Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ug, Reviews... By Barbara DiLorenzo

For everyone striving to publish their writing and/or illustrations, here is my advice–look beyond the goal of simply obtaining a contract. I did not do this. I honed my craft, went to conferences, networked and joined critique groups. But I absolutely never sat in on a session that was above my station. I figured I would have plenty of time to figure out what comes next IF I ever got published. I also thought those details would be the fun part. How to market your book. What swag to prepare for school visits and book festivals. I looked at the contract as the finish line–and the life beyond as a dream come true.

But here is the hard part–now that I am published, I feel like I am on the bottom rung of a new ladder. I thought for sure that the books acquired by two different publishers would leave their hands in perfect shape. I had faith that our combined efforts were making the best books possible. But now I realize that everyone else is doing the same thing–and there are A LOT OF AWESOME BOOKS! Many this year, but countless others year after year, going back decades.

So what do schools and libraries rely on to stock their shelves with great books? Professional reviews. I know now that it is very special if someone says something nice about your book–because many reviewers say lots of mediocre or downright not-nice things. Here is an excerpt from a professional review of a well-known author's book:
Frenetic illustrations in muted neutrals show the various situations, clearly meant to be hilariously reprehensible but mostly appearing mean-spirited instead. The ultimate joke, on readers as well as the narrator, is that the opening question was literal. The revelation of the (real) big elephant is amusing but not enough to save this one-note story, the joke of which will have to be explained to many a child. Ardent fans won’t mind—but this could have been better.  (Picture book. 4-8)

Ouch! Another hero of mine suffered this critique of one of my favorite books:
Squeaker, perhaps intentionally, is undeveloped and unconvincing, but the blocky bears are appealing. The story lacks depth and subtlety, although young children may find the role reversal hilarious, and the catchy title and ’50s nouveau art provide a soupçon of charm. (Picture book. 4-7)
I think this reviewer just learned the word "soupçon" and wanted to find a place to use it. SO mean! Or maybe reviewers have stacks of books to get through, and in the process, lose their sense of humor.
The text is snarky-conversational with a contemporarily colloquial feel. On first read, children may enjoy the funny pictures and silly text and situations, but, rather like a rainbow-colored belch, it’s not substantial enough to sustain many return visits.
Best seen as a joke gift for a unicorn lover. (Picture Book. 2-6)
I didn't reveal the names of the authors because I'd really hate someone to dig through and find crummy quotes and post them online from my reviews. But what I can tell you–these are all very famous authors with multiple books under their belts. AND! They also received much coveted starred reviews for their other books–from this same review site! So if seasoned professionals, who make great books, receive this sort of critique, how the heck am I supposed to do well? I just received my second Kirkus review in 9 months, and I'm starting to realize the thick skin necessary to endure editor rejections continues well past publication.

As the sting of a mediocre review starts to fade, and the camaraderie of my critique peeps boosts my spirits, I realize that these reviews make me want to work so much harder on my next project. Once the book is released into the world, how it is received is out of our control. As much as I may want to gear the next book to impress a sophisticated critic, pandering isn't going to work. And nor should it. My audience is a bunch of young readers, eager to connect with interesting characters and worlds. If a reviewer has an underwhelming report, but a child dressed as the character for Halloween, I take the latter as a sign of success. Or, if they take their photo next to the statue that the book is about, that melts my heart. (Photo of friends in Florence, Italy. RENATO AND THE LION is on the phone screen.)

I've met authors that choose to read no reviews, professional or otherwise, and just dig back into their work. I'm far too curious to follow that path. So I'm stuck in the pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps camp and try like hell to make a better book next time.

If you ever need a shoulder to whimper on while reading your own reviews, I'm here for you!
(I'll also share more lessons post-publication on subsequent blog articles.)

by Barbara DiLorenzo

Barbara is represented by Rachel Orr of the Prospect Agency.
Twitter: @wavepaint
Facebook: @BarbaraWillcoxDiLorenzo

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Go with the Flow, by Mike Ciccotello

A couple weeks ago I spoke with an artist friend about why I work digitally. The short answer is, it’s practical. But there’s more to it.

