Category Archives: Illustrators

WHOOO WHOOO! Interview with Whobert Whover’s Illustrator Jess Pauwels!

We’re wrapping up the party for Jason Gallaher’s debut picture book Whobert Whover, Owl Detective with an interview with Jess Pauwels, the talented illustrator. It’s such a thrill for me to chat with Jess, because not only do I love this “whodunnit” fun story starring an owl (one of my favorite animals), but I adore the wonderful illustrations!

First, WHO is Jess Pauwels? In her own words:

I live in Brussels Belgium. I grew up in a family of professional dancers, but pencils were more appealing to me (and less exhausting ^!^) ! I studied arts and I graduated in illustration from St Luc-Brussels. For a few years, I was both an illustrator and a bookseller.

Six years ago, I chose to concentrate only on my graphic career. I drew for magazines, music labels, and picture books publishers. Since then, I have illustrated great stories, mostly in France, and some of them have been translated into Chinese and Italian.

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is my very first USA picture book

And now, on to the interview!

Tell us a little about your creative process. What are the steps you take before you start working on the book’s illustrations? How did you come up with Whobert and the other cast of characters?

First, I sketched all the characters. Like a « forest theme » movie casting – how should they look like to stick to the story? It helped me to get their reactions and to find the appropriate facial expressions for each one.

Then, I waited for the publisher’s creatives to send me the text layout – the way they want the text to be spread from one page to another.

After they decided where to put the text and where my illustrations would stand, I made several storyboards (small fast drawings with the same proportions of the book) to settle who is in the picture doing what and what is the general ambiance. I tried to find a balance between close ups, large views, etc. It helps with the dramatization of the image.

The drawings part was the most creative, fun, personal touch part. I was able to choose how I would tell Jason’s great story with my own touch.

Then, when the publisher’s team validated this part, they pretty much left me to decide on the rest of the job. They gave me advice more than asked for changes.

So next, I drew properly the whole thing, with all the details and the intentions I wanted – every image at the final book size, this time. Sometimes when the image is bigger than in my storyboard, things didn’t work anymore, so I changed or got rid of some stuff. I’m not usually very satisfied with the firsts results. Slowly, I found the right tone to satisfy me.

To complete and color, I scanned my drawings to the computer. This helped me to make final changes (eyes too close together or add a feather here and there, resize a worm …). If I had to do it in traditional techniques it would have taken ages.The computer can be a wonderful tool if you don’t skip important first creative steps.

Were there any specific challenges you encountered during the process? Any particular joys?

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is my first USA picture book collaboration. Humor is very different over there (in the USA). You are less serious and you seem to trust more the kids’s sense of humor. It’s very liberating to illustrate.

But the most challenging thing for me was the long wait before the launch of the book. In Europe, it takes around 3 to 6 months. With my project for Whobert, it took more than a year between the finished illustrations to the real printed copies.

But the real challenge for me was when I was finishing the pictures, because my 10-year-old French bulldog became very hill. Rushing into work helped me not to be too depressed about it, as he was my hairy muse for so long. He left us in February 2016.

A year and a half later we are welcoming our new puppy and Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is going out. It’s been a long, dog-free, but projects-full year in my studio. The wait for this fun picture book gave me hope and kept me focused on my other books to finish.

Meeting Jason through this project and seeing him be so enthusiastic, proud, and thrilled with the result was a vitamin shot to my self esteem.

Who is your favorite character from Whobert Whover, Owl Detective? Why?

This is quite a tough question, because when I draw a story I need to step into the shoes of every character. But, I think it’s really Whobert I like the most. He is so funny and stubborn. He’s a determined hero even if he’s mostly naive. With that kind of character you just cannot stay serious about life. He’s kind of a mix between Sherlock Holmes and Kimmy Schmidt, and I’d love to be this kind of mix! ^!^

(I LOVE Jess’s answer!)

Finally, can you show us a picture of your work space (I’m obsessed with creative work spaces.) What is your favorite part of your work area? Do you have any special rituals or talismans?

I work at home in our apartment in Brussels Belgium. I have my own studio. I tried to work in an outside place with other creative friends, but I was suddenly not so productive (morning coffee talks/lunch breaks talks/afternoon coffee talks). It became harder to focus on the jobs. I love to socialize a little too much.

So back home I’m more effective. I have my morning coffee in front of my social media and news, and I’m launched.

As talismans, I need several things to reassure myself, like music (Nina Simone, Laura Veirs, Joan As police Woman). On the walls, inspiring images like Lewis Carroll’s drawing of Alice in Wonderland, other illustrators’ prints. or pictures of our trips. On my desk are my favorites pencils and markers and two mini statues of Ganesh, brought from India and Lao, which are taking care of my projects.

…and lately COOPER our new companion, watching me from his pillow…not very calmly yet. !-)

Thank you, Jess! Congratulations to you and Jason on Whobert Whover, Owl Detective! You and Jason make a fabulous team!


Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her puppy, Kiku; rabbit, Aki; and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth, the first two books of her debut chapter book series is now available from Farrar Straus Giroux. Two more books will follow next year: Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl (4/3/18) and Jasmine Toguchi, Flamingo Keeper (7/3/18).

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.

 

 

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Filed under Book Launch, Celebrations, Illustrators, Interviews, Launch, Picture books, process, Uncategorized

Show Yourself in Your Work: An Illustrator’s Story

It’s launch week! It’s launch week! Hold onto your summer floppy hats, we have a book…well, actually two to launch into the world this week. A little bit from the publisher about our first book baby!

Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is a flamingo fan, tree climber, and top-notch mess-maker!

