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1. Reading at Book'em's 2014 Read Me Day

Last month I was invited to read Beyond The Grave during Book'em's Read Me Day at Cockrill Elementary, in conjunction with the Nashville Rotary Club. Book'em is an organization that promotes literacy through big and small efforts such as giving books to kids, schools and libraries as well as organizing readers to visit lower income schools to share their love of reading.


It was the first time I've ever been part of an event like that and, wow, was it a fancy affair. I had a great time. It was Book'em's 25th anniversary and the Rotary Club's 100th Anniversary so there were over 70 different readers on hand to spend the morning sharing books with Cockrill's 500 students. Plus I actually got to meet a REAL ballerina, the ONLY female marine in the state of Tennessee and even the mayor! (though note, when I told the Fry and Sprout about this they were only impressed with the fact that there was also birthday cake.)

Before we got down to the nitty gritty of reading there was a big assembly in the gym. I managed to snag a seat almost directly behind the podium and thus had a terrific view of the kid's responses to all the speakers. One of the things I love about kids, and one of the reasons I create books for them, is that they are so often not impressed with grown-ups that they are supposed to be impressed by. So it was quite amusing to watch the front row scrabble over a paper Cat in the Hat hat instead of applaud admiringly at The First Lady of Tennessee's speech. As a whole though they were a very well behaved audience and my particular class room was politely riveted as I read some scary parts of Beyond The Grave and explained how I it was illustrated.

Here's a few pictures from my day:

After I read Beyond the Grave, I showed the kids how I did the illustrations.
They thought it was funny how each piece can be upside down or sideways
on my paper depending on how I put it on the scanner.


My fantastic audience, Ms. Wheeler's second grade class.
They made us penguin themed thank you cards!



I was very happy to see my good friend Jessica Young's
picture book, My Blue Is Happy, as one of the chosen ones!



The real ballerina from the Nashville Ballet.
Notice the famous birthday cake in the background;)



Oh just chillin' with Mayor Dean
waiting for the program to start. 






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2. This week over on Once Upon A Sketch

I've posted the first of my two part interview with Susan Eaddy, clay illustrator and the Illustration Coordinator for the SCBWI Midsouth region. Susan is always generous with her time and advice. Her videos are just fun to watch and make me want to have a go at iMovie. Go check it out.












Also from my continued reading assignment for 2014 here's my fave picture books from the past month:

Sometimes I Forget You're A Robot by Sam Brown - very sweet story about getting what you want. I especially loved the plaintive "beep beeps" of the Robot as he tries to show the main character what he CAN do.

The Twins' Blanket by Hyewon Yum - A great story about learning to share. I especially love how Hyewon Yum manages to capture the different personalities of each twin in very little text.

The Block Mess Monster by Betsy Howie, illustrated by C.B. Decker - the illustrations really knock this story out of the park as Becker shows extravagant expression on the part of the child, the mom, and the blocks who don't want to be put away.

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3. SCBWI Midsouth Sweeps the Bologna Illustration Gallery

I'm ecstatic to announce that one of my illustrations (and the header of my blog no less;) is a finalist for the 2014 SCBWI Illustration Gallery at the Bologna Book Fair in Bologna, Italy at the end of this month.

Here's the piece, it was created for the illustrator's intensive class at the 2013 Midsouth Conference. When I went to Kinkos to get a print made for the regional PAL showcase the guy behind the counter made an off-hand comment that it reminded him of Where the Wild Things Are.

WHAT! did that guy just compare my work to Maurice Sendak?!?








Alright let's settle down and keep things in perspective here….

At the Book Fair, a winner and four runners-up will be chosen. To be honest, that'd be great but to me the real value is being nominated as a finalist at all. My work will be displayed at one of the most prestigious event in the world for children's books.

Making this whole announcement even better is the fact that FOUR other Midsouth illustrators, and good friends of mine, are also finalists! Tennessee and Kentucky are growin' a mighty fine crop o' illustrators down here in the Midsouth! I share congratulations with Susan Eaddy, Kris Sexton, and Cheryl Mendenhall. Here's a look at the finalist round-up, click through to see all their fabulous artwork.



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4. So if you want to draw a 1969 Dodge Charger...

… there's a kid at College Grove Elementary that's right there with you.

Last week I was quite honored to be invited to speak at College Grove Elementary about illustrating and books. It was during the school's Read-a-thon and my SCBWI friend, Kristin Tubb, explained it would just a few minutes in the morning in front of the entire school.

ulp, the entire school?

Actually it went wonderfully well and 250 kids turned out to not be as intimidating as I'd imagined. Fortunately another SCBWI friend Stephen Shashkan advised me to prep the teachers that the kids could ask questions, that way they'd have time to think up some good ones. And it worked! The kids all asked incredibly great questions including my favorite from a kid who wanted to know if I could explain to him how to make his picture of a 1969 Dodge Charger look shiny. When I responded that I could tell he'd really been putting effort into his picture he said "yes ma'am if you need to know how to draw a 1969 Dodge Charger I can tell you all about it." So there if you have it, 1969 Dodge Charger fans - your reference guru is in the 4th grade at College Grove Elementary.

