Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

In which the crocodiles go to Mexico

My crocodiles have been getting around lately... they travel much more than I do! This time they were spotted in Mexico City, at the Museo Franz Mayer (home of the largest collection of decorative arts in all of Latin America!).  I am thrilled to bits...

As you can see by the poster, it was an exhibit of the winning artwork from the Nami Island Illustration Concours (where Crocodile Shoes won an honorable mention in 2013, as you may recall). Nami Island, the sponsor of the Andersen Awards, holds this competition every two years. There is an annual and an exhibit which first opens in Korea, then goes on tour around the world — ending up wherever the IBBY Congress is held, I think.

As you can also see by the poster, the exhibit closed over a month ago. But for those of us who didn't get a chance to catch it, here are a few items to give a sense of it.  First, a little animated video...

...then some photos from the gallery:
Hey...that's me!
The museum also hosted another children's illustration show at the same time,  Dibujando El Mundo, featuring many of my illustration heroes — Kveta Pacovska, Shaun Tan, Sara Fanelli, Javier Zabala, Isol and many others. 
Between the museum's lovely ambience and the art on display, I really wish I could have been there! 

Both of the illustration shows were timed to coincide with the IBBY Congress — a bi-annual shindig bringing together all kinds of people from the world of children's books. It's held in countries all over the world, a different one each time.  I would so love to go one day! (The next one's in New Zealand, in 2016... plenty of time to save up!)

IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young Readers) is a fantastic organization — an NGO, in fact, with official status in UNICEF and UNESCO. With chapters in 72 countries worldwide, IBBY plays a role in policy-making regarding children's books, as well as recognizing and awarding excellence, playing a crucial part in the Bologna Children's Book Fair since its inception.

I've been reading this book about Jella Lepman — the gutsy, outspoken, imaginative woman who founded both IBBY and the International Youth Library in Munich, a wonderful place from the sounds of it. It's well worth a read.  At the request of the American government, she returned to her native Germany after having fled the Nazis nine years previously. Arriving in 1945 just after the shooting had stopped, the grim rubble of postwar Europe she describes (not unlike The Third Man) is where she did her work of helping children starved for stories and hope. What she started is still thriving today! You can read more about that here, if you can't find the book...

Lastly, this year's Nami Concours is in progress— here's the shortlist of illustrators for the final round. So happy to see friends and acquaintances included here... well done, everybody!

PS. A shout out to Ana Aranda who took the photos in Mexico City — she's a wonderful illustrator I met at the SCBWI Conference, where she won the Mentorship Award for her excellent portfolio.  Merci, Ana!!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Change of season

Summer officially ended a few days ago, and I for one am glad to see it go.  There is only so much sweltering and sweating I can stand. Hello autumn, my favorite season! Doesn't it always feels like a new year starts with the autumnal equinox?

But still, I'll be sad to see the end of jacaranda season. In the part of southern California that I find myself in, the streets are lined with jacaranda trees which bloom with glorious purple blossoms from April to September-ish. And over the last few months I've photographing them...
On my street. 
This is on Hollywood Boulevard. A different kind of glamour!
Fallen blossoms on the grass.

The fallen blossoms have been my playthings over the summer months, too —

And with that, I am ready to dive into autumn— bring on the woolens and the pumpkin pie! I'm buckling down for new work, so stay tuned!

PS. Speaking of playthings, have you seen stop-watch? Tineke Meirink has a very playful eye!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Recharging my batteries

In the summertime, I need to rest. I usually like to step away from the computer (and other glowing screens) and use my time to paint, write, catch up with friends, go places and look around. Sit under a really big flower. Do whatever I need to do to recharge my batteries. 

One of the results of my happily splashing about in stories and paints was the image above. Part of an ongoing series, it emerged in the usual ways — cut paper, monoprint and oils ...first the character and the sketchy background:
And a few quick tests for tonal values and color choices:

And then (as it is summer), I left all methodicalness behind and waded in with my arms flailing. Trial and error, intuition, exploration— a great pleasure, but they are things that I sometimes can't afford when the meter's running and the deadline's looming. Of course the result is never guaranteed, but I liked this one so much I made it into postcards:
Just in time, too—I wanted to mail them out and give them to people I see at events. Which brings me to the SCBWI Conference: the other thing I do to recharge my batteries in the summer. I went to my first one out of curiosity a year ago — with unexpected, life-changing results! And ever since then, I've been going every chance I get. Each time I come away exhausted, happy and inspired—seeing old friends and new, questions/answers/feedback swirling around. Learning learning learning! And above all, the workshops and the talks leave me motivated, stimulated, challenged, and encouraged. And apparently incapable of choosing a single adjective. 

My batteries are now recharged — bring it on!!

PS. You can read more about it on this piece from today's Publishers Weekly, and on the SCBWI Blog (don't miss the clip from the gala party — thousands of illustrators and writers poolside, celebrating Tomie de Paola's birthday!) ... and especially on the SCBWI Conference Blog (where you can find quotes and photos). Enjoy.

Happy what's-left-of-summer....

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Honorable mention in the new 3x3!

Breaking news: I am very pleased to announce that one of my illustrations has been awarded an honorable mention in the latest 3x3 Picture Book Show! It's an image from "No Crocodiles in Town", a picture book I'm currently working on.
Early pencil sketch

I've been absent from this blog the past few months for both good reasons (a fantastic trip to New York, where I met with lots of my favorite publishers, attended the SCBWI Conference and caught up with long-lost friends) ... and for not-so-good reasons (involving hospitals and unbearable dread).  In the midst of it all, I have tried to continue sketching and grappling with new manuscripts.  But this blog fell by the wayside, somewhat :-(  .  Hopefully this won't happen again...

Now that I'm here, I did want to mention—horribly, ludicrously late—that I finally received my copy of 3x3 No. 10, the annual from last year (!!) ... and it's a beaut! Look:
Beautifully printed and hard-bound, it unites work from all three of the shows (Picture Book, Pro, and Student Work) in a single volume. Below is my page, featuring the cover and four spreads from "Crocodile Shoes" (my as-yet-unpublished picture book, discussed ad nauseum on this blog already).
In a happy coincidence, the page next to mine had images by my friend Zack Rock whose new book ("Homer Henry Hudson's Curio Museum") will be published very soon! Go Zack, go! In fact, the whole annual is overflowing with wonderful work, definitely worth a look.

For those of you who are interested, the 3x3 annual No. 10 is available in both print and digital formats — click here to see!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bologna or bust!

It's that time of year again: the Bologna Children's Book Fair is starting in a few short days! But right now, I'm 6152 miles away from it — and that's something that would normally give me a bad case of the Bologna Blues.

BUT WAIT!!  I've had a bit of good news ... my illustrations (from Crocodile Shoes) are among the finalists in the SCBWI-Bologna Illustration Show, and I am very honored!

Ever since 2004, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators has maintained a regular presence at the Bologna Book Fair — their stand there hosts many activities as well as the Illustrator's Gallery. Participation is open to SCBWI members internationally, and it attracts illustrators from all over.

I'm in good company this year — the wonderful illustrators Isabel Roxas and Maple Lam, to name just two. And in previous years, there has been a stellar cast of artists from around the world: Sophie Blackall, Eliza Wheeler, Constanze Von Kitzing, Jane Ray, Satoshi Kitamura, Jennifer Thermes, G.Brian Karas, and Barbara McClintock... among many, many others. Not too shabby!

So if you do find yourself in Bologna (lucky you!), the SCBWI stand is at A/66 in Pavilion 26... that's the area that usually has a majority of English-language publishers present. Stop by and say hello!

PS. When I went to Bologna a few years ago, I wrote about it here and here.

PPS.  Anna Castagnoli has posted this handy guide of Bologna's museums, bookshops, various events, plus places to eat and drink. Lots of good suggestions, check it out -- grazie, Anna!

PPPS.  Laura's got some advice

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

SCBWI Bulletin

I'm very proud to have my illustration on the cover of the current SCBWI Bulletin (January/ February 2014). As always, the requirement is to include within the illustration an image of a kite — the logo of the SCBWI. 

I did a lot of searching and had a lot of different ideas (including giant children in Paris, and even an octopus flying eight kites at once). But once I saw the image of a butterfly-shaped kite, it was suddenly obvious to me that a caterpillar should be flying it. Perfect! Transformation, inspiration and imagination are what children's books are all about!! Now all I have to do is pull it off...
I sent along a few variations of this idea to SCBWI, and we all agreed on the one on the left so I then got to work. After refining the composition and characters, I did a number of color studies, like so:
Once the colors are decided, I can go on to the next steps. My illustrations are done in mixed media, with both hand-painted elements and collage in varying amounts (depending on the subject and on the amount of time). Some collage elements are prepared in advance according to the chosen color scheme, while others are happy accidents. This is true whether I collage with paper ephemera...
...or with monoprints that I make myself— here's a peek at a set of photos showing printmaking in progress.

Once I've printed the monoprint sheets in the colors that I'll be using, then I begin cutting and gluing.  I usually start with the background—
And then I create the characters and foreground elements.  Here's our hero...

...and his faithful sidekick:
As you can see, the individual elements that make up a character (limbs, shoes, clothes, face, hair...) are created separately then assembled. I paint some of the details with acrylics and, after I've glued them all together, I go over it again with an oil glaze to add a bit of dimension and oomph. Sometimes I scratch back in — sgraffito — or even sandpaper it, until it resembles what I have in my mind's eye as much as possible.  Needless to say, it's not an exact science...

Finally, referring to my color study, I assemble the composition as a whole — first gluing the background elements then the foreground ones. In this particular illustration, there was a lot of foreground foliage which framed the image. Some were collaged, and some painted in india ink.  Here's the finished piece:

PS.  If you're a SCBWI member, you can view the Bulletin online right here. It even includes an interview with yours truly in it!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


2014 already?
A very happy new year to all of you! 

The thought for the day comes from Neil Gaiman, whose new year's wishes are inspiring, energizing and liberating. A teeny snip:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. 

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.  You're doing things you've never done before...

So that's my wish—for you, for all of us and for myself:
Make New Mistakes
Make glorious, amazing mistakes.
Make mistakes nobody's ever made before.
Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect...

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, DO IT.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever...