Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Master of Paper Merrill Rainey

Merrill Rainey is a master of creating images on paper. Yes, he can paint and draw with the best of them. What really sets Merrill apart is his the way he cuts paper. Merrill is truly a master of creating images out of cut paper. He makes elaborate images just by gluing cut pieces of paper together! But that's not all. I'll tell you what else you've won: You won the chance to learn from someone who creates not only cut paper art, but 3D paper art, paper engineering and a bit of paper animation for good measure!

Merrill's work includes "Frog. Frog? Frog!: Understanding Sentence Types" written by Nancy Loewen and "Red Beard" - Scholastic iRead by Hank Paek.


Dani: How did you get your big break in illustration?

Merrill: My first big break came back in February of 2010. After a lot of late nights rebuilding my portfolio, creating a mailing list, and sending out postcards, I finally got both an email and phone call from Jenifer Saulovic who was the Art Director at the time for Jack and Jill Magazine. I was just leaving a meeting with one of the local design firms here in town where I was talking with the owner to see if they had any illustration needs when I got her call. (I used to spend a lot of my lunch hours personally advertising my work.) She said she received my postcard in the mail and wanted to know if I would illustrate a three page short story for the magazine called Button Up. Of course I said yes, and long story short, that initial project was the beginning of a long standing friendship and relationship with the staff at U.S. Kids Magazine.

Dani: What was one of your favorite projects?

Merrill: This is hard to answer. It seems like almost every new project becomes my favorite. But if I had to pick one… well maybe two :-) I’d have to say Freddy’s Supper Power which was a comic style short story for the June 2016 issue of Highlights magazine, and the cut paper illustrations I have been currently creating this year for Humpty Dumpty’s world which can be found on the inside front cover of Humpty Dumpty magazine.

Dani: Can you give us a quick overview of how you construct your cut paper illustrations?

Merrill: I don’t know if I can quickly explain this but I’ll try :-)

Every illustration of mine always, always starts with a thumbnail sketch. This is where I work out all of the kinks (composition, hierarchy, text placement, etc.) before moving on to the next step. Once I have a thumbnail sketch that I can work with, I then take a snapshot on my phone, open the photo up in Photoshop, blow it up to final art size, and from there I redraw and clean-up the sketch. Then comes the tricky part when sketching for a cut paper piece. I have to think of the art as shapes vs. lines. I also have to keep in mind that I’m not going to be able to add in all the detail I would normally add into my pen or pencil work. I should also note that the creation of the final art is kind of an organic process. Some of the charm that you get in the final artwork can’t be planned for and unfolds during the creation of the final art. My last step before I jump into cutting any paper is to add some quick color to the sketch. This helps me to figure out what type of mood I want to set in the piece as well as what colors of paper I will need.

Once I have all of this set and ready to go, I pull out the light box, my paper cutting supply kit, construction paper (this is key), and two over sized print outs of the sketch. One sketch is to hang on the wall for reference, the other is to use on the light board for tracing shapes and object placement.

I always start with creating a base layer out of white Bristol board and (usually) black construction paper. The black construction paper is cut to final art size then glued to the Bristol. Note that I work at least 30%–40% larger then the final printed piece. This base layer allows me to have a place that I can start laying down the finished sections of the illustration, and adjusting each piece to its proper position before gluing it all together. Kind of like a puzzle mat.

From here I spray paint some background colors on construction paper to see what will work best. While those are drying, I start to create the various sections of the illustration. I will work backwards by creating the foreground first. Mainly due to the fact that most of the detailed work will go into the first two layers. From here on, as I mentioned, the rest of the process is more organic and unfolds as you begin to work. Many of the objects are built freehand and not traced off of the sketch. Once I have all of the sections created, I will then start to adjust things. I layer the art and glue everything to the base Bristol layer in a fashion that when hung and lit to be photographed, will get the desired effect for the photoshoot. (I do all of my own photography for my projects.) On average, it takes anywhere from 4-6 days to create the final art for one cut paper piece.

A few things to note about this work:

- Construction paper has a very rough tooth to its surface. This
rough service allows the glue to bound strongly between two
sheets of construction paper. Hence the name “construction

- Don’t scrimp on the glue, make sure you buy name brand. I
recommend Elmer’s Glue-All glue.

- Make sure you have a good comfortable pair of scissors (I use
Fiskars) and have a lot of Xacto blades on hand.

- Be patient with the process.

Dani:  Could you talk about the basics of paper engineering?

Merrill: This is an easy one ;-) If you can build a box you can build anything. The trick comes when you want to make that box popup, or move. That takes a little more time and understanding of how to cut and fold your paper. There are a few good books out there you can use for reference (Playing With Pop Ups by Helen Hiebert, The Pop-Up Book by Paul Jackson, and Pop-Up by Duncan Birmingham). I personally like to dissect other people’s pop-up books and greeting card work. This allows me to see
firsthand how they created their pop-up ideas. It’s like learning by example from the masters.

Dani: What's one thing you wish you knew before going into illustration for children?

Merrill: I feel pretty lucky in this area. I was well prepared before quitting my full-time job as a Graphic Designer and launching my illustration studio, LittleRainey Illustration & Design.

Since then I have learned a few things that would be wise to emphasize to all those thinking about starting their illustration career. This market isn’t the easiest place to be. It’s flooded with artists that don’t seem to know what their own capabilities are worth. It’s a lot of late nights and weekends. And it’s a lot of WORK! You have to be the type of person who is willing to be an art director, a marketer, a secretary, and the IT and billing departments. You have to realize you are a business. You have to get past those fears of talking with people and showing your work. You have to take risks!! You have to listen to feedback from your peers to grow your capabilities. And as awesome as it is to create work in the children’s illustration industry, you have to realize it’s a business. You have to be willing to put in the time to run the business and the time to actually execute the work. Which in reality is well over a full-time job.

Now, I don’t want to scare anyone off here, but I want to make it clear that if you want to achieve your dreams, you’re going to have to work hard for it. Also, it might not happen right away, so be patient. Eventually, your hard work will get noticed. :-)

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Don't go Chasing Bob McMahon's Waterfall Rainbow

Bob McMahon does just a little bit of everything. The one thing that Bob does best is creating vivid and humorous characters in his illustrations. I first saw Bob's work when I was making my way towards Oz. I got lost and ended up near a waterfall (it made a rainbow after all). I entered the waterfall and was hoping to find the wizard, but instead I found a bear. The bear told me all about Bob and his work, and then mauled me horribly. Now I am dead, but Bob McMahon is alive and will tell you all about being a professional illustrator.

You can buy prints of Bob's work here!


Dani: Who is your favorite illustrator?

Bob: What week is it? My favorite illustrator changes so often that I can’t keep up. Growing up it was Mad Magazine illustrators like Will Elder, Mort Drucker, Jack Davis and Al Jaffee. Later I moved on to New Yorker illustrators/cartoonists like George Booth and Roz Chast. When I got into picture books I tended to like U.K. illustrators a lot like Colin McNaughton, Simon James, Ronald Searle and Jez Alborough. But honestly it changes every week it seems when I look through the bookstore or browse Instagram. And then there are the jaw dropping illustrators like Mattias Adolfsson and Kim Jung Gi who make you want to give up drawing and go work at Starbucks.

Dani: What is the hardest project you ever worked on?

Bob: Years and years ago I did 750+ full color illustrations for a Spanish English middle school textbook. I had six months to complete the job and each illustration had a really complicated file name like ASG_49079-98742_LG Span_590A-K that I had to keep straight. Between keeping the reference photos, changes, revisions and mix-ups organized, I almost had a nervous breakdown toward the end of that job.  I still have PTSD just thinking about it, but it paid almost 6 figures so afterward I had time to recover.

Dani: Can you give some pointers for adding humor into illustration?

Bob: I think just by looking at the artwork and thinking about what’s the craziest thing that could happen to the person in the drawing. I’m always thinking that way. I think more like a gag cartoonist than a children’s book illustrator most of the time. I think humor is very important for children’s book illustrations.

Dani: How did you get started in illustration?

Bob: Actually I started out as a political cartoonist for my college newspaper then went on to work for a local newspaper but unfortunately they couldn’t pay much for that so I went into advertising illustration and had fun with that for many years and then found children’s books and my tribe with the SCBWI where I’ve been ever since.