I used to have a studio with three easels, a drafting table, a flat work area, and large desk with my computer. Technically I still have all of that, but it’s got a lot of boxes and stuff in front of it right now. Almost three years ago, our twins were born. I had to make a decision about my art, but I had some options. A: Was I going to stop making art all together? B: Was I going to sequester myself in my basement studio away from my family? C: Was I going to change the way I work so I could be present for my family, but also satisfy my passion to create.

I chose C. I decided to move a small table into our family room to hold my computer, and looked into a tablet that could serve as a digital studio. Coincidently, about 6 months after the boys were born, Apple came out with the iPad Pro. I researched it and purchased one. I haven’t looked back. 

Do I still use a sketchpad? Yes, but I haven’t done a full piece in paint or colored pencils in almost three years. Will I switch back at some point? I don't know. What I'm doing right now is working, so I don't have the need to change.

This isn’t the only time I changed the way I create. I used to commute on a long train ride, twice a day, for 14 years. I needed to make use of that time. I decided I could sleep, read, or sketch during that time. I learned how to draw on bumpy trains and created a bunch of work during those years. I read and slept as well, but in hindsight, I'd say, the bulk of the trips were spent drawing.

Many people run into this problem. None of this was a flip of the switch solution. It started off as a problem and over time, I figured out a solution that worked best for me. I’m not suggesting you switch to digital or start drawing in your car while driving. Definitely don’t draw and drive. I am suggesting, if your life has changed, giving you a new set of priorities, then go with the flow and change the way you work. The important thing is to satisfy your passion to create.

My Sketchpad and My iPad Pro

Represented by Rachel Orr
For more info contact 

Twitter: @ciccotello 
Instagram: @ciccotello 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Road to Pantone - Deborah Cuneo

During my creative journey, color has always been a little bit of a "Frien-emy". Up until about two years ago, I worked exclusively traditionally. All traditional artists will agree, the color struggles span from finding the right grouping of primaries to mix from, to avoiding muddy colors, contrast, color palettes and so on.

Mixing it up Old School - Acrylic

When I started using digital as part of my art process, I discovered there were "a couple" (sarc) of extra hurdles to getting the color right. One big one was my scanner not picking everything up as it was in real life.  Another was my screen not showing me color correctly. I invested in a color calibration tool, but ultimately, there were still just too many shifts in the color from my screen to what it was in the real world. It was becoming  incredibly frustrating, creating without color consistency. Plus, I had to jump through technology hoops to get the colors to come out the way I wanted. It was a huge time-suck! 

At the peak of my frustration with color in my new medium, I remembered that years ago, I had been gifted with a Pantone matching system fan deck from a friend's father. He was retiring from the printing business and thought it might come in handy for me one day.

An old Friend

I dug it out and started using that to select my colors. I thought it would take some of the guess work out of the color process and create sort of a "control" from computer to print. What a Godsend! The fan deck was from 1987 and the colors had faded a bit, but it still was usable. It definitely helped me keep tabs on the color when working on Little Dragon and the New Baby (Sky Pony Press March 2018).

First Digital Color Palette/ Promo Sheet

Around the same time, an artist friend got me a brand new Pantone palette book, for inspiration. I loved a couple of the palettes and went to play with those colors in Photoshop, only to find out that my older version of PS didn't have the colors that were in the newer book.There was also no way for me to reproduce the color I saw, because there were no formulas for rgb or cmyk . And there was still the fact that my screen was semi unreliable.

