On My Mind

-thoughts of a wife, mom, author, illustrator, juggler, toy designer, teacher, camp director, ...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Author/Illustrator - Ramona Davey

How long have you been creating art for children?

I have been drawing since a pencil was first put in my hand, and as this was the main thing I was good at in school. I kind of stuck to it. I went to college and trained as a Primary Teacher with Art & Design as my speciality. This meant that I was constantly creating with or for the children throughout my career. I was always making displays for the classroom and designing worksheets for the children's class work. One of my sister's recently reminded me that I wrote and illustrated a whole series of little books when I was young for her and my other siblings. She was right! I had completely forgotten all about it. It was called the 'Woodlanders' and was a story about life for all the insects that lived on the ground in the woods. One day I will go through my mum's attic and try and find them.

How long have you been writing for children?

I have only been getting into writing and drawing with picture books in mind since 2010. So this world is all relatively new to me. The moment I decided that I was going to take this seriously and give it a real go, then I started to attend writing courses, picture book workshops,and writers festivals.

Can you share a bit about your publishing journey? (or journey to publication as the case may be)

I am at the stage where I am fine tuning many manuscripts. I have a few already entered into a major competition in Australia and have my fingers crossed for that. The feedback you get from competitions can be just what you need to get your writing on the write track. I have one manuscript currently with an editor who thinks that it has potential. She wants to show it to a publishing house she edits for. So at the moment my fingers feel constantly crossed.

Where do you do your artwork?

I do most of my artwork at the computer since I was given a Bamboo tablet to draw on. I draw with 'Art Rage' and this is a huge learning curve for me.

Please tell us about your illustrations. Can you describe your creative process? How would you describe your style?

Even though I have always been able to draw quite well from observation, I mainly did sculpture at college. I am now trying to develop my skills at illustrating which is quite different. I need to learn how to draw the same thing from different angles, add expression to character's faces, create backgrounds, etc. I also want to learn how to simplify my drawings and I confess I sometimes watch my 8 year old son draw his animated/cartoon characters to get some tips!

Will you share a sketch, line art, and/or photo of a final illustration?

Which comes first the story of the illustrations?

For me at the moment it is the story, although I can always immediately visualize it. I am also telling myself to let go with the imagery because I am fully aware that if I should ever be lucky enough for a publishing house to want to publish one of my manuscripts I know that they will want to choose the illustrator. And as a newbie I will have very little say in this. Also it is possible that the illustrator visualizes my story in a completely opposite way to the way I do. I may love this or loath it. Finally when I am writing, I am constantly checking it to make sure I haven't written what can be drawn, and have I given enough detail for an illustration to be possible for each page? I love the challenge of writing picture books and wish I had thought to do this 10 years earlier!

Ramona can be found at:

Blog: http://artistorauthor.wordpress.com 
Twitter: @RamonaofJersey
Facebook Fan page

If you have questions or comments for Ramonay Davey, please leave them below.

Come back next Wednesday (and every Wednesday all summer long) to see my Featured Author/Illustrator of the week.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Author/Illustrator - Heather Newman

How long have you been creating art for children?

I have been drawing, painting and creating for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of sitting next to my mother as she embroidered. She had given me a little hoop and I stitched great, swooping arcs of embroidery floss across the surface, yellow and blue. It was a duck in a pond, but I think I was the only one who could tell what it was. I drew on everything I could get my hands on and no book, doll, toy or piece of furniture was safe. I tried signing my brother's name in an attempt to escape punishment, but he was a baby and my mom didn't fall for it.

How long have you been writing for children?

The desire to write came to me later than the need to draw. I was probably about 7 or 8 when I started making up my own stories to illustrate about twin princesses who liked to have grand adventures. In high school and college, I focused on my art and I have only started writing again fairly recently. I find writing to be more challenging than painting. My ideas resist being transferred to paper, stubborn things that they are.

Heather, can you share a bit about your publishing journey? I saw on your website that you have published two books, what did it take to get those published? How did you match up with Do Life Right, Incorporated?

