Monday, July 8, 2019

It's A Wonderful Life

As children's book writers and illustrators, we are a part of this amazing community that sees the world from the unique perspective of tiny humans. Something I hadn't considered until recently is the fact that many of the professionals working in this field are also balancing parenting (sometimes full time) while creating too.

Curious about this, I did a search for articles that would answer some of the immediate questions I had regarding the maintenance (and growth) of a creative career while being a parent to a little one. I started rifling through old SCBWI magazines that I had kept while perusing the internet and was surprised that I found more questions than answers. 

So I went to the experts and interviewed three Mentees who are balancing their creative careers while being awesome parents too! They had some wonderful insight I am excited to be sharing with you. Whether you are an expecting parent or a one that's already in the trenches, this article is a must-read on how to keep swimming.

Q: How do you balance staying home with little ones and still have time for your creative work?

CORINNA:  It’s tricky, for sure. I think it’s important to remember that this is a phase, and your children will grow up quite quickly. It may not seem like it at first, but as they say- the days are long but the years are short. This is SO true. 

I have found that it can be helpful to remember that limits are not necessarily a problem- they can also be your friend. Perhaps when your children are very young it is not the time to experiment with an overly complicated style.  Those early years are a great time to take honest stock of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer or illustrator and then play to your strengths! Embrace the things that you know you do well.  It can also be helpful to use materials or techniques that you can walk away from and come back to it without having to do major cleanup each time. Watercolor is wonderful for this. Or maybe it means working in small 20 minute increments, but learning how to string those increments together.  One tip that I learned for this, is to always stop when you are still slightly in the zone and have a clear idea of what you’re going to do next.  This gives you a quick and easy re-entry point the next time you are able to work on the piece again.  Because if you work on a piece until you have no idea what comes next, and you are interrupted often, it can be hard to find your way back into the flow.  But if you know what you want to do next, even if it is something as simple as making a pair of shoes red, you have a way back in.  

Also, you can surprise yourself.  I never thought I’d be able to work at night. But I found that I could put my daughter to bed at night and fall asleep with her, then wake up after 20 minutes or so and work from 9pm until 1 or 2 am.   This isn’t an ideal schedule for me, and as soon as my daughter entered kindergarten I went back to work during the day.  But it was definitely something that I could manage for a few years to make more uninterrupted time for art making.  I have found, especially when you’re tired,  that the first few minutes are the hardest.  But if you can just sit down in your chair and pick up a pencil and start working… you can find your way into a rhythm more quickly than you might think.  It’s mysterious in a way, but I have found that where ever you can make the time and space for creative work, it will meet you there. 

SUZANNE: I push a schedule to work earlier before everyone gets up.  Also during crunch time, my family leaves for weekend trips to let me focus for a few days.

I also bought a portable Cintiq I have used in the car, soccer practice, or anywhere in between.

SUNGYEON: I think it is super hard to do anything creative until the baby is two or three. I got help as much as possible like a food delivery service, grocery shopping service, a robot cleaning machine, a dishwasher, an air fryer, and an instant pot. I used my iPad as my main creative tool.  It is quick, simple and easy.  In this time, quality is not that important, quantity is precious. Quick doodling, quick sketch and a quick note kept me in a creative loop. 

Q: How do you manage to stay motivated when your brain is running on zero sleep?

CORINNA: Sleep is so important— for your body, mind and creative spirit… and not something that you want to sacrifice for very long. After about a year of working late at night and not sleeping very much, I started to notice it was affecting me.  As I continued to work at night, I made sure to take afternoon naps with my daughter.  This allowed me to work at night for a few more years without it taking as much of a toll.  Ultimately, this is something I think you can do for bits of time... on a deadline etc... but in the long run, it’s important to make sure that you have a healthy lifestyle and to keep the long view. Be patient. Be kind to yourself. Be realistic about your priorities at this stage- because it IS a stage. And it will pass. 

Also keep in mind, that even when you are not making art, as long as you are parenting a small child, you are absorbing SO many influences for your art.  Your heart is growing and your understanding of children is growing.  It might help to think of it as the research stage of your bookmaking life.  Because no matter how tired you are, you will certainly be looking at TONS of picture books together.  And this will not always be the case.  On those days when you are SO tired, I think it also helps to keep your work loose and rough. To think of what you are doing as notes, quick sketches, and imagine that you are saving up some of these impulses and ideas for another day.  Now that my daughter is almost 10, I have more time for work.  But she’s no longer the perfect age to use as a model for most picture books and she no longer says and does all those strange, wonderful, surprising things that very small children say and do.  