Dani: What's one thing that Smart Dummies participants should remember when working on their dummies?

Bob: Finished is better than perfect. That’s the mantra from illustrator Jake Parker and it is so true! If you try to make your dummy absolutely perfect it may never see the light of day because you will be revising it for years. Make it as good as you can because once it gets in the hands of the editor it’s going to change substantially. I hear this all the time from author illustrators that they say the dummy that they turned in gets changed completely most of the time so just get it done and turned in knowing that there will be lots of changes as it goes through the publishing process.


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Monday, September 18, 2017

Majestic Storyteller Margriet Ruurs

Storytelling in Haida Gwaii
Margriet Ruurs is absolutely wonderful! I first saw Margriet at a local SCBWI conference (Burnaby, BC Canada) in 2013. Unfortunately, I don't believe I introduced myself! She gave tips (I'm sure I have the notes somewhere) on preparing oneself for publishing and doing research for writing. I don't remember everything about the conference, but I do remember Margriet's warm and friendly presence! Her Booklover's Bed and Breakfast is on my "must visit" list!

The one book that stuck with me was "My Librarian is a Camel" I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because she talked about it so much at the time. Maybe it's because librarian Camels are just awesome (I think the latter). Not too long ago in 2016 "A Brush Full of Color," by Katherine Gibson and Margriet Ruurs, won the Crystal Kite Award! 


'A dream is a story that no one else gets to read'.
From Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones

Dani: Where do you get all your wonderful book ideas?

Margriet: Ideas can come from so many different, often unexpected, places. It might be something I hear, something I see or read. I get ideas during my travels and from the wonderful things my (grand) children say. One of my next books coming out is a novel (Bus to the Badlands, Orca Books) and is completely based on all the things my own kids did in Grade 5.

Dani: When do you know that a story is done and ready for submission?

Me with girls in Lahore, Pakistan
Margriet: I don’t… I have stories on my computer for years and years. I keep tinkering, researching, changing, editing… Some stories come as a complete package but many, especially nonfiction, need more work for a long time. But at some point you need to submit it. And even then it isn’t done. I often work for a year or more with an editor on editing and tinkering.

Dani: How does reviewing books inform your own writing?

Margriet: I enjoy reviewing books mostly in hopes of bringing more attention to Canadian authors, illustrators and the beautiful books that are published here. As a writer I am also a voracious reader so I read many picture books, novels, books of poetry. It is good to see what works and what doesn’t work. It helps to stay informed on what is selling and what others are writing.

Dani: What are some of the critical components to any story?

'The best of good companions is a book’. -- Gertrude Bell

Margriet: When my son was 9 he urged me to read ‘Redwall’ by Brian Jacques. I asked him why he liked that book so much. His answer was “because it has all the ingredients a good book should have: suspense, romance and adventure.” I loved that statement because it showed me that he was a connoisseur of books, even at age 9 he knew what made a story work.

Whether a book is poetry, nonfiction, even a graphic book - it should stay with the reader after you finish reading it. A good book changes you, helps you to grow as a reader but also as a person. A story needs to be more than just an interesting story. It needs to have a unique viewpoint, fabulous language and a ‘wow’ factor. Not easy to accomplish, but then the job of a children’s book creator is not easy. Every story is a challenge.

Dani: Is there any other advice you could give to those working on their dummy this month?

At the launch of Stepping Stones
Margriet: Dummies are crucial. They help to map out the story. Maps bring direction and clarity. If you believe in your story, then never give up. I’ve had books accepted after many years or many rejections. Just don’t ever think it is done! You can always improve. Share your story out loud with children and listen to their feedback. It helps in making the story stronger. And if you get rejected, keep in mind that this is just one person’s opinion. It can be a business decision rather than a reflection on your writing. Just send it to the next publisher!