Pantone Color Inspiration - Chronicle Books

With a new project on the horizon, I decided to go right to the source...Pantone itself! I found out that Pantone made a fan deck that not only had all the newer colors that I loved, but also the cmyk formulas for an exact or pretty close to exact, match.  It's called the Plus Series Color Bridge set. This set not only  gives you a huge color selection in both coated and uncoated, it also gives you a side by side comparison the cmyk version that comes closest to the Pantone color. For those that are designers gives you Hex and RGB info as well. Yay!! Problem solved... or so I thought. It was an expensive tool and timing was not right for me getting one, because my scanner was also dying.  I would need to choose, but they were equally critical to what I was doing. That circle of thought became a constant source of angst... UGH!  

One day, last week, I was jolted out of my daily, technological pity party, by the sound of the doorbell. By the time I got from my studio to the door and opened it, no one was there, but I was greeted by a box with a big Amazon-smiley and my name on the label. I immediately opened it and to my delight, inside was a bright, shiny new Pantone Plus Series-Color bridge set and a note that said "Happy Birthday"!  I had been discussing my new project color struggles with my Father (a more technical creative) and he went ahead and purchased the set for me.

Best Early Birthday Gift!!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Pop!!  I am so excited, and grateful for the gift and can't wait to use it! It's going to be a HUGE time saver on this new project and beyond!! (sorry for all the exclamation marks, but there seriously are not enough in my book to convey how great this gift was...!) It will be a little sad to have to retire that old fan deck. After all, it was my constant companion during the creation of my debut book, resolved my color issues and saved me a ton in production time. However, I've been informed that my Father will be happy to give it a new home. 

To find out more information about the Color bridge set and other Pantone offerings, just click on the link below:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On Gratitude by Diana Ting Delosh

Thank You Owlet - Ink & Watercolor Illustration, Hand Lettering
© Diana Ting Delosh

It's the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so here's a few thoughts on gratitude as an illustrator /author. I am most Thankful for Friends and Community. As someone who spends most days isolated in my studio in suburbia, I am thrilled to have found my tribe via: the CBIG, SCBWI and the LICWI. Not to mention connecting with an even bigger pool of artists/writers/creatives via Twitter.

CBIG, Children's Book Illustrators Group
After many years of trying to do it alone, I discovered CBIG through my sister, who had a friend, who was a member.  CBIG is a local NY metro area group. They invite children's book publishing professionals to their meetings, so members can grow as illustrators and of course make connections.

SCBWI, Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
SCBWI is an international group that offers oodles of info and conferences. Over the years it's given me loads of networking opportunities with industry professionals.

LICWI, Long Island Children's Writers & Illustrators
I joined LICWI because I wanted to get serious about my writing. LICWI members meet monthly and may read their writing to the group and receive feedback. I'm still getting the hang of reading to a group. Nerve wracking. But the valuable feedback is worth it.

Because sometimes I'm working in the studio by my lonesome and it's nice to feel connected to the world at large. Remember those illustrators/writers you met at the big conference, most likely they're on Twitter or Instagram. There are many Twitter art challenges to participate in. Or if you're too busy to participate, just view. Always inspirational, sometimes even motivating.

In fact, this blog and my Art Crit Group would have never formed if it weren't for friendships via CBIG and the NJ SCBWI June Conferences. So, a really Big THANK YOU to CBIG and the NJ SCBWI.

Just in case you're wondering, yes, all this connecting and socializing, both real and virtual, does help your  discoverability and may lead to opportunities and even commissions. But that's a topic for another post.

Here's to Friends and Community and a Happy Thanksgiving to ALL!

Twitter: dtdelosh

For your picture book storyboarding process
Check out: 
The BIG ThumbNailer

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How Do You Turn An Idea Into A First Draft? by Patricia Keeler

Most author/illustrator groups will critique your manuscript once you've got it as finished as possible, but are there groups that help develop a seed of an idea into a first draft?

In a large room with two walls of floor to ceiling windows, about 20 graphic designers, theater people, art teachers and others, gather to develop portfolios and create children's books. They make up Monica Wellington's Monday (and Wednesday) night class, Children's Book Illustration, at the School of Visual Arts in New York City on 21st Street.

Monica's class is different from other classes I've taken. In the past I haven't presented a picture book idea to a group until I had at least a rough draft. In this class, we begin by drawing a sample illustration of a picture book concept that we are thinking about. We post our images on the wall.

Sometimes Monica introduces a story prompt. In one class we wrote down jobs that our extended families have had. I was thinking of my brother-in-law who is a chef, so developed the idea of a witch who was a chef. (Think Oily Snail Soup and Crispy Spider Legs.)

For each new story idea, we create an illustration. Monica asks each artist how their artwork relates to their story idea. The class critiques the artwork, and discusses the possibilities of the related story concept.

We are entering the second half of the semester, and the class has introduced a lot of new art and ideas for picture books. We now choose one story and are asked to create a thumbnail dummy with the story written under the pictures.

From here our art will expand in size and detail as the story line evolves.

My classmates have a unique, insightful and sometimes funny takes on the work. They are kind and sharing, and bring a wide variety of illustration styles and techniques.

For me, Monica Wellington's approach to creating a picture book from one sketch feels like tiptoeing up to a sleeping tiger. It's a smoother, easier method than sitting down at a keyboard facing the open jaws of a blank screen. And artwork that doesn't develop into a picture book, works as a portfolio piece.



As a visual thinker, I appreciate Monica Wellington's unique approach to creating children's books. It's wonderful to have support from a terrific teacher and classmates when you're going from the fragile, uncertain beginnings of an idea, across that wide abyss to a picture book dummy.  

Helpful comments from Sophia Dookh, Estella Morgan and Monica Wellington.       ©patriciakeeler

Facebook:  PatriciaKeelerBooks
Twitter: @patriciakeeler
Instagram: @patriciakeelerbooks

represented by Liza Royce Agency

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Nine Little Years - By Barbara DiLorenzo

Last Wednesday, I moved from an apartment to a house, eager to have more space for my children and room for my studio. I have shared common space for years, and though it's fun to be right where everyone else is, the distractions were starting to have a negative effect on my work. In my new home, the entire dining room is my art room. There is even one door to keep folks out! The other doorway has no door, but it's open to the kitchen. I'll accept visitors from the kitchen if they bring me snacks.

In the packing process, I came across my first real world art accolade–from the North Shore Arts Association. My painting won the Hazel Morey Memorial Award. I remember feeling so proud to get in as a member, to have my painting juried into the show, then finally, to win an award. As exhilarating as it was, it wasn't exactly what I wanted. All my life I had wanted to write and illustrate picture books, and I felt that I was simply spinning my wheels in that department.

"STARBUCKS" Plein Air Painting from the series, THE PLACES WE SHOP
Acrylic, 2008 by Barbara DiLorenzo
Winner of the Hazel Morey Memorial Award

Looking at the frame, I realized the date on the award. 2008. Nine years ago. So much has happened in those nine years. A mountain of rejections–both for fine art shows and for illustration. But also, so much has gone well. I'm writing and illustrating my own books at long last, with one out now and one coming out in the spring. I'm going on school visits to share the bookmaking adventure with young students. And I'm teaching art and illustration to all ages through the Arts Council of Princeton. In just nine little years. I thought it had been at least 25. It felt like it anyway.

LEFT: Art award from 2008
RIGHT: Book award from 2017
MIDDLE: Max, always causing mischief in the studio...

That helped me put into perspective all my current anxiety about how well my first book is doing, whether I'm doing everything I can to support it, whether anyone will ever let me make a book with them again. Believe it or not, these thoughts, and worse, run in a rotation through my head regularly. I had always believed anxiety would ebb with the first book. In some ways, yes. But a whole mess of new worries crop up to take the place of the old worries. But seeing this frame, marking the timeframe between the start of my career and today, I realized that if I'm lucky to be alive, the next nine years could be amazing. And of course, filled with a mountain of rejections. But also, hopefully, with more projects that go well.

by Barbara DiLorenzo
Now booking author visits for 2017-2018!

