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Who Inspires You?

Who are some of the illustrators out there that inspire you? That was the question I asked my fellow contributors here at Once Upon a Sketch. Along with giving me some names, I also wanted to know why they loved their work. This is what I got:

Macky Pamintuan

James Bennett – One of my all-time favorite children’s book illustrators. From colors, to background detail and storytelling, just an overall superb illustrator. His editorial artwork is something I’ve looked up to all the way back to my art school days.

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Peter De Seve – To me, one of the best narrative illustrators in the biz. He’s known for his character designs, and justifiably so, but his compositions and the way he delivers a story in just one image (His New Yorker covers are amazing) is also why I picked him. I also love his muddy watercolor palette and rough, free flowing sketch work that show underneath his paintings.

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Phil Hale – All emotion and kinetic energy. His form & compositions are always inspiring. There is nothing static and boring in his work and I can always feel a dark intimidating energy from them.

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Chris Jones

Robert Williams – During my early school years he was a big inspiration and influence for me. I really admired his painting style and how he mixed it with flat compositional elements. And his mix of car culture and psychedelic and apocalyptic imagery are just plain crazy fun.

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Dan Santat – I really admire his great character designs, sense of humour and playfulness in his work, and his wonderful use of colour.

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Rutgers Conference Goes One on One With Industry Pros

Like many of us at the start of a year, I always take stock of the year before and the year to come. And like most professional artists part of that evaluation is examining how and where we presented our work. One of the best ways I’ve found to connect my work with potential clients is at conferences. As a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators I’ve attended SCBWI conferences for many years and can’t speak highly enough of them. However for a few years I’d been hearing about a conference called Rutgers One on One Plus. It’s put on by the Rutgers Council on Children’s Literature and it is what it says – one on one time with a professional from the publishing field.

Rutgers attendees wait to find how who their mentors for the day will be.

Rutgers attendees wait to find out who their mentors are.

The conference is held on the Rutgers New Brunswick campus in New Jersey and attendees must apply with their work to be accepted. It’s only a day long but they pack a lot into that day. In the morning mentors and mentees are paired up and then grouped together into 5 on 5 sessions .

These are groups of 5 attendees and 5 mentors in a round table discussion. Mentees have the chance to ask questions of and present work to any of the editors or art directors at their table.

A group of 5 mentors and 5 mentees get to know each other

A group of 5 mentors and 5 mentees get to know each other

Equally important, the industry professionals are seated at the same tables for lunch and attendees are encouraged to find art directors or editors they are not paired with and network, network, network. After lunch each mentor/mentee pair is given 45 minutes together. During this time the mentor reviews the materials submitted and the attendee has a chance to ask questions and pitch other projects. Each attendee is given submission information about every mentor for after the conference.

An illustrator mentor reviewing submitted work

An illustrator mentor reviewing submitted work

At less than $200 to attend, I found this conference to be a significant value. The submission process starts in the spring. There’s about 70 editors, agents, and art directors who agree to be mentors (with a handful of authors and illustrators agreeing as well) and only one attendee for each mentor. Visit the Rutgers Council On Children’s Literature to get submission information. I posted about my personal experience on my own blog here. Be aware that if your work is chosen it’s highly recommended to research every mentor prior to the conference. This is a hugely valuable but VERY time consuming process. It’s valuable because it makes it very easy to start up a conversation in the sandwich line. However having crammed it all into the 6 weeks between being accepted and attending the conference I highly recommend starting the research process soon after submission closes and Rutgers posts the list of mentors. Then you’ll want to recheck the list a few times as the names sometimes change. At the end of the day Rutgers is an easy train ride from Newark Airport or New York City. Taxis and hotels were very reasonable and you can usually hook up with other attendees before or after to share notes.

What we wish we knew before we started out as artists?

