I was hired to do a follow up illustration about 2 years after I did the first one. Guess what? I could not figure out how I got the effects in the first illustration -- eventually it was good enough, but now I always keep a separate layer that notes any special brushes (in Photoshop and Procreate). Duh.
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
Thursday, May 19, 2022
I am not an activist.
The thought of getting on a metaphorical (or literal) soapbox and shouting out to the world everything I think is wrong with it makes me shudder. Makes my hands go clammy and my knees go weak. The thought of asking strangers to sign petitions or publicly debating hard questions whose answers almost always fall within shades of gray makes me want to gag. I’ve vehemently argued with friends in the past that my artistic social media face should be neutral and accepting and about fun and lighthearted things because children should have fun and lighthearted lives.
The world is going through seismic shifts at the moment. We seem to be falling back to patterns of nationalism and isolation when we are more easily connected with each other now than we ever have been in our history. We are more polarized and even the innocuous topics are politicized.
Remaining silent is the same as condoning what is going on in this moment. Whoever you are, whatever your stance is. Yes, I’m even writing directly to those who oppose my beliefs, because you do have a right to state publicly how you feel. I am not asking you to agree with me.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it harder and harder to remain silent on issues that matter to me. When people in my life are directly and emotionally impacted by decisions that seem like we are regressing on our years of painstaking progress and the hard-won freedoms for ALL people, regardless of who you are or where you come from, to live and practice and enjoy life. But I still don’t like “it.” I’m still not comfortable with “it.” You know what “it” is. Activism.
So I think we should redefine what activism is.
There is bold, public activism: marches, protests, sit-ins, op-ed pieces, petitions and signatures, letters to your local and national elected leaders. I might do some of it, some of the time, but, frankly, even writing that makes it sound exhausting. Is there more? Voting. If you do nothing else at all activism-related, please vote. There’s my soapbox. But I still think there’s more activism out there. The subtle activism. The activism of introverts.
What is it? What does it look like? What are you expected to do? It looks like…anything. It looks like telling the story you want to tell that you don’t see on the shelves. It looks like bringing your authentic self to the table, to the written word, to the drawn line on the page. It looks like writing the stories or drawing the pictures that might one day label your book “BANNED.” It looks like creation. It looks like what we are already doing. What we will continue doing through the hard, contentious times. When it hurts, when you want to cry and curl up and ignore the world around you (and maybe taking a break from the world for a time is good, too). It looks like trying to just reach one person in the world, make a difference in some small way, instead of trying to enact sweeping changes.
Recently, a friend shared a story about a zebra. They have stripes for camouflage, they may look like an awkward horse---but the shadow they cast is a long one and when you change your perspective and see it from afar, their shadow looks like a black stallion. Your small act of activism might cast a longer shadow than you think.
My subtle activism started out for myself. I needed to process my own emotions when confronted with a shift in my status quo. It was easier to write about something less personal, so "I" became “You” and "everyone else" became “The World.” Like any good story or character, it evolved, took on a life of its own and met me exactly where I needed it to be when I needed it the most in my life. If my work touches even one person and makes their life a bit better, then my goal is accomplished. My voice is loud enough.
The world needs your voice. Your voice is loud enough. Go create.
Wednesday, May 11, 2022
by Dorothia Rohner
Every picture book has a unique story of how it was created.
Whenever a new book is released, are you curious?
Do you wonder . . .
Where did the idea come from?
Why did it appeal to an agent and editor?
What was the editing process?
How did the choice for the final art technique get determined?
How was the art created?
How did the agent, author-illustrator, art director and editor collaborate?
This virtual event will include a slideshow presentation that highlights
the process–from inspiration, sketches, drafts, final art and manuscript.
Short process videos using Procreate will also be shown.
Erica Rand Silverman from Stimola Live will host the conversation:
June 22, 2022
7 PM. EDT
Register in advance to save your spot!
