Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A busy (and thankful) year for the Pixel Shaving's gang

RUSS COX - As 2013 comes to a close, now is a good time to look back and be thankful for what happened during the year.
• I am excited to be agented by Sadler-Cavarette Children’s Literary 
• Major Manners Nite Nite Soldier, which I illustrated, won several awards including the Benjamin Franklin Award
• Freddy The Frogcaster, another book I did the illustrations for and written by Janice Dean, reached the top 25 in books sales on Amazon
• I just signed up for two more Freddy books
• Whatever Says Mark, a book I did with Capstone, was released
• I am illustrating a Christmas book written by Lynn Plourde that will be released in 2014
• In September I was selected to be a presenter for the NESCBWI’s spring 2014 conference
• My Mother Goose piece will be on permanent display at Boston Children’s Hospital
The biggest highlights of the year were more on a personal level. Our lovely daughter married her best friend and soul mate, Andrew Aho, in May. Lynn and I are so thrilled to have Andrew as a son-in-law. We look forward to see where the winds of life will take them.  

DEBBIE OHI - I have much to be grateful for in 2013. 
On the kidlit front, I did the illustrations for NAKED!, a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black, coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in May 2014. I was able to announce three new book contracts with Simon & Schuster: I'll be (1) illustrating SEA-MONKEY AND BOB by Aaron Reynolds, (2) writing and illustrating TWO more picture books.

Had lots of fun at the SCBWI annual conferences. One of my highlights of the Summer conference: hanging out and chatting with Fred Koehler, plus getting a chance to see his HOW TO CHEER UP DAD f&gs (book comes out in March 2014).

 And speaking of Pixel Shavings creativity, I so enjoyed Hazel's illustrations in ONE WORD PEARL this year! See Hazel's interview on Inkygirl about her process.

I was way nervous about my very first keynote speaker gig but ended up having so much fun at the SCBWI Canada East convention in Montreal, plus made some new friends. 
The more good things that happen, the more grateful I am for those who have encouraged me in the past. Like my Pixel Shavings friends. :-)
Photo credit for Debbie-SCBWI-Montreal-UrveTamberg.jpg - Urve Tamberg.

FRED KOEHLER - Greetings from Fred in the land of Fixin' To Publish a Book. Woot woot!

My very first title, HOW TO CHEER UP DAD, debuts in March with editor Kate Harrison and Art Director Lily Malcom at Dial Books for Young Readers. I've been super-stoked to go through the publishing experience. You can check it out on Amazon here or buy it from your local bookseller in March 2014. Betsy Bird at the School Library Journal Blog got an early sneak peek at HOW TO CHEER UP DAD and had nice things to say about it. Oh yeah, and here's the final cover:

I've gotten so many incredibly kind emails and questions about the process that I've put together a couple of pieces of general advice to share. The SCBWI published my success story, which I've posted to my blog at I also posted an article for aspiring authors called You Wrote A Book. Yay! Now What? This piece is more for beginners just to help wrap their brains around the publishing process.
So what else is new? I'm writing and drawing almost every day. I'm kind of stuck on monsters right now, and I wanted to share this concept illustration for a new book idea I'm working on. I know I've got a lot to learn, but that's what makes being an artist so doggone exciting. I keep making new friends and am so thankful to have a chance to be successful in this incredible industry. Cheers.

SHERALYN BARNES - Happy Thanksgiving!
It's been a year of lovely things to be thankful for... 
I spent a large part of the year working on a children’s book about our great national parks for the Sequoia Natural History Association. What a treat it was to take myself on a tour of the parks in my imagination. As a young adult, I worked in Yellowstone National Park for three summers and two winters, so it was an inspiring project for me. I’m happy that my artwork will help inspire kids to go out and experience our national treasures. The book will be released in March through Sequoia Natural History Association and the National Park outlets.

I had the pleasure of doing a couple more projects with Reading A to Z this year. Silly Sarah”, which came out last year, had me drawing a lot of fun farm animals. This year, my imagination got to go to Africa with a retelling of a Nigerian folk tale “Why the Bat Flies Only at Night”. Currently I’m working on a project for 2014 that takes me on a Costa Rican rain forest adventure with a sloth. Just my speed! I love sloths!