She’s also tired of her big sister, Sophie, always getting to do things first. For once, Jasmine wishes SHE could do something before Sophie—something special, something different. The New Year approaches, and as the Toguchi family gathers in Los Angeles to celebrate, Jasmine is jealous that her sister gets to help roll mochi balls by hand with the women. Her mom says that Jasmine is still too young to join in, so she hatches a plan to help the men pound the mochi rice instead. Surely her sister has never done THAT before.

But pounding mochi is traditionally reserved for boys. And the mochi hammer is heavier than it looks. Can Jasmine build her case and her mochi-making muscles in time for New Year’s Day?

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

And even better? This is the first book in a series. The second book is also available this week! At the end of this post, you can enter to wind a copy!

To kick off a week of Jasmine Toguchi celebrations, I sat down with illustrator Elizabet Vukovic. Ok, technically, she was in the Netherlands and I was in Maine… but laughing all the way through our video chat, it was as if we were sitting at the same table. Elizabet is not only talented and brilliant, but she’s bubbly, fun, spunky, and there are some big surprises in her journey.  You are going to love her as much as I do. Let’s get to it.

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Elizabet knows exactly what it’s like to have a big sister who gets everything first! Reading the pages of Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen, Elizabet related to Jasmine immediately. She laughed heartily as we talked about her own childhood and the misery of hand-me downs.

Growing up in the Netherlands, Elizabet lived around the corner from a bicycle store. Every summer, she looked through the shop window at the new bikes. So shiny! So new! And every summer, she watched her older sister pick out a new bike… while Elizabet got her sister’s old bike to ride. (Eventually Elizabet would get a new bike, but not until high school!)

Elizabet wore her sister’s hand-me-down clothes and played with hand-me-down toys––until one day Elizabet had enough. It happened in the toy store. The girls had begged their father to walk into the toy store, promising only to look at the toys. Finally, their father agreed. The three of them walked into the store and that’s when Elizabet saw it: a microphone. Not just any microphone, but one that echoed. Elizabet was always singing and this microphone would be the perfect accessory. She had to have it.

She asked her dad to buy it. He said no.

So Elizabet refused to leave the store––without that microphone. That’s when her father and big sister left her there and went home.

But Elizabet did not budge.

Finally, her father returned to the store. And he bought Elizabet that microphone!

As we talked about this story, Elizabet’s eyes sparkled and her grin grew wide. Tapping into these experiences, brought Jasmine to life for Elizabet. She says the illustration on page 37 of the book put in a fine point on what both girls dealt with. (And no sneak previews. The only way to see this emotional scene is to buy the book or request it at the library or win it in our book give away! Also, it’s totally worth it.) But, it’s that illustration in particular that captured both Elizabet’s experience and Jasmine’s: complete frustration and irritation. The contrast of Jasmine’s level of anger juxtaposed to the oblivious prancing around of her older sister really nails the dynamic.

Elizabet says that level of personal connection is critical to her work. You can learn anatomy, she explains, but you have to put yourself in those characters. “Show yourself in your work,” Elizabet said.

But Elizabet’s path to accomplishing that, to creating the space where that’s even possible is interesting. She is the child of immigrants from Croatia. Her parents are hard workers and always expected that of their kids. Because they had to overcome so much and accomplish so much to establish their new lives in the Netherlands, they are also very practical and pragmatic.

Elizabet was interested in drawing as a very small child. Her kindergarten teacher used to say to her parents, “You have a real Picasso on your hands.” Even in high school, a teacher mentioned that Elizabet should go into drawing.

But as a profession? That was hard for Elizabet’s parents to accept or encourage. After all, they wanted Elizabet to have a paying job, security. .. all of the things they had immigrated to the Netherlands to build.

But as effervescent and charming as Elizabet is, she also has steely determination and an unyielding drive to prove herself.

So, what could she do in that situation? First, Elizabet got a degree in optometry. That’s right, optometry. She worked full time in the field to save money for art school. She worked during the day and studied illustration at night through online coursework until she graduated from the San Francisco Art Academy.

Then, she rode her bike 45 minutes to work every day, put in her hours, rode her bike home––which was another 45 minutes, climbed into her studio chair and began working on her illustration portfolio. Every night.

But Elizabet swears that something magical happened in those late hours. It was like her illustration time was protected. Because she had a full time job, she could really give herself permission to go for it at night. Permission to take risks, to enjoy her passion. Her artwork was not burdened with the responsibility of having to make money.

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Once her portfolio was ready, Elizabet prepared herself mentally for the process. She was ready for the rejections, the long, hard, and difficult path to an agent and publication.

She started by picking her top three agencies. Then one morning, she submitted her work by e-mail. She had an offer by that afternoon. She ran around her room screaming. Elizabet doesn’t remember much of her call with her agent Justin Rucker, just that he said he loved her work. “I was so high on emotion and he talked a lot and I kept thinking is this real? Oh my God!” she remembers.

And Elizabet brings all of that to these illustrations. You’ll see it immediately, the joy and spunk…. the struggle and conflict. They flow out of her pen onto the page. These masterful illustrations are a treasure for readers and an invitation to all of us to show ourselves in our work.

Enjoy!

Anna Crowley Redding

P.S. Elizabet and her older sister are close friends today !

P.P.S. Keep reading, there’s a book give away at the bottom of this post!

Also available this week: Book 2 in this delicious, unforgettable series:

Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth (Book 2)

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

It’s a big weekend for Jasmine Toguchi! She’s excited to celebrate Girl’s Day―a Japanese holiday honoring women and girls―with her sister, mother, and best friend, Linnie. When Linnie comes over to plan for the Girl’s Day celebration, Jasmine’s neighbor lets them play dress up in her garage. But the garage is dark, which is kind of scary. And Linnie decides to go home early, which is kind of weird. And Jasmine’s big sister, Sophie, doesn’t seem to want to join in the Girl’s Day fun this year, which is kind of confusing. WHAT is going on?

