27 March 2017

Sunshine in Edinburgh

The irony is that the last post I did about spring arriving went live on a day of terrible weather. But such is the tease of spring. This past weekend was gorgeous once again, absolutely gorgeous!The florist on the walk home was well-stocked.
Then, I returned from the uni on Friday to find Stan well into the process of grilling hamburgers on a £2 grill in the parking lot in front of our flat. (You may have seen this on my FB page in the moment.)
The hamburgers were AMAZING!
The next day Stan and I just wanted to be out, so we meandered down Leith Walk for lunch on the dock at Teuchters.
People had come out of the woodwork to soak up the Vitamin D.
Controversial topics were off limites today, except for in the windows.
From Leith we slowly wandered back up Leith Walk, watched over by Queen Victoria.
Everywhere there were crowds of people sitting or standing outside diners, cafes and pubs.
With their dogs, of course.
Happily, before we reached the flat, we ran into a new friend from the Big Book Crit the other night. So we stopped for one last sun soak and fun conversation before heading home.
     Granted, I worked from home on Sunday. But the sun was shining in all the windows and it was lovely to know that spring was indeed waiting just outside. Perhaps it will stick around this time!

26 March 2017


Remember I told you about my fellow classmate who was giving a TEDx TALK this year? Well, it's now live on YouTube! Click the image to watch Silvia Razakova talk about "The Danger of the Obvious."

24 March 2017

The Big Book Crit

Last night I attended the Big Book Crit
hosted by
the institute of direct and digital marketing hosted by Story, marketing agency.
     About a dozen Creative Directors (CDs) from top agencies in Scotland and the UK were in attendance to review and offer advice on student portfolios...for FREE. Wow.
     I remember events like this offered by the Graphic Artists Guild in the states, but I don't recall an event like this ever being FREE.
     At my age, I'm not the typical demographic for this event, however, I am indeed a student. Add to that, as I reach the end of my MFA here at the University of Edinburgh College of Art, I've put together an entirely new body of work and a new portfolio, and it has been ages since I've received a portfolio review. (I've given plenty of portfolio critiques, but it's hard to evaluate your own work with objectivity!) I liken my time here at uni as being in a creative chrysalis for the last two years. I also don't know the UK market as far as who the top design firms are, who the top artist representatives are, what they're looking for, etc. I had to go, and I'm so glad I did!
     First, I learned so much about where CDs are going these days to find talent. The top contenders weren't a surprise, like CIA and AOI (which I plan to join as a graduation present to myself soon). However, the big surprise was Pinterest. The site has cleaned up its act since its early days when copyright protection was such an issue. Nowadays, artists can upload an image under a tag like "monkeys." If an art director needs an image of a monkey, they can do a search in Pinterest, find a monkey style they like, and find the artist to hire... all through Pinterest. Who knew!?
     I was also reminded that preferences are completely relative. I had one CD tell me the work in the center of my portfolio was weaker in comparison to the front and back, only to have a later CD tell me my work in the middle was the strongest and blew them away! I had another CD tell me they loved how many different styles I showed because they like to work with a creator who can address many needs, only to have another CD say they preferred a creator to have one identifiable style.
     My take away on that? Just keep creating like crazy and let the market figure out how it wants to label me, rather than the other way around.
     I gave out my card and received many in return. I'm following up with folks today - new potential avenues for freelance work in the future.
     All said, this was an amazing event that came at just the right time for me. As I go forth into the world with this new ideology on how I create, I was given confidence in the strength of my new work and contacts with CDs who might hire me for freelance work. Fabulous!
     Many thanks to Story for hosting the event and being so gracious, as well to idm for putting together such a valuable affair.
     #BigBookCrit #Edinburgh

Friday Links List - 24 March 2017

From The Bookseller: YA Book Prize shortlist announced

From Playing by the Book: Juxtapositions, connections and the impact they have on reading and reviewing

From Artspace: "Don't Quote Deleuze": How to Write a Good Artist Statement

From Mashable: Court settles debate that's divided grammar nerds for decades

Michael Rosen: Curriculum-free zones - let's do it!

From Readers.com: Winning Spelling Bee Words from the Past 50 Years

From Nosy Crow: "What have they done to my library?" - Caitlin Moran's latest column

From Nathan Bransford: How To Know If You Have a Good Editor

From Bookshelf: Help stock donkey-drawn libraries in Somalia

From WNYC: Changing the World With Children's Book "Here, Javaka discusses his award-winning book, "Radiant Child The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquait," the inspiration for the story, and how society can use children's literature to change the world."