Here I am talking about the illustrations in Beyond The Grave

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5. My Favorite Books This Week Plus What I Blogged at Word Disco

True to my New year's Resolution in this post, I've been reading 5 books a week, rating them, and researching the agents who represent. Here are some of my favs so far:

The Santa Trap - Jonathan Emmet and Poly Bernatene, really funny with a satisfying ending

Tornado Slim and The Magic Cowboy Hat - Bryan Langdo, great illustrations

Crankenstein - Samantha Berger and Dan Santat, really funny illustrations that go with snappy story

Carnivores - Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat, this book is funniest book I've read in a while. Great story and great illustrations.

Also over on Word Disco this week I discuss what happens when a sketch for a good idea leads to an existential crisis. It's all part of the job. Read that post here.

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6. My New Year's Resolution post has been hijacked by the cold

uh lessee… what can we say about 2014 so far…. IT'S COLD!

Apparently right at the moment the entire North American continent right down to Miami is suffering from a polar vortex that causes terror not unlike this:


It causes weather apps to look like this:


All that being said, instead of my traditional blog about a New Year's Resolution I've been paging through beach house listings… palm trees…. baked oysters… ooooo aaaaaahhhh - Ouch my fingers just froze to the keyboard!

(fingers gripping coffee for warmth) Back to resolutions….a few months ago I read how a particular agent I admire reads five picture books a day no matter what. That struck me as a particularly good goal to have. But five a day is pretty tall order. I know that sounds crazy since I have two small children and we read books all the time but I pretty sure that agent didn't mean she reads the SAME 5 picture books every day. And I'm pretty sure they are not all about princesses and airplanes. So to make this resolution workable I'm reading 5 new picture books a week, preferably published in the last 3 years. For at least 15 years I've been flipping open the cover of every book I see to read who published it. Because of that I have a built in knowledge of which publishers I'd love to work with but connecting projects to agents takes a little more research. So on top of five new books every week, I've decided to create a rating system - ones I love, ones maybe I can learn from, and ones that -ah- don't fall into the first two categories. With the help of this system and Publishers Marketplace I can track which agents work on projects that I admire.

Five books a week, seems pretty easy. Kind of like resolving to listen to more music. But one thing I learned from my 2011 resolution to draw every day is that in order to fit one's dreams into a schedule full of kid work, school work, client work, house work, family time, and taking the occasional shower the dreams need to be bite-sized. Five books a day is definitely chewable.

And I'll start it right after I wrap up in five sleeping bags, de-ice the door, chisel out the car and skate the minivan to the library.

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7. The NEW Once Upon A Sketch is Officially Open


I'm happy to begin 2014 writing on the renewed Once Upon A Sketch blog with my fellow contributors:
Donald Wu
Chris Jones
Norm Grock
Jennifer Zivoin
Jannie Ho.

Each of us bring a different perspective on creating art, especially for children. Check out our first collaborative post, What We Wish We Knew.

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8. The Naughty Car Twelve Days of Christmas

In case anyone wonders why we didn't manage to get Christmas cards in the mail…. here's what we were doing:





On the FIRST day of Christmas my cars gave to me a transmission crunching badly...

On the 2nd day of Christmas my cars gave to me
TWO pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 3rd day of Christmas my cars gave to me
THREE trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 4th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
FOUR different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly



On the 5th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
FIVE problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 6th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
SIX cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 7th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
SEVEN more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly


On the 8th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
EIGHT wheels sitting useless
seven more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 9th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
NINE mechanics busy
eight wheels sitting useless
seven more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 10th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
TEN miles in a tow truck
nine mechanics busy
eight wheels sitting useless
seven more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 11th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
ELEVEN charges on VISA
ten miles in a tow truck
nine mechanics busy
eight wheels sitting useless
seven more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the12th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
ZERO cars a working
eleven new charges on VISA
ten miles in a tow truck
nine mechanics busy
eight wheels sitting useless
seven more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission CRUNCHING BAAAAAAADLYYYYYYY


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9. Glitteramous

The Sprout has a habit of making up and mashing up words to best express just exactly how beautiful something should be. Usually that something is a version of a princess/fairy/ballerina/bride or anything that might be frothy, flowing, bouncy or decorated. This past week her new word for that was glitteramous, as in:

"Mommy, I don't like that cake. It's not glitteramous"
"Mommy, I want Santa to bring me a bride dress - one that is GLITTERAMOUS!"
(exasperated sigh) "Mommy why can't I wear ALL THE DRESS UPS to the doctor?! You know I like to be glitteramous!"

However glitteramous makes me think of something that is both glittery and enormous.

Like a ballerina hippopotamus.

Is this glitteramous enough for you Sprout?





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10. My Return from Rutgers: Two months later and it still feel intense

I promised myself I would write a post about my trip to the Rutgers Council On Children's Literature Conference for one very simple reason: While researching for the conference I never read a blog written by an illustrator who had applied without a manuscript. Was there anything special to know if all your mentor sees are your illustrations? I can't tell you how many times I typed that question in various forms into Google. Turns out I did get some answers to that question and on the plane home from New Jersey I started scripting out this blog post.

Then while standing in Baggage I got a text asking if I was available for a couple of new illustrations projects with a tight deadline. As should be very obvious by now, illustrators are like Ado Annie from OKLAHOMA….
we CAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNN'T SAAAAAYYY NO.