As her big weekend plans start to unravel, Jasmine must use her sleuthing skills to spot the clues around her. Then maybe, just maybe, she can fix things and make sure the Girl’s Day celebration happens!

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

Enter to win MOCHI QUEEN and SUPER SLEUTH! One entry per one comment per post this launch week for a maximum total of five entries. The winner will be drawn at random. Must have U.S. mailing address. Enter by midnight EST Sunday July 16th. Good luck!

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Character Development, Dreams Come True, Families, Illustrating, Illustrators, Inspiration, Interviews, process, Uncategorized

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY! Interview with MAMA LOVES YOU SO illustrator, Simone Shin

I am tickled pink as a newborn babe to have my first board book, MAMA LOVES YOU SO, be released into the book world today! And how fun to have my fellow EMU’s right there with me (a bit like having a Mission Control flock at my side!).

Today’s post brings me an extra helping of book release fun! Not only do I get to bask in the warm light of having a new book come out but I also get to interview the illustrator who so perfectly captured the spirit of my book, the talented Simone Shin.

Thank you for answering a few questions today, Simone, and happy book birthday! I can’t express how much I love the illustrations in this book. I appreciate your taking the time to share a bit about yourself with us.

How long have you been illustrating children’s books?

I’ve been illustrating children’s books since about 2011.

 

How did you get started in children’s literature?

I studied illustration in college, and went directly into editorial illustration work. From there I made a segue into children’s books by joining SCBWI and meeting my agent eventually.

 

What made you decide to illustrate this book?

I saw the text and knew it was for newborns/infants, and thought that was unique and fantastic! From my own experience having a baby, I would have loved to have more newborn baby books available. I also was really into hiking and nature myself, pre-baby, and would have loved to have a book about a mom hiking with a newborn baby when my child was born, so I loved the idea.

 

When my agent (Tricia Lawrence) showed me the cover, we were both giddy! When I saw the interiors, three things stood out to me:  First, the color palette (gorgeous!). Second, your ability to illustrate nature/landscapes in a kid-friendly style. And third, how you went from a “wide-angle” view down to a “close-up” of the mother and baby.  Can you describe your process and the medium you used in creating the illustrations? How much collaboration was there with the team at Little Simon?

I use textures from painted material that are scanned and manipulated through photoshop when illustrating. Everything begins by sketching by hand on paper, then gets put into photoshop for more illustrating.  There were already some notes on what type of scenes they had in mind for each page, but the decisions to be up-close or far away were up to me (as well as most of the animals). I based my decisions on the way the text was supposed to be read and the dynamics that were already a part of the story.  Some of the ideas flowed very naturally, like the page that the notes called for all the animals to be on one spread (in which case I noticed the only option was to make a far away “map” of the entire landscape-which I loved!).  I had a lot of fun with colors in this book, I typically don’t go so bold and bright, and that is something Little Simon helped encourage me to do which I’m very happy about.

 

I just about cried when I saw the illustration with the bears (I’m “big on bears”). The only named animals in the text are the eagles and deer. How did you decide on what other animals to include?

I believe in general there was a suggestion to make animals in pairs (representing Mama and child). I decided on birds, butterflies, foxes, opossums, rabbits, etc. based on the scenes. There was a lot of collaboration in this book that way, there would be a suggested landscape, and I would create the landscape and make up the animals based on where the landscape took place. I wanted to go big (bear) and small (cricket), to include everyone–since almost everyone has a mama!

 

How does nature inspire you?

Natures inspires me a lot! Like I had mentioned before, I already love hiking and things like camping and beaches. I have always wanted to do more landscapes since I have a lot of childhood memories of road trips in cars going across the mid-west… I was so happy to have a change where I could illustrate something like this!

Thank you, Simone!

I will be giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of my book launch week. How to enter? Leave a comment below! For every comment you make, I will enter your name into the giveaway (Up to one comment per day.).

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About Terry Pierce…

When Terry’s son was little, she and her husband would hike with him in a “Gerrypack” to expose him to the beauty of nature. She got the idea for this story when he was a baby (he’s now 32).

Terry writes picture books, easy readers and board books and is whittling away at a middle-grade adventure novel. She lives in the California desert but avoids the summer heat by retreating to Mammoth Lakes every summer to hike, bike, write and dip her head in high mountain sky. She’s a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate and teaches online children’s writing courses for UCLA Extension (go Bruins!).

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Illustrators, Interviews

MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN: interview with Terry Pierce & Carol Schwartz

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I had the privilege of meeting author Terry Pierce a couple of years ago at a retreat. Her new book is brilliantly beautiful–a dream come true for science teachers. This book has gorgeous illustrations, as well as a bit of mystery. Who is lurking? And what is the surprise? Find out in this playful rhyme.

Terry is giving away a FREE COPY!!!  Just leave a comment below to enter.

I chose to ask the same questions to both the author and illustrator, to gain two different perspectives. Terry is the author of more than a dozen books, and Carol has illustrated more than 3 dozen!

Welcome Terry and Carol. I’m honored to be able to interview the duo that created this delightful book.

🐞 What inspires you?

Terry: Nature. Most of my books have some aspect of nature in them. I’ve always been drawn to the natural world. Whether it’s the mountains, the beach, the desert or simply observing a beautiful garden, nature fascinates me. As a child, I could sit in a tree for hours! As an adult, I don’t climb trees anymore but still find myself in nature for long periods of time. It’s calming, peaceful and inspiring.

