Posts Tagged ‘illustrating’

This is the second installment to my report on this year’s SCBWI Conference. After tanking up on some java, I was revved and ready to go for what promised to be a jam-packed second day. First up was KAREN CUSHMAN, author of a number of successful historical fiction novels, including , Lucy Whipple, Will Sparrow’s Road, and Newbery award winner The Midwife’s Apprentice. Karen said there are three rules for writing; unfortuntely no one knows what they are, so make your own rules, or better yet, have no rules at all. That may not sound very helpful, but I think the point was that you have to give yourself permission to try something different and then figure out how to make it work. She also suggested that we separate the editor from the critic.

What I took away from the panel of agents that followed was that authors should be open to and have the ability to revise. When asked  by Moderator Lin Oliver what would be the one thing you would tell authors to do, or not do, Neal Porter said, “Please yourself, don’t follow trends.” Elise Howard and Laura Godwin warned against accepting too much advice from others. And Jordan Brown said to be aware of the market so that you can create something new.

Following an inspiring talk by BRYAN COLLIER, author and illustrator of the Coretta Scott King Award-winning book Uptown, I attended a session on Renewal and Revision by EMMA DRYDEN. She coached those present, many of which were well-published authors, to learn how to manage our expectations in a rapidly evolving market. Putting our words out into the social network, doing a sketch a day, changing genre’s, and setting new goals were all methods for reinventing ourselves when the tried and true  no longer works.

CLARE VANDERPOOL spoke on the Power of Quiet for creative pursuits. Her suggestions were to:
1. Make quiet a priority.
2. Look for an opportunity for forced quiet.
3. Limit input.
4. Look for the resting points in a day.

Next up was a high-energy session with CAROL TANZMAN, author of the YA thrillers Circle of Silence and Dancegirl, who offered acting tips for readings. We watched and listened as she used eye contact, constant movement, volume changes, a different inflection for each character, and strategic pauses to enhance  and energize a reading from her book.

Perhaps the most moving presentation of the day came from RUTA SEPETYS, author of the New York Times bestseller “Between Shades of Gray.” I had met Ruta at this year’s ALA convention in Anaheim and was immediately struck by her openness and warmth. She is the perfect example of an SCBWI success story and credits the Work-in-Progress Grant she received plus other support from the organization for her success, but  honestly, it is her passion for her subject matter that makes her writing so moving. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak–do it. You will walk away loving her.

The final presentation of the day was an overview of the current children’s book market by DEBRA HALVERSON. I learned that for the first time in a long while there are signs of improvement. There is more optimism among agents, book sales have risen, and the picture book glut has been corrected.  So what are publishers looking for? Fresh voices and character-driven books that dig deep, but what else is new?

Then it was party, party at the Hippy Hop where revelers surprised SCBWI’s founders Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser with a Flash Mob to the song Aquarius. We all got our groove on and had a great Rumpus of a time, to borrow from Where the Wild Things Are.

Me, Alexis O’Neill, Tina Nichols Coury,
Yuki Yoshino, and Allison Crotzer at the
2012 SCBWI Conference Hippy Hop

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This morning I was thinking about the day ahead, and like most people realized I had an endless list of things I needed to accomplish and too few hours to probably get it all done. I needed to check all of my emails, write a post for my blog, feed a small zoo worth of animals, work on the an illustration for my current picture book, read a manuscript from a friend, continue painting a Tuscan countryside mural for a client, and oh yeah, cook three meals, drive and deliver one of my sons to work, grocery shop, yada, yada yada. The list was more than a little daunting.

The point is, writing and illustrating for children requires more than passion. It requires discipline–lots of discipline. There’s no boss who is going to fire me if I don’t show up for work, no time clock to punch, no life and death decisions to be made (so far) to help me set my prioroties, but I know that each minute of each day is packed with potential. All I have to do is show up.

So if you are reading this and wondering how you’re going to manage your life and still find the time to write the next Great American Kids Book, keep the faith and make an appointment with your work.  Many drops of rain are needed to fill the pond.

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I just returned from what I thought was a week long vacation visiting family and friends. While gone, I visited Ashton, Idaho, and Yellowstone National Park, two of the settings for the novel I finished earlier this year. Each day I tried to do some plein air painting, a much loved activity I seldom find time to do at home. While driving through Elko, Nevada, my husband and I discovered the  recently opened California Trail Interpretive Center and  investigated some possible new non-fiction ideas.

