Thinking of Maurice Sendak

 

 

“I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.” ~Maurice Sendak

With the news of Maurice Sendak’s death today, I am making time to reflect on his work and life. Fresh Air has a wonderful remembrance of him here: http://www.npr.org/2012/05/08/152248901/fresh-air-remembers-author-maurice-sendak

This program includes his 2011 Fresh Air interview, which is alarmingly raw, human, and beautiful. He speaks of his aging experience, about death, and reminds reminds us to slow down, look at the trees, listen to music, enjoy reading time, and love this world we inhabit for such a short time.

I am so thankful for the work he gave to us – and for the difficult, complex, creative and awesome life he lived.

 

Sigh of Relief Due Upon Completion

 

 

It’s been months of intense work here on my picture book project, and the interior artwork is all sent off to New York. Though I have yet to do the cover and endpaper artwork, there’s a big sense of accomplishment and relief knowing that the bulk of the work is finished. I can’t wait to share this artwork with you as soon as I’m able to!

Painting the last pages

Clean Palettes

 

Plugging Away . . .

 

 

I’m here plugging away diligently and watching the big deadline approach on my current book project, The Maple Tree Orphanage. I can’t wait to share more details about the story, and share the process of working on my first story with editor, Nancy Paulsen and art director, Cecilia Yung. But, for now I have to get back to the drawing table . . . because there’s a lot to do in this next month, and this is a bit how I’m feeling:

From the great Bill Watterson

The Big New York Trip

 

 

I just returned from a week in New York City; three days spent at the SCBWI conference and three days visiting publishing houses. It was an epic trip!

Photo by Debbie Ohi

SCBWI conferences are always a blur of information, inspiration, new friends, old friends, and just non-stop fun. I was so happy to be able to spend ample time with friend and fellow mentee, Debbie Ohi. Another illustrator I was happy to spend time with was Mike Boldt, who directed me on a drawing for The ABC’s of Northern Ghana charity project. We also share an agent, so it feels like we’re siblings of a sort.

(photo on right by Debbie Ohi)

The meetings with publishers were unbelievably exciting. They were set up as a result of my win at the last Summer SCBWI conference, and it was humbling just to be talking with these publishing giants.

Visiting publishing houses! Harper Collins (left), Macmillan (center), Simon and Schuster (top), Little Brown Books (bottom)

My meetings were with Liz Szabla, editor at Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan), Jordan Brown, Alessandra Balzer and Donna Bray, editors and publishers at Balzer and Bray (HarperCollins), Laurent Linn, art director at Simon and Schuster, and Patti Ann Harris, art director, with Connie Hsu, editor at Little Brown Books. We looked through my portfolio and talked about the work they like, as well as what they’ve been working on lately. Needless to say, I would love for the opportunity to work with these folks!

In front of the building at Penguin

Last, but definitely not least, was my meeting with Nancy Paulsen and Cecilia Yung, my editor and art director at Penguin Books for Young Readers. We discussed our current book project, and had a wonderful 2 hour lunch. It was so great to get to know Nancy in person – I am so lucky to be working with these two incredibly supportive women!

A view from Central Park

With all the time spent at these meetings, I can’t wait to get back soon to do more exploring in the beautiful City of New York.

New York: Almost There

 

 

At the end of this week I’m heading to New York, and I couldn’t be more excited. The trip is a result of winning the 2011 SCBWI National Summer Conference Portfolio Showcase award. SCBWI has set up three meetings with art directors so I can meet face to face and discuss my work with them. I’ve decided to make the most of the trip by also attending the SCBWI New York National conference over the weekend, so it’s doubly exciting.

My agent, Jennifer Rofe, has been helping me hone my portfolio, and suggested that I add a few black and white spot drawings in the hopes of expanding into work for middle grade novels.

For promotional materials, she suggested new promo cards to display with my portfolio and to hand out at the conference. They are double-sided, 5×7″ cards:

Postcard front

Postcard back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And for my meetings at the publishing houses, I will bring ‘tear sheets’ – which are 8.5×11″ color copies showing a variety of my illustrations. Editors and art directors keep these on file as a quick reference when they’re looking for illustrators for new projects.

My 2012 tear sheet design

Last, but definitely not least, I’m so excited to meet with my editor, Nancy Paulsen, and my art director (and mentor) Cecilia Yung, who I’m currently working with on my first picture book story. It will be so exciting to finally meet Nancy for the first time, and be able to discuss our project together.

I couldn’t be more thrilled about this opportunity, and hope to plant seeds of many future projects to come. If you’re going to be in New York at the SCBWI conference, I hope we cross paths there!

Football Illustration: The ABCs of Northern Ghana book project

 

 

I’ve just finished a new illustration for the project 9 Degrees North: The ABCs of Northern Ghana, which is a charity picture book by the Tools for Schools Africa Foundation. The book will be a compilation of illustrations  from varying artists, each creating an image for one letter of the alphabet.

My letter was: F for FOOTBALL

The text for the page will be:
Ghanaian kids love football! They play as much as they can, and dream of one day taking the field with the Black Stars, Ghana’s national football team.

As a note, football in Ghana is soccer in the U.S. (I didn’t get the assignment wrong!). This was a challenging topic for me, as I wouldn’t consider myself to be artistically inspired by pro sports. BUT, I am inspired by dreams, and I love the idea of these kids playing out in the dirt, dreaming of one day becoming professional players themselves. I made that my focus for this drawing.