Carol: Nature, the endless wonder and beauty of it all, inspires me every day. I take great pleasure in the study and research of creatures and plants. They reveal patterns, designs, colors, texture and uniqueness. There is so much to learn and interpret through my art.

🐞 How long have you been doing your craft?

PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)Terry: I started writing for children in 1999. For ten years, I attended SCBWI events and read books to develop my writing skills. Then in 2009, I began the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program, which deepened my craft knowledge tenfold. It’s an amazing program I highly recommend.

Carol: I like to say I’ve been practicing my craft all my life. My mother says that at the age of a year and a half I drew a picture of Mickey Mouse and it looked like Mickey. I started illustrating children’s books in 1989 with a local publisher in Maryland where I lived at the time. Two years later I had an agent and a Hyperion Press trade book, Sea Squares, by Joy Hulme. Now sixty books later, I am still energized with each new project. They are all so different and, fortunately, there are tools I’ve learned throughout my career that help me to navigate the challenges associated with illustrating a picture book.

🐞 What kind of medium do you use?

Terry: I always write my first draft of a picture book with pencil and notepad. I love the feel of writing by hand as the words flow from my brain through my arm to my hand, then finally onto the paper. Doing it this way also slows the process, allowing me to be more mindful of my writing. After the first (very messy) draft, I type the story onto my computer and revise on printed drafts.

carol-schwartzCarol: I work primarily in gouache, an opaque watercolor paint. The opaque or transparent quality, depending on how thick the paint is mixed, make this medium versatile. Gouache is quick drying, which means no waiting time. That comes in handy when working under a deadline, which is most of the time. I also work in Photoshop. It has become indispensable in creating final art for books. I make a high resolution scan of my traditional work and continue to paint in Photoshop. Many details I used to hand render are now finished in Photoshop. In past years I depended on an airbrush for adding large smooth backgrounds or creating smooth textures. Now I use Photoshop to do the same thing.

🐞 How did you get started in the industry?

Terry: I casually mentioned to a friend that I wanted to try writing children’s books. She told me about the SCBWI so I joined. They’re a fantastic organization for anyone who wants to learn to write for kids. They’re what got me started and pushed me in the right direction. If it weren’t for my local SCBWI chapter, I wouldn’t have had my early publication successes.

Carol: I graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute, spending my senior year at Rhode Island School of Design in a mobility program. This gave me a good foundation to be an illustrator. When I decided to concentrate on illustrating picture books, I began attending every conference and workshop I could find. At a seminar in Maryland I signed up to have my portfolio critiqued by an artist’s representative. In time she became my agent and I began illustrating a long line of trade books for publishers such as Hyperion, Scholastic, Grosset & Dunlap and Sterling.

🐞 What is a good piece of advice you would give?

Terry: This is the toughest question! There’s so much good advice to give but what rings true to them all is to be persistent. Keep at it even when the going gets extraordinarily tough (and it will!). No matter what phase of writing you’re in, whether you’re developing your craft, submitting your work, or marketing your work, don’t give up! Identify your mistakes, learn from them and keep going. If you learn and persist, you’ll find success.

Carol: Believe in what you are doing. Become a mini expert in whatever the subject matter is you are illustrating or writing about. Find a way to get really excited about the subject. For me, its research that gives me inspiration and lets me know how to illustrate my subject.

🐞 Do you like gardening? Why did you choose to illustrate this book?

Terry: When I was a Montessori teacher, we had a school garden and I greatly enjoyed gardening with the children. There’s something about putting your hands in the soil, being close the earth, caring for the seedlings and watching them grow to maturity that’s amazing for kids. But that’s not what this book is really about…it’s about what happens in a garden! So why did I write it?

I had decided I wanted to write a cumulative story (where the text builds on itself). I recalled that my Montessori students LOVED Arnold Lobel’s cumulative book, THE ROSE IN MY GARDEN. I looked at that story as a mentor text. Of course, my story had to be different (his showcased flowers), so I pondered how I might keep the same setting, but change the focus, plot and characters. I knew most kids love bugs so I decided to focus on bugs and other animals that inhabit a garden. Then when I got the idea to include the surprise element of the developing chrysalis I was ready to write (which meant a lot of playing with words—my favorite part of writing!).

Carol: I am a long time gardener and much of what I know I learned by illustrating gardening articles for the Home section of The Washington Post newspaper. Much of my gardening has been in the Mid-Atlantic region but I’ve also tended gardens in the South and Midwest. Working to make plants grow and being rewarded with flowers makes me smile. What could be better that illustrating that happy feeling of growing all those beautiful flowers with my paints.

🐞 What are some of your favorite insects?

Terry: When I was a kid, I loved “wooly bears.”  fuzzy
I mean, what kid could resist picking one up one of these cute little fuzzy guys? It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out they turn into tiger moths!

As an adult, I think one of the coolest insects is the praying mantis (which also happens to be one of my favorite illustrations in the book!). Praying mantises are the rule-breakers of insects. They’re the only one that can turn their head 180 degrees (imagine the advantage that gives them), and after mating the female bites off the male’s head! And the way they hold their front legs ready to strike their prey, yeah, mantises are pretty cool.

Carol: I love how dragonflies and praying mantises look like big, alien creatures. Beetles are interesting because they come in an amazing variety of shapes sizes, colors and patterns. Who doesn’t like butterflies and moths for their many colors and patterns? I respect ants for their eusocial society but I hate coming in contact with them, especially fire ants.