We’re looking forward to sharing insight into how this book was born.
Wednesday, May 4, 2022
I spent yesterday sprawled across my backyard deck. A picture book dummy on my lap, a glass of lemonade tinkling in the sun at my elbow, and my brother’s golden retriever, Duke across my feet. It was heaven. This morning I woke to an inch of snow smattered across the lawn, each delicate tulip cup, I’ve been waiting to unfurl, overflowing with powder. If the specific is truly universal, you’ll relate this IRL metaphor to your creative journey too.
I left my life in New York tech with the hope of making picture books. It's all I have EVER wanted to do. When I arrived in my new studio with that singular goal - I was shocked to find myself more than a little lost. Where to begin?? I went on a hunch and took the long way, but here's what I would have done immediately if it had occurred to me - I would have discovered my ideal user.
When you design anything in the tech world, whether it's an app, website, or video game, your team will first sit down and create an ideal user. Waxing poetic on your future deliverable, you dream up your dream client. You decide how old they are, their interests, income bracket, how they spend their time, what they like to wear, who their friends are, the whole gamut. Then you'll google search a picture of them, (something like "Emo Seattle Musician") print it out, slap it up on every visible surface, and pull a NEVER ENDING STORY by giving them a name. You don't need to shout that name into the eye of a hurricane, but in my experience, it does help. That ideal user becomes your holy grail, everything you dooooooo, you do for them - Brian Adams style.
My ideal user is five years old. All she wants is a puppy and some new crayons. Her life's dream is to color ALL day, EVERY day. She spends more time in the ocean than on dry land. She is nearly always barefoot, except on Sundays when her mother begs her to wear the beautiful, understated silk dresses her grandmother sends from Korea. Instead, she opts for scratchy golden taffeta, multiple petticoats, and elbow-length gloves. If you are going to get dressed up, you may as well feel dressy, she figures. Her parents are struggling dreamers, but she has the richest childhood. On many mornings, as the Sun is waking up, her dad gets her out of bed for a walk on the beach. They collect shells and bits of sea glass. They talk about making their own stained glass window someday. Her favorite food group is Otterpops. She believes in mermaids. She cries when the boys in the park chase the pigeons. What did the pigeons ever do to them!??! She is constantly on the lookout for friends. Even though she has the best companions in her brother and sister, she is yet to know it. She forever wants her mom to read her LITTLE BEAR, especially BIRTHDAY SOUP. She loves books and dogs, and the sea best of all.
I am, of course, describing baby me. Here she is. Amber. I love her so.
Last year, after six years of struggling through my creative process, I framed four photographs of my ideal user on a hunch. I placed those photos in strategic spots in my studio.
Before realizing who I was making books for I left myself undecipherable bread crumb notes, often scavenged by birds. I'd walk in circles, looking for my path. Now I am simply following the glittery pebbles that catch the Sun.
I know what baby Amber wants. I guarantee that if you set out on your ideal user journey, you'll stumble onto the path your child artist wants you on too.
Since putting those pictures up, I've swapped season tickets to an indie film fest for an annual pass to the aquarium. Sometimes while swimming laps, I'll stop, grab my nose, and try to beat my summersault record. Sitting at a bar with friends, I'll order a dry Shirley Temple with extra cherries. This Easter, I bought a bag of jelly beans, plucked out all the orange and yellow ones, put them in plastic eggs, and stuck them around the house. I threw the disgusting remaining jelly beans out with the trash. Yes, from the outside it would appear that I'm losing it - but from the inside looking out, I am stepping into my own.
In the Fall of 2021, after six months of diligently following the glitter rocks on my path, Iunlocked a new level of creating in my brain.I found that my ideal user knew how drawing all day should feel. I'd forgotten. I discovered that the computer I thought was helping me was actually standing in the way of that delicious "please bring me a yellow crayon!" feeling. I went back to traditional media with a vengeance. Like the play-dough/cereal villages I once built for my plastic Care Bears, I gave myself cart-blanche to truly mix media. That means that I now combine ink and Elmer's glue, use hot pink regularly, and buy new supplies just because they "feel sparkly."
