Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Our Art Thrives with Hope

I'm experiencing something I couldn't have imagined a few years ago: I'm a full time picture book author and illustrator now! There is officially no part of my year when I'm not making books! And as I celebrate/promote/fret about the release of my new book while I work on the next, I came to a realization:

From my new book, BALANCE THE BIRDS by Susie Ghahremani

For me, promoting a new book is an anxiety-filled endeavor. I worry it won't find its way onto library and store bookshelves. I worry it won't resonate with readers. I worry it will be forgotten or go out of print. And, quite often, I have to step outside of my comfort zone to do in-person events like book signings and talks. I have to promote and market and share which feels like the antithesis of why I got into art. And all of it opens me up to very public, very permanent criticism.

But making art comes from the exact opposite mindset: I think about the audience -- little readers -- almost to the exclusion of everything else. I try to make something that will resonate with them. I want to make something timeless and lasting. I work in comfortable solitude doing what I love best -- being creative. No one is judging my process or skewering me for it, and I feel totally free.

This same spread, back when I quietly painted it in pieces on translucent vellum.

Today, when writing about my complicated experience promoting a book while working on the next, I had a revelation: Making a book -- whether it's creating the first "draft" of a manuscript, putting pencil to paper to sketch, or painting the last detail on the final art -- it all thrives when we come from a mindset of hope and optimism. But, immersed in the anxieties of a book launch, your hope and optimism fades when you need it most.


This has all made me think about how important it is as creators to protect our mental health and to try to create joy in the less comfortable days after publication so we can get back to our studios with that great mindset. Here are some of the things I've been doing to reset my hope and optimism in-between the tense high wire act of a book launch:

Signing my books with drawings! Fun for me and you.

1. Plan to have fun -- CREATE fun -- at your book launch events!

Yes, you might be out of your comfort zone -- but drawing in every book I sign brings my favorite activity into something that might otherwise be stressful. Making a face cut out made for hilarious and adorable photos that allowed my art to come alive with the interaction of visitors.



2. Don't stop making art during stressful times!

Even though a book launch is a demand on your schedule and time, and you might have other deadlines to meet for your next book, try to create space to make art just for fun. Not for your book launch, and not for your next book, but just optimistic, hopeful art just for fun. Maybe take a class! Maybe doodle in your sketchbook. Maybe post for #Inktober. It will energize you in all kinds of ways and reset all that book launch anxiety.

Making ceramics - totally unrelated to my work on books - has helped me during stressful times! Shoutout to my ceramics studio, a 501(c)3 non-profit called Clay Associates, and my marvelous teacher Eric Woods who is always bringing me back down to earth.
3. Live your life.

There will always be more you can do as an artist and author -- a new portfolio piece, a new proposal, a new manuscript, edits, outreach, education. There will always be something you have to do: a deadline, an event, an interview. A blog post (like this)! Try to protect time in your schedule to just be a person. Cook a meal from scratch, read a book, call a faraway friend, travel and go for a nature walk to see what you might discover.

Those simple interactions are filled with hope. These events strung together make a lovely life. The hopeful acts of making art and launching it into the world again and again can make a lovely life, too. Keep optimism on your side if you can.

Hiking in Japan with my husband! Living life, immediately after delivering the final art for Balance the Birds.

4. Get back to work!

These books aren't going to make themselves!


What are your favorite ways to get back to a hopeful mentality where creativity thrives?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Susie Ghahremani is the author and illustrator of BALANCE THE BIRDS and STACK THE CATS. She paints in gouache, drinks a lot of coffee, and is always looking for great reasons to feel hopeful. One hope she has is that you are registered to vote in this upcoming election.

Susie is represented by Stefanie von Borstel of Full Circle Literary. Find her at:

Monday, October 15, 2018

Interview with Zahra Marwan, 2018 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2018 Summer Conference. Please welcome Zahra Marwan to the KidLitArtists Blog!




About Zahra: 

"Zahra grew up in two deserts which vary drastically and have many similarities in culture. One close to the sea, the other close to the mountains. She studied the visual arts in France, and continues various pursuits to further educate herself. She currently lives in the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and works in her studio at the Harwood Art Center, where she incorporates Kuwaiti tendencies into her daily life.

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?

"The feedback I received from the mentorship critiques confirmed the direction of my illustration. All around, I was told that I had a distinct style and point of view, which prior to this had worried me. I was worried my work didn't belong either in the fine art world, or that of picture books."

What kind of projects are you working on now?

"I'm working on two dummies and preparing to participate in an exhibit at the Albuquerque Art Museum."

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

"I really hope to create sincere stories which are simultaneously beautiful to see. I hope publishing will render my art more accessible.

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration? 

"Keep telling your stories and sharing your work"

Any one piece of bad advice?

"Drawing won't make you money, it's pathetic. You speak Arabic, you should join the CIA. You have gold in your head and you don't know it."






What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference?

"Tell your doubts to be quiet."

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

"The Dr. Seuss series helped me learn English and I then really liked Archie Comics after my cousin gave me a stack."

Where can we see more of your artwork? 

Website: https://zahramarwan.com/
Instagram:@zahra_marwan





Thanks, Zahra! Welcome to KidLitArtists! We look forward to more from you. 








Monday, October 8, 2018

Interview with Sara Gavryck-Ji, 2018 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2018 Summer Conference. Please welcome Sara Gavryck-Ji to the KidLitArtists Blog!

About Sara Gavryck-Ji: 

 "Sara Gavryck-Ji lives and makes art in Berkeley, CA.  In her previous life she worked in US-China relations.  She lived in China for over 5 years, is fluent in Mandarin, and took many classes in Chinese calligraphy and painting during her time abroad.  She has two young boys who have filled her life with much joy and inspiration."

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?

"The feedback I received gave me new direction and focus. Most of the mentors pointed out my illustration of a boy hugging a tree as one of their favorites in my book. This was eye opening— I had never felt it was one of my stronger pieces. They liked it because the character showed emotion and this was something the mentors felt I needed more of in my portfolio. Cecilia Yung suggested thinking about the difference between characters in children’s book art and figures in fine art as the difference between actors and models. In other words, a children’s book illustrator needs to show they can create characters with a range of emotions not just beautiful ones. This really resonated with me."



What kind of projects are you working on now?

"All the mentors suggested I add more narrative sequences to my portfolio. Many suggested I look at each of my portfolio pieces and think, “What happened before this moment? What happened after?”  In particular, my conversation with Laurent Linn about my illustration of the boy hugging a tree sparked an idea for a story. Now I am working on a dummy and several finished narrative pieces for that story."

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

"I would love to work on both picture books and middle grade covers and interiors."


Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration? 

"Persist. Don’t give up! I’m not there yet, but receiving the mentorship award was a wonderful validation that, yes, I can do this!"



What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference?

"I found Eliza Wheeler’s keynote on the 7.5 stages of her creative process (Dig, Inspire, Collage, Simmer, Ignite, Refine, Assess, and a 1/2 stage for checking in) very insightful. In particular, in the “simmer” stage, she spoke about the brain science behind the creative process.  How it is important to stop, take a break, do the dishes, clean, pick a familiar chore and do it with enjoyment. When you are anxious or stressed your brain is in a linear mode and you are less likely to take a chance on creativity.  When your brain is in a meditative state, the great ideas come.

I left the conference with such an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to SCBWI and to the mentors for this opportunity to learn and be inspired."



What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

"The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco, and The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble were some of my favorites.


I love finding books that I read and loved as a kid, re-reading them and channeling that feeling I had reading them as a child. I find this can be a great source of inspiration when I’m feeling stuck."
Where can we see more of your artwork? 

Website: http://www.saragavryck-ji.com
Instagram: sara.gavryckji
Facebook: Sara Gavryck-Ji

Thanks, Sara! Welcome to KidLitArtists!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Interview with Chad Hunter, 2018 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2018 Summer Conference. Please welcome Chad Hunter to the KidLitArtists Blog!






About: "Chad grew up in the Bay Area and holds a BFA from BYU (Brigham Young University) and an MFA from MU (Marywood University). He creates children book illustrations, designs and hand lettering from his home in Northern California where he loves life with his lovely wife and his son, Cyrus, who's a Senior in High School. My older three daughters are finishing college. Along with illustrating, Chad teaches art and design at CSU Stanislaus."

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?

"The critiques confirmed the direction I was going. The page design, hand lettering and colors were all positives mentioned.

Also, each and every mentor aid to get rid of the red noses! I said, "NO WAY! THE RED NOSES STAY!!" Haha! Not really. It's easy to say goodbye to the rosy beaks."

What kind of projects are you working on now?

"I'm working on a few fun projects right now. I'm expanding images that are based on my current portfolio: Paul Bunyan, Bumblebee, historical non-fiction pieces."