🐞 As a child, what were your favorite books?

fave-books2Terry: I loved any of Dr. Seuss’s books. CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E. B. White was another favorite, along with GENTLE BEN by Walt Morey and RASCAL by Sterling North. Even as a child, books with nature and/or animals appealed to me. Oh, and PIPPI LONGSTOCKING by Astrid Lindgren was a girl after my own heart. Being a tomboy, I saw myself in Pippi. I probably read that book perched in a tree!

fave-booksCarol: I remember favorite childhood books as old friends, there was Charlotte’s Web, Alice in Wonderland, Huckleberry Finn, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh and Marguerite de Angeli’s Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes. I had a bookcase full of Little Golden Books and two large volumes of nature books, Children’s Guide to Knowledge. That’s where I learned of extraordinary creatures such as giant clams, flying squirrels and a strange bird with an extra long tail called a quetzal. Those books fascinated me and, I believe, were the start of my love of nonfiction.

🐞Terry is giving away a FREE signed copy of MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN. Just add a comment below to enter.

If you’d like to know more about Terri and Carol, please visit their websites:

https://terrypiercebooks.com

http://www.csillustration.com

🐞LINKS TO CRAFTS:

Bug jar:

https://momeefriendsli.com/2013/09/04/diy-bug-jar-for-kids/

Make a footprint grasshopper:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/212935888610838461/

Make a colourful paper chain caterpillar with  wobbly eyes and antennae:

http://www.peekyme.com.au/take-a-peek


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About the interviewer: Sarvinder Naberhaus is a the author of Boom Boom, a picture book about the seasons, illustrated by Caldecott Honor recipient Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Her upcoming book, Blue Sky White Stars is a patriotic salute to the flag and the forces behind the forging of this great nation. Look for it June 13th, in time for the 4th of July. Illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Kadir Nelson.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Book Promotion, cover art, Illustrating, Illustrators, Interviews, Picture books, Uncategorized, Writing

A Conversation with Vanessa Brantley-Newton, illustrator of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER

I’d like to start this post by noting that the subject of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER, the late Audrey Faye Hendricks, was nine years old when she was imprisoned for her civil rights activism. She remained in prison—real prison—for a week. She was locked in a cell. Interrogated by adult strangers. She was in danger, both inside the prison and after her release. She is an American hero. As of this post, she does not have a Wikipedia page.

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“I’d never heard of Audrey Faye Hendricks,” says Vanessa Brantley-Newton, author and illustrator of over 75 books. vanessa-brantley-newton“When I read Cynthia Levinson’s manuscript, it broke me. It made me cry. I became fascinated by Audrey. I read the manuscript to myself and then had someone read it to me. Right away, I could see the pictures—that’s very important.”

Vanessa goes on to detail aspects of her research, “I read Cynthia’s previous book on the Children’s March, WE’VE GOT A JOB TO DO, and weve-got-a-jobwatched the PBS program on the event. I wanted my work to be emotional—to make it clear that Audrey was a child. As I worked, I listened to music from that time, songs like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” With one exception early in the process, Vanessa and the author did not actively collaborate on the project. “Cynthia wanted to see how I portrayed Martin Luther King Jr.—a friend of Audrey’s family—and once I showed her the sketch, we didn’t need to consult again.”

Like all of Vanessa’s work, THE YOUNGEST MARCHER glows with color and shimmers with texture. the-youngest-marcher“I’m a retro girl, heart and soul,” Vanessa says. “I love the colors of the sixties and seventies, the reds and oranges together.” She scanned vintage fabrics and included photographs in her collage work. Her use of marbleized paper adds swirling atmosphere to the image of a small, beloved child curled up on a prison cot.

Despite her age, Audrey’s bright-eyed conviction is made plain in Vanessa’s illustrations. As she heeds Dr. King’s call to fill the prisons, as she boards the police van in her starched skirt, bobby socks, and pink hair ribbons, she is full of hope and might as easily be headed to school or church. Although younger than the other marchers, she remains stalwart until the prisons are full to bursting and all are released. Hope intact, Audrey Faye Hendricks emerges to her parents’ arms and a changed world, one she helped to create.

“I hope that people can be inspired by my work,” Vanessa says. “As a child, I never saw children of color in books. We have this wonderful ability as authors and illustrators to tell stories that encompass what children go through so that kids feel included, like someone has captured their real world.”

I’d like to thank Vanessa for her time and for all of her efforts to bring Audrey Faye Hendricks and her story to vibrant, visual life. I’d like to thank author Cynthia Levinson for writing the story of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER. I’m glad and grateful to know about this remarkable story of courage.


Hayley's Author PhotoI write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.
I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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Encouraging Early Activists

the-youngest-marcherIt is Martin Luther King’s birthday. It seems particularly important to pay attention this year to Dr. King’s life and the dreams he fought and died for. I have traditions for this day – reading the I Have a Dream Speech – listening to Shed a Little Light at least once and this year I will start a new tradition. It will include a yearly reading of Cynthia Levinson’s THE YOUNGEST MARCHER – The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist. It’s so fitting that Cynthia’s story, beautifully illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton would be launched this week as Audrey Faye Hendricks was the youngest known child to be arrested for a civil rights protest. This book seems a wonderful follow-up to Cynthia’s book WE’VE GOT A JOB which tells the story of the 4,000 black elementary-, middle-, and high school students who voluntarily went to jail in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

Thinking about Audrey got me thinking about other young activists. Many of us know the story of young Malala Yousafzai who was living under Taliban rule in Pakistan, where young girls were at times forbidden to attend school. She started writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC at the age of 11, detailing what life was like and sharing her views on education for girls. Her passion and activism earned her several television and print interviews. Unfortunately, in 2012, a gunman boarded her school bus, asked for Malala by name and shot her in the head. Although in critical condition after the attack, Malala eventually stabilized enough to be sent to a hospital in England to recover in safety. She speaks about the rights of women and girls often and won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. She has been nominated twice for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize – the youngest person and only girl to ever be nominated.

