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21 September 2017

The Fan Brothers' THE ANTLERED SHIP

Dashka Slater (who I interviewed HERE) has written a new book illustrated by the same team that illustrated The Night Gardener. I'm thrilled to have The Fan Brothers, Eric and Terry, here today to talk about illustrating THE ANTLERED SHIP.
e: Can you walk us through your creative process behind The Antlered Ship?
The Fan Brothers:
The first step to creating any picture book is to do concept sketches and eventually a rough dummy. The dummy is a guide for all the final art and allows the editor and art director—in this case Andrea Welch and Lauren Rille at Beach Lane Books—to offer feedback and guidance when the book is still in its formative stages. Usually there are a few versions of the dummy created to address their feedback and to refine the layouts and page turns to everyone's satisfaction. 
      There are always a variety of different approaches you can take with a story, so the purpose of doing sketches is also to refine what approach will best carry the narrative you're attempting to illustrate. For example, early on we weren't sure if the characters in The Antlered Ship should be anthropomorphized or whether they should be more naturalistic. We eventually opted for the latter, but here's an early sketch where the animals were fully anthropomorphized:
And here are some concept sketches of the ship itself:

​And finally, some examples of what the dummy looks like compared to final art:

As you can see​, sometimes the dummy image stays pretty close to the final, and sometimes it veers significantly. We originally had exotic animals on the dock, but Andrea and Lauren suggested—I think sensibly—that having animals that were geographically relevant to the deer might make the world seem more grounded and internally consistent. That change happened while we were doing final art, and we had already started the process of rendering the other animals, which never made it into the book, although we did sneak the tortoise into a later scene (minus his little hat).
e: How was this book different from your amazing debut, The Night Gardner?
The Fan Brothers:
We've always enjoyed drawing animals, and while The Night Gardener had its share of animals in the form of topiaries, The Antlered Ship was the first story we've done with an entire animal cast of characters. It's also a very different setting than The Night Gardener, since it's a sea voyage, which takes the characters to a variety of different locales.   

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art”—the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
The Fan Brothers:
"Heart Art" for us is art that engages the imagination in such a way that it opens a doorway back to our own childhoods. So we always try to create art that resonates with the part of us that still remembers that sense of wonder and mystery, and we hope that some of that feeling carries over to readers.  

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of The Antlered Ship?
The Fan Brothers:
I'm not sure if it qualifies as unique or funny, but The Antlered Ship was the first book we've done where we built a little reference model to help us with a couple of illustrations. We were faced with the challenge of keeping the antlers on the ship's masthead consistent, so we constructed a mock-up in Fimo modelling clay as a guide:
e: What was your path into publishing?
The Fan Brothers:
  Both of us had a rather circuitous path into picture books. We attended OCAD University in Toronto to study art, but after graduating, life took us in a few different directions. For a while we had a literary agent in Hollywood and were attempting to sell a spec script that we had written with our younger brother Devin. In the meantime we were working in non-art-related jobs and doing art on the side. When our dreams of Hollywood fame and fortune failed to materialize, we both started submitting t-shirt designs to a new website called Threadless. We were fortunate enough to get some of our designs selected, and I think this reignited our passion for doing art. When Threadless partnered with another website called Society6, we started uploading our art there, which eventually caught the eye of our agent-extraordinaire Kirsten Hall, who had just started her new agency, Catbird. She asked us if we had any story ideas she could pitch, and we remembered a t-shirt design we had done many years ago called The Night Gardener. Even though it was a standalone design, we always felt there was a story waiting to be told that we could build from the image:
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
The Fan Brothers:
Our favorite part of being creators—specifically of picture books—is the possibility that our work will impact a reader in the same way that we were impacted by art when we were kids. There's nothing more gratifying than hearing from a reader who loved your work or was inspired by it—whether it's a kid or an adult. The most challenging part is to keep dipping into the creative well and hoping you still find something inspiring there. It's the same challenge that every artist inevitably faces—the blank sheet of paper.   
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
The Fan Brothers:
When we originally read The Antlered Ship, which was written by Dashka Slater, I think what struck us—beyond the core message that finding what you're looking for is sometimes right under your nose—was the open-ended quality of the story. It ends where it begins: with questions. I think there's an apt metaphor for life there. We never get all the answers we're looking for, but asking questions carries us to places that give our lives meaning and purpose. It's a particularly resonant theme for children, because children are the ultimate question-askers, and in that way Marco is touchingly childlike (but never childish).   

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
The Fan Brothers:
We just finished working on our next book, Ocean Meets Sky, which we think qualifies as a dream project since we wrote and illustrated it together, like The Night Gardener.
      Thanks for taking the time to interview us!
Best,
The Fan Brothers

e: Thank you, Eric and Terry! We look forward to seeing more of your wonderful work, including Ocean Meets Sky!

