Saturday, March 23, 2019

Portfolio vs. story

I am about to tell you something that may be incredibly controversial, particularly given the Portfolio Mentorship Award I received this past August at the 2018 SCBWI LA Summer Conference. If you have been struggling with your art, your portfolio, finding your voice, or just finding traction in the industry then I would like to hypothesize that the best thing you can do for your work is to forget about your portfolio.

Wait. What?!

Don’t get me wrong: the portfolio is incredibly important. It is your professional face, your body of work that showcases your skill as an artist. BUT. (There is always a but.) But if you are anything like me, you have worked many years on your artistic skills. But if you are anything like me, you started working on “improvements” to your portfolio for all the wrong reasons. But if you are anything like me, how long have you worked on your storytelling skills?

To expand on this let me expand on the lessons I've learned over the years. I am not someone who fell into children’s illustration overnight. I’ve known since college that I’ve wanted to illustrate children’s books. I graduated college in 2006. I got job as a graphic designer in 2007. I kept trying to improve my illustration. I started taking classes at the Animation Guild in Burbank.

Six YEARS later, I brought my first portfolio to the summer conference in 2013.



1. Are you working on your portfolio for the RIGHT reasons? 

During my first portfolio review I got useful feedback about varying the perspectives on my scenes, working on my colors, and adding sequential pieces with the same character. I sat next to Corinna Luyken before we both had our first portfolio reviews. We were both nervous wrecks. When she won a Portfolio Mentorship, I was so proud of her, but still I asked myself, “What made her work stronger than mine?” When I got home I made a list of all the things I needed to do to make my portfolio better, stronger, more:

  • Dramatic Lighting
  • High Angle Views
  • Low Angle Views
  • More perspective
  • More depth
  • More overlap
  • Human Children (eek!)
I had a second portfolio review where I got feedback that has stuck with me: “Your art makes me say, ‘So what?’ I want it to make me say, ‘Now what?!’” I needed this information, but I wasn’t ready for this information.

Looking back, I can see clearly why I made no decisive improvements that following year: I was working towards the wrong goals for picture book illustration. There was no “STORY” or “CHARACTER” on this list.

2. Find the characters and stories that make you laugh and smile (or dare I say...that “spark joy”). Draw those. Then draw them some more. And some more.

In 2014, I took a night class at Art Center with Marla Frazee called Finding your Voice. I loved that class. But I struggled in that class. SO MUCH. I remember what I started working on for the first assignment: drawing a girl in overalls. I remember my character was not well received because she, well, had no character. She was bland. We were supposed to work on our own stories, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. I didn’t know what I could add to the world that would be interesting. I only have vague recollections of what I worked on in that class--the stories of the other students lingered in my memory more than my own story.

A year later, I sat in Adam Rex’s breakout session where he asked us to draw a gym teacher based on the animal figurines he was passing around. I drew the scariest, most aggressive tiger gym teacher I could in 5 minutes or less and, on a whim, I added a little, geeky pig with large glasses that he was picking on. I was very proud of my gym teacher. So proud that I showed it to Adam Rex when he walked around. His response to the gym teacher: meh. His response to my pig (paraphrased): that is an amazing character and so simply drawn! I stared at my pig. I thought about my pig. I started doodling my pig.



Then my friend Danielle Heitmuller asked me one single, incredibly important question: “What does your pig want more than anything?” I knew the answer immediately: video games. I also knew my pig’s bane: sports.



I could not stop thinking about my pig. When I went to meet my friends to draw at a coffee shop on Sundays, they would draw the other customers and I would draw my pig. Eventually, I had a binder full of pig drawings.  

At the start of 2016, I wrote for the first time. The first 250-word draft was one of the hardest things I ever did. Harder than drawing. But writing helped me figure out what my pig story wasn't (a picture book) and what it might be with a lot more work.

3. You only have so much time and energy. Make it count.

I found a portfolio mentor in 2015 and worked on my portfolio for a year in between other projects. I got more frustrated and less quality work. My portfolio was worse than before.  Working on a random portfolio piece that you have no emotional investment in take just as much time, storytelling, and brain power as creating an image for one of the stories you're working on and you only have a limited number of hours every week to sit at my desk and work. You still have to live life, pay the bills, eat healthy, exercise, and, importantly, relax. (I'm still working on that last one.)



4. Be vulnerable.

In my 2018 class with Marla, I started working on a new picture book dummy about a rocket ship. Halfway through the class, there was an event at work that blindsided me. I didn’t know how to react, but I knew my feelings were complicated. I put those raw feelings down on the page and created a completely different picture book dummy in one month. This story moved my class more than any of my other stories had previously. I tapped into something real and relatable--and a bit vulnerable.



5. Always try. You never know what might happen.

I went back to the rocket ship story and worked on it for 6 months, wanting it ready in time for the summer conference. 1 month before the conference I redrew the entire dummy because something wasn’t working on the story. 2 weeks before the conference I gave up on having the dummy at the conference because it still wasn’t right and focused on cleaning up individual images from the story. 2 days before the conference, I was frustrated and pulled all the images from the rocket story OUT of the portfolio. I still wasn’t happy with them.

I grabbed any images from my other stories that I thought were decent and pulled them together: my pig story, my panda and fish story, my emotionally vulnerable story, a ballerina story that grew out of trying to draw more children over the past year. And a few solitary pieces, including my twitter banner image. I thought my portfolio was a hot mess. I assembled my portfolio in my hotel room 2 nights before the portfolio showcase. I WRINKLED my portfolio one night before the portfolio showcase and panicked. I tried to iron the pages; it didn’t work. I assembled the one dummy I did bring the morning of the portfolio showcase. I turned it in and thought: Well, at least it’s stronger than last year’s portfolio.



Then somehow, I was chosen as one of the winners of the portfolio mentorship award. I was shocked, because I know I’m surrounded by people whose work is stronger and more cohesive than mine. But somehow my art--no, my stories and characters--resonated with the judges. If I hadn’t tried despite my perceived failures, I wouldn’t have won anything.

So let me revisit that controversial statement:
Forget about your portfolio...and follow your stories. They will lead you down unexpected paths, mirror your lives in unexpected ways, and take you further than you ever thought you could go.

P.S. My pig story is not done, but it will be one day. I love that little pig. 

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




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Sara Gavryck-Ji is an illustrator living in Berkeley, CA. 
Follow her work at www.SaraGavryck-Ji.com 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.


EXCITING MEMBER NEWS:

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

RECENT POSTS:

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.

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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.

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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:
Website:www.jeslynkate.com
Instagram: Jeslyn Kate
Twitter: @jeslynkate
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeslynkateart

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. 

BOTTOM:

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.

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