Fewer have heard the story of Ryan Hreljac who in 1998, at six years old, learned that kids in Africa often had to walk several kilometers for clean water. This seemed wrong to Ryan. Using money he earned from household chores and funds he raised from speaking publicly at different events about Africa’s clean water issues, Ryan managed to fund the construction of his first well in a Northern Ugandan village in 1999. From there he established Ryan’s Well Foundation, an organization that has helped build thousands of water projects and latrines, bringing safe water and improved sanitation to close to a million people.

As 2017 dawns many of us are feeling the need to do more. As children’s writers we can make sure all children see themselves in the books they read and show them that they’re never too young to make a difference. Cynthia Levinson has raised this bar with THE YOUNGEST MARCHER. Join me in making this book part of your Marin Luther King Day celebration.

darceyhighres About Darcey Rosenblatt
Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in August 2017. LOST BOYS, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and perfect daughter, some fish, and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and costumes for a 5-8 year old theater.

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Filed under Activism, civil rights, Diversity, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Illustrators, Inspiration, Uncategorized

Interview with THE NIAN MONSTER Illustrator, Alina Chau!

The launch for Andrea Wang’s THE NIAN MONSTER continues with an interview with the book’s illustrator, Alina Chau! Scroll below to read about New Year celebrations and mythical monsters, and to see some stellar illustrations!

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Jason Gallaher: Your illustrations for THE NIAN MONSTER are absolutely stunning! Can you describe your style and the materials used to create the illustrations?

Alina Chau: Thank you.  The Nian Monster illustration is mostly watercolor on paper, except the two pages about Nian’s legend. I use Photoshop to create the Chinese paper puppet look and some of the decorative elements on the flap, that looks like traditional Chinese paper cut art.  As for the style, since this is a Chinese New Year story, I use a design style that is influenced by traditional Chinese folk art and painting.  A lot of the New Year decorations in the book are inspired by the traditional decoration.  The feel and atmosphere of the New Year is very much drawn from my childhood memories in Hong Kong.  Chinese New Year was one of my favorite holidays as a kid.  Before the New Year, the market will be extra festive.  At home, everyone is busy preparing for the big new year dinner.  Chinese New Year dinner is kind of simliar to Thanksgiving here.  It’s an important evening for family to get together and give thanks and good wishes to each other.  Kids often get new clothes in red as a symbol of a new beginning.  I painted my favorite childhood new year memories in the pages.

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Alina’s workspace

How did you come up with the design for the Nian Monster? Did his look change much throughout the editorial process? Do you happen to have any images of his development that you could share?

As a kid, when we learn about Nian’s story, I always imagined it sort of looking like another Chinese mythological creature, Qilin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qilin).  While Qilin is considered a heavenly creature who protects the mortal world, Nian is a trickster.  Qilin looks a bit more like the relative of a dragon.  I imagine Nian would look like an earthy creature – the Chinese Lion.  I pretty much drew the Nian from my childhood imagination.  As for Nian’s color, my gut feeling is to have it be an orange and red creature, since they are the color of the New Year.  But I also did a color test of the green and blue color scheme.  The doubt I had was that I knew there would be many red elements in the background, as well as Xingling’s outfit.  I was worried the color would clash.  But after the color test, I don’t like the blue and green color.  It doesn’t feel right.  I decided to stay with red and orange and make the color work.

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How about Xingling? Is the way she looks now how you envisioned her from the start?

When I first read Andrea’s manuscript, I could see Xingling very clear in my head.  While I knew Xingling’s look well, I did spend some time trying to come up with a cute outfit for her.  I want her to feel relatable to our readers, but still reflect her regional culture trend.  I therefore researched current girl fashion styles in Asia.  The style of her pink dress is fairly trendy in China and Korea.  But I also tried to balance and not to push it too far.  I want the illustration of the book to be time lasting and have universal appeal.  Towards the end of the book, Xingling changes to a little red dress. I wanted her to wear red to celebrate the New Year tradition.

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Your depiction of Shanghai is so detailed and vibrant. Did it take a lot of research for you to create the Shanghai environment, or are you familiar with the area?

Jordan, my art director at Albert Whitman, sent me a lot of reference images of Shanghai.  I also went online and did research to get myself familiar with the cityscape of Shanghai.  I have never been to Shanghai, so all the Shanghai city designs are heavily relied on Google.  As for the atmosphere of the city, that is drawn from my own experience growing up in Hong Kong and occasional travel to China.

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What else are you working on right now?

I am working on a couple of new picture book and graphic novel ideas.  I want to try writing my own books.  My stories are focused in culture diversities, some are drawn from my personal experiences.  I was born in China, immigrated to Hong Kong during British colonial time and then moved to the US.  I have been a citizen of three countries.  I am blessed and never get into bad discriminatory situations.  Yet, it’s still challenging to grow up and be the kid that’s different for one reason or another. With the current political climate, there is more urgency to share diversity stories with children.  Ensure the children that it’s OK to be different.  It doesn’t matter if they have different cultures, skin color, beliefs etc., their voices and stories matters.

 

Thank you so much for your time, Alina! We can’t wait to see what you illustrate next!

Andrea is giving away a copy of THE NIAN MONSTER to one of our readers! Just comment on any of the posts celebrating her launch, and you will be entered to win! You can also buy a copy of the book at IndieBoundBarnes & Noble, and Amazon.

