Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I Love Being an Illustrator...

I LOVE what I do...

Today was a wonderful reminder of why I love being a creative soul who makes pictures for her job.  It was an early morning and somewhat dicey weather as I left Moncton just after 6:30 to drive up to Chipman, New Brunswick for two days of school visits through our Provincial Writers In The Schools Program.  It  had begun to snow just as I got on the highway and roads got slippery about halfway there, but I took my time.  The scenery into rural New Brunswick was amazing as I drove past farm fields or forests of trees draped in snow.  Logging trucks coming the other way made me keep my eyes on the road.

I arrived at the school safely just after O Canada and had time before the scheduled class visits to do an enrichment session with a dozen of the children at the school who love to draw. What a treat to get them to practice using their imaginations with 8 different exercises.  I also swore them to secrecy about how tall I was...

When the first class came in, I was sitting down in front of the Smartboard on a chair and they arranged themselves on the carpet in the middle of the room.  I welcomed them, told them who I was and what I did for my job.  I explained that illustrators often have to draw things that don’t exist... like purple cows wearing roller skates... or a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a tutu.. or a hippo making a snow angel.  At that point, I explain how an illustrator needs to use their imagination and think about how things look.  I choose the smallest child in the class and ask them to come to the front of the world.

“Suppose a squirrel makes a snow angel...” I explain and I ask the child how they make snow angels.  I get them to stand with their arms out wide, ready to make a snow angel.  I explain that the squirrel’s tail would also make another part of the snow angel that humans don’t have in theirs.  Then I smile.  “I would be more of a GIRAFFE making a snow angel!” I say as I stand up from my chair....way up!  I am 6’5” without the heels and 6’8” with them.  I wave my long arms and legs about with a smile as the children gasp and the little victim.. er... volunteer stares up at me in amazement.  I send my “squirrel” back to their place and begin to ask them about hippos.  I explain that I can’t borrow a real hippo from the zoo, so I need to think about what makes hippos different as an animal.  Basically, they have tiny arms and legs, big noses and big bums.... so they make DEEP snow angels.  Then I show them the painting I did for my grandmother who loved hippos (I’ll add it to this blog once I get home).

The rest of the session is spend talking about how illustrators and authors come up with ideas by asking “What If?” and then, after the power point talk, I use my tablet to draw a quick, interactive doodle with each class where I give the kids crazy choices and they vote by raising their hands to guide what our picture turns out to be.

I save each class file as a .jpg and once I get home, I will redraw each class picture then resend it to the school to play with.

I really, really. REALLY love my job!

Tomorrow, I get to go speak to Middle and High school students about what is it like having a “nontraditional” career.... I can’t wait!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Speed-reading Illustrator Needs a Challenge for 2012

I’ve always been a voracious reader.  By 12, I’d read my way through our entire town library. Thanks to supportive parents and an understanding group of librarians, I got special permission to take out adult novels from the main library instead of being restricted to the children’s section.  I think Robert Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy that I read that year extended the foray into Science Fiction and Fantasy that AndrĂ© Norton’s YA novels had begun.

There have been several years where I kept a personal log of the books that I’d read, awarding them little ratings such as 1 to 5 stars or grouping them into categories such (must own, liked and never to touch again) but when I read about the CannonballRead4 on Facebook tonight, I knew that this was exactly the type of challenge I was looking for.  After all, 2012 will mark the year that I can not only claim to be a published illustrator, but a published author as well.

When I think of all the amazing books out there, just waiting to be devoured, it makes me go a little weak in the knees... Thank goodness I just bought a new bookshelf for the basement and rearranged my entire collection to make room for some new Christmas presents!

Bring on the books!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How Does A Dragon Say Goodbye?

There are times when a picture can say it better than any words I can write.  It was a stormy day here in the Maritimes as the first heavy snowfall of the season played havoc with schools and road.  I also discovered that one of my favourite authors on the whole planet passed away two days ago.

I was a gangly 13 year old when I first read the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy and the sub trilogy of Dragon Song, Dragon Singer, Dragon Drums.  Somehow, between those pages where Anne McCaffrey wove such intricate and riveting stories,  I found hours of solace and comfort during my parents’ divorce, the adjustment to high school and the general trials that all teenagers face.  I know I was just one of many readers to long for a world with dragons in it.  Like Madeleine L’Engle, Anne’s stories challenged me to keep believing in those unbelievable and magical creatures that the rest of the world tends to want to stuff in a box marked “For Children Only”.  

I don’t think I would have loved Fantasy quite as much in a world without McCaffrey’s tales.  I know that drawing, designing and creating my own dragons flowed from those early images that her words would paint in my brain as I read each story or dreamed of slipping into that world.

