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.

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 :).

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Speed Interview with Rahele Jomepour Bell ...

2018 Winner of the SCBWI Summer L.A . Portfolio Showcase and Social Media Mentorship Award

When I heard that my dear friend and fellow Iowa illustrator won the portfolio showcase, it was no surprise. 

In fact, I had sent her a text message before she left for L.A that read…
“I think you could win the showcase.” 
It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving, talented, hardworking, fun, kind, humble person.

Congratulations again Rahele!

Her work has evolved on so many levels. From the serious subjects created for her MFA exhibition that depicted the harsh realities of women in Iran, to the playful, colorful, heartwarming scenes for children books, Rahele’s art captures the human emotion and spirit.

As you can imagine, she is in a flurry of deadlines but she has agreed to a speed interview. 

So… Tick Tock… Let’s get started.

Welcome Rahele to the KidLitartists blog. Congratulations for winning two amazing awards!
Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. 

Q: Over the years your fine art has shifted from serious dark subjects to what you are doing now in creating children’s books. 
Can you describe the evolution and how that shift occurred? What was it that attracted you to illustrating children’s books?

A: My focus has been always on picture book illustration since 2001 to present. But after moving from Iran to the United States, I was faced with the fact of having the freedom of speech, and making art without any self-censoring. And it ended up for me to work in different studios with a variety of choices such as textile, painting, printmaking, I decided to take this advantage of telling my own story as a woman in Iran and what I had experienced; Bad and good! 

So basically, I have been doing illustration all these years but not just in the children’s book area, I love exploring the power of narrative and visual storytelling in all versions of the art. 

Q: You seem to explore many techniques and media. What is your favorite technique and process?

A: The story by itself will tell me which media or technique is the best fit for it. Recently, simplicity is my favorite technique or style. 

Any media that helps me to develop the goal of simplicity regarding illustrating a picture book will be my friend for a while. I love collage with cutting papers I have collected or I have made. 

Q: There are many high and low points on any artist’s creative journey. When looking back from where you started out to where you are now, what was the hardest thing for you? What did you do to overcome the obstacles?

A: Reading this question and trying to answer it, gave me goosebumps and teary eyes (AND A BIG SMILE) on my face! When I moved to the United States, it was 7 years ago, my main goal was to be an international children’s book illustrator. I did not know anything about the picture book publishing industry here in the US. 

I did some research and I found SCBWI, I got my student membership, 

and I met SCBWI people here in Iowa. 

That was the start of seeing sparkles in my goal! My first national SCBWI conference in LA was 5 years ago and I remember I had severe headaches after coming back from the workshops and did not even understand half of the speeches as English is my second language! 

There were times that I told myself, I would not find my way in the picture book field. But then the next day in my studio I stood up strongly and told this to myself: 

“ You Don’t Give Up What You Love!”

I did not give up, I worked with all my heart and fell in love with an organization of people who support diversity. I applied for a mentorship through WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) and I got a chance to be a mentee with four wonderful art directors and artists. 

That changed my career life.  I signed with an awesome agent and I went to my third national SCBWI conference in LA and I won Portfolio Grand Prize and Social Media Mentorship with Debbie Ohi and Laurent Lin. 

Yes!!! Do not give up, show your work to the world, send your work to any opportunity you think it is a way of promoting your work such as participating in art fairs, conferences, free contest submission. 

The more you and your work get involved with people, the more friends you find, the more inspiration you get!

Q: Last question. Can you share any news on upcoming books or projects in the near future? 

A:  Right now, I am making illustrations for a picture book written by Maryann Macdonald  (Albert Whitman, April 2019). My agent Christy Tugeau Ewers at the CAT Agency and I are about to sign another book contract with another publisher. (So Excited)!!! I am also working on my PB dummy book with my amazing mentor Pat Cummings from the WNDB mentorship. I hope I can get it done before going to the National SCBWI conference in New York. I am so excited to meet art directors and publishing houses there! HUGE SMILE

Is there anything else that you would like to add or comment on? 

