Saturday, December 31, 2011

MY PROCESS: A PICTURE BOOK ILLUSTRATION FROM START TO FINISH

 I used to spend a lot of time trying to recreate the gestures and facial expressions from my initial sketches. I was losing magic every time I re-traced my work to head into a new stage of my illustration process. To remedy this, I now let my scanner capture the details so I don't lose what's important and then I continue scanning, enlarging and revising at each stage until I'm ready to begin the final illustration. I've spent the last few years making my process more efficient and it has paid off, not only in saving time, but I'm having more fun than ever.  Here is an illustration from start to finish:

STEP 1 - THUMBNAILS:
Beginning rough thumbnails
I get my first batch of ideas on paper as thumbnails. I use cheap white printer paper and a Number Two pencil - nothing special. I don't want fear of wasting expensive materials to hold me back. I make my thumbnails the approximate proportions of the final. The thumbnails shown here are about 3"x2". They're super quick and mostly for my benefit. If I were doing work for a client, I would pick 2-3 of these thumbnails to work up for presentation. The client would then choose the preferred direction(s). In this case I was the client and chose the lower right thumbnail in this group to illustrate a single block of text.

STEP 2 - REVISED THUMBNAILS:
I picked this thumbnail to illustrate
I begin revising in miniature
This thumbnail is evolving, but it needs more work to get the POV (point of view) right. I want the little chicken to feel a bit left out and small because everything in his world happens over his head - in more ways than one. I take the image into Photoshop and start playing with angles and placement of characters. I also straighten up the overall shape of my drawing and erase areas that need to be revised by hand. I always scan at a higher resolution than needed so I can continue to enlarge and print at each stage.

STEP 3 - REVISIONS FOR BEGINNING ROUGH STAGE:
Revisions continue at a larger size

Here I made revisions to the image by hand after enlarging 10% and printing out.




STEP 4 FINAL ROUGHS:
I scan again, enlarge more, print again and continue revising.
Larger still - it continues to evolve









I continue in this way - scanning, enlarging, printing and revising in pencil until I have a full size rough (in this case 16"x10"). I lighten the image in Photoshop before printing whenever I need to. I'm using a higher quality inkjet paper at this stage. It is thicker and able to hold onto all the details I'm adding. It's about $10 per ream.

Almost full size, I finish smoothing out the details
Black and white full size final rough










STEP 5 - COLOR ROUGH:
This may seem a little backward, but at this point I take my 16x10 final black and white rough and reduce it by about 65%. Exploring color goes much faster at this size. I print it out on untextured, matte photo paper and make my color decisions. I write lots of notes so I remember what colored pencils and layers I used. This will be the map I use during the final illustration. The color and detail are as complete as I can make them at this size and on this type of paper.
This is the color rough at 25% of the final size.









STEP 6 - FINAL ILLUSTRATION:
On the left is what I enlarged and printed onto my drawing paper.
The "color map" with notes that I will follow is on the right.














To begin my final illustration, I scan the 6x4 color rough at high resolution and enlarge to full size in Photoshop. This is what I will print onto my drawing surface. It will give me my basic drawing and under layers of color to work with. I have to complete far fewer layers than I did when I started my drawings on blank paper with a pencil outline. I also retain more details and gestures from the beginning stages. I'm not concerned with the roughness of the color I'm printing because everything will be smoothed out in the final process. Along with the color from the initial printout, I will be adding pen and ink stipple for the shadow areas and colored pencil over everything. All details need to be worked out before this stage, but minor edits can be done in Photoshop after the final scan. Start to finish this 16x10 illustration was completed within two weeks while working regular hours. (While I finished the illustration within two weeks - I was not working solid 8 hour days on this project alone. I finished it comfortably within this time and also made sure to take days off.) In the past this illustration, without the thumbnails and roughs, would have taken 3-4 weeks of working long hours - maybe even without taking days off.
The final illustration
So, that's my illustration process - getting better and more enjoyable all the time. My new method is far more conducive to completing a picture book while maintaining sanity - not to mention a relationship with my family.

