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Viewing Blog: John Nez, Most Recent at Top
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Tidbits from the studio of a freelance children's book artist...
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1. First comes the pencil...

First comes the pencil, which is the most important... and next a suitable color with texture is added. What you don't see is me making about 147 changes to every combination of colors, shapes, patterns and textures.

And then it's done!

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2. Some Foxy Colors

Here are some of the different color designs I tried for little Fox's house in the woods. It's supposed to show as a movie though it started as an animated GIF.

I read that if you post an animated GIF to Twitter it is turned into a movie. So I tried it and it works... then I downloaded the movie and that can be posted onto FB. The things one never knew!

This only plays once, but the GIF repeats over and over.

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3. My Uncle Ed the illustrator

A Little Golden book by my Uncle Ed
 I discovered online, entirely by accident, that my Uncle Ed had illustrated a little golden book that I'd never seen before - Captain Kangaroo and the Panda.

And a few weeks later it arrived. My Uncle, Edwin Schmidt, was an illustrator who lived outside Philadelphia back in the 50's and 60's. He was my hero. I used to see his name in print in various books and I'd think he was famous. He always sent the best Christmas presents. He went to the Museum School in Philadelphia and he lived in Valley Forge.

I recently did a panda book too.
My Uncle Ed's wife was a painter too - she was also a model and covergirl on some magazines. She moved to Camden Maine later. I did get to meet her when I was living in NYC. She was sooo thrilled that I had succeeded an illustrator.

I only met Ed once, for an afternoon when I was in high school. But it made a lasting memory. Sadly they both died before 50.

It's ironic that I recently did a panda book too. I was thrilled to see that both my Uncle Ed and I were listed in the Little Golden Book 50th Anniversary directory that came out a while back.

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4. Welcome to the Writing Process: An Author/Illustrator Blog Tour

Thanks to Shawna Tenney for inviting me to be in a blog tour. It's fun connecting with other bookmakers in my profession.

1. What am I working on?

Just now I'm working on a book set in the woods, which is a very fun world to escape to.  It's about a fox family and it's set in the deep woods.  So I get to make up the entire woodsy world.  I have a school scene with raccoons, beavers, badgers, squirrels and owls.  Maybe it's the Beatrix Potter syndrome coming out?  Anyhow it's loads of fun. I love drawing anthropomorphic animals... as I did with 'Peter Panda Melts Down!', where I created a world with pandas, cats and bears.

But then I think of drawing and making pictures as basically fun.  Drawing and coloring - that's the world for me.

Characters from the new work in progress
A sketch from a new book

2. How does my work differ from others of this genre?

I'd guess if anyone can recognize my work, then I'll have succeeded in differing myself from the other 15,000 children's illustrators out there.  I think most illustrators basically just make their art - so that's their style.  So anything different must be me - or my style.  The key is to try to make the work contain the basics involved in art - things like draftsmanship, perspective, design, tasteful color.  The designing of any illustration usually is limited by the page and text, so often it's a challenge to fit the artwork into the remaining space.

Here's an insightful series that shows how a character was developed from my recent book 'Spot Saves the Day'.

A sequence of character development
3. Why do I write what I do?

Inspiration is mysterious - there's no two ways about that. I write and write and write, whenever the inspiration strikes.  Some of my stories start out on an envelope or back of a grocery list.  Sometimes a particular phrase will catch my mind and that leads to the motif of the story.  Usually the first line kind of jumps out in a declarative way and the book jumps in to follow.

Sometimes a story will fall together wonderfully complete - other times it only comes out halfway and gets stuck. But only one out of maybe 10 or 20 stories I write ever gets published.  I think that's average for most writers. Anyhow, one never writes so much as one re-writes. The same rule applies to making art.  I never just draw as much as I re-draw.

Here is the dummy to 'The Cranksville Cookout' along with the main set of characters.

A story dummied out with Indesign
4. How does my writing process work?

First the story starts out as a rough diamond. Then I re-write until the words are done. The second half is when the art is added - and that changes everything. As an illustrator author I find that the words are usually less than half the writing, because it really is amazing how much adding the art changes everything. 

The working process begins when I take the text and divide it up into 32 page sections and then paste that all into Indesign. When art is added I'll see the many changes that need to be made.  Usually half of the text is rewritten.

It seems so obvious when you see the text with the art included. Everything changes - often even parts of the plot seem obvious to change.  So it becomes a fun struggle between the words and pictures, like a puzzle. It is true that a picture is worth 1,000 words.

Also I need to add that I always use Indesign to create dummy books.  It has so many advantages over the old paper & tape method I used to use. With Indesign it's easy to swap out drawings, resize, reorder pages, change text, save different story versions and export the art.

And Indesign does a brilliant job of keeping everything organized with links.  Often I can scarcely even find a particular piece of art, but Indesign keeps track of it.  So Indesign and Photoshop are my main bookmaking tools.

Some steps in making the finish art

Anyhow, it is an intriguing process. It's basically just puzzle solving, that's all.  And there's nothing a monkey likes more than a puzzle. 

Next week for the book maker blog tour I've tagged Stephen Aitken, a great painter, bookmaker, and traveler to exotic faraway lands for the next installment of the Welcome to the Writing Process: An Author/Illustrator Blog Tour. 

About Stephen: (who spends most of the year in Nepal by the way!)

I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. My dad picked up a hitch-hiker in my hometown Ottawa who turned out to be a brilliant artist and he gave me private classes from his home for most of my youth. The ride home on his motorcycle gave the sessions an extra allure. After completing an honors biology degree with a minor in Fine Arts, my artistic hemisphere was reinvigorated by a 2-year stint at the Carleton School of Architecture. I went on to a career as a biological illustrator, then publishing, then editing, then writing…you get the idea. I have been creating my own children’s books for the past 15 years, many of them about the natural world and the rich diversity of life on our planet.