Two months and two projects later here's that blog from that flight home, dusted off for punctuation:




One Intense Day
My mentor was Doris Ettlinger, an illustrator who's watercolors are simply stunning. Here's a cover from her new book, releasing in January from Sleeping Bear Press:

Beautiful right? This is a no brainer purchase for Fabulous Illustrator - I love the beach and now I've met the illustrator. One of the things Doris suggested that I've been really trying to push is using a complete overhead view at least once somewhere in the sequence of illustrations. Here are a couple of examples she showed me:
From Pilgrim Cat, by Carol Peacock
Also from S is for Sea Glass by Richard Michelson

I've always loved angles in my work but these are extreme! I'm looking forward to "tipping over the edge" and looking straight down on my characters.


The keynote speaker was, Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Her speech was inspiring, except for when she showed Nashville's embarrassing Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in her presentation.
Everyone sitting near me swiveled around to ask "is that really IN Nashville?" Yes, shudder, it is.

Lunch with the editors was the beehive of networking I expected it to be though everyone I met was surprisingly open and even expressed interested in seeing more work after the conference.

So from one heck of an intense day here's my top 5 take-aways for anyone planning to apply or doing the legwork after being accepted:

Number 5: Make sure there's a picture of each person in your research. Shortly after the morning introductions, the curtain separating the two rooms of mentors and mentees rolls back. Seeing a room full of NY editors and agents suddenly appear before your eyes can be... ah... daunting. But we illustrators are visual people and being able to recognize faces made it easier. I was pleasantly surprised how many people looked like their Linked In profile.

Number 4: Check the list twice, or 15 times. The list that Rutgers publishes of the mentors changes several times before the conference, even the night before. I also recommend starting your research even before knowing that you are accepted. It doesn't go to waste and it makes for much less cramming in September.

Number 3: Remember how way back in May you didn't feel you had a dummy worth sending and you only sent in the 5 illustration samples? I feel you, but realize that your mentor only sees your work that morning. So take your portfolio! Otherwise all they have to give you feedback on are the 5 copies sent months ago. The wireless signal in the building is not great so don't count on getting online... its best to schlep the hardcopy with you. The schlepping is worth it because I was able to show it to industry folks beyond my mentor and 5 on 5 Group.

Number 2: Leave early from the panel discussion right before lunch and stalk your lunch table. I was surprised by how many people didn't do this. While the panel discussion was interesting, if you've attended years of SCBWI conferences then I bet you've heard the same info before. The mentors are seated for lunch at the same tables they sit in the 5 on 5 groups. Its easy enough to look at the table groupings and figure out your best lunch dates, park your portfolio bag, and guarantee some networking.

Number 1: This is possibly the biggest take-away…. if I had to do it over again I would apply with a dummy. While I brought mine with me, my mentor wasn't expecting to give feedback on it. Even if its not the sterling document that you want it to be, send it in so that your mentor can be prepared. My work changed a lot from the time I applied to when I actually attended the conference. You can always bring an updated dummy with you.

Finally what I learned from the weekend was keep working.

That means in your hotel room that night. 

The conference ends at 4 pm. I returned to my hotel and worked for the next 6 hours on an adrenaline high. Don't miss the chance to use the conference as an artist's retreat because when better to work than after a day of consultation and inspiration.

As a shout out thank you to Doris Ettlinger for letting me post her work on this blog check out where she lives online:

Illustrations © Doris Ettlinger 

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11. New Project: The Fort

I'm happy to be working again with Reading A-Z on another classroom reader. The Fort is about 3 friends who turn their living room into something other than a place with boring sofas. My kids make forts all the time in the playroom so I had plenty of inspiration for these sketches





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12. My Roller Coaster Weekend at the SCBWI Midsouth Annual Conference.

Over the weekend Music City hosted the Midsouth Conference for SCBWI. This was my first year on the Conference Committee. I always say that you should get at least one good story out of every event. This time I got two. Here they are:


I was slated to pick up one of the faculty from the airport at 9:54, Friday morning. As anyone who knows the Fabulous Illustrator well enough can attest that I'm an extremely thorough and organized person who likes to make a plan and stick to it. Friday morning was going according to my plan until I (very responsibly I might add) decided to sit down and check the flight schedule for said faculty member's flight.

This was at about 8:45 and I was standing in my studio in a T-shirt and shorts. Remember that her flight was supposed to land more than an hour later at 9:54?

The Internet said it was landing in 7 minutes.

So much for an organized morning.

There was nothing else to do but race around throwing clothes and artwork into suitcases and portfolios then throw it all in the back of the car. Then I texted the faculty member to let her know I was aware of the early arrival. Now's probably a good time to reveal that this person was Bonnie Bader, Editor in Chief at Penguin Young Readers Group/Grosset & Dunlap. I don't know about any of the rest of you but I just couldn't fire off a missive to an editor I've never met in freakin' text speak. Somehow "R u early?" didn't seem professional enough. So I sent a very polite, and long, text asking if she'd arrived and explaining that I was on my way. To which she replied and asked about the best way to meet. I was working on this plan en route. The problem was now I was having to drive and text at stoplights which I never do…. sadly my texts were devolving into "r u n baggage?" and "c u in 10."

So much for professional communication.

Finally, as I pulled into the airport I thought: good grief, if I park and walk in it's going to be another 10 minutes… yet, is it proper to essentially do a drive by pick-up of a faculty member?! My grandmother would be horrified. Efficiency trumped manners this time and drive by pick-up it was. Fortunately Bonnie was very cool about it and probably glad to get out of the airport. We had an interesting conversation on the way to the conference hotel. By great lucky coincidence I discovered she's a regular visitor to Rutgers where I'll be attending the RUCCL's One on One Conference next month so she was able to give me some good travel tips on getting to and from the campus without having to drive.

