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:


























Twitter: twitter.com/RaheleJomepour


--------------------------
Post by Dorothia Rohner
2104 Portfolio Mentee
DorothiaRohner.com
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.

www.audionetwork.com
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: 
www.jenbetton.com
@jenbetton
facebook.com/jenbettonillustration

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Kidlit Loves All Kids: The Need to Create Books for Children With Mental Illnesses.


I want to talk about a something that is dear to my heart, that is unfortunately a topic that I think many of us would prefer to avoid: mental illness. Even typing those words I can feel the heavy stigma associated with it, but in this blog post, I want to share my own personal experiences and hopefully we can all get a better perspective on how our craft, as children's book writers and illustrators, can better help the mental health of our child readers.

When I was little, I often had stomach aches during day and nightmares at night. Many kids have those sorts of issues, but for me, they were manifestations of undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Most people associate PTSD with those who have served in the military, but PTSD can occur among anyone who suffers from a traumatic event, and often goes undiagnosed among survivors of child abuse. For me, certain smells, sounds, and phrases could make me freeze up into a little ball as they reminded me of events I had lived through. I was a friendly kid at school, but on the inside I felt very alone and hopeless. And I didn't feel safe enough to reach out to the adults in my life. More than 20 years later I was diagnosed with PTSD, and although these events still affect me, with my family's support and with the help of my therapists, I've learned to cope with my trauma.

As a kid, before I had this network of great people,  I found my strength and comfort in books. I felt like books understood me when others didn't. They empowered me, and helped me bear the unbearable. I wrote a blog post about my gratitude for them last year, but, in light of recent events in the news, I've been thinking about other children out there with similar experiences. Do they have books that speak to them? Do they see themselves in the books they read?


According to the National institute of Mental Health1 in 5 children, at some point during their lives, will have a mental health crisis. That's a little over 20%. That would be at least 5 children in your average American classroom. To me, that is a shockingly high statistic. In addition to that, every year, about 43.6 million American adults (or 18% of the total adult population in the United States) suffer from some type of mental illness, to include enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. 


There are more people with mental illnesses than you might realize. It likely affects some of the children you know, and some of their parents too. Why then are there so few characters in children's  picture books through middle grade books, that have mental illnesses or children that come from broken homes? And why is there such a hesitation to include darker themes?

Matt de la Peña wrote an article, Why We Shouldn’t Shield Children From Darkness, that I deeply appreciated. In it he said: 

"A few weeks ago, illustrator Loren Long and I learned that a major gatekeeper would not support our forthcoming picture book, Love, an exploration of love in a child’s life, unless we “softened” a certain illustration. In the scene, a despondent young boy hides beneath a piano with his dog, while his parents argue across the living room. There is an empty Old Fashioned glass resting on top of the piano. The feedback our publisher received was that the moment was a little too heavy for children. And it might make parents uncomfortable. This discouraging news led me to really examine, maybe for the first time in my career, the purpose of my picture book manuscripts. What was I trying to accomplish with these stories? What thoughts and feelings did I hope to evoke in children?

...Loren and I ultimately fought to keep the “heavy” illustration. Aside from being an essential story beat, there’s also the issue of representation. In the book world, we often talk about the power of racial inclusion — and in this respect we’re beginning to see a real shift in the field — but many other facets of diversity remain in the shadows. For instance, an uncomfortable number of children out there right now are crouched beneath a metaphorical piano. There’s a power to seeing this largely unspoken part of our interior lives represented, too. And for those who’ve yet to experience that kind of sadness, I can’t think of a safer place to explore complex emotions for the first time than inside the pages of a book, while sitting in the lap of a loved one."


This idea really resonated with me. While YA has done an admirable job on this front, we haven't made similar strides in picture books to middle grade. I recognize the absolute value of the #weneeddiversebooks movement, and the steps it has taken to diversify our idea of protagonists, but our definition of diversity needs to be inclusive of those whose lives are touched by mental illness.

There is still a stigma attached to mental illnesses, and it seems like it is inappropriate to talk about these conditions, like it's airing dirty laundry. But this secrecy and silence reinforces all these negative stereotypes. Childhood can be hard enough with a mental illness, but we need to make sure that we write more books that don't make it harder for our readers.

Books were a saving grace in my troubled childhood. It's my hope that as advocates for children, we reach out to all children with our stories. All children need to feel seen and understood. #KidlitLovesAllKids







Some books that feature mental illness:

-Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
-The Red Tree - Shaun Tan
-The Bridge to Teribithia by Katherine Paterson
-Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand 
-The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Recommendations of writing themes:

-Kids or parents with mental illnesses.
-Characters that go to therapy.
-Healthy coping skills with trauma.
-Kids with scary home lives.


More articles or resources.




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Meridth McKean Gimbel is a freelance writer and illustrator who loves anything art related, story infused, and chocolate covered. When not working on her illustrations or writing stories, she is busy building a time machine so she can hang out with her pirate buddies and find buried treasure. 