Here's to the best in 2012!

Friday, December 16, 2011

ALWAYS STRIVING FOR MY BEST

My interpretation of Chicken Licken for the 2012 Tomie dePaola Illustrator Award
In the past I have considered myself a skilled technician at what I do. Although my current work still shows technical skill, I have moved into a new realm and because of that, I can't really "see" my work right now. It is still uncharted territory. Even though this style comes naturally, there are times when it feels like drawing in the dark. There are no formulas or rules or much of a basis in reality - except that there is gravity - most of the time.

One thing remains the same. When I start a new piece I am still filled with hope that I will be creating my best piece ever. Along the way there is always a momentary feeling of loss as I perceive that I have slipped away from my goal. This is when I have to remember that my real goal is to produce my best, not the best illustration I have ever seen. There is a difference.

Along with creating the best end result, I strive to improve my process, shave off time, be more productive. Last month I cut weeks off of my process doing the above illustration in a new way. I'll share how I work in an upcoming post, along with my new drawing set-up which allows me to work standing up.

Until then - Happy Holidays and an amazing New Year to you and yours!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

WHY I NaNoWriMo

It's been a busy time around the blog. I've added a sale area to cut down on the distracting extras in my studio. Enjoy my post on NaNoWriMo and if you have time, I hope you'll head over to the studio sale on my blog and check out the cards and prints for my botanicals and Faery Medicine characters. They're going fast and I've heard a rumor that the gift giving season is right around the corner...
..........................................

I generally illustrate best on assignment from clients. I like the challenge and having a well developed story to work from makes a big difference. Right now though, I don't have any assignments. That's why I'm taking full advantage of National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. It's time to take the challenge and write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. This is a great opportunity to create characters for my illustrations.  By living with my characters and going on this journey, I really get to know them and it gives me plenty of material to illustrate in the slow months.

I won't have to illustrate a generic child swinging on a swing or running through a field to show that I can draw a child in motion. I'll have characters that are ready to go when I need them - all with names and reasons for doing what they're doing. Not only that, but I'll know all their idiosyncrasies like whether they're deathly afraid of kittens and whether that's a secret they're willing to share. All these details affect how a character moves in a scene and relates to everything around them. Yuyi Morales taught me that well developed characters can lead to illustrations with more depth. Feedback from my portfolio critiques definitely supports this. 

Is it necessary to write a 50,000 word novel to get to know your characters? No, but it's a challenge I love. It also keeps my portfolio fresh and I'm always surprised at the amazing places my characters take me. Join me?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

THE POWER OF THE RIGHT CRITIQUE: A PORTFOLIO CRITIQUE WITH MARLA FRAZEE

In my past portfolio critiques I have received nice compliments on my technique, composition and palette. In the end I usually hear something like this, "Keep doing what you're doing. Soon you will be published." I must admit - I float away from critiques like this with a special shiny feeling, but that soon gives way to the nagging feeling that something fundamental is missing from my illustrations for the children's market and finding "IT" would set me free...

A good start:
My critique with Marla Frazee at the SCBWI LA Conference was different from any other critique I've had and it was by far the most useful. In 20 minutes Marla learned about my illustration background, assessed my work and gave me direction.

The tip of the iceberg: 
Marla said, "If you hear something 3 or more times about your work, really pay attention to what's going on." I hear over and over that my palette is unusual, unique. I heard it again from Marla. It's always a relief to hear that my palette is alive and kicking. The many color theories I studied in college totally confounded me - as did every other art theory. Thankfully, my palette is a completely intuitive part of how I speak visually. Chalk one up to my quest for "IT".

The gift:
Marla went on to talk about the same aspects my other critiques have in the past, but then she gave me a priceless gift. She identified the best pieces in my portfolio (seen in this post), why they were the best and why I needed to do more pieces like them. She saw a departure from generic character development in them and said, "Elevate the rest of your portfolio to the level of these pieces." It was then that I realized what these three pieces had in common. I hadn't relied on photo references to develop the characters. I was inside every one of the characters as I drew them - making the movements, feeling the emotions and making adjustments until - as Marla puts it - I recognized them.