SUZANNE: I try to read at least a few picture books every day and sneak in sketches with crazy materials.  This inspiration keeps me going.

SUNGYEON: Please sleep whenever you can. I went to urgent care a couple times for exhaustion and it was not worth it. Wait and think about what you will do when your baby goes to preschool. Meanwhile, go to the library with your baby and research and study children's books with them. It is a precious reference, and babies are experts with children's books. Learn from them. It is your research period. 

Bank your stories/ideas in a notebook as you research. In a couple of years, you will be ready to sit down and carve out these ideas.  

Q: What is one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were first trying to find time for creative work with a little one?

CORINNA: Be patient. You will have more time to work on art and books soon enough.  Your child will grow up SO fast, and they will want to hang out with their friends more than you.  So treasure this time.

SUZANNE:  That is was OK to be selfish with your time.  That I deserve to have this time and it doesn't make me a bad mom.  I struggle with this still.

SUNGYEON: You may not have the luxurious 3-5 hours of creative time, but you can still find it here and there. The longest time you may find might be less than 30 minutes if you are lucky.   So plan ahead for creative time when baby falls asleep.  I made lists of what to do for  30 minute blocks. When the time comes, don't look at dirty dishes or surf the internet. Utilize your precious 30 minutes meaningfully. 

Take turns with your partner.  Have baby-free time one evening, and give your partner baby-free time another evening.  

Q: Is there anything you wish you would have spent more time on or prepped more for before your little one arrived?

CORINNA: It’s such a difficult thing to “be prepared” for.  In many ways, I think it’s best to be prepared to be unprepared.  Make peace with the fact that life is going to surprise you and that those surprises and the messiness of it all are also the essence of life itself.  The truth is that being a parent (and balancing parenting with a creative career that will take as much of your time as you can give it) can be very difficult at times.  But being a parent also opens your heart up in an incredible way. And this can be a tremendous gift to your art making, in the long run.  Ultimately, making picture books might be your dream, just like it was mine, but it isn’t going to make you happy.  The more books I make, and the more my career grows, and the busier I get, the more this becomes very very clear to me.  Happiness or contentment—or whatever you want to call this thing that we are all searching for…really can only exist right here, right now, in all the tired and mess and hoping and wishing and failing and trying again.  

SUZANNE: Setting up childcare and not feeling guilty for wanting to do both.  I wish I would have felt comfortable spending the money on a good computer and a Cintiq tablet.  I felt all the money should go to the new family and that I could get by.  It was only after winning the mentorship I gave myself permission to stop using my 15-year-old tablet from college.   

SUNGYEON: Baby-proof your art space.  Organize art supply drawers, so that you can work efficiently. Donate unnecessary art supplies, and simplify your environment.  You will fill up space with lots of baby stuff, but don't give up your art corner.

Also, don't spend too much time decorating the baby's room. Babies don't care about their rooms and they will want to replace the beautiful elephant and flower mural paintings with superheroes and princess when they grow up, anyway.

I transformed my art room into the baby’s room before the baby was born and it took three years to convert it back to my own space. Luckily, I wrote some baby diaries to remind me of wonderful times.   I wish I drew more and took more pictures of my baby.  Enjoy the precious moments!  They don't come back until....... you have a second baby! :)

~Jeslyn Kate

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

Monday, July 1, 2019

Quick Study Warm-up Exercise

Learning to see how other artists draw is a favorite past-time for me. As I look and discover the way a line is drawn or shaded, it always inspires me to pick up a pen and try to mimic the manner that it was created. For these studies, I used a Zebra ball point pen. 

Usually, I grab my closest sketchbook, a napkin or a random piece of paper and draw. But, I’m trying to become more deliberate by putting them into one folder. This way I can look back and see which artists I admire and the studies I created.  

By studying the way that other artists work, it helps to understand why they made the choices that they did. And it opens up the creative flow for an enjoyable warm-up. 

If you sketch from another artists work--

➽➽ALWAYS give credit to the artist.

Since it is a warm-up session, I’m not concerned with completing an entire illustration. My focus is on small details, shading, line variance, expression, etc. 

Maurice Sendak is one of my favorite illustrators to study. His line work is masterful.  When I was redrawing the coat of the old man,  I realized that the pattern goes through the whole coat. He didn’t change the direction of the lines where the arm is. AH-HA moment! Discoveries like this help me to simplify my own work so I don’t get fussy about making sure the fabric wraps.

