Have You Reached Success?

Our SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) local group of illustrators met at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens last weekend. We scattered throughout the park to find something that enchanted. That is always easy at this beautiful site. In October the scarecrow competition was on display, the fall leaves were showing their colors, and the mosaiculture sculptures are everywhere.

Mosaiculture gorilla.
Mosaiculture gorilla. It is hard to see scale, but these are about 7 feet tall.

I had been to the gardens one evening in the previous week. There I scouted for what I would like to draw. These heads representing the seasons were beautiful.

The maquette models for the giant sculptures outside.
The maquette models for the giant sculptures outside.

The actual sculptures are approximately 15 feet tall. They are beyond description, during the day or night they are wonderful and beautiful in their workmanship.

Outdoor sculpture at night.
Outdoor sculpture at night.

Michael Allen Austin, the nicest man in the children’s book illustrating business, had prompts for us to pursue as we drew and wandered the gardens.

I chose to turn my winter sculpture man into a character that was a gnarly sort of Heathcliff. I picture him wandering the moors brooding.

Winter Heathcliff.
Winter Heathcliff.

Heathcliff is on a 14″ x 17″ sheet of 98lb mixed media paper. I used watercolor pencils while at the gardens. Back in the studio I added the water and tried out my new watercolor markers. More color needed to be added with regular watercolor and detail outlined with black ink.

As always, seeing the group is a pleasure and inspiring. This time we all described how we would know if we had reached success. Write down your personal list and check it in five years. We all have a tendency to move the goal post so we never feel we have reached success. Maybe you already have and don’t know it.

Competition Cat

Last weekend I attended a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in Birmingham, Alabama. This meeting was designated as Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK).

As the event draws to a close the prompt for the following year’s competition is announced. In 2013 the illustrators received their information: “Look out P.J. it’s a……” The artist fills in the blank and completes an image to enter.

I thought that I would like to use a flying cat since I had 2 models sleeping in my studio.¬† With the main character being a cat, the word feline seemed to be an appropriate part of the sentence. With dictionary open on my computer I began to look up science terms. Well, why not work with alliteration as one does in children’s literature. Back to the science terms under the letter F.

“Look out P.J. it’s a flyby feline fission flux.” These are all science terms that could pertain to space.

The Steampunk look was on my mind so off I went. Alli was on the floor stretching beside my chair.

Steampunk Alli sketch.
Steampunk Alli sketch.

Now who would P.J. be? Hmmm, who would be afraid of a flying Steampunk cat? Steampunk mice of course.

Steampunk mice.
Steampunk mice.

Some positioning thoughts.

How do cats fly?
How do cats fly?
How do mice look afraid of flying cats?
How do mice look afraid of flying cats?

One of my favorite tools is the white gel pen. Probably one of the simplest materials to use. It is basically a white ball point pen that is opaque enough to write on paint. On a blue background it would be fun to emulate a blueprint. What could be drawn? Buildings, machines? Oh, flying machines of course.

Flying machine sketches.
Flying machine sketches.
Acrylic on 18" x 24" cold press 140lb. watercolor paper
Acrylic on
18″ x 24″ cold press 140lb. watercolor paper

Everybody and everything is in its place. However, it is looking very flat. I took a photo of the art and opened it in Photoshop. This piece was going to be submitted on line and 8″ x 10″ prints were going to be mailed so the actual painting would never be seen. Now P.J. joins the ranks of digital art.

With shadows and enhancements added digitally.
With shadows and enhancements added digitally.

It neither won nor placed, but I am happy with the outcome. In my quirky art world cats fly, mice shriek in horror, and flying machines frequent the skies. I may be a little too edgy for children’s books. Part of my mission in attending the conference was to see if I could find the right fit for my artwork in the illustration business. I have not found it yet, but “this too will be revealed.”

 

 

The Sneeze

Many years ago I attended a conference in Findlay, Ohio at the Mazza Museum on the lovely Findlay University college campus. This museum has the largest collection of original children’s illustration in the world.

I have seen the elephant!

It is a phenomenal treat to walk into a space and see the original paintings or collages that are from your favorite children’s books. The friends you grew up with. I saw an original Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway, so so many treasures.

While there I listened with illustrators, librarians and educators from across the country for a week of stories and information from greats like Ed Emberley and the brilliant Pinkney family.

