Monday, February 23, 2015

Simply Messing About...with Watercolor!

Since I'm not yet able to post images from the current book I'm working on (A Morning with Gong Gong, Lee & Low), here are a couple little paintings I've been doing for fun. I've had this Windsor & Newton travel watercolor set for a couple years, but I've hardly used it. I decided to pull it out and simply mess about! Though watercolor isn't as forgiving as my computer, it's been fun to make marks on paper and delight in happy accidents. I'm hoping these little exercises in watercolor will spill over and help me with some spontaneity in the digital world of painting. Here's to having fun with real paint!

~christina


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Advice for Students


Every year I get e-mails from art students asking about what they should do to become an children’s illustrator. Here’s my general advice on what can be helpful. This is just my opinion so take this with a grain of salt. You should definitely do a lot of research on your own and find what works for you.

  • Draw, draw, draw

  • Read, read, read
    • Go to the library and bookstore and read lots of picture books. Read and analyze the books. How does the illustration push the story along? How does the illustrator add to the story beyond words? How is page turn used to move the story? How does the illustrator vary the composition throughout the book? Do you see the differences in character design and composition between stories intended for different age groups? How are books intended for 2 year olds different from those intended for 5 or 7 year olds? 
  • Have your own website
    • You NEED a website of your own. The first thing anyone is gong to ask when you say you are an illustrator is a link to your work. 

    • Virb.com, Squarespace are great low-cost website providers and you can have a great portfolio site up without any coding knowledge. You’re an illustrator, not a web developer. Sure, you can learn how to put up a website for yourself but your time is better spent creating more illustrations.

    • If you can’t do a paid website, use the various free options that are out there (flickr, tumblr, behance, etc.). It doesn’t matter what you use, just have your work available for people to see online.

  • Join Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 
    • If you want to be a children’s book illustrator, there is a lot to learn about the craft and business of it. There isn’t a better place to learn. Join this organization and attend local and even national conferences. It’s worth it.

  • Go on Twitter
    • There is a huge community of picture book illustrators and writers on twitter. Follow them, make friends, learn from each other. A great place to connect with illustrators is by going to the #kidlitart hashtag.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What I'm working on...

Here's a little peek into my process for some small commissions I recently finished! 
First, I gathered information on my subjects (I asked about favorite colors and animals). I took this information and started with really loose sketches in my sketchbook:
I tried to mimic those sketches as best I could on watercolor paper using very light pencil. I went over that with ink line and when that dried, I erased the pencil and began painting and coloring. 


The results look a little bit like this! The colors ended up looking great together:



These pieces for Kickstarter backers were all inspired by Peter H. Reynold's International Dot Day. In fact, the alligator piece on the bottom left is for him! It's his son, Henry Rocket reading a book about rockets, of course! 


Cheers!
~Renee

Monday, January 19, 2015

What I'm working on…



I've worked on a number of hidden picture pieces for Highlights Let's Play Hidden Pictures books over the last two years. They're challenging and fun. This is one of my favorites. Armadillos are so much fun to draw!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Project Management by James Burks



All of us here on the blog are big fans of illustrator/marathon runner extraordinaire, James Burks. When I saw him posting his progress screenshots, I had to ask him how he manages to keep track of and get through all of his projects. He was gracious enough to give me some thoughtful answers. He's a real class act!


We’re all impressed and frightened by your workload. Do you have a daily schedule that you stick to? What we really want to know is how you’re managing so much work and still managing to train for and run marathons?

I do have a daily schedule. It’s somewhat flexible since I’m working from home and have two kids who are in elementary school. My day usually starts at 7am. I get up and wrangle my kids into getting ready for school. I drop them off at 8:00am. Then I go out and run between 4 and 10 miles. Come home, eat some oatmeal, drink some coffee, and shower. Then around 10:00 or 10:30am I make the 12 stair commute to my upstairs office and sit down to work. I work until 12:30pm then stop for lunch. Lunch usually involves eating some kind of Mexican food since that’s my food of choice. I eat it so much that they know my order at my local Baja Fresh. I’m usually back to work between 1 and 1:30pm. Then I work until 3:00pm when I have to pick my kids up from school. Afterwards we return home and I try to work in-between helping them with school work, breaking up squabbles, having or taking them to playdates. Then it’s dinnertime around 7:30pm when my wife gets home from work. After a little family time it’s back to work around 9:00pm. How late I work usually depends on how tired I am and/or how much work I still have to do to meet my current deadlines. There may be somedays where I won’t work at all or I may spend hours playing Minecraft with son instead. 

As far as the marathons go I just made running and staying healthy a priority. I always make time for workouts even if I have lots of work to do. It’s just as important to me as eating, sleeping and family. It helps me manage stress. It allows me to get away from my desk and process any notes or problems I may be having with a story or with the art. Running has changed my life. I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been and in turn more creative. 

Current Book Schedule

What tools/programs are you using to keep track of your schedule and due dates?

To keep track of the different book projects I’m working on I created a color coded bar graph using the Apple program Numbers. That way I can see how my various projects overlap and there due dates. 

View of files in Adobe Bridge

For the work itself I work in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Bridge. I use Adobe Bridge to organize and keep track of the various pages for each project. This is something that I picked up while working in animation. Bridge makes it easy to scroll through the pages and to see how the book is turning out. To open a page I just hit enter and it automatically opens in Photoshop. While working in PS I’m constantly saving and it automatically updates the file in Bridge on my second monitor. This allows me to look at the same file from two slightly different view points. I find this helpful for spotting wonky drawings, things that I forgot to draw, or things that just aren’t working right. It’s my equivalent of standing back and looking at my work from a distance. When I’m done with a page I’ll hit [Command 6] in Bridge and it puts a little red bar below the thumbnail image. This allows me to see how much work I’ve completed and how much I still have to do. It’s my electronic version of a check mark. Bridge is also great for making PDFs, renaming files, duplicating files or rearranging the order of files.   

