Thursday, March 14, 2019

Postcards: Overcoming a creative dry spell with a little promotion

I try to work on something related to children’s book illustration/writing everyday — when I am feeling creatively stuck, I turn to promoting my work. That way I accomplish something everyday, even during a creative slump. Recently, I finished my first mailing of postcards and here’s what I learned along the way. 

What should go on a postcard?
Limit the artwork to one or two pieces of your best work with a strong narrative and characters. The purpose of the postcard is to pique the interest of your viewer and bring them to your website. 
Include your name, contact info and website. 
Include your website/name on any side with artwork. That way if your postcard gets pinned up on a bulletin board (either side facing out), the art director, editor, etc. doesn’t have to take it down to find you.

I have collected a lot of postcards at SCBWI conferences over the years, and here are some that I find most effective.

Check out others’ postcards at conferences. Which ones stand out to you?

Create YOUR mailing list.
This is the fun part. Go to a bookstore or local library and start researching books you love! 

I keep an ever-growing excel sheet of the names of art directors, editors, and agents who have worked on my favorite illustrated books. Figuring out the names of art directors, editors, and agents requires a little detective work, but it’s exciting, especially when you start discovering trends of the same people working on many of your favorite books! Check book interiors, sometimes they include the names of editors, agents, and art directors. Search google and Publishers Marketplace and you can usually uncover this information.  You can then verify names and publishing houses and look up addresses in SCBWI’s most recent version of the THE BOOK: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market. I use the online/ digital versions because it is easy to search by name or publishing house, etc. Publishing people change positions and houses often so its important to make sure your using the most up-to-date sources, and updating each time you send a new mailing.  Ideally you want to send mailings 4 times a year — a mailing at the beginning of February, April, July and November. 

Where to get postcards printed?
I usually search for the best deal online. I printed my last two batches of postcards with Vistaprint — they often run promotions.  There are many other companies that print postcards.  I love the quality of Moo cards, but they are too expensive for my budget. Always print extra postcards. Your list will continue to grow. Carry extra postcards in your bag, bring them to SCBWI events.  Next time when someone asks you about your work, hand them a postcard! 

Send them out into the world, and get back to work.
It was satisfying to put a big stack of postcards into the mailbox. Even better, after this process of looking through postcards of my peers’ work, researching illustrators, and art directors and editors whose work I admire, I felt really inspired to run back to the drawing table. So if you’re feeling creatively stuck, maybe try a little promotion.

Below are links to several other blogs on promotional postcards I found helpful:

The Route to Publishing as an Author/Illustrator by Eliza Wheeler

Sara Gavryck-Ji is an illustrator living in Berkeley, CA. 
Follow her work at or on Instagram.

Monday, March 4, 2019

KidLitArtists Round-Up: News, Tips and Resources - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

It's been nearly nine years since I was chosen for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program and I've so enjoyed watching other Mentees' careers blossom as well. Here's a list of our books that have come out or are coming out in 2019 (thanks to Jessica Lanan for compiling this list).

I feel so lucky to be part of this amazing community of children's book illustrators/writers. Our KidlitArtists blog and social media is not officially part of the SCBWI but is run by volunteers, and I wanted to give kudos to those who are currently helping behind-the-scenes.

Thanks to Jen Betton, who organizes our blog posting schedule.

Thanks to Meridth McKean Gimbel, Ana Aranda, Susan Ghahremani, Alexandra Thompson, Gail Buschman, Christina Forshay for all their help with our social media. You can find their posts via @KidLitartists on Twitter and Instagram.


Mega-congrats to Juana Martinez-Neal on her Caldecott Honor for ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME (her author-illustrator debut)!!!!


How Note-Taking Helps Me As A Creative - by Maple Lam. Maple gives us a sneak peek into how her note-taking obsession inspires stories and art (and sometimes results in publisher interest!).

Self-Sabotage: Recognizing The Voice And Getting Back On Track - by Jeslyn Kate. Tips on how to recognize when your inner voice is trying to sabotage your creativity and how to get back on track.

Traveling Art Suitcase - by Dorothia Rohner. Dorothia shares photos of her amazing traveling art suitcase and what she carries in it.