(The Big Green Book- Robert Graves- Illustrations-Maurice Sendak & Little Bear’s Friend- Else Holmelund Minarik-Illustrations Maurice Sendak)

The next studies from are from:

Sophie Blackall- I love the expressions of her children. (Sinister Goose by Lisa Wheeler)

Robert Lawson- The line work is expertly bold yet tender and precise. (The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf)

Irene Haas - The playful lines  are minimal on the faces, but show such wonderful expression. (♫A Cat Came Fiddling adapted and made into songs by Paul Kapp)

I hope this was helpful and that you try a warm-up study for yourself.

If you do: take a snap and post it. 
➽Tag me on twitter or IG: @dorothair  

I’d love to see what artists you admire and the studies you create.
Next time I post, I’ll be interviewing Vanya Nastanlieva
She illustrated my manuscript I Am Goose! 
(Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Feb, 2020) 


I invite you to visit my website to view the 
You can also sign up for book updates.

And. . . I'm excited to share that I'll be rolling out a short, monthly newsletter at the end of the year. It will focus on taking moments to live a creative life.
It's for artists, writers, kids, moms, dads and anyone who wants to ignite that little spark of creativity in their lives. 

★ Sign up now for Creative Moments- Creative Life Newsletter ★ 

 Dorothia Rohner enjoys illustrating and writing stories for children that combine nature, humor and the magic of imagination.

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

IG  & Twitter: @perfect2020pbs

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Celebrating Indie Bookstore Day!

Independent Bookstore Day was celebrated nationally this past weekend. It's a wonderful event that rewards book lovers with exclusives and events at all their favorite local shops. I love participating as a shopper, supporting the small businesses that make our neighborhoods special -- all while filling up our shelves with new books to enjoy.

But, it's also a great opportunity to participate as an illustrator and to give back to our communities!
Indie Bookstore Day takes place on the last Saturday in April!
Personally, I'm passionate about small businesses, so I got involved years ago with my local Bookstore Day by signing my books or presenting my artwork during the event. Many families celebrate Independent Bookstore Day, so it's an opportunity to read aloud, draw with kids, or talk to families about the path to publication and how picture books are made. Even just to answer questions. You never know who you might meet and inspire!

Photo credit: Dain Middleton
But this year, I was named Book Crawl Ambassador for my city-wide Independent Bookstore Day Celebration. (They even made me a sash!)

I designed giveaways for every bookstore participating, and also hid prizes around the independent shops just for fun. I ran from shop to shop for ten hours of signings and events!

It was worth it to see the smiles and to meet the wonderful book lovers of my community.

It's been a lot of fun, a great way to give back to my community. Indie bookshops are run with a lot of heart and give us recommendations and conversations a website never could. 

These book stores celebrated my debut as an author and every book I've published, know every member of my family, carry my products in their stores, and have laughed and cried talking about books and life with me! I love them, and the people who run them, and they deserve to be celebrated -- as do the people who shop at them!

Here are more images from the San Diego Book Crawl / Independent Bookstore Day 2019! (#SDBookCrawl was our hashtag -- check out those book lovers in action!)

People of all ages attended -- some riding public transportation or bikes to every stop! One of the best parts of being out and about during our Indie Bookstore celebration was hearing everyone's stories -- where their home bookstore is, where they've discovered, and how they're crawling between stops. All in all, it reminded me of the power and kindness of the book loving community - and I'm glad I volunteered my time to this!

Thank you to my community and all the wonderful booksellers in San Diego who made this event a total blast. I don't know about you, but I'm already excited for next year's!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Susie Ghahremani is the author and illustrator of BALANCE THE BIRDS and STACK THE CATS
She is also the illustrator of WHAT WILL GROW, WHAT WILL HATCH, and forthcoming LITTLE MUIR'S SONG written by John Muir (Coming August 13th, 2019)
She paints in gouache, drinks a lot of coffee, and is -- believe it or not -- an introvert.
Find her at: Boygirlparty | Patreon | Etsy | Fb | Twitter | Instagram

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. 


© Cole Montgomery 
Gail Buschman is a graphic designer and children's book creator who loves to travel and explore new places.

More about Gail at her website, instagram, twitter, and facebook.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Postcards: Overcoming a creative dry spell with a little promotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 4, 2019

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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