I was honored to be invited to participate in Art + Coffee for Autism charity event that will include a bunch of artists that I am huge fans of (Patrick Ballesteros, Jake Parker, and Nolan Lee, just to name a few). I will be unable to make it, since it's midweek on a work night, but I will have one original in the show, an ink piece titled "Summer Fun". I can't wait to see photos of the event!
Anyone who happens to be in the San Deigo area next Thursday should go check it out!
My friend Melanie Fishman hosts a wonderful creativity blog and she recently asked me to write a post about the nursery art I create for friends and family.
So a night of insomnia earlier this week yielded unexpected results when two characters were fully formed in my mind. They are complete and utter silliness and I am ok with this. I have a few more scenes I want to draw, but I'll be creating them sporadically, as impromptu drawings without any plans for this to turn into "something". I have enough of those projects. This is just me messing around with really bad puns, with no redraws or edits to the artwork beyond brightening the scans up a touch. (some characters may end up with too many limbs)
If you don't like puns, turn back now. If you do, enjoy?
Sidenote: his name is Nork and not Knork, because I was trying to remember what the weird knife/fork thing that I saw many months ago was and what I remembered did not match with the reality of a Knork. I stuck with the bizarre creation in my brain, thus he is Nork.
The SCBWI summer conference flew by last weekend. It was incredible! The first year that I went, I made so many incredible friends and I loved all the talks that I went to. The second year that I went, I got to hang out with friends and make new ones, but as a whole I only liked the talks. The third year--this year--was INCREDIBLE! One after another, all the keynote speakers knocked it out of the park and left me wanting more.
Some of my highlights:
Mem Fox, oh how I could listen to her for hours! I love reading and I love picture books, but she has this love for words that makes me want--even a smidgen more eloquence to my vocabulary, and she definitely puts rhythm and page turn in a whole new light.
Dan Santat and Molly Idle were incredible in so many ways, which I knew going in since I obsessively read what interviews and blogs I can about them. But it was even more interesting to uncover how clearly their picturebooks reflect THEM more than anything and how their lives influence their stories on so many layers from ideation to character design to workflow.
Shannon Hale was delightfully witty and still heart-wrenchingly honest when she provided her insights on feminism in unexpected ways, including turning it onto it's head when she reflected how pigeon-holing something as "for girls" leads to "exclusion of boys."
Varian Johnson and Kwame Alexander know how to spin a phrase. I repeat the word I used for Mem: eloquence. Incredible eloquence and motivational speaking. Kwame knows how to read an audience and play off all the speakers who came before him.
Adam Rex. He liked my pig. 'nuff said.
The portfolio review was lots of fun, particularly when Molly Ruttan, one of my illustration friends, won one of the mentorships and Corinna Luyken, won an Honor award! So happy for them both! I was proud of what I had accomplished this year, and I was happy with my personal growth even though I KNEW that my portfolio was not ready to win awards. It'll get there, slow and steady. and with a whole lot more STORY.
Welcome to my updated website! It's been 10 months since my last blog post. I haven't been active on social media beyond the occasional favoriting a tweet or a facebook post. I've been busy and I've been trying to find balance. A lot has happened in my life in those months:
- We have purchased a house. Since it is a fixer-upper, we've been spending MANY hours working on the house trying to get it into a livable state that will eventually become a house just the way we want it.
- I now have a designated art studio! This was a joy for me--and one of the deciding factors of the house. It's the smallest room, but it has the best light and one of the largest windows in the house that looks out on the backyard trees. AND it's all mine to keep messy with ongoing projects, books and tools. (and theoretically, keep the rest of the house clean)
- I began an ongoing mentorship with E.B. Lewis. Thanks to talking with him at the SCBWI Summer Conferences, we've now had many conversations about style, voice, and technique--all of which are subtly different.
- I've taken block printing workshops. I've always admired block printing and the workshops have shown me how fun it is to physically carve out the images. For now this is just a fun exploration, but since this strongly ties the graphic designer side of me to the illustration side of me, I hope to find a way to blend all the techniques I love into my distinct style.
- I'm finding stories I want to tell. They're still far from ready to release into the wider world, but taking this journey has been a necessary step in finding the next layer of depth to my own artwork.
The first two changes in my life have caused me to rethink how I mentally find my work-life balance. I only have so much time every week, but even if I make the smallest increment of progress, it's better than my work standing still. I'm getting better at allowing myself quiet time to let my wander, think, explore, and restore my equilibrium for those days when I need to go full-throttle.
The latter changes have lead to an evolution in my style. While I know there are people who have given me nothing but positive feedback on my old colored pencil style and might prefer it over my new work, I was frustrated and unhappy with the final illustrations. I was not achieving the level of work that I wanted to. The newer style feels freeing, rather than restricting and allows for (relatively) easy editing and revising until I'm happy with the end result. Additionally, having positive feelings towards my artwork leads towards me being excited to sit down at my art desk instead of finding every avenue for procrastination.
