Sunday, December 20, 2009

Adventures in 3-D

Dear Readers,

You may remember that a few months ago, I mentioned my attempts to see one of my characters in The Third Dimension:

You may be surprised, therefore, that I decided to attempt it again! One of the perks of working at the children's museum, besides getting to hang out with kids all day, is occasionally getting to hang out in the clay studio all day. I've really been thinking a lot about my musical-themed book and have been trying to get to know my characters better. It turns out that modeling them in 3-D really helped! I think the process lulled me into a trance of sorts, where I was free to imagine and explore the characters better. Trying to figure out just how Ladybug's hair would fall gave me new insights into her fastidiousness...

And likewise into Fly's rambunctiousness (also, I think she's a girl now?) Not that these models are perfect, or even what I eventually want to characters to look like... it was just a nice process to think about them in a different way.

And since I had some extra time on my hands:

I hope to use this little piggy statue more as a drawing model. He's the star of my next book, and revisions are due soon!

And, just a kid that I made up. Again, I'm trying to understand kids' anatomy better, and modeling really seems to help in that respect, too.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Long time, no post!

No excuse, really! Just an incubation period, I guess. Do you ever go through such periods, o fellow creatives? Well, I've been enjoying some new creative outlets recently, and one of those creative outlets is a new part-time job at the Portland Children's Museum! A great institution, and I highly recommend it as a fun afternoon for you 2-4 year-old readers out there. Anyway, it is a REALLY fun job for me, because it allows me lots of time to interact with kids, something I have never really done consistently before. I know that lots of children's book authors never had kids, but for me it's been really helpful to spend some time around my target audience, and observe them as they're playing. I come home every night inspired to draw...

I've never really felt as comfortable drawing kids as I am drawing animals. And that notion (that I'm better at animals than kids) was something I was never comfortable with, either! After all, I love figure drawing. But figure drawing was always adults, never kids- and their anatomy is so different from adults. Those huge heads! So it's been enormously helpful for me to be able to hang out with kids on a daily basis.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Santa Photoshop SCANDAL!!!

As a woman, I am very strongly opposed to the photoshopping of already too-thin models that takes place every day in our fashion magazines. AND YET! I am now part of that industry as well! (the photoshopping, not the modeling. Mr. Lagerfeld, PLEASE stop knocking down my door). BEHOLD, my latest work:
(click all pictures for larger views)

I did this illustration for the fantastic New York Road Runners Foundation, which supports after-school running programs in NYC and around the country (they're a blast to volunteer for, if you like to run & live in the NYC area). BUT! Santa was deemed too hefty, so I pretended I was working for Ralph Lauren and slimmed him down:

SCANDAL!! Just imagine the conflicted feelings of young Santas everywhere, not reaching for that extra cookie... Ha, ha- I kid, of course- I can totally see the problems with a corpulent running Santa. Where are the rewards for all of that healthy excercise? I also realized that I haven't drawn Santa Claus in 18-odd years?!? I used to draw him and Rudolph A LOT. And unicorns.

Here's one more I did:

Fun! Oh, and in case you haven't seen it, re: my last post about Roller Derby names, Betsy Bird at Fuse #8 has a list of names going and THEY. ARE. AWESOME. I'm into the ALL CAPS tonight.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's that time of year!

...when the air is brisk, the leaves are changing, and a girl's thoughts turn to Roller Derby. You may remember this post and this one from year past, in which I talked about my love of roller derby and my ill-fated attempt to try out for the Gotham Girls. WELL, just imagine this- Portland has a recreational (wreck-reational) league! And I have gone to two practices and have not broken a bone! And what's more- recreational players get to choose a roller derby name! That means- yes- for real this time... I need a kid's book-themed roller derby name!! Please help! Let me know which one you like, or if you have other suggestions! Here's what I came up with so far:

Anne Surly
Marilla Cutthroat
Violent Baudelaire
Kat Hiss Everdeen
Mo Pain Willems 
Knuckle Bunny
Scout Flinch
Boo Boo Radley
Edward Sullen

Greenwillow Category:
Ida B Sting

The following excellent suggestions are all courtesy of my friend Julia and her boyfriend Tristan:

Encyclopedia Frown
Green Eggs and Wham
Splat the Bunny
Pippi Longstalking
Madeleine M'Angle
Sarah, Pain and Brawl
Ramona the Grave
Nancy Screw (and the mystery of the missing tooth?)
Rohald Doll
Judy Doom

***MORE suggestions!

Goodnight Goon (a twofer- thanks, Nina!)

And these great ideas from Betsy Bird over at Fuse #8:

The Skivving Tree
Millions of Cuts
Blue Bruises for Sal
Kicka Kicka Boom Boom
Strega Paina

What do you think???

Friday, September 25, 2009


My flying trapeze spider illustration is DONE!

(click for larger view)

*Whew*!! That took longer than I'm used to, but I really wanted to create a lush yet detailed environment. And now it's DONE! To reward myself for all of my hard work, I am planning on relaxing this weekend with Xanadu (rented from the library), re-reading CATCHING FIRE (bought from Powell's because I got tired of waiting for my copy from the library. TEAM GALE!), and by finally making the bird furniture for my birdcage like I've wanted to do forever. Hey, I work hard- I deserve it!

Happy weekend!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Inside the Illustrator's Studio

When last we spoke about current work-related things, I was busy working on my new dummy. Well, I'm happy to say that part is all wrapped up. For now. Next step? I wanted to do a finished piece from the dummy. Which piece to choose? Well, the vote was unanimous:

This was a vote that quite frankly, I wished to contest, because... this is the hardest illustration in my dummy. I feel a bit unprofessional saying that one piece is "harder" than another- I mean, did Michelangelo shy away from, say, painting horses because they were too "hard"? Then again, Michelangelo never painted trapeze-swinging spiders, did he? But all in all, the tricky perspective, the lighting I wanted, the X-treme close-up of the spider... This was going to take some time.

First up, I got out my spider references. Maybe you thought spiders were ugly? Well, take a look at this mug:

AWWWWW! A little too cute, actually. I used this spider as my actual reference:

Then, I fiddled around with my black & white sketch in Photoshop to test out different lighting & color scenarios. Truth be told, I was a little worried about the X-treme contrast (dark to light) that I wanted to achieve in the painting, and printing out this little color study will (I hope) help me overcome any wimpiness I run into.

So, I printed it out:
...and transferred it to my waiting paper (gessoed and stapled to a board).

First round of color...

second round...

and third round.
(click for an X-treme close-up of the x-treme close-up)

With many more rounds yet to come. One of the (many) things I thought about while painting today was this: I think that one of my main attributes that led me to be an illustrator is being able to do something for hours & hours on end without getting bored (this was while I was painting the teeny tiny floorboards). When we were kids, my brothers & I had this wooden duck marionette puppet, and every time you turned around, its fishing line strings were jumbled up in a giant tumbleweed knot. For some reason, I really enjoyed sitting down- for an hour, or two- and untangling all of the knots. Even at the time, as a kid, I would think, "This is really boring, and yet I'm enjoying it!" I'd say painting is more fun than untangling a bunch of fishing line, but still. The other thing I thought about today was, "How did I possibly listen to the High School Musical soundtrack 3 times in a row WITHOUT EVEN NOTICING?!?, and will this cause some sort of psychological damage?" I guess I just had my Head In the Game*. Will I be painting again tomorrow? Bet On It!**

*Zac Efron, HSM
**Yes, that's right, sharp readers! "Bet On It" is actually from High School Musical 2! I have both soundtracks! Not #3, though- I wasn't a big fan.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cure for the Common Cold

What can cure an illustrator of her last-days-of-summer, I've-got-a-cold-that's-a-bummer, sneezy, wheezy blues? (I'll blame those cold meds tomorrow for making me write those terrible rhymes!)