I saw Anne McCaffrey at DragonCon in 2005 when I celebrated my 40th birthday by painting myself green and entering the Costume contest as She-Hulk.  While she looked frail, her eyes still sparkled and her son, Todd was ever at her side.  His stories set in the world she created will ease the loss I feel today... a loss that is such a pale echo of what he must be going through.

I am sure that dragons and fans are keening around the world right now...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Marketing A Book...

I’ve been a bit silent on all of my blogs this summer... partly because I’m still not sure where the time went and partly because I also ran some summer camps for young writers and illustrators, hosted volleyball players for Team NB and had wonderful visits with family members who came from overseas!

Paul and I held the book launch for Emily Finds a Dragon in June and got copies off to our distributor in Nova Scotia so that he could take them to meet with the Chapters/Indigo buyer for the Maritimes in Halifax.  This got copies of our book online with them by mid-July.  We sold copies for a Saturday at the Farmer’s Market here in Moncton while I was also promoting my Tale Spin Summer Camp and placed them with a local gift shop who has sold more copies of our first book (Owen & The Dinosaur, 2008) than anyone else except Chapters.

We had an interview on CBC radio here in Moncton early one morning as well as 2 articles in the local paper over the summer which also helped get the word out, but sometimes it is those chances that you take that lead to the unexpected.

While up in Halifax 2 weeks ago to tour the Saint Mary’s University campus before a volleyball camp evening session for our oldest daughter, I took the time to drop off 2 copies of each book at the local television station.  I knew that 2 members of the morning show, Breakfast Television, had children at home.  I also knew as a parent that this time of year, kids run out of things to do and books to read, so I tucked in a note asking them to pass the books on to their kids to see what they thought and that we’d be more than happy to appear on the show if they thought the books had merit.

Paul and I will be doing LIVE television on Thursday morning at 8:15 am to promote the book!  We’re going to drive up to Halifax tomorrow and stay overnight so that we can be coherent.  This also lead to a book signing at the Dartmouth Chapters’ location before we leave town after the show and a confirmed date for the store here in Dieppe as well as a nice order for the stores around the Maritimes.

Promoting the book ourselves first above all has been so much more effective than waiting for someone else to do it.  I think that this is becoming the norm for most authors and illustrators now as the market gets more competitive.  

Now if I can just keep from having food stuck in my teeth on camera Thursday morning....  Eeeep!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Second-guessing Myself... (or the adventure of book jacket design)

It is early Sunday morning and the house is perfectly still. This was a long week of self-doubt and second-guessing myself.  I’ve been pretty quiet on my blogs, but that has because I have been editing, reworking  and getting “Emily Finds A Dragon” ready to go to the printers... a book Paul and I originally thought we’d have out last fall!

I debated about writing blogging this entry, but a few friends pointed out how helpful it might be to other people going through this process to watch the evolution and emotional turmoil... OK...

This is an 88 page chapter book written by Paul Burns, the same wonderful author with whom I produced Owen and the Dinosaur in 2008.  We work really well together and this project was a lot of fun, but WAY more illustrations than I’d imagined as we started to do the final layout.  Unlike traditional publishing, where the author and illustrator seldom meet, Paul and I were able to have a back and forth collaborative blend on creating this book.  In a few places we took out words to put in a drawing or took out drawings to add in words or even changed a word or two here and there to get it to fit properly around the drawings. One by one I got all of the illustrations drawn,  inked, scanned in and then toned in Photoshop.  I was proud of how it looked!

Then came the book jacket design.

Instant TERROR and Self-doubt!  I can tell if I’ve drawn something badly, but that whole adage about never getting a second chance to make a first impression kept me worried.  Could I design something that would jump out on an overly crowded rack of books at Chapters?  I have experience doing graphic design, but my formal training was in Fine Arts...

Deep Breath.

I knew which illustrations I wanted to use from inside the book, so I went back to the line drawings and coloured them instead of adding grayscale tone... then roughed out the first book cover.

It had the colour scheme I’d been thinking of.... but too much empty space and it looked odd.... so I played with the colour a bit more.

NOPE!  Still too empty!

I remembered that the spine if often the only element that buyers see if the book is in a large rack of other books...  plain colour and words on such a tiny spine was going to be boring... so I began to play with a graphic element on the spine.

NOPE!  The large purple band was a cool colour against the green, but it looked like some kind of weird flashlight beam....  but it made me see that the negative space needed to be filled with something...

a CIRCLE!  You are seeing the purple version here... not the hot pink, angry red or other colours I tried and rejected.  Yes, the circle completed the hug feeling of Emily holding Ember.

