picnic - © Diana Ting Delosh.
Isn't it better to be told your dragon has two left feet before you see the big art director or editor?
Finding my crit group took awhile. Personally, I found the large online groups of over 100 members too impersonal. The groups that met in person (and I've been in four of them over the years) fell apart over time due to conflicting schedules. Currently, I'm in a small crit group that meets online via Dropbox and e-mail. Seems to work well for our deadline filled lives.

Whispering - © Diana Ting Delosh
 I'm learning to trust the crit group process. Learning that all suggestions have merit. But it's up to me to implement them or not. At the very least they point to where I have a clarity issue. Validates what you feel and makes you realize you're not crazy.  Whenever possible, I now try and show my sketches/story drafts to my group with enough time to allow for me to digest their comments and do something about them before my portfolio review, submission, grant application, etc. This hasn't  been easy.
Cheetah Stretches - © Diana Ting Delosh
One of the side benefits of being in a crit group is the inspiration that comes from some friendly competition. How can you not be pushed and stretched to create better/more when your buds are making amazing awesome art and juggling crazy busy lives.

Illustration Blog:
Twitter: @dtdelosh