Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Joe Bob Gristleneck the Banjo Playing Pig by Russ Cox

© Russ Cox | Smiling Otis Studio

For my post this week, I am continuing my adventure in painting with Photoshop. I am trying to capture my traditional style of using gouache and color pencil while maintaining bright, lively colors. Some of you may be saying "why not just paint it traditionally". Working digitally allows me to experiment more with colors and adjust the layout if I need to do so without redrawing it each time. I think each time you have to redraw a sketch, it tends to loose it freshness. Even though I do color and tonal roughs for balance and light placement, I still like playing with colors as I work. With this piece I really wanted a fun balance of complimentary colors to add life to the final illustration. By building the colors up in layers, allowed me to keep things bright. Working this way also allowed me to get a colored pencil looking texture in areas, especially the pig. I also wanted the original sketch to show through as much as possible. My goal is to do a new piece every two weeks and take what I learn from the previous illustration, to build upon the next one. Hopefully my portfolio will have a new look to it as well for the New York SCBWI conference in January. This experimenting really transfers over well to working traditionally. As artist we must continue to learn new things and improve on what we know.

Check in next week for what the wild and wonderful Debbie Ohi has in store for you. I am sure it will be a treat and learning experience for all.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Flying Fairy from Hazel Mitchell

Lately I've been working on loosening up my style. So noodling about before the LA conference I came up with this little fairy character ...

She's cross because she's having trouble flying.


So it all worked out in the end .....

See more of my work at

I also have a new sketchblog hope you will drop by and visit.

Lastly and certainly not leastly - welcome JOHN DEININGER to Pixel Shavings. We are so happy to have him aboard and I KNOW there will be awesome posts by him.

Tune in this time next week to see what delectable delights artist RUSS COX will be bringing to the party here on the Glog.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's About the Sheralyn Barnes

Since my last post, the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles has come and gone. My oh my....what an enlightening event. I encourage anyone who loves children's books and wants to make a career in making them to go next year if you can. You won't regret it. It's amazing, informative, inspiring, fun, exhausting, and yes....frustrating. I've been home for over a week now and all the information and experiences are slowly sinking in. I'm realizing just how important that last emotion - frustration- is. It seems equally as important as inspiration in this game. And here's why....

I've spent the last 5 months with my head in the computer trying to hone my skills at painting digitally and I've been very happy with my accomplishments. However, after this last conference, I realized that I've been ignoring a couple of key elements that are very important to being a good children's book illustrator. I've been ignoring the story and the characters, the two things that make a good book a good book! I realized that I've been so involved in making fur look like fur, snow look like snow, and wool look like wool that I haven't taken the time to really get to know my characters and how they think or explore in depth where they live. It seems crazy to only just now realize this! My training is in fine arts so I was never exposed to the basics of character design (or the importance of thumbnails) in school.  I now realize that I've been using my obsessive attention to detail in painting as an excuse to avoid pushing myself out of my artistic comfort zones in illustration.

I can admit this to myself after having had an incredibly enlightening critique with Dan Santat again this year at the conference. In 15 minutes he made a remarkable difference in my perspective on my work. His critique opened my eyes even wider to what I've been ignoring.

Here's what I mean...

I showed him this piece. It is the opening illustration that I did for a final to go with a Christmas book dummy about a rabbit and mouse who hide in an old woman's barn when a blizzard comes. In this scene, the rabbit is supposed to be anxiously awaiting his mouse friend's arrival at the rendezvous point so that they can go together to the barn for safety. This is a piece that I've been laboring on for the last month (you know...getting that fur and snow just right).

Dan respectfully pointed out to me that what I have painted here is a portrait of a mildly concerned rabbit looking to his left. Then, I threw in a couple of trees to establish that he's outside and there is snow. That's it. Think about it, if he was a rabbit actor trying out for the part, he wouldn't get the role now would he? Now considering that I have sat through six workshops at several SCBWI conferences with the fab art director Laurent Linn in which he very accurately shows the many facets that make a good illustration good (and how a good illustrator is like a good movie director, lighting director, wardrobe designer, etc) I absolutely can't believe I was so blind to what I had done here! A good children's book illustration should always intrigue the viewer and make them ask questions about what is going on. The most memorable statement that Dan Santat said to me this time around was.... "Your illustration should tell a story before the text is even added."

So he gave me some tips on this piece. Here is a rough of possible changes using some of his suggestions.

Since this rough is small on the screen and hard to see I'll note what I'm aiming at. First, this rabbit is worried, his character is neurotic and he should look as worried as I would be if I was stuck in a car on the freeway in an oncoming blizzard with bad tires. I want to get that across (and intend to work on that expression and body language since it is key to the scene)! My imagined setting is Vermont....with lots of hills, pines and snow. I would have picked my home state of Minnesota, but it's too flat. So it's Vermont as I imagine it would be in winter. In the upper right, the barn and house are off in the distance and the incoming snowstorm is already upon them (this is a key location of where the story is taking us). In the middle upper right, the mouse is coming up the hill from the barn (where he's already been, unknowing to the rabbit who is looking for him to come from another direction).

So it's a start in a new direction at least. The importance of learning how to move the story forward was reinforced over and over again in workshops in LA with (the amazing illustrator) David Small, (the absolutely amazing Art Director with great hair) Laurent Linn, and (the wonderful art director) Martha Rago. All these people know what they are talking about, so I am eagerly listening and trying to stay all ears and keep my eyes open as much as possible to my own blind spots from here on out! This is why going to conferences is golden. Another reason to go to conferences? I know everyone in Pixel Shaving because of SCBWI conferences. That's been the icing on the cake! I've learned so much from knowing all of them and am so honored to be part of such a talented group of illustrators.

Thanks for tuning in!
Look for another enlightening and fabulous post from Hazel next week!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Don't Sweat the Dummy by Fred Koehler

I worry about the dummy. Did I do it right? Are my sketches too simple? Did I spec out the end papers and the intro page correctly? Did I choose the right fonts? Is that why previous dummies have been rejected?

At a recent SCBWI conference, I had separate portfolio reviews with an agent and an art director. Both of them gravitated toward a particular piece in my portfolio. The art director, Lucy Cummins of Simon & Schuster, suggested I turn it into a simple father's day story. The agent liked the idea, and I had one month to send a dummy.

So I sat down and wrote 87 words that made me laugh and cry. I sketched it all up in about 15 hours, which is all that's left in my month after a full time job and two toddlers. It wasn't fancy. It was downright sloppy. It didn't show the cover, have a title, or even have all the right pages. But I sent it anyways.

The agent emailed me back within a day and asked for more illustration samples to show around to some editors. WHAAAA?!! It's that simple? No custom fonts? No comparables? No hand-assembled book? No fully-fleshed pages?! All it took (to peak some interest at least) was a successful concept. Here's the simple format I used.

You can see some more of my work at Cheers!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pixel Shavings Bookmark

Announcing our new bookmark! 
All five Pixel Shaving's illustrators feature on it and it's perfect for marking those books.

Here's a closer look ...

Cute, huh? 
If you would like one of these awesome bookmarks (or even two) drop an email to and we will snail-mail to you.

Three of the Pixel Shaving's gang (Hazel, Sheralyn and Debbie) will be out and about at the Los Angeles SCBWI summer conference this weekend and guess what? They will have postcards, so stop them and get yours!

Thanks to Russ Cox for designing. 
This is our second promotional piece as a group. 
Look out for a new Pixel Shaving's postcard later in the year and collect the set!

Drop by next week for more great illustrations from Florida based illustrator and writer FRED KOEHLER.

Don't forget to visit us on Facebook too ....