The learning game flashcards that I designed for Gryphon Design Collective called “What We Wear” came out this year. I had fun drawing all kinds of fun animals for this project. It was a challenging project in that it highlighted clothes within a beach/sand/surf motif. Truly a challenge! (Pat on back)
This year also marks the year that I begin working with the (most excellent) agent, JoAnne Schuna. I am honored to be represented by such a wonderful person.  


In May, I made a pilgrimage back to my home state of Indiana to attend the Wild, Wild, Midwest SCBWI Conference. What a great conference! Presenters included the great Peter Brown and the amazing Laurent Linn (art director for Simon and Schuster). I was very honored to be the first runner up in the juried art show with my Girl and Bear illustrations. It was a true milestone for me. It was four years ago this November that I was living in Louisville, KY and attended an SCBWI conference in Indianapolis where Laurent Linn was presenting. His amazing enthusiasm and stellar presentations reawakened my desire to pursue children’s illustration and led me to attend more national conferences. So it was even more of an honor that he was one of the judges for this art show. My heart seriously glowed realizing how far I’ve come, thanks to so many people who have inspired me along the way. The inspiration continues. 

HAZEL MITCHELL - this year has flown by and I'm thankful for the opportunities that have come my way.

This year has been a busy one for  books ... in Spring '1,2,3 by the Sea' from Kane Miller (by Dianne Moritz), in Fall 'One Word Pearl' from Charlesbridge (by Nicole Groeneweg) and 'Double Crossed at Cactus Flats' from Magic Wagon by Rich Wallace. Right now I'm working on a folktale for Charlesbridge called 'Imani's Moon' publication Fall 2014 (by JaNay Brown Wood). In between I've completed educational and independent projects. Whew! I am thankful for a sit down!

It's been a really great year for travel and for visiting with friends back in Europe and in the USA, and with so many great colleagues too! I was lucky enough to attend Bologna Children's Book Fair this year for the first time and to speak at conferences as far away as Paris and as near home as Massachusetts. I've visited book stores, spoken at schools and attended book festivals. I am thankful for the lovely people who have hosted and interviewed me on their blogs, and supported me in my career. And for all those people who have written to me on social media and through snail mail.

When you're in the midst of a lot of work and travel, with the highs also come the lows. Then it's helpful to reflect on what's been and what's to come. To think about what's important, and what's not. So I'm taking a little moment to look back and recall what I have to be truly thankful for this year ... friends - creativity - opportunity - my animals -  the chance to continue story telling into 2014 and hopefully to find that I can finally add 'author' to my resume. 

Oh also, thanks to my hubby for all his support!

Here's to you and to yours and THANK YOU for stopping by Pixel Shavings and catching up with our news.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

On Character Sketches and Perseverance by Fred Koehler

This whole weekend I was supposed to be writing, but all I could bring myself to do was draw. Oh well. Wherever the muses descend, right? I had a pirate story that needed some characters, and apparently I was hungry, so I drew this:
Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for the story, which was frustrating because I liked the characters. I ended up with my concept sketch looking something like this:

It didn't work at all the way I had hoped, and I’m thinking this is the point where most people give up. Or start from scratch. I saw it as a fun opportunity to stretch myself as an illustrator and see how I could take the intentions behind the illustration and make it work for the story. I redrew select parts of the characters, and ended up with these three sets of characters, and the last one worked perfectly for my story! (Yay!)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Overall Narrative, Thinking Vs Drawing and NAKED! Sketching: What I'm Learning About The Picture Book Creative Process - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

In case you haven't heard, I'm going to be illustrating another Michael Ian Black story: NAKED! Yes, the exclamation mark is part of the title. :-) The news was first announced on Entertainment Weekly site last week. I'm excited to be working with Justin Chanda (editor/publisher) and Laurent Linn (art director) at Simon & Schuster again.

Anyway, I'm a few weeks into the process and working hard on the first round of sketches so we have something to discuss at my Simon & Schuster meeting at the end of the month.

