Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Illustration Friday - Sweater

Considering how cold it's been across much of the country, 'Sweater' seemed an appropriate word for this week's "Illustration Friday" challenge. From the time I started working on this week's illustration, I had in my mind an image of a small girl in an oversize, way-too-big sweater. My first attempt had the girl sitting and reading a book on a window seat, cozy and snug in her sweater while a winter storm tapped against her windows. When I finished it, I realized that this was another one of those instances where the finished illustration did not match up with the vision in my mind that I had started with. So I decided to do another one. This time I had the girl standing in her bedroom, where she has just tried on her new sweater.  I also made this version more humorous by having the sweater so big that the girl can barely see over the collar. Not only that, but the sleeves are so long, they hide her hands. This version is closer to what I had originally imagined the girl and her sweater would look like.

To the left is my original sketch for my first attempt, the version with the girl in the window seat. Below it is is the finished digital watercolor and pen illustration.  There are certain things I like about this illustration (the color scheme, some of the textures) but after I finished it, I realized the girl looked older than I had originally envisioned and I feel I made her forearm too long.

Working on these two images gave me a chance to experiment with some new custom pens that I created with Painter's Brush Creator. It's easy to become addicted to the Brush Creator, there are so many permutations that can be adjusted for an infinite variety of brushes, that once you've started designing new brushes, it's hard to stop. I like taking two different brushes and using the transposer to morph them into a new brush. Using the random brush generator is also fun. If you come up with something that you like, it's easy to save it by going to the Variant menu and clicking on 'Save Variant.' This opens up a dialog box where you can give your new brush a name. If you're not quite happy with the brush results from the transposer or random brush windows, you can go into the 'Stroke Designer' window and tweak the permutations manually. It's in this window where you can adjust size, spacing, number of bristles, type of stroke, color variability, angle, etc. If you haven't tried out the Brush Creator, I recommend giving it a try, it's lots of fun.

One of the custom brushes that I used in this image was a 'Fur' brush that I created by following the steps in this online tutorial, "Creating a Custom Brush to Paint Fur and Hair."

The tutorial says it was created using Painter IX, but it worked just fine in Painter XI, which is what I am using for my illustrations. Thanks to Don Seegmiller for the instructions on how to create this cool brush. It's not only a great brush for adding fur textures to animals, but it worked great for creating a very fuzzy sweater.

Directly below is the digital pencil sketch that I created for my second image. Below it, is the image after I've inked it using one of my custom pen brushes.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What I Learned in New York - Part 2

It was two weeks ago this weekend that I attended this year's SCBWI Winter conference in New York City. While it is still somewhat fresh in my mind, I'm going to share some of what I learned from the various panels and speakers that presented throughout the weekend. 

Saturday morning, January 29th, Lois Lowry opened the conference with a beautiful keynote talk where she answered some of the questions sent to her by her young readers. Throughout the talk she shared insights on where she gets her ideas and told fascinating stories of her childhood growing up in Japan and funny stories about her return to America and, as a young girl, her awkward introduction to summer camp. She told about how her father's memory loss helped give her the idea for her Newbery award winning book, "The Giver," and how stories from a friend's childhood inspired her other Newbery winner, "Number the Stars."  It was heartbreaking to hear her tell how the early death of an older sister, inspired her book "A Summer to Die." Her entire talk, filled with vignettes from her life, showed how incidents in one's life can lead to inspiration for storywriting. She said how important it is to give words to sorrow, to give words to fear and to give words to anxiety. Throughout her talk, she put slides up on screen, some of which displayed rhymed couplets that explained her writing process. Here are a few of them: 
Lois Lowry

"Things that happened way back when
told and shaped and told again."

"From the past a whispered hiss
of guilt and shame - remember this?"

"Remembered grin, familiar frown
grasp it - name it - write it down"

She talked about how her stories often had roots in the question "what if?" What if a society could choose to forget about pain and loss? That "what if" question is the one that led her to write "The Giver."

She also told a story about how her father was the dentist to Richard Nixon's daughters, Julie and Tricia and how he would constantly talk about how well behaved and polite they were. These anecdotes led Ms Lowry into an explanation of how the inspiration for her character Anastasia Krupnik, came from the daughter of another president, Jimmy Carter's daughter, Amy. Lowry said that she felt Amy Carter was a much easier child to relate to than Nixon's girls.  Amy Carter had public tantrums, her mother dressed her in ugly clothes, she wore big eye glasses, etc. In other words she seemed much more like a real girl.

