Friday, 9 December 2011

Signing at the French children's book fair, Montreuil with Hervé Tullet, Brian Selznick (of Hugo Cabret), Lorenzo Mattotti, and all...

I caught this boy reading - totally absorbed - on the Sunday of the French national children's book fair in Montreuil near Paris....

Then I looked left and up - and at the top of the pile of cubes was my bouncing black rabbit from my box of my Sept Comptines à Chanter!

Here's me getting distracted by another child wandering past, while I was signing my Sept Comptines, the original French edition of The Big Book for Little Hands and other books I've illustrated at the Bayard stall. I was sandwiched between (to the right) Nicolas Hubesch, a brilliant comic book illustrator among other things, of Serge Bloch's Zouk series,  and to the left, the amazing, innovative artist Hervé Tullet, and author of Moi, c'est Blops.  

You can see Hervé Tullet's pink and orange Blops above and the blue spot from the cover of the minimalist Press Me! which is a huge success in the US, as well as in France (where it's simply called Un Livre.)  

And there's a blue and green Blops in front of a girl watching Hervé draw. 
Does anyone know of another book with a cover that comes in a choice of colours?
Or another book with a whole in the spine like Hervé's Book with a Hole?  
And the best thing is that it's not just about the cover - his work changes the way you see and think, all the way through each book....and they are fun and always surprising.
 Brian Selznick was also signing at the Bayard stall on Sunday.  He seemed to be having a great time behind piles of the French translation of his book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.   
I love this book for the innovative way it  alternates with words, great swathes of pictures when words aren't needed.  You need to use your eyes to follow the story.  It's a perfect example of the power of visual story telling.  Martin Scorcese understands that alright, being a film maker.  I heard Selznick talk in Bologna about how film had always been a huge influence on him.   (Coincidentally, Shaun Tan said the same thing in Newcastle).   I can't wait to see Hugo, Scorcese's film adaptation just out in France and the UK. 

And while we're still on guys and Italians -  here is the great comic book artist and illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti signing his black and white Hansel and Gretel

However for me, the best thing about the French children's book fair is the huge diversity of beautifully designed books and pictures and illustrators signing with creative colourful 'dedicaces'  on every publisher's stall.  Above Rue du Monde....below Editions Memo.

and above all a huge diversity of kids of all ages from tiny tots... 
to toddlers, not to mention teens.... 

and their parents and teachers.  
What better way to encourage kids to love books than to show all the love and attention put into the creation of books of all kinds at fairs such as this? 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

My Munich SCBWI picture book workshop -this weekend Oct 22-3, 2011

This weekend I'm off to give a nice, slow 2 day stir of a big cauldron of creative juices.   
If in some way my own stirrings can help some other illustrators get a story down,  and help writers see spaces for illustrators on the page  - I'll be happy.  We'll have plenty to cook up, at any rate.  It's also very exciting also to be bringing together SCBWI Germany members,  with some illustrators from the German Illustratoren Organisation EV 
and from the Austrian Illustria.    Thanks to the brilliant young German illustrators and SCBWI members,  Constanze von Kitzing and Andrea Offerman (whom I mentored at the SCBWI Los Angeles conference in 2010)  for helping us expand the network of child-minded creators across Europe.  That sounds weird  - but we know what we mean!   And biggest thanks - in advance - go to the generous and talented illustrator and coordinator Kirsten Carlson and Donna Weidner RA of SCBWI Germany, without whom none of us would be heading to such a great looking place.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Back to school

Just got copies of this month's Pomme d'Api magazine from Bayard Presse France which features the illustrations I did in June before I left France, for a 'back to school' story by Hélène Crosnier.  And I received a nice note via Bayard from the author...

Little Lea meets a frog on the way to her first day of school.  
She's mortified when froggie leaps out of her pocket during class...
Lea  slips frog back into her pocket during the mayhem, 
but he leaps out again during lunch...
and even joins in on the piano during music class...

To cut the story short,  teacher makes the best class use of frog - without dissecting it!
Lea overcomes her shyness and it all ends well.  
The deeper story is about overcoming first-day fear, so it needed a softer more reassuring treatment than usual. My in-house teen critic Ella said it reminds her of my very first Toto books published 20 years ago.  Having illustrated so many animals, it was great to have the chance to do different kids' characters and expressions here.

Back to school for us all now -  but first, now my two resident 16 year olds, Ella and Sam, fresh from France have got into the rhythm of English Sixth Form,  I want to take stock of the post!

Friday, 26 August 2011

Shaun Tan, Puffins and Seven Stories, Newcastle

"I find", says Tan in his book of sketches The Bird King, "that good drawing requires conscientious effort: active research, careful observation of things around me, ongoing experimentation and reference gathering, all of which exist 'behind the scenes'."

Well I'm so glad I booked some hours off yesterday,  away from my usual juggling, crossing England to do a little of that 'behind the scenes' stuff myself, to sketch on the red-eye from London to Newcastle
 see Shaun Tan talk and a show celebrating Puffin Books, and meet some scbwi friends at the wonderful Seven Stories

First, as a young Puffineer (from - arrgh!- the late 60s) the excellent Puffin exhibition at Seven Stories until the end of September was a treat.  Very moving to see all the dedicated, 'behind the scenes' work of publishers, authors and illustrators, working together for kids.
The chronogical layout of the show revealed a shift - hum, cultural or commercial? - from what seemed like  'deeper' if not quieter book covers up to the 1970s,  which seemed to whisper  "open this and give the story a go!"to more marketed, type-cast covers from the 1980s onwards, that seem to shout 'buy this if you like this genre!'

The legendary editor and original Puffin club founder Kaye Webb wrote to me on winning an essay prize when I was 10 or so in red pen, and with some concern "I do hope you like this prize as it's hard to know what  you haven't already got."   And a similar spirit of openness, respect and delight rings out in all her letters on display sent to authors and illustrators as well as kids.  To see preparatory sketches for such masterpieces as Janet Ahlberg's Each Peach, Pear, Plum.. and writers' drafts was like coming home.    No photos where allowed in the Puffin show for copyright reasons, so here are some snaps of the lowest of the Seven Stories -  the children's Creation Station. 

 A curiously apt way to tune up for an afternoon in Shaun Tan's imagination...

And so up to the Seventh floor for  Shaun Tan's talk.
In a large but intimate attic space, with books hanging in constellations from the rafters,
Shaun Tan began with a disarming smile and spoke in a soft Aussie accent.  He was wonderfully unassuming and lucid.  He ended too by insisting that he wasn't wise, and didn't want to preach...all he did was "report things in a strange way".

"Staring at a blank piece of paper "Shaun Tan writes in his book The Bird King and other sketches,
"I can't think of anything original.  I feel utterly uninspired and such such circumstances there is only one thing to do: just start drawing....
...Images are not preconceived and then drawn, they are conceived as they are drawn.  Indeed, drawing is its own form of thinking, in the same way birdsong is 'thought about" within a bird's throat."

Shaun Tan then quotes the artist Paul Klee's metaphor of the artist as a tree, "drawing from a rich compost of experience - things seen, read, told and dreamt - in order to grow leaves, flowers and fruit...artists do not create so much as transform.  That's not to say,  the process is a casual or simple one."   He talked a bit more about what he wrote here,  when I questioned him at the end of his talk.  Observational drawing gives you a mental library which you can refer to in the emergency of drawing without having to go back to refer to the original...

Shaun began by speaking of how he liked to resist impossible-to-answer questions such as "what is your 'typical day?" by responding in pictures as he did for the recent newspaper interview in Der Spiegel, which you can see here.
He talked about
- lazy and workful days, all different, in a workplace which is pretty banal, "like a kitchen but with pencils"
- the drafts that land on the floor, the wastage, the starting-over
- the moment somewhere in the middle of a project when it all seems pointless.
That moment when it feels like you are "providing goods and services that no one is asking for and  it all seems self-indulgent"
- and then somehow, unexpectedly there's a turning point, when you tell yourself not to worry so much,
a point of uncluttered, un-self-conscious creativity that feels truthful,  that is simple and straightforward.  Something akin to what child make, unquestioningly as this....
by 3 year old Shaun Tan...pretty amazing!

from Shuan Tan's dinosaur drawing phase  at 6 or 7, 

From learning that drawing could help him make school friends, and watching lots of TV and films, Shaun moved to writing SciFi.  The stories were rejected but he got his first commission for Sci Fi books from the age of 16, illustrating an impressive 200 books in his student years.

This led  eventually to his first children's book commission, to illustrate a picture book by the popular young adult fiction writer John Marsden called The Rabbits.    Shaun said that to start with he couldn't think of what to draw and then realized that "rabbit" doesn't have to mean a rabbit.  It taught him early on something many of us, publishers included, often seem to forget these days - that picture books can be about difficult subjects.

