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!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Reader’s Digest Version


When I was a kid I used to have these enormous dreams. They would span the entire night and have all kinds of crazy plot lines. I would wake up in the morning and I couldn’t wait to get downstairs to tell my family. I would get about five minutes into my epic tale before my mom would finally cave. She would sigh and sweetly ask me,

“Can you please tell us the Reader’s Digest version?”

It was always disappointing to hear that question, but it has helped hone my storytelling skills.

When I start a story now, I let that dream-filled kid take over and ramble through the epic tale. I let her take all the twists and turns she wants. As long as she makes it to the end of the story we started together, it’s a success. When she’s satisfied I reward her with ice cream (because it’s my favorite as well) and put her into the background of my brain.

While I’m still licking the ice cream off my spoon I go back and begin the process of taming the wild beast of a story on the page. All the while, I am asking the same question that shaped so many of my childhood tales: “What’s the Reader’s Digest version of this?”

Now, let’s be real: editing sucks. That’s why I’m still eating ice cream, but here are a few tips I use to help out.

When writing a picture book, it is important to focus on only one problem. Plot twists and complex characters are great for chapter books, but they clutter picture book pages. Try to keep in mind that the art will bring more to the table than can be put into words. Artwork can add the layers of emotions, twists, and other hidden layers that will bring the story to life.

Find the heart of your story before editing any words. The heart of your story should be one sentence that sums up your plot.  For example, the heart of “After the Fall” by Dan Santat might read something like: Humpty Dumpty overcomes his fear of heights. It’s a very simple idea and that’s just what you need.

When you start editing, use the words to sculpt the heart of your story instead of using a machete to cut words away.

Lastly, the most important step is to show it to another pair of eyeballs! A critique group is one of the strongest tools an artist or an author can have. It is the greenhouse where seedling stories bloom. A critique group can help hone the heart of the story or help sculpt the heart of the story using words that you might not have thought of on your own.

Editing is challenging, but keeping these tips in mind will make it easier to find your Reader’s Digest version. Good luck and happy editing :).