Afterward:
I left my critique with a little bit of that special shiny feeling, but it was different this time. I wasn't floating away. My feet were firmly planted on the ground. I received confirmation on my movement away from photo references and into a new world that resides solely in my head. I love this place, but I had no idea anyone else would enjoy it too. There is something fundamentally solid and comforting about that that isn't in the least bit shiny. In fact, it is a well weathered place with a rather unusual patina and the most interesting cracks. It's a place I want to hang out in...and draw...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

GOT VOICE? MY UNEXPECTED TAKEAWAY FROM THE SCBWI LA CONFERENCE

"Anyone seen my voice?"
My big unexpected takeaway from the LA conference was clarification of what voice is in illustration. Exploration began in a conversation with another illustrator on the hotel shuttle and it continued with every single speaker at the conference. I observed examples of voice over and over from every angle imaginable and it finally began to sink in. Although no one came out and said these exact words, I came away with the idea that voice transcends style. Style can be emulated, but voice is the soul of the illustrator's work that is totally unique.

In my portfolio critique Marla Frazee singled out my four best pieces and the departure she saw from generic character development to a deeper love and knowledge of the characters and their environment. This distinction made it clear that the way I use my materials defines my style, but my voice is just beginning to develop.

In so many ways I heard, "voice involves doing what you love and loving what you do". Especially important are the things we persist in doing, beyond reason, because they nurture us. I saw a wonderful example of this at the illustrator intensives when Marla Frazee applied color to an illustration background with a tiny tiny brush. Murmurs went up around me. "Why is she using such a tiny brush?" Her answer - "because". She said it's a bit like "emptying a swimming pool with a spoon". There are tools which would get the job done faster, but they wouldn't feel right and none would create the feeling of meditation that accompanies her tiny brush.

No amount of technique, palette or composition can take the place of the elusive voice that bubbles up from deep inside the illustrator. Can I illustrate without it? Absolutely, but I was craving to understand what my work was missing and this conference supplied that knowledge. My quest for voice has just begun.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2011 SCBWI LA CONFERENCE - FAVORITE SNIPPETS

The 2011 SCBWI LA Conference was absolutely amazing. I've never experienced anything like it. I think that's why it has been so hard to summarize. It was 4 full days of events from 8am to 6pm and beyond. For now, I thought I would list some favorite ideas from some of the speakers. I think these are my favorites because they made me feel like I was headed in the right direction and although some are about writing, I found them to be interchangeable with illustrating. (The lack of quotation marks around most is because they are from my notes and I may have paraphrased here and there.):

Bruce Coville -
Art is dangerous. To stay poor is supposed to be doing your job correctly. Hogwash!
Don't be afraid to show your heart.

Libba Bray -
Make it better, not perfect.
Writing holds our DNA, our bones, our blood. It is a part of ourselves.

Laurie Halse Anderson -
Your muse is you and she deserves a lot of love and tender care.
Art disturbs the Universe! We are here to continue the revolution and make it grow.

Steven Malk -
Be 100% serious about working in the children's industry. It's a career. Be committed and proud.

Kadir Nelson -
A good painting is a conversation between the artist and the painting. A great painting is a conversation between the viewer and the painting.

David Small -
An artist's duty is to surprise himself.

Jerry Pinkney -
Discomfort is part of the process of making it work.

Judy Blume -
It is determination as much as any kind of talent that’s going to get you there.

This last one is my very favorite and most definitely a quote:
E.B. Lewis - "If you love what you do, they will find you." (It was my understanding that when he referred to "they" he was referring to publishers. Hopefully I was right and he wasn't referring to someone ominous...)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

DRAWING THE DAYS AWAY...

My latest Promotional Postcard
The only reason I know it has been a month since I last wrote for this blog is because of the date on my last post. It actually seems longer than a month. The days have gone by in a blur of hours at the drawing table. I eat, sleep and dream drawing. I head to my drawings in between every other activity - if there are any. It is the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night. The light at my drawing table is often the last light on in the entire house at night. I'm afraid to know how many hours I've worked. I sometimes spend 12+ hours a day, 7 days a week working on illustrations, sketches and roughs. I am determined to also spend time with my family and head into the blissful warm Tahoe sun before heat gives way to 6+ months of cold again. So...my blog has suffered.

I have to take full advantage of this conference opportunity without destroying the balance of my life. When the conference rolls around I know I will hear people speak of what they wish they had done to get ready. Hopefully I will feel I did everything I could. No regrets.

I finished another large color illustration and had the image printed as promo postcards and business cards last week. (I just got them. They turned out great!) In the meantime I started 3 new black and white spot illustrations to go with my Ghost Writer book cover. I let one of the 3 go in the interest of sanity, balance and doing my very best work. Doing the third would have jeopardized all of the above. The two illustrations I decided on will be done this week, leaving me time to scan and print all the new pieces for my portfolio, edit finished pieces, get them on my website, relax and of course, serve jury duty.

There is no time to waste...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

COUNTDOWN TO THE SCBWI 2011 LOS ANGELES CONFERENCE CONTINUES...

Book Cover/Portfolio Piece
It is less than two months until the SCBWI Los Angeles Conference. I thought I was going to start feeling rushed at this point, but things are going very well. I finished the first of my new portfolio pieces last week. In fact, I finished it in half the time by starting the piece differently. It was a big experiment, but I had nothing to lose and I ended up winning big.

Normally I dial in my final sketch on vellum and then transfer it onto bristol with graphite paper. I'm not very fond of that step. I always feel like I lose detail and line quality, so I decided to experiment with scanning my final layout and printing it onto the bristol with my inkjet printer. My scanning/printing tests turned out great so I decided to take everything one step further to save time.

After I transfer the layout, I usually block in color with an airbrush or brush thin layers of paint. This stage is very rough, but it saves time. I also spend a fair amount of time fixing things that didn't transfer well. This adds time. I often feel like I'm re-drawing what I had already spent a lot of time on. I thought, what if I blocked in color on the computer directly on my scanned layout and then printed it out? When I tested this technique by printing out onto bristol and using colored pencil over it, it worked beautifully. The final illustration turned out great and was finished in half the time. I wasn't struggling with all those lost details from transferring and I could erase without losing my base layout. I also had the psychological benefit of knowing I could print out a new copy easily if I needed to start again. (I've never had to start an illustration over, but it's always a dread in the back of my mind. It's nice to be rid of that.)

So, I'm cruising through my new pieces with the knowledge that my usual 8-12 hour days at the drawing board are going to yield even more. I even took a couple days off without worry. What's not to like? Back to it...

Friday, May 13, 2011

I'M A WINNER TOO!

(My apologies to those of you who subscribe to my blog. You have already received this post and may have been sent some old posts too! Everything went haywire when Blogger made changes recently and this original post disappeared. If you care, you can read briefly about it here. The joys of technology!) 
I am ecstatic to announce that last week SCBWI California North/Central awarded me a Conference Grant which insures my attendance at the Los Angeles conference in August. (The grant essay was the most challenging 250 words I've ever written!) I am very excited and will be using the next 84 days to prepare. I have been firmly positioned at my drawing table for the last two weeks and will continue to be until it's time to leave for the conference. I have two final roughs ready to begin as color finals and sketches for quite a few black and white book interiors.

Keep an eye out. I will be offering some great specials in the upcoming months for workshops, web design and art to help pay for the rest of my trip. 

Back to work!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNERS!

Thanks to everyone for entering. Drawing the winners this morning was a great way to kick off my birthday. I will be contacting the winners for their image choices. Congratulations!

