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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. #inktober line technique

For ‪#‎inktober‬ here's another experiment in line that I once did. I read about a technique that Andy Warhol used, where he'd tape two sheets of paper together and draw on one with really wet ink and then while the ink was still wet, fold it back to make the reverse print. It does give a really sloppy line quality.

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2. Ho! Ho! Ho! Santa is coming to FedEx this Holiday season.


Ho! Ho! Ho! Santa is coming to FedEx this Holiday season. My book, 'Mouse's Christmas Cookie' will be appearing nationwide this season at 420 FedEx outlets. So shoppers who are desperate for that last minute gift might want to make that impulse purchase and grab a copy.

I scarcely ever set foot in my old FedEx (Kinko's) since I got my own wide format printer. And I miss having my regular FedEx driver who used to drop by twice a week. Those were the days.

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3. Experiment, experiment and try things out


Experiment, experiment and try things out. I tend to do a LOT of that in looking for new styles and techniques.  So I was delighted to try this new combination of ink on watercolor and watercolor and photoshop.

I wanted the image to keep moving but I also wanted it to be bright colors - not muted monotones. (I can do a monotone version easily, but keeping bright colors is usually harder to do).

So I was pleased with how it came out.

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4. A Halloweeny ‪#‎inktober‬ sketch


Here's a Halloweeny ‪#‎inktober‬ sketch for me... from a book I wrote years ago. Mostly I was trying to capture that Halloween magical feeling. As I recall I started writing it one chilly moody morning after too much french roast and a hershey bar.

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5. My Cherry Tree - my first published book


'My Cherry Tree' was my first authored published book - by a Korean publisher. It was quite poetic and they scarcely made any changes to the text. Here's a sample of the writing:

On hot days I lie on the grass under my
cherry tree and watch the clouds .
Some look like elephants.. some look like horses.
The robins learned to fly. They all flew away.
It feels lonesome without them.

Summer has turned into autumn.
The leaves on my cherry tree turn golden and red.
They dance away like fire in the wind.
I help mother rake a pile of leaves as tall as me!
I get to jump right in and play.

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6. 'We could have our lunch together, here in my backyard'


'I think it's fun to just pretend a dinosaur could be my friend, and we could have our lunch together, here in my backyard'. An old painting on textured gesso.

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7. Today's sketch...


Today's sketch... I saw these three friends walking home from school yesterday and I thought I'd try to capture it in a drawing.  They had such a spirit of happiness about their own company. 

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8. So is it Halloween yet?


So is it Halloween yet? This fun illustration goes along with a story I wrote that I always liked. Somehow it feels like it's almost time - dark, cold mornings, it takes forever for the sun to come up. I don't know if we're getting an Indian Summer or not this year in Seattle.

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9. I get to hang in a museum!


Oh joy... I get to hang in a museum!  One of my book spreads was chosen to be in the upcoming exhibit at the 2014 SCBWI WWA Illustrator exhibit at the Washington State Historical Society. Now... all I need is a frame. It's a great museum, only I don't get down to Tacoma very often.

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10. Back to School


There's just something about new stationary. Going back to school used to mean all those fun new things - new peachy folders (with that eternal sports design in a yellowy tone), new pencils and a new blue canvas snap-ring binder. Now it mostly just means a new computer class for my kids. But these critters are having fun regardless. They probably like that new school smell as much as I did.

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11. LIttle Fox is Sad...


The once happy little red fox thinks she isn't good enough... but Grandfather fox knows better. I liked the folk tale nature that these characters allowed.  And I like the mountain meadow setting.


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12. Even Piggles is going back to school...


Even Piggles is going back to school!


This was one of my interactive ebook apps I did for the iPad. I got to do the art direction, animation, sound effects, voices (with Garage Band), costumes, choreography, publisher, set design and I made the coffee.


Sure was fun... and Piggles made it safely to school.

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13. A sunny secret garden...



I discovered the most wonderful walled in garden on my bike ride.  It's been there for years, but I only happened through there this summer.


A burst of morning glory color signals the beginning of the end of summer.



The sun filling the green walled garden makes for a very peaceful place. A gravel walk, an interesting collection of medicinal herbs...  a lovely quiet space on a sunny sunday morning.





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14. A joyous little critter living in the moment...


Here is a joyous little critter living in the moment. Happiness spinning like a top.

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15. Whoopee!


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16. Poor little Foxy


Poor little Foxy is being belittled for her poor penmanship. I can so relate since my penmanship is now completely destroyed by years of drawing.

When I write a grocery list I can't even make out half the things I wrote... it's that bad!  Oh, and I'm lucky if I don't lose the list between leaving the house and arriving at the grocery store.

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17. That art business can lead youth astray!


Before I ran away to New York City, I'd spend my days drawing scenes like this - all from scratch, no sketches, just pen on newsprint. I'd draw away for hours and hours listening to the radio. 

Somehow I got hooked on how the ink lines sank into the newsprint. I couldn't stop drawing. That art business can lead youth astray!

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18. Mr. Bunny has delivered new postcards!



Mr. Bunny has delivered new boxes of postcards! Art Directors will want to keep on the lookout.  I've always liked to print things and look at them - so I was especially chuffed to open these boxes.

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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. A Foxy Sneak Peek


Here's a sneak peek from my new book.

I liked the storybook feeling that turned out on this page. There's an old fashioned decorative quality somehow. The fabrics are hand made... maybe that's it. 

I think in general the world longs for storybook worlds to live in. I know I do...

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25. Choosing the cast and characters...


Sometimes in choosing the cast and characters, different choices pop up. I think the with original sketches for a book I tried I had a hippo, an alligator and this charming elephant family. But the chair stayed the same!

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