Artist In The Archives: How (and Why) You Should Be Learning With University Children's Literature Research Collections - by K-Fai Steele. K-Fai spent three weeks at the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota and shares what she learned, encourages others to apply for the Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Fellowship. Lots of photos!

A Short Guide To Book Launch Parties - by Liz Wong. Liz offers great tips on the whens, wheres and hows of scheduling your book launch, describes what happens at a book launch, offers suggestions on swag and extra activities.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is an author/illustrator from the 2010 Class of SCBWI Mentees. Upcoming book: I'M WORRIED, a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie, launches from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers June 4, 2019.

You can find Debbie on her kidlit blog, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

How Note-taking Helps Me As a Creative

I have a thing with taking notes.

As a big non-fiction fan who geeks history and science, I jot down every interesting details. Stacks of notebooks pile up over the years.

I enjoy making my own history timelines. Which Chinese emperor was on the throne when Queen Victoria reigned? What was going on in England when Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel? It's fascinating to piece together my own jigsaw puzzle.

A Notebook from Year 1000 to 2000.

Sometimes I pick a very specific timeline to research.

A notebook about the US Founding Fathers.

And I get intrigued and try to make stories out of them.

Comic samples and sketches.

The truth is, I couldn't find the right story within them most of the time. I'd tell myself: It hasn't worked...yet. But it will come. One day.

It means knowing A LOT of trivial facts – which makes for great conversation starters.

It means watching movies and go: Why did they store the Robonaut in the Kibo module? Isn't that suppose to be in the US Lab?

Sketch-notes on the International Space Station.

It means knowing which picture books depict which time eras. Maybe one day it can come in handy at a school visit. Who knows?

Learning history through picture books & graphic novels.

It means creating images for fun from my timelines – because it feels right.

Illustrations on the modern history of information and communication.

And sometimes, in those very very lucky times, a publisher has a project that matches up precisely with my deep passion, and that's when I know I'm ready for it.

"Frenemies in the Family", written by the brilliant Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Maple Lam,
published by Crown.

Interior pages of "Frenemies in the Family".

In the end, you just have to trust that all the dots will connect one day. And honestly, even if the dots don't connect, the journey of learning and creating is rewarding in and of itself.


Maple Lam wrote and illustrated MY LITTLE SISTER AND ME and WHERE IS THE TREASURE? She illustrated FRENEMIES IN THE FAMILY by Kathleen Krull, WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A TOOLBOX? by Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri, and TWO GIRLS WANT A PUPPY by Ryan and Evie Cordell.

More about Maple at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Self Sabotage: Recognizing the Voice and Getting Back On Track

Do you ever have moments where something really awesome happens and you suddenly
hear your inner voice turn to the Dark Side? Things like, “You’re not good enough. They’re
going to find out and then there’s going to be a real mess.” or “Enjoy this little breakthrough
while it lasts. It’s all downhill from here.” begin to spiral in your head.

Awful stuff, right?

This is a little voice I like to call Self Sabotage. It is something we all experience as humans.

As creative entrepreneurs, it is the passenger constantly sitting in the back seat next to Fear.
Together, these guys can be a real kick in the pants. When Fear starts singing “I can’t, you
can’t, we all can’t!” Sabotage weasels right in to offer “solutions”. These “solutions” hold
us back.

Why does this happen?

Your brain is wired to keep you in your comfort zone, to keep you safe. When something

happens that changes what your brain has defined as “normal” or “comfortable”, it sends
in its trusty companions Fear and Self Sabotage to bring us back into the zone before we
get hurt or in trouble...but it’s a double-edged sword because your brain does it for any
kind of “stressful” situation. If you don’t have the tools to contend with what’s happening
or even realize it’s happening, you can end up holding yourself back before you even
get started. Trust me. I’ve been there.

In 2014 I had the great honor of winning one of the six Mentorship awards presented at the

SCBWI LA conference. It was one of the best unexpected experiences of my career. Self
Sabotage made it one of the worst.

I’ll level with you: I had no idea that the award existed. It was my first national conference

(somethingoutsideof my “normal comfort zone”) and I had my learning pants on. Of course,
I had the big dreamof being discovered by an agent or a publisher; but I was totally
shocked when my name was announced as a winner. As my stress levels skyrocketed,
my brain sent in its trusty companions whoset to work right away.
“They’ve made a mistake!” were the first words that popped into my brain.