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Catching Inspiration: An Interview with LIKE MAGIC Illustrator Sara Not

All this week, the EMUs are celebrating the launch of LIKE MAGIC, a middle grade novel by Elaine Vickers. In their starred review, Kirkus calls the book “an endlessly endearing story of three girls’ pursuit of friendship and the beauty and challenge of what it means to be 10.” But you don’t have to read the review to know that — one look at the cover by Italian artist Sara Not says it all. Isn’t it exquisite?

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Since the cover is one of the first things you see when you pick up a book, I thought we’d start off our festivities with an interview with Sara. Sara worked in Milan and Paris before settling in Trieste. She has created book and magazine illustrations for many international clients, including Vanity Fair, Gioia, Myself, RCS, Pearson Italy, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Random House. Please welcome Sara to the Nest!

 I am so impressed that you read the entire manuscript even though English is not your native language! Do you typically read the entire texts of books or magazine articles before beginning illustrations for them?

Yes, I do prefer reading the entire book manuscript, especially when the main subject is inspiring me on the spot, but often I do not have the time to do so due to very tight deadlines. In these specific cases, I can only read some chapters, characters descriptions, key elements of the story provided by the publisher. For magazine illustrations, of course it is different. Magazine articles are shorter so I always read them.

Coming back to LIKE MAGIC I would like to add that it was a real pleasure to read it all (and a very good exercise for my English) because the story was great and reading it all during my seaside holiday was a plus. I simply loved it.

 I love the dreamy quality of the cover and the hopeful expressions of the girls. When you first sat down to create the cover for LIKE MAGIC, what did you envision? How did you evoke a sense of the book through your art?

LIKE MAGIC made me remember when I was a little girl, with all my fragilities, doubts and insecurities but also with this great strength and immaculate purity that adults unfortunately often lose along the way.

I tried to give this sense of alliance, complicity and harmony among the girls: they are together; best friends and they look far to the stars. The stars are paper stars, a key element of the book, but here they become their aspirations, their dreams.

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That’s wonderful how you incorporated symbols from the book into the cover. What is your artistic process? Please tell us a little about the creation of this illustration.

I usually read the manuscript and let the words be on my mind for a while. The images begin to appear and I let them get out through my pencil. During the artistic process, I can draw many sketches or produce only one. It all depend on the project and inspiration of the moment. I think that an art creation is always LIKE MAGIC (smile).

For LIKE MAGIC, I initially created many concepts, selected four sketches and sent them to the Art Director.

When the final decision was made, I then applied the ultimate line (in this case a simple pencil, elsewhere nib and ink or brush) and, for last, the coloring in Photoshop.

Can you share any of the other sketches that you were considering for the book cover? How did you choose the final cover design?

Sure. Below are the four proposals for the final cover. As you will notice, the one that I had not colored yet was the publisher’s choice. The idea of the three girls on the swoosh was used for the back cover illustration.

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Those covers are all so beautiful. I would have a hard time trying to decide which one to use! You also create illustrations for many different magazines. How is working on a children’s book cover different from a magazine illustration?

Magazines and Children’s Books are obviously targeting two different readers markets. When I work on an illustration for a women’s magazine, I have to be versatile and able to speak a different language but always keeping in mind that my style should be recognizable. Often for magazines, you have only few days to give your art, especially if you are working for a weekly magazine, while for children’s book covers usually you can take your time. I find myself very fortunate to work with different environments because it can only be beneficial to my creativity and artistic evolution.

Speaking about your creativity, LIKE MAGIC is about three girls who find inspiration in each other’s precious objects. What do you draw inspiration from?

From the text first of course. I love words and the power they transmit. Everything I see, everything I read, everything I listen to also inspires me. Other times inspiration comes from an instant of my life, from my sons, from Mother Nature or from the colors that I see around me. Inspiration is all around you and you just need to catch it. My own personal “know-how” is an important factor but a big part of magic in every creative process is essential.

Thank you so much for joining us on EMUs Debuts today, Sara! It’s really fascinating to hear about your artistic process and what went into the cover for LIKE MAGIC. I especially love how you said, “Inspiration is all around you and you just need to catch it.” 

Catch some inspiration by seeing more of Sara’s artwork on her website and by reading LIKE MAGIC, available now at your favorite indie bookstore, Amazon, IndieBound, or B&NRelive the magic of new friendship all over again! 


andrea-wang-author-photo-2016
Andrea Wang’s debut picture book, THE NIAN MONSTER (Albert Whitman, December 2016), is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market.
Andrea spent most of her first grade year reading under the teacher’s desk, barricaded by tall stacks of books. Now she sits at her desk, but she’s still happiest surrounded by piles of books. Andrea is a former environmental consultant who helped clean up hazardous waste sites. She lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons, and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog. She loves trying new foods and named her dog Mochi, after one of her favorite desserts.
You can find Andrea online at her website, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

 

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Filed under Book Launch, Celebrations, cover art, Creativity, Illustrators, Interviews, Launch, process

Purposeful Patience

We each see the world through our own very particular lens and use our inclinations and experiences to help us make sense of life. Most people, I find, have distilled these influences into a sort of personal metaphor, something that can be held up for comparison  to everything else.

I have two such metaphors. I can make anything connect in a logical, natural way to either:

Horses    

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or Childbirth

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Today’s a childbirth kind of day.

When the idea for a book is…um… conceived by a writer, all things seems wonderfully possible. The future book is soft-focused, as if seen through a dusting of talcum powder and hope. It’s a maybe-baby. chinchilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

But unless the writer has the remarkable talent and good fortune to be an author-illustrator, a picture book cannot be born until it has complementary artwork made by someone else — an illustrator who will create a visual counterpart to the text and bring the whole into glorious being.

