Head Down, Pencil Up!

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Depending on if and where you follow me elsewhere on the internet, you may or may not know that I’m currently writing and illustrating my first picture book! It actually has nothing to do with the little meerkat-creatures above, those are just some random drawings from my sketchbook to add some visual interest to this post. I don’t want to reveal the story or its characters, but I will show you some process shots!

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The first step was writing the manuscript. Illustrator/authors have different methods of creating their picture books. Some start out by drawing, some by writing, some by storyboarding, whatever works for each individual. My overall inspiration for the idea of the story started with something I drew based on a conversation I had with someone. But if I had just sat down and drawn the story that was in my head at the moment, it would have been horribly boring and bland. For my process, I thought the story should be good enough to stand on its own before I started worrying about what the characters would look like or storyboarding. I think I also decided to work this way because I knew my idea was good, but my story was bad. So I needed to write a good story first. Above is my process for writing my manuscript (I didn’t actually start with character name research, that’s just alphabetized).

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Once I was really happy with the manuscript (after 24 versions, in which the story changed completely and went from 1200 words to ~500), I made a text dummy. I made a little 32 page booklet, printed out the manuscript, cut it up, and pasted the text onto the pages. I had already planned out pacing and page turns in my manuscript, but holding the booklet and actually turning the pages made me realize that I needed to adjust the pacing a bit more. So I went back to the manuscript, made some revisions, and then made another text dummy (that little tiny one at the bottom). You can also see a couple initial storyboards and character studies up at the top.

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Then I dove head first into storyboarding, and this is where I am now! I’m on storyboard #5, seen here, halfway complete. This one is getting close, I can feel it! After I’m happy with the storyboard, I’ll move on to making full-size sketches to make a full dummy. And then I’ll send it off to publishers/agents!

I absolutely love the process of making picture books, and am really happy with where this story is going so far. I’ve gotten some great (and critical!) feedback from my crit group, and feel confident in where the book is heading. It feels like this process just comes naturally to me and perfectly unites all my strengths and skills. I can get in that flow state of mind so easily when I’m working on my book!

I’ll leave you with another little random drawing from my sketchbook: some baby creature with thick hair that really likes chemicals. You know, the usual.

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How to Beat Flooding, Ant-Style

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I created this series of seven illustrations for Your Wild Life to accompany the article, How to Beat Flooding, Ant-Style, written by scientist and science communicator, Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice. The article is about the survival tactics of four different species of ants when they come face to face with rain—which for ants means flooding. The article is educational while being humorous and is written in layman’s terms so even the non-scientist (like me!) can enjoy and understand it!

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These are two out of the seven illustrations from the set.

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I began the assignment by reading the article and understanding the concepts I was to illustrate, and then researching the four specific ant species. I knew we didn’t want realistic scientific-y looking illustrations, but I thought it was important to at least know in my mind what the ants actually looked like. I didn’t want my drawings to be completely off, even if they didn’t need to be exact representations. What if this type of ant had four antennas!? So I drew these little guys above, which actually ended up being used at the end of the article as a kind of “meet the stars!” section. Side note: that last guy is terrifying in photographs.

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Then, because I coincidentally happen to be kind of obsessed with ants, I watched a documentary about ants, and sketched some of the things the ants did in the movies. Look at that one up in the top left had corner! They can shoot poison out their butts! Fascinating.

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After that, having gotten a pretty good feel of ants in general, I moved on to sketching the concepts from the article at hand. I sketched a lot of different ants/concepts, and sketched out different versions for each ant survival tactic. I then sent off thumbnail sketches to Dr. Spicer Rice for her approval. You can see the first two thumbnails below:

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Then after a couple changes and approvals, I started on the final artwork! Above are the pencil textures I drew and scanned in. And below are two of the other final illustrations, including the more-true-to-life “Meet the Stars”. You can see the rest over on Your Wild Life!ESR-ant-survival-2-blog

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A Trillion Places Too Small

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This illustration was created for the literary zine, Far Off Places. The issue is titled Between the Leaves, and I illustrated A Trillion Places Too Small, a short story by Anniken Blomberg. Here’s a little snippet of the story to give you a bit of context for my illustration:

It’s getting darker and people start to leave work. They carry on as normal. They pass between the wolf-like shadows, step into bus shelters, hurry across the street. Oblivious to the brief flashes of amber outside the white ring of the streetlights.  They’ll take their usual route back to their houses and flats, open the door and do whatever they usually do in the evenings. Unaware how much they really love their small, predictable lives.