My sketchbook filled fast.
Shaun talked a lot about going against language and  fighting preconceptions in his books.  We use language, he said, to describe a nameless world...
Finding a new way of looking can help to resist preconceptions.
Humour too can help you think laterally.
 And an unexpected reaction in a character can be the source of a story as the surprisingly dead pan manner the main character responds in The Lost Thing.
Shaun stressed how he never 'explains' emotion in his books but hopes to allow a space for the reader to do that.  And yet he didn't want to distance readers too much. His mum finds fantasy hard so he does seek some sort of emotional connection.
Here's a model Shaun Tan made to help him develop a book character
In a world of a quickly digested stream of images, Shaun wondered how could you get people to examine  pictures for longer, meditatively.
Puzzling or incongruous juxtapositions are one way, and an engaging narrative is another.
His book The Arrival started off as a 32 page picture book with a text.  It ended up as a 128 page wordless graphic novel.  He got rid of the words.  They had pulled the story forward too fast.   The beauty of a wordless book is that with pictures you can set the pace to quick or slow, expand or contract it in time, and feel free, unlike in a novel or movie, to  jump or flip back easily.

I could go on.  But  better still,  go to Shaun Tan's site for much much more:

Just as when you leave a good exhibition and you find yourself looking at the world in a new way, the evening took on a colour after that spell of Tan's in Seven Stories.  Walking along the Tyne towards the train station, marvelling at Newcastle's bridges against a glorious sunset,  there were Lost Things everywhere I looked and I wanted to record them all, if only the train hadn't drawn me forward...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The first Summer Solstice Scrawl Crawl in London

I moved a car load of stuff to our little London house last Friday.  It broke down as we got to London in the pouring rain.  I must have broken the record for how much you can fit into a teeny Citroen C1 and the fan belt went.  All mended now.
Yesterday, the longest day, I cycled from our new home near Brick Lane to the South Bank, near Waterloo Bridge  to meet the British SCBWI illustrator coordinator for a day of walking and sketching along the Thames and into the City.  
What a great way to re-connect with London!   
We chatted and worked and stopped at cafés along the way to blog snapshots of our drawings to others across Europe - all thanks to Kirsten in Germany and Tioka in Paris and the Summer Solstice Scrawl Crawl blog they set up for SCBWI members to post on.  Some of my own sketches are here and here
It's great to share processes and see just how different we respond to similar things.  And as I said on FB, it's a little like yoga - you stretch in ways you forget about when you're bent over your regular work.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Children's illustrators concerned over UK market

In the recent issue of the UK  Bookseller, Caroline Horn  quotes UK illustrator:
Frann Preston-Gannon, who was recently awarded a Maurice Sendak Fellowship in the US, said: "I have had a number of openings for my work in the US, while in the UK, I have been told to change my style to make it more commercial. As a new illustrator [in  the UK], the kinds of projects you get are reissues of fairy tales rather than brand new books."

It's a topic that's close to my heart since I stopped working for UK publishers in the early 1990s when a UK publisher a wanted a novelty project I'd written but wanted to use a more "conservative, less European-style" illustrator.  I took the project to a French publisher and didn't look back.   I've only recently returned with a book published by Bloomsbury US/UK.   

Anyhow The Bookseller asked me for my feedback as SCBWI international illustrator advisor.  Anyone who knows me would realize that the quote they used,  was not all I had to say about the subject. So for what it's worth, here's my expanded 'take',  coloured by my own experience. 

As I see it, if there is a problem that unpublished, talented illustrators have in the UK, it's not due to the lack of support.  Aside from a great variety of workshops and conferences that British Isles SCBWI organizes and the professional back-up of  Association of Illustrators, there are initiatives like  Booktrust's  Best New Illustrators award.   A handful of new UK illustrators hit the shelves  each year and the lucky few are the object of  media attention, prizes and focused marketing.   But emerging talent  from previous years and 'mid-list' published illustrators have increasingly had to fend for themselves and go wherever the work is.

The problem is more about a shrinking UK home market.  Since the first reductions of library budgets in the early 90s, UK publishers have had to be more careful about the new talent they take on.  They've done really well on foreign rights sales,  second-guessing what other countries want.  But the dependency on foreign sales, alongside the restricted commercial demands of UK chain stores, means it's economically well-nigh impossible for a publisher to strike out with a new look with nothing but the courage of your convictions  - unless a) you have a niche market like Tate does with its own museum shops, or b) you go into e-publishing and don't expect any fast return.    So many UK publishers have been forced to be more cautious than the US or French counterparts, and the kind of ground-breaking, expensive  black and white tome like Brian Selnick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret  could simply not have been launched in the UK.

I want to believe that this may be changing. British publishers are looking harder for ways to by-pass conservative retailers,  and  for innovative  ways to promote and sell books in online as well as off, and there are  e-books and apps. 

Book festivals such as at Hay on Wye seem to be increasingly successful at drawing in book-buying crowds and children.  Could festival sales help to expand the market for illustrators?  Across the Channel, that's what I think happens at the huge French children's book fair which is both a professional fair and a buying jamboree.   Held in Montreuil, near Paris, it attracts more UK illustrator visitors each year.    Not only is it a diverse window - with many pictures -  for stunning new and older talent,   but a major if not the primary source for some French publishers of their annual book sales -  to school teachers, librarians (armed with larger budgets, it's true,  than their UK counterparts), as well as families...and collectors.  This in turn means that French publishers can also take risks with new illustrators and foster less 'commercial' but more critically interesting work.  And illustrators can arrange to meet editors and art directors at their stands.  Sue Porter is just one example of a UK illustrator who did that and found her first French publisher there last year, having become disenchanted with UK commercial constraints.

Another good  springboard for new ( not always young!)  children's illustrators that used to exist in the UK, but has gone down the television tube, are the richly-illustrated monthly children's magazines which still are going strong in France, the US and elsewhere.   Such magazines kept me thinking laterally and paying my bills for years.  The French magazines publisher by Bayard, Fleurus and Milan, use a wide range of styles, even edgy and conceptual ones at times, and  they are open to foreign talent. As David McKee told me, when he suggested I contact them back in the 90s, working on a monthly project expands your repertoire and allows you to experiment.  As turnover is rapid, feedback from experienced art directors is much faster than in the book world.  I've seen the work of Helen Stephens,  Bob Graham, and Helen Oxenbury among other non-French illustrators in their pages.

Caroline Horn wondered in the Bookseller if the UK needed a  Maurice Sendak-like fellowship.  Of course a star like Sendak  can give confidence to a new illustrator,  and help put their name on the map as Quentin Blake did for his Royal College students. But the risk of a star system of mentorship, like some contests,  is that it perpetuates a certain 'line' of illustration.  From my own experience at the huge SCBWI Los Angeles conference last year, I'd argue that pooling several mentors together, with different viewpoints might work  better.  But what the six illustrators selected out of the portfolio display needed most of all - what we all need -  is the confidence boost that comes from working with an agent, art director or editor.

So what to do if you're a budding book illustrator in the UK?   My answer is, expand your horizons!  I think Bologna should be on every children's book illustrators agenda, at least once in their life.  Its size is daunting but aside from making your mark on the famous Illustrator Wall, it gives you a global sense of the whole publishing business. The Bologna Illustrators competition  which tends to foster less commercial illustration, might be worth sending in to.  The organizers have told me they don't receive enough work from UK and US artists...  And aside from the Illustrator and Author's cafes (where I saw Selznick talk last year)  the kilometers of publishers stands display every kind of book  for every age from across the world.  There are inspiring illustration exhibitions in the centre of town too.  In 2012,  SCBWI will have its biennial stand in the fair and shows the work of selected members there and online in the Illustrator Display portfolio.   It also provides a number of showcase slots for published SCBWI members and pre-booked individual reviews for illustrators with art directors - another reason to join SCBWI wherever you are!

It's worth remembering the cliché that pictures travel. We should embrace the global market more, and learn from it.   After all, we are one small planet.   And children's author-illustrators are rare birds even if we do all flock together at times.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Big bow wow for this great blog!

This review makes me want to buy Mini Racer.  What am I saying?  I'm the illustrator.  Oops!
Okay so if the review was for sale, I would buy it.  Violet describes my pictures in words. Not many people can do that. Not many people count how the owls there are.
Violet certainly has a power.   And her friend Morzant likes snails, like I do.  
She also says
"Here is a list of who will like this book
Readers who like to race.
Racers who like read.
Readers who think a car makes a good snack.

If you are not on this list of people who will like this book, don't feel bad.
You can find other reviews on this wonderful  blog by Bigfoot and his Crytpic pals including Violet.
I've never had the pleasure of meeting them but I'm so glad they are online.  And I like their pictures too.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

More pics, less words from Bologna

Where would the Bologna International Children's Book Fair be without these small people who aren't allowed into it?

But the Book Fair is a serious business.  And authors and illustrators' futures can sometimes depend on it.   Their publishers may need to sell foreign rights to survive, and make sure their work ends up in childrens' hands.

I discovered this baby in central Bologna.  Wenzel Saves the World, is a poor snap of one of Nikolaus Heidelbach's arresting illustrations in the exhibition of his work off the Piazza Maggiore, open until April 17. His beautifully crafted, sometimes disturbing images stayed with me like questions.  Here's another from a book about food...

But back to the Fair, starting with a snippet from the famous Illustrator wall.  
The 3D stuff this year stood out  - though not always their names...  

I've always had a problem with illustrations displays.  Most children's illustrators aren't working for  walls but for books.  The Lithuanian artists' exhibition had the best solution I've seen to remind us of this:

and look at the slots where the book was available for consultation!

Here are some others I liked and snapped (again apologies for the photo quality).  
But no trace of an online catalogue so I regret giving my printed catalogue away (I was over my luggage limit) so help -  I don't have their names!   Can anyone tell me who they are?

Wonderful to wander through the US area and come across  the name of a friend on the Scholastic  wall...Way to go Brian!  

We invited Brian Karas to speak at our SCBWI Bologna conference in....was it 2005?  He makes great dummies, books AND trailers for his books.   In his trailer for Neville, he talks about his process and the emotion behind that picture book.

And wonderful also to be with another friend, SCBWI international ARA wonder woman, Angela Cerrito as she discovers a copy of her first book The End of the Line for the first time at the Holiday House US publishers' stand!  Hot off the press as it's out this month - yay!

Spotted on a poster for a book on the Blue Apple / Chronicle stand,
is a question which could also apply to publishing,  illustrators, authors, ideas...

Monday, 4 April 2011

Tools of Change Bologna March 27, 2011

Well I promised to write it up for SCBWI BI so I took pages of notes at the 2011 Bologna Book Fair's first ever Tools of Change for Publishing Conference entitled "The World of Storytelling is Changing". 
Big thanks to Bologna's Roberta Chinni and Neal Hoskins, of  Winged Chariot Press who specializes in beautiful children's translated picture books for  organizing this new conference.  Big news at the Fair afterwards by the way, in case you missed it on the Bookseller, was that WInged Chariot  has joined forces with Walker Books

But how to sum up so much talk  in a digestible nugget for all of us time-skint skim readers?   

Everyone will have a different angle but I'll start slowly with O'Reilly Media's Joe Wickert  who welcomed us early last Sunday morning.  
Early television, he said, took a while to develop its own identity, distinct from the radio format it began by emulating.  Now similarly  we are witnessing the early days of  a new form of media.  That said, we are still all about storytelling.

Hum. If there was a story to this day, it was a opening chapter with many paths to follow and no sign of a neat plot or ending.  The main characters in Bologna were book publishers and digital developers looking at the marketplace, sharing their experience from their many different perspectives, and deciding how to come to terms with new publishing formats and  tools that are still evolving rapidly.    

With this inevitably comes jargon. From e-pub to android devices and more.
But first, there's a clear difference between e-books which at their simplest are basicially scrollable PDF files of printed books, and apps  -  applications which can take an enormous variety of forms, not just games or enhanced books.

I wonder how many  'primary content providers'  - authors and illustrators from the children's book industry  - were there? 
Why did I go?  On a personal level, because I've got an app project of my own,  and I was curious to go back to the Future having experienced the  pre history of  CD Roms.   
After my first children's books were published in the 1990s, I landed a rare salaried job in Paris, brainstorming and storyboarding ideas for 'quality' CD-Roms for children.   I think I did better than the company investors.  They paid for my first Mac.  Once that bubble burst two or so years later, I was happy to return to books and magazines.  But I still have a  few of the best, authored CD-Roms on my shelf, by David Macaulay, Claude Delafosse and Roman Victor-Pujebet who paved the way for now, pushing the constraints of that medium  to imaginative and playful levels. 