Winner #1 - TERESA BERTRAND
Here are the choices for your cards:
A set of 6 notecards with Goddess of Autumn
Goddess of Autumn Abundance












  
OR

The following 6 images as a set of notecards:
From Left to Right - Phoenix Rising, Cave Rock Woman, Lake Mother,
Faery Peeking, Tree Faery, Tree Shaman








Winner #2 - ALISON BALDWIN
Here are the choices for your cards:
A set of 6 notecards with Tree Faery
Tree Faery













OR

The following 6 images as a set of notecards:
From Left to Right - Phoenix Rising, Tree Frog Faery, Lake Mermaid, Cave Rock Woman, Autumn Goddess, Green Goddess









 Winner #3 - ANGELIA ALMOS
Here are the image choices for your Giclee Print:
Tree Faery
Lake Mermaid

Long Life Old Man
Tree Frog Faery


Winner #4 ALICE LEMKE
Here are the image choices for your Wisdom Print:
Goddess of Autumn Abundance
Wisdom Print

Green Goddess of New
Beginnings Wisdom Print

Lake Mother Wisdom Print
 
Tree Shaman Wisdom Print

Friday, April 29, 2011

A CELEBRATION with FREE CARDS and PRINTS!

To celebrate my upcoming birthday and further build my online community, I'm having a drawing to give away cards and prints of my illustrations to four lucky people! You can help make this an annual event by spreading the word. If it's fun for everyone and the response is good, I'll keep doing it. 
    
To Win:
Enter by making a comment on this post or my Facebook Artist Page telling me...you want to enter. If you want your name entered more than once, you can do any of the items below. Just let me know what you're doing in your comment and your name will be entered into the drawing once for each of the following items you complete - up to a total of 5 times:
  1. Comment on this post from April 29-May 4, 2011.
  2. Follow or subscribe to my blog any time before May 5, 2011. *
  3. "Like" my Facebook Artist Page any time before May 5, 2011. *
  4. Comment on my Facebook Artist Page April 29-May 4, 2011.
  5. Tell your friends about the contest and link to it from your status on Facebook, Twitter or a post on your own blog before May 5, 2011. Each one of these things can be worth another entry for you - up to 5 total. 
*If you want to enter and already "follow", "subscribe" or "Like", your name will be entered for each of those things you have already done. Make sure to mention each when you make your comment to enter.

Winners will be randomly drawn and announced on this blog and my Facebook Artist Page on May 5, 2011. If you win, your prize will be mailed to you. (All prizes will be mailed FREE - provided you live on planet Earth and in the United States. If you are outside the U.S. or out of this world, we'll have to strike a deal for shipping.)

GOOD LUCK  and THANKS for spreading the word!

THE PRIZES:

WINNER #1
will have a choice of:

A set of 6 notecards with Goddess of Autumn:
Goddess of Autumn Abundance












  
OR

The following 6 images as a set of notecards:
From Left to Right - Phoenix Rising, Cave Rock Woman, Lake Mother,
Faery Peeking, Tree Faery, Tree Shaman

WINNER #2 
will have a choice of:

A set of 6 notecards with Tree Faery:
Tree Faery













OR

The following 6 images as a set of notecards:
From Left to Right - Phoenix Rising, Tree Frog Faery, Lake Mermaid, Cave Rock Woman, Autumn Goddess, Green Goddess









WINNER #3
will win one 8x10 signed and numbered limited edition Giclee Print from their choice of the following images:
Tree Faery
Lake Mermaid

Long Life Old Man
Tree Frog Faery


WINNER #4 
will win one 10x8 Wisdom Print (image plus words written for it) from their choice of the following:
Goddess of Autumn Abundance
Wisdom Print

Green Goddess of New
Beginnings Wisdom Print

Lake Mother Wisdom Print
 
Tree Shaman Wisdom Print
 
 
 
 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

SCBWI SUMMER CONFERENCE - MAKING THE BIG DECISION

Every year I put the SCBWI Summer Conference dates on the calendar. Every year, at some point, I cross them off. Maybe next year. The reasons for crossing off the dates? It's a long way to travel, a chunk of change and a lot of logistics, but even more importantly - it's a huge commitment I don't want to make unless I'm ready and the conference line-up fits me.

