ALA Conference 2019

I’m headed to the American Library Association conference this weekend to meet librarians and sign give-away copies of books. Maybe I’ll see you there?

Sat JUNE 22, 2019:
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9-10 am Signing my not-yet-released pb HOME IN THE WOODS (+art prints!) at the Penguin Random House booth (#1805)
12-12:30 pm Signing the board book of WHEREVER YOU GO at the Little Brown Books booth (1137)

Interview on Picturebooking Podcast

It’s a rainy spring day in Minnesota–very good for podcast listening.

I love the in-depth conversations with children’s book makers on Picturebooking Podcast, so I was extremely honored to be invited on! Nick Patton and I have a long talk about WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE, my coming second self-authored book HOME IN THE WOODS, and, always my favorite topic, process. Listen here>>
https://picturebooking.libsyn.com/eliza-wheeler-living-in-your-illustrations

And if you’re like me and like to listen to a few in a row while you drive, work, or clean, here are two more:
1. Another great Picturebooking podcast episode with a dear pal of mine, J.R. Krause. Listen here>>
https://picturebooking.libsyn.com/jr-krause-dragon-night

2. This interview with author Pat Zietlow Miller and Matthew Winner on The Children’s Book Podcast is so lovely! And I’m not being biased (even though they pay me some sweet compliments), I really enjoyed this conversation.
Listen here>>
https://lgbpodcast.libsyn.com/pat-zietlow-miller

Picture Books Are Not Easy To Write

I recently attended a wonderful opening exhibit at the University of Minnesota’s Andersen Library, The ABC of It , which has hundreds of children’s book treasures—original artwork from Poky Little Puppy, Millions of Cats, Goodnight Moon, Maurice Sendak, Tomi dePaola, Beatrix Potter…oh, and an 18 foot replica of the Goodnight Moon bedroom (!)—on display. If you have a chance, I highly recommend visiting the exhibit (going on through 6/14/19). 

The event included a talk with curator Lisa Von Drasek and renowned children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus. I wished it could have gone on for days. When talking about the art of making picture books, Marcus said:

“Everyone assumes that writing children’s books is easy. Picture books are just as hard as any book to write…because they aren’t simple, they’re distilled.”

That statement resounded in my head over and over, and it summed up, for me, something about picture book writing that I’ve been mulling over for years. There’s this relationship between pictures and words in children’s books that is 100% unique to the form. They tell a story and convey an experience TOGETHER; words and visuals taking part in a dance . . .


As an illustrator, my job is to look at a text and figure out parts of the story that are NOT included. Here are a few of the questions I ask myself when planning an illustration…
What’s at the emotional heart of this part of the story?
What’s the mood of the character/s at this moment?
What happens before and after these text moments? 
What’s happening elsewhere in the story?
What time of day is it?
What’s the weather like?
Could any other senses be involved? Smell, taste, touch, sound…
Who’s the viewer of this scene? Is it seen from a story character’s POV, or is it seen from the POV of the reader?

These questions help me to infuse the illustrations with all sorts of details that add to the story world. Instead of simply showing what the text is saying (which is repetitive, and can treat the characters and readers like they’re dummies), the illustrations have the potential to immerse the reader in a rich world that feels expansive and real. The sheer possibilities of this is what gets me excited to run back to the drawing table every day. 

I’ve illustrated two picture books, WHEREVER YOU GO and WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE, both written by Pat Zietlow Miller, that I see as companion books. They’re created by the same writer/artist/publisher team, the physical books are the same trim size, and they are both about journeys (one explores an outer journey; the discovery of people and places, and the other explores an inner journey; the discovery of bravery from a place of uncertainty). You can see on these covers that I’ve mimicked the placement of the main character and ground curve. 

These two books are examples of the potential of the symbiotic relationship between words and pictures. Pat does something in her writing that appears simple but is incredibly hard…which is to know when to step aside. She’s written these two texts that make no mention of characters, give no stage directions for the scene, and even have no specific instructions for drama or action. What that does is, it says to the illustrator, “Here, I’ve done my part…now you tell the story. Build the world. Own it.” 