My only remaining disappointment was that I didn't get stand in the airport with a sign like you see in the movies! I did make one though, and took a picture just for posterity:
























The rest of the day unfolded with much less drama. I attended sessions with Josh Adams of Adams Literary and Lorainne Joyner the art director at Peachtree Publishers. Later, as a conference coordinator, I would get the chance to talk with them one on one. Josh has a wonderfully rich, measured voice. I want to work him just so I can hear him talk about revision notes. Loraine was an absolute joy to meet. A real Southern lady, she was friendly and encouraging in her comments on our work. Here's my piece from the intensive: 

Rounding out the rest of our "imported" faculty were Lisa Cheng, editor at Running Press; Michael Bourret, agent with Dystel & Goderich; Jordon Brown, editor at Waldon Pond Press and Balzer + Bray; Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, editor with Peachtree Publishers; Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why and The Future of Us; and Kristi Valiant, who recently debuted as an author/illustrator with Penguin Cha-Cha. All were funny and engaging in their sessions and sitting around various lunch and dinner tables over the weekend. I was particular fond of Lisa's bold move to go for the baby crab claws at Friday's dinner because they were delicious. At that same dinner Stephanie told us about her tricked-out suburban that she and her husband lived in while making their way to Atlanta from London. Made me wonder if I could do something similar with our van and go camping with Sprout and Fry. 

My favorite Saturday morning event was Michael Bourret's session on the 10 Secrets of Agents revealed. The best of the ten was the reminder that, even with an agent, you are your own best advocate for your book. He admonished us that if we're afraid of our agent something is wrong.

About mid-afternoon on Saturday, the winners of the year's contests were announced. There was much hootin' and hollering as it turned out to be a great year for some long time members of the region with David Arnold, Kurt Hampe, and Patsi Trollinger winning in the genres for YA, Middle Grade, and Picture Book respectively. Finally it came time to announce the Illustrator winner. I had entered the contest but had already seen Amanda Driscoll's great piece Charlie The Ranch Dog and figured it was a shoo-in. The Midsouth's Illustrator Coordinator, Susan Eaddy took the podium and I was poised to holler "yayy Amanda!" when it dawned on me that the name Susan was saying was not the name I was about to holler. 


Instead it was my name. 


Winning was great. Winning was spectacular to be honest because I've been entering unsuccessfully for years. But even better than that was getting the congrats and hugs from my friends and fellow illustrators in the Midsouth, including Amanda and Susan and all the rest who are named in this Facebook post. This wonderful group of artists inspire and encourage me, a few years ago they critiqued the sketch of the piece that won. It's my face in the picture but the award might as well have all of our names. 


 



Everyone got Mardi Gras beads for Saturday night's
Kid Lit Creator's dinner! Sprout helped me stuff beads
into folders for all the attendees.
The rest of the conference passed in a bit of a blur, I received congrats from all the faculty which was very sweet of them. I did get a chance to thank Lorianne Joyner personally for giving it high honors. Amazingly right after the announcement my overwhelming worry was that I would be late to my First Pages session where each of our picture book first pages were being critiqued. Fortunately I wasn't that late and I didn't have to send any unprofessional texts. 

By Sunday I'd received some great constructive feedback on restructuring my latest work-in-progress from Bonnie Bader, gotten positive reviews of some new illustrations and promos from Lorainne Joyner and Lisa Cheng, and eaten way to much Monell's fried chicken and mashed potatoes at the faculty goodbye dinner.

This year instead of being breathlessly focused on schmoozing and angling for an opportunity to submit work, I was focused on keeping up with the rest of the Conference Committee who were controlling a million little details with precision and humor behind the scenes. By the end of the weekend the people whom I normally would have worried about schmoozing were just regular people. Maybe we'll work together on a book one day. I hope so. But at the very least I hope I have some new friends that I can eat baby crab claws with at another conference. 

For additional inspiration check out this post reprinted from the Midsouth Conference Blog by Meridth Gimbel (click her name to see her awesome piece for the intensive):

1. Every page in your dummy picture book needs to have an action in it, whether it's subtle or dramatic.
-Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director at Peachtree Publishers) 
Talented YA writers plus the Friday night Dessert Party
equals a cool music circle
2. "Never give up. You'll come across something that only you can write."
-Jay Asher (Author of Thirteen Reasons Why) 
Jay Asher 'splains how he came to be a Vanilla Ice fan

3. A distinct, authentic, relatable voice is probably the most important element to writing a good children's picture book.
-Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids)

4. “This is not the music business, there are not high stakes, we don’t make that much money, and someone already has your idea."
-Micheal Bourett (Agent of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) in response to a question from the audience asking if we need to worry about others stealing our ideas or stories. 

5. “I’ve had your postcard on my bulletin for 1.5 years and have been waiting to hire you." 
-An Art Director told Ms. Susan Eaddy (freelance illustrator) 
Author and Illustrator panel tells how they handle the cycle of writing

6. It takes chocolate, fast food, vodka, friends, and an unwanted dog.
-Answers from the artist/writer panelists to the question, "How do you buoy yourself when you are at the bottom of the cycle of despair?" 
Catching up with longtime Midsouth members 
7. Orient all the pictures in your portfolio the same way.
-Bonnie Bader (Editor & Chief at Grosset & Dunlap) and Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director At Peachtree Publishers) 

8. A wrong agent is worse than no agent.
-Micheal Bourett (Agent of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) 

9. "Please do not info dump."
-Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids) on telling your audience too much when introducing a new character. 