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Here’s a close up of one of the sad little guys, showing some of the textures and details in the piece. This piece was similar to my Seven Dwarfs piece in that they were both set at night, which is a challenge! I tend to work with lots of white space in my work, so creating a scene at night is very different. But what’s the point in creating without a challenge?

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Above is the scanned-in image of the pencil texture I created for the wolf shadow.

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And here’s a spread from my sketchbook while I was working on this project. I also made a little gif of the digital-side of the process behind this piece! If you’ve read my blog before, you know I obsessively track my process, so why not make a gif of it!

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The Seven Bearded Dwarfs

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This piece was created as an assignment for the Illustrator Intensive at the 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference in February, and is based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I got some really great reactions and feedback on it, definitely things that I should to keep in mind when creating new work. Here are a few close ups and process shots, as well.

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Here are a couple shots of my sketchbook while I was ideating characters and settings, and creating thumbnails of the overall scene.

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These are the scanned in drawings of the final characters, plus a scan of some extras that I drew and scanned in after realizing something was missing.

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Above are the original pencil drawings for the background/setting. I really enjoy creating intricate pencil textures like these. I like to draw the simple outline of the layout, and then draw the textures/details each separately using a light box. That way, I can scan them in as separate images and piece them together digitally, allowing me to easily manipulate and play around with them.MC-heigh-ho-process-D-blog

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Here’s the scanned in typography that I drew in pen. I drew many different versions, and this one was my favorite in terms of having personality but still being highly legible.

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I also made digital value studies to test the values and ensure they had enough contrast. My illustrations are usually pretty light in color and values, but this scene was set at night (which was a challenge I wanted to give myself), so I new I really needed to nail the values. I made a few of these studies, and found that it really helped in planning out the illustration and made the final values and color choices way more successful than if I hadn’t done the studies.

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And that’s it! Now I’m off to go write some more of my in-progress PB manuscript! I’m on version 11 of the manuscript, and am just about ready to move on to storyboarding. I’m super excited to see where the visuals take the story, and how it evolves from here. The main character has already started leaking out of my pencil, even though I’m still in the writing stage!

SCBWI March Featured Illustrator!

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Super exciting news! I’ve been chosen as this month’s featured illustrator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)! I couldn’t be more thrilled and am over the moon to see my work on the homepage and be recognized by such a respected organization. As I mentioned in my previous post, I learned so much and met so many wonderful people at the SCBWI Conference in New York last week and am so thankful for everything SCBWI does for illustrators and authors.

So thank you SCBWI for choosing me as the featured illustrator! You can click either of these screenshots to go straight to the website and check it out!

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2014 SCBWI Conference Recap

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Last weekend I attended the 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, and had such an amazing time. I met a lot of people I had previously only spoken with on Twitter, met new illustrators and authors, and learned more than I could have hoped for. The conference was held in the Grand Hyatt hotel right above Grand Central Station, which was absolutely beautiful (and also fascinatingly hectic on weekday mornings).  There were so many wonderful keynotes, panels, and workshops—I just finished typing up and organizing my notes and it came out to 5 1/2 pages!

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There was also a Gala on Saturday night in the hotel lobby with a cupcake bar and mashed potato martinis! It was great to meet so many other illustrators and authors and speak with them about what they’re up to!

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Here are a few of the very talented authors and illustrators that were on faculty:

Tomie DePaola, Strega Nona
Brett Helquist, A Series of Unfortunate Events
Paul O. Zelinsky, Z is for Moose, Rapunzel
E.B. Lewis, Coming On Home Soon
Jack Gantos, Dead End in Norvelt, Joey Pigza series
Kate Messner, Over and Under the Snow
Peter Brown, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
Raul Colon, My Mama Had a Dancing Heart
Marla Frazee, Two Boys Have the Best Summer Ever
Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Quit
Shandra Strickland, Bird

I can’t even begin to summarize all of what I learned at the conference. Some of the things that really resonated with me were overarching advice that I am going to focus on in the future (like being sure to have emotion in each piece, courtesy Arthur Levine), to specific techniques (like story structure tips from Jack Gantos!).

MC-heigh-ho-bus-cardsWelp, now it’s back to it! I’m super inspired and ready to pump out my story. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m in the process of writing and illustrating my debut picture book, and this conference gave me exactly the boost that I needed to complete it and make it a strong story. I feel really great about how the story feels, and how it’s coming along. Thank you to everyone at the conference who spoke, critiqued, looked at my portfolio, took a business card, and spoke with me! You’re all amazing!

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