Sunday, June 14, 2009

Portfoli o' pieces

I am not sure if these are portfolio-caliber material, but they should give you a basic idea of where I'm heading. Here they are:

I've hit on a style that I think works pretty well as far as illustrating kids. The large heads, cartoony facial features, and finely detailed bodies aren't overly complicated, but they allow for a great deal of freedom in expressing movement and emotion. I would like to include some samples of other designs in my portfolio as well.

I need to work on including different perspectives in my portfolio. Both of these pieces just look very "flat" to me. They are also both in watercolor, which has become my medium of choice over the past couple years. I'd like to do some pieces in colored/b&w pencil, collage, oil pastel, and possibly acrylic.

My next portfolio pieces will focus on animals (definitely a weakness at this point). Hopefully I'll get those finished in a couple of opposed to the month it took me to do the two you see here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Waiting for July.

The dummies are away! Let's rewind:

2 weeks ago, I went to a Kinko's in Grand Rapids and had all the pages of "The Woodcutter" scanned. They don't actually allow you to scan them yourself, which meant leaving the ONLY COPY of my 8 MONTH ENDEAVOUR in the hands of complete strangers. It was a bit nerve-ruining, but it all worked-out.

I got a disc with the 39 pages in 39 individual PDFs. I also had them print one hardcopy set in full-size/full-color. I've gotta say...the prints on the glossier paper actually look better than the originals! The colors and lines are so much richer and more vibrant than they appear on the original watercolor stock. The smooth paper of the reproductions is also much better than the pitted, "toothy" watercolor paper. I was exteremly happy with (and surprised by) the results.

I downloaded a free program called "Foxit" with which to add the text to the PDFs. I can't recommend the program highly enough. I'm sure those with more experience know of better such prgrams...but for a beginner like me, the program seemed highly intuitive. It was simple to use and produced exactly the results I was looking for.

So, this past week, I went to a printer here in Ann Arbor and printed out two full sets on 8.5"x11" paper. I bought two cheap-ish portfolios and stuffed them with printouts. I sent them both by Priority Mail: one to Peachtree Publishers in Atlanta and the other to Katherine Tegan Books in New York. I included a coverletter/pitch and a business postcard. I resolved to give both publishers until July 1st before I send dummies to anyone else. Hopefully, I'll hear some good news before then.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


The SCBWI-MI Spring 2009 conference was an incredible experience. It was so motivating to be surrounded by such nice, creative people. The speakers were all inspiring; but, none so much so as Henry Cole (illustrator and author/illustrator). His work is INCREDIBLE. He has mastered a variety of unique styles and his art is just filled with life and color.

My portfolio critique with Henry was...surreal. His generous compliments, mild criticisms, and thoughtful suggestions were tempered by hilarious accusations and playful disparagements. He also called me an "ignoramus" (oddly enough, this was the second time in that same 24-hour period that someone had called me an 'ignoramus'). He was very encouraging and offered sage advice that I have been trying to follow. He also gave me some things to think about in the coming months. Specifically, he asked the question:

"Do you want to do this [illustration] for the rest of your life?"

I'm still thinking about that one. But for now, I am committed to building a more representative portfolio (as per suggestion). I've been sketching quite a bit the past couple days.

I think my next move will be to assemble and submit a dummy of "The Woodcutter." Henry introduced me to a very impressive editor at Peachtree, so I think I might give her a shot first.

So, the conference was a great time and I met some really cool people. I wore a suit and tie...which was a miscalculation on my part. I guess these things tend towards casual. Oh well, lesson learned.

And Henry, if you ever read this, thanks again.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Work in progress

Here I am. The artist (aspiring amateur) in his studio (kitchen).

My mum was very cool about letting me annex the kitchen table into my sphere of madness and creation during the weekdays; but, insisted that the table be cleared on the weekends lest "people come over and see this mess."

I mostly listened to NPR (104.1 WVGR) while illustrating "The Woodcutter." I also listened to a lot of MGMT, Sigur Rós, T.I., Frontier Ruckus, The Mighty Narwhale, Lupe Fiasco, and Kent.

There was a certain niceness to painting and drawing in the nerve-center of the house. I find I work much better if there is some sort of ambient noise or subtle commotion surrounding me whilst I labor.

The one flaw of my 'studio' is that the large, glass slider opens to the west; so, it can get difficult to manage the colors. On clear, sunny days the entire room is washed-out in blue light by midday. Trying to paint in the evening is impossible because sunset turns everything to salmon.

I was always most productive during grey, cloudy days. The soft, neutral light made for ideal working conditions.

The slider does provide a wonderful view of the bird feeder in our backyard. The accompanying birds, squirrels, wild turkeys, and groundhogs make for entertaining company throughout the seasons.

Friday, May 1, 2009

One more day...!

Tomorrow is the SCBWI-Michigan Spring Conference at Calvin College. Gotta say I'm a bit nervous. I was selected for a portfolio critique; so, I guess I'll just take my completed works and see what kinds of feedback I get. I'm not sure if I'll be over-extending myself with 39 pages in 15 minutes, but this is my first opportunity for any real criticism on the illustrations.

I'm trying to keep my expectations for the conference modest and realistic...but I confess an unfounded optimism. It feels like the conference will bring all the pieces together and everything will fall into place immediately: some publisher, agent, or editor will fall in love with my manuscript and illustrations on the spot and insist on publishing/printing within the month.

What I NEED to do is prepare myself to hear words like: "pedestrian," uninspired," and "unpublishable."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Woodcutter and The Most Beautiful Tree

These pictures highlight the detail of the illustrations I've been working on and (hopefully) give a general impression of the style I'm trying to achieve for the book.

All 39 of the pages for the story were painted on 11" x 15" Bienfang 140lb. cold press watercolor paper (none of my materials were what would be considered "professional-grade"...but I think the results were about as good as I could have hoped for).

I used a warm, yellow wash on all the pages (the "recipe" for the wash varied somewhat...some washes have a cream-color to them while others seem yellow-er). I did this to soften the negative space and to try adding a richness to the colors.

After outlining, washing, and painting I went back and did the ink work. In truth, this whole story (and everything that has followed) was inspired by these ultra-fine pens I was introduced to in Japan. The finest details required 0.20mm pens and the bolder areas up to 0.45mm. Painting in general, and watercolor specifically, can be a bit intimidating for me...but going through page after page with pens placed me squarely in my comfort zone.

So! I guess that's about it for now. I hope you have a basic idea of what my little illustration project is all about.

[Must apologize for the quality of the pics...the colors are pretty far off in the photos. But the patterns, details, and forms come through OK, I think. I hope to get some high-quality scans in the future.]

I'll tell you why:

I hope this blog will serve as an adequate resource for those interested in my journey to become an author/illustrator of children's books.