10. Be consistent when you send out your mailers.
-Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director At Peachtree Publishers) & Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids) 

11. Read, read, read.
-Jordan Brown (Editor at Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray) on what you can do to advance your career

Amanda Driscoll shows off the Mad Libs
made just for the Kid Lit Creators Dinner
At the very end I came home to a cake!
And a note of congrats signed by my two biggest fans;)

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13. De-virgo the line

During my SCBWI LA super fast paced yet insightful portfolio critique, artist agent Mela Bolinao correctly observed that I get a little fussy and overwrought with my line-work. "You are trying to make it work too well," she said.

Sigh... this is the story of my line life.

I agreed with her and joked that it was because I'm a Virgo. She surprised me by laughing and saying that as a Virgo herself, she totally understood. That doesn't surprised me, every Virgo I've ever met shares the keen sense of the master puppeteer. We control every strand, no matter how small a part it is attached to. For me personally, this is why I never miss deadlines. Ever.

It's also probably why I've struggled for years to keep the energy of my sketches in my finished pieces. Bolinao said "Loosen up! Let the line go the wrong way! Don't fix it and erase it, just try it." So when I came home from LA I decided to practice on the kid illustrations cavorting across my drawing table for the Lifeway's Agency D3's series. Here are some of my favorites:




I do like how these guys look. Admittedly loosening up the line was easier with little spots because a) they're spots and b) I was a super tight deadline. I continue to experiment on this thank you card illo I created for people I met at the conference. Here was harder because I had time to be careful:



I need to think more like Taurus or Aquarius, just brashly crashing the pencil around the page. Would the Bull or Water Bearer be better with lines?

Maybe, but not deadlines. I bet Virgo's are still the best at those.

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14. De-virgo the line

During my SCBWI LA super fast paced yet insightful portfolio critique, artist agent Mela Bolinao correctly observed that I get a little fussy and overwrought with my line-work. "You are trying to make it work too well," she said.

Sigh... this is the story of my line life.

I agreed with her and joked that it was because I'm a Virgo. She surprised me by laughing and saying that as a Virgo herself, she totally understood. That doesn't surprised me, every Virgo I've ever met shares the keen sense of the master puppeteer. We control every strand, no matter how small a part it is attached to. For me personally, this is why I never miss deadlines. Ever.

It's also probably why I've struggled for years to keep the energy of my sketches in my finished pieces. Bolinao said "Loosen up! Let the line go the wrong way! Don't fix it and erase it, just try it." So when I came home from LA I decided to practice on the kid illustrations cavorting across my drawing table for the Lifeway's Agency D3's series. Here are some of my favorites:




I do like how these guys look. Admittedly loosening up the line was easier with little spots because a) they're spots and b) I was a super tight deadline. I continue to experiment on this thank you card illo I created for people I met at the conference. Here was harder because I had time to be careful:



I need to think more like Taurus or Aquarius, just brashly crashing the pencil around the page. Would the Bull or Water Bearer be better with lines?

Maybe, but not deadlines. I bet Virgo's are still the best at those.

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15. SCBWI LA Conference in Notes and Doodles

Two weekends ago, on Saturday night, I was attending my second SCBWI International Conference in Los Angeles. Actually this is what I doing at 8pm Saturday night two weeks ago:


Yep, that's a costume boa and my friends Renee and Heather are wearing wigs. Thats how kid lit creators roll. You can dress us up and we will still find a way to act like the characters in our minds.

However the days surrounding Saturday evening's Black and White Ball were filled with workshops aimed to entertain, educate, and most of all inspire all of us before we headed back to solitary studios and writing rooms. My usual MO is to take lots of notes in longhand while simultaneously drawing furiously in my sketchbook. Below are some of my favorite notes from the sessions and key notes and the sketches that accompanied them. Also check out the  official conference blog here, and my Word Disco friend Jenni Bielicki has lots of other great photos on her blog here. Plus stop into Word Disco later this month for some Schmooze It or Lose It stories.

*******************

The conference begins with each speaker or faculty member stepping to the mic and saying one word. Here's my scribbled down list of words. About 10 minutes in to this I noticed the person sitting a few rows down flipping back and forth through her conference guide writing the words by each of the speaker's bios. Brilliant. I am totally doing that next time:

Opening Key Note:
Laurie Halse Anderson, author
Be brave today

We are lucky, when you were born a fairy godmother crept into the hospital and blessed you with magic. Books are proof that humans can do magic.

Jon Scieszka, author
Kids = nuts. They are the best audience

Giuseppe Castellano, Penguin Art Director
You guys had to pay to come here, all the while daring to be artists. 

Art directors and editors do not sit in ivory towers smoking cigars. We're not elite jerks.

Then he told this really touching story about his parent, particularly his father, coming to America from Italy in the 60's. His father struggled to find a creative outlet as a child while dealing with strict parents who did not approve - and demonstrated their disapproval by occasionally destroying his father's childhood creations. The moral of this story was that if his father could go on to succeed creatively, as an immigrant, with no family support, then we all can.

Steven Malk, agent, on career planning:
Be in control of your career, don't let it control you.
Take a deep breath and slow down.
Know your history, read it, breath it, live the books you create.
If at first you don't succeed, don't abandon ship.

*******************

Kirby Larson, author
Palimpsest (this was her word from the opening) it means writing that has been effaced to make room for more. We all create on the well worn steps of those who went before us.


Editors Panel with
Namrata Tripathi, Andrea Pinkney, Donna Bray, Claudia Gabel, Allyn Johnston, and Melissa Manlove
The main topic of the panel was "What makes a hit, what makes an evergreen"
Hits speak to a moment in time
A close examination of a moment in time can turn out to be an evergreen.
An evergreen is also about the human existence.

Each editor wants a book to have magic

Allyn Johnston thinks All The World is the perfect picture book (I agree)

Mac Barnett, author
Most of all, get the reader to be willing to suspend disbelief.
Don't break the contract with a kid reader.

He told the story of a contest in his book Billy Twitters and Blue Whale Problem where a reader could send in to get their own blue whale as a pet. Then as an example of how to break the contract with the kid reader he played voice mails left by preschool age Nico, for his pet whale Randolph. This had us simultaneously laughing and wiping tears.

Jenny Bent, agent, on queries:
I found myself in this session only because the one I was trying to get to had closed. But I found Jenny Bent to be really funny and personable. She explained the different parts of a query letter giving really great examples of real life successful queries. Google her and you'll find similar information on her blog. Google also query mad libs for a fun exercise.


Matt de la Pena, author
He gave a stunning keynote about growing up the child of teenage parents and how he landed in writing. In short college equaled girls which equaled poetry which equaled no girls but a great voice for YA.

Ask yourself, Where are you coming from?

Write what will be written

Laurent Linn, art director
I've seen Laurent Linn speak many time and I'm always entertained and I always find a new way to look at picture book art. He had do a quiz to see if we could tell what was traditional art, digital or a mixture of both as its increasing difficult to tell.

Carolyn Mackler, author
Writing is an antidote to the darker days.

We should all watch Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Market Report
I admittedly checked out of this one after the picture book news, but here's what I gleaned:
Picture book sales are actually up, driven by character driven books and franchises. Bullying is a frequent theme. A growing number of projects are originating in house.
*******************

Agents Panel with
Ginger Clark, Mela Bolinao, Joanna Volpe, Steve Malk, Jenny Bent

This was Sunday morning, after the Black and White Ball, and it was time for a bit of a reality check. Here it is:
Agents get 25 to 75 queries a DAY. 
You should be careful what you sign away.

David Wiesner, author/illustrator
I saw David Wiesner at the SCBWI New York conference in 2008. In fact I wrote this post about it. I still think the guy is a rock star and frankly I don't ever want to be in an elevator with him because I would probably a) really embarrass myself by stammering about how much I love his work or b) give myself skin cancer by blushing shades of red not found in the natural world. I am happy to admire from afar. That is, until I win the Caldecott, then y'know Dave and I can hang out and be in the same critique group. Also monkeys might fly out of my butt.

Anyway here was his keynote wisdom:
Follow the story where ever it leads
Always go back to old ideas you have, you never know where they can end up


Jarret Kroscocka, author/illustrator
I went to back to back sessions with him and then attended his closing keynote. I admire Jarrett for his unrelenting drive in this business and for just seeming like a nice guy.
Think about colors for each character
Multiple characters means humor is born.
Let your brain go to the more interesting story.
Google story mountain.
Keep a Word doc of all your story ideas.
Visit schools for free while you are getting used to doing school visits.
Create educational value.
Link your books directly to publishers site you avoid any preference for Amazon over independent book sellers.
Give away a little bit of your presentation on-line so they know what they are getting.

*******************

On Monday I attended two intensive sessions, the first with Melissa Manlove on using picture book texts to inform your writing, the second with Namrata Tripathi on creating a better dummy for picture book author/illustrators.

Melissa Manlove:
Do a close reading of every picture book you read. Look closely at language, try to figure out what is working for the book. 

Humor comes from disrupted expectations.

Namrata Tripathi:
Don't say you can do this because there are so many bad picture books out there. That tells her you want your book to be the second worst in the store.

Pay attention to voice and line work in illustrations.



3 Comments on SCBWI LA Conference in Notes and Doodles, last added: 9/5/2013
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16. SCBWI LA Conference in Notes and Doodles

Two weekends ago, on Saturday night, I was attending my second SCBWI International Conference in Los Angeles. Actually this is what I doing at 8pm Saturday night two weeks ago:


Yep, that's a costume boa and my friends Renee and Heather are wearing wigs. Thats how kid lit creators roll. You can dress us up and we will still find a way to act like the characters in our minds.

However the days surrounding Saturday evening's Black and White Ball were filled with workshops aimed to entertain, educate, and most of all inspire all of us before we headed back to solitary studios and writing rooms. My usual MO is to take lots of notes in longhand while simultaneously drawing furiously in my sketchbook. Below are some of my favorite notes from the sessions and key notes and the sketches that accompanied them. Also check out the  official conference blog here, and my Word Disco friend Jenni Bielicki has lots of other great photos on her blog here. Plus stop into Word Disco later this month for some Schmooze It or Lose It stories.

*******************

The conference begins with each speaker or faculty member stepping to the mic and saying one word. Here's my scribbled down list of words. About 10 minutes in to this I noticed the person sitting a few rows down flipping back and forth through her conference guide writing the words by each of the speaker's bios. Brilliant. I am totally doing that next time:

Opening Key Note:
Laurie Halse Anderson, author
Be brave today

We are lucky, when you were born a fairy godmother crept into the hospital and blessed you with magic. Books are proof that humans can do magic.