I know that I am still far from where I want my work to be, but I'm getting closer. And I'm having more fun than ever. I hope you will enjoy this journey with me.
I've been experimenting with block printing this fall by taking some open studio workshops at Valley Print Studio. So far, I have found that I'm loving block printing quite a bit, which is not surprising considering it's both graphic design AND illustration. The best thing it has been teaching me is how to work with errors and "imperfections", because there is no CTRL-Z when you are carving. I've done 4 block prints so far, but I only have taken 2 of them further and started playing with digitally coloring the prints. I've posted them to a new gallery on my portfolio page, since I definitely want to do more prints. And I also plan on exploring ways to incorporate printmaking into a mixed media illustration process to create more complex pieces in the future.
Book: la carota gigante (the very big carrot)
Author/Illustrator: Satoe Tone
I was blessed with the opportunity to take my first trip to Europe this year, and one of my requirements for myself was to bring back a picture book or two from their stores. Because I don't speak Italian, any book I selected would be chosen solely based on my response to the artwork. Little did I know that I would select a book from a Japanese author/illustrator and not an Italian one, but from the moment I saw it I knew I would buy it. The illustrations are lush and layered, with a surreal quality to some of the spreads where they transcend what you would expect to happen and evolve into this very unique and complex world. I love the way her illustrations play with scale, since you never once see the carrot in its entirety, but you never get bored of seeing the carrot in different locations and environments. The characters, a group or family of bunnies, are all very similar but just different enough to create interest and appeal. My perfect pages in the book are a spread early on that just makes me smile every time i see it. The humor of having the little one "helping" but so obviously not, makes it such a fun and playful moment.
I have deliberately avoided reading the english version (or using Google Translate) so i can analyze the story based on the pictures alone. Here is my pictorial interpretation of the story: The rabbits grow a very large carrot. But what should they do with the carrot? What if they dance and celebrate over their carrot, or turn it into a sailing ship, or walk on it upside-down (on their ears), or turn it into a flying ship, or a park to sunbathe in, or a garden, or a home? But it's still there and very large and they aren't happy with any of those options. They decide instead to... well, you'll just have to read the book to find out.
A few of my pieces will be on display at Sidewalk Cafe in Pasedena as part of the Open Studios art event this Sunday, July 1st, 10 am to 5 pm
We even have a really nice article in the local paper: http://hometown-pasadena.com/shops/open-studios-up-close-personal/82381
For more info: https://m.facebook.com/AltaOpSt?refsrc=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FAltaOpSt&_rdr
These two titles are paired together for me because while they differ in look and feel, the rich, textural artwork of these picture books deal with water and the fluid expression thereof. Also, there's an abundance of Alison!
Book: Me and My Mom!
Author: Alison Ritchie
Illustrator: Alison Edgson
This book was recommended to me by one of the very helpful people at Mrs. Figs' Bookworm. It instantly appealed to me because of the art: very sweet, textural, and fluffy! Every page makes you wish you were there, running your hands in the soft fur of these two bears. The art is both ethereal and luminous, with a graceful dance across the pages, just as the lyrical words flow across the tongue. The mother bear glides gracefully through the water in my favorite spread, while the little bear follows with an adorable awkwardness. This is definitely a good choice for a slightly belated Mother's Day book.
Book: So Many Days
Author: Alison McGhee
Illustrator: Taeeun Yoo
The moment I saw this book, I loved it. From the typography to the imagery to the story, this hits all the right notes for me. Graphic textures, white space, a cute puppy sidekick, exploratory adventures. It's ALL good. The perfect pages do not come in the form of a double page spread this time, but two images that mirror each other both in their similarities--boat, water, two characters--and differences: light vs dark, struggle vs solution, looking back vs looking forward. These two pages excel at the key elements of a good picture book: pacing and emotional connection.
Taeeun's artwork is breathtaking throughout the entire book both for it's detail and it's restraint. The nice copyright/colophon page at the end of the book reveals the typeface (Century Gothic) as well as the art technique: linocuts manipulated digitally. Yet again, I have a strong desire to take a print-making class.
I know it's February today, but I couldn't resist waiting until my business trip to San Francisco earlier this week to take the opportunity to stop by Chronicle Books to pick up a book for my January book review. I unfortunately did not have enough time to tour Chronicle, but I enjoyed perusing the beautifully designed titles in their storefront. Flora and the Flamingo was absent, but I assume it was getting a sticker makeover for it's Caldecott Honor. Carnivores was in my hand, since I am an ongoing fan of Dan Santat. But in the end, I chose a title from an artist I wasn't too familiar with, but whose use of language intrigued me greatly.