19 September 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Pirate Bear

     It's TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY! Arrrrrr! To be a proper pirate, you need an eye-patch, a parrot, and a good book about finding treasure! Which book do you suppose this pirate is reading? CLICK HERE for more Pirate-themed coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

17 September 2017

VIDEO: Chris Haughton

Full credit goes to Travis Jonker at School Library Journal for turning me onto this video about Chris Haughton and his collage method. Fabulous! Click the image to watch on Vimeo.
Here are some of his wonderful books:

16 September 2017

University of Glasgow Freshers Week

It's Freshers Week at the University of Glasgow. Yes, that is sunshine.
I took the train over on Wednesday to get my student ID card and get some other things in shape, and was met with the buzz of a campus-full of new students being pitched all the various student organizations/clubs and pizza!
I experienced the same thing at the University of Edinburgh when I was first starting out two years ago. But this time, I get to wander halls that look like this.
And grounds that look like this.
Truly, the University of Glasgow is absolutely stunning.
Imagine walking around a corner to happen upon a staircase as gorgeous as this. It took my breath away.
The statue is of James Dalrymple, a rather astute gentleman with a worthy history.
What a treat it will be to discover this campus - and this city! As I headed back to the subway (subway to the train), I noticed this little alley, Ashton Lane, with this intriguing building at the end of it. I had to go see what it was.
Turns out it was a pub, with this lovely sign. Your guess is as good as mine - is it a menu? A list of bands? A list of businesses? I've no idea.
People kept walking past me, so I knew the street must lead to something. Turns out, this will be one of my shortcuts getting to campus from the subway. Oh yeah.

