Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How to Get a Publishing Contract in 3 Easy Steps by Fred Koehler

Okay, okay. So perhaps that title was a bit deceiving. But, after reading this humorous post on How to Win the Caldecott, I thought I might give it a shot as well. This is a general description of how I sold my first two books to Penguin USA. The first, "Dad's Bad Day," will be out in 2014.

Step 1. Get Really, Really Good at Something. Whether it's writing, illustrating, or even concept and storyboarding, put in the 10,000 hours you need to become successful at your craft. Because all work feeds your art, it doesn't matter where those hours come from. You want to be a writer? Blog. Volunteer to write press releases for a local charity. Write letters. Just write a lot. Same deal with illustrators. Start a sketch blog and add to it daily. Doodle in meetings instead of paying attention (and convince everyone that you listen best while doodling). One day it's going to click. Something original is going to emerge from your work. You'll stop in the middle of what you're doing and say "Whoah. Where did that come from?" Congrats. You've found your voice.

Step 2. Hang Out and Be Cool. For "big people" publishing, I don't know how to be cool. Grown-ups frighten me honestly. For children's publishing, join SCBWI and just go and hang out. Invest some dollars. Sign up for multiple classes and critiques at the conferences. Bring your "A" game. Bring the work that embodies that original voice and still makes you say "Whoah" when you look at it. Be proud and be excited about it. And don't be creepy or stalker-y with the agents and editors you meet. The ones I've met still talk to me because my attitude has always been that "I'd love to sell something, but I'm really just here to learn and make friends."

Step 3. Listen, Learn, and Repeat. At a conference I heard an editor say, "Anyone who submits work to me in the next two weeks hasn't been paying attention." The purpose of attending conferences is to learn how to improve our craft for revision. It's not about landing the deal. When you get that one-on-one time, offer yourself up completely defenseless. Demonstrate your ability to listen and accept advice. And for some people, that's the hardest part. You're sitting across from the person who could give you your break, so whatever they tell you to do, DO IT!!! Now go back to Step 1 and repeat until successful. And remember, the equation for success is "Every Single Miserable Failure + One More Try."



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cloudwatching - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

This piece began as one of my Daily Doodles, where I experimented with a very loose and very sketchy line (no initial sketch/shapes) in Photoshop CS5:

I initially envisioned the little girl and her monster to be on a rooftop, but decided to put her on a hillside looking up at clouds in the sky instead:

I added some subtle shading in the bottom part of the hill to add a feeling of depth. I also used more than one pale grey for the clouds...again to add some texture and depth.

Next, I colored in the girl and the monster. Then, to make the hill look more like a natural part of the illustration, I added grass and flowers:

I drew in the stalks of grass by hand (digitally, that is) but did some cheating -- I only did a few sections, then copied and pasted those sections around the hill, altering the rotation a bit so it wouldn't look so obvious I was cutting and pasting. Then I added in some extra blades of grass here and there by hand.

Here's a screenshot of my layers, for those curious:

Yes, I love layers!

Next up: the fantabulous FRED KOEHLER.

I'm starting to blog about the process of creating I'm Bored (written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by yours truly) with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, for those interested. Included: photos, quotes, sketches & process info from the very beginning, working with editor Justin Chanda and art director Laurent Linn, through to finals and launch. I'd be delighted if you joined me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gladys And Her Cat by Russ Cox

© 2012 Russ Cox | Smiling Otis Studio

In celebration of Valentine's Day, I decided to work up a sketch I had lying around my studio that I called "Gladys And Her Cat". It is based on how children usually carry a cat around the house. I though adding the drawings hanging on the wall would help emphasize her love for her cat.

This is a tighter version of the sketch. I lightened the nose and mouth on Gladys so the line work would not stand out in the final art. The line work was converted to a dark purple to give it a bit more life than using black.

Using the multiply layer in Photoshop, I did a grayscale underpainting which I duplicated and then added a red tint. This makes it a two layer toned underpainting so that I have a dark value to paint on which helps the final art colors pop.

Working like a traditional painting, I started from the back by painting in the walls, patterns, baseboards, and floor. This helps me decide what colors to use for the main images and prevents color revisions later on by trying to get a background color to work with all of the main elements. The final art layers are set to "normal" but have my brushes set to 20-45% opacity. By doing this, it allows me to build up the color.