I was curious to see if there was any connection.  Of course CD-Roms are the skeletons in the cupboard.  No one in publishing wants to be reminded of  the time and money wasted on them.     Nevertheless, we did learn a few things about that overused word, interactivity.  We  learnt for a start to be dismissive about  the worst excesses of  "click and chirp"  animation that children quickly tired of, way back,  and seem to be resurfacing in digital books at the touch of a finger on the screen.  

But this wasn't the time or place to discuss  content  - and the quality of interaction -  at any length.    Everyone is still dealing with rapidly changing parameters, the tools, as O'Reilly rightly says, but just the tools, of change.

So here are just a few key notes I made...and if you want more, or want to correct me, please fire away!

Keynote speaker, internationally-known UK publisher Kate Wilson started us off with an impressive battery of facts, figures and market studies.  She founded Nosy Crow a year ago and it's growing strong.   Their Three Little Pigs app is now out, and Cinderella is on its way, alongside their book list.  
Her recent statistics revealed the sharp rise in digital book buying in the US, with the UK  lagging behind, though still slightly ahead of the rest of the world.   
She talked of  traditional book buying going down in the UK mainly due to TV.   But can my notes be right? Does the average UK child really watch 2 hours of television a day?   

The increase in online buying of books means less impulse buying which is one reason for lower sales.  Book stores, she said, need to think about how to create a greater experience to attract customers. 
But how to attract people to digital books?   You can't ignore the power of free and cheap so she believes in creating "lite"  versions as tasters to tempt people to buy and download the full version later.  Most other publishers referred to the need for buyers to sample free 'hooks' or tasters.  
Social media like Facebook are increasingly important for promotion.  Authors who WERE interested in digital books need to be aware of their own role in this.  But there is also a rise of  niche critics - the mavens -  offering a new source of opinion,"uncorrupt real people on independant forums whose opinion you can trust ".  The gatekeepers are changing too.   

I'm glad I attended the popular breakout session "The Co-Production Model. Best Practices for Collaborating on eBook and App development " because it was the first time that day I'd heard the name of a specific author-illustrator.  This was Lizbeth Zwerger, whose Little Mermaid has been  developed digitally by Umesh Shukla of Auryn Inc in a beautiful co-release with Michael Neugebauer, founder of Mineditions and formerly of North South books.  I had stumbled upon Auryn/Minedition's app Teddy's Day a month ago and bought it because it looked warm and intriguing.  I wasn't disappointed.  There were a lot more than "tap and chirp" in the interactions I found in Teddy's room. For example, you could paint a picture you  in a little sub activity of the story, and then see it  appear reduced at the back of Teddy's room, pinned up on the wall.  

Of the other breakouts, I thought the Moms with Apps presentation the most clear and interesting.   This is a loose group of independent creators in the US, mothers, fathers, teachers so passionate about educating their children, during a period of educational cutbacks, that they have all  created apps of different kinds mostly to make learning fun in original ways.  Though lacking the track record and backlist of book publishers, the focus of their work is children, including those with special needs, more than financial gain. Their group site is worth looking at and you can now download an app which is actually a catalogue of all their peer-approved apps.

Martin Salisbury's afternoon keynote, Digital Picturebooks, An Artist's Perspective, was a feast after all the  flow charts.  Professor of Illustration for the MA Children's Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art and author of some great books about illustration, he described himself as a dinosaur in the digital world, showing some great examples of interaction in the traditional picture  book form.  He raised some questions as to content.  Could narrative structure and the new idea of interactivity be opposing forces?  How will we fill those  gaps  between pictures or page turns that leave us a space to imagine in the way that Scott McCloud describes so well in his Understanding Comics?   He stressed how vital it was to think of this digital book or app, creatively, as an entirely new media.   I agree!
And he ended with the back of Lane Smith's book....
Can it text?  Blog? Scroll?

Perfect prelude to the days at the Fair, about which more later!
And big closing news from Roberta Chinni.  Next year there'll be two  new Bologna awards -   one for an ebook and one for an app.  Watch this space content providers!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Voice not style

You can whisper or shout, hum or sing, but we'll recognize your voice  - unless you're a perfect mimic.  It's that simple, I tell my students who often fret about 'style'.  I tell them the style's not what matters...any style could work as long as they are sure about what they're doing, the content that they're talking about - as long as they have a voice.

But not everyone's voice is  confident and clear, especially when you're having to prove yourself, do a test piece for a competition or hook a publisher.
It's just like walking onto a stage. You become self-conscious and then shaky.
It's only when you forget about yourself and you think of the message you want to get across, then your voice takes off.

The metaphor works for me, at least, especially as I've often played with styles - and worried in the past, about having different styles.   It wasn't until Bayard Jeunesse 'found me out'  a few years ago, that I started to relax about my different styles.  Bayard had used my bold graphic style in games for their magazines and posters for toddlers,  which culminated in this, the Big Book for Little Hands....

which was first published in France in 2006 and then in the UK and elsewhere (and was one  of the first  'doodle books'  of many following in the wake of Taro Gomi's books for older children)
By that time, they had already tumbled other styles I used for other books in other countries, discovering this

  at the 2003  Bologna Book Fair and later this

"But my Kiss, kiss! style is so different from what you know of me! " I  told my Bayard art director.   "Yes is it",  she said,  "but  it has the same voice".
Funny thing is, you can't quite hear your own voice as it sounds to others.   And most people, including me, don't like listening to their own recorded voices.  So you can't be self-conscious about it.  It just IS!

And here today is Anthony Browne, master of the picture book  and British Children's Laureate  saying the same thing about voice, at  the end of this video. What a wide variety of voices were chosen for this years UK Best New Illustrators awards!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Brian G Karas's process in Neville, by Norton Juster

Artist and children's author-illustrator Brian Karas,  whom I invited a while back to talk for SCBWI France about his book The Young Zeus
shows a great way to use a free 3D computer modelling tool, Google Sketchup for visualizing a house and neighbourhood, in his great  trailer for his new book Neville written by Norton Juster (of Phantom Tollbooth fame).

But what really makes it all work, in my book,  is the feeling behind the process,  how he puts himself in in the shoes of his main character, into his world.  

When you've got that identification right, when you feel at home in the story, any or every tool you use to help you illustrate it, will work.   

As illustrators  we can easily get  hung up on style  -   one way to do things, one type of process.  To me, that's putting the cart before the horse.  The horse is the content - that's what drives us.  And with that,  we can draw along (excuse the pun!)  with a single nib or a whole wonderful cartload of pens, computer software,  paints, paper - you name it!  

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Dots and Dogs

Mini Racer- monkey out
Spread from Mini Racer © Bridget Strevens-Marzo
I like dots.
I like dogs (and cats).
I like the way a small kid's finger is drawn to touch a dot,
first of all,  before any square or a triangle.
I like how the eye of a small child,
the tip of their finger
and the dot,

If  on GotStory Countdown
you scroll beyond Jed Henry's dogs
and Patricia Intriago's book about dots,
you can peek inside a bit more of my work for Mini Racer including a storyboard rough.
And I just realized that it's a a neat visual conclusion;
my Dog car is a Dot car.
In fact it always was a
dotty dog car
from the word GO
as you can see below.
Thank you Joy Chu for putting dogs and dots together and making us all happy!

Character studies for Mini Racer
first sketches for Mini Racers © Bridget Strevens-Marzo with a respectful nod to Richard Scarry

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

It's official. Mini Racer is rolling & being devoured...

Woke up my computer today to happen upon a-once-in-a-lifetime feast of a review
for a picture book I've mentioned before but which is officially launched today with Bloomsbury US and UK.

I've never met Jama but I'm so glad to have discovered her Alphabet Soup blog about two great creative obsessions - kid's books and food.   Hilarious to discover whole new drama enfold in a kind of afterword,  when Little Ted tucks into a 3D version of my Mini Racer mouse's cheese car - in real cheese (don't miss that picture!)

I'm sure Mini Racer author  Kristy Dempsey, Jama and I would have such fun planning a Mini Racer party for a bunch of kids - of all ages...
Anyone want to book us?
If not I'll have a go in Photoshop when I've more time.  (Happen to be buying a house this week!)

Following Jama's real life lead, in addition to my drawings, I'd bring a few more bits and pieces to play with:

 - a French "Langue de Chat" for Snail's skateboard

 -  a British Cadbury's Flake chocolate log for the Racer Owl family to ride on.

- some spare tyres

-  and we'd get rolling on top of some wide tape with road markings and all.  I must thank Paris-based illustrator friend Jeanne de Sainte Marie  (who, incidentally, started off in automotive design)  for this great gift.

According to the label, this Road tape is called : A Path to the Future.  
And it continues:  "This Tape will enhance any package and expand your enjoyment of life".

What a great start!