14 September 2017

David Long and Harry Bloom's PIRATES MAGNIFIED

International Talk Like a Pirate Day is September 19th and I have a whale of a treat for you to help celebrate it! Award-winning author David Long and illustrator Harry Bloom recently teamed up on a swashbuckling search-and-find adventure that lets you see history up close and personal! They sailed by to share their process behind this compendium of fun facts, stories and pirate trivia!
e: What is your creative process and medium, can you walk us through it?
David:
It’s not tremendously complicated. Mostly I write the sort of books I like to read, in more than one case when I found that no-one else had done it yet, or the ones I wish I’d been able to read to my own children when they were young enough to want me to do this. I start early in the morning and work until I’ve had enough (or feel I’ve done enough) - which is usually mid-afternoon - and work on a laptop. Always have, my writing is far too poor to write anything out longhand and I find it easier thinking with a screen in front of me - and no distractions, other than the cat.
Harry: I start by doing a couple of rough layouts, once I’ve settled on a good ‘skeleton’ for the piece I work it up into a more detailed pencil sketch featuring everything specific to the scene. If I’m working on a piece that features a large crowd I’ll focus on adding people doing specific activities or having interactions first and then cement them together with your ‘Average Joe’. Once everything’s got the thumbs up I’ll ink it in on a lightbox and we’re ready for scanning. Once it’s digitised I amend all the rogue lines, wonky eyes and move a few elements around to ensure everything’s sitting just right. From there I’ll work around a palette I have for the project and colour the piece in. The final touch is to add a few extra details here and there and suddenly everything melds together and springs to life!
e: Were there special challenges with this project? (There's so much detail!)
David:
Not especially, except that a lot of the detail had to be researched rather than written to form the basis of Harry's illustrations which are unusually busy. I mean, there’s a lot going on in there that isn’t necessarily in the text.
Harry: One of the challenges was ensuring we kept the book as factual as possible. David Long and the guys at Wide Eyed Editions would provide a brief with reference material and guidance on things like apparel, weapons and ships. I also compiled my own resource pack that I could reference as I drew up a spread. Occasionally we’d have to make tweaks here or there but for the most part its helped to make the book a lot more engaging. (Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.)
e: For Harry - What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Harry:
I think for me ‘Heart Art’ can be a couple of things. Firstly, images that encourage repeat viewing, images that when you take the time and look a little closer reveal things you hadn’t seen before. I think this helps immerse you in the piece and has been used to great effect by artists such as Bruegel and Lowry and into the modern day with Martin Handford’s ubiquitous Where’s Wally. I also see ‘Heart Art’ as being narrative driven. Often images that resonate with us go hand in hand with great ideas and stories. The illustration in books such as Beatrix Potter, Rupert the Bear and Winnie the Pooh catch our imaginations but are all stories which we can relate to in some form or another.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this book?
David:
Hmm, I don’t think so, except that by the end of it I had more regard for pirates than I had at the start. Obviously they were criminals but they needed to be skilled to survive, which I like, and it was hard times for everyone so we need to make allowances for that. Also a pirate’s life was often better than that of an ordinary sailor in the Royal Navy so without getting too involved in the morality of the situation one can see why many chose to sail on ‘the dark side’.
Harry: I’d like to say I counted how many little people I drew throughout the book but I lost count along the way. I’m sure if I added them up I’d hit some sort of milestone. Perhaps a reader who has a lot of time on their hands can let me know! (Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.)
e: What was the path to publication for this book?
David:
I’d already worked with the publisher, on a lovely book called The Diary of a Time Traveller which was translated into quite a few foreign languages, and so my agent and I both had a relationship with the publisher which made things easier when it came to discussing a new idea and working through it.
Harry: Back in 2012 I worked on my first ‘search and find’ book based around the London 2012 Olympics. That was followed up a year later with a Christmas themed ‘search and find’ and a series of illustrations for Arsenal football club entitled, ‘Where’s the Gunnersaurus’. These projects helped drive my illustration towards focusing on bigger crowd scenes and over time my practice began to snowball. Wide Eyed editions had seen my work and were looking to create a new non-fiction history book for children. They had been in conversation with Author David Long about creating a book about pirates and felt big, immersive illustrations would be a perfect fit. They wanted the book to be detailed, fun and factual and were eager to have an interactive twist, a magnifying glass – something that I as a child would have been enthralled by. From there we met up, discussed the project in detail and set about drawing up a preliminary spread to make sure we were on the right lines. Luckily we got the thumbs up and the rest is history! (Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.)
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
David:
I like working alone at home, commuting is such a waste of time and I can’t bear office life, and I suppose the biggest challenge is getting down to it each morning rather than thinking ‘I’ll start it tomorrow’. Fortunately I love writing, and the research needed to do this, so I don’t really need someone standing over me saying Do This Now.
Harry: I think my favourite part is coming up with fresh ideas and taking on new projects. There’s a rush of excitement and creativity that comes with the possibility of bringing something new to life. The most challenging aspect can be keeping that spark alive especially with the more labour intensive illustrations. I find the best thing to do, once you’re in the real ‘meat and potatoes’ of the project is to keep in sight the final product. Having a vision of the finished piece is always as massive motivation and the final product is always hugely rewarding.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious? (Like celebrating “Talk Like a Pirate Day”!)
David:
I hope they’ll realise that pirates had to be skilled sailors to survive and expert navigators or they’d die. At this distance they are romantic figures but they also had to be really resourceful. It wasn’t just a matter of getting drunk and running your sword through anyone you didn’t like.
Harry: As an illustrator I like the thought that readers will find something new in the illustrations each time they pick up the book. Whether that’s something factual like how the crew slept or spotting something fun like a dancing Pig or a sword-wielding Octopus.
      As a reader however I’m excited to hear about the female pirates that feature in the book. We often associate pirates and seafaring with bearded, peg legged old men so its fantastic to hear about people such as Anne Bonny and Mary Read who could be just as cutthroat and swashbuckling as the rest of them.

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
David:
I’m working on a book about Ancient Egypt, which will be published next year with the same illustrator, Harry. Dream project? Well that one I’m keeping quiet because I don’t want someone else to do it before I’m ready.
Harry: I’m currently working on a follow up to Pirates Magnified with Wide Eyed Editions that will be about Ancient Egypt. It’s a subject that I was fascinated by as a child so it’s really exciting to be able to work on bringing it to life. As for a dream project, I think working on this has definitely fulfilled a long-term ambition, seeing the finished book in real life is a dream come true!
      Looking forward though I’d love to work on an adventure come puzzle picture book for children. Think the Famous Five meets Where’s Wally with big, detailed illustrations filled with clues, puzzles and things to uncover.
e: Publishers, did you see that!? Thanks guys! (Click on their photos to visit their websites.)

12 September 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Fairy On A Branch

     I made this card for my boss at Hollins University, the incredible illustrator Ruth Sanderson. If you're familiar with her work, it's obvious why I wanted to draw her a fairy! CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

11 September 2017

In Search of Pho

One of the few things I've missed here in Edinburgh is Vietnamese Pho. Before we left Atlanta, Stan and I had become addicts of the huge bowls of soup with a plate of fresh herbs, bean sprouts and lime wedges on the side. Drizzle in some hoisin sauce or siracha sauce and it made a grey Sunday meal into pure heaven.
     Unfortunately, for as seriously international Edinburgh is, there's not a large Vietnamese contingency here. So I've been missing Pho!
     I did find a mom & pop place that make a Pho-like soup near Haymarket a while back. The restaurant is half gallery, half restaurant, half living room. We felt like we were being invited into somebody's home. In fact, the man worked at a nearby table while his wife made us lunch. I perused some of the items for sale while she did. I especially loved the lotus lamps.