Lois Lowry's speech was followed by the day's first panel, a panel devoted to picture books entitled, "Creating and Recreating the Picture Book: Three Views." The panel was moderated by Lin Oliver (a woman who could have been a successful stand-up comedian) and featured three guests: Jane Yolen, Mark Teague and Patricia Lee Gauch. 

Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen (known as "the Hans Christian Andersen of America") started off the panel talking about how much work and dedication is involved in writing a picture book. She also shared some things an author needs to know when writing one: 
1) lyricism - the text needs to have a lyric sensibility, a resonance. Some examples she gave of text with lyricism were the lines, "Let the wild rumpus begin," from Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are," and "Under the Shining Owl Moon," from her own book, "Owl Moon."
2) Compression - time, emotions, and characters are compressed in a picture book, so the words have to do double and triple the work.
3) Child centeredness - this does not mean that your story has to have a child as the main character but it does mean that the emotional key has to resonate with a child. Some examples she gave are "Officer Buckle and Gloria," by Peggy Rathman where the main character is a policeman and his police dog and "A Sick Day for Amos McGee," this year's Caldecott winner by Philip Christian Stead, a book whose main character is an elderly man.
4) A hook - your story will need something that will get the child into the book.
5) Words - pick your words as carefully as a poet would. Use big words as well as small words and sometimes make up your own words.
5) Illustratibility - think in terms of pictures, think physically, make sure there are things in your writing that an illustrator can illustrate.
6) Emotional resolution - for a picture book, it's important that you resolve the emotional issues of the story. Think about the ending of "Where the Wild Things Are."

Mark Teague
Mark Teague, the illustrator of several of Jane Yolen's books including the popular "How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You?" followed with his insights from the illustrator's point of view.  His talk felt very spontaneous (which may have been due to the fact that he was called in at the last minute to replace David Small who was originally supposed to be the  representative illustrator) and flowed easily from one topic to another. He spoke about how important it is for the illustrator to match the images to the lyricism of the words and to hopefully extend the text by showing things that aren't explicitly spelled out in the author's text. He said a picture book illustrator needs to be a good reader - to understand the mood, the bounce and rhythm of the text. He also encouraged illustrators to experiment, to learn new techniques through trial and error, to try anything as long as you remember that you are working in service to the story. Try and find the things that are individual to you and avoid visual cliches.  If you are going to draw a dog, don't make it look like every other dog illustration you've seen, but make it your own dog, in other words, put something of your own personality into your dog illustration. He ended by reminding illustrators to concentrate on the wonder and mystery of the story, to those things that are happening beyond the edges of the page.  

Patricia Lee Gauch, an editorial director of Philomel Books reminded us that storytellers have never had it easy and that some of what we know about fear, loss and emotion is stored in our gut.  She told us to go to the well, the rag and bone shop of our hearts. She told writers, "let the stuff from the deepest part of you choose your story." She also said to try and "see your narrative as a wave that you feel, feel the swell of it. . . . go for the catch in the breath." In talking about picture books she reminded writers that interesting things need to happen at each page turn and not to forget the middle of the story. "Middles are important!" she said.

Sara Zarr
Sunday, January 30th was the final day of the conference and it ended with two keynote speakers. The first was by Sara Zarr, author of the young adult novels "Story of a Girl," "Once Was Lost," and "Sweethearts." She talked about living and sustaining a creative life. She started off by telling the audience that it's impossible for an author (or illustrator) to know how long it's going to take before that one big break comes along. Because of this uncertainty, it's important to craft and nurture a creative life. She emphasized the importance of loving the work that you do and remembering that publication is not the end result. You have to remember that what makes you happy will keep shifting. Right now, publishing your first book might be the thing that you think will make you happy, but once you've achieved that goal, it will be something else that will make you happy. Since those things that make you happy will change throughout your life, it's important to love the work, crafting a sustainable creative life that will keep you centered. You must find things that engage you, that tap into something deep inside of you, things that excite and expand you. She said to ask yourself the question, "Do you wake up in the morning eager to create?" The answer to that question will tell you a lot about whether you can sustain a creative life.  She suggested to seek out mentors or become a mentor yourself. If this isn't possible, than she suggested that you read biographies of artists that mean something to you. She also said it was important to be choosey about who you share the chief issues of your creative life, know when to keep things private, think before sharing and know when it's time to send company away.

The importance of having faith in your creative life can't be underestimated. To illustrate this point, Zarr shared a quote by Flannery O'Connor, "People without hope don't write novels." She went on to say that you need to have faith that what matters to you will also matter to other people.