Fear’s words did the job and Sabotage stepped in to seal the deal. I began to look for

the worst. Any small comment from a mentor meant to help or explain became
devastating because I was sure they’d discovered was out of place. I was the mistake.
I wasn’t good enough to be there. The negativevoice inside my head pummeled me
to the point where I didn’t hear all of the outstanding feedback and support I was offered
until much later….about a year later...when I was able to finally push forward once again.

This was the first major spike of success while working directly toward my dream

of becoming a children’s book illustrator so my little frienemy caught me off-guard.
Don’t let it catch you unawares. Instead, be on the lookout for Sabotage’s favorite
tricks like these:

Avoidance - Does that new Netflix show sound a lot more enticing than the project you’re

working on? Maybe the house suddenly looks too filthy to live in so it must be cleaned before
you can sit and work in the studio. There are a thousand reasons to procrastinate on a
project, especially when it’s more prestigious or a new kind of challenge you haven’t
faced before.

Create Conflict - Do you feel really upset about someone or something? Is it maybe

something that normally doesn’t bother you? Are you overbooking yourself so that
your schedule is too full? There are all kinds of subtle ways we create conflict to avoid
dealing with Sabotage

Run Away -  Maybe the project is way too hard or it’s going to take up way too much time.
It’s probably better to abandon it before getting in too deep...right? It’s better to leave now
and keep your reputation intact instead of ruining it over a project that’s too much to handle.

Bare Minimum - If running away isn’t an option, do you find yourself thinking “Well I’ll just
do the minimum of what needs to be done so I won’t be as invested when things go sideways.”?

When these signals surface it’s time to take on Sabotage because you’ve got this!
Some tools I use to deal with Sabotage include:

Make goals: When I first started freelancing I convinced myself that I was not a planner.
If you don't plan, you can't fail, right? However, two years ago I found a quote by
Walt Disney that states: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” This little quote was
enough to convince me. I went all in and put my career dreams on paper. I made it a
priority to plan my journey. I started setting goals, writing to-do lists, and taking the
time to do self-evaluations once a month. Although I haven't completed all my goals,
I have set milestones to work toward and that drives me forward in a way that

"going with the flow" never did.

Turn up the volume on self-awareness: Start paying special attention to the little details.

Check in with yourself to make sure you are on the path you want to be.

Get support: The best way to achieve your goals is to hold yourself accountable.
There are so many ways to connect with fellow artists now, through online groups like
SCBWI, and local events. Use those connections to set yourself up for success!
Share your goals with your creative community and have them share theirs.

Together, you can hold each other accountable and push each other to new heights!

Celebrate Your Achievements: It’s really easy to get caught up in the grind and not
stop to celebrate what you’ve accomplished. Stop for a second and take stock.
Have you completed any of your goals recently? If so, take the time to pour yourself
a little glass of bubbly and do a little happy dance. Maybe it’s worth having a dessert?

No matter what you choose, take the time to celebrate you!

Change is hard, even good change; but you’ve got this! Marie Forleo said,
“When it comes to joy and success, your built-in limit is completely adjustable.”
So tell Fear and Sabotage to quit backseat driving and take the wheel.

~Jeslyn Kate

Jeslyn Kate writes/illustrates for children and teaches art.
You can find her work at these different locations:
Instagram: Jeslyn Kate
Twitter: @jeslynkate

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Traveling Art Suitcase

I love to travel, but do not like leaving my art supplies at home.  In the past, it usually takes me forever to pack and figure out the supplies I want to bring. Usually I throw in a mix of media, papers, paints, pencils etc which ends up as a big mess. I found a solution to this problem. I now have the perfect art suitcase for road trips so that I can work traditionally and experiment. 

I had been searching for an old fashioned steamer trunk with drawers and shelves. 
But they were either too expensive or too heavy. 
When I found this professional make-up suitcase online I was overjoyed. 
I liked this model because it was soft sided and not too expensive. 

It holds absolutely everything I need or want when I am traveling. 
All I need to do it open it up and find a table to work on.

Below are a few photos of how this magic Mary-Poppins-like bag works. 
1- Entire Bag on Wheels

Sections: There are two sections: TOP

The top can be detached and transported separately. 
It opens with two outward folding shelves. This is where I keep my go-to pencils and misc art supplies. 
It's deep enough for more supplies, sketchbooks, and misc items.