In other words, the writer’s adorable book-baby is going to have another parent.Bird gif

I think embracing this truth is one of the first steps to becoming a serious picture book writer. The sooner you understand that both the process and the end result are a shared enterprise, the better. No matter how much time you have put into crafting your (under 500 word) story, when it’s bought by a publisher, it’s only halfway finished.

Illustrations can take — I’m just going to say it — years. That can feel like a long time to wait. Breathless gif

It’s critical to remember that the chosen illustrator has only just begun to nurture the manuscript. To them, it’s still a maybe-baby and needs a lot of time and attention to come to full fruition.

Some things are worth the wait. Like babies. And picture books. As I wait for BABYMOON, I trust the process. Everyone who has taken an interest in my manuscript has its best prospects at heart. I will be purposefully patient. I will keep working. I will wait in talcum powder hope for a happy book-birthday. It will arrive when it’s ready, and I’ll be waiting with open arms.

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Enjoy the day!

Hayley


 

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I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My debut picture book, BABYMOON, is coming from Candlewick Press. Come hang out with me on Twitter @hayleybwrites, Facebook, or in the meadow: http://hayleybarrettwrites.wordpress.com.

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Interview with THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON Illustrator Ben Mantle

This week on Emu’s Debuts, it’s all about the dragons! We’re celebrating the debut of Penny Parker Klostermann’s delightful debut picture book, There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight. Today I’m thrilled to have snagged an interview with the books incredibly talented illustrator, Ben Mantle, who had some great insights into a part of the process we writers often know little about.

Elaine Vickers: Can you share with us the process of how you came to be the illustrator of There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight?

Ben Mantle: This was pretty straightforward really. My agency sent me the text. I read it. I loved it. I think I then read it another 10 times just because it was such fun to read, as the rhythm was so good. I really liked that it had a slightly dark storyline too. I emailed my agency and said – I would love to illustrate it and then I read it more times, faster and faster each time. Again, purely because it was such fun to do!

EV: I adore thisimage 1 dragon! Did he always look like this, or did he change throughout the process?

BM: The dragon was the first character that I tackled as he is the main driving force in the book. My first initial few sketches didn’t quite catch what I had in my head. After all, the Dragon is ruthless, but more than that he is just incredibly greedy animage 2d not to mention a little bad. I mean, he does just go around eating people. In my original design he just doesn’t have the manic look that I wanted or that look of desire of a very hungry person who has just sat down for an all you can eat buffet. I knew that a lot of his character would be in the eyes, which is why they are one of the main changes. His new Beady little pupils really gave him something and the curving brows are a sure fire sign of a baddie. All good baddies have large eyebrows.

EV: What is your artistic process? Tell us a little about the creation of these illustrations!

BM: Not long before the text for There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed A Knight came througimage 4h, I had been feeling that I really wanted to stop relying on the computer so much and get back to painting again and I thought this book in particular with its fantasy setting, would suit being painted.

Equally, because the story has that hint of darkness, along with being very funny, I thought that it would be a nice contrast to have the artwork more traditional. Long before the painting stage though, I start making lotsimage 3 of little thumbnail images to capture the key moments in the book. I then scan these in and enlarge them to the correct size and start neatening them up. I do this because I often think my original sketches are more fluid and uninhibited by detail.

Next there’s a few stages of printing out, re-drawing, tidying up until everyone is happy (designer and editor). In order to then paint the final art, I print out the roughs, which have been tidied up by now, and use a drawing board I converted into a lightbox (Ok, not so much me, but a guy who is actually handy with tools), I trace the rough shapes with watercolour, adding in a little shade/texture at the same time. As you can see by the image, I paint each bit separately as this gives me more flexibility, as well as knowing that if I make a mistake, I haven’t just ruined everything! Having said that, I love the mistakes you get with paint, especially if, like me, you haven’t used it for ages.

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EV: Can you share with us any particular challenges or funny incidents that happened while you were working on this book?

BM: For me, the real challenge of any book, is knowing what to show and what to leave out. What is the ‘moment’ that needs to be illustrated? With this book, I had decided that you would never actually see the Dragon eating a person, but it would be implied by the image. Plus, I felt that it was funnier to show that moment just before or just after.

Do you have a favorite character or illustration from the book?image 10

BM: Oh, my favourite character has to be the cook. I have a real soft spot for him and my favourite illustration (and I think one of Penny’s too) in the book is the one of the cook being seasoned by the Dragon as the cook seasons his own pot of food. After all, the Dragon is just doing what comes natural to him and this is a nod to that.

EV: You’re such an accomplished illustrator, but I know you’re a picture book author yourself. How has that changed and informed your illustrating?

BM: I’ve just finished writing my third book, so now the main thing I have realised, is just how hard it is! It has definitely made me appreciate the relationship between the text and the image and that the best text knows exactly what to not say. It’s a very reciprocal relationship. The image can really add to the story, but only if the author/text is confident enough to leave breathing space. Penny is a whizz with text, as soon as I read this book I loved it and I’m looking forward to cracking on with our next book, which I can honestly say is absolutely fantastic.

Thanks so much, Ben, for sharing your time and your amazing artwork with us!

Comment on any post this week for a chance to win your very own SIGNED copy of There Was an Old Dragon.

Or buy a copy right away. You can find one at YOUR local indie bookstore here: Indiebound

Or, you can order online through Barnes and NobleAmazonBooks-A-Million, or Powell’s.

For personalized signed copies of There Was an Old Dragon, you can order from Texas Star Trading Co. and give your dedication details in the Gift Message box. You can also contact them by email at texasstartradingco@sbcglobal.net or call  (325) 672-9696.

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