I then painted the drawings by using a crayon-like brush. I though the paper should be a few colors like construction paper. The dog and mouse were painted next.

Continuing moving to the front, Gladys was painted in the next step. I thought having her as a redhead would help solidify the concept of "love". 

The valentine's card and cat were painted. I used my orange cat as a model for color and attitude. Sometimes I will play with the saturation if I find the colors getting flat as I work. Gladys' skin tone got a mild boost so she looks more lively.

I thought I was about done with the illustration but the floor seemed too bare and boring. Building on the drawings in the background, I decided to add some additional drawings on the floor with a few crayons laying about. I quickly sketched the new items out, scanned them, and added them onto a new layer which I multiplied so the white drops out and the line work is  showing. Working digitally allows one to add and subtract images as they work without having to start over. 

The final image has the new elements painted, some of the line work beefed up and highlights added. 

You can view more of my work at:

Tune in next week to see what the talented Debbie Ohi has up her sleeve!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Illustrating a Non-Fiction Picture Book from Hazel Mitchell

This month saw the publication of a book I illustrated for Charlesbridge Publishing' imprint Mackinac Island. The book is 'Hidden New Jersey' and it's the third in a series featuring the States.Written by Linda J. Barth (of New Jersey), it's the first non-fiction book I've worked on - and it was quite a challenge! I thought I'd share some of the process looking at how I tackled the illustrations.

The book's a 'search and seek' concept with hidden objects on each page for children to find. There were a LOT of facts to incorporate on each double spread, each featuring a different area of the state.

This book came to me in an unusual way ... the developer, Anne Lewis, saw my work on my Facebook Fan Page and emailed me to ask if I'd be interested in doing the book. Hurrah for social networking!

I received the m/s in January 2011. At this point I realized just how much research was involved - I took a big gulp. Each area of the book was broken down into a list of facts and suggestions for hidden objects. The developer suggested I write notes on how I saw the images for each page before I started sketching. This was a great idea and saved me a bunch of time ... I spent a couple of weeks looking at images for each page and making rough notes on how I saw then working as a whole. The first thing I realized was that the objects suggested for 'hiding' took away many of the options for great compositions ... so I asked if I could choose what to hide instead. I began files of images for each illustration, making sure I had many different reference and bearing in mind the copyright restrictions on images. I made my own references sketches and often merged many different views, or worked from out-of-copyright photos. This kind of book is hard - there isn't time or money to go round taking your own photographs, which would be the ideal situation!

When I felt I'd researched enough I began to make rough sketches of each layout. In this case the rough sketch was pretty much how the finished image turned out.

I also researched the items I would hide on the page (which are all mentioned in the 'facts').
I also laid out a page to scale with the hidden objects and blocks for the text.

All the rough sketches went to the developer at Mackinac Island Press for approval .. then it was on to finished pencils.

I worked on all the images at the same stage. There were very few changes ... just minor ones to make sure things weren't in the gutter (page fold) and that the text would fit around the image.

I worked at 150% scale and scanned all the images in at 800dpi, reducing to 400dpi in CMYK at the finished size. It was a LOT of scanning. I think people forget about scanning time ... I like to do my outline work by hand and my colouring (in this case) digitally ... so scanning and then clean up time can take almost a week or more for a whole book.

NOW the fun part ... colouring! I coloured in photoshop ... it's something I have been doing for many years. I still love working by hand, but for a project like this digital painting means I can do it in a few weeks. Otherwise the time to complete this book would have been 3 times as long! (Total time was about 4 months.)

Here is the finished image and below are the hidden objects ...
     And this is the finished page in the book!

One of the hardest parts about tackling this project was no running narrative. Each page is it's own entity ... although we did have a couple of themes running through the book. The kids in the canoe appear on several pages and also a little bumble bee (who is the mascot of the book and the state insect) is on every page doing something different as a little extra thing for children to find.

I also created the front and back cover art and bits and pieces for the verso and title pages.

Now that the book is out there I've been busy helping to promote the book ... which is when the hard work begins, right?

You can see the book trailer I created here ...
if you want to learn more about how I did the book trailer, please visit my blog.

Hidden New Jersey is available to buy in all good bookstores or online!

Join the Hidden New Jersey Facebook Fan Page!

Thanks for dropping by. See more of my work online

Come back next week and visit Pixel Shavings to see what illustrator Russ Cox has in store for us.