Welcome back Once upon a Sketch and happy 2014! It’s been a long break but now it’s time to start a new chapter in OUaS’s history. We have a lot of great new voices that will be working on the site and I can’t wait to hear what they have to share with you. Since we have a lot of new voices we thought it would be good to ask everyone a common question. Everyone gave great answers so without further adieu here is our teams answer to the question “What we wish we knew before we started out as artists?” Continue reading

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Once Upon a Sketch Podcast Episode 6 – Round Table State of the Industry

In our sixth episode we welcome our friends Donald Wu, Chris Jones and Mary Reaves Uhles to discuss the state of the freelance illustration industry. We talk about how the industry has changed, our uses of social networking to make connections and finally getting around to the mediums that we all work in. It’s a great conversation with good information.

Links
Donald’s Art Rep catalogs – www.mbartists.com/cgi-bin/iowa/catalog.html
Buffer App – www.bufferapp.com
Tweet Deck – www.tweetdeck.com

Audio Version of the podcast or listen on iTunes

podcastroundtable02 Donald Wu – 
Born in Hong Kong, Donald grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area after moving there as a child. Years of drawing doodles in school along with a love of comic books led him to study illustration at the California College of the Arts. While at school, Donald was introduced to many different mediums ranging from watercolors to acrylics. Although Donald started his career using traditional mediums, Donald has since made the transition to digital medium. Donald continues to reside and “doodle” in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Website
Agents website
podcastroundtable01 Chris Jones – 
I’m an illustrator with an expressive and humorous style that is fun and engaging. I’m equally comfortable working on picture books, or sequentially in comics/cartoons.Born near Toronto, Canada, and raised on comic books, red licorice, and Saturday morning cartoons, I’ve been drawing with a passion ever since I could hold a crayon!I’m a Graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design, and a member of: the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Picture Book Artists Association.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable03 Mary Reaves Uhles – 
Mary Reaves Uhles has worked for over a decade creating art for children. Her pieces have been included in books and magazines around the world. Prior to beginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. To this day her work features a cinematic quality essential to bringing characters to life.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable04 Norm Grock – 
Norm Grock has been drawing since before he even learned to swim which is saying a lot considering he grew up in Hawaii. Since leaving the Islands’ beautiful beaches and landing in Oregon he went to college and received a degree in graphic design. Now living in Portland, Oregon, Norm spends countless hours perfecting his craft as a freelance illustrator working on several children’s books. With over 15 years in the children’s entertainment industry Norm would like to start working on his passions and create his own intellectual properties.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable05 Wilson Williams, Jr – 
I have been a professional commercial artist and designer for over thirteen years. My pens, pencils and wacom pen have been drawing and painting images from my imagination my entire life. My work is whimsical, fun and captures the measure of my spirit.
Website
Twitter

Portfolio Tips-A video by Midsout SCBWI

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This is a great little video that I ran across from MidSouth SBWI that goes through the do’s and don’ts  of what to put in your Children’s book portfolio.  We often forget those standards and we thought it a good idea to put up a quick reminder to the folks who have been doing this a while as well as the ones just starting. Always keep an eye on your portfolio and make sure it’s in tip top shape for an Art Director’s eyes.
Enjoy!

Also note all the great work being featured in the video! Including the work of OnceUponASketch contributor Mary Reaves Uhles!

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Once Upon a Sketch Podcast Episode 4 – Roundtable Adobe’s Big Switch

This month on the Once Upon a Sketch podcast we welcome around table of children’s book artists to discuss Adobe switching their software model. Donald Wu, Chris Jones and Mary Reaves Uhles join Wilson and I to give our thoughts and reactions to the Creative Cloud announcement. From how it affects small one person companies to is it worth it to make the move to the cloud. We try to figure out these questions.

