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.”

 

 

Writing Process and Illustrating!

 

Barbara Barth recently invited me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour.  This kind author and blogger has included me in her “tribe”. I am honored!
Barbara’s memoir, The Unfaithful Widow, placed as a finalist in the 2011 USA Best Book Awards. This book will make you smile as you follow Barabara through the trials of being a new widow. With the help of 6 dogs she makes her way through challenging times. In addition, Barbara has written Danger in Her Words. I stayed awake way past my bedtime enjoying this novel, a little detective, a little naughty, and a lot of fun. Visit her website for more information!
And now for the questions I have been posed about my writing process.

1. What am I working on?

I am working on several children’s books. One has been critiqued several times by outside sources, one has been reviewed for accuracy, but is still in phase one of editing, and there is another that is a good idea, but I just haven’t started the rewrites. I will illustrate all of them.

The first is about equine therapy based loosely on a stable where I volunteer. The second is about explaining death to children. And good old George Washington is the featured character in the third.

The calendar says July, but little children’s hearts are beating faster as they think about starting to attend a new school. With this in mind I will begin some promotions for my book Melvin Fine Mouse: First Day of School. In rhyme, Melvin’s first day at school is described in a non-threatening way. The illustrations are warm and friendly and a little quirky.

photo 3

In addition to this, I am starting a company with Leighanne Schneider, talented illustrator of Doublefly Designs. We are offering illustration for self published authors. Both of us are asked often to do this and have decided we should make it official with Lucky Cat and Friends. Our website is coming soon. Of course, you can also email me at beth@bethrommel.com for details.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Writing: While in middle school and high school in New Orleans I had the greatest English teachers. There was a lot of writing and constant reading of every type of author. After becoming a mother, working with children as a librarian, and as an editor for an elementary yearbook, I caught the “writing for children” bug. With all of that being said, I am writing books that explain scary or unfamiliar situations to children. Things that might bring unease to a child, as in Melvin Fine Mouse: First Day of School.

photo-6

Illustrating: I entered the art world with a degree in studio art with emphasis in communication design. That was in the days of cutting and pasting, nobody taught photoshop or anything remotely related to computer skills in an art department. Therefore I entered the advertising, graphic, and publishing worlds with hands on experience and dangerous skills with an exacto knife. These all served me well in the fine art world as well. I could paint with real brushes and a variety of paints. My photoshop and InDesign skills are self taught, they are my second language while fine art is my first. I use this combination of skills to illustrate.

photo 1 (2)

3. Why do I write what I do?

I enjoy writing for children and explaining things to them in a way that is kind. I aim to not preach. The brilliant agent, Marietta Zacker from the Nancy Galt Literary Agency, told us recently at a Southern Breeze/SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) event that characters need to speak with their own voice not that of the author. I hope I can do that.

photo 2

4. How does my writing process work?

I start with an idea, then mull it over for several days. If it is still interesting to me, in one crazy moment, hour, plane trip, sitting, I write everything down. I am impetuous. Often the illustrations are coming to me too so I sketch a storyboard as I write. After letting it sit for a while I go back and edit. I ask other writers, friends, artists to read it and give me input. I listen and edit again. I read it aloud to hear the sound of the words. I love the rhythm of words and enjoy when there is real music in hearing their flow. With children’s books there are suggested word counts so I keep that in mind when I edit, translates to cut cut cut.

photo 1

The storyboard is then redrawn to fit the 32 pages allowed for a picture book. I do character studies to figure out who my characters are, where they live, how they dress, how they stand, and how they interact with each other. I then begin art for each 2 page spread. It is drawn, redrawn, painted, collaged, and painted again to reach a style I am happy with. This can be done repeatedly to find the right look and to make the characters sing. Now I scan, photoshop, adjust, add copy and print the spreads to see how it looks. I often hold my artwork up to a mirror to see it from a different point of view. It may be backwards, but the elements of design will still dictate what looks right.

As this post concludes I invite you to now visit Kim L. Siegelson.

Sheis author of several fine award winning children’s books. Kim was recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award in 2000 for her book In The Time of the Drums, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.  She is also a member of SCBWI and a part of the Southern Breeze region.

Those Cats

Last year Chad W. Beckerman, Creative Director at Abrams Books suggested I do more of these cat paintings for illustration so I thought I should begin to bring some of them to light.

You have seen this one…

Mice copyright ECR 2013
Mice
copyright ECR 2013

and this one….

