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I met the talented author-illustrator Roxie Munro several years ago while appearing at the Princeton Children’s Book Festival. Our tables were next to each other, and knowing she had been well-published for over thirty years, I sidled up to ask her about the business. She was gracious with the advice—when she wasn’t busy signing books! Her table was a popular destination, and I made sure to pick up a couple of her books for my daughters as well.

One of those titles, MAZEWAYS: A to Z, became a steady favorite in our house. Imagine “Where’s Waldo” meets a maze activity book crossed with an alphabet book. What a concept! The intricate illustrations and planning that had to go into the book mesmerized my imagination. How did she do it???

So when I saw Roxie again this spring for the Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival, I zoomed toward her table. And I spotted it—her next great concept—MASTERPIECE MIX.

Once again, Roxie was gracious enough to answer my questions about this new book—her 45th—which hits shelves TODAY from Holiday House!

Roxie, your maze books astound me because such meticulous planning must go into every spread. Likewise, MASTERPIECE MIX must have required much planning to fit 37 art masterpieces into the final spread. Can you give us a glimpse into the process for this book?

The maze books are harder, actually (I remember once a solution to a complex maze came while I was asleep, dreaming about it). I had the idea for MASTERPIECE MIX more than 15 years ago. I did a complete dummy, but it was rejected by my publisher at the time, and I just put it into my flat files. A couple years ago, I showed the dummy to Mary Cash at Holiday House. She really liked it, but thought the middle section, where I showed perspective, color wheels, volume and shadows, and other art techniques, was too confusing. Grace Maccarone, another editor there, suggested genres, like still life, landscapes, portraits and so forth… that was the creative “click” it needed.

We were concerned about getting permissions to use images, but I discovered that the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC had just instituted an Open Access policy, so I used those images for the art in the book. The grand finale actually came easy—I just had fun figuring how to incorporate those mostly historic images into a contemporary city. Fragonard’s “Girl Reading” is a banner above the town library, Bellow’s boxers are used in a gym’s sign, Cassatt’s mother and child advertise a day care center.

[Click any image to get a closer view.]

Did any of the masterpieces in the book inspire you to become an artist?

I remember the Winslow Homer painting, “Breezing Up,” shown in the book, from my childhood—we had a print of it on our dining room wall in our home, and it fascinated me. Van Gogh became my favorite painter as I saw more of his work…I love his fresh, sensuous brushstrokes, his use of “participatory” (somewhat distorted) space, and wonderful awareness of pattern. And I adore Daumier’s dynamic lines and Hopper’s melancholy city.

Is the main character in the book really you?

Yep.

Ha, I knew it! 

My family loved art (my sister Ann Munro Wood is a professional artist also), and encouraged us to draw and paint. My parents made a special family trip to Washington DC just to see “Young Girl Reading” by Fragonard when it was acquired by the National Gallery of Art in the early 1960s—it felt like seeing the Mona Lisa—excited press reports announcing the purchase, and lots of visitors to the Gallery.

I visited Arles, France, in a pilgrimage to my beloved Van Gogh. Of course have visited the Louvre, D’Orsay etc in Paris; the Rembrandt and Van Gogh museums in Amsterdam; the Uffizzi in Florence; the National Gallery in London; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Prado in Madrid; Munch Gallery in Oslo; MOMA, the Met, and the Hopper shows at the Whitney here in NYC. And many other museums in the USA and the world, although not all in research for this book. Even visited Gauguin’s grave in the Marquesas Islands.

I’ve also been to the Honolulu Museum of Art, San Francisco Art Institute, Chicago Gallery of Art, Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth; Baltimore Museum of Art; National Portrait Gallery and Phillips Collection in Washington DC; Victoria and Albert in London; National Museum in Stockholm; National Gallery in Edinburgh; the Frick and Guggenheim in NYC; etc., etc.

What do you hope readers (and search-and-finders) will take away from MASTERPIECE MIX?

I hope that readers will understand that creativity requires education, and references to those who have gone before you, but also your own personal experience and insight. You need both. Creativity is often combining the old and the new in fresh ways.

And practicing—a knowledge of craft and process—is helpful. It is useful in getting your point across in an accessible clear competent way. Paraphrasing the cliche: Art is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

But the creative inspiration lifts the work, and gives it wings…it delights.

Wow, thank you, Roxie. This was a fascinating look into your artwork and process.

Blog readers, you can be sure that this book delights—and you can find out for yourself by going out to get MASTERPIECE MIX, and/or winning this giveaway.

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks.

Good luck…and keep creating

In the midst of her first Storystorm in 2015, Sarah Lynne Reul was picking up her daughter from French lessons (her husband is French with family in France) when she began receiving a slew of text messages from friends checking in to say they were safe. She had no idea what was going on. Turning on the radio, she heard scant details about the terrorist attacks in Paris.

“I walked into the after-school building full of people with family in France, and it seemed nobody else was yet aware of the attacks.  I couldn’t decide if it was helpful or harmful for me to tell them about it, since I had so little information on what had happened.”

She recalled how everyone was glued to the TV during September 11, even though the news anchors kept repeating themselves, trying to reach conclusions before the mesmerized, worried audience.

While she was driving home, Sarah could tell that her daughter knew something was going on, even though the radio was off. “She told me she’d make a forcefield to protect everyone we knew, and it made my heart ache. I jotted that down when we got home as the idea of the day. I kept coming back to the concept, and a few weeks later created the first draft.”

The result is THE BREAKING NEWS, her debut picture book as author-illustrator. And today Sarah is revealing the cover with the story behind its evolution.

Thanks for hosting my cover reveal, Tara.

We went through a bunch of different iterations for the cover—my editor, Claire Dorsett, and my art director, Anne Diebel, provided lots of guidance and feedback throughout the process.

I began the process for the cover after I had finished all of the interior art. The original working title had been “THE BAD NEWS”, which felt a bit too negative, and for a while, we were playing with the title “ONE SMALL THING”, so you’ll see those names in some of the early sketches below. We eventually settled on “THE BREAKING NEWS” as a final title, which we all felt works best for the book.

Here are some of my earliest sketches for the cover.

I liked the one that I had circled here—I felt like it showed a problem for the main character to solve, but ultimately it didn’t show a connection to the actual news media, which plays a pretty big role in the book.

So I tried a few options that put the focus on newspapers and/or TV, as well as the reaction of the family.

We ended up going with a variation of the middle option, and then we went back and forth on the framing. Here’s a sample mockup from Anne:

Finally, I worked on softening the expressions and exploring options for the colors and the hand lettered title to find the right combination for the final.

Fascinating glimpse into the process for this book, Sarah, thank you! And having been lucky enough to read it, I can say that it sums up the story beautifully.

THE BREAKING NEWS by Sarah Lynne Reul makes it debut April 10, 2018 from Roaring Brook Press. Mark your calendars, eager readers!

Narwhals are fascinatingly cool, and lucky us, there’s a whole buncha new books that feature these unicorns of the sea. One such hilarious take is Ben Clanton’s new _____ book series NARWHAL AND JELLY. I asked Ben to share the backstory of his most awesome underwater adventure…

Ahoy Tara,

I’m thrilled you like NARWHAL AND JELLY! Thank you!

NARWHAL: UNICORN OF THE SEA! started out as a PB, or actually a series of picture books. There have been a number of iterations, but ever since NARWHAL first swam into my brain I knew one book wouldn’t be enough for me.

I first got it into my head that I wanted to make a book featuring a narwhal after seeing the book POLAR OBSESSION by Paul Nicklen several years ago. The book has some absolutely stunning photographs of narwhals in it and my mind was o-fish-ally blown. I must confess before seeing Nicklen’s book I didn’t really know about narwhals. That such a creature which seems so fantastic actually exists caught my imagination. I started doodling little narwhals even more than monsters, dragons, robots, or my other usual favorite subjects.

However, my first attempts at writing a story about one of these little narwhals didn’t turn out so great. Most of my initial ideas centered around a narwhal getting lost at sea and separated from its pod. I finally realized I was trying to force too serious of a story on this narwhal when standing in line for ice cream (Molly Moon’s in Seattle). Something about the smell of newly made waffle cones in the air and thinking about how they look like horns (or perhaps a narwhal tooth?) flipped a switch in my head and it suddenly clicked for me that Narwhal is the sort of character that is as sweet and awesome as waffles and ice cream AND that Narwhal’s story should be too.

Jelly, who is a bit of a worrier and skeptic, wasn’t so sure about this new approach for a narwhal story, but that night I came up with three stories (“Narwhal,” “Narwhal’s BEST WEEKEND EVER,” and “Narwhal’s Pod of Awesomeness”) and made quick storyboards and even a mock-up. By the next day I had several more book ideas featuring Narwhal and Jelly. And then a flood of new story ideas by the day after that.

At the time, I just assumed that these stories would/should be picture books. That was the format I was most familiar and comfortable with, but after submitting to several publishers the feedback I received from pretty much everyone was more or less the same . . . the characters are great but the stories seem slight. It was Tara Walker (Tundra Books) that mentioned the stories when viewed together seemed to add up to more than the individual parts. She encouraged me to consider exploring the format and page count. I resisted this idea at first. I didn’t mind the books being light on plot. Actually, that was a part of the appeal to me and one of the reasons I felt they worked well. But as is usual for me with any suggestion Tara gives me that I don’t agree with (which is rare) . . . I eventually came to see she was right. So I tried combining a couple of the stories into a long picture book. It felt forced. It wasn’t until I started to add panels and bonus materials that i found a way to make three 32 page “picture books” into a 64 page ______ book.

This process took years in which I kept revisiting the format and what I ended up with . . . it doesn’t exactly neatly fit into the typical designations of “picture book” or “chapter book” or “early reader” or even “graphic novel.” I suppose “graphic novel for early readers” is the closest. Yet it is really a bit of a hybrid.

Somewhat ironically, even though Tara and Tundra Books had encouraged me to explore the format they weren’t entirely sure about the unusual one I had come up with, but I had been fully converted. I was sure this was the way to go. It took awhile but Tara and Tundra finally decided to take a chance on it.

And aren’t we lucky that they did!

Thanks, Ben and Tundra!

Tundra is giving away a copy of the first NARWHAL AND JELLY book, so leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected soon!

by Courtney Pippin-Mathur

Today is the day that my second written and illustrated picture book DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL! will be released into the world!

It’s the story of a dragon whose land had been invaded by two adorably horrible princesses who change everything. As you have read on other posts on Tara’s awesome blog and during Storystorm, you know that characters are very important in picture books. A strong character can inspire strong emotions and getting his/her/their look is extremely important to the book.

DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL is comprised of three main characters; a grumpy dragon and the two princesses who have invaded his land.

Below, I’m going to share a quick, edited run through the many, many, many different versions of the Dragon and the Princesses. Just like revisions in the text, there are revisions in the art.

The story originally started out with the dragons invading the princess’ land, but in a Eureka moment (brought on by delirium from the stomach flu) I flipped it.

After I settled on this new plot, I wanted to create the cutest dragon I could. These were my first attempts; I was going for a combination of a dinosaur and a chicken.

Here it is with various emotions.

Reasonably happy with this version, I did a few color character studies to try and learn exactly who the dragon was. (You’ll see that I call him Fred.)

I wasn’t totally happy with this version, so after several sketches, I decided to try to combine two of the coolest things ever—Elvis and an alligator.

I had it! The perfect image of a snotty little dragon. Here he is on a sketch of the first page of the book. I loved him.

A color sketch:

I completed the first draft of the dummy, sent it to my art director and waited. A few weeks later, I got an email from her. It was wise. It was great advice. It was tragic. (Not really, but it might have felt so at the time)

She noted (with great wisdom) that the dragon looked a bit too snotty. Perhaps we needed to make him cuter.

So, I created 4 new sketches, cleaned them up and sent them to her.

As you can see, I really wanted to keep the Elvis hair.

Can you guess which one she picked? Yup. The only one without the pompadour. (cue tiny violin music).

I did a version in full color. And once again, I was in love.

After a few more tweaks, he started to look like this.

And then, at the very last stage of illustrating the book, he got a snout job.

The princesses did not take quite as many attempts. This is how they looked in one of the first color pieces I created for the first dummy.

They were not quite right, so I did a few more sketches.

and a few more…

and this tiny one.

She was a winner! But none of the other princesses seemed right, so back to the drawing table I went.

I knew how I wanted her face to look. We (me and the wise AD) just weren’t sold on her hair.

And then I sent this.

Finally, we had our main characters. While all of this was happening there were also settings, other dragons, creatures and princesses ball gowns considerations as well as a general color pallet.

But that is for another post.

For some more dragon-y fun, you can take a personality quiz based on DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL! Are you a dragon, a princess, both or something else entirely?

www.pippinmathur.com/quiz

You can also follow me on Twitter at @pippinmathur.

Courtney Pippin-Mathur moved from Texas to a suburb outside of Washington, DC. She shares her home with a knight, a princess, and two unruly dragons, which leads to many exciting and loud adventures.

Thanks, Courtney, for showing us how art edits evolve. (And as an author-only,  I will never complain about edits again! Well…we’ll see…)

Courtney is giving away a copy of DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL!, which releases today! Leave a comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks.

Good luck!

by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I’m assuming that you’re all deep into your brainstorming about story ideas at this point and already have a meaty list after all the inspiring posts you’ve been reading during Storystorm. Good for you!

I sometimes equate this stage of story brainstorming to experimenting with a recipe for a cake. Why cake? Because cake is one of my favorite things in the world. And suppose it’s a recipe entry for a baking contest in which you can submit ONE entry.

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After Storystorm, I advise you to browse your list of ideas and choose the one that appeals to you the most. Maybe you’ll be so excited about this particular idea that you won’t be able to wait. Maybe you’ve already started working on expanding the story, plotting an outline and/or doodling rough sketches. Maybe you’ve just expanded the idea a wee bit, perhaps into a paragraph or a few pages of notes.

Excellent! Now put that story away and DON’T LOOK AT IT for a while. “A while” is up to you. For me, it’s at least two weeks but sometimes several months.

In our baking analogy: it means tweaking your cake recipe and then putting that experimental cake in the oven:

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RESIST THE URGE TO TAKE IT OUT OF THE OVEN BEFORE IT’S READY.

Why?

Because if you take it out too soon, it’ll look pretty much the same as when you put it in. What you want: to give it enough time to settle, to bake, to reach a state where you can taste it objectively and see whether it’s really THE cake recipe you want to submit to the contest.

Sometimes when you take it out of the oven, it’ll look like this:

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Though of course we all hope for this:

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But back to when your cake story looks like this:

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At this point, you may realize that it’s not worth salvaging, and you may want to just toss it. Sometimes your instinct will be right.

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However, there may still be SOMETHING about it that you just can’t let go of:

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In that case, try experimenting some more. Maybe combine it with another idea, find a different spin, rework it in a different genre or format. Turn it upside down or reverse it, add an unexpected twist. You never know what will happen. Read this Veronica Bartles Storystorm post about how she substitutes story ingredients to familiar recipes to make them uniquely delicious. (Mmm, plus her Cranberry Sage Cookies With Almonds recipe sounds yummy….)

Then put it in the oven again to let it bake:

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As before, no matter how excited you are, force yourself to work on something else and NOT take your new creation out too soon. While you’re waiting, take a look at your other recipe ideas, start experimenting for another recipe.

And so on. Ok, I’ll drop the baking analogy…you get the message, right?

Sometimes I may feel SUPER excited with a new story idea and have the urge to IMMEDIATELY dive into the writing and editing and revision process. Sometimes the first draft of the story pours out onto the paper; I love when this happens. However, I have learned to let an idea or first draft sit for a while before coming back to it. If I’m still excited about it, then I go to the next stage. After another round of writing or sketching or revising, I let it sit again and then re-evaluate.

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The danger of letting yourself dive into developing a story idea too soon is that you’ll get so caught up with the “ooo shiny toy” honeymoon phase that you won’t be objective. You’re going to be pouring a lot of time and effort into this project, after all, as well as inevitably getting emotionally invested. It’s in your best interest to take your time before you commit.

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So stick with the rest of the Storystorm month! Keep reading Storystorm blog posts and coming up with ideas. By the end of the month, you’ll be able to look at your earlier ideas more objectively.

This is pretty much my story brainstorming process, by the way. I currently keep a notebook where I constantly jot down story ideas, fragments, bits of conversations and synopses for picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. I used to use a digital notebook but I currently prefer a paper notebook where I can doodle as well as scribble ideas PLUS I like being able to physically browse earlier ideas to see if they still excite me.

Whatever the method you use to keep track of your story ideas, I encourage you to GIVE THEM TIME to develop and before sending them out into the world.

Good luck!


debbieridpathohi-laugh-anniet-v-500x750Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? (Simon & Schuster), a book that began as an idea generated during PiBoIdMo (now known as Storystorm). Her illustrations appear in books by Michael Ian Black and Judy Blume, among others. Upcoming books in 2017 include Debbie’s second solo picture book, Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster), Sea Monkey & Bob (Simon & Schuster, author Aaron Reynolds), Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective in The Secret Ingredient (Random House, author Lauren McLaughlin), and Ruby Rose, Big Bravos (HarperCollins, author Rob Sanders). Debbie posts about reading, writing and illustrating children’s books at Inkygirl.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.

prizedetails

Debbie is giving away one of her original found object doodles, using a crumpled Lindor wrapper and drawn with a fountain pen. It’s about 5.7″ x 7″, and will be mailed in a protective cellophane wrapper with a cardboard backing.

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Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Keith Allen

As a kid, I loved building things out of cardboard, whether it was a spaceship for the very first mission to Saturn or a fortified castle to keep out the fire-breathing dragons. That love stayed with me into adulthood and today I find that same sense of wonder when I’m creating new worlds from a flat sheet of paper.

I work as a Senior Designer, Illustrator and Paper-Engineer at a large greeting card company and also own an independent publishing company that specializes in pop-up books. You may ask, “What exactly is a paper-engineer?” Sounds fancy, right? Well, a paper-engineer is simply a title for someone who loves to build things out of paper. And that’s me!

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When I first graduated from Art School, I got a job designing party supplies and was immediately drawn to creating paper centerpieces. I loved the challenge of building something very complex, but simple enough for a consumer to assemble. Wanting to branch out, I began making paper toys and sculptures on my own. An art director noticed my work and asked if I would like to work on pop-ups for an upcoming greeting card line. With a very enthusiastic YES!, I took the job and the rest is history.

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I’m not going to lie, building pop-ups can be time-consuming and challenging at times, but when it all come together perfectly, it is exhilarating! My pop-up development process looks like this:

1. Quickly sketch out your ideas on paper first to find a great layout. This does not need to be pretty.

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2. Build a rough concept by experimenting with a variety of folds. This step can take a while, but it’s important to get it right in the beginning. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, some of my best folds can from my mis-measurements.

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3. When your rough spread is finished, rebuild it over and over and over again. Do this until all the mistakes are corrected and it opens and closes neatly without catching or hanging out of the page.

4. Once it looks good, tear the whole thing apart, but gently. Scan all your pieces into the computer and build your dielines. I like to use Adobe Illustrator for this, but there are many programs that can be used.

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5. Illustrate your artwork onto your refined dielines. When your pencil lines are complete, assemble it again and make sure your art is lining up correctly with your folds and attachments.

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6. Once your pencil lines are corrected and complete, you can color and finalize your Illustrations. Now you have a finished Pop-Up spread!

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If you are interested in learning more about paper-engineering, there are so many great resources out there for beginners and experts. My favorite reference book is THE ELEMENTS OF POP-UP by David Carter, which I refer to almost daily. YouTube has so many wonderful tutorials and videos that go into great detail about particular fold types. I have created a few as well on my YouTube Channel.

Keep on Poppin’!


keithallenKeith Allen is a Senior Product Designer for American Greetings in Cleveland Ohio. He is the co-founder of By the Bay Books and owner of the independent publishing company, 5am Press, LLC.

Keith’s most recent pop-up book, “What a Mess! A Pop-Up Misadventure” was successfully funded on KickStarter.com and will be available for sale in the Spring 2017.

Visit him online at allendesigns.blogspot.comFacebook.com/5ampopup, Twitter @5ambook and Instagram @5am_popup.

by Jason Kirschner

If you can stick with this post all the way to the end, you’ll find my little bio where it is clearly states that “author/illustrator” is not my day job. Most days I get up a little too early for my taste, and head into Manhattan where I work as a set designer for television. Mostly, I work in talk shows, having spent the bulk of my career doing late night shows like Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Late Show with David Letterman. When the taping wraps, I go home, kiss my wife, pat my kids on the head and head up to my attic studio where I make books for kids.

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Sometimes (almost never) I’m asked how the day job informs the night one. What have I learned working in TV that applies to making books?

cheeriosSense of humor is one answer. I think I’m irrevocably scarred … sorry skewed—(either works actually) from years of designing weird sets and goofy props. Late night humor and the way the writers craft their comedy has had a big influence on me.

On the illustration side, I’m heavily influenced by the way the camera is used to shoot a scene. I try to set up scenes in my books using time-honored camera shots like using wide establishing shots to set a scene or close-ups for comedic moments.

mrphimselfI think the biggest takeaway has to do with pace. I’ve got one book out on the shelves (go get yourself a copy) and more to come but I still can’t get over the difference in pace between writing/illustrating a picture book and making a daily television show. It really messes with me.

At my day job, I get multiple scripts a day that I need to break down, sketch out, draw up, and then source any necessary props or create them from scratch. Every day. We produce a show, sometimes two, every day. And then we come in the next day and do it again. What this all means is that there’s very little time to plan and strategize. When I’m handed a project, I make a plan and I go. It really trains you to problem solve and think on your feet. There’s no rehashing. There’s no switching direction midstream. There’s just a steady march towards getting the set or prop to stage for rehearsal and, later that day, the show. That same afternoon we tape a show and it’s over. My set or prop gets used on air and then…Done. Whole new show tomorrow. You move on.

Having worked this way for so many years might explain why the open-ended, no time-limit, move-at-your-own-pace process of creating a book is difficult for me sometimes. So much time to rethink and revise. Don’t get me wrong. I see the benefit of it all but I sometimes think too much time is… well… too much time.

So, when I find myself going in circles on a manuscript or illustration, or endlessly staring at a blank page, I implement day-job rule:

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Do it in one day. Get it done TODAY. Pick a path and move forward. Whether it be an outline, a picture book manuscript, or a chapter of your novel — see it through to it’s conclusion. Get it to stage before showtime.

Ultimately, you might choose incorrectly. You might not love every sentence you write that day and I’m certain there will be details you’d like to change. If you picked the wrong story path, you’ve at least narrowed down the possibilities of where your story goes. You certainly wont be staring at a blank page. That’s progress.

The beauty of this is, unlike my day job, the show is not over and done at the end of the day. You do have tomorrow to edit and revise. For me, the best making-a-book timeline is a mix of the two. Hurry up and get it done and then slow down and take your time to make sure it’s perfect.

If you find yourself stuck on your latest project, give it a try. Set yourself an end-of-day deadline and pretend there’s a national tv audience and a grouchy host waiting for your work. I can almost guarantee some progress by day’s end.


jk-headshot-small-bwHere’s the bio I told you about at the beginning. I knew you’d make it.

By day, Jason is a 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 jasonkirschner.com. Follow him on twitter @jason_kirschner. You can also read more of his blogs and some of his friends’ at DrawntoPictureBooks.blogspot.com.

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Jason is giving away a copy of his debut picture book, MR. PARTICULAR.

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Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Salina Yoon & Christopher Polentz

People often ask me if my characters come first, or the story. Which inspires the other? Each book is different, but it’s an interesting question, and fun to reflect on. In my case, envisioning a character helps me to tell his or her story with authenticity. But they are often not fully fleshed out until my story is complete. My husband, however, fleshes his characters out with extravagant detail before the story is ever conceived.

I’d like to introduce you to my husband, artist Christopher Polentz, an aspiring writer and illustrator. He paints portraits with stunning realism inspired by actual vintage photographs he finds at antique shops. These portraits inspire stories!

I never simply copy the photograph. Over the hours of painting we spend together, developing a tangible painting, a thought process is at work. Beyond this picture; who is this person? Who were their friends? What was their position in life? Jotting down notes, organizing thoughts in my head, a real person emerges from this simple inspiration found in an antique store for $3.00.

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My mental notes encourage more imagery, a background environment, she should appear emaciated-why? She’s wearing a necklace, what should be hanging from that necklace I ask myself. And so the conversation goes. And from this single photograph an imagined world of complexity evolves. None of which was planned, yet happened, spontaneously. Over the years I have found my paintings feeling incomplete in some way. My viewers had questions. A natural human curiosity wanted answers. I found myself retelling, and embellishing on my own original thoughts. And listening to my audience-they have some of the most compelling thoughts about my characters, and I take it-it’s great! Then, tying one character to another, it all slowly came together and made sense. They all belonged together, as they all came from me. I realized the need to put these stories, previously confined to my mind, on paper.

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My portrait has not inspired just one idea, but several, because they are all inner-connected like a family tree. I now have a story of pictures supported by the movie of my mind that is always different and ever changing-one photograph, object, or maybe a past experience all play a role. So this is what I do. I shop, hunt, and think, never knowing where or what that next thing is adding to another piece of my puzzle, a new chapter in MY Twilight Zone.

My finished portraits are not finished at all. It’s just the beginning. A character is born with a story to tell, and we, the creator, are the ones to tell it.

Try this.

Go to an antique or thrift store. Scan through photographs of real life people or things people have owned. There are games, tools, dishes, toys, jewelry, and all kinds of unexpected treasures! Each one has a story to tell, and only you can tell it because it’s from your own imagination. Let an object or photograph trigger a story. Don’t simply interpret it. Make it your own! Elaborate and invent. Even inanimate objects can come to life if you’re using your imagination. What is their story?

Have fun browsing and imagining. Find something ordinary and make it extraordinary!

Pictured: Portraits by Christopher Polentz that have inspired stories. Feel free to let them trigger stories of your own!

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chris1Christopher Polentz graduated with honors from Art Center College of Design in 1985 earning his BFA degree. After a long career as a freelance artist working with clients such as; Atlantic Records, MGM/UA Entertainment, Mattel Toys and Reebok, Chris returned to college earning his MA degree from Syracuse University in 2001. Chris now pursues gallery work and has exhibited with galleries including; CoproNason Gallery-Santa Monica, La Luz de Jesus Gallery-Culver City, Sparks Gallery- San Diego and Cannon Gallery-Carlsbad. He continues to teach, and likes to think of himself as more technician than artist, working traditionally in his preferred medium of graphite and acrylic. Chris has been teaching art for over thirty years, including twenty years at both Art Center College of Design and Palomar Community College.

You can learn more about Christopher Polentz and his art at christopherpolentz.com.

salinayoonmedSalina Yoon is an award winning author and illustrator of over 160 books for young children, including the popular Penguin picture book series and the new Duck Duck Porcupine beginning reader series. She was the featured author for the 2016 Kohl’s Cares Summer Campaign, and her awards include the 2015 Award for Excellence in a Picture Book for FOUND, by the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California, the 2015 International Literacy Association’s Children’s Choice Reading List for FOUND, and much more.

You can learn more about Salina Yoon and her books at salinayoon.com or follow Salina on Twitter at @salinayoon.

Chris and Salina have two boys, one more artistically inclined than the other (but they won’t name names) and they share one agent, Jamie Weiss Chilton, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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Christopher is giving away a print of one of his portraits (that you can use to inspire a new character).

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

 

Excuse me while I go all fangirl for a moment…

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I’ve admired Elisa Kleven’s work for years, beginning when I discovered the gorgeous delight THE PAPER PRINCESS…and then the sweet APPLE DOLL. My daughters and I had both books on our regular #bedtimereads rotation. In fact, for months the books never made it back to the bookshelf. They took up permanent nightstand residence.

So when Elisa contacted me about hosting her for THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY: A San Francisco Story, I babbled high-pitched incoherent excitement like a Minion. Let me see if I can pull my overalls together to conduct an enlightening interview…

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Elisa, in your new book’s backmatter, you mention that THE GINGERBREAD MAN was one of your favorite tales as a child. What made you want to rewrite it with your city AND a different ending?

When I was a kid, it seemed to me that almost everything had a life of its own. As in a fairy tale world, or in the eyes of Native American peoples, everything from stones to trees… to paper dolls, piñatas and gingerbread people seemed to have feelings and a spirit. And while I wasn’t too sensitive to eat my share of gingerbread people, I always had some qualms when it came to nibbling their smiling heads (I’d start with the feet, which seemed less “alive” and work upwards.)

I remember being simultaneously fascinated and upset by the original tale of THE GINGERBREAD MAN. Of course it was exciting to see the cookie-boy come to life and race out into the world with pluck and glee, daring everyone to catch him. But when he finally did get caught, in the jaws of the fox who had promised to take him across the river to safety, I felt his tragic sense of betrayal.

In my version of the story, THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY, the cookie is just as energetic and confident as his forbear, but even more defiant: determined not to get eaten, but also to eat—everything in sight! He starts out with petty thefts: his makers’ school lunch (of which he was meant to be part), fruit and candy, noodles and milkshakes. But as he gets bigger, his fantasies grow more grandiose, and he threatens to chomp on the Golden Gate Bridge, gulp down San Francisco Bay, and even “swallow the sun, like a butterscotch drop.”

When the hungry gingerbread boy finally realizes that his creator, a little girl, would rather play with him than eat him, his anger disappears and he becomes both loved and lovable.

As for the story’s setting, San Francisco is such a beautiful city that on certain days and in certain lights it looks delicious. Of course there are many un-pretty aspects to it: homelessness and poverty, but there is also a wealth of exquisite details, including its famous “Gingerbread” architecture, the whimsically colored and decorated Victorian houses and buildings. And the city is also home to lots of amazing and diverse cuisine, So it was fun to let an imaginary cookie-child loose in the city and watch him eat his fill!

sanfranhousesSpeaking of the San Francisco architecture, when I was visiting the city years ago, I was fascinated to learn that there are “color consultants” who help people choose the hues for their Victorian houses—the shingles, the shutters, the trim—every little swirling detail. Likewise, your new book is a feast for the eyes—so colorful and detailed. How would you describe your unique style—and how did it evolve?

Wow, Tara, I didn’t know that there are color consultants for the Victorian houses! And yes, they are amazing in every confection-like detail.

As for my art style, it grows right out of my childhood—or, more accurately—I never outgrew my childlike love for bright colors, tiny details, and enchantment. I used to spend hours making miniature dollhouse worlds, gingerbread houses and people, toy merry-go-rounds, and detailed paper characters and settings. When I grew up, this urge did not go away, but evolved into a passion for the magical worlds inside of picture books.

Well, I’m staring at your illustrations in wonder because there are so many teeny-tiny details. How do you plan your illustrations out? What is your medium and method? How long does it take to complete an illustration?

I make a book dummy, with pencil sketches of the illustrations and type pasted in. I often use photo references at this stage, especially if I’m depicting real locations (as opposed to fantasy or dream landscapes, which I pull out of my imagination). Once the publisher approves the sketches, I go on to the finished art. I combine watercolor, ink, collage, pastels and whatever else works to create the finished picture. I create everything in my pictures by hand, gluing, snipping, painting. And while I admire a lot of digital illustration and the technical wonders it can accomplish, I’m pretty tech-averse when it comes to creating my own images. I love the feel and textures of materials in my hands.

It takes me an average of two or three weeks to complete an illustration. Creating the rough sketch is actually the most difficult part, because I’m using a pencil and blank piece of paper to create a new little scene. Once the sketch is finished, it takes a week or two to create the finish.

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The Gingerbread Boy in progress:

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Thinking about your other books, I think I see a theme in your work. In THE PAPER PRINCESS, a handmade gift blows away but returns to the person it was intended for. In THE APPLE DOLL, a girl makes a friend she cherishes. In SUN BREAD, a warm sun is baked on a cold winter’s day. The Gingerbread Boy comes home to the girl who created him. You write about creative pursuits mixed with thoughts of love at home—and speaking of home, this book is not your only one that features San Francisco. Do you think there is a common thread woven through your books?

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What a thoughtful and interesting question, Tara. The theme of creativity is definitely woven through all of my stories (as is the theme of flying). As a child I spent many happy hours creating all sorts of things, from paper dolls to decorative breads and bread sculptures, to apple dolls, and yes, gingerbread people and houses. (My mother and grandmother were both accomplished artists, but neither of them made particularly cheerful or colorful art). I suppose I created the art I wanted to see as a child, and the worlds that I wanted to live [and fly around!] in.