I learned a lot during the I'm Bored process, and am using some of the techniques that worked well for me before. As I finish a version of a drawing or sketch, for example, I use painter's tape to hang it from my office ceiling: 

Photo of my office ceiling last year during I'm Bored
I do this for two reasons:

1. I like being able to see all the drawings I've done so far for a particular project, mainly so I can check for consistency but also for overall narrative flow (more on this later in the post).

2. Because it gives me a sense of accomplishment: the ceiling starts out bare, and then gradually fills up, which is satisfying to watch. Later on, I start replacing the rougher sketches with more polished versions. Tall people have to duck when walking through my office during this time.

One of the things I love about Michael Ian Black's stories is that they leave a lot of room for the illustrator. This is even more true for NAKED! Michael told me he did this for me on purpose. I love that: knowing the author trusts me enough with his story. 

Above: my ceiling right now as I work on sketches for NAKED! Sorry for having to censor out part of the image -- some of my sketches were showing through the paper. 

What I'm finding different about the process this time: 

I do more staring at the sketches I'm taping up on the wall than actually drawing. Reason: I'm spending a LOT of time thinking about the overall narrative flow. Not just what's happening in the text, but also what's being shown in the illustrations, and how that can enhance the overall story.

There's an ebb and flow, I'm discovering, with the narrative in the illustrations sometimes diverging (but still enhancing the story) from the text but then drifting back, merging and then away again. 

Hm, I'm not explaining this very well again, am I? I'll have to give it another go at some point in the future. In any case, I'm having even more fun working on NAKED! than I did on I'M BORED.

My advice for aspiring illustrators:

Before you plunge into sketches for your story, or someone else's text, think hard about the overall story. When you do start sketches, take regular time during the process to sit back and look over what you've done so far. Instead of just examining each image on its own, make sure you scan them in sequence to check for a smooth narrative flow. Then compare to the narrative flow of the text, and how you could adjust your images to improve how both work together.

I'm finding it an immensely satisfying process. I'm meeting with Justin and Laurent in a couple of weeks; we made a great collab team during I'm Bored, and I'm so looking forward to getting their creative input.

But now it's time to take my own advice and get back to work. I'm looking forward to seeing fellow Pixel Shavings member Fred Koehler at the SCBWI Winter Conference!

- Debbie

Debbie Ridpath Ohi's illustrations appear in I'M BORED, a picture book by Michael Ian Black (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers) that was chosen by The New York Times for its list Notable Children's Books Of 2012. Writer's Digest recently chose Debbie's blog as one of the Best 101 Websites For Writers. Twitter: @inkyelbows.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Anatomy of an illustration from Hazel Mitchell

I'm sharing the thought and physical process of an illustration I recently created for the Tomie de Paolo SCBWI award 2012. 

This year Tomie gave us three books from which to chose a passage to illustrate in black and white. Tom Sawyer, Little Women or The Yearling. I chose 'Little Women'. I have fond memories of reading it as a child. Beth and her kittens always touched me, maybe because I am crazy about animals and found solace in them always.

 So that's where I started ... I found my favorite passage in the book and began to sketch ...

 Here are my thumbnails. Immediately I knew I wanted Beth to be in the lower left with a slightly above few point and the kittens around her. I wanted to show the love she had for them and how that reflected her kind and loving nature. So, THEN I sketched lots of kittens ...

And more kittens ... (this was fun! I like drawing cats).
Thanks to a friend's cat (Smittens) for modelling).


I did a 'frame' drawing of Beth, curled up.
And then I did a more detailed sketch of Beth and the mother cat.

I wanted the drawing to show the sadness and foreshadowing of Beth's death. But somehow have that as a beautiful thing. What to do? I decided to work with imagery that suggested a light shining into the room ... Beth's room ... but not a fierce light, rather the light streaming through a sunny window.

Here's a montage in Photoshop, using the initial sketch and some of the kittens from the thumbnails. I liked the idea of the cats rhythm, and the shadows and their curiosity. What do they see in the light? Maybe they are a metaphor for Beth leaving us? It all seemed a bit stark though and I wanted to give the picture some cosiness, given that the descriptive passage by Louisa M. Alcott is so evocative.