23 March 2017

Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal on OVER AND UNDER THE POND

I have a treat for you readers - another interview between the author and illustrator! This one is between the creators of OVER AND UNDER THE POND. Enjoy!
A Conversation with
Kate Messner & Christopher Silas Neal

KATE: So...it’s confession time here. I love the art in all of the books in this series, Chris. I was enchanted by the wintry world you painted in Over and Under the Snow and adored the coziness of all the garden residents in Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt. But there’s something about Over and Under the Pond that makes it my unofficial favorite when it comes to your art.
      I love the palette and the perspectives in this one so much, so I’d love to hear a bit about how you approached creating the art for this book when you first received the finished manuscript.

CHRIS: Hearing this makes me so happy. Thank you. It’s my favorite of the series, too. Over and Under the Snow was my first experience making a picture book, and it will forever hold a cozy corner in my heart. I made a lot of growth as an artist and picture book maker with the following Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt. But Over and Under the Pond just came together seamlessly. I had been wanting to work with a water-based environment for a while and when I first heard you were writing about a pond, I immediately conjured up colors and textures that I thought would fit the mood and setting. What excites me most are very specific details like drawing reeds and pebbles and wavy lines. I let those initial thoughts sit in my subconscious until I received your final manuscript many months later. With those bits of tiny details and inspiration in mind, I worked outward into the narrative. Since the basic design and pace had already been established, the first round of sketches for this book were just about trying to block out the basic story and pagination.

      From there, I try to reach beyond what’s expected. I definitely felt more comfortable working with dimension and visual perspective than I did nearly 10 years ago working on Over and Under the Snow. Though the art in this book is still deceptively flat; I try to squeeze a lot out of the one or two visual tricks that I know.
      How was it for you working on the third book in this series? All three books have a similar pace and in each story, we find similar moments, yet each book feels unique. The mood and words in Over and Under the Snow are so perfectly snowy and poetic. Over and Under the Pond feels connected to the other books, but with its own distinct character and rhythm. Was it a challenge to stay fresh and not force the story into the existing framework of the other books?

KATE: I love hearing about your process, especially since one of the things I love most about the art in this book is the sense of movement and stillness - the ripple of the waves and the sense of the wind, compared with that quiet at the end of the story. I felt that way about SNOW and GARDEN, too - that the colors created such strong but quiet feelings in the story.
      I’ve loved working on this series. For me, the joy of a series is that young readers come with an expectation of meeting an old friend - not in the characters, in this case, since each book features a different family - but in the structure and sense of discovery. I began my work on this book with a list of the animals that live in the ecosystem we’d chosen to explore. I wrote their names & behaviors on two different colored Post-It Notes - one color for those that inhabit the world OVER the pond and another for those we’d find UNDER the pond. From there, I thought about the experience of exploring a pond - all the parts of taking a rowboat out for the day, from pushing off, to paddling, to those quiet moments where you sit, stare up at the sky, and wonder. Our editor at Chronicle, Melissa Manlove, has always pushed me to look for the connections between the child’s experience and the more hidden natural world, so that’s something I look for as well. One of my favorite spreads shows the boy in this story pausing to watch a gentle dragonfly that’s landed on his knee, while below the surface, a dragonfly larva attacks its prey. Same creature - different stage - and I love the way your art captures both the quiet of that moment over the pond and the excitement of the hunt down below.
      Some of my other favorite illustrations in this book are the ones that shift perspective - where we see a view from the bottom of the pond, looking up at the boat from below, and also the one from the treetops, looking down.

      Chris, I’m curious as to whether you have favorite spreads, too? Or maybe a favorite animal?

CHRIS: Using a chart is such a great way to start a project. There are so many neat creatures in this book and I imagine there are many other fascinating animals that didn’t make it to the final draft. I have this image of you moving around Post-It notes on your wall and making connections between wildlife above and below—sort of like a detective solving a crime.
      One of my favorite spreads is the loon near the end of the book. Despite the many animals we visit and facts we learn, you make space in the narrative to let the setting, creatures, and human characters just exist and be still. I like to think readers learn through feeling and mood as well as facts. When I look at this spread, I sense the damp air, and hushed wind, croaking frogs and chirping crickets—mosquitoes and moths swarming around a porch light. It reminds me of the many times I’ve stayed at a lake house or near a pond upstate. My initial sketch for this spread was from the point of view of the boy getting out of his boat and looking back at the pond. It was a way to connect with the human characters, but it didn’t give us anything new. By switching the perspective, we get a rare glimpse at the hidden assortment of noisy critters who perform the pond’s evening soundtrack.

      Your opening words when read aloud seem to invoke the sound of paddling through water. “Over the pond we slide, splashing through lily pads, sweeping through reeds.” And in other places, the writing is playful and poetic. I’d love to hear more about how you go from charts and notes to poetry.

KATE: I love that final spread, too, especially the sense of quiet.
      You’re absolutely right about the Post-It Notes! I do end up moving things around, looking for those connections and trying out different ways of letting the story unfold. Once that’s finished, I sit down to write, and while I do pay attention to language and word choice the first time around, most of the poetry happens later, during the revision process. I spend a lot of time reading aloud to see if the music of the story sounds right and playing around with different possibilities. Picture books are so short that the language needs to be super-charged. For me, it takes a lot of read-alouds and rewrites to make a story like this sing.
      One last question for you, Chris… I know that our Over and Under the Snow was your first picture book, and I’ve loved seeing your other books in the world since then. What are you working on now?

CHRIS: Thanks for asking, Kate. I’m lucky to have many projects in the works. In Fall 2017, I will release another self-authored book from Candlewick titled, I Won’t Eat That, about a hungry cat who refuses to eat his dry, drab cat food and instead asks an assortment of wild animals including a turtle, a lion, and a chimp what they eat. The cat finds their food weird, gross and completely disgusting but eventually discovers a meal worthy of the pickiest and finickiest feline. In Spring 2018, I will debut two self-authored board books with Little Bee. One is a mash-up of shapes and animals called Animals Shapes, the other is a mashup of colors and animals called Animals Colors. Beyond that, I’m working with Jennifer Adams and Balzer/Bray on an adaptation of the poem “How Do I Love, Thee?” a bio picture book of Frank Lloyd Wright with Barbara Rosenstock, and a book with author Shelley Moore Thomas which I think will publish in Spring 2019.
      And I’ll ask you the same thing. What projects do you have in the works?

KATE: Wow, that’s a full plate! We’re kindred spirits in that we tend to juggle multiple projects. I’m working on the latest title in my Ranger in Time series with Scholastic - this one’s set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina - as well as a middle grade novel called Breakout, with Bloomsbury. It’s about what happens in a small town when two inmates break out of the maximum security prison, launching a manhunt that brings out both the best and worst in the community and changes the way three kids see their neighbors and the place they call home. And of course, I’m hoping that before long, we might be able to collaborate on another Over/Under nature book, too!

e: Thank you both and I wish you much continued success (and more Over and Under books)!

22 March 2017

Signs of Spring!

Days are getting noticeably longer here in Edinburgh and signs of spring are popping up everywhere. It begins with the flower trucks. Gardners fill the pub planters with blooms that will soon be spilling color throughout the city.

The next sign is that the gloves I often find on fence tines are now turning to scarves.

And then there are the daffodils.

They are on the hills.

And in the greenways. (That's Stan in the middle.)

The florists are covered with blooming bulbs, tulips, violets, crocus, lovely.

Yup - spring is in the air and we're anxious to welcome it in all its glory! (As I'm sure the owner of this TR4 is too!)

21 March 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - CROW!

     In honor of my new book written by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, I give you a crow! 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.

20 March 2017

Animal Alphabet Pillows!

I've had such fun sharing items with you through Zazzle, I've decided to share more...
     If you've checked out my updated portfolio recently, you'll have noticed a section called Animal Alphabet. This is a project I started after visiting the Bologna Children's Book Festival last year.

It is made up of blocks and a print and a book, but especially PILLOWS!

The drawings were done in pen and ink and then digitally colored in an off-set screen-printed style. They're meant to look bold and a bit wonky. And I've made them available in my new ANIMAL ALPHABET ZAZZLE STORE! I hope you'll check it out! (Click the image.)

19 March 2017

Locker Room Talk

Alexis Jones gave a powerful TED Talk about the lessons and attitudes we're teaching our young, male athletes. While some of the language is a bit adult, the sentiment is extremely important. I encourage sharing it and her lessons with as many young adults as possible!

2017 Margaret Wise Brown Award goes to...

Adam Rex for School's First Day of School and Debbie Levy for I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark! Fantastic news - and I hope they will both be able to accept their award at Hollins this summer! From the Prize's webpage:
The annual award showcases the most distinguished picture book manuscript as selected by a panel of judges...The Margaret Wise Brown Prize is among the few children’s book honors with a cash award.
     This year's judges were Phil Bildner (last year's winner for Marvelous Cornelius, Jane Yolen (author of the 2016 MWB Honor Book, You Nest Here With Me), and Heidi E.Y. Stemple (co-author of You Nest Here With Me).
     CLICK HERE to read more about this year's prize.

18 March 2017

Shepherd's Pie!

My husband has gotten very good at creating the classically Scottish dish of Shepherd's Pie!

It is SO yummy, I had to share it with you...

Okay, so it's actually Jamie Oliver's recipe, but Stan has perfected it! You should give it a try. (Stan puts peas in the pie, which I prefer.)
     Think it's actually a classically English dish? Well, it's possible. Read the debate HERE.

17 March 2017

Friday Links List - 17 March 2017

From The Washington Post: The best books for raising activist kids

From Chronicle Books: We Wish You More: A Wish for Amy Krouse Rosenthal - join in.