The books I illustrated for Do Life Right, Inc came about courtesy of facebook and a wonderful unschooling community! I purchased the first three of Lisa Cottrell-Bentley's Wright on Time series, stories about a homeschooling family that travelled in an RV, at an unschooling conference just as we were getting ready to hit the road in an RV ourselves. Lisa and I ended up becoming friends on Facebook and when she posted that she was looking for several different illustrators for 'Cody Greene and the Rainbow Mystery' I sent her samples of my work. I was originally contracted to do just the cover, then Lisa liked my art and decided to add illustrations at the beginning of each chapter. The images for that book were created in Kansas, Georgia and Florida as we travelled. When Leslie Schultz was signed on for her book 'The Howling Vowels', she asked for me to be the artist and Lisa agreed. It was fun to illustrate and I'm grateful that Leslie liked my art enough to trust me with her story. It's a sweet, gentle tale, I love the characters.

Where do you do your artwork?

I mostly work at a large desk in the corner of my living room. The desk came with the house and I instantly adopted it as my own. It's in a nice, bright spot with a view of the woods, our old barn and the bird feeder.

Please tell us about your illustrations. Can you describe your creative process for us? How would you describe your style?

My style hovers somewhere between cartoon and realism. I tend to work in my head long before I put pencil to paper. If I don't allow the images to fully develop in my mind first, it's a struggle of me to complete the piece. Of course, things change as I start to work, but I begin with a clear and completed mental piece. It's something I started doing when my kids were wee. I didn't have time to immerse myself in drawing or painting, so I created images in my head. I imagined mixing paints, brush strokes, how I would shade something with a pencil and now I depend on that technique to start the artistic process.

Will you share a sketch, line art, and/or photo of a final illustration?

This is a piece that I completed for the illustrator's workshop at the NESCBWI conference. The assignment was to illustrate a scene from one of three stories chosen by the two author/illustrators and one book designer running the workshop. I chose 'The Magic Paintbrush' and rewrote the story to take place on another planet centuries in the future. I started with character sketches of Mira.

After I sent in the initial sketches to the workshop coordinators, I began work on the final piece making changes based on the feedback I received. I was changing the perspective to one looking up from about 3' off of the ground so I did several thumbnails before settling on this one.

Then I worked it up with more details into a small rough. I took photos of my husband standing next to my son's bed to make sure I was getting the perspective right. Unfortunately, Arthur's room doesn't have that cool, round window.

For the final image, I chose to keep a subdued color palette for Mira and her room and let the ancestor who was visiting her stand out by having the only color in the scene. This one is ink and watercolor. After I finished, I scanned the image into photoshop and increased the color saturation to bring out the details on the sleeves that were lost in the scan. Learning how to manipulate my art digitally is my next project, but I'm not sure that I could work exclusively on the computer. I love the feel of a pencil and brush sliding across the surface of the paper too much to give it up.

Which comes first the story of the illustrations/sculptures?

Both. There are times when a random comment or phrase triggers an idea for a painting and times when an image that pops into my head suggests an entire story to me. It's a symbiotic relationship.

Heather can be found at:

Twitter: @HeatherNewman12 

Come back every Wednesday this summer to see the Featured Author/Illustrator of the Week
To see previous Feature Interviews, click on the links on the sidebar.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Author/Illustrator - Cori Doerrfeld

How long have you been creating art for children?

I have been making art as far back as I can remember.  At school I was always fulfilling requests from my fellow classmates for drawings of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, or their favorite Disney character.  So I guess even back then I was technically creating art for children.  ;)

I worked for several years as a preschool teacher and a nanny, and in both cases I was constantly creating art projects, drawings, and stories for the children I worked with.  I've been selling my art in one form or another for about nine years, but I have only worked full time as a professional illustrator for the past four and a half years.  I started off by selling whimsical paintings and prints.  My first published work was with a small kids' magazine called Moo Cow Fan Club.  The first book I illustrated was a collection of nursery rhymes about Time.  It was put out by a small educational publisher based in Minnesota in 2007. 