I also wanted to use digital layering techniques in photoshop. I had been working digitally for ever, but I wanted to incorporate more of my painting skills and utilize the versatility of bringing a finished illustration together digitally.

I had just returned from a week of working by hand on a Highlight's Illustration workshop and being mentored by Eric Rohmann. I realised I missed the fluidity and happy accidents of working with paint and ink. How could I combine them with years of working digitally?

I had also just read 'A Monster comes to Call' illustrated by Jim Kay .. and was blown away by his powerful images!

Now I had my idea on paper, I wanted to try some different techniques and see what happened ...

Straight graphite outline.

 Brush pen outline. (note the floating hand ... I forgot to ink it when I was working on the lightbox!)

 The outline I went with finally ... dipping ink pen and spatter technique.

I did the same for the kittens.

And here's how I created the layers and put them together.

First I painted a base for the floor shadows, all the painting was in ultramarine, then I turned to grayscale in photoshop. I used salt for texture.

I painted the values for Beth and the kittens also in watercolour.

In photoshop I white blocked out the area of Beth and the kittens. Also, to give the whole thing that cosy feel, I scanned a photo of a rug and changed the perspective and value of it to give that homey feel. I made everything point towards the light.

Then I added in the grayscale values as a new layer.

 Finally I dropped in the outline layer and added some shadows. I decided not to go with the very dark shadows of the original digital sketch, they seemed too dramatic.

Below you can read the passage from the book  I illustrated. I could have gone the literal route and made this a very cluttered and overworked illustration (my worst fault). But I decided at the start I wanted it to be about emotion and not the things around her. They are all there .. but out of the image.

Was I pleased with the end result? Somewhat. I love dipping ink pen and I enjoyed getting more texture and a painterly feel into the drawing. I was not content in the end with the girl's position, and I think there are issues with the skirt. If I was doing it again I would have set up a model to get the folds of the skirt right and more natural. When I look at the first pencil sketch I did of Beth at the beginning, somehow I feel I lost the immediacy and the pure love in her face. Perhaps there is more unconsciousness in a pencil sketch
and those first moments of communication from brain to hand to paper.
I do feel the beauty of Beth here, and that's what I wanted.

I hope you enjoyed seeing the evolution of this piece!

See more of my work at
and find me on facebook


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Russ Cox on illustrating NITE NITE SOLDIER, process & advice for aspiring illustrators - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

As some of you already know, our own Russ Cox illustrated the recently published Major Manners Presents: NITE NITE SOLDER, written by Michael and Beth Hofer and published by Outhouse Ink Publishing.

Russ's bright, fun illustrations really make this entertaining how-to story a great bedtime reading choice. It also comes with a CD with narration (fun military-style with a kid chorus) from Major Manners. I can SO see children and parents having fun with this just before going to bed.

One of my favorite lines: "Wiggle, jiggle, jump, and dry those toes..." (like many of the other lines in NITE NITE SOLDIER, it's just so fun to say out loud).

I've hung out with Russ at SCBWI events; he's knowledgeable, supportive of other children's book writer/illustrators and one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet. Plus he plays banjo!

Where to find Russ online:
Smiling Otis Studio - Blog -  Facebook - Twitter - Google+ - Flickr

Russ kindly agreed to answer a few questions for the Pixel Shavings blog:
How did you become illustrator of NITE NITE SOLDIER?
The publisher, Outhouse Ink Publishing, found me through an online portfolio site and contacted me. I sent them some newer pieces and decided to use me. They are a great group to work with on the book.
Which portfolio site?
They found me through, which is where I get a lot of leads and contacts.
What was the illustration process like?
The illustration process began with reviewing the manuscript with the publisher. We chatted about ideas for the pages but they pretty much left it in my hands.

What tools/materials did you use?
Everything was sketched out using traditional pencil and paper. The final art was created with Adobe Illustrator but I still used the scans as a template and built everything in layers.
Did you chat on the phone, online or in person?
We chatted on the phone once or twice but mostly through email.