One night I joined a casual dinner at a local restaurant. There was one seat left. I knew not a soul at this event and to even attend alone was a stretch for me. As I sat down I looked around the table to find myself sitting next to Ed Emberly and across from one of the speakers. I was panicked. What was I doing here? I was a librarian from a small school in Florida who had painted for years. No credentials that made me a brilliant dinner companion.

All of my worries instantly dissolved. I had found “my tribe”! There was not an unkind word spoken. These creative gentlemen were just that.

Creative and kind.

A eureka moment!

It has taken years to wind through jobs and obligations to be full time at my drafting table and computer creating my own illustrations and books.

A month ago I sent an illustration to a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators¬† (SCBWI) competition. It was to illustrate a poem called The Sneeze by Tomie Depaola. He would judge the entries. I did not win, but I put my pen to paper and created this.

The Sneeze copyright ECR 2014
The Sneeze
copyright ECR 2014

Another competition sponsored by SCBWI in our Southern Breeze region I did actually win. If you are a long time reader you have seen this one.

P.J. Tried and Tried to Make Friends with the Horses
P.J. Tried and Tried to Make Friends with the Horses

Last year I was part of a mentorship program overseen by the brilliant Mark Braught. The assignment was a self portrait using visuals from different times, places and adding some interesting animals.

Self Portrait copyright ECR 2013
Self Portrait
copyright ECR 2013

This year as the Spring Mingle conference approaches I am participating in a mentorship with the wonderfully generous Loraine Joyner from Peachtree Publishers. I am learning so much from this experience. It has been filled with experiments, research for facts and images, and putting self in  chair and pencil in hand and drawing scenes from a pre-Civil War era. It is a dark time in our history, as far from my dear Melvin Fine Mouse as is possible. A stretch and a challenge I am enjoying every day.

Thank you SCBWI and the wonderful world of children’s illustration for another transformative experience.

 

 

What to take to an art conference.

It is time to attend an SCBWI conference. (In other words, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference.)

Many years ago, when we lived in San Antonio, I met an artist named Joy Hein. Joy created the most captivating detailed artwork I had ever seen. I was an instant fan. She is a very kind and generous person. Joy encouraged me and made suggestions to further my artwork while I was juggling young motherhood and the desire to paint.

In one of our conversations Joy responded to my interest in children’s illustration with the suggestion to join SCBWI. I did. Years passed, my membership was sporadic. I raised my children and worked as a librarian and graphic designer.

Meanwhile, Joy was illustrating beautiful books about Lady Bird Johnson, Texas Wildflowers, David Crockett, and Sam Houston. She knew what she was talking about.

Time has passed, the nest is empty, and the call of children’s literature has returned in full voice. I have courted it with attendance at several SCBWI events over the last two years and produced a few pieces for competitions, like P.J. which won first place last year in an SCBWI regional event.

P.J. Tried and Tried to Make Friends with the Horses
P.J. Tried and Tried to Make Friends with the Horses

Pretty soon I will pack the car and drive to Birmingham, Alabama for a conference of the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI.

I will take a stack of business cards.

Business card
Business card
Another business card.
Another business card.

And a stack of assorted postcards.

Sailor
Sailor
Lady of the Stars
Lady of the Stars
Couple
Couple
Big Chicken was Back
Big Chicken was Back
Good-Bye Lady
Good-Bye Lady
Assorted artwork Card
Several images on this one.

To display these cards I will take my decorated suitcase.

Decorated Suitcase
Decorated Suitcase

To display samples of my work I will take my portfolio and set it on the table designated for artists to show their creations.

Portfolio
Portfolio

And last, but certainly not least I will bring the proof for my first children’s book, Melvin Fine Mouse: First Day of School.

Melvin Fine Mouse: First Day of School
Melvin Fine Mouse: First Day of School

It is always educational and fulfilling to be with children’s illustrators and writers. The camaraderie is warm. The senses of humor a little quirky. These are, after all, people I can talk to about a mouse that wears pants. Not everybody is cut from the cloth that can share a dedicated conversation about things such as how to draw a mouse on a school bus.

And that is what I will take to the SCBWI conference.

By the way, Melvin is available for you to check out at Amazon.