How long have you been writing for children?

Writing is also something I did a lot as a child.  I always participated in my school's young authors contest, although I never placed higher than honorable mention. I also wrote on my own.  I have notebooks where I started several stories, although I rarely completed them.  Today I have similar struggles….so many ideas, few finished manuscripts! The first children's book I ever wrote was about eight years ago.  It was based on a quirky little girl I took care of at the daycare, and I wrote and illustrated the book simply to see what it was like to do so.  I wrote two more stories based on the same little girl, as well as my own version of Little Bunny Foo Foo and sold them as little paperbacks at comic conventions. The two published self-authored titles I have now were both based on these original experimental paperbacks I did just for fun!  So I guess technically I've been writing children's books for eight years, but I've only been writing for publishers since 2009. 

Cori, can you share a bit about your publishing journey? Do you have an agent? I saw on your website that you have published several books, what did it take to get those published?

Becoming a published illustrator/author is somewhat due to luck in my case.  I did get an art degree,  but after that there was no clear path.  I started dating a man, (who is now my husband), who had an intense ambition for drawing and promoting comics.  It was because I went to comic conventions all over the country to promote him, that I got discovered.  As I mentioned above, I wrote and illustrated a few little books just for fun.  I would bring these along with my portfolio to the conventions. This is how I met the editor who hired me to illustrate the Nursery Rhyme book, landed my first big time publishing deal illustrating a book by Brooke Shields, and how I met my agent.  I have illustrated 17 books total…I think.  MOST of those books were for the local educational publisher.  They were always eager to hand out books to anyone who was willing to work for so little.  The small publisher only paid about a tenth of what I get from a major publisher per title.   I also get NO royalties for them!  But they were all learning experiences. 

Where do you do your artwork?

I unfortunately work in my basement.  We have a very small, old house and due to having kids…I had to give up my sunny upstairs studio, for a little room in the basement.  It's a little wonky, dank, and full of spiders, but it is also very detached from the rest of the house.  When I'm down there, I do feel like I'm in my own little cave of creativity! 

Please tell us about your illustrations. Can you describe your creative process for us? How would you describe your style?

All of my illustrations start off as tiny little thumbnail drawings.  I always try to sketch out an entire book in thumbnails so I can see from the beginning how the art will flow page to page.  Once I like the basic look of a thumbnail, I make a more finished sketch.  This sketch is then scanned into the computer where I can play with scale, positing of characters, and rough in a color study in Photoshop.   I feel I am still struggling to find the perfect "style" or voice for my illustrations.  Sometimes I feel like each story calls for its own style, so I have never wanted to feel connected to one look.  The style I feel the most comfortable with is a slightly retro look created with acrylic paint.  I simply adore a lot of the illustrations from the 50's and 60's. Richard Scarry, Mary Blair, Eloise Wilkins have all inspired me!  I create all my paintings using only the three primary colors, plus sometimes black and white.  I hand mix every shade and color in my books giving me a lot of flexibility.  Each painting can take up to 40 hours to complete! 

Which comes first the story of the illustrations/sculptures?

 I would say that for the most part, my stories begin with an image in my mind.  Sometimes I start sketching to release that image, other times it is better captured through writing.  With the books I've both written and illustrated, the manuscript has been a result of flip-flopping between sketching and writing.  I am currently tackling my first true manuscript.  It involves far more text than my previous books, and I've found that when I get stuck writing, sketching out the story can help reveal what the text is missing.  Creating a picture book that is truly successful in both the text and the illustrations is no easy task.  I know I personally struggle the most with the "why".  Why am I telling this story?  Why should parts of the story be told through the pictures vs the text?  Why is it so hard to create a bestseller? Why oh why!  ;)

Anything else you would like to add about your art, your writing, or your road to publication?
Another struggle I have, which I think few people consider, is that once a story is acquired by a publisher…it is no longer just your story. Many people from editors to marketing reps will have a say in what your story ultimately becomes. You have to maintain an open mind and a patient spirit. Sometimes what ends up on the store shelf is very different than your original concept. I guess I'm not sure if ALL authors experience something similar, but I just wanted to bring it up!

 Cori can be found at:
Twitter: @coridoerrfeld

Come back next Wednesday (and every Wednesday) to read the interview with the next featured Author/Illustrator!

Leave a comment for Cori below...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Author/Illustrator - Suzanne Del Rizzo

How long have you been creating art for children?

I made the career change to Children’s illustration after my youngest of four children was enrolled in school full time. My background is actually in science, I worked in a cancer research laboratory before I had my children. But I have always had the art bug, since I was very young. It was a toss up between science and art when applying for university and the science won out. But after having my children, and rediscovering children’s books, I decided to make the switch and spent a few years working on my portfolio and researching the children’s book’s industry while home with my little ones. I was completely blown away with the dimensional work of Barbary Reid, Janette Canyon, and Kim Fernandes, to name a few. So, although I have been creating art all my life, I technically have been working as an illustrator for only a few years. I am currently illustrating my first picture book, Skink on the Brink (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Spring 2013) written by Lisa Dalrymple.

How long have you been writing for children?

I would LOVE to write and illustrate my own picture books. At the present moment I have not had any of my writing published.  I am lucky to belong to some fabulous critique groups for both writing, illustrating and writing/illustrating, so hopefully one day that dream will also come true. Having a fun and quirky family, provides me with an endless supply of fantastic story ideas. 

Suzanne, can you share a bit about your pre-published journey?

I joined CANSCAIP, SCBWI right off the bat. I highly recommend joining, and SCBWI has regional chapters, so it is even possible to set up or join critique groups or attend meeting in your area. I also found the amazing website zero2illo, created and run by Jonathan Woodward. This site was instrumental in giving me the tools, through great tutorials, to prepare my portfolio, design a website and promote my work.

I try to do quarterly promotional mailers to a targeted group of art directors and publishing houses.  In an effort to stand out of the slush pile, I always include a little take-away to go along with my promotional postcards. In the past I have also designed bookmarks, gift tags, and stickers to go with my postcards. I also send out tearsheet promos and new illustration work through email to those publishing houses that prefer to go paperless. Just make sure to recheck submission guidelines to ensure you send the desired material.

Where do you do your artwork?

I currently work out of my dining room. I have a custom built desk that is in one corner by a big window. I keep all of my finished plasticine illustrations in pizza style boxes, which I can stack. Luckily we don’t have formal family dinners very often, as I am slowly taking over this entire room. ;) It is an ideal location right now, with 4 kiddos whirling around. 

Please tell us about your sculptures. The attention to detail is stunning. Can you describe your creative process for us?

I call them dimensional illustrations, but I guess technically they are low-relief sculptures. Thank-you for the lovely comment J. I LOVE details! I especially love the challenge of creating different textures and realistic details in plasticine. Nothing makes me happier than to see a child studying one of my illustrations, and happily finding new details that they may have missed the first time.

My process starts with a sketch, and then once the perspective, composition etc. are fleshed out, I create a tight rough sketch then go to the final art which is created in plasticine. I begin with the background, by smearing the plasticine across illustration board. I work from the background forward, leaving the foreground until last. I use a variety of clay sculpting tools, kitchen implements and household items to create my textures and details. My go-to favorites are the handy dandy toothpick, extruder, and a large safety pin. Once the illustration is complete I digitally photograph it, and make minor adjustments if necessary, in Photoshop.

How would you describe your style?

I guess I would define my style as playful, semi-realistic plasticine illustration.

This is a piece I recently created for a fundraiser. Here are some images from sketch to finished art.
(Click on pictures to see the bigger so you can really see the details Suzanne puts into her work!)

Which comes first the story of the illustrations/sculptures?  

I tend to think in pictures first, so when I think up a story idea, I can see the illustration ideas in my head, the words are much harder to get right.