     Then, finally after months of cravings, my Pho Ga (basically chicken noodle soup) arrived!
     And yeah. No. It wasn't what we used to get in the states, no side plate of herbs. It was good. But not my idea of a proper Pho.
     It's now a year later, and I have finally found proper PHO-GA! That said, I have to travel to Glasgow to get it. Not a prob as I'll be over there a good bit for my PhD studies and it's right near the train station. It's called Non Viet on Sauchiehall Street, and I have finally found my fix! YES!
It was a massive bowl of goodness with all sorts of fresh yummies on the side and hoisin sauce to drizzle in. Add to that, the green tea was a pot of loose tea - absolutely wonderful. It was all so good, I "mmmmm'd" all the way through my meal and the staff were giggling at me. (But smiling - how nice to have somebody appreciate your food as much as I did!) Needless to say, I will be there a LOT! YUM!

10 September 2017

Cards for Friends

You've seen the cards I've made for friends with pencil and pen. Lately, as I've grown more comfortable with watercolors, I've been adding color. Like to this card of two bluebirds of happiness for my Doc who was away for several months after losing her husband unexpectedly.
And this one for my friends Marta, Ash and Pedro who have moved into a new home.
It was funny making this one as my idea of what 'home' looks like is very different over here than it was in the states. Indeed, I don't know any homes in the states with views like this:
I like making these, and I also use them as a bit of an experiment. These were drawn, then sealed with spray-fix, then hit with a layer of Matte-Medium before painting. I'd heard this was a good way to seal a drawing and still get the nice reaction of the paper that you want with watercolor. Not sure I agree it worked, but I did try it with a painting for Crow Not Crow and it seemed to work well on that one. Interesting!

VIDEO: James Ransom's Young Art Series

James Ransom has a new "Young At Art" series of videos up at Kidlit TV. Might be perfect viewing for a little one in your world. Click the image to watch at Kidlit.tv.

08 September 2017

Friday Links List - 08 September 2017

From The Bookseller: All-female Lord of the Flies adaptation sparks backlash (written by two men)

From Entertainment Weekly: The Diviners author Libba Bray has some thoughts on this all-female Lord of the Flies remake

From SCBWI British Isles "Words & Pictures": Illustrators and Social Media

From The Cybils: The 2017 Cybils Call for Judges: We Need YOU!

From the University of Glasgow: Celebrate International Literacy Day! (08 September)

From LuxuryWeb Magzine: A write-up by a friend's husband about their most recent trip: Once Again Scotland

From Illustoria: Why You Ought to Doodle Every Day

From Muddy Colors: Mastering Reference - St. George and the White Dragon by Donato

From The Write Life: You Can't Edit Your Own Book and Here are 7 Reasons Why

From Imagination Soup: Noteworthy Fall 2017 Picture Books

From SLJ: Blast from the (Recent) Past: 13 Great Middle Grade and YA reads set between 1969 and 2010 (called historical fiction - yup)

Also from SLJ: After Hurricane Harvey, School Librarians Provide Support and Stories (there's also a bit about how you can help)

The Eric Carle Museum Art Auction is now LIVE - CLICK HERE!
From Brightly: 17 Must-Read YA Books of Fall 2017

Meanwhile at Bookshelf: Don't you want this Book Reader Bedding Set?

21 Days of Resistence

This topic deserves its own post. From Bustle, I came across "20 Picture Books About Diversity, Politics, And Equality For The Young Activists In Your Life." But even better, it turns out Bustle is running a full-on campaign of resistance-related books. (Click this image.)
As they say,
"Although its our instinct to protect children from the harsh realities of the world, it's even more important to teach them to face it head-on and with a full heart. But talking about the difficult topics with young people, the complicated ones like racism, sexism, equality, isn't easy. It's hard to know where to start or how much detail to go into, and even more impossible to predict what kinds of questions you'll get after.
      That's where picture books come in. They are versatile tools that can be used to start a conversation about things like civil rights, equality, and prejudice. Whether it's an inspiring true story or a meaningful fictional tale, picture books can provide an introduction to important issues every citizen should be informed about, no matter their age. Not to mention, they make debating, questioning, and discussing the "tough stuff" an engaging and fun activity that the right readers will turn into a life-long habit."
I couldn't agree more and hope you'll check out these titles to gear of for some resistance of your own!

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