On the flip side of the coin, Zarr also talked about those things that can make a creative life unsustainable. She included unsustainable habits, things that will eventually take a toll on your life, things like not getting enough sleep, not enough exercise, existing solely on junk food, etc. She also pointed out that there is no artistic romance in being self-destructive.

One of the points that stuck with me in Zarr's talk was when she said we can choose how we experience our lives. For an example she said, "if you're stuck in traffic and getting stressed out and start to yell and pound on the dashboard (something I often find myself doing), is that really going to make the experience any more pleasant?"  She went on to say how important it is to figure out what you need in order to be in a good place to do your work, to learn what facilitates your creative life. What are the things you need in your life to do your best work? 

Some other tips from Zarr's talk:
Save the drama for your work.
Nothing will happen unless you do your work.
Don't obsess over the process, i.e. reading about how to write, how to illustrate.
Finish things, don't plan so much, just do it.
If you see the value of your creative life only in terms of what the marketplace values, you'll stop doing creative work.
Don't become disenchanted. Disenchantment is the opposite of engagement.

Linda Sue Park
The final keynote of the conference was given by Linda Sue Park (the Newbery award winning author of 'A Single Shard). Her talk emphasized the importance of believing in the work. She talked about the importance of a good story and how, by reading a lot, one can learn what's a good story by creating a mental standard, a scale in your head of what you like, a mental storehouse of books you've read that you can use for comparison for what's good and what's not. She stressed the need to focus on your story rather than on your own insecurities of whether you think you can do it or not. Stop telling yourself, "I can't do this, I don't know anything about this, etc. Stop making it about yourself and make it about focusing on the story. Two things that she impressed on the audience were, "When the story matters more than your feelings, the work will start to flow," and "Courage is when you are afraid of the project and you do it anyway."

There are so many other things I could write about my three days at the SCBWI conference.  I haven't even mentioned the legendary Jules Feiffer and his suggestion to approach your work as if it were play, not to mention his advice on how important it is to entertain the possibility of failure, "If it doesn't work, so what? Make it work." Another speaker who I left out was Goosebumps author, R.L. Stine, who gave a hilarious keynote speech during our Saturday luncheon. I also didn't mention the informative after hours group discussion I attended on LGBT publishing that was hosted by Lee Wind. As you may have gathered, this conference was filled with advice, information, and inspiration. It was like a three day banquet where each day you were presented with a sumptuous meal, each course filling you up, but still leaving you with the desire for more. 
Jules Feiffer
Lois Lowry signing autographs

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

SCBWI Conference 2011 Part 1: Apps, Apps, Apps!

Last year's SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference was held just a day or two after Steve Jobs had revealed the iPad to the world. Even though the devices weren't even on the market yet, at every panel I attended, worried conference attendees were asking the speakers from the publishing world about what the devices would mean for the future of publishing and in particular what implications they would hold for the future of the picture book. The industry experts answered by unanimously stating that paper books would always be around. As far as pictures books went, they pointed out that the 'page turn' when reading a picture book to a small child was too integral to the experience and could not be duplicated in the same way by an electronic device. Well, one year after its announcement and now on the market, the iPad was still a major topic of conversation and the subject of many questions. The main difference between last year and this year was that many of the conference attendees now actually owned the device and were carrying them around. I can't tell you how many people I saw with iPads or other electronic reading devices. While waiting in line to get my books autographed by Jane Yolen, Lois Lowry, Jules Feiffer and the other authors (more about them in my next post), two women directly ahead of me in line had their iPads out and were showing them off to their friends.

To bring home what an impact the iPad and e-readers have had on the industry, this year two of the panels I attended for illustrators were devoted to developing books for apps to be used on these devices, while a third panel talked not only about apps but about using websites in conjunction with books to further extend the reading experience. As a matter of fact, the topics for all of the panels in the illustrator's intensive had to do with the possibilities of work beyond books, i.e., websites, e-readers, iPads, social media, animated TV shows, and licensing your designs and characters for uses on products besides books. The author/illustrator Dan Yaccarino even entitled his talk "Beyond Books." Several speakers, including Mr. Yaccarino, emphasized that we are at the dawning of a revolutionary era in publishing. Mr. Yaccarino, in his powerpoint presentation, displayed a series of slides depicting the evolution of devices that man has used for telling stories. In the beginning, our earliest, hunched-over ancestors used fire to throw shadows onto a wall. Then came chiseling images on to stone tablets. Next came writing on papyrus scrolls and other forms of paper. Finally the invention of the printing press brought about books more or less the way we know them today. For his final slide, Yaccarino presented an image of a now upright man holding an iPad. In other words, this device is just another stage of evolution in the  growth of our storytelling tools and abilities. One of the key points of his talk was that with these new devices, we now have fewer limitations than ever before for telling a story. But, he added, even all the new bells and whistles like sound and animation that these devices bring with them will not make a bad story any better. His last point was that good stories and compelling characters will always be the most important elements, the elements that will transcend any medium.