Jon Scieszka, author
Kids = nuts. They are the best audience

Giuseppe Castellano, Penguin Art Director
You guys had to pay to come here, all the while daring to be artists. 

Art directors and editors do not sit in ivory towers smoking cigars. We're not elite jerks.

Then he told this really touching story about his parent, particularly his father, coming to America from Italy in the 60's. His father struggled to find a creative outlet as a child while dealing with strict parents who did not approve - and demonstrated their disapproval by occasionally destroying his father's childhood creations. The moral of this story was that if his father could go on to succeed creatively, as an immigrant, with no family support, then we all can.

Steven Malk, agent, on career planning:
Be in control of your career, don't let it control you.
Take a deep breath and slow down.
Know your history, read it, breath it, live the books you create.
If at first you don't succeed, don't abandon ship.

*******************

Kirby Larson, author
Palimpsest (this was her word from the opening) it means writing that has been effaced to make room for more. We all create on the well worn steps of those who went before us.


Editors Panel with
Namrata Tripathi, Andrea Pinkney, Donna Bray, Claudia Gabel, Allyn Johnston, and Melissa Manlove
The main topic of the panel was "What makes a hit, what makes an evergreen"
Hits speak to a moment in time
A close examination of a moment in time can turn out to be an evergreen.
An evergreen is also about the human existence.

Each editor wants a book to have magic

Allyn Johnston thinks All The World is the perfect picture book (I agree)

Mac Barnett, author
Most of all, get the reader to be willing to suspend disbelief.
Don't break the contract with a kid reader.

He told the story of a contest in his book Billy Twitters and Blue Whale Problem where a reader could send in to get their own blue whale as a pet. Then as an example of how to break the contract with the kid reader he played voice mails left by preschool age Nico, for his pet whale Randolph. This had us simultaneously laughing and wiping tears.

Jenny Bent, agent, on queries:
I found myself in this session only because the one I was trying to get to had closed. But I found Jenny Bent to be really funny and personable. She explained the different parts of a query letter giving really great examples of real life successful queries. Google her and you'll find similar information on her blog. Google also query mad libs for a fun exercise.


Matt de la Pena, author
He gave a stunning keynote about growing up the child of teenage parents and how he landed in writing. In short college equaled girls which equaled poetry which equaled no girls but a great voice for YA.

Ask yourself, Where are you coming from?

Write what will be written

Laurent Linn, art director
I've seen Laurent Linn speak many time and I'm always entertained and I always find a new way to look at picture book art. He had do a quiz to see if we could tell what was traditional art, digital or a mixture of both as its increasing difficult to tell.

Carolyn Mackler, author
Writing is an antidote to the darker days.

We should all watch Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Market Report
I admittedly checked out of this one after the picture book news, but here's what I gleaned:
Picture book sales are actually up, driven by character driven books and franchises. Bullying is a frequent theme. A growing number of projects are originating in house.
*******************

Agents Panel with
Ginger Clark, Mela Bolinao, Joanna Volpe, Steve Malk, Jenny Bent

This was Sunday morning, after the Black and White Ball, and it was time for a bit of a reality check. Here it is:
Agents get 25 to 75 queries a DAY. 
You should be careful what you sign away.

David Wiesner, author/illustrator
I saw David Wiesner at the SCBWI New York conference in 2008. In fact I wrote this post about it. I still think the guy is a rock star and frankly I don't ever want to be in an elevator with him because I would probably a) really embarrass myself by stammering about how much I love his work or b) give myself skin cancer by blushing shades of red not found in the natural world. I am happy to admire from afar. That is, until I win the Caldecott, then y'know Dave and I can hang out and be in the same critique group. Also monkeys might fly out of my butt.

Anyway here was his keynote wisdom:
Follow the story where ever it leads
Always go back to old ideas you have, you never know where they can end up


Jarret Kroscocka, author/illustrator
I went to back to back sessions with him and then attended his closing keynote. I admire Jarrett for his unrelenting drive in this business and for just seeming like a nice guy.
Think about colors for each character
Multiple characters means humor is born.
Let your brain go to the more interesting story.
Google story mountain.
Keep a Word doc of all your story ideas.
Visit schools for free while you are getting used to doing school visits.
Create educational value.
Link your books directly to publishers site you avoid any preference for Amazon over independent book sellers.
Give away a little bit of your presentation on-line so they know what they are getting.

*******************

On Monday I attended two intensive sessions, the first with Melissa Manlove on using picture book texts to inform your writing, the second with Namrata Tripathi on creating a better dummy for picture book author/illustrators.

Melissa Manlove:
Do a close reading of every picture book you read. Look closely at language, try to figure out what is working for the book. 

Humor comes from disrupted expectations.

Namrata Tripathi:
Don't say you can do this because there are so many bad picture books out there. That tells her you want your book to be the second worst in the store.

Pay attention to voice and line work in illustrations.



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17. Illustration Friday - Robot

Squeaky Boy robot and his dog, Clank

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18. Illustration Friday - Robot

Squeaky Boy robot and his dog, Clank

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19. I'm on the Dance Floor at Word Disco

I'm happy to be contributing to the writing group blog, Word Disco. Each month there is a new theme for posts about craft or the business of creating books. Check out my latest post under the theme of "Inspiring Speeches."