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5. Scanned fabric becomes a children's book...

I quite liked how the scanned fabric fit into the painting. There's nothing like plaid to go with a hunting cap. "I say!" lol!

I've been scanning in some striking woven textures to put in the new book I'm working on. And to keep the crafts in the family, these lovely scarves were woven by my clever and lovely spouse, Ann.  She'll be flattered to see her work turned into part of a book, hopefully.

Her scarves certainly add a nice homespun look to the old wacom and Epson v700, that's for sure.

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6. You'll never guess what happened next...

You'll never guess what happened when I turned the page... (like they say on the internet). There was some gorgeous art by my online pal Brian Lies! Such a small world, this publishing world.

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7. Storybook charm & landscapes of imagination

Sometimes I think more than half of children's book illustration is creating landscapes. Landscapes of imagination. It's always fun to create imaginary houses where storybook characters live. And adding in a grandfather adds a mysterious storybook charm to the atmosphere too.

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8. Mary Blair and photoshop are a match made in heaven

This piece was inspired by Mary Blair.  I find Mary Blair and photoshop are a match made in heaven.

Reading makes you smart!  I'm quite sure of it.

This is a variation on the line and color of the previous blog illustration.  I find it's fascinating how line quality can make such a difference. 

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9. I need computer magic...

I guess there's no turning back for me & my wacom since I tend to get frustrated using real paints.  Just a few dabs will do me... then I need computer magic because I'm spoiled - or something.

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10. A classic folk tale

I enjoyed painting in this cover. Cold - fog - and wintry blues. The client seemed well pleased too.

It was drawn in pencil on paper and the rest is photoshop color with scanned real textures.  I think all art is mostly in the drawing.

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11. A marvelous review from Readertotz!

 A marvelous review for Peter Panda Melts Down! from Readertotz! 

THANKS Readertotz!


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12. My paper bag moment

This morning I had another 'paper bag moment'.  Naturally you want to know what is a paper bag moment?

It's when I get an idea for a technique in making art and I rush to my wacom to try it out... and it's so exciting when it works just as I'd hoped it would.  Whew!  It's so exciting it's almost like I need to breath into a paper,  though really I have never done that. It's just the thought.

Anyhow... I was delighted. It's nice when art makes you happy.

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13. The Little Free Poet Box

I see that now there is a 3rd literary sidewalk stop on the street down the block. Already there are two Little Free Libraries - but now someone thought to install a writer's box, where I assume you're supposed to write something and leave it? Funny. When the first one went in I got all excited and left two signed books of mine. But no one ever brought them back. Then I found a copy of 'It's a Bunny Eat Bunny World', so I've been reading that for the past 6 months.

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14. Cookie Cover Sample

I think this was the color cover sample I did for 'One Smart Cookie', my tale of the dog that can read. This was during my half real paint - half digital phase. I remember this book languished collecting dust with my agent for 4 years until I decided to sell it myself. I sold it in 3 weeks

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15. New changes to my website

Some new changes to my website went up over the weekend.  Now I've added a 'PDF Tearsheet' link, so visitors can download samples of my current illustration work.  I've been meaning to put up a tearsheet for years... but never got around to it before.

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16. A big summer reading poster!

This was a fun project for the wonderful folks at Highlights.  It's a summer reading poster that will be appearing in libraries and schools for summer reading. It's really, really big - much bigger than my 22" monitor.
 It actually started out as just a spot drawing, but they liked it so much they decided to turn it into a poster.
 With a little digital magic I adjusted the dpi and sizes, so that a larger drawing would work at poster size. This is the largest illustration I've ever done.

I was very pleased with how it turned out.  I tried out a new technique of isolating some of the images as layers with shadows, so it looks kind of like a collage.

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17. Featured on Elizabeth Dulemba's blog!

Today is the day that I'm featured on Elizabeth Dulemba's blog! It's a fun bit of bio and there is a free book giveaway too. In it I reveal all my secrets of how I networked my way into doing the book 'Peter Panda Melts Down!' using just a bus ticket and a bit of cleverness.

THANKS! Elizabeth!



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18. Art is like a shiny pebble...

I think making art is quite a bit like finding a shiny pebble in a stream. At first it's all glisteny and bright and you think it's the most beautiful thing ever. But then it dries and sometimes just looks dusty and tired. That's my little bit of wisdom for today.

It's spring on the drawing board today. I think I fell in love with the square sponge brush for blobbing out backgrounds.

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19. Ducks in Droves are flocking to Peter Panda!

I have a newfound appreciation for National Geographic photographers.  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get 25 ducks to all pay attention to a picture book?

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20. Here's a Peter Panda QwikFlik

Here's a Peter Panda QwikFlik - just the thing for a rainy winter's day. It's a real art trying to film and turn the pages at the same time... Read the rest of this post

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21. Happy Valentine's Day!

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22. On no! It's the invasion! Oh yes!

Look out! He's here! Peter Panda is now in a bookstore near you! (hopefully)

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23. Spring has sprung!

Spring has sprung!  I quite like my new Lumix fz200. It lets you process the photos without photoshop - like I did here.  So that makes it more fun.

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24. A new picture book!

Here's the cover of my latest picture book. It's about a fire dog and takes place in a fire house.  I've always wanted to do a fire house book.

There's a big slurpy doggy kiss on the cover. I like how the cover typography came out. I also like fire engines, but red is a difficult color to do because it just gets too red!

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25. More Fun Than Mice!

More Fun Than Mice!

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