Now that I have a moment to look back over the last ten days, I’m not so sure they weren’t more a form of cross-training for my regular writing and illustrating. I stretched muscles that had long ago atrophied from lack of use. After all, one has to live to write and see to paint, and although I called my time away from home a vacation, it would perhaps be more accurate to call it a retreat. This morning I returned to my office bursting with ideas and anxious to dive in.

What I’ve learned is that getting out of the studio is a good thing- a very good thing and a way to reinvest in our work –  as long as it isn’t just another form of avoidance.

So now that the dog days of summer are upon us, perhaps you too can find a day or more to gain some new perspectives, rejuvenate the creative process, and tap into some previously  undiscovered resources. Don’t think of it as time away, so much as time devoted to being present in the world. Happy trails!

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For years I have struggled to make the perfect work space. I demand a lot from my office since I use it for making art as well as writing. Is it perfect? Far from it, but it gets by, and it’s all me. Throughout this process, though, I have at least developed a list of what I consider the essentials of a good workspace.

1. GREAT LIGHTING – Nothing compares to north light if you are an artist, so I have a north facing window to the left of my desk (I’m right-handed and shadows can be an issue), but at night color balance is of the utmost importance. Finding a balance between warm and cool light even with today’s broad spectrum of bulb choices is a challenge. Eliminating glare and awkward shadows are two other concerns. I think at least three sources of light works best – task, a fill light to cut shadows, and an overhead room light.

2. FUNCTIONAL ERGONOMICS – For those of us who sit at a keyboard or desk for hours on end, the proper chair can make all the difference between comfort and crippling back pain and carpal tunnel. Make sure your feet rest flat on the floor and there is ample back support. Even with the perfect set-up it is still necessary to get up and stretch at least once an hour.  

3. COLOR  – I tend to be a bit color sensitive anyway, but it’s important to realize that color sets mood. Find the color that makes you want to live in that space. Maybe an energizing, warm color like yellow or red works best for you, or maybe you need something more soothing like the colors found in beach glass. Neutrals anyone? Don’t forget to consider color reflection if you do art. The colors of your walls may be affecting how you see the colors on your palette.

4. PRIVACY – there is nothing worse than an interruption when you are dancing with your muse. Use a “Do Not Disturb” sign, barbed wire, whatever it takes to make people think twice before entering when you’re busy.

5. INSPIRATION – most creative people like to surround themselves with inspiring clippings, pithy sayings and words of great truth. Some handle the clutter of all that better than others. I have a bulletin board where I keep all those scraps and tear sheets, photos of family, and heart-warming cards. Whenever I’m feeling frustrated, all I have to do is just look up.

6. LIMITED DISTRACTIONS – Although I have a TV in my studio, I’ve tried not to make it the focus of the room. I’m there to work, not watch Oprah. Same goes for all of the other gadgetry. I’m thinking game consoles are a bad idea.


After all the essentials have been covered than it’s time to have fun with the space. Make it your own, smatter the walls with your personality. I’ve surrounded myself with some of my favorite things – my ink bottle collection, some of my pets, gads of books. I dressed up the ceiling with some hand-painting and posted favorite tidbits on my bulletin board. Everyone handles it a bit differently. Elizabeth Dulemba pimped her art pad with some marvelous yellow stools. I’ll never forget the amazing turquoise Marla Frazee used in her studio. Lane Smith’s is chock-full of quirky clippings and gizmos.

What makes your work space special?

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Today, I thought I’d share something a bit more personal–my studio.

Some years ago a co-worker gave me a copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Ever since I have been acutely aware of the need for a space devoted entirely to creative endeavors.

After having three boys in the span of four years (talk about productive, huh), I became only more aware of the importance of a suitable work space. At first I settled into our converted garage. It was dusty, cold by southern California standards, and home to countless daddy long legs. Adequate night lighting was a constant challenge, and my cats claimed my door-turned-desk as their personal territory. 

Later, after we moved to our new home, I commandeered what should have been our dining room. The room sits at the hub of an over-active household, and the view out over our town and an adjacent hillside teaming with wildlife are welcome distractions. Best of all,  northern light is spectacular. I am surrounded by a crowded bookshelf of my favorite books (most for the under 18 set), two tanks of box turtle yearlings, and my newt’s terrarium. The cats are no longer with us, but my dog, Kalie, is often curled up in front of the space heater I keep in the room just for her. It is not your average studio, but it is clearly and uniquely mine.

Next week I will blog on what I consider the essentials of a great work space. In the meantime, I would love to hear about your creative room and what makes it  work for you.

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