Ah Ha! has exquisitely sparse text. Two letters used two times each, in playful combinations that emphasize the action and emotion of each spread depicting a frog's journey and adventures in the world. At the height of action, there are a total of 12 letters on a single spread. Throughout the book, this restraint is paired with beautifully simplified, graphic pictures that perfectly complement the words. And the colors! Bold and lush, even the earth tones are like candy.
I really did have two sets of perfect pages, the one below and the following spread with one of my favorite colors dominating the page. I chose this spread because even in the quiet moments there is still such life, expression, and storytelling in each scene.
Book: Please Bring Balloons
Author/Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
This book was picked up at my recent trip to the bookstore, where I--naturally--walked out with more books then I was supposed to buy. The beautifully lush cover with the spot gloss treatment immediately caught my eye and there was something appealing about the interplay between paint, drawing, and mixed media collage that I couldn't resist. Throughout the book there are many interesting uses of the collage element that can captivate the eye through many readings: math equations, bits of graph paper, postal odds and ends, and to greatest effect, the barely visible maps that reinforce location and story.
Lindsay's quirky color palette is evident in the spread below and she uses the balloons throughout the story as a playful and whimsical counterpoint to whites and blues. These balloons graphically dance across the pages while providing a surprisingly buoyant anchor-point until we reach the cusp of the story. When the balloons disappear from the pages, we know we have been transported into a new world full of different and just as colorful surprises.
The biggest delight for me was when I looked through the sketchbook on Lindsay's website and discovered the picture book dummy for the book, which made me realize that I missed a crucial part of the book on first read: a double gatefold that reveals a most magical spread! But I can't tell you what is on the spread. You'll just have to open the book and discover it for yourself.
DesignerCon starts tomorrow! If you're in the Pasedena neighborhood, come check it out. Tickets are $5/day, presale, or $7/day at the door. Stop by my booth and say hi!
Nightengail Art: booth 422
Don't forget to swing by the booths of some of my friends while you are there:
Patrick Ballesteros: booth 330
Diana Levin Art: booth 429
I challenged myself with organic shapes, a limited palette (8 colors), and a surface I've been exploring recently, MDF, and I'm pretty pleased with the results! What do you think?
Karl's landscape sketch comp is probably my favorite workshop each year. There's something about the changing seasons (spring and fall) and being out in nature painting with other people that's just relaxing and fun, even when the artwork isn't always cooperating. I try to push myself to focus on something new each time I go, and this year was composition and value. I did notice that I'm more comfortable and confident with my painting when I have an underdrawing then when I try to draw with paint.
My favorite piece was done on an MDF art panel (medium density fiberboard, which i definitely will be exploring more in my illustration work, since I like how it handles paint and I find I am more confident with a surface that won't easily tear and is not bright white.
I'm in the middle of a complex illustration, but I took a brief time-out to create a quick piece of art for my coworker's baby shower. I started with the peacock, having fun trying out different textures on the various feather types. But he looked like he needed a friend. Mr. Mouse lightly mocks the peacock with the help of a few handy leaves. Mr. Peacock is not amused--but I am.
I have been absent from my website/social media for the majority of this month. That's because I'm trying to focus on updates to my portfolio as much as possible right now, in preparation for the SCBWI Summer Conference.
I was lucky enough to win a portfolio review from art director Giuseppe Castellano at the end of May. He had some really useful things to say regarding my portfolio, all of which I agreed with but which also put me in a state of an emotional roller coaster. Some of the many thoughts that went through my head at the start of the month included, "He likes my character designs!", "I have a lot of work ahead!", "Why did I put THAT into my portfolio?", "I'll show him!", "He's totally right, what was I doing there?!", "Two months before the conference is not enough time!", "EEEEK!"
After panicking...then panicking again, I took a step back to try and break my portfolio update down into manageable chunks and take them one step at a time.
Step 1: Analyze missing elements
Some of the improvements that were requested included more work, children/people, more complex illustrations, and more attention to surface textures.
One of the most important things I felt he mentioned was the lack of STORY in my pieces. I have lots of cute animals, but they just sit there, staring at you. What are they doing? Why are doing it? How do people become emotionally involved in my characters?
I kept thinking of Pascal Campion's work, which always triggers an emotional response and always tells some kind of story, no matter how simple or how complex the illustration.
Step 2: Play up strengths
I know my strengths lie with fun and silly characters, so I chose this as my starting point for the overhaul. I have a number of stories that are in my head and in my sketchbook, but nothing felt right yet. I tried a series of fox images and kept reworking them to the point that friends commented, "STILL working on foxes?" I still like the foxes, but I got their point. I put them aside.
I kept coming back to a giraffe piece that I did, which I always loved the drawing, but I felt the painting was both overworked and underdeveloped at the same time. The character is spot-on but there is no background, he's weirdly fuzzy in a bad way, and I don't know what i was thinking with the placement of the shadows and highlights on the lower right.