One of the most interesting panels on the topic of Apps was the one titled "Development of Original App" hosted by Rubin Pfeffer and John Carlin. They made several interesting points that helped put the iPad, the e-reader and other new devices into perspective. Though they didn't go back as far as torch-wielding cavemen, they too talked about the evolution of storytelling devices and emphasized how we are still in the pre-history period of digital media. As an example, they pointed out that the technology for motion pictures was invented in the late 1800s but it took more than 15 years before anything we might recognize today as a movie was developed. They talked about D.W. Griffith, the pioneering film director who is often credited with developing the language of storytelling in film (the close-up, cross-cutting, etc.) and how we haven't yet had a D.W. Griffith come along to develop the storytelling vocabulary for digital media. Their talk emphasized that we are in a new frontier, nothing has yet been set in stone and encouraged us as illustrators to experiment and to take advantage of being involved in a revolution that is still in its infancy.

To help us take our first steps into this revolutionary new world, they provided a list of building blocks. They said to think of creating apps as you would if you were creating a puppet show rather than a series of illustrations. Think not only about the characters, but the props you would need to tell your story, as well as the backgrounds and settings. Make any interactive elements fundamental to the experience and not just decoration. An interesting thing they pointed out is that devices like the iPad, that utilize these apps, have the technology built into them to know where the reader is while he/she is reading the story, what time it is when the story is being read and even what the weather is like where the reader is located. They talked about thinking of ways to experiment in using the device's knowledge of this information to personalize the experience of the story that is being read. One thing they said to always remember - that even with all of this new technology, the most important interface for getting something meaningful from a story is always going to be in your reader's mind and imagination.

Pfeffer and Carlin also pointed out that as artists we should not worry about having to learn how to program code. What is more important is that we understand how the technology is used and how it can be experienced by the user. Just as illustrators now often collaborate with other authors, editors and art-directors, in the future another collaborator may be added to the mix - the programmer or app developer.

Finally they talked about using Common Sense when developing an idea for an app. First of all you still need a great story. Second, be realistic about what type of illustration style is going to look good on the different types of screens used in this technology. Some of these devices, like the iPod Touch or iPhone, have very small screens so keep this in mind when designing your art. Third, just because something can be done using this new technology, doesn't necessarily mean it should be done. In other words avoid being gratuitous in using interactivity in your story. Remember that this is still a reading experience. Know the limits of interactivity, know when it is being used creatively and when it is being used as just a novelty.

They closed with two final thoughts:  1) On many levels, good old-fashioned books are still more interactive and exercise the reader's imagination more than any of these new technologies, and 2) At this moment in history, there are amazing opportunities to help invent a new medium, to develop a new vocabulary, it would be smart to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

In a later panel, Rich Richter from Ruckus Media pointed out how the iPad is the fastest selling electronic device ever.  Like Pfeffer and Carlin, he pointed out that the things that happen in an app should happen for a reason and like them, he also emphasized the need to have a great story. Some other tips and info he shared on apps: 1) aim the app at the right age group, 2) be creative, 3) keep the point of view at eye level, 4) adapt a classic or create a new story from scratch, 5) take things to a new level by integrating an interactive game, 6) make apps that respect kids, 7) be aware that platform wars are most likely on the horizon as competing developers bring out other devices (the example he used is the Android tablet). 8) Things are going to get competitive, so market aggressively.

After listening to all of these speakers over the course of an 8 hour day, the three things that I took away from these talks were: 1) There will always be a need for content. This new technology gives us new opportunities for more work and new ways to share existing work; 2) Don't be intimidated by this technology, instead, explore it and experiment with it. Realize that you don't need to know the technical side of everything. As long as you can grasp its potential, you can work with someone who will develop the app for you. Just as an art director and editor would help guide you in the creation of a picture book, a developer will help in the creation of an app; 3) The most important thing to remember: It doesn't matter if what you are creating is going to be a regular book or an app for an iPad, the story and characters still need to be compelling.

In my next post, I will talk about the wonderful authors that spoke at the conference and I will pass on some of the choice bits of wisdom that I gleaned from their talks. Until then, thanks for reading Light and Shade!