Airships, Aliens, and Artwork!

Today is the publication date of my friend Caroline Carlson’s, debut middle-grade novel The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: X Marks the Spot! Not only is this a fabulous read (yes, I got a sneak peek at an advance copy), but it also turns out that I did some artwork for Caroline’s website!

Caroline approached me with my dream illustration job! She asked for bright colors, adventure, books, and (my favorite) monsters! It was a blast creating these images. Not only do they look great on the site, but now I fantasize all about having my own polka-doted alien pets (who also love to read!).

In honor of Caroline’s big debut, here are the illustrations I did for her website!

Opening home page:

Caroline Carlson Website1

Spot illustrations on top left and bottom right:

Caroline Carlson Website

And of course, check out Caroline’s new book! It’s in bookstores today!

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: X Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

About the Book: Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT is the first installment in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy. Books 2 and 3 are forthcoming in 2014 and 2015.

The Power of Books

I just stumbled across this great “Power of Books” photography series by artist Malden Penev. According to Cheryl Rainfild’s blog Malden created  this series of photographs in 2005 for the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. I thought I’d share them with you, because they are very provocative and really illustrate some element of why we write and the power our stories hold.

Picture Book Layout – 32 Pages of Awesome!

At the 2008 SCBWI LA Conference, author/illustrator Adam Rex shared the secret to creating 32 pages of awesome in a picture book layout. Follow these secrets to success to find your own inner illustration-diva:

What Layout Choices Does the Illustrator Have?

  • It is the illustrator’s job to create the page breaks in the manuscript.
  • The size of the book is also up to the illustrator. It’s always good to consider price however when creating a size.

A Few Facts About Formatting:

  • The first page (with text of story) will always start on the right, and is usually page 5. It will look like a mistake otherwise.
  • Assume the book will be 32 pages, add more if you can’t fit it all. Look at other picture books for sizes and pacing, etc.

To Each His Own. Adam’s Process:

  • Adam’s uses a lot of photo reference and will often take his own photos using himself and his family.
  • He usually works about 150% of the size it will be printed and in some cases 200%.
  • However his last two books were completely painted digitally.
  • It takes him about 3-4 months to paint a picture book. That does not include the planning, sketching phases.

A Bit about The Business:

  • Yes, you will retain the rights to your artwork.
  • Adam actually sells about a half a dozen original paintings a year.
  • Usually, he deals with the editor far more than the art director. However, once he never spoke to an editor and did the entire project thru the art director.

Adam Rex is the illustrator of The Dirty Cowboy, Frankenstein Makes and Sandwich, Frankenstein Takes the Cake, Tree Ring Circus, and Pssst. His first novel The True Meaning of Smekday was published in 2007, and his second novel Fat Vampire came out in July 2010.

A Tender Bridge

Quotes and Advice from Ashley Bryan:

  • “If you put art into the world, you will get beauty in return.”
  • If I can conjure up the joy of the voice of the book, then the child will want to read. Kids don’t want to be put on the spot. A kid can work with you if you give them time.
  • I hold the book as I speak the words so the kids know where the words come from.
  • I rejoice in the spirit of the oral tradition.
  • Kids need to know how the words will speak through them. This is different for everyone. Work cooperatively, and allow the child to ask you how to pronounce something. This will give them confidence when they perform a poem.
  • Poetry infuses fiction and non-fiction.
  • I hope that in the reading of the book you can hear the original storyteller.

Books and Poems Recited by Bryan:

  • There were many poems presented. These two I jotted down.
  • Black Bird (Folk tale picture book)
  • Nicki Giovanni’s “Why I like Chocolate.”

Ashley Bryan’s numerous awards and honors include the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration, six Coretta Scott King Honors, the Arbuthnot Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship, and several honorary doctorates. He illustrated The Story of the Three Kingdoms, The Sun is So Quiet, Ho God Fix Jonah, and many others. He retold and illustrated many books of African folktales and six books of African American Spirituals. Mr. Bryan studied at The Cooper Union in New York and earned a degree of philosophy from Columbia University. He lives in Islesford, Maine.