After initial contact, what happened next?
I did character studies of the Major character (every pun intended).

Once they selected a character, I did various facial expression to make sure he would be able to show different emotions.

I did a storyboard with basic elements in places to get or thoughts onto paper. Plus, it allowed us to check for flow, movement, and to make sure each page was interesting but lead to a page turn.
How many times did you revise the character sketches and storyboard before they were approved?
There were no changes to the character, which a rarity. I guess since I did several different head studies to find a direction, it saved some time in the long run. I did some quick basic storyboards to show them my thoughts which they tweaked and sent me their notes. From there, I did tight drawings for final approval. I think there were only a few minor changes.

After approval of the storyboard, I then worked up tight sketches which we sent to the designer to make sure the type would work with the layouts.
From there, I did the final art in Adobe Illustrator since they liked that look from my samples. There were a few slight adjustments but everything was worked out ahead of time.

How long did the entire process take?
From the initial contact to delivery of the final art, we spent around 6 months working on the illustrations. As you know, that is still not a lot of time for a book to be illustrated.

In retrospect, was there anything that surprised you about the process?
There were no real surprises with this book. I am working on a book with a different publisher and the approval process is taking longer than I expected. With the larger houses, I think this is the norm since the artwork has to go through several approval processes.
If you could go back in time and give your younger illustrator self some advice, what would it be?
Good question. I would have told myself to read more in my younger days. Especially more of the classics instead of so many comic books. Even though comics really helped me with composition and storytelling.
I think reading helps expand your inner vision and creative process, You, the reader, are painting the imagery in your head. I told my students to read any and everything. It will fill that inner illustrator morgue that they may withdraw from.

What do you mean by "inner illustrator morgue"?
An "illustrators's morgue" is a file that we use to keep things that are inspirational, reference (hands, feet, facial expressions, etc.), color schemes, compositions we like, and other things that we might fin useful down the road. 

Having an "inner illustration morgue" means keeping images in your head that are created from stories, articles, and conversations. A line from a poem can conjure up a beautiful image that you may want to use elements from in a future pieces. 

Sometimes sketching or writing things in a journal and sketchbook is very helpful to remember those moments.

Would you like to share anything about your current/upcoming projects?
Sure, I am working on a new book for the same publisher. It is a different story but is very amusing. I also have a second book from a different publisher that is in the beginning stages.
These projects sound exciting! Do you have any release dates for either of your new books?
They are very exciting! I hope they are stepping stones for working with larger publishers but I am really enjoying working with everyone in the smaller houses. As far as I know, they are hoping to get the books out my early summer of next year so my deadlines are very tight.

Plus I am trying to get my own story into the hands of a publisher or agent. I need to find some time to spend with my banjo. Oh, and my wife!

During this craziness, I am also working on a board game for Gamewright.
 What stage are you at now with the board game? How does the process of creating illustrations for a board game compare to that of illustrating a picture book? And how did you start working with Gamewright?
We have moved into final art with the game. It has now turned more into a card game but it still a fun game. I think kids and families are going to love it.

With anything in the commercial market, the deadline is much tighter. I am looking at less than two weeks to deliver the final art. I think the artwork has to go through more channels before being okayed. You also have more precise dimensions and size requirements to meet or the deadline for printing can be missed. Not a lot of room for trial and error.

Gamewright found me through my website via the portfolio site I am listed with. It might have been but I'm not sure.

Any advice for aspiring children's book illustrators?
I am fairly new to the children's book world, and learning something new with each project or conversations with established illustrators and writers like my fellow Pixel Shavers.

I would say that joining SCBWI is a great start and a good way to begin learning how the children's publishing world works. Also attend the regional and national conferences so you can network and meet people face-to-face.

I would recommend going to library and reading through as many children's books as possible to see what's out there and being published. The final thing to do is read Uri Shulevitz's Writing With Pictures. It is packed with lots of valuable information.

Where to find Russ online:
Smiling Otis Studio - Blog -  Facebook - Twitter - Google+ - Flickr

Also see:
Joanna Marple's interview with Russ Cox