From Bookshelf: Ghost Libraries (image to the right by Zoe at Playing by the Book - click to see lots more images) - "As we continue to fight to save our local public library which turned 80 years old last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the lifecycle of libraries and how they change over time, and what happens when they’re gone. Among other things, this has led me to visit several “ghost” libraries – buildings originally built as libraries, but which no longer house libraries, either because they’ve been moved to new buildings or simply because the library has been closed and lost entirely to its community. Hunting for these “ghosts” has been meditative and moving. I can’t help but wonder what books were read and borrowed, what lives were changed as a result of these former libraries."

From the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Blog: Words Shape Our Lives also, Achieving the Impossible

From Kidlit Artists: Composition is Like an Aquarium

From SLJs 100 Scope Notes: 2017 Books from Coretta Scott King Winners - Happy to see some friends in there!

From The Scottish Book Trust: 20 Empowering Books for Girls (8-11)

From Scottish Young Publishers: The Brexit Question: "The inevitable will happen so stay true to yourself."

From The New Yorker: How Educational Children's Books Are Explaining President Trump

From Hazel Terry's Thread, Fashion and Costume: Elaine Jae Jarrell - LOVE! It's like wearing a walking Baquiat painting!

From NPR: Author, 'Modern Love' Essayist (and Children's Book author) Amy Krouse Rosenthal Dies At 51 also at the Washington Post: It’s OK to be OK: The subtle inspiration of Amy Krouse Rosenthal

From SLJ: 15 STEM Titles to Celebrate Women

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wear green and remember, I have lots of St. Patrick's Day coloring pages you can share today - CLICK HERE or the image to see the collection!

16 March 2017

Bonnie Adamson's RUTAGABA BOO!

One of the great pleasures of having a blog with so many followers is that I get to celebrate when friends have publication successes, sharing their work with a wider audience. Such is the case with Bonnie Adamson's RUTABAGA BOO! I'm thrilled to have her here today to talk about her new book.

e: What is your creative process, can you walk us through it?
The first thing for me is to get the main character down. I usually do that by sketching out a scene. This scene may or may not be in the text, or remain in the finished layout—it’s just a way to explore the way the character interacts. Then I do more detailed sketches of the main character in different poses and start thinking about secondary characters. Next, I typically do “word” thumbnails, scribbling a word or phrase to represent what’s going on in each spread; then more detailed thumbnails, and finally, full-size pencil sketches of spreads for approval. I take the approved sketches into a page template in Photoshop to clean them up before printing and painting.

e: What is your medium?
For this book, I drew in 2B pencil on Bienfang parchment (tracing paper). I like the slight tooth of the tracing paper and the way the line breaks up when scanned. The drawings were done slightly smaller than actual size, scanned at 600 ppi and printed at 100% in waterproof ink on cold press watercolor paper. I use tube watercolors in thin washes. Since I don’t usually saturate the paper, I don’t stretch or prepare the paper other than to tape each spread to heavy chipboard for easier handling. I paint assembly-line style to keep the skin and hair tones as consistent as possible. After the painting is done, I go back in with pencil and re-establish any of the line that has been lost.

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?
It’s all in the characters’ expressions—not just facial, but body language, too. I like to be able to see a character’s thoughts between beats.

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
I didn’t create the concept of this book, but I recognized the feeling right away when the project was presented to me. Family in-jokes using silly words and phrases are a part of creating your own special world for your children. So portraying that relationship was very important to me. And then, halfway through the art process for this book, my mother passed away. The team at Atheneum were extremely gracious, and gave me extra time to pull myself together—but it was tough, working on a book about the emotional ties between a mother and child. I was exhausted when it was done, and avoided revisiting the book during the time it was in production. When I was able to look at it with fresh eyes, I was relieved that the original sense of love and closeness had made it onto the page.

e: Bonnie, I'm so sorry about your mom.
     What was your path to publication?
Emma Ledbetter, who was on the faculty of our SCBWI regional conference in 2013, saw my portfolio and thought my style might work for a manuscript she had on her desk. The plan was to provide art samples to go with Sudipta’s nearly wordless proposal in order to present it to the acquisitions committee. So the samples were on spec—but fortunately, acquisitions liked what they saw.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
My favorite part is problem-solving. I love figuring out how the pieces fit together.
      The most challenging part arises from years of being a graphic designer, where a successful project depended in large part on the client being happy. I’ve had to learn how to pay attention to my own voice.

e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Emotions are front and center in this book, so I hope that’s immediate and obvious. What might not be so obvious is that the main character is never pictured alone on a spread—a deliberate choice to remove any anxiety on the part of the reader. This is a book about feeling safe.

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Oh . . . at last count, more than a dozen projects are in various stages of completion. Each one is important to me. I hope they all make it out into the world.
e: So do I! Thanks, Bonnie!

RUTAGABA BOO! is written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and published by Atheneum, March 2017. Read a review at Publishers Weekly.


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