The back has some rounded separators where you can keep short brushes, pencils or in this case colored papers. 


On either side of the suitcase there are pouches that are big enough to hold spray fix, 
matte mediums, glue or anything that comes in a larger bottle.

The top flap of the bottom section opens up to another section with room for paper, sketchbooks and shown here my table easel. The back of the flap contains three velcro pouches where I keep my charcoals, pencils, erasers, pens etc. 

The entire front flap opens with two zippers on both sides. It reveals a pouch where I keep more paper, long rulers, stencils etc. 
And it also contains eight drawers were I keep can keep all of my supplies organized.
Each of the drawers can be detached and taken to the table.

My traveling art suitcase came in really handy this past winter when we got snowed in a South Dakota blizzard.  I was able to use the hotel table pull out my art suitcase and paint.

The entire suitcase folds back together nicely and is perfect for a road trip. 
I wouldn’t try to take this on an airplane though! 
The only downside is that when packed completely full it weighs more or less, approximately, exactly 67 lbs!

One other benefit of having this traveling art suitcase, is that when my grandchildren see it, they are inspired and to want to make art. That is a huge bonus. I would imagine also, that if you don’t have much space to work in your home, then
this might also be a great option. 

I’m on my way to NYC for the SCBWI conference. Hope to see some of you there! 
I hope this post inspires you to get your art supplies organized for any of your upcoming road trips.

Author: I Am Goose! (Clarion, 2020)
Twitter: @dorothiar
Instagram: @dorothiar

Monday, January 21, 2019

Artist in the Archives: How (and Why) You Should Be Learning With University Children’s Literature Research Collections

Dummy for In My Garden created by Roger Duvoisin (written by Charlotte Zolotow)
With a collection of over 100,000 children's books and original manuscripts, artwork, galleys, color proofs, and other preliminary materials from 1,700 authors and illustrators, the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis is, according to its website, “one of the world's great children's literature archives.” I spent three weeks there this past summer as the Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Collection Fellow digging through boxes of sketchbooks and drawings from some of my favorite kidlit creators; James Marshall, Arnold Lobel, Alice and Martin Provensen, Aliki, Edward Ardizzone, Betsy Lewin, Roger Duvoisin, and many more.

The stacks are where items are stored. There were rows and rows and rooms and rooms of these aisles. It was like IKEA, but all preliminary materials and books. It was incredible.

I didn’t know how profound of an impact this funded fellowship at the Kerlan would have on me. I encourage anyone reading this post to apply for the Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Fellowship (due annually on January 31st). It gave me the opportunity to set aside three weeks to dedicate to looking at archives, and it being funded allowed me to go to Minneapolis without financial burden.

Regardless if you apply for this fellowship and receive it or not, the fantastic thing about the Kerlan is that anyone can make an appointment to see items in the collection. You do not need to be a researcher or be affiliated with an institution to look at Arnold Lobel’s dummies; you can visit and see materials as someone who is simply interested. In this way it’s similar to a public library’s children’s literature collection, which I wrote about on kidlitartists in 2017.

The writer of this blog post and some Marshall watercolors

If you write and draw picture books it’s critical to spend a lot of time reading books. I would also argue that another critical piece of your never-ending education should be time spent in children’s literature archives and research collections. Archives give you a glimpse into an author-illustrator’s process and work. When you compare their preliminary materials to their final book you have a much deeper understanding of what went into making and developing it.

Before I went to the Kerlan I didn’t realize how alive archives can be. The Kerlan is constantly acquiring new items and curating exhibits that offer different interpretations of the collection. One upcoming must-see exhibit is called The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter which offers a brilliant survey and exploration of the way that children’s literature has contributed to and reflected cultural norms, politics, and society.

Many pieces in the Kerlan Collection resonated with me and I wanted to share some materials that I uncovered with the support of the collection’s Curator, Lisa Von Drasek, and the Assistant Curator Caitlin Marineau. Curators, like librarians, are basically walking resources themselves and I was lucky to be able to access their wisdom and their support in connecting the dots between pieces in the collection.

Onto the images...

One of the first items I looked at was Arnold Lobel's handwritten manuscript for Frog and Toad Are Friends. Archives can be a surprisingly emotional experience; you're closer than you've ever been to the creator. It's highly intimate. This passage describes what could be interpreted as deep love and companionship: "What you see is the clear, warm light of April and it means that we can begin a whole new year together, Toad... We will skip through the mountains and run through the woods and swim in the river. In the evenings we will sit right here on this front porch and count the stars." Arnold Lobel was closeted for most of his life, and died of HIV/AIDS in 1987. I think ‘Frog and Toad’ really was the beginning of him coming out,” says his daughter in a 2016 New Yorker interview.

Dummy for The Great Blueness, 1968

Lobel also made incredibly beautiful dummies. These were all handmade and bound (sewn together and reinforced with bookcloth). Lobel worked in color separations, so perhaps he had to make these very finished dummies as a way of communicating what final art would look like.

Spread from the dummy for The Great Blueness

Same spread from the published book The Great Blueness

I was quickly sucked into the Kerlan's collection of James Marshall's sketchbooks. They have about 44 of them (and this isn't even all of his sketchbooks! Many are in other collections!). Marshall is an archivist's dream; he recorded nearly everything in bound notebooks and then donated them to collections.

One box of James Marshall's sketchbooks. There were many boxes.

When looking at his sketchbooks you can see how much of a merciless self-editor Marshall was. He appeared to experience a lot of frustration; I noticed several drawings with scribbled out faces and his own commentary that drawings were not up to snuff.

"This is shit."

"Doesn't look like a kid."
Another thing I observed in Marshall's sketchbooks was his interactions with other creators in the children's literature community including Maurice Sendak, "Ted" Gorey, Hillary Knight, and more. In one section he writes about how he heard that one of Sendak's preliminary drawings for Outside, Over There sold for $12,000. In another passage he writes about hanging out with Arnold Lobel.

"B drives us to New York as usual. Terrifying trip as usual. Arnold Lobel comes over. We get blind drunk. Dinner downstairs at Meson Toledo."

"Arnold Lobel as a hard hat" sketchbook drawing by Marshall

Marshall self-portrait?

One interesting thing about seeing items from the Kerlan was seeing the different scales that artists worked at, and how they used a page. Alice and Martin Provensen worked at vastly different scales, and their use of ink and their ability to crowd so much storytelling into a small space was amazing.

Alice and Martin Provensen. Author of this blog post's hand floating over the artwork to show scale

"The Year of Mother Goose" by Alice and Martin Provensen. Ink on vellum?

I'm fascinated by the Provensen's story of collaboration in picture books, inspired by their jobs working as animators. According to an interview Alice did with Leonard Marcus they worked in the same space with their drawing tables back-to-back. "If you weren't satisfied with a drawing and didn't know what to do next the other person could help you along. Of course, it had to be the right person, one who understood what you were trying for." She continued, "We were a true collaboration. Martin and I really were one artist."

The Kerlan has a small Maurice Sendak collection, also of very small drawings, most of them for A Hole is to Dig and I'll Be You and You Be Me.

Aliki is one of my favorite illustrators, partially because she seemed to allow herself to experiment so much with materials and style. I'm fascinated generally with how technology was explained to children over 50 years ago, and Computers at Your Service (1962) does not disappoint in terms of the utopian promise of computers' impacts on everyday life.

A typical cart loaded with preliminary materials I requested

There was so much more that I saw that's not in this post, and I encourage everyone who makes picture books to visit the Kerlan Collection, or to see if there's an open-access children's literature research collection (CLRC) near you.

If you want to see additional materials I photographed from the Kerlan I archived some pieces through an Instagram story (you’ll need to log in to see it). You may also want to read a blog post I wrote for the University of Minnesota Libraries blog What an archive reveals about the life and process of a children's book creator which is, in a way, a tribute to James Marshall and a look at his work and him through his sketchbooks.


K-Fai Steele writes, draws, and lives in San Francisco. She has three books coming out in 2019. Noodlephant by Jacob Kramer (Enchanted Lion Books) is launching at ALA Midwinter 2019 in Seattle followed by a west coast tour. Follow her on instagram (@areyouokfai).
A Normal Pig is her author/illustrator debut (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Childrens, June 2019).

She's also illustrating Old MacDonald Had a Baby by Emily Snape (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, Fall 2019).