Friday, July 30, 2010

I Love KidLit: The Sea Chest


I'm happy to be sharing the very first post in my new I Love KidLit series, an ongoing blog thread in which I will be highlighting one children's book per day from my personal collection. (Based on the current size of my picture book library alone, I can easily do this for almost two years without repeats---and between my husband and I our collection is only getting bigger. )

Admittedly, the reasons for starting this project are predominantly self-satisfying (for one, I really need to catalog all our books!). But more importantly, if I want to be a good book illustrator, I need to do my analytic research! I really want to start articulating why I like the books I like in terms of both story and illustrative qualities, and what makes these books such enjoyable experiences. It is my hope that by discussing these books not only will I better understand my favorite art form, but I'll be able to share what I love with others who love kidlit too.

So, without further ado, I've selected Toni Buzzeo's THE SEA CHEST, illustrated by Mary GrandPré as today's I Love KidLit installment.

I'm so pleased to begin with this book, it is one of my absolute favorites. Although it is not rare for me to cry at picture books, it's generally a sign of a strong story when I do, and this one in particular really strikes me. The combination of poetic writing and emotive, painterly images gets me every time. The story-within-a story is simple: While waiting for a "stranger" to arrive, an old woman recalls to her great-grandniece her childhood spent living on an isolated lighthouse island with only her parents. A storm hits, a ship sinks, and an orphaned baby is discovered in a chest washed up on the rocks. The baby girl is taken in, instantly becoming family, and growing to fulfill the roll of the narrator's little sister as they spend their childhood together on the island. As adults they move to the mainland and live nearby to each other, each having their own full life.

The writing is truly lyrical, straightforward, and simple. Never telling too much--just enough to follow the story and allows the reader to imagine the unwritten parts of these characters lives. And it is what remains unwritten that makes this story so meaningful to me. It is essentially about friendship, love, and loss between sisters, an idea very close to my heart. And without giving away everything, the book is about life, death, and life again, and really comes full circle in it's appreciation of that truth.

Mary GrandPré is one of my favorite illustrators. Her characterizations are sensitively simplified and allow for a certain amount of universal appeal. Her use of material is expressive, filled with a quiet energy that brings her scenes to life. Her color palette exudes an underlying sense of comfort and warmth. I love her work because somehow I always feel safe in her world of color and form. All of these visual sensibilities complement the beautifully abstract tenderness of the story.

Picturebooks like these remind me why I love this medium so much. Yes, it is literature for children, but its beautiful sophistication and simple truth transcend and redefine what that really means.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Banjo Pig!

I decided to take a brief detour from yesterday's project and spend today working on piece for Guy Francis' Banjo Pig blog, where over 150 artists have submitted their own variations on this playful theme.

Not only was it fun to create, but I used it as a way to focus my style down to a younger audience using more simplified and expressive shapes- a healthy challenge for me.

Well....that's all folks!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fresh Perspective

As of today it has been about five and a half weeks since I left my full time job to focus on illustration. And although I am all right with what I have been doing since I left, today more than any day I was feeling more overwhelmed than ever before. There's so much I want to accomplish but now that I have so much time to do it, the unlimited daily freedom is actually taking a toll. I've had difficulty staying focused and no matter how many lists I write or attempts I make to organize and plan out my day, my attention span wanders continuously.

The first half of my day was spent turning in circles, spinning my wheels, starting one thing only to abandon it for some other fleeting attempt at something else. I was ready to throw in the towel altogether and embrace utter non-productivity. But then I stopped. Turned around, and kicked myself in the butt (metaphorically speaking).

A long while back I purchased a slew of books I hoped would provide understanding and inspiration when I eventually made the transition to illustrator. Only now, months later, did I finally decide to actually read one of them. And it was the best decision I made since I quit my job. I walked over to my little shelf of books about illustrating children's books and selected a couple to read. I gathered a notebook, pencil, glass of water, and settled into the chair on the back deck (afterall, why read inside on a nice, cloudy summer day?).

I began with The Art of Reading. The book as a whole is quite interesting. A celebration of children's literature in which some of the most well-know contemporary illustrators talk about books that inspired them when they were children. Included with each illustrator's blurb is an illustration inspired by their selected book from their childhood. It was enjoyable to see these visual reinterpretations--but what really moved me was not the art but what the artists had to say...

As I read I found myself jotting down numerous quotes from the illustrators, most of which pertained to why they were illustrators to begin with. They spoke about the magic of books, the importance of inspiring imagination through illustrations, the passion they had for living and breathing the art of storytelling.

It was while reading this book that I realized my own complete lack of focus lately was not due to a lack of interest in what I am doing, but a lack of passionate perspective as to WHY I am doing it. I need to remind myself why I'm in this field. At the end of the day, it's not about filling my portfolio with random self-satisfying images--it's about loving the art of creating a full story.