A: Please find any opportunity you can submit your work! First, you might think you won’t be selected but you never know! It is the art world and there are different tastes and they might like your work! 

Before applying for WNDB, I thought, nah, they won’t select me, this is huge!!! But I did, and I did get selected! I learned and still am learning a lot from that opportunity! Do not miss any opportunity! 

Oh! Also join SCBWI, it is the place where every author or illustrator feels at home! 

I would love to share what I know to my pals, so please do not hesitate to contact me and ask your questions.

Thank you friend!  You and your work are an inspiration to all. Wonderful tips and thoughtful answers.

If you would like to learn more about Rahele and her 
art you can find her online at:


Post by Dorothia Rohner
2104 Portfolio Mentee
Author: I Am Goose! (Clarion, 2019)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Character Design Tips for Children’s Book Illustration

One of the first steps when developing a story is to get to know your characters . You want to make sure that your character design is appealing, timeless and has a unique style.
Here are a few tips for developing a character design for children’s books:

  • Develop your character’s personality

You want to know everything there is to know about them: what they like, what they don’t like, what is their motivation, what is their conflict, etc.
I greatly recommend to check out this article by illustrator Dorothia Rohner where she talks about Character Bibles.

  • Silhouettes/ Negative Space

I like to start sketching my characters by making basic graphic shapes as silhouettes. This process helps so that we are able to recognize the character even if we don’t see too many details. When doing this make sure that the proportions of your character are varied so that the design is more interesting. Play with your designs so that the silhouettes are also asymmetrical. This could also help to create more dynamic shapes, you can use their costume, hair or other objects to play with the negative space and to play with the silhouette overall.

Character studies for "The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra", written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, 
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017. Brush pen, pencil and watercolor on paper.

  • Refine/details
Once you have the basic shapes from your silhouette you can go ahead and add the details. Some of these may be facial features, costumes, etc.

Character studies for "The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra", written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, 
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017. Pencil and watercolor on paper.

  • Consistency
Be consistent with the style that you’re using for your characters. For example if you’re using a more cartoony style make sure that all of your characters have the same style or if you’re going for a realistic style make sure that you are using this one and that it is accurate. Push the style so that it remains consistent and try to avoid staying in the middle of two very different styles. 

Illustrations from "The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra", written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, 
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017. Ink, watercolor and gouache on watercolor paper.

  • Style & personality

Creating a personal style takes years in the making. If you have found something that you enjoy doing and that you could spend 4, 8, 12 hours working non stop, then this is what you should be doing! -and you should continue developing it.

Illustration from "The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra", written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, 
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017. Ink, watercolor and gouache on watercolor paper.

  • Do not hide the hands of your characters
When drawing your characters make sure not to hide their hands on their back or in their pockets. We can tell a lot about a character’s personality by their hands.
  • Using Photo Reference
This is great for figuring out complex poses or to find out which poses are more interesting than others. You can use photo reference from either Internet or pictures taken by you. I love illustrator Kelley McMorris’ blog posts about doing your own reference pictures material, check them out!

  • Do what you love/share the love
Have lots of fun and explore things that feel right to you!
If you found this article helpful please feel free to share!

How do you create character designs and what is your process?

Thanks for stopping by!

Ana Aranda writes/illustrates for children and creates murals. She recently illustrated "The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra", written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books (2017), "Plus Fort Que Le Vent", written by Julia Billet, Éditions du Jasmin (2018) and "Our Celebración!", written by Susan Middleton Elya, Lee & Low Books (Fall 2018)
You can find her work at 
these different locations:
Twitter: @anaranda2
Instagram: @Anarandaillustration

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Making a Book Trailer in iMovie

For anyone looking for a simple approach to doing your own book trailer, I was able to teach myself how to create a simple trailer for both my books using iMovie. Here are some of the tutorials and resources I used. 

FIND GOOD EXAMPLES: First, I identified a couple of "mentor" trailers – I was interested in doing something similar to the trailer for If You Want to See a Whale and Beekle. I wrote down how long each image was on the screen, how many images were used, and how long the overall trailer lasted.

WRITE A SCRIPT: You don't usually want to give away the ending/climax in your trailer, so I drafted a rough script to use that was based around the manuscript of my book. I added notes for which images from the book I wanted to use.*

ADD IMAGES AND TEXT: After that I plopped images from the book into iMovie, and started adding text. It is very easy to use, but a quick orientation video on YouTube helped get me started (there are a ton of these intro videos - just search for one that matches the version of iMovie you have). To do a similar trailer to the one I made, you just need to be able to add:
- images (pan/zoom with Ken Burns tool)
- transitions (between images)
- text
- audio

Before you add your images figure out the size image you want to use: You don't want to have too low-res of images in your video, in case anyone watches it full screen (I made that mistake a few times and it was a pain to replace those images). I used images that were around 1920 x 1080px (the size of my screen).

General layout of iMovie - upper left will show options for images/audio/titles/transitions, upper right shows a preview of your movie, and the bottom is a timeline, where you do most of the editing. © Jen Betton
Closeup of upper left screen in iMovie - the menu options at the top allow you to add mages/audio/titles/transitions. I did not use any backgrounds. 
In general I tried to keep the visuals simple - I only used two types of "titles" (upper and lower) to place my text. I only used one type of transition (cross-dissolve), and no backgrounds. I did use the Ken Burns effect on pretty much every image (it allows you to crop, pan/zoom) but tried not to go overboard.

Using the Ken Burns tool – It shows up when you click on an image in your timeline, and is found under the crop tool visual. You set start and stop points for your pan/zoom.  ©Jen Betton
For most of the text I just used the native iMovie text tool, but for the fancy lettering from my book covers I needed to use an image overlay. You need Photoshop or other image-editing software for this - the advantage to it is you can use nicely designed text and put it anywhere on the screen. This video was really helpful: here.

How to put titles anywhere on your video. 
MULTI-STAGE KEN BURNS: Next, I wanted to have an image stop zooming and be still on the screen for a few moments at the end, and I wanted it to transition smoothly. To do this, I set up the "Ken Burns" effect I wanted, then watched the movie full screen. I paused it and took a screen shot of the end frame, and used that for my still image, which I inserted immediately after the image with the pan/zoom effect. I did this for both trailers, so that I could stop or shift direction of the pan/zoom for the end text. This was much easier than trying to align the crop and zoom start and stop locations on the images.

You can see here for the effect I used at the end of the TWILIGHT CHANT trailer, I used three different instances of the same image. I created the middle pan/zoom effect first, then went back and created full-screen screenshots of the start and stop points and added those screenshots before and after the pan/zoom. This allowed me to 1) zoom out slowly, 2) then quickly pan/zoom to the right, 3) then slowly zoom in instead of all at one speed/direction. If you use this technique be sure NOT to put any transitions between the images you are using for a smooth, continuous shot.

AUDIO: This was by far the most difficult part for me. Finding a song that had the right feel, instrumental but not classical or new age, modern but not pop or rock, with the right tempo.... it's not my forte! But the website I used has a lot of great songs, which you can search by instrument or mood. Audio Network allows you to license the songs for a very small fee, and then you can adjust the volume level, fade in and out, trim the length, and even adjust the speed of the song in iMovie. Here is one of the tutorial videos I looked at: here.
Then it was just a matter of exporting the file and uploading it to YouTube! Matthew Winner was wonderful enough to premier my book trailer on his website, along with an interview, here.

You can view both the book trailers for my books here. I encourage you to try making your own! It was much easier than I thought it would be, and a lot of fun.

*for traditionally published authors/illustrators it's important to get permission from your editor to use more than just a few images from the book – your contract will specify how many. Luckily, my editors for both books were on board with using a larger selection of images.

Jen Betton wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG (Penguin-Putnam), and illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT (Clarion-HMH). You can find her here: