Sunday, April 27, 2014

COSCBWI Meeting April 2014: The History of Children's Books

This month’s COSCBWI meeting featured a presentation by Assistant Regional Advisor, Andrea Hall.  Andrea took the group on a PowerPoint journey through the History of Children’s Books.

Children’s books weren’t always fun, colorful, and abundant like they are today.  Andrea explained that long before books, people would exchange stories orally.  While it was acceptable for children to listen, the stories weren’t geared towards them as an audience.  The earliest books children were exposed to, including Hornbooks, Battledores, and Chapbooks, were primarily tools for learning about letters, the alphabet, proverbs, and etiquette.   (And isn’t a good book on etiquette just what every child loves?)

John Locke was really the first person in the mid-1700’s to preach that a child’s mind was like a blank slate, and that it was up to adults to mold those minds with books.  Traditional stories aimed for children were soon brought to paper, and great minds like John Newbery (of the prestigious Newbery Award) championed the cause.  The Victorian era branched children’s books into new realms like fantasy and adventure, and the early 1900’s ushered in the first children’s publishing departments at major publishing houses.  Throughout the 1900’s, children’s books kept picking up steam with authors like Beatrix Potter, Maurice Sendak, and Margaret Wise Brown (and too many others to name), and children became enthralled with well-loved series like The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

If you’ve been around the literary world for the past few decades, then you’re already familiar with the huge boom the children’s market has experienced.  Countless book series grace bookstore shelves, a wealth of authors have risen to stardom, and many books have found their way to the big screen for audiences to enjoy as a new medium.  Oh, and there are these new things called “eBooks” that everyone is reading.  (Perhaps you’ve heard of them?)  There are more choices than ever, and the competition has never been stiffer.  Publishing conglomerates have formed; houses have instigated closed-door submission policies; and slush piles have risen to skyscraper proportions as more and more aspiring authors seek publication.  The emphasis on “Common Core Standards” is changing the way literature will be used for education, and libraries have all faced tough choices in the current economy.

But at the heart of it all, children are reading more and more. 

It’s a “best of times, worst of times” situation, and no one quite knows how everything will shake out.  But as long as we don’t go back to the era of etiquette books, this blogger is confident everything will turn out all right.  ;)

If you’re interested in finding out more about COSCBWI, be sure to check out the new website at or “like” the group on Facebook.  A big thanks to Andrea for sharing her PowerPoint slides with me so I could compile this summary for you all.  I hope to see you at the next COSCBWI meeting!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

April 2014: COSCBWI Illustrator Meeting

April's COSCBWI Illustrator Meeting focused on an artist's most important asset: their portfolio.

If you want to get a book deal or art-related job, you're going to have to show your work to some very important people.  Those people could be agents, art directors, other illustrators, or even your next door neighbor who knows someone--who knows someone--who knows someone else who is looking for an illustrator just like you.  Just as a publishing house wants to see a polished manuscript before signing an author's book deal, they want to see an artist's best work before offering them an illustration job.  A well-rounded, professional portfolio is the perfect way to showcase your talents and prove you're the perfect artist for their illustrating needs.

While back in the day, artists had to schlep their original artwork around with them, the digital era has changed things up a bit.  COSCBWI's Illustrator Coordinator, Stella Hickman, explained that many artists now keep a digital portfolio in addition to their traditional one.  This can be a website where you post your work, or scans of your art that you carry with you on your smart phone or tablet.  The format art directors, agents, and other employers request to see is ever-changing.  Some may want you to send them digital files; others might request a link to your website; and some people still want physical samples, such as illustrator postcards or tear sheets.  Pay close attention to the submission guidelines of each publishing house or agency, and follow it precisely.   

After explaining the purpose and formats of a portfolio, Stella looked at illustration samples from brave members and offered tips and advice to the group.  Some of her feedback included:

-Be conscious of the order of your portfolio artwork.  Start off with a wonderful piece to impress them off the bat.  Follow that up with a few okay pieces, then another great one, then a couple more so-so's.  Top it all off with a SUPER FANTABULOUS SPECTACULAR piece so there's no way they'll forget you!

-Make sure to update your portfolio frequently.  An illustrator's style and skill-level changes with every piece they draw.  Your favorite piece from two years ago is probably not equivalent to your best work today.  Don't be afraid to take out older pieces and keep your portfolio fresh.  If you haven't added any pieces in awhile, challenge yourself to make some new illustrations and see how much you've improved.

-It's a good idea to include a series of illustrations from the same story.  (Perhaps two to four.)  Doing so proves you can tell a story visually, and shows that you can illustrate a character consistently.  It's also helpful to include some sketches and concept art.  This gives the portfolio viewer insight to your artistic process, and also shows if your final product is similar or far removed from where you started.

-If you're showing your portfolio in-person at a meeting or conference, remember to bring something you can leave at the end.  This can be your business card, illustrator postcard, tear sheets, etc.  Arriving prepared with promotional materials makes you look professional, and makes it easy to find you again!

Members left the meeting with wonderful ideas on how to promote their work and polish their portfolios.  I can't wait to get back to work on my own portfolio!

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to check out the NEW website at or "like" the group on Facebook.  I hope to see you at the next meeting!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

March Art Explosion

As the title of this post implies, March turned out to be a surprisingly creative month.  Most months, I struggle to finish one or two pieces.  During March, I did a teensy bit more...

At home, I finished up my first vector piece for my Adobe Illustrator class.

At work, I started utilizing my lunch break for creative "me" time.  I'm fortunate to have Photoshop on my office computer, which is my favorite digital art program.  I plug in my tablet, take a bite of sandwich, start doodling...and before I know it, the hour is up and I've still only had one bite of sandwich!  While eating has ironically moved to the back-burner during lunch time, I'm very much enjoying my creative break.

The only catch is that I can't work on paintings that are too big or complex, otherwise my computer crashes.  (And then I just want to throw my sandwich.)  That means my usual 300+ layer illustrations are out of the question.  So instead, I've been trying my hand at bite-size pieces... landscape speedpaints!

I've never tried speedpainting before, but I thought it would be both fun and good for practice.  They each take 1-3 hours over a few lunches.  That may not seem fast to most people, but it's speedy to me!  (And those intimidating landscapes are getting a little less scary each time.  Hooray!)

I've also started a new animal sketch series.  The goal is simply to draw lots of animals in a fun, children's illustration style.  I've had a great time making these little illustrations to practice simple backgrounds, experiment with expressions, and draw new animals.

So far, I've got a snooty tiger:

A sneaky gator:

And a curious red panda:

What critter will be next?  Who knows!  But I will definitely be adding new animals to this series!

So while I'm not doing much eating, I am enjoying my extra art time.  I hope I'll have just as many new pieces to share with you at the end of April.  :)

(Note: I followed some wonderful tutorials on landscape painting techniques and making custom brushes on deviantArt.  You can find links to them on my deviantArt page.)