At this point on Tuesday afternoon, I had a few versions and a growing sense of panic.  What was I thinking?  I didn’t know JACK about book design!!  Worst of all, one of my daughters had told me that the baby dragon was a “barfy colour!” I printed out a few copies and took them to my Weight Watcher meeting since we were talking about asking for help
 from the right people and support systems.  Purple got rave reviews, but most people agreed that the dragon colour wasn’t very appealing.

Wednesday morning there were no calls to go substitute teach anywhere. Once my family was all off at school, I settled down to change the files from RGB to CMYK on my oldest machine and ran into about 2 hours of problems which would only make this blog more technical.  Needless to say I was ready to cry, so I picked up the phone and called another creative soul that I trust.  She offered great feedback and told me that I needed the 3rd secondary colour, orange, to balance out the green and purple.   She also helped me acknowledge that I needed to ink and colour a new version the cover illustrations by HAND so that I could put in some texture and see the true colours before me.  I am still a bit old school to be as comfortable creating everything digitally in layers as I see with some of the younger gifted artists I know who can work wonders with pixels and tablets to draw right on the screen.

To help bring out the warmer tones, I switched the baby dragon, Ember, closer to the yellow he’d be described as later in the book.  I put on some great music and redrew them to scan in and check.  I also decided to add little dragon footprints down the spine of the book for visual interest.  The photo of me in Tokyo ended up being too blurry to use, so Bethany helps me shoot a new self-portrait that night and get it scanned in.  The company that sold us our last barcode graphic still has a website up to take credit card information, but when I tried to  call to get an answer to a technical question from a real person on Monday, I got a strange Verizon answering message.  No answer to the e-mail I sent, so it is time to find a new company to provide that barcode graphic from my ISBN number.

Thursday morning the phone rings with a job, so I jump in the shower and get into my teacher clothes only to have the job canceled 10 minutes before I go out the door.  This happens sometimes and part of me is really glad to have more time to work on the cover and see how I can fix not being able to export a CMYK .eps with a preview I can see in QuarkXpress.

I try a new cover proof with .tiff versions of the new drawings, despite the annoying white around the illustrations.  Yup... MUCH better for colour.  This is almost there!!!

I buy a new barcode after getting answers from a live person at another company and in less than 20 minutes, the new graphic is placed on the back of the book!  I talk to a prepress angel at the company who will print the book and she offers some suggestions, plus offers to  make a version with a clipping path of the new scans on their newer version of Photoshop if I can stuff the files and FTP them over.

My stuffing software on the oldest computer won’t work on the 8 year old eMac or the new laptop, so I spend 30 minutes trying to find a version that will run on the middle age computer where the files are instead of the baby laptop where I’d have to import them too.

The urge to pull hair returns....

Thanks to the angel at Taylor Printing, I get my trial files with clipping paths by the end of the day to place.  The colours have shifted a bit darker thanks to the difference between our screen calibrations, but since I have the actual drawings to show them as a guide when we submit the final files, they can watch and match it to their press for accuracy.

So... the cover has grown and changed.  My kids don’t think the dragon looks barfy, my friends have kept me sane without bald patches and the only thing left is to take the book cover over to the big bookstore to see how it looks in the stands next to other early chapter books.  That has to wait until this afternoon since Friday was spent teaching before we drove up to Bathurst that night for the North Eastern Regionals for Erin’s Varsity AAA volleyball team to compete in.  They will be one of 4 teams going on to the Provincials next weekend and this book will soon be going to the printers. Woooo Hooooo!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Drawing SO MANY Dragons!

When Paul and I sat down to plan out our next project last year, we envisioned how much easier a chapter book would be with only black and white illustrations, or line drawings toned in Photoshop instead of all those big full colour illustrations in our picture book.


Part of the problem is that I am a perfectionist...

Part of the problem is that need to earn other income while the publishing and illustration side of Dragon Dreams is still growing...

Part of the problem is that there were a lot more illustrations to do than we’d truly understood...

but as the last few drawings get inked, our final edits are being done and everything is getting ready to go to the printer, I am getting excited!

I know that when we hold the copies in our hands, it will all be worth it...

but I think I have a better understanding of how an elephant feels being pregnant for 2 years!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Surfacing from a LOT of drawing!

The thing about deadlines is that they tend to drive you just a little crazy.  

You find yourself chewing pencils, rubbing sleep from your eyes and wondering over and over what lead you to choose a creative career instead of one that would let you work 9 to 5, relax in the evenings and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Does that kind of life really exist out there anymore?

I love to draw the impossible and the illustrations for Emily Finds a Dragon are no exception... but this time I am juggling two major deadlines as well as substitute teaching during the day...

It makes intravenous caffeine look like a brilliant idea!