(You can hear me talk more about this art here)

It’s a selfless creative act that takes trust and gumption. I don’t encounter this often from picture book writers (with all those illustration notes…humbug!). Over-writing is probably at the heart of what most often makes me turn down manuscripts to illustrate. And it’s also at the heart of what I aspire to do as a picture book writer; create picture books that aren’t simple…but distilled.

It’s not easy to do. 

Goodnight Moon is a classic that fits that description of ‘distilled’ so well. And Where The Wild Things Are. Ooo, and how about Caps for Sale? Or one of my favorites The Little House. 

What others? 

 

WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE released!

An inspiring picture book affirmation about having courage even in difficult times, because some days, when everything around you seems scary, you have to be brave.

Saying goodbye to neighbors. Worrying about new friends. Passing through a big city. Seeing a dark road ahead. In these moments, a young girl feels small and quiet and alone. But when she breathes deeply and looks inside herself, a hidden spark of courage appears, one she can nurture and grow until she glows inside and out.

New York Times bestselling author Pat Zietlow Miller’s uplifting words join New York Times bestselling illustrator Eliza Wheeler’s luminous art to inspire young readers to embrace their inner light–no matter what they’re facing–and to be brave.

Buy WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE at your local indie bookstore
-or-
Order from Barnes and Noble here
Order from Amazon here

 

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New Book Release by Arthur Yorinks and Maurice Sendak

 Last week was the release of Arthur Yorinks’ new book, PRESTO AND ZESTO IN LIMBOLAND, which is his lost collaboration with Maurice Sendak. The book launch held at the New York Public Library looked fabulous, one worthy of the author and illustrator. I so wish I could have made the trip in person to celebrate with the Sendak Fellowship family! 

In May 2017, I had the honor of spending a month on the former farm of Maurice Sendak, attending the Sendak Fellowship retreat, hosted by The Maurice Sendak Foundation; Lynn Caponera, Dona Ann McAdams, and Arthur Yorinks. The experience was, in one word, incandescent. 

The Fellows (Terry and Eric Fan, Rashin, and I) were given a sneak peek of Maurice’s orginal art for PRESTO AND ZESTO IN LIMBOLAND, and were able to hear the story of this artwork, which was lost for many years, and then found in Maurice’s archives. Arthur had written a story to go along with Maurice’s artwork many years ago, but both the author and illustrator got busy with other things and the project fell by the wayside.

Photos by Dona Ann McAdams

Here’s a Newsweek article written about the project: 
A New Book From ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ Author Maurice Sendak, Six Years After His Death

And here’s an interview with Arthur on NPR. 

Arthur served as a mentor during our time at the Sendak Fellowship Retreat, and gave inspiring talks to us about books, film, art, and writing. Living in and amongst Maurice’s belongings and hearing the stories about him from Dona, Lynn, and Arthur made it feel as if we had spent time with Maurice himself. 

There are so many more things I want to, and have been meaning to, share about that experience, but for now, I’m sending all my best wishes and congratulations to Arthur Yorinks and the Maurice Sendak Foundation on the release of this amazing project!

 

 

My SCBWI LA National Conference Keynote

 Last month I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators summer conference in Los Angeles, and was invited there by Lin Oliver to give my first keynote speech for one of their national conferences. It was an incredible honor to be invited, and it marked a big milestone for me as an SCBWI member (and also as an introvert).

I recall years of sitting in the audience at these conferences and while listening to keynotes thinking, “I could NEVER do that!” 
Haha! says The Universe. 
What I didn’t know then was that, by now, I would have something to say and something to be excited to share from my experiences over the past 5 years of working full-time as a children’s book artist.