Barbara is represented by Rachel Orr of the Prospect Agency.
Twitter: @wavepaint
Facebook: @BarbaraWillcoxDiLorenzo

Thursday, November 2, 2017

In the Mud by Jason Kirschner

I haven't posted on this group blog in a while. I've been off in the "dayjob" world and my fellow bloggers have been kind enough to deal me out of the rotation for a bit. (I mixed metaphors. I know. I'm ok with it.) But it's my turn today, and since we all know that I consider this blog the closest I get to therapy, I thought I'd share what's on my mind.

I have recently been taking a break. Not only from this blog but from creating kidlit altogether. Since the end of the summer, I haven't really written or drawn anything that could potentially end up as a book of any sort.  I was tired and I felt I was spinning my wheels but getting nowhere. I started a new season of tv at "dayjob world" and told myself I just didn't have the time but I think I was making excuses. I think I was just a bit burnt out. I doodled a bit here and there and wrote down random story ideas or plot points but nothing really constructive.
And then October rolled in. I forced myself to try Inktober as a way to start drawing daily again. Now I would consider myself a pencil guy. I draw with pencil on cheap paper and mostly color my stuff digitally. Ink doesn't really enter into my process. Plus, I've tried Inktober before and never gone further than 8 or 9 days. But it seemed like an escape ladder out of the small muddy pit of not-drawing I'd dig for myself. I don't know why it was muddy-- that's a mystery to me too.

SO...Inktober day 1, I posted something I wasn't entirely happy with but I felt an ounce of satisfaction at having completed something. I made a decision to do no erasing or digital doctoring.
"Don't be fussy," I found myself saying as a mantra.  Day 2, I started to try to explore the different things I could do with the few ink pens I found in my bucket o' art supplies. Maybe a teensy bit more satisfying.

Day 3.
On day 3, the prompt reminded me of a character I had written a picturebook manuscript about. It was the project I was spinning my wheels on earlier this summer. Day 3 was the turning point for me. On day 3,  I decided to make my Inktober about the bunnies in the book I wanted to finish. I christened it "Bunntober."

It started to be fun to visit the characters each day. And the ink became fun too. I got a few more markers and pens at my local art store. Now I could do grey washes with Copic wide markers and really teeny details with Micron pens. I still did my layouts in my very comfortable Prismacolor pencil #943 and then inked over it. The prompts gave me aspects of the characters to explore that I hadn't yet and the ink somehow made the drawing fun again because I got semi-finished sketches that did, but also didn't, resemble the work I was familiar with.
And people were commenting and liking my stuff. I wasn't an Inktober star like fellow D2PB'r Mike Ciccotello but I got a bunch of new followers and some really lovely comments. I know that's not why we make the art but encouragement is always lovely.  Most importantly, I think I've dug my way out of the pit and I'm ready to start my dummy. I've actually already started roughing out some pages and I think I might be finishing the finals in ink!

Day 24.
Day 31.

Day 25.
Day 27.
I guess this is a super duper, barely coherent, long winded way to say...if you're stuck in the mud, try something new.  A new medium, a new color scheme, heck...sometimes just a new sketch pad or a sharpened pencil might be the answer. It just might help you climb back out of the mud. Geez --there's the mud again. I'm going to go wash my hands.
Day 9.

BTW, if you haven't checked out the amazing work people have posted as part of Inktober, you really should. Superstar Mike Ciccotello is on Instagram @ciccotello and if you want to see more of my #bunntober experiment, you can find me on IG at @jkirsch118.  Our other D2PBrs are posting art on social media too...check out the links in their profiles.

By day, Jason is an emmy nominated set designer for television, with credits that include Harry, The Meredith Vieira Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and The Late Show with David Letterman. By night, Jason is an author and illustrator of children's books. You can find his debut picture book, Mr. Particular: The World's Choosiest Champion on shelves in bookstores everywhere. See Jason's work, both illustrations and set designs,  at . Follow him on instagram @jkirsch118.