Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top Ten Reasons Why Your Child's December Birthday is Actually Fabulous

Three years and nine months ago I sat apprehensively in the doctors office, watched him spin his plastic gestation wheel, then pronounce "yep, looks like you're due December 25th." 

Great, I grumbled inwardly, another Christmas baby. Small Fry's post Thanksgiving birthday was as close to Christmas as I wanted to get. Though Jim Dear and I had been trying to create Baby Number Two for some time, we had studiously avoided red wine and Sinatra CDs on certain warm April nights. 

Or so we thought. 

Baby Sprout arrived one week before Christmas Day. When her first birthday rolled around - just as with the Fry - I was determined to make it something special. Now that we've had three years of celebrating TWO holiday birthdays, I realize that a December birthday is more of a blessing than I could have realized that day in the doctors office. Here are my top ten reasons why:

10. Toys are a 4th quarter business. Since you gotta buy toys for your child's birthday anyway, might as well do it when the stores are completely stocked and the sales are the best they're gonna be.

9. A December birthday is a great excuse for parent peer sympathy.... and for getting out of extra responsibilities. Try saying "yeah we have Thanksgiving, then Junior's birthday, THEN Christmas!" Watch as your friends roll their eyes in sympathy and murmur that of course you don't have to worry about collecting ___________ for the _________, or bringing _________ to the _____________. 

8. It's the cleanest your house will ever be: First you vacuum up all the dirt tracked in by Thanksgiving visitors, then you vacuum up birthday crumbs, then you vacuum bits of wrapping paper. You won't have to vacuum again until Memorial Day....

7. .... or it's the dirtiest it will ever be OK for your house to be. Really, who's going to vacuum three times in four weeks? (See #9 for seeking understanding about why your house is a wreck.)

6. If you time it right you can sign up to bring dessert for your office Christmas luncheon . . . and pawn off leftover birthday cake. This year I hope Jim Dear's colleagues enjoy the Christmas "muffins" with traditional pink and purple frosting.

5. Anyone with kids knows that after a certain point, when more toys come into the house... some toys MUST go out, unless you plan to move to a new house every year. Generally one tries to put a positive spin on it: "Remember how fortunate you are," you chirp as they grudgingly throw toys in the box marked Goodwill. Unlike summer birthdays, a Christmas birthday means you only have this conversation once a year.

4. It may not be easy to pay for, but it is easy to budget for. Around our house, when Jim Dear and I talk about saving for big purchases we have a line item that never goes away. It's called December.

3. Once the front end loader has carried off all the old crap (see #5), you only have to figure out where to put all the new crap once a year. 

2. After Thanksgiving, and after birthday(s), if you timed it right you'll only have about 6 days to really worry about Christmas! All you have to do is sit back, breathe a sigh of relief that at least the birthdays are done, sign a couple of Christmas cards, then wake up on Christmas morning! Voila, a hassle free holiday! (again see #9 as to why no one will expect you to do any more)

And finally the number one reason I think a Christmas birthday is a blessing in disguise.....

1. Having a baby during Advent connects you to why we have Christmas at all. As I stuff goodie bags, lick birthday invitations and reminisce about the day we are celebrating, I think about how a couple millennium ago another harried mom anxiously prepared for her baby's December birth. 'Tis the season to joyfully await God's working of a miracle in our world. 

Merry Christmas to all, and Happy Birthday to Fry and Sprout.
Some sketches of Fry and Sprout as we celebrate the holidays... which always reminds me about the passing of time, and how they are growing up:
Baby Sprout finally has hair... and a lot of it

Small Fry is trying to get Uncle George's 40 year old Tonka trucks to work.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Protecting the muse

Sometimes when I settle in to do my daily sketches I just can't think of anything to draw. Either there's no project I'm working on, or I can't think of some clever anecdote from the day to illustrate. Then I start feeling frustrated and think "maybe I don't have to draw tonight".... "I did sketch, um, a couple nights ago".... "the muse is just not in"..... but I've learned the hard way too much slacking on daily sketching leads to guilty feelings similar to those experienced when one eats the last three left behind cupcakes from one's child's birthday party. So here lately on the nights when I can't lure the muse out, I remember what keynote speaker Laurie Halse Anderson said at the LA conference this year:

"If you think of your muse as your 6 year old self how would you treat her? When she comes to your door would you give her rules to follow and a list of tasks to finish? Would she come a lot if you did that? Instead would you pull out all your old toys and bake cookies?"

If my 6 year old self showed up at my door she would not want to draw character sketches from  the next book I'm planning to submit. She would probably also not want to do a sketch for that magazine job due next month nor would I imagine she'd be much into thinking up some licensing illustrations. These are all projects I give my grown-up self. No, my muse would want to draw horses - Prancing, leaping, galloping. So over the last couple of weeks as the muse has been shy, I've handed her the reins and let her draw what she wants:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Evolution of a Spread

Several times I've mentioned the workshop I did with Jim Hoover, an art director at Viking Children's Books. Tonight I'm going to post the entire process of the spread assigned from the workshop, from my initial sketches several months ago to my revised edition finished last night. First the general idea of the story:

It's about a little boy who  gets asked to babysit his friend's fish... and then he spends the entire book worrying that he won't be good enough, finally he talks himself into doing it, ... then his friend shows up with a surprise. Pages 6 and 7 are an opening spread, where the set up of the story is happening, Sophie asks Jake to babysit her fish.

The first sketch I settled on was this:

The opening refers to Jake's friend "from school", so I thought I needed to show a school yard. Jim's comments after seeing this sketch were to keep the background kind of faded back, blurry, like an out of focus lens. He also recommended making the fish have a little more personality

After turning in this sketch I decided I didn't like Sophie's pose. I thought she needed to be a little more engaged with Jake. so I changed it to this:

Jim approved of the change so I did the final like this. Notice I also added some oomph to our fishy friend: 

During the critique Jim liked the expressions and interactions of the characters but thought I should drop back the shadows on the ground and downplay the contrast between the school and the bush. He also liked how I had tried the funky wave shape flowing onto the right hand page... but in the end thought it was unnecessary to move the story forward. He recommended losing the blue frame of the swing set on the right. Since Jim graciously allowed us to resubmit our edited pieces to him I spent some time redoing from his comments. 

First I tried editing my original idea with Jim's comments:
I screened back the shadows and contrast of background bush and building. I added a pattern to the school to give it a little depth.....

But at this point, the school building and the bush were really getting on my nerves.... not to mention I also thought i could make the kids angle a little more interesting still. So I did this sketch:

I polished it up to this:

Printed it and hung it over my drawing table so I could keep an eye on the contrast and painted this:

Then I added it into a spread: 

I kept the contrast in the shadows dialed back and eliminated the wave shape on the right side. I added type to this one, placed in a way to accentuate the white space around Jake on the right, he only barely is on the paper here which foreshadows how unprepared he will feel as the story unfolds. 

From multiple sketches to more than one finished image, I kept trying to turn this spread, with little action, into an ever more interesting section of the book. During the workshop, Jim said he always likes it when an illustrator takes his comments, goes away, and comes back with an even better idea. I hope I've done that here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sketchbook Sunday - Yoga, toothpaste, and the moon

This week my illustrators group had the pleasure of having incredible yoga instructor, Taunia Rice, to model for us. She went through a series of 1 minute, 5 minute and 15 minutes poses.... each one more beautiful that the last. Fellow illustrator Susan Eaddy put it perfectly when she said, "It's like trying to capture steps from a dance." Here are a couple of sketches I was proud of. I really hope to draw Taunia again.

I really hate to admit it but I'm really bad about getting my kids to brush their teeth in the morning. By the time I get them downstairs, fed, dressed and ready to walk out the door I can't bear the idea letting them go back upstairs to brush their teeth. The playroom is just steps away from the bathroom and they will certainly get sucked into its whirling vortex of power. Honestly, the importance of getting to school on time with my blood pressure in the normal range has trumped dental health. So I quietly felt guilty about this until last week when I figured out a solution: duh, we have a sink in the kitchen. So now the Fry and Sprout climb up and find a spot amongst the dirty dishes from the night before and brush away. Slightly disgusting, yes... but less disgusting than not brushing at all. And certainly less guilt inspiring for me.