Timmy Felt an Unsettling Presence
Timmy Felt an Unsettling Presence

Here is what I face every night…or maybe try not to face every night.

Sleep copyright ECR 2013
Sleep
copyright ECR 2013

Before the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators SpringMingle at the end of March I will share more of these.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Cats and More Cats

Several weeks ago I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference here in Atlanta. One of the offerings was to have a portfolio review. I packed up photos of my paintings and recent work to show. A very nice gentleman from New York was there to share some of the mysteries of the publishing world and to look at countless images brought by hopeful artists.

Since I have not asked if it is okay to use his name I will only tell you that his publishing house is Abrams Books. He was so generous in time and kind words.

I showed him a reproduction of Timmy Felt an Unsettling Presence.

Timmy Felt an Unsettling Presence
Timmy Felt an Unsettling Presence

He encouraged me to work more in this style. More cat pictures was a suggestion.

Micecopyright ECR 2013
Mice
copyright ECR 2013

If you have a cat you probably also have a million of these little toy mice. You probably also step on them in the night in the dark or find them behind the bathroom door when you think you are alone.

Sleepcopyright ECR 2013
Sleep
copyright ECR 2013

If you have a cat you have probably also known they were sitting beside you in the dark staring at your face waiting for your eyes to open.

If you have read this blog for very long you also know I had a great deal of fun painting these pictures. That was what the wise man from Abrams Books was suggesting. Have fun, enjoy your work. Brilliant!

 

Self Portrait

Self portraits have been a staple of the artist diet since early times. As long as there has been a mirror or a body of water or window there has been an image to reflect upon.

Several months ago, I along with eleven others, registered early for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Spring Mingle conference. We signed up for the illustration intensive. At that point we were assigned a project by artist Mark Braught. This assignment was about how we saw ourselves. Specific locations, time periods and animals had to be included.

The first sketch I sent Mark was this one:

Sketch for SCBWI projectcopyright ECR 2013
Sketch for SCBWI project
copyright ECR 2013

 

This self portrait is placed in the Victorian Era, in England with lemurs. Of course!

Step onecopyright ECR 2013
Step one
copyright ECR 2013

As is typical for me there is under painting, this time in pink. My artwork adorns the walls with the subjects being turned into lemurs, my children are represented as the two lemurs in the chairs. Queen Victoria is on the right depicted as a lemur.

To add some depth to the piece I needed to make some changes.

Photographs of books from my shelves.
Photographs of books from my shelves.

I took lots of photos of the books on my shelves. I cut them out and began stacking them and arranging them around the room. I used decorative paper for the wallpaper and the rug.

Self Portraitcopyright ECR 2013
Self Portrait
copyright ECR 2013

And there it is, the self portrait.

Robyn Hood Black writes about our art critique group. Reprinted with permission from Robyn Hood Black

Art Break Wednesday – Thankful!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

This week as I count my blessings, I’m especially thankful for my wonderfully creative, generous, and supportive art critique group.

Prescott Hill, Beth Rommel, Kathleen Bradshaw, and Paula Puckett – my fabulous artists critique group!

Robyn and Kathleen

These fine folks are:  Prescott Hill, Beth Rommel, Kathleen Bradshaw, and Paula B. Puckett.

We meet once a month at Beth’s lovely home (though we’ve promised her we’ll start spreading the hosting love).  We eat, sip coffee, nibble some more, and encourage one another as we share whatever is going on in our artistic lives.  It’s not all social – each month we share whatever we’ve been working on for feedback.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned and how much I appreciate their keen insights!  I’m beyond thankful that I stumbled into the fold of this group as it was forming last spring. It’s made a huge difference in my creative life and has been very instrumental in my getting artsyletters off the ground.

Oh, and we sometimes take field trips, too.  Of course, we can all be found at SCBWI Southern Breeze events, but we like our own side trips as well.

Here we are shopping researching markets and digging up inspiration and treasures at the Flowery Branch (Georgia) Antique market.

And Beth and I are shopping  researching and gathering art-making supplies yet again this past weekend in Buford, Ga., at the Revival Antique show.

We call ourselves “Harold’s Friends” after Beth’s cat, who usually deigns to supervise each meeting at some point.  I’m thankful for these friends and wish, for everyone who creates, a talented, honest little band of folks who speak the same language and encourage them on the journey.
Thank you Robyn for allowing me to reprint your Artsyletters post. To see more from poet, author, artist, Robyn Hood Black you can go to her website at robynhoodblack.com