For my presentation, I was able to share about my experience of getting published quickly, and that the difficulties and the learning curve started, for me, after I’d published my first picture book, MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS. In the early days, I approached creative work as though it was a straight line from idea to final painting, and my process was built around a search for the quickest way from point A to point B. I spent years struggling in my approach to the work, focusing on productivity and the end goal, and found that instead of enjoying creating this beautiful work for books that were a dream to be hired for, I was finding myself chronically stressed and creatively burnt out. 

Creativity is not a straight line.  

With each book I worked on, I learned new things about working as an artist, and found that 
#1. Creativity does not work like a straight line. My focus on productivity and getting to the end product as efficiently as possible was the nail on my creative coffin. So…

#2. In order to enjoy the work, I had to focus not on the end product, but on the process of creating the work itself. 

   By shifting my focus onto the creative process, and how to make that daily process more enjoyable, I found stages of the work where I encountered resistance on a regular basis. This can be summed up best by this blogpost I wrote from a few years ago, which is a creative condition I call “THE ‘I SUCK’ DILEMMA”. 

Post about the creative “I Suck” dilemma

There are lengths of time—days, months, years—where the work we’re doing doesn’t look good, and it’s during this time that we experience the most resistance to doing the work. Not only do we not need to resist sucky work, but we can use it and embrace it as an important (and fun!) part of the process of getting to the better stuff.

I’ve been spending the past few years evolving my own creative process, and also reading about how the body, brain, and creative mind work together. This led me to break down a creative process for myself into 7 1/2 Stages, each that have a unique mindset and important function in our work as writers and artists. These phases don’t need to happen in order, and we move organically around them: 

1. DIG for ideas inspired by your childhood interests and your current interests. Ponder them, journal about them.
2. INSPIRE with reference photos, inspiration from other artists, research and information. Study the work of your heroes.
3. COLLAGE together quick thumbnails, studies, sketches, pieces, color swatches, paint tests, lists. This is about quantity over quality. Move quickly, and don’t judge, edit, or analyze. Think later.
4. SIMMER: Let it rest. Put it away. Go do other things and let your brain make connections on it’s own.
5. IGNITE: Moments of insight, clarity, inspiration often come at times when we’re not actively in the work…be ready at all times to capture these ideas. 
6. REFINE the work. Bring your thoughtful, discerning, honing eye. Here’s where you can think and edit. Pull the pieces together. This is about quality over quantity.
7. ASSESS: Step back and look. Share it with people and get feedback. Go to your critique group or an honest friend.
½ step: CHECK in constantly, while in the midst of each stage, to see if you are pushing, straining, angsty, or feeling bored. If you aren’t flowing, then you may be in the wrong phase and probably need to go back to inspiring, collaging, or simmering. 

After my presentation was over, it was awesome to hear feedback from so many writers and illustrators about what resonated with them. 
For those who weren’t there, I’ll share more about my 7 1/2 steps in more detail in an upcoming post. 
I also talked about our creative brain, and shared some really fascinating science that explains how we get ideas, which I’ll also share more about in another post as well.
Stay tuned!

To share a few other personal highlights from the conference: 

This kidlit group from Utah came dressed as Miss Maple and her seeds! Ahhhhhh!!!  ♥♥♥ Amber Alvarez as maple seed, Cari M Lee as Miss Maple, Heidi M Rogers as bluebird, Kristen Shelley as a pea, Elizabeth Child as the acorn

Doing a breakout session for illustrators with my agent, Jen Rofe. (Photo by Debbie Ridpath Ohi; debbieohi.com)

Hearing the legendary author Lois Lowry share stories about writing and her books (Photos by Alan Baker)

Gathering with art director, Cecilia Yung, and several of her illustrator clients for drinks and sharing

Watching Debbie Ohi give a presenation at the Illustrator’s Intensive

Visiting with fellow faculty Lynda Mulally Hunt, Bruce Coville, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and Greg Pincus at Lin Oliver’s staff party

All of my love and thanks to Lin Oliver, Steve Mooser, and the SCBWI for everything they’ve done to build this amazing community, and for all the opportunities they give their members, myself included. Of the hundreds of people who have asked me “How do I start out in children’s books?” my answer is always the same…join SCBWI. 