This year my portfolio is more ready than ever. Never have I anticipated the opening of SCBWI Summer Conference registration the way I did this year. I was so eager to see the line-up. Would this be the year? April 15th was the day to find out.

That morning I went about my business, but had my eye on the clock as it ticked closer to opening time at 10:00. The conference web page was already on my computer. Twitter was alive with the same kind of anticipation. And then…finally…it was 10:00. ACK! Nothing happened. I stared even harder at the screen while clicking refresh. Refresh! Refresh! Nothing. With some navigation I finally got to another page with the information I was waiting for.

The workshop that immediately jumped out at me was Creating Book Cover Art by Laurent Linn. Exactly what I've been looking for and as a bonus I know how great Laurent Linn is at presenting his expertise in an encouraging way. There were also speakers like Jerry Pinkney, Paul O. Zelinsky and Richard Jesse Watson - all illustrators who have elements in their work I greatly admire. As if that weren't enough - the list of illustrators, authors and publishers went on and on to fill up 3 full days. It was an amazing line-up, but I knew it would be the fourth day of optional illustrator intensives that made the final decision.

Clicking to the Intensives Page I found that 7 illustrators would be giving 7 hours of demonstrations with time for questions. HOLY SMOKES! As I saw the names, the dates etched themselves deeper and deeper into my calendar. For me, Kadir Nelson topped the list. His illustrations in Ellington Was Not a Street, Coretta Scott and Henry's Freedom Box are favorites of mine. If he alone were giving a demonstration, that would have been enough, but Jerry Pinkney, Paul O. Zelinsky, Richard Jesse Watson, Marla Frazee, David Small and Denise Fleming would also be giving demos. But wait! The list of demonstration moderators was equally impressive with E. B. Lewis, David Diaz, Priscilla Burris, Pat Cummings and Cecilia Yung.  I couldn't see straight!

Everything about the conference fit, just how the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program fit two years ago. And everything about the cost didn't fit. Just like the Mentor Program. Money can always be a reason for not doing something, but I don't think it's a good enough reason to give up before even trying - especially when the opportunity is so great. I pondered this as I stared at the registration form on the screen. It auto-filled from my SCBWI membership information. Just for fun, I clicked the conference options I wanted - Individual Portfolio Consultation, Juried Portfolio Showcase, Post-Conference Intensive for Illustrators. The cursor flashed, the submit button loomed large. I closed the window and walked away…four times. But I came back. And although I could feel that I was beginning to hyperventilate slightly, I hit the submit button, made sure my email receipt arrived and shut the computer.

A sense of elation filled me, along with a woozy hot feeling and the continuing urge to hyperventilate. (I think that woozy hot thing was because I was actually sick.) I still have to figure out how to pay for the conference, travel and lodging. Am I worried? Judging by the way I didn't sleep, yes. I was crunching numbers and formulating plans all night. I have some ideas and a month to figure it out before the penalties of canceling become too great.

So, here I am once again approaching a stream crossing like I did two years ago. Is it time to turn up the volume and take another chance on the unknown? Or will I dip a toe and go back to what's familiar? Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

THOUGHTS ON THE 2011 SCBWI SPRING SPIRIT CONFERENCE

Overall, the 2011 SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference was excellent. As usual - our North Central California team did a great job. Here is a summary of the day.

Highlights: 
There was never a dull moment during Bruce Coville's talk. He moved around animatedly, kept the crowd laughing and at one point enthusiastically jumped up on a chair to make a point. He was definitely a dynamic speaker with a lot to share about his journey as a writer.

The Magazine Workshop with Appleseeds editor, Susan Buckley and illustrator, Domenic Catalano was excellent. The editor and illustrator processes for a project were seen side by side from start to finish. What a great idea. It was an excellent opportunity for illustrators to see another part of the industry.


Picture Book Master Classes I and II by Domenic Catalano were very good. He didn't jump up on any chairs, but he was engaging and humorous in all the right places. It was very course-like in structure, but I enjoyed the academic points he brought up and he made me want to revisit Joseph Campbell's work on archetypes.

My Social Media Critique with Greg Pincus gave me excellent information on all my social media venues with solid next steps. It resulted in a quick and painless launch into Twitter. I love it. More on Twitter in later posts. (In the meantime...follow me on Twitter!)

And of course, as usual, it was great to see old friends and meet great new people - SCBWI veterans and newbies alike.

Portfolio Review:
I already paid for a written critique with illustrator/instructor, Domenic Catalano, so I was looking forward to hearing what the editors had to say about my portfolio. That was where all my anticipation was. I had worked on my portfolio for several months with this in mind. Unfortunately, it didn't happen for me in the group portfolio review. There were just too many cooks in the kitchen. It was a great line up with Random House Editor, Christy Webster, Appleseed Editor, Susan Buckley, Grosset and Dunlap Editor, Eve Adler and illustrator, Domenic Catalano. I was on the edge of my seat as they went down the line of portfolios, but there wasn't enough time for them all to speak. Dominic Catalano's enthusiasm and knowledge swept up most of the conversation. Although he had great things to say, I badly wanted to hear more from the editors.

By the time they got to my portfolio, they really needed to speed things up. The pluses - I was happy I put more black and white in my portfolio and I didn't hedge on what I put in. I wanted response - good or bad. Not one of my pieces was singled out as a bad one.  That was good.

The last comment on my portfolio was from Domenic Catalano - "Keep doing what you're doing." At the time, I was profoundly disappointed with this. I wasn't given a solid task. What next? Just keep doing what I'm doing? Once this bit of advice sank in though, it was great. It became decadent permission to continue on and pursue what I wanted to do for middle grade readers.

I know most illustrators at the SCBWI conferences are exclusively picture book illustrators, but there were numerous missed opportunities for discussing publishing opportunities outside of picture books. Now more than ever we all have to be more flexible if we want to illustrate in this industry. I happen to illustrate for kids 8+ which is already borderline for picture books. I'm always looking for information that will help me illustrate for the rarely talked about "older" kids. 

What Next? 
A few books to study.
I'm going for middle grade book covers and interior illustrations. No one has been able to give me solid advice on this, so I'm doing what I did when I was studying picture books except I'm in the older kid's section at the library. I'm driving the librarians crazy by checking out 20-30 books at a time. So far, I've looked at Tony Diterlizzi, Bagram Ibatoulline, PJ Lynch, Christian Alzmann, Sal Murdocca, and James Gurney because they are masters at what they do in middle grade books and their styles resonate with me. (Where are the female illustrators in this mix? I'm still looking.) I'll be seeing what each illustrator does that is different and similar to what I do. I'm looking at techniques, what POVs are successful, what reads best on the type of paper used, etc.

The Projects: 
Six years ago I read the Unicorn Chronicles series to my daughter. She was 5 at the time. I decided I wanted to make an illustration project out of it and do a series of black and white and color illustrations. I wrote out all the descriptions of the characters and set to work sketching likenesses of them from all angles in the most interesting scenes. Shortly after that, I joined SCBWI and began to realize that the focus was on picture books. I abandoned the project. Now I'm going back to it. I will also be doing interior illustrations for Ghost Writer, my 2010 Nanowrimo novel featuring my character, Adriana Fernandez. I'm looking forward to seeing where she takes me.