I left ideas I'd been begging to evolve - ideas my adult self had spent years fostering, behind. I now realize they felt hard to make that whole time because they were wrong for my ideal user. Six months later, I am poised to sell three books soon; one is about dogs, another is about the ocean, and the third is about the love of a special pet, kindness, and chosen family. I know my ideal user would LOVE them, and they're my favorite things I've ever made too.
I've left behind a butt-in-chair approach that felt "right" to my corporate-trained muscles, and I am opting instead for a butt poolside, butt in hammock, butt in front of a roaring fire. My ideal user is teaching me so much, but most of it has very little to do with picture books. It is about gratitude. That child version of me was thankful for every fluffy dandelion, soft kiss on her forehead, and dazzling star that twinkled on the water's surface.
This winter, I realized I needed to honor those sunrise walks I grew up taking with my dad. I added a "thank you walk" to my routine. Since the goal is not exercise (what child-self would brand a fun romp in the woods as "exercise??!"), I stop at the slightest thing that delights my soul. I am constantly gifted with ideas and insights while I put one foot in front of the other. This week I witnessed a lazy, fuzzy bumblebee tumble out of a tulip, played chicken with a wild turkey who refused to step off the sidewalk, and caught snowflakes on my tongue.
When we moved to Utah, we bought a home against a mountain. I wanted it desperately because it was surrounded by Quaking Aspens. As a girl, I'd summered with my grandmother here. We would delight in our mountain drives, giggling at the way the Aspens laughed with their leaves. For years now, on one wintery spring night, I go to bed, safe in the knowledge that there aren't even buds on our Aspens. The following day, they've burst alive with full-grown leaves. I thought this was a 12-hour process. THIS year I caught the tiniest green buds and watched as they became the smallest baby leaves on our branches over four days. I know why I saw them. I was LOOKING for them. My ideal user would have caught them year one. She is my superpower.
I do not know anything about your ideal user. THEY might like kicking things, or using a stick to dig in the earth. Once you find them, like me, you may still have what you expect to be a springy day in the studio suddenly covered by a blanket of freezing snow. On those days. You’ll do something else. On those days, you'll put the supplies away and hit your nearby indoor pool, or pack a picnic for the aviary. You'll buy a middle-grade novel and curl up with a fluffy blanket. You'll look for the signs. You’ll find them too.
Monday, March 28, 2022
by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
It's been a crazy couple of years, hasn't it? Not sure about the rest of you, but I found it a struggle to stay creative earlier during the pandemic. Things are gradually getting better, but I know many out there are still going through difficult times. In case it helps, here are just a few tips from KidLitArtist creators on how you can help re-discover your creative mojo:
Take the breaks you need to feed your soul. Molly Ruttan reminds us all to get outside, to experience the things we love, to be fully present in the moment. "Don’t wait to feel better, don’t wait for an anxiety attack! Get out there with an open heart — good feelings and inspiration will follow."
Get inspired by other media. Deepen your understanding of other cultures (which may in turn inspire your own work). Read Zahra Marwan's post about Understanding Culture Through Film and Literature: A Focus On Russian Animated Films.
Even if you only have a few minutes to spare a day, do something (even a small something) that helps you work on your craft. This could be doing a quick live sketch-doodle of something or someone nearby. It could be taking a closer study of a spread in a picture book (just pick a random page) and trying to figure out how the illustrator created an image. Do a mini-dive into a physical or digital art tool and learn or practice one new thing. If you use Photoshop, for example, see Robin Rosenthal's My Favorite Photoshop Tips And Shortcuts.
Dip your toes in something unfamiliar, suggests Tenaya Lena Gunter Brown. Experiment with drawing in a new style, try a new material or tool. Don't aim to create something for public viewing or for use in your usual work. See Tenaya's post for some suggestions.