Prints for sale!

This has been a long time coming…
I have had numerous requests for prints of my illustrations from book fans, and they are now here.
Find prints of my children’s book art at:

Society6: Eliza Wheeler 

You can choose from a variety of sizes, frames, and other various gifts for teachers, family, and yourself. 

A huge thank you is owed to my husband, Adam, who has been working on getting the shop set up. We will have more art to come from more of my books! If there is a piece of art from a book that you don’t see available, comment on this post, or tweet me (twitter: wheelerstudio), or comment on my facebook page, and I will get it posted for you. 

Thanks for the patience of those who have been waiting, and please do share with people who you think might be interested!

Amazon Best Books 2017

THE POMEGRANATE WITCH  made the Amazon’s ‘Best children’s books of 2017′ list — and to make it extra sweet, it sits alongside illustrator friends’ books; THE ANTLERED SHIP by The Fan Brothers, and THE BOOK OF MISTAKES by Corinna Luyken. Congrats to all!

Check out the full list here: Amazon.com: Best Children’s Books of 2017 

 

 

THE POMEGRANATE WITCH…new release!

 A new book that I illustrated, written by Denise Doyen, came out last week; THE POMEGRANATE WITCH. It’s here in time for the fall season coming up, and is such a fun romp between a group of neighborhood kids from the suburbs, and the old Pomegranate Witch who guards a legendary pomegranate tree.

This release kicked off with an awesome starred review from Publisher’s Weekly!

“Luscious rhymes and an atmospheric eeriness immerse readers in a neighborhood battle: five children versus the witch who guards the tempting pomegranates that hang from a tree on her property: “Its unpruned limbs were jungle-like, dirt ripplesnaked with roots,/ But glorious were the big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruits.” Wielding tree branches, rakes, and badminton racquets, the children mount an assault in what is quickly dubbed the Pomegranate War, but hoses blasting water, a scattering of walnuts, and the thrashing tree itself foil their efforts. On Halloween, the witch’s sister, the Kindly Lady, invites the town’s children over for cider and celebration—but could the two women be one and the same? Working in ink and watercolor, Wheeler (Tell Me a Tattoo Story) contrasts the rich red of the pomegranates with washes of pale, sickly green, saturating the pages with a sense of otherworldly magic. And yet: Doyen (Once Upon a Twice) leaves many hints that the Pomegranate Witch is less a malevolent presence than a woman who happily plays that role in the children’s imagination-fueled games. Delicious. Ages 5–8. Agent: Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary. (Aug.)”

Some peeks into the book: 

Delight yourself with a copy of your own, or ask your library to order one!

Buy THE POMEGRANATE WITCH at your local indie bookstore
-or-
Order from Barnes and Noble here
Order from Amazon here

Cut the Fluff in Your Portfolio!

For those illustrators making last-minute shifts to their portfolio for the SCBWI National Conference, I have 3 pieces of advice:

I was recently asked to judge portfolio applications for a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators award. It was an eye-opening experience being on the other side of the table, in the judge’s seat. Here’s what my big take-away was from that experience:

I preferred to see 5 GREAT pieces alone, vs. 5 great pieces mixed up with 5 okay pieces.

It was ALWAYS obvious when people were adding filler, or thought they needed more variety, so they put in mediocre stuff. In many cases, a portfolio would be amazing, and then right at the end the illustrator panicked and threw in one or two strangely out-of-place, low-quality works. Those one or two pieces were the ones that cut them out of the running to be considered.

So yes, it would be GREAT if you had 10 GREAT pieces, but if you don’t, don’t try to hide it. Take one last look at your portfolio before you submit it, and ask yourself, “Am I really proud of this piece?” Those are the only ones you should display. Even if there are only 5. You can add more great work next year!

See more more tips on how to edit an award-winning portfolio here:
Portfolio Comparison: What made an SCBWI winner