Here's a picture of my desk.

Here is how I have Bridge set up. Thumbnails of all my pages are on the left and it previews the selected thumbnail on the right. 


How do you keep track of changes and publisher notes as you go along? Do you 
create a checklist?

I usually print out the email from my editor or the art director so that I can see what changes I need to make. Then cross them off as they are completed. 


Are you working linearly or jumping from spread to spread or project to project? For instance, do you start with the more difficult spreads or the easiest?

If I’m roughing out a book I like to work linearly. If I’m outlining a story I’ll use note cards and jump around. Then once I have all my ideas jotted down on the cards I’ll start to organize them linearly into a story that makes sense. During the clean up phase of a book when I’m doing the final line work I’ll jump around from page to page. I usually do the easiest ones first so that I can get comfortable drawing the characters and their world. Then when I have a handle on it I’ll start doing some of the harder ones. On days where I’m not getting a lot done or not feeling it I’ll just do the easy ones. The only problem with this method is that I’m usually left with all the hard ones as my deadline approaches. On the latest Bird and Squirrel graphic novel I had set myself a goal of cleaning up 6 pages a day. In the beginning I think I managed 3 or 4 a day and on a really good day I might get 7 done. To get the seven done I’d pretty much have to work most of the day. 

Up until this last year I preferred to work on one project at a time. I have trouble switching gears and focus from one project to the next. That’s just how my brain works. But since I have multiple projects now, I had to come up with a new system. So what I try to do is break each project into pieces. For example: I’ll spend a week or two roughing out a picture book and then send it off to my editor. While I’m waiting on notes for that I’ll start roughing out the next book or writing the story depending on what stage I’m on and then send that off. Hopefully by the time I’m done with that I’ll have notes back on the picture book and will start on the revisions. Then I’ll do the revisions and send them off. Then jump onto the next stage of another project. I just keep doing this until they’re all done. 

It all comes down to time management and organization. As long as I know what needs to be done I can usually do it. When I start to get overwhelmed and want to pull my hair out I go for a run or take a break. Somehow in the end things always manage to get done. One of the many things I love about making books is that I get to set my own schedule. There aren’t too many jobs where you have that kind of flexibility. It also allows me to spend time with my kids. 


How the heck do you manage to be so awesome? I mean really? You must draw and paint as fast as you run!

Aww, Thanks. Can you stand behind me while I’m working and remind me of that? I think working in animation before working in books really helped me learn how to manage my time and to draw faster. The weekly deadlines and tight schedules probably had something to do with it. 



Unrelated question:

Has social media been a good tool for getting work? 


I think so. I’ve have received a few book offers from publishers through my website. I’ve also come up with some great ideas while participating in sketch dailies on Twitter. I recently sold two picture books to Disney Hyperion based on a sketch that I had done for the Dailydoodle on Twitter. I also think social media is a good way to stay connected with friends and whats happening in books and the world. One thing that helps me is chatting with my friends Dan Santat and Mike Boldt while we work through ichat. We’ll share what we’re working on with each other and offer advice if needed or we’ll just talk about whatever is happening that day. 


Thanks so much, James, we're cheering you on! 

To see more of James' work, visit his website at jamesburks.com.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What I'm Working On...

The last half of 2014 had me super busy with a bunch of projects, most of which cannot be spoken about yet. However, I do have some exciting news that I can share!

I'm currently in the beginning stages of illustrating an adorable book called "A Morning with Gong Gong" by the 2013 New Voices Award winner Sylvia Liu. The story is about a spunky little girl and her grandfather who spend some time together and end up teaching each other about yoga and tai chi.

I'm having a great time working with an amazing team at Lee & Low Books--a publisher I admire and have hoped to work with for a long time!

And since I can't show any work from my current projects, I'll leave you with this little bunny. ;)

~christina


Friday, January 9, 2015

Our Creative Weapons of Choice

There's a hashtag going around on Facebook and Twitter right now where artists are posting their Creative Weapons of Choice (#creativeweaponsofchoice) and tagging others to post theirs. We decided to share ours here, too.

Laura Zarrin:
  • Blackwing Palomino Pencil & sharpener
  • Uni Kuru Toga mechanical pencil
  • Mechanical pencil with blue led
  • Refillable pencil eraser
  • Wacom stylus & Intuous 3
  • Photoshop CS6 & Manga Studio 5 EX
Tracy Bishop:
  • Mac Mini
  • Wacom Cintiq 13HD
  • Manga Studio 5 EX
  • Watercolor paper
  • Kremer and Daniel Smith watercolors
  • Squirrel mops and sable watercolor brushes
  • Pencils
  • Pentel brush pen
  • Fountain pen (Namiki Falcon EF flex nib)

Renee Kurilla:
  • Copics
  • Blackwing Palomino
  • Kuretake brush pen
  • Pentel brush pen 
  • Red Prismacolor
  • A single Staedtler 5B!
  • Fabriano sketchbook, 
  • and of course my Wacom Intuos
Christina Forshay:
  • Alvin pencil sharpener
  • Wacom Cintiq 12 Stylus
  • Surface Pro stylus
  • Col-erase Carmine Red pencil
  • Col-erase Indigo Blue pencil
  • Pilot Dr. Grip mechanical pencil
  • Pentel Clic eraser
  • COFFEE