Since Sprout has been in her big girl bed, she is fascinated with the moon at night. It helps that with the new position of the bed in the room, she has an unobstructed view of the sky through the curtains. Every clear night she looks up, sounding surprised every time, and says "oh! the moon! the moon!" Then she stares at it enraptured. It's so dadgum cute I had to draw it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Illustration Friday- Scary

In honor of Illustration Friday's theme of Scary, a couple of sketches inspired by Halloween:

also here's a couple of cool links:
I was featured as an Illustrator Saturday on Kathy Temean's blog. Kathy is an SCBWI regional advisor for New Jersey, she saw my work at the LA conference.

And here's some links to a pretty cool roundtable discussion going on amongst four children's illustrators:

  • Molly Idle – November 1-4

  • Mikela Prevost – November 8-11

  • Laura Jacobsen – November 15-18

  • Juana Martinez-Neal – November 22-25

  • Their work is awesome too. This link goes to the first blog posting by Juana follow it from there to the others.

    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    Sketchbook Tuesday

    Just some straightforward sketches tonight so I can cross off "post in blog" on my to-do list.

    First some poses from my illustrator's group. This is Anna who we drew a while ago, I posted about it here. She is always a beautiful subject:

    Then some more thoughts on black and white illustrations:

    What's this crazy bug all about?
    And another take at Sophie's Fish first spread:
    And because I don't think i've posted the first sketch from this piece here's the first two attempts:

    I keep playing with the angle of Sophie and Jake on the left page, trying to get a bit more drama out of the connection between the two.... any thoughts dear readers?

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    The Opening

    The weather was beautiful, the beer was local, and the crowds were furry. Asheville is really such a fabulously liberal town.... I've never seen so many dogs accompany their owners out on the town. This past weekend Jim Dear, Fry, Sprout, Grandmama and I made our way across the Smokies to visit the opening of ZaPow. After driving all day, delivering a couple more pieces to the gallery, and finding the cabin we were renting for the weekend, Jim Dear and I speed showered and were still an hour late getting back for the opening. We needn't have sweated - folks in Asheville like to party late. A large crowd filled the gallery, people and pets listened to tunes of a local punk-a-billy band, drank some microbrews and even bought a few of my prints. Well, the people did most of the drinking and the buying. I talked to several local folks and other artists, including Daryl Slaton, whose work was hanging near mine. His work was lovely, with lots of color and details. Several of the attendees commented on how our work complemented each other. Hopefully ZaPow will be a success for both of us.

    Besides ZaPow we also visited Carl Sandburg's house in nearby Flat Rock, NC. Besides using this leafy mountain retreat to write, the Sandburgs' also raised prize goats .....which, happily, are still there.

    A Return to Sketchiness....
    Life, and the dwindling pages of a sketchbook, has - as usual - interrupted my daily sketchings but i do have this to share. After completing my portfolio facelift in color, i've decided to do a few black and white pieces. These will be done for an older audience, think tween chapter books. I'm really looking forward to not worrying about color and just focusing on tone which is what I think brings out the drama in a piece anyway. Here's a scaly character and his feathered friend... or is it his lunch?

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    Zapow Gallery

    My work is now represented by Zapow Gallery in Asheville, NC. Zapow specializes in comic, illustrative and pop art images. I'm hanging framed and unframed prints of my work. Check it out! It's not on their on-line gallery yet but here's the image they sent after hanging my pieces in the real world gallery.  I'll be headed out to Asheville in a couple of weeks for the opening.

    Friday, September 30, 2011

    Illustration Friday- Hibernate

    So getting back into the swing of blogging after my conference palooza of the last two months, I thought I'd start with this post to Illustration Friday of Baby Sprout sleeping in her new big girl bed. I don't think she's gotten the hang of sleeping under the covers quite yet. But sleep in it she does, so Jim Dear and I bid a somewhat poignant farewell to our crib on Craig's List last week - watching the soon-to-be dad load it in his truck signaled the end of babies for us..... oh yeah and a couple of birthday's with the number 4 in them did that also. 

    On a professional note, if you are curious to read my posts from the SCBWI Mid-south Conference you can here, here, here, and here. The intensive with Jim Hoover was really something. Jim was really funny, yet insightful with his comments on everyone's pieces, so our group spent the afternoon sitting around a hotel boardroom shooting the breeze about art. It's great when you sign up for a session with an art director and they turn out to be someone you'd just want to hang out with anyway.

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    2011 SCBWI Midsouth Conference

    This weekend I'll be heading to the SCBWI Mid-South Conference here in Nashville where I will be a guest blogger for the conference blog. Look for my posts from workshops with Jim Hoover, Art Director with Viking Children's books, starting today! For the last two months he has been working with a small group of illustrators developing a story spread from two manuscripts. We will critique the finished spreads this afternoon in his intensive.

    And here's a little something pretty to look at - my latest "facelift" piece for my portfolio, finished this week:

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    Illustration Friday- Mysterious

    Just finished in time for Illustration Friday's theme this week, my newest illo for Somersaults magazine.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011

    Thanks Deirdra!... and hurricane schmurricane

    It's nice to have your work be noticed, even its just for a blog that allows me to spout my own opinions. While we were gone to the Bahamas, Deirda at  A Storybook World awarded Fabulous Illustrator the creative blog award!

    Ah... did I mention we went to the Bahamas? On a cruise? into a hurricane? While we saw very little of the Irene, our friends and family didn't know this and when the ship sailed back into waters that ATT recognized I downloaded a slew of alarmed texts saying "r u ok?" and "there's a hurricane!" I assumed they did not mean the drink, I was well aware of those.

    I wasn't driving the ship (course i don't think they'd let a footloose mom who had a martini glass surgically attached to her hand drive one of those things) but our trip was mostly beautiful. If you're reading this while sitting in front of a zombie computer screen with no vacation on the horizon enjoy this picture of where I was last week:

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    Amazing Wonders Aviation

    Now that the send button has been pressed on my last deadline I just wanted to post some pieces from my work on Lifeway's 2012 VBS Book series Amazing Wonders Aviation. Normally this would by my post for next week, but as I mentioned in my last post - I'm gonna be laying on a beach next week so Nyahhh! You get two posts this week, my luckies.

    These are the covers for the series and were somewhat of a departure from my usual more child-centric work. Amazing Wonders Aviation has a 1940's world flyer theme, with lots of old fashioned pilot gear and bulbous colorful airplanes. Each of the books is set around a different Natural Wonder, in my case the Grand Canyon and the Paricutin Volcano. Art Director Extraordinaire Keith and I came up with the idea of doing them as posters in the style of WPA travel posters. I absolutely love that look and had a great time going through piles of old travel posters getting inspiration. I now want to do an illustrations in that style for other destinations. Guess I'll be adding that to my to-do list that now extends almost to the tip of Chile.

    Cover and Let Simmer

    Most of my favorite recipes have, as their last instruction, a line that reads like this: "Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes." Simmering lets the flavors really permeate the sauce or the meat. If you dump chili straight from a boil into the bowl it tastes like overdone hamburger, there's been no time for the chili powder, garlic, and peppers to work their magic. I've decided it's the same with my experience at the LA conference two weeks ago. I came home from the conference, was immediately covered with Life Shtuff and now hidden bits that I absorbed from the various seminars are starting to soak in. One nugget I've turned over and over in my brain is that a lot of the faculty had stories about what else they did with their life other than try to get published. Many worked around books - as librarians or teachers. Others went in a completely non book direction (Gary Paulsen ran the Iditarod.... twice.) But their experiences definitely came back to haunt their writing or art later. It made me wonder if I'm trying too hard to chase the projects I want. For years I've been laser focused on this goal, and a laser focus is great for getting steady work and making a living, don't get me wrong. But a laser focus hasn't made my perfect publishing project come true any faster. Small Fry started kindergarten this week, a huge milestone. Of course we paraded him proudly to his classroom and took pictures but the laser throbbed away in the back of my mind: I was scoping out the school and staff for potential school visits. Next week Jim Dear and I are getting away for a bit to celebrate ten years of married life. I could worry about what I'm not getting done while I'm gone, what art directors I'm not contacting, what letters I'm not sending to agents. Or I could go to sleep on a beach chair with a pink-alicious cocktail and a blank sketchbook next to me. Turn the laser off and tell myself that this moment will come back later to make my artwork better.

    Maybe I need to quit boiling and let simmer.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Getting closer to my essence: my story of the SCBWI 2011 LA Summer Conference

    If you are able to be yourself, then you have no competition. All you have to do is get closer and closer to that essence. ~ Barbara Cook

    Last Thursday after packing high hopes in my suitcase and the kids off to school, Jim Dear dropped me off at the airport for my trip to the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA. The conference is a 3 day extravaganza of publishing stars and schmoozing. It was my first time going and I had been working feverishly for the last 7 months perfecting my portfolio so that I might also perfect my stranglehold on the children's book illustration industry.

    Stranglehold or not, I did have a good time, met several new very cool people (including roomies Kay and Renee) and got to shake hands with and hand cards to all of the people on my list. What follows are my high points of the conference and the sketches that accompanied them.

    David Small gave a keynote on Saturday centered around his riveting graphic novel, Stitches. Its the story of his harrowing childhood that set him on the path to art and illustrating as a saving grace. He took the audience from a wide eyed horror at some of the depictions of his child hood to foot stomping, hand clapping, singing along to "How Sweet It Is." I'm definitely buying this book. Later I introduced myself at one of the workshops and as he shook my hand he said, "I can feel your illustrator power, you'll be ok." David Small and his co-creator wife Sarah Stewart were probably the highest of highlights for me. This sketch of him is small simply because most of the time I spent listening and gripping the edge of the seat instead of my pencil.

    Then, as if the cosmos in the ballroom couldn't bear to be let down into the ordinary, SCBWI Exec Lin Oliver introduced the next guest .... Judy Blume! OK so just about every girl my age, especially if she was not beautiful and vivacious poured over the words of Judy Blume's books as if the author was speaking directly to us. Lin Oliver interviewed her for about an hour and she was just as sparkling funny as her books.

    Saturday night was the 40 Winks Ball, the theme was anything having to do with sleep or dreams. All of us Mid-southers went as a slumber party, in matching pajama shirts. We didn't win but it was fun. I had neither camera or sketchbook with me but you can see videos here.

    Here's a smattering of sketches from keynote speakers over saturday and Sunday, which included John Scieszka, Norton Juster, Gary Paulsen, and Mary Pope Osborne.

    Now I have to include this picture of the dessert from the Golden Kite Awards dinner on Sunday. While it did not have any industry connections or insightful commentary on creating kids books it did look pretty rad. And it was delicious, I couldn't even eat the whole thing.

    Portfolio review and epilogue:
    The amazing Dan Santat critiqued my portfolio on Friday. Immediately before the critique I found myself sitting next to Tammi Sauer, author of uber-funny Chicken Dance, and a dadgum nice person. When I told her that the illustrator of Chicken Dance, Dan Santat, was about to critique my work she said "oh! you'll love him! Tell him Tammi says hi!" Dan turned out to be a very low key. While he had compliments for my work and a couple of suggestions, I was a little baffled by his lack of enthusiasm, especially when he "said your work is fantastic" Notice no exclamation point. I ruminated on the whole experience for the next 3 days.... until I climbed into the airport shuttle and was once again sitting next to Tammi Sauer. We exclaimed hellos and chatted about the conference and children. I debated bringing up the critique but didn't until she asked how it went. Well, I said, he said my work was "fantastic" but he didn't really sound excited. "Oh" said she, "that's just how he is, trust me if he doesn't just say that about everyone. That's high praise."


    Years ago when my mom was a librarian, she would return from ALA conferences, suitcases heavy with treasures inside. One after another she would pull out books, posters, artwork, and more books out for us to salivate over. Often they were signed copies. Monday night it was my turn to recreate the scene with Fry and Sprout. As they swarmed around me, I handed them book after book. Sprout summed it up when she said "Mommy went away, but she brought us better books!" I hope that this trip will one day yield better books for Mommy.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    In a few days I head to LA for the 2011 SCBWI Summer Conference. I"ve never been before but have heard accolades by the dozens for the conference. There's a small army of folks on Twitter going. My goal, in the midst of my usual summer deadlines, was to finish 5 of my facelift pieces in time for the conference. Happily I was able to do so. I've painstakingly printed out a portfolio and loaded them onto my iPhone so I have a tiny little portfolio always in my hand!