I created a story for him, I gave him a makeover, friends, and a setting. Humorous things will happen; antics will ensue.
Step 3: Work
I've been sketching furiously, working out compositions and character placement so the scenes can work alone and flow with one another. At this point I have 5 pieces in various stages from preliminary sketches to full compositions with tonal values roughed in. I have a month until the conference and plan to be working hard the whole month. 5 pieces = portfolio overhaul, but I want to be sure that the pieces are quality and not rushed. If they are not ready for this conference, I will be ok with that, because I want to give the story the time it deserves. It's worth it.
Book: Up Above and Down Below
Author/Illustrator: Paloma Valdivia
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Published: 2009; translation: 2011
I found this charming book earlier this year at a bookstore in Santa Cruz. The quirky simplicity of the illustrations and the page layout throughout the book is what appealed to me. That, and the giraffe. So naturally, the perfect pages in the book for me were when I found the giraffe again and realized he was paired with an elephant! What could be better?
This book uses the concept of two "worlds" to show diversity--the above world and the below world. While the worlds dynamically mirror each other, they are still each unique and different--as unique and different as a giraffe and elephant. Even the placement of the typography is a mirror in a way, with text falling both above and below the central line. Rich in texture, rich in story, rich in simplicity--this is a fun read.
I had a very busy week immediately following the comic expo, so I'm just now getting to my recap of the event. In short, it was GREAT!
We got there at 8 am and it took the whole 2 hours to unpack the car, move stuff inside and set up the table to my liking. There were a few things i would do differently next time:
- no holders for the business cards, because people just knocked them over anyway.
- making sure I have prints of any original art I brought with me. I had prints of one, but not of another that people were particularly interested in.
- pen and paper signup sheet for my newsletter. I had QR codes, but not many people seemed interested in them.
- rearranging things on the table so I wasn't blocking my view of the traffic as much.
Things I got right, whether accidentally or intentionally:
- having prints and buttons. People who did respond to my work responded very well AND wished I had more. Prints and buttons did the best for me.
- having original art that was on my table instead of behind me...AND putting an impromptu spotlight on the piece with a mini flashlight. So many people stopped to get a look at the art because the lighting made the focal point glow.
- doing quick sketches, once I got comfortable drawing in front of people. my first couple of sketches were a bit shaky and hesitant, but then I got into the flow of things and it got easier as the day progressed.
I had a spot right at the entrance in the direct flow of traffic, so I got a lot of people walking by my booth. Because it was a comic expo and my art is not entirely comic-like, I wasn't expecting an overwhelming number of people stopping at my table. Still, I had a fairly steady flow of visitors, and everyone responded well to my art. Multiple people even asked if I had a book available. (the answer is: soon, I hope!)
To everyone who stopped to talk to me, thank you! I wrote down all your requests for different animals and they will appear sooner or later in my art.
Next stop: SCBWI Summer Conference and entering the portfolio showcase! Time to polish my portfolio.
I am not a writer. But that doesn't mean I don't have stories to tell. I think visually and oftentimes what helps me the most in drawing my characters is thinking up a story for them. I have one bad habit, though: I have a tendency to keep adding more and more characters until the next thing I know is that I'm overwhelmed by everything and don't know where to start. Then the project gets put on hold. And lingers, unfinished.
I decided to create a story based on a single word: "hi." I wanted this word to be expressive, showing a range of emotion and to allow me to use my love of typography as part of the illustration as well as the writing. I wrote no other words--writing is scary. Instead I created a character who was created by me being silly: While driving mountain passes with my husband we would often pass people bicycling. I would point them out to my husband, but "bicyclists" does not roll off the tongue smoothly. "Basilisk" flows a bit smoother. I kept saying it. "Bicyclists, basilisk." Without realizing it, I had created my character.
What do basilisks do? Turn people into stone. How does he make friends? He doesn't. Unless...
I had a story.
I sat down and started to draw, giving myself a hard deadline for completion. After a bit of a piecemeal process of creating these characters, I digitally composited them into a comic format, creating my very first finished story. Its a little clunky, it needs some help, and maybe some more details, but it's more than I had a month ago.
Later this week, a good friend who has worked in animation is going to help me pick apart this comic and offer suggestions for ways to turn this into a better story. A 10-minute talk already helped me think about things with a new light. Not everyone knows mythological characters as well as I apparently do, so I may need to add additional textual queues. But that won't be writing, that will be editing. After all, writing is scary.
Things will change. I'm sure I will get frustrated along the way and want to give up. But I see potential, if I take it slowly. It will be just like designing a book cover: set up comps, elicit feedback, revise, put it away for a bit, come back to it, scratch plan A and go to plan B, elicit feedback, revise until it's final. I can do that.