Well, I'll answer that riddle: A lovely email from my editor at Bloomsbury, sharing this with me!

(click for a larger view)

I can't tell you what a thrill it is to realize that people whom I've never even met are reading and enjoying my book! I am honored. And on the same page as Matt Phelan, one of my favorite illustrators, to boot!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

100th Post!

I've been putting off writing this post, because I was a little daunted by the big anniversary. 100 Posts! What to do to commemorate? I finally settled on a "Family Ties" type episode- the ones where they didn't feel like writing a new story so they just reminisced on times gone by. I HATED those episodes!

Anyhoo- wow, more than a year and a half since I started this blog! Here are some pictures from that first post, my ole painting studio in Brooklyn:

Oh, how I hated that apartment. Here's the comparison to my new Portland studio:

Old view...

New view.

And though times they are a changing: since that first post, I've gotten married, moved across the country, had my first book published, landed an agent, sold a second book... It's reassuring to see that some things remain the same. Remember this doozy of a sign from my old apartment building? (from one of my favorite old posts):

I thought I had left all such signs behind me when we left New York. Imagine my delight in finding this sign outside a building just a few blocks away:

Just shows to go you. everywhere you go, peoples is peoples, and peoples make stinks. Here's to the next 100 posts!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Quick Sketch

This butterfly is a side character in the story I'm working on. It's funny, I can think and think about a character, but sometimes it's not until I draw them that I understand what they're really like. Maybe it's just the act of doodling- messing around and sketching different scenarios allows my mind to wander, and sometimes something just clicks. I read something interesting about Leonardo & his viewpoints on doodling recently... of course I couldn't find the book I read it in just now, but by googling "Leonardo da Vinci doodles" I tracked this down (from a website called Archimedes' Droodles):

When Leonardo da Vinci needed to get his creative juices flowing, he sat and stared at clouds or rocks... "If you look upon an old wall covered with dirt or the odd appearance of some streaked stones", he once wrote, "you may discover several things like landscapes, battles, clouds, uncommon attitudes, humorous faces, draperies...". Da Vinci heartily recommended this 'new method' of invention as a practical technique for "opening the mind and putting it upon the scent of new 
thoughts". The abstract, organic forms embedded in crumbling walls and hunks of stone, he believed, could be put to work as "terrestrial batteries for jump-starting the imagination

Inneresting, no?
Ok, and late add... After I posted this entry, I scanned a bunch of my first-draft sketches so I can put together a dummy. I'd like to really concentrate on composition & light in this book, so I did some photoshop mock-ups of lighting situations... Here's one. Like I said, I was getting kinda itchy 'cause I couldn't share what I was thinking for a while (like, physically couldn't share), so -- this is what I'm thinking!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Look What I Found in the Park the Other Day

Hey, look what I found in the park the other day:

A fairy flute! No unicorns have been summoned yet by playing it.

In other news, work on my latest project is going well!

Doesn't that picture look creepy? Like I'm looking at my sketchbook with those weird "Silence of the Lambs" night goggles?

Anyway, I am at the frustrating yet enjoyable stage of being excited by how things are going, but completely unable to share this excitement with anyone. I can't show anyone my drawings- they all look like the scribbles you see above. I can't really talk about the story... "And then the fly says- get this, he says, 'It doesn't help'. Believe me, it's a GAS." No, it's all in my head for now. I think that's why I feel a sense of urgency at this point- in my head it's a good story with lush and interesting illustrations, but it won't do anyone any good until I get it down on paper. And, what if the things I put down on paper don't match up with what's playing in my noggin?

Another interesting thing about working on this project has been this: This is the first project I've worked on as a real, honest-to-goodness full-time illustrator. My other two books I developed while I had a full-time job. I worked on them at night, during my free time- my hours to do with as I pleased. Now, I get to work on this during regular work-a-day hours. Like, instead of heading to a meeting at 10 am, I'm in my PJs watching "Fame" and calling it research (and it most assuredly was). Believe me, I am not complaining about watching musicals in the mid-morning; it's just an adjustment in thinking from "This is something I am doing in my hours of leisure" to "Holy shnikeys, this is like, my JOB". Which means, I am also a leeeetle bit more worried about how it will be received ("Will my agent like it?" "Is this a good idea, or have I been wasting my time?" "Can I please please PLEASE keep doing this full-time and not have to get another day job?"). 

The only thing I can do is to try & push those concerns out of my head as much as possible, and throw myself into the project whole-heartedly... and hope for the best!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Daytime Ravings of a Possible Lunatic

Friends- I do not like to hide anything from you. And thus, I am presenting a glimpse into my creative process for my current project, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure it will make me look like a raging lunatic. Like, in movies when a sexy investigative team breaks into the apartment of the suspected killer and they find all sorts of crazy newspaper clippings papering the walls, the floor covered with photos of eyeballs cut from fashion magazines, and books with every 43rd word circled in red. 

First up, when the saucy female investigator looks through the pictures on my camera, she'll find that I like to photograph scenes from movies that I watch on my computer:

(ahh, the incomparable Julie Andrews! Did I ever tell you the story about when I saw her in the lobby of HarperCollins- she looked like an angel- and when I went upstairs & told my boss, I started to cry? Remind me to tell you sometime- it's a classic.)

As the detective-ess is trying to puzzle out the connection between Julie Andrews, A Chorus Line, and random photos from Broadway documentaries, her thoughts are interrupted by the deep rumble of her partner's voice.

"Suzie", he growls, "You'd better come take a look at this". 

"Pages and pages of insect drawings... notebooks filled with incomprehensible scribblings... and most troubling of all, this toy stage and creepy make-shift bug models. We're either dealing with a highly unstable character, or..."

... and then they'll turn around to see that I'm actually sitting in the living room, since I don't like to leave the apartment all that much when I'm at this stage. They'll take one look at my funny headband, my shabby housecoat & the bowl of cereal clutched in my hand, and they'll high-tail it out of there... and leave me to my musings.

Monday, August 3, 2009

So This is Love

I am a happily married woman... but I think I may be in love.

And love, thy name is... Chicken Dance.

This is no puppy love, either. Sure, it's everything I'm initially attracted to on a surface level... Funny, check. Heart and gumption, check. Generally pleasing appearance, check. But what really moves this book beyond the level of mere infatuation for me is this:

Much like a good relationship, this book makes me want to up my game.

The characters and books I write tend to (attempt to be) funny. Dan Santat's illustrations are that, and more... he also manages to make each page beautiful. And strikingly composed. With interesting & engaging light sources. And a real sense of setting and atmosphere for this story. In short, he didn't stop at making each picture simply funny- he made each one a pretty stunning work of art. And oddly enough, the fact that the illustrations are beautiful only seem to make them even MORE FUNNY.

These images are screen shots from Dan Santat's Flickr portfolio. Or see his website here.

As an illustrator, I am usually drawn to the artwork in a picture book first. But Tammi Sauer's text is top-notch. I may be biased, though, because I love nothing more than a good pun, and her text is full of them. When the chickens run out of time & have to "wing it" at the talent show... well, consider me chuffed.

Oh, and there's even a website! Besides being a fantastic book, Chicken Dance is a fantastic example of a thoroughly modern picture book. By that I mean, it reaches beyond the rectangular corners of the book form. The book has a website. The website has music videos & dance lessons. The author photos take the form of CD covers, complete with playlists. For authors & illustrators looking for publicity venues for their books, Chicken Dance is a great source of inspiration in thinking outside the coop.

Alright, my love-fest is over. Time to hit the hay and dream of Elvis Poultry...