Follow Your Passions: Advice from Illustrator E.B. Lewis

Children’s book illustrator E.B. Lewis doesn’t refer to himself as a fine artist or an illustrator but as an Artistrator. He gave a keynote speech at the 2010 LA SCBWI Conference about his journey as both fine artist and illustrator, and the passion behind his craft. The following notes were taken during his talk:

The Role of the Artist/Illustrator/Writer:

  • This is an amazing job. But do you realize the work that goes behind it?
  • We are artists.
  • We are critical thinkers.
  • We are in constant observation of the world.
  • We change minds.

The Sacrifices We Must Make For Our Craft:

  • Whenever there is an overthrow of power, the artists are the first to see persecution.
  • A lot of work can lose you relationships.
  • You lose time with all the hours you spend in your studio.
  • It takes hours to make something look simple.

The Elusive Goal of Perfection:

  • What happens when we talk about passion? We try to reach perfection, but it is not possible.
  • What happens when inspiration dies?
  • There were 2 ½ years when Lewis wasn’t able to paint (fine art). He felt like h is work wasn’t important, it wasn’t relevant. At least not in his own opinion.

The Difference between a Fine Artist and an Illustrator:

  • An illustrator takes written words and turns it into images.
  • A fine artist takes a philosophical issue and makes something, in whatever form it must take.
  • Artists document life.
  • Some of the best art in the country is in children’s books.

A Gift of Support as a Child:

  • Lewis’ Uncle was a huge influence on him as a younger man. He was the only person who talked to him in an adult manner. He would look at his artwork and ask him “What is your patience.” At first Lewis didn’t understand, and later he realized his uncle was asking him about inspiration. Every month his uncle would give him a new book. His uncle helped him to discover his passion for art.

Starting Out In Children’s Books:

  • An agent saw Lewis’ work in a magazine about watercolor painting and called him up and asked him if he would be interested in doing children’s books. Lewis was initially not interested, but the agent asked him to go to a book store and look up some illustrators, such as: Barry Moser, Chris Van Allsburg, and Pickney.  Lewis went to the book store and was blown away. He agreed to sign with the agent. A few weeks later Lewis had nine book contracts.

Chasing the Monster (Doing the Work):

  • Lewis loves to work for about 2 hours on a piece, and then he can’t wait to get a new blank piece of paper.
  • He loves the excitement of putting a mark on a piece of paper and seeing what will happen.
  • Chasing the monster is what drives you, but you never quite catch it.

Technique and Process:

  • Lewis uses lots of photo reference for his books. He finds someone in his community to play the part and then sets up the images with photo shoots.
  • In the Jacqueline Woodson book about two girls of different races living on two sides of a fence, he used the gutter (book binding area) as a metaphorical fence. He never let the two girls be on the same page until the end of the book when they climbed over the fence.
  • Lewis discovered a whole new style for the book When You Were Born. He felt that it needed a new style, or visual language for the book.
  • At 10pm at night, Lewis calls an artist friend who is also painting late at night. The two of them will talk for hours as they both work.

When the Inspiration Well Dried Up:

  • Lewis would still go into the studio every day. He needed to feed that side of him, even if he wasn’t creating anything.
  • He goes to a museum in every city he visits/goes to speak. To help find inspiration in someone else’s work.

His Lottery Ticket/Child Project:

  • He found inspiration in a lottery ticket project, where the image scratches away to show children beneath. “We spend all this time scratching for wealth, but if we scratch past the lottery ticket, what do you find beneath? A Child.”
  • We don’t dig deep enough to find the true value of our children. They are more valuable than gold.
  • Our lives are like lotteries – you never know.
  • Don’t scratch too deep or you can destroy.
  • Fill yourself up to overflowing and then give it back!

E.B. Lewis was born on December 16, 1956, in Philadelphia, PA. He attended Temple University Tyler School of Art, and there discovered the medium of watercolor. Lewis is presently an instructor at the University of Arts in Philadelphia. His illustrated 30 books including Talking About Bessie, The Negro Speaks, The Bat Boy and his Violin, and the Caldacott Honor Winner Coming On Home Soon.