Rough Concept Sketch

Final Illustration: Pen and Ink, and Watercolors

 

Portfolio Comparison, Part 2: Book Design

 

 

I recently posted a Before and After look at my portfolio, showing changes that I made from last year to this year. One aspect that I did not include were changes that I made to the actual book design of my portfolio, which I’ll share here.

I have a particular love of bookmaking, and since I also love to customize things, I decided to make my portfolio rather than buy a standard one. It’s important to say that using a store-bought portfolio is perfectly fine, and usually it’s better than getting overly craftsy. In the case of my last year’s portfolio, it would have been better for me to use a standard book than make it from scratch the way I did. Here it is:

Before: 2010 Portfolio design

So what was wrong with it? It’s basically form without function.

  • The materials were flimsy – I used a mat backing for the cover that was too thin and nicked easily on the edges.
  • The details on the cover were fragile, like the paper pattern along the binding and the name label – these additions made with separate pieces of paper could easily get caught and rip off. You don’t want the person looking through your portfolio feeling afraid to damage it.
  • For the interior pages, I adhered photo printouts of my work onto black paper. Although the prints looked nice, the double-layered pages felt bulky, and when the pages were bent over and turned, the photo paper bubbled awkwardly on the page.
  • It was a bad combination of being too big (about 14×12″) for the flimsy design.

This year I redesigned the book with those lessons in mind:

After: 2011 Portfolio design

The changes that I made include:

  • Making the portfolio a smaller size (9×12), with letter-size paper. Some of my artwork is long and horizontal, so I bought double-sided mat paper (from Epson, to print on my Epson Stylus Photo 2880) in order to print the spread just as it would appear in a book, with the fold in the middle.
  • Making a sturdy cover, using fabric over thick mat board. I printed my name right onto the fabric with fabric paint, applied with a carved rubber stamp.
  • For the interior pages, I printed right on the paper instead of adhering a separate image onto the paper
  • Keeping the design simple, while still being customized and unique

Also, according to the advice from my mentors to separate my portfolio into two styles, I preceded both sections with a piece of translucent vellum, printed with the titles “Illustrations: Light” and “Illustrations: Dark”

Title pages separating my two styles

Why is it important to have a physical portfolio? It’s not, really. But there are a few cases where you’ll need one, which is when you go to conferences (like the ones put on by SCBWI), and also if you go to New York to do portfolio drop offs for art directors, or meet with publishers. This has become less common with the ability to put your portfolio on a website. But I’ve heard some illustrators advocate the trip to New York because, since it IS less common, it helps you stand apart from the crowd of online portfolios. Meeting with editors, agents, and art directors face-to-face is always a plus.

Thanks for reading!

Portfolio Comparison: What made an SCBWI winner

 

Over the past three years that I’ve been pursuing children’s illustration, I have experienced what is likely normal for one new to the field; a lack of focus and direction in my work. When trying to find my voice, I’ve been scattered stylistically, drawing certain ways because I can, but not because I should. Since starting out, I have been working steadily at reining in my hand, and being much more intentional in the way that I draw.

At last year’s SCBWI conference, I received the mentorship award, which allowed me to meet with six industry professionals and get a one-on-one portfolio consultation with each. Here are the images from my portfolio from that year, ordered from left to right:

2010 Portfolio, click image to enlarge

In a nutshell, here’s the feedback I was given:

  • the style is all over the place, with commercial work mixed with darker, literary work
  • the literary work is stronger and more unique than the commercial work, yet it would be wise to keep both since it will be harder to make a living off the dark stuff
  • put the two styles in separate sections in your book
  • take out a number of pieces that feel out of place or are simply not as strong as the others
  • consider drawing your characters with a classic, and less cartoony, approach.

Getting this kind of feedback was crucial at this stage in my journey. It was a privilege to hear from these professionals an affirmation of what I was doing right, and hear what needed to be improved. Sometimes when receiving criticism it’s important to hear what your critic is not saying. The gist of the feedback was, “Your darker, literary work is what we love, but the market needs brighter, commercial illustration.”

So instead of taking what I had and just separating them into two portfolios, I took out almost all my commercial work and revised a few.  Then, I looked at what was working in my dark stuff and created new work that was stylistically similar, but happier in subject matter. The first three pieces in my new portfolio were born out of this process. Here’s my portfolio this year:

2011 Portfolio, click image to enlarge

Important lesson: Don’t put a single piece in your book that you feel even the least bit iffy about.

Note that the new portfolio has less work than the old one (12 pieces vs. 17). Last year’s portfolio displayed a range of my ability, yet reflects a more scattered sense of the kind of work I do (simply because I was scattered in my understanding of what I should do). The mentorship program helped me gain that focus towards one cohesive look and, even with two styles, I feel the new portfolio has achieved that unity.

My thanks go out to SCBWI for creating this mentorship program, and to the judges of this year’s showcase (Laurent Linn, Steven Malk, Richard Jesse Watson, Nancy Conescu and Jamie Weiss Chilton) for choosing my work out of such a big pool of talented illustrators. Most of all I thank my mentors (Pat Cummings, Cecilia Yung, Priscilla Burris, Bridget Strevens-Marzo, David Diaz, and Rubin Pfeffer), who shared their advice so openly and generously. I owe my win at this year’s Portfolio Showcase to them!

If you have any comments to add or follow-up questions about specifics I might not have covered, I would love to hear them. Thanks for your interest!

~Eliza