Speaking of inspiring speeches, tonight I gave a presentation to the students at Nossi College of Art about getting started in freelance illustration. My theme was "Peanut Butter plus Determination: How to build a freelance foundation." Hopefully all my graphic explanations of the hard work and amount of PB & J you eat as a young freelance artist doesn't scare them into accounting.



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20. Kid Lit Tid Bit Round Up

At the moment the drawing table is overrun with sketches not bound for the blog so I decided to do a round-up of some of the cool kid lit news blogs I've read in the last couple of weeks. I've wanted to do this for a while, and maybe I'll start once a month doing it (maybe I'll also learn how to reupholster a chair, properly do eye make-up, and grow completely organic blueberries.... but I digress.)

Since a creative network is crucial to both starting and maintaining a life in this business, I find blog hopping a great way to do this. With no further ado here's my cool tidbits from this week:

For an interesting peek behind the curtain at Penguin, read this interview with Guiseppe Castellano. Also don't forget to follow his #arttips on Twitter.

Scroll down on the same blog to read Kelly Light's start up story. It's real life, not the Hollywoodesque I-graduated-art-school-and-then-picked-up-this-book-contract-on-the-street-and-then-danced-perfectly-with-Seth-Rogan.

Then check out Eliza Wheeler's tips on gearing up for a book launch

Then for some fun read Tara Lazar's continuing tilt with Barnes & Noble. It's got everything... Breakfast Club! Snoopy! Ryan Gosling!

A little reading on my desktop

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21. The Monstore is Open for Business!

A shout out to PiBoIdMo creator, Tara Lazar, as her book, The Monstore, releases today! It looks like a great fun book for kids and I can't wait to request my copy. As a debut author she can definitely use the help of discerning parents. Check out her blog on how and why and help The Monstore find a home at the monster bookstore (aka B&N.)


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22. Orni-theology

If dinner tasted good tonight it was a miracle because in the middle of cooking squash casserole, the Fry and Sprout burst into the kitchen shouting "mommy mommy I think we need to help this baby bird!"

They had found a tiny, featherless hatchling that had fallen into the mulch by our deck. While the squash boiled over, I spent 20 minutes getting the baby bird back in the nest under the 12 foot high eaves of said deck. During the rescue, Fry christened the bird "Cuteson if it's a boy, Cutsie if it's a girl."

Cute-son/sie was reunited with a sibling in the nest but I didn't have the heart to tell the kids' relieved faces how nature usually works this out.

Instead I had a flash of insight that this might be a good time to throw in a little bit of faith. Unlike mothers who have it all together, these insights are not an everyday occurence for me so I figured I'd better grab it. We sat on the stairs and asked God to return Cutsie/Cutson's mother to the nest. During the course of this 45 second conversation with God, Fry changed the bird's name 5 times: "it's Cuter mommy, no I said Curter... I mean Curtis and Chris if it's a girl. I mean Chrissy. Curtis and Chrissy. Except I meant Cu...."

At this point I interjected that God probably knew the bird's name. Nevertheless Fry ended with "please bring the mother bird home and make sure she asks You for his name. Amen." So we're hoping for a tiny miracle under the eaves of the deck. A tiny miracle with the correct name.

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23. I'm on the Dance Floor at Word Disco

I'm happy to be contributing to the writing group blog, Word Disco. Each month there is a new theme for posts about craft or the business of creating books. Check out my latest post under the theme of "Inspiring Speeches."

Speaking of inspiring speeches, tonight I gave a presentation to the students at Nossi College of Art about getting started in freelance illustration. My theme was "Peanut Butter plus Determination: How to build a freelance foundation." Hopefully all my graphic explanations of the hard work and amount of PB & J you eat as a young freelance artist doesn't scare them into accounting.



0 Comments on I'm on the Dance Floor at Word Disco as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
24. Kid Lit Tid Bit Round Up

At the moment the drawing table is overrun with sketches not bound for the blog so I decided to do a round-up of some of the cool kid lit news blogs I've read in the last couple of weeks. I've wanted to do this for a while, and maybe I'll start once a month doing it (maybe I'll also learn how to reupholster a chair, properly do eye make-up, and grow completely organic blueberries.... but I digress.)

Since a creative network is crucial to both starting and maintaining a life in this business, I find blog hopping a great way to do this. With no further ado here's my cool tidbits from this week:

For an interesting peek behind the curtain at Penguin, read this interview with Guiseppe Castellano. Also don't forget to follow his #arttips on Twitter.

Scroll down on the same blog to read Kelly Light's start up story. It's real life, not the Hollywoodesque I-graduated-art-school-and-then-picked-up-this-book-contract-on-the-street-and-then-danced-perfectly-with-Seth-Rogan.

Then check out Eliza Wheeler's tips on gearing up for a book launch

Then for some fun read Tara Lazar's continuing tilt with Barnes & Noble. It's got everything... Breakfast Club! Snoopy! Ryan Gosling!

A little reading on my desktop

0 Comments on Kid Lit Tid Bit Round Up as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
25. The Monstore is Open for Business!

A shout out to PiBoIdMo creator, Tara Lazar, as her book, The Monstore, releases today! It looks like a great fun book for kids and I can't wait to request my copy. As a debut author she can definitely use the help of discerning parents. Check out her blog on how and why and help The Monstore find a home at the monster bookstore (aka B&N.)


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