Loren Long: Illustrating The Picture Book

Why do you want to write and illustrate picture books? Illustrator Loren Long, began his keynote speech at the 2010 LA SCBWI Conference with this question. The following notes are an overview of what he had to say about his process, creating emotion in art, and the importance of leaving something behind for the next generation.

Illustrating the Picture Book – My Two Cents:

Ask Yourself:

  • Why do I want to be published?
  • Why do I write children’s books?
  • Is it to make a living?
  • Do I just like kids?
  • What do I want to give this world?

The Author/ Illustrator Relationship:

  • It is a non-collaboration collaboration.
  • You don’t really talk to one another at all.
  • As an illustrator I want authors to know that when I accept your manuscript I’m paying you the highest compliment I can. I want to make your book mine too and I want to share it with the world.

How Do You Start Illustrating a Picture Book?

  • How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you start a picture book? One drawing at a time.
  • One sketch per day. Make one drawing today and then forget about the rest of the book till tomorrow.
  • If someone else can illustrate a book. Why not me? Get your John Wayne on!

My Painting Technique:

  • I paint with acrylics.
  • I paint thin washes of paint on illustration board. I build up the layers slowly until it becomes opaque.
  • I used gouache paint for my book Otis.
  • I spend 2 to 3 months on the sketches of the book, and then 4 to 6 months on the paintings.
  • I do about two books a year, but it usually takes me about a year and a half.

My Background and How I Got My Start in Picture Books:

  • I started out working in greeting cards. (Gibson greeting cards).
  • I went to art school in Chicago.
  • After greeting cards I moved into editorial work and magazine work. I worked for magazines like TIME, Atlantic Monthly, Readers Digest, and Sports Illustrated.
  • I worked for 12-15 years as a freelance illustrator before I discovered publishing and children’s books.
  • I said yes to every job that came along.
  • Dave at Night was the first YA book cover I did.
  • I didn’t do my first picture book until I was 38. (Frank McCourt didn’t write Angela’s ashes until he was 66, so don’t worry, age doesn’t matter!)

Some Career Highlights:

  • Working for Madonna was kind of a dream job. But Madonna did have to see every sketch for the book. But she loved them. I really loved the world of that book.
  • I re-illustrated The Little Engine that Could. What an honor.
  • One book always informs the next book you will do. If I didn’t work on Truck Town I wouldn’t have found the inspiration for my book Otis (which he wrote and illustrated).

Infuse Your Illustration with Emotion:

  • Always search for the “emotional hit.” Find the one spread, the one image that really captures the impact of your book. That’s something I am always searching for in every book I do.
  • When I was a child I loved books. It wasn’t just the stories and the characters but the books themselves became my friends. I would carry them around, take them places with me, etc. Reading was always like visiting a good friend. One of my favorites was the Pokey Little Puppy.
  • Mood and emotion are key in art.
  • Look for the emotional moments in the story like you’re a film director.
  • I like to imagine the music that would go with a particular scene. Like the music in the Last of the Mohicans  – brilliant!
  • The emotion comes through the character. It is more than a smile or a facial expression, it’s the heart and soul. Feel the picture!
  • Trust, loyalty, and security – these are all things a child is looking for in a picture book.

The Mystical Sketch Phase:

  • The intellectual part of the illustrating comes in the sketch phase. This is when I am choosing my moments.
  • I want the reader to feel the art, not just look at it.
  • It all starts with the mystical sketch phase. If only my paintings could live up to my sketches.

Some of My Artistic Influences Include:

  • Grant Wood
  • Thomas R. Benton
  • Edward Hopper
  • George Bellows
  • N.C. Wyeth
  • Become a student of art! Become a student in your field!

“Set sail for a new horizon in your artwork!” – Long

Loren Long is the #1 New York Times best-selling illustrator of Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could and Madonna’s Mr. Peabody’s Apples. Other books by Loren Long include Toy Boat, Angela and the Baby Jesus, I Dream of Trains, When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer, as well as Otis and Drummer Boy which he wrote and illustrated.  Loren lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and two sons. You can visit him at