True satisfaction can and will only come when my artwork becomes what it's intended to be: part of a book, a "complete world between two covers." Beyond that, it is a priveledge to illustrate for children because our pictures have the inherent ability to "serve as a gateway to the world of books." It is through picture books that we first begin to read. First visually, then with written language. And every book has the potential to impact a reader, to make them remember it long after they've left it's pages.

THAT is the world I must remind myself that I love. That is where my passion truly is. I enjoy illustrating individual images but I love sequential book art more than anything else. And while I do not fancy myself an author just yet, I need to find the storyteller within myself or I am doomed to fail in this industry.

In summary, I feel both rejuvenated and terrified. I don't yet know who I am as an illustrator or how to get where I know I want to be. But I'll take comfort in the fact that so long as I do and make things with love, passion, and the proper perspective, I can be happy.

There is no right way, only the right reason.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

In The Woods

After two days of painting, I've finished my newest portfolio piece. This was my first time incorporating texture/pattern overlays directly into my work. I'd like to explore that further, along with several other elements that make digital painting so advantageous to my process.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I'm in the middle of working on my next illustration for my portfolio...I'm aiming to use this in my self promo advertisement I'm placing in next year's Picture Book. It was my goal to show both people and animals with an infusion of drama so I though of Red Riding Hood. I'm happy to work from pre-existing, recognizable stories for my portfolio because it allows me to focus more on my style and process and without the pressure of imagining something from scratch for each piece. I'll need to have the colored version in a day or so in order to meet my deadline! Eep!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gentle Giant

Finally finished my most recent illustration. At the moment I'm surprisingly content with how it turned out, which is truly a rare feeling to have. Mostly I feel discouraged when I finish a piece because they tend not to be as good as I hoped they'd be when I started.

But luckily I really enjoyed the process of this one. I like the overall concept and content and I think I'm begining to find the right balance between working digitally and retaining the feel of traditional media. I'm looking forward to evolving this style over the next few pieces!

Sunday, July 11, 2010!

I spent today reorganizing my portfolio website and am pleased to announce the launch of my new sister site,! I created this separate website to feature ONLY my fine art doodle paintings. Consider it Step 1 in my journey to exploring these paintings more seriously. I'd love to really take them further as artistic works and eventually sell prints & originals, take commissions, and even get them into galleries. It's a bit of a pipe dream at the moment but I think they could really go somewhere if I put in the work...

But for now, enjoy the new mini site.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Loving EVERYTHING. Here's why:

Life without a job is proving to be rather bea-u-timous. Although I would admittedly not scoff at the chance to make some money some day soon, I'm quite content to go about my days at my own leisurely pace and schedule. Much of the last few weeks has consisted of watching World Cup games, organizing the apartment, sketching, planning my own self-guided "art summer school" courses, and illustrating whatever and whenever the heck I want to. Also involved is a bit of exercise time and (ironically) more eating than I'd like to think about. Such are the drawbacks of being at home all day.

But anyway. My point is that I haven't smiled this much in a long time. I feel amazingly stress free. I feel like the world is out there waiting for me to make something of myself. I am in the constant company of the delightfully overwhelming sensation that ANYTHING and EVERYTHING is possible.

I am so fortunate to be at a unique point in my life where I can take advantage of everything that I am as well as what I have yet to become. Even if this grace period can't and won't last forever, I'm already learning a lot about myself and taking great care to understand my own intentions with my career. So I refuse to give up. I will keep trying. I will not always be successful. My work may not always be anything worthwhile. But as long as I'm making and doing, whatever I make and do will be better than nothing!

Random things from this week:
Illustration I am donating to a children's book about the oil spill (read about the project here):

Quick digital cut out self portrait, (really just an experiment) :

Speed painting of tonight's sunset:

And last but not least a little something I put together to show a bit of my typical illustration process. I'm still working on this illustration and I'm really enjoying it so far.

That's all for now.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Illustration Friday: GIANT

Working on this illustration for this week's IF. It's the first one I've done in years. I've been wanting to get into more fantastical imagery for my own enjoyment, and I'm hoping this will turn into a portfolio piece when it's finished. For now, here's the color study. I sure do love me a pastoral God and sheepies.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Life since June 15th has been FLYING. Seriously. Since leaving my job as a web designer last month I have never been happier or more pumped to make art. Even though the summer heat is slowing my ambitions a bit, I'm trying to stay on task and keep myself moving forward. I'm beyond thrilled to finally take a chance at the full-time illustration thing and can't wait to start building up my portfolio again. But for now, the little things are the big things. :)

Speed Painting #1. Done in about 10 minutes in Photoshop.

Speed painting #2: Done in about 20 minutes in Photoshop using the lasso tool.

My submission to July's topic "We'll Sleep on the Water" for the Children's Illustrators group on DeviantArt.