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

"Sure! I'm hoping for work that based on the projects I mentioned previously. Paul Bunyan, Bumblebee (which are fun fiction pieces) and some cool historical non-fiction pieces (like Ben Franklin and others coming soon)."

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration? 

"I think the most helpful bit of advice given to me is to create for me. When I approach an illustration with the thought that I am producing an illustration that people will like, I usually produce pieces I'm not happy with (and others aren't either). However, when I make illustrations that I love and insert a lot of me into the piece I am usually happy with the results. Even if the project is assigned, the idea still works."

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference?

"Liza Wheeler's creative process was awesome (and I'm already a long-time Tolkien fan, so, loved her references.)

Jerry Pinkney: "It's the daily pursuit."


Lily Malcom: "Create moments of time, drama, cliffhangers."


What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

"So I'm half German and was read Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter when I was young. Loved it, but yes, very frightening stuff.

I was also read and loved Wilhelm Busch's Max und Moritz.

Thinking about things, this actually explains a lot."



Where can we see more of your artwork? 

Website: www.chadhunterstudio.com
Instagram: @chadhunterstudio

Thanks, Chad! Welcome to KidLitArtists!








Monday, September 24, 2018

Interview with Michelle Mee Nutter, 2018 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2018 Summer Conference. Please welcome Michelle Mee Nutter to the KidLitArtists Blog!

About Michelle: 



"Michelle is an Illustrator from Boston, Massachusetts with a BFA in Illustration from MassArt. She wanted to be an artist the moment she realized she could buy a box of colors. Years later, she is even more passionate about art and creating work to inspire the next crayon-lover. If she isn’t furiously drawing in her studio, you can find her getting lost in corners of book stores."

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?

"YES! The feedback I got was a tremendous help in figuring out my next steps as an illustrator. There were some differing opinions that can be boiled down to taste but ultimately there were enough similar critiques to base a theme for myself.

The parts of my work that I need to strengthen is:
Narrative, character and incorporating more black & white pieces.

With new perspectives, I could sense a whole new direction into middle grade cover illustration and chapter vignettes."

What kind of projects are you working on now?

"I’m currently working on two manuscripts for my own picture books. Along with personal projects including but not limited to: illustrating my favorite dark fairy tales, creating work based off of a collection of short stories by Michael Cunningham, and Instagram challenges galore."



Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

"My main focus is picture books but I would love to work on covers for middle grade and young adult books. Working on graphic novels would be a dream come true as well."

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration? 

"Keep the ball rolling. No matter what, show up and draw. That’s the only way you can move forward with any piece and at the end of the day, brush mileage is what counts. (And do a lot of bad drawings, that’s how you get to the good stuff.)"






What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference?

"“EAT CAKE! Good cake. Not bad cake.” Advice courtesy of Mike Curato

There were so many amazing keynotes and inspiring presentations. There was this tone throughout that really resonated with me, and that was to always stay true to yourself. Finding your voice is difficult in a world that is trying to tell us what to buy, think and do. The work we do will always be great if we’re honest with ourselves versus trying to fit someone else’s mold."


What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
The Witches by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake.
Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain...the list goes on and on.
Oh and I can’t forget...Babar by Jean de Brunhoff.


Thanks, Michelle! Welcome to KidLitArtists!

You can find more about Michelle and see more of her artwork on her website, her Instagram, and her Facebook

Monday, September 17, 2018

Interview with Erin Balzer, 2018 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2018 Summer Conference. Please welcome Erin Balzer to the KidLitArtists Blog! 

Read on to learn more about her art, what she learned from her SCBWI mentorship, and what she has planned for her next steps as an illustrator.




"Hello, I'm Erin Balzer, an illustrator/woodcutter living in Vancouver, Canada. I grew up in a family of woodworkers, sewists and painters, crafters who greatly influenced my chosen illustration medium, woodcut printing. I love the process of carving my characters into the wood and seeing how their quirky and whimsical identities come to life through the ink in the prints. If I could choose where and how to spend my time it would be carving and doodling endlessly beside some lake, or trailblazing through the woods with my husband and our dog, Freya."

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?

"The feedback I received in the mentorship critiques were extremely helpful, and confirmed that I was going in the right direction with my style and voice as an illustrator. A specific example of helpful feedback/critique I received is that I need to work on my illustration of human characters more and find a way to love drawing people so it shows in my work as it does the animal characters in my portfolio."