Meridth is represented by Linda Pratt at Wernick & Pratt. You can follow her work at:


Portfolio | Blog Facebook professionalpersonal Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

Monday, July 16, 2018

Celebrate Amazon Strike Day by Developing a Relationship with Your Local Indie Bookstore


With Amazon workers striking across Europe today (July 16) in protest of long hours, poor working conditions, and low wages, I wanted to pull together a blog post to talk about the nuts and bolts of developing a relationship with your local indie bookstore. I was lucky enough to attend Children’s Institute (Ci6) as an illustrator (on NOODLEPHANT, by Jacob Kramer with Enchanted Lion in January 2019) a few weeks ago in New Orleans. I went to a workshop aimed towards authors and illustrators that discussed best practices around developing a relationship with your local indie. I noticed that Robert Sindelar, the President of the American Booksellers Association board and managing partner of Third Place Books in Seattle (Amazon’s hometown) closed a letter by writing “where we spend shapes where we live.” I would argue that this attitude and approach extends to people who make content for kids; where we promote people buying books from shapes not only our communities, but helps to shape the communities of our readers. 

As we’re all working towards book publishing and the eventual promotion of the books we put out in the world (and in the spirit of free and open dissemination in the kidlit artists community), I thought that these practical tips should be shared. Whether you’re a newbie and are planning the launch of your first book (like me) or have many under your belt, here’s some of the advice we got:

Communication
When you’re invited to do a storytime or a signing at an indie, you’re going to want to be as communicative as possible from the get-go about what you’re going to be doing. This includes including the publicist that you might be working with at your publisher. Will you have a presentation? Do you need any a/v (like a projector, a microphone)? Do you want to make large drawings on an easel? Do you need stuff to draw with? All of this needs to be determined in advance and can usually be handled through a conversation and a walk-through with the point person at the bookstore. Then once you have a plan, stick to it (like, don’t wildly improvise if it’s going to require the staff to scramble to accommodate you). 

Promotion 
Their store has a dedicated clientele who will likely come for your visit, but you still want to make it as easy as possible for them to put together something that will promote the event. Consider having a quick 2-line bio on your website, a photo of you, an image from your book, and a short description of your book that they can grab for flyers and social media promotion. Also, tell everyone you might know in the area to come to your reading; it’s a great chance to pull together people who love you and the things that you make together in one space to celebrate your work, and it also brings more--possibly new---people into the store. 

(Your own) Preparedness
You should be prepared on your own end in case everything goes south; the slide deck you sent didn’t go through. The internet in the store is really slow. They don’t have an adapter for your computer. They don’t have a laptop to connect to their projector. Basically be ready to with a backup for everything, which leads to; 

(Your own) Flexibility 
Not everything is going to work out without a hitch. Be ok with that and don’t get mad. Be ready to improvise. Will this turn into a drawing workshop? Sure. 

Gratitude 
Introduce yourself to all of the staff in the store, and be sure to thank them. Often the job of setting up all the logistics so someone can come in and do a reading is pretty labor-intensive; sometimes it requires staff to stay there late and clean-up after an event. This work is for the most part going to be invisible to you. Acknowledge it. You can also show appreciation by buying something in the store, and sharing your gratitude through social media after the event. 

And a final hot tip: don’t talk about Amazon or Goodreads (which is owned by Amazon). Amazon is actively driving these people out of a job. On your website instead of an Amazon link to buy your book, consider linking to indiebound.org.

I live in San Francisco where at times it can feel like you can basically live on the internet; you can stay in your apartment and order all of your needs through various apps, from food delivery, people putting together your IKEA furniture for you, cleaning your house, doing your laundry, coming over to give you a massage in your living room, and more. It’s really hard to get a sense of who your community is when sometimes it feels like someone else’s temporary playground. When I got the chance to talk to some booksellers at Ci6 I was struck with how many are deeply committed to the care and growth of their communities. Connecting to these people is not only a critical part of connecting to your readers on a local level, it’s also about connecting to people who value books and the community that books can contribute to. 

Special thanks to Summer Dawn Laurie from (Books Inc., San Francisco, CA), Shaina Birkhood (The Children’s Book Council, NY, NY), Teasha Kirkwood (Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA), Laurie Gillman (East City Book Shop, Washington DC), and Kenny Brechner (Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers, Farmington, ME) for sharing their knowledge. A warm wave to some (not all) much loved bay area indie bookstores: Charlie’s Corner, Books Inc., Green Apple Books, Hicklebee’s, The Reading Bug, and so many more. We’re so lucky to have you.


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K-Fai Steele writes, draws, and lives in San Francisco. She has three books coming out in 2019: A NORMAL PIG is her author/illustrator debut (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Childrens, Summer 2019). She illustrated NOODLEPHANT, by Jacob Kramer (Enchanted Lion Books, January 2019), and Old MacDonald Had a Baby by Emily Snape (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, Fall 2019).  She's on twitter (@kfaisteele) and on instagram (@areyouokfai).