Links
Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe Creative Cloud VS Creative Suite (Infographic)

Alternatives to Using the Adobe Creative Suite

Adobe announces plan to switch to subscription service

Audio Version of the podcast or listen on iTunes

podcastroundtable02 Donald Wu – 
Born in Hong Kong, Donald grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area after moving there as a child. Years of drawing doodles in school along with a love of comic books led him to study illustration at the California College of the Arts. While at school, Donald was introduced to many different mediums ranging from watercolors to acrylics. Although Donald started his career using traditional mediums, Donald has since made the transition to digital medium. Donald continues to reside and “doodle” in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Website
Agents website
podcastroundtable01 Chris Jones – 
I’m an illustrator with an expressive and humorous style that is fun and engaging. I’m equally comfortable working on picture books, or sequentially in comics/cartoons.Born near Toronto, Canada, and raised on comic books, red licorice, and Saturday morning cartoons, I’ve been drawing with a passion ever since I could hold a crayon!I’m a Graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design, and a member of: the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Picture Book Artists Association.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable03 Mary Reaves Uhles – 
Mary Reaves Uhles has worked for over a decade creating art for children. Her pieces have been included in books and magazines around the world. Prior to beginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. To this day her work features a cinematic quality essential to bringing characters to life.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable04 Norm Grock – 
Norm Grock has been drawing since before he even learned to swim which is saying a lot considering he grew up in Hawaii. Since leaving the Islands’ beautiful beaches and landing in Oregon he went to college and received a degree in graphic design. Now living in Portland, Oregon, Norm spends countless hours perfecting his craft as a freelance illustrator working on several children’s books. With over 15 years in the children’s entertainment industry Norm would like to start working on his passions and create his own intellectual properties.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable05 Wilson Williams, Jr – 
I have been a professional commercial artist and designer for over thirteen years. My pens, pencils and wacom pen have been drawing and painting images from my imagination my entire life. My work is whimsical, fun and captures the measure of my spirit.
Website
Twitter

Guest Post-Mary Reaves Uhles-How To Catch a Ladybug

This week we have a guest post from Children’s Illustrator Mary Reaves Uhles. Mary has been a Children’s Illustrator for well over a decade. She’s been featured in numerous periodicals, magazines and books around the world!

So join us this post as she goes over the process she went through in completing an illustration for Ladybug Magazine. Enjoy!

Find the original post here.

Ladybug Magazine, published by Carus Publications, is one of the most prestigious literary magazines for kids. This is the story of how I got my first illustration with them. Without a doubt, the first step was the hardest one: work very hard for a loooong time to be good enough to catch the attention of the editors and art directors. I mentioned in this post about how long that took for me.

Step Two was just like any other project. It starts with the assignment on my drawing table and a blank sketchbook.

The assignment was for a silly illustration involving a May Day picnic with all kinds of fairy tale characters. Some of the characters would be doing traditional fairy-tale-y things others would be doing zany, silly things for the kids to find and laugh at.

Right away I decided I would knock it out of the park on the silliness. My goal was to put no less than twenty silly things into this 10 x 18 spread.

Here’s what the first sketch I sent looked like:

“Whoa nelly” was the response from Ladybug.

Apparently twenty silly things is a little bit of overkill.

They explained, and this made all the sense in the world, that too much crazy stuff made it hard for young readers to figure out where the punch line is. So I de-sillyed.

Here’s the second sketch I sent:

Continue reading
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Guest post-Mary Uhles-How to Draw a Blockbuster: Character, Emotion and Story

This week we have a guest post from Children’s Illustrator Mary Reaves Uhles. Mary has been a Children’s Illustrator for well over a decade. She’s been featured in numerous periodicals, magazines and books around the world! She also gets a special thumb up from me because she graduated a year ahead of me from Ringling College of Art and Design.  (Always repping for my fellow alumni!)

So join us this post as she goes over the elements that will really make your work stand out to that trade publishing art director. Character, Emotion and Story. Enjoy!

When you see the piece above you’d probably think, “what a cute and engaging bunch of woodland critters! I could see that in a kid’s book.” That’s certainly what I thought when I created it about 7 years ago. The piece above earned me a spot in Smart Writers’ New Voices competition and more than a few commissioned illustration pieces (though not of the trade picture book variety). To this day it hangs over my drawing table and, at the time I painted them, these cute woodland creatures occupied the place of honor at the end of my portfolio reserved for what I considered to be my best work.

 

Imagine my surprise then when I was told by an art director at Henry Holt that it was not actually a strong piece for getting work in children’s publishing. Too static he said, and all the characters have the same expression. It’s as if they posed waiting for the camera flash to go off.

 

Instead he pointed to this piece and explained why it was actually the strongest “trade” piece I had at the time:

 

The girl’s pose was not static, she leaned into her audience giving a certain emotional tone, the children’s poses were dissimilar making them seem like individuals instead of a clump. He specifically pointed to the barrettes in the girl’s hair as evidence of her character. Tiny details like that, he said, were what told a story.

 

Character, emotion, and story – it sounds simple but these are the three elements I most often hear missing when trade publishing art directors reject a portfolio. Trade publishing is an industry term but the general public knows trade as the hardcover, jacketed picture books that are sold on the shelves of B&N or a cozy local bookstore. Unlike mass market publishing (think Wal-Mart and Target, licensed characters and novelty books,) trade books aim to be a notch higher on the literary scale. Trade seeks to introduce readers to a more complex reading experience through higher quality writing and art. (We made a post about this here.)

 

So back to character, emotion and story. A good way to approach this trifecta is to think of yourself as a film director and each piece as your movie scene. In a movie the actors, costumes, scenery and lighting are designed a certain way, all to inform the audience about the character. What details can you put in the background or in your character’s “wardrobe” to tell the audience about who they are? How would you change the light source and point of view to make the character feel adventurous, quiet, or silly?

 

Likewise think about what expressions your characters have, especially in a portfolio grouping. While some stories have happy endings, they very rarely have happy beginnings and middles. Good stories have conflict, so too should your characters. Make them sad, angry, bored, anything that adds drama. Showcase your illustrative story telling skills by picking one character and developing her emotion over a series of pages: she wakes up sleepy, then gets scared of a giant spider by the bed, then angry at the spider for waking her up, then determined to do something about the spider. Think about how her face and body language would change as you draw these emotions. As the director of the movie how would you tell your character to move in front of the camera? What does her face look like when she’s ready for her close-up?

 

Story is putting character (created by the actors, aided by their background, costumes and lighting) and emotion together to make the reader wonder what’s going to happen next. Think of your illustration as a DVD on pause. A stranger wanders into the room and sees the “frozen” piece of your movie, do they want to push play and see what happens next? If this illustration were the spread of a book would it make the reader want to turn the page? Even a portfolio of various pieces can have its own story by choosing illustrations with multiple points of view, light sources, and expression. Think about character, emotion and story as you select the order of the pieces. Create a flow that will make an art director want to turn the page or click on the next thumbnail.

 

After the eye-opening critique I mentioned above, I set out to overhaul my work so that it better exhibited character, emotion and story. More than a few years and rejected pieces later I finally have a portfolio, which was recently critiqued by the same art director, that succeeds at this goal. Take a look at the following two pieces:

 

 

The characters are similar to the puppeteer above, both lean into the picture frame moving the pose away from static. But the girl in the rain has even more details in her wardrobe that tell us about what she likes and even her age. The background elements give us a sense of atmosphere, not just a generic setting. Jack and the giant have details that tell us where they are and that one of the characters is a giant. But most importantly neither character is just posing patiently for a camera flash. The design of these illustrations suggests that there is more to come. Character, emotion, and story, with these 5 star story telling tools loaded into my pencil, my own trade books will be ready for a cozy bookstore.

 

* with special thanks to Victoria Rock, Martha Rago and the inimitable Laurent Linn who’s separate SCBWI presentations provided the movie analogies.

* to read the story of my two portfolio reviews mentioned above see my blog here:
http://www.fabulousillustrator.blogspot.com/2007/11/fear-and-loathing-in-nashville-garage.html
and here:
http://www.fabulousillustrator.blogspot.com/2012/06/why-was-my-saturday-awesome-heres-why.html
For more of Mary’s work be sure to stop by her website, blog or etsy page!