What kind of projects are you working on now?


"As of right now, I am taking time to re-work a few of the pieces in my portfolio, create more work and sign up for figure drawing classes to stay fresh."

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

"I would love the opportunity to illustrate a full book based on one of my characters and written by an author. I am aiming to find opportunity to experience and learn as much as I can this year from the work I receive."

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration? 

"Take your time, don't rush it, the publishing world is slow" "adjust your living needs to accommodate your salary, this isn't a money making business, so make sure you find a way to not be too pressured financially." " 

Any one piece of bad advice?

"You should try and write and illustrate yourself," I think I wasted lots of time attempting to write this past year. In last couple months before SCBWI LA2018, I just decided to illustrate a few finished samples from my story ideas that show my characters and visual narration, this improved my portfolio got me lots of great interest, I wish I didn't sweat as much over a book dummy earlier in the year."

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference?

"You get to the universal through the specific"

"Whatever goes into your portfolio, let it be something you are passionate about, don't make assumptions of what others want to see."

"No one likes a stiff character"

"Be you and do you"

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
Paddington Bear by Michael Bond and illustrated by Peggy Fortnum

The Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Where can we see more of your artwork? 

Minikin, The Elf Who Saved Christmas by Alison and Mike Battle, Bloomsbury UK, 2017.

Website: erinbalzer.comInstagram: @erin_balzerFacebook: Erin Balzer

Thanks, Erin! Welcome to KidLitArtists!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Interview with Gail Buschman, 2018 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award Winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2018 Summer Conference. Please welcome Gail Buschman to the KidLitArtists Blog!

About Gail:



"A Florida-native, Gail migrated to Los Angeles, discovering mountains are amazing. She is a nerd who fell in love with a gamer geek and loves to travel with him at every opportunity. She wants to buy all the picture books and draw all the animals. She studied both graphic design and illustration at California State University, Northridge. She has illustrated for Reading A-Z and currently works as a senior graphic designer for SAGE Publishing."


Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration? Are there any specific examples you can share?

"Feedback indicated that two of the areas I need to strengthen were my use of color and being more consistent with using a single primary medium. I will continue to practice color in the natural world through plein air painting; study how color is used in books, art, and animation to express different emotions; and create a wider range of color studies before working on final illustrations. With regards to medium: currently the linework in my portfolio is sometimes ink with brush pen and sometimes pencil.  I need to pick one of the two as my primary focus and use that as the line for any pieces I create going forward to create a "cohesiveness of voice." That decision will determine how much I change the direction of my illustration in the future."

What kind of projects are you working on now?

"Recently I have been struggling with a story I’ve been working on, but sessions at the conference made me realize that it's time to let that story simmer and come back to it later with fresh eyes. So I will be exploring a few new stories based on some pieces in my portfolio as well as dusting off characters that I have been living with for a while: robot and squirrel, dog and crab, and maybe even a giant lizard!"

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

"Besides for picture books, which I LOOOOOVE, I want to create a graphic novel with a story idea I've been exploring since 2015. I work on it between picture book ideas, so it's slowly taking shape. Next on the to-do list for it: writing the script and pacing out the page turns."

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration? 

"The good advice that I'm holding dear right now is from Marla Frazee: "It's really difficult for us to trust that the thing that is the easiest, that flows out and gives us joy is the thing you SHOULD be doing." My goal going forward is to follow my story joys. "

Any one piece of bad advice?

"The bad advice I have received over the years has always been from myself: "To draw well, I need to draw realistically" (wrong.) or "I drew the thumbnail to capture the essence, now I need to draw the final BETTER: better perspective, better details, better lighting, better dynamism, better anatomy. more more more." (it's only better if the final drawing clarifies or heightens the emotional beat of the moment.)"

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference?

""If you are thinking about everyone else, you are diluting your SELF-ness."
Embarrassingly, I don't know who said it--I wrote it down while drawing rabbits and turtles during the editors' panel on the very first day of the conference"

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

The Wonderful Feast and Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodinka
Babysitters Club by Ann M. Martin
Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce

ANY book by Mercedes Lackey

Where can we see more of your artwork? 

I have an educational book, published by Reading A-Z, written by Torran Anderson, Two.

Website: http://nightengailart.com/
Instagram: @Nightengailart
Facebook: NightenGailArt
Twitter: NightengailArt

Thanks, Gail! Welcome to KidLitArtists! We can't see what you do!