The Presentation Book: 
The final presentation book - an Itoya binder
What presentation book did the picky illustrator end up buying? Well, it wasn't the one I mentioned in my last post because the sleeves were too thin for the $60+ price tag. Instead I got an Itoya. I was surprised by their sleeves which were very clear and thicker than average with stiff page inserts to keep the bending to a minimum. The disappointment - the binder rings were the old style that snag pages when they begin to separate. They seemed tight at the store, but the permanent separation began after opening them the first time to put sleeves in. Because the separation was only on the top two rings, I was able to flip the book over so the pages didn't catch as badly. Of course, when I did that, there was an Itoya logo on the front. I covered it with one of my promotional postcards. Quality just isn't what it used to be...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A DIFFERENT KIND OF PORTFOLIO REVIEW

It is one week until the SCBWI conference in Rocklin. I'm all ready, but I hit a snag last week as I loaded my new presentation book with images. I wasn't happy with the quality of my new book, so I reluctantly set to work searching for a better one. 

It is nearly impossible to buy a presentation book without seeing it in person, but because I live 100 miles from the nearest art supply store, I often have to shop online for what I need. The most important thing to me are the pages. I don't like thin and flimsy and that's mostly what I'm finding. The thickest page sleeves I've found have been in Prat books. I've been using their books for almost 30 years, but they seem to have changed their sleeve quality more recently. Here are my latest findings:

My best presentation book - Prat Start with thick clear pages.
This is my old book - a 12 page Prat Start from several years ago. (Now I need  more pages so I can show 3-4 pieces from each category of work.) The sleeves in this book are very thick, non-textured, clear as glass and they don't wrinkle. They show the illustrations without distraction. Neither the sleeves or sleeve inserts ding easily and stand up to repeated viewings and image changes. It was inexpensive which means it was a great and durable book to ship off to publishers. There is no ink residue left on the inside of the sleeves after images are switched out. The cons: After many showings, the cover is showing fingerprints and the pages are sealed into the book and cannot be replaced or added to.

This Robert Ware book has flimsy pages which ding.
This is the book I was loading my work into last week. It is a Robert Ware and on the outside, it's a nice looking book. The 24 sleeves aren't as thick as I like, but I thought it would be fine temporarily. I knew it would have a lifespan of about 2 conference viewings. My impression changed when I started loading it with images. The sleeves were showing dings just by putting prints in. You can see in the photo how the sleeve doesn't sit flat on my sample. Over time this will get worse and some wrinkling will become permanent. My biggest concern was the way the black paper in the sleeves was shedding black specks all over my work. The static from the sleeves made it impossible to get rid of all of it and new specks appeared every time the pages were turned. That was a concern I didn't want while my book was on display.

The new 24 page Prat Start with "linen" cover.
The best idea was to find the quality I wanted, so I decided to find another Prat book. Their pages had always been the best. After looking at all their books and every other brand available, I decided on a 24 page Prat Start. It was impossible to tell how thick the sleeves were, so I called customer service. They told me the pages were thick and heat sealed, so I ordered the book with a rush on shipping...just in case. Glad I did. I ordered portrait format. They sent landscape.  The sleeves were also not like my other Prat book. They were a little thicker than the Robert Ware, but not crystal clear, they wrinkled and upon opening the book I noticed that some pages were already creased. (On the upside - the "linen" cover would wear well and hide fingerprints.) Even though my picture book spreads would look nice in landscape format, more than 3/4 of my work is portrait format. Having my book open the other way would take up too much table space and require awkward maneuvering - something art directors frown on. (Trust me, they do.) I can't use the book for the conference and replacing it by ordering online would be really risky.

Old style presentation book with page snagging feature.
So, it's Plan D. When I head into Sacramento the day before the conference, I'll be taking a detour to look at presentation books in person. Because it doesn't look like anyone is producing the sleeves I'm looking for anymore, I'm leaning toward a book with removable pages so they can be replaced as needed. I avoided ringed books in the past because they snagged pages and added bulk, but they've gotten better. So far the Prat Premium Case looks good. We'll see. If I don't find what I'm looking for, Plan E goes into effect - replacing the black inserts in the Robert Ware.

Please feel free to share your favorite presentation books. It's always helpful to hear firsthand experiences!