Get together, either virtually or in person, with fellow book creators. I recommend smaller groups or one-on-one with someone you trust, to avoid just being a spectator. Talking with others about they are have or are still going through can help you gain perspective on your own situation. Always try to end your get-together with positive sharing or uplift, though. If you leave a conversation feeling more drained and anxious than before, then rethink your approach or the group dynamics.
The most important tip: BE KIND TO YOURSELF. Do what you need to in order to protect your own mental health. In trying to support others, don't spread yourself so thin that you are unable to support yourself or reenergize.
I found that giving myself permission to NOT be creative sometimes gave me the space I needed to gradually find my creative mojo again.
Do you have other tips that have worked for you or for others? Please do share them below!
DebbieOhi.com and @inkyelbows on Twitter.
Monday, March 21, 2022
I love working at home. I love my studio, I love my computer setup, I love the short walk to the kitchen to get coffee or make myself a smoothie. I have two dogs at my feet, and a cat who comes in to check on me regularly. I feel very blessed.
Under the influence of these lovely working conditions, the impulse to stay at home and work is strong, and this feeling has only been nurtured by the pandemic. But life needs balance, and I’ve slowly come to realize recently that I need to get out of my studio more!
The other morning as I was eating my breakfast and getting ready for another work day, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with anxiety. I had recently lost a longtime dog companion. I had also recently recovered from a mild case of covid, and during my isolation my work had piled up. I hadn’t been outside for a week. And then there were the newspaper headlines.
My solution that day? I went to the zoo. I shut down my computer and headed out with my daughter and my 6-month-old grandchild.
We saw animals. Wonderful, beautiful creatures from all over the world. But we also saw people. People from all over the world! Not only is my city incredibly diverse, but a zoo is a tourist destination. I heard at least four languages being spoken that day.
My mental camera clicked all day long. There were families, and people of all ages — Grandparents, adults, babies — and lots of kids. Big kids and little kids. Kids with hats; kids eating popcorn; skipping, running and toddling kids; kids being carried, kids in strollers, and one kid who shrieked in alarm when a François’ Langur monkey jumped off a tree trunk and landed right in front of him, on the other side of the glass. It was so refreshing to be actually experiencing what I love to draw! All the animals and all the people looked so beautiful to me. Even the kid crying in the parking lot looked beautiful.
My point is, it was a totally inspiring day. I’m not trying to say that one trip to the zoo erased all my anxiety! But I was infused with such a feeling of connection to the earth and humanity that for a little while the anxiety floated away as I allowed myself to be fully present. It felt like I had experienced the fullness of life on that wonderful breezy sunny day. It fed my soul. (And I must say that being in the company of my daughter and her baby helped a lot!)
So, this post is a reminder for myself, as much as it is for you! For those of you who are like me, and have spent the last couple of years fully immersed in a digital and/or indoor world, don’t forget to go outside. Take the breaks you need to feed your soul! Experience the things you love. Don’t wait to feel better, don’t wait for an anxiety attack! Get out there with an open heart — good feelings and inspiration will follow. And if venturing out into the (dare I say) post-pandemic world stresses you out, remember that it’s OK to take it slow; even a walk around the block or trip to the store can be a source of joy, if you let it. Your soul — and your art — will thank you.
Molly with her Grandchild enjoying the flamingos, and François Langur Monkeys
at the zoo. Photos by Sydney Moffat
www.prospectagency.com. Find her online at www.mollyruttan.com. IG: @mollyillo; Tw: @molly_ruttan; FB: Molly Ruttan & Molly Ruttan Illustration.
Wednesday, February 9, 2022
My newest book, BARN AT NIGHT came out recently, and I painted a bunch of snow scenes for it, which got me reminiscing about my favorite winter picture books – old and new! This was going to be a top 10 of my favorite wintry books, but there are too many!