As for the theme of homecoming, who doesn’t want to return to a home, experienced or imagined, full of love, warmth and reassurance? Through my characters and stories I’m able to go to places I long for, and that I think many children long for, too. My favorite childhood memories are of playing in a dollhouse I made myself, while my mother worked on her own art in her studio in our backyard. I’m able to access that feeling of creativity and security when I write my stories and create my illustrations.

The beautiful San Francisco Bay Area has been my home since I started college at U.C. Berkeley (with the exception of a year spent in Boston). I never stop being moved by its beauty, both geographical and architectural. Its hills and waters, bridges and buildings, cultural diversity and creative food culture inspire me, and I enjoy sharing that inspiration with others, especially children, through my books.

Thank you, Elisa, for your gorgeous books and for stopping by on THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY blog tour.

horriblyhungrygingerbreadboyElisa’s publisher is giving away a copy of the book—just leave a comment to enter. One comment per person, US addresses only please. You have until December 13 to enter so the winner can get their book in time for the holidays. GOOD LUCK!

 

shawna-tenney-author-photo-smallby Shawna J.C. Tenney

Any good film director uses a storyboard. So why not every picture book writer? After all, a picture book is a full story experience almost like a movie, just a little shorter.

A storyboard can help you pace your story, even if you are an author only. It can help you think about what you can leave out of the text and show in the illustrations. It can help you think of where to pause in the words and let the pictures do their magic…

A storyboard is different from a dummy book in that you can see the whole story at once. The dummy book simulates the real book with page turns. A storyboard will help you visualize your entire manuscript all at once.

Here are some ideas to help you start thinking visually!

Pacing Book:

Start by making a pacing book. To make a pacing book, fold 8 pieces of 8 1/2 x 11 copy paper in half. and staple them down the folded side. Now you have 32 pages! The front page will be your title page. Either the second page or the back page will be your copyright page.

Now cut up your manuscript. Tape your story in your book. Move sentences and paragraphs around. Imagine what could be in the pictures. Figure out where your page turns could be. You will soon find out if your story is long enough.

Note that the illustrator will figure out the final pacing of the book, so if you are only the author, you won’t have a say in how the book will be laid out. But this will help you have a good idea if the pacing is working. I will help you see if there are too many words in a certain section of the book.

Storyboard:

Here is the storyboard I made for my new book, BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY…plus the final images from the book.

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(Click for larger version)

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Final Title Page

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Final Page 8-9 Spread

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Final Page 13

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Final Page 18

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Final Page 28-29 Spread

Now, it’s time for you to make a storyboard! Here are some ideas to make your own storyboard:

You can use my template below (also refer to Tara’s picture book layout post). Remember the first empty square will be the title page, and the next square will be the copyright page- unless you want to put it on the last page.

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(Click for larger version)

Some other ways to make your story board are to use sticky notes, index cards pinned up on a board, or even dry erase board. Remember, most picture books have 32 pages.

Now start drawing your action! Don’t worry if you don’t think you can draw. Just draw stick figures. If you aren’t the illustrator, you don’t need to be worried about the composition. This storyboard is for you only.

Ask these questions once you’ve drawn out your storyboard:

  • Is there enough action and visual interest happening in the story?
  • Is there a change of a scenery, or does everything happen in one location?
  • Is each part of the storyboard moving the story forward?

Remember to leave room in the text for illustrations. Take out visual descriptions that can be shown in the pictures. See where the pictures can carry the story!

If you are the author and not the illustration and there is something you want to show in the illustrations, you can write illustration notes. Illustration notes should only have the basics in them. Don’t include descriptions unless they are absolutely necessary to move the story along. Give the illustrator room to use his/her imagination and creative genius!

Drawing your picture book out in storyboard form can help you think of more ideas for a truly delightful picture book. Drawing out your story can even help you think of a subplot or unspoken characters that can only be shown in the pictures. Think of all the possibilities for your story when you start thinking visually!

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Thank you, Shawna! Your debut picture book as both author and illustrator is chock-full of visual candy, even the cover with its reflective background—which is SO COOL. (I like shiny things. I played with the cover for at least a half hour, LOL.)

And blog readers, you can win a copy of BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY just by commenting below. One comment per person, US addresses only, please. A winner will be randomly selected in a few weeks. Good luck!

Shawna J.C. Tenney is an author and illustrator with a passion for picture books. Her work can be found in many children’s books, magazines and games. BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY, Shawna’s first book as both author and illustrator, was published by Sky Pony Press. Shawna is also the host of the Stories Unbound Podcast, where she loves helping other authors and illustrators. Shawna lives in the beautiful state of Utah with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at ShawnaJCTenney.com or on Twitter at @shawnajctenney. Find more fun with Brunhilda and The Cat at ShawnaJCTenney.com/brunhilda.

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

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