Suzanne can be found at:

Blog: http://suzannedelrizzo.blogspot.com      

Website: http://suzannedelrizzo.com

Twitter: @SuzanneDelRizzo

Facebook: Suzanne Del Rizzo Studio page, and suzanne.delrizzo

Come back to my blog every week to see the featured Author/Illustrator all May, June, and July!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Author/Illustrator - Brenda A. Harris

Each week this May and June (and possibly longer if I can catch these super busy artists), I will feature Author/Illustrators. In the genre of children's literature, there are authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators. This last group does it all and I want to know more about them and their creative process.

My name is Brenda A. Harris and I’m a writer/illustrator/artist.

How long have you been creating art for children?

Well, I’ve always been an artist .  When I was just a baby, my grandfather (an artist) used sit me on his lap, and teach me how to draw people.

How long have you been writing for children?

 I’ve always been a storyteller.  Being the oldest of four children, I liked making up stories for my siblings. Whenever my littlest sister was ill, I liked to help her feel better by telling her stories.  Later, when I had children of my own, I wrote and illustrated stories for them.  I’ve always believed children can fall in love writing, if they discover the magic and power writing gives it’s creator. With that thought in mind, I helped my four children fall in love with reading, writing and art.

Has your art or writing been published yet?

Hardly.  In 2006 I published my first book. It was mandatory.  I was in school getting my teaching degree and the prof gave us a project - produce a children’s book.  I enjoyed producing and self-publishing it. I wish I’d had more time to  work on it.  That was when the writing/illustrating bug bit me.

In 2007, I started teaching in an elementary school. I began to write and read out loud my stories to my students.  I desperately wanted them to see, that library books begin by writing down stories we create.  Another one of my goals was to have students co-write and produce children’s books.  They did. They wrote, illustrated, and even made the book covers for their stories.  The school staff stapled and laminated them.  Then, the books were placed in the school library for students and teachers to read. Even now, I am so happy to have been given the chance to work with my students in this way.

After four years of teaching, I decided to devote myself fulltime to writing and illustrating stories. My husband agreed, and we set a tight budget. I joined SCBWI ( Houston chapter) and learned to self-publish.  I now have an eBook on Amazon.  It’s an illustrated children’s chapter book.  The characters are animals whose habitats can be found in Texas.  I so enjoyed doing research on the animals.  Wildlife rocks!

Where do you like to do your artwork? 

I work wherever I feel most comfortable at that moment: sitting on the floor/table, standing, kneeling, etc.  For example, when I’m tracing my sketches onto my final drawing surface, I tape the sketch  to a window.  The sunlight helps me trace the images onto my art paper, as I stand.

Do you prefer digital or traditional media to create your artwork?

There is something so beautiful and organic about traditional media.  It just sings.  It’s like poetry to me.  Then, when I work with digital, it’s so e- a- s- y!  I just love it.  What can I do, but bounce back and force from traditional to digital.  Sometimes, I even combine them.

Can you describe your creative process for us?

First, I come up with an idea for an illustration. I research the plant, animal, location, etc.  If the illustration involves people, I go into DAZ Studio 4 and use a Poser like program to position and shape a digital mannequin.  I paint it and add lighting.  Once I’ve finished the digital figure, I trace it onto art paper.  Now, it’s no longer digital.   I sketch the background and any other characters.  I retrace in ink.

Second , if I choose, I can scan my sketch into the computer and bring up my scanned image using GIMP.  I play with the color palette in GIMP.  This helps establish  my color scheme.

 Last, I decide whether to use traditional (oil/pencil/ink) or digital media to complete the illustration.

Which comes first, the story or the illustrations?

I’m a visual person, so I think it’s the illustrations.

To learn more about Brenda go to:

My art portfolio is on the www.scbwi.org website.  Make sure you search for Brenda A. Harris. (There’s another illustrator named Brenda Harris!) 
My blog is www.drawacircle.net . 
I’m also on Twitter at @abrendita .