Follow Margriet:

Her Booklover's Bed and Breakfast:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Super Woman Tory Novikova

Tory's portfolio is nothing less than amazing. I'm not even sure how I happened to find her, but when I didn I was blown away. Yes, Tory has done picture books in the past, but what she's really focused on is apps. Not just any type of app, but apps focused on teaching kids! Apps she's helped develop: "Twisted Manor" where kids have to solve vocabulary based puzzles, and "MasterSwords" with it's "Fantastical combat Scrabble Game" (both games published by Touch Press Inc.). Tory has such insight into all things created kidlit and I'm so excited to have her on my blog today!

Dani: Can you tell us a little bit on how you got started in illustration/design?

Tory: My story is a bit funny, because I've always been illustrating even before I knew the professional term. When I was ten, I just called it drawing comics. My mom is a fashion designer and an amazing artist. She made it a point to teach me how to hold a paintbrush and a pen. We would practice everything, my strokes, perspective, gesture, anatomy, and how to use computers at a young age to draw. I was quite apt and over prepared by the time I had entered college. I chose to go to Pratt Institute, and had just completed the first foundation year, which like in most design universities, is the preliminary general year where most people are learning new skills or catching up. But I was bold and thirsty, and very serious about starting to get paid for my craft, so I found an ad in one of the WWD magazines that were laying around the house (I was a commuter in all that time), and applied! They called me to interview for an apparel graphic designer role at a childrenswear company on 7th ave. And pretty much since then, I dove into the children's market and have been illustrating and designing within it ever since. Of course, I started out with apparel, making graphics and all over prints, and now I work in digital media like games and apps within education. I would attribute everything in my life to a combination of good timing and hard work. Without the two, you really can't achieve anything.

Dani: How different is your process when working on an app than working something 2D like a picture book or graphic novel?

Tory: Well, think back on the very last time you made a game when you were little. It probably had a ton of rules, and you had to get all your friends on board with continuing to play long enough for it to be fun for everyone. With interactive media, you're creating a product with a narrative that requires the user's interest and participation in order to continue. That can be complicated or minimal, but really you need to think about the rewards of the experience, and how to create moments that motivate the user. You know what you'll get with a book, some kind of beautiful art and a good story. But with products, it's theatrical, and every second is crucial in unveiling something interesting. But like with any thing that's produced, you have to consider your demographic. Who will be playing, versus who will be buying. How do you create and style something that is fun for a kid to play, but gets their parent or their teacher interested in paying for the purchase? The other main difference, is working in teams instead of individually. When you work on a book as an artist, it's likely just you and the writer, whom you don't usually communicate with, but with an app, it's a group effort to produce this product. You are part of a system of ideas and implementations and if it's a good team, each member gets to offer input on all aspects of the design of the app, from art to function. It's a much more collaborative, team-based way of working, and can be challenging for artists.

Dani: A lot (if not all) of the apps you work on are educational. How important do you think this is for educational purposes?

Tory: I have worked in educational products as an illustrator, art director, and product designer, for about five years now. It's a completely different experience than making commercial products of any kind. There is a lot more opportunity for R&D to get the educational goals right, rather than to try and push something out to the market quickly in order to get revenue to come in straight away. You need to playtest and research and iterate in order to make sure what you're doing is effective rather than simply lucrative. I have particularly enjoyed making educational mobile games. I wasn't an avid gamer when I was a kid, but I did go through middle school adoring everything about Playstation. Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and Rayman were my guys. Over the years I have gotten to witness the next generation of kids play my mobile games... and it has been such a pleasure to see their excitement for our projects. My experience with art directing this portfolio of high-budget beautiful and fun projects for Amplify Games, now called Touch Press Games, has been deeply rewarding. I really hope to be on the subway some day, or better yet, in another country, and look over at a kid playing something I helped design on his phone.

Dani: How do you incorporate things that are important to you into your art?

Tory: There needs to be some nostalgic foundation to guide the design of whatever I touch. So I try to put a little bit of extra research into what I make, and see if I can produce art that not only tickles my fancy, but that may be inspired by a time or a movement, or even a place. For example, I love all the shades of blue, purple and green that can be found in the Blue Ridge Mountain landscape, so if it makes sense, I might pull the palette from a scene I've photographed for a project. If there is a place that I visit, I am often completely awestruck by its culture and people and want to translate that somehow into my art. My own culture often manifests in my work as well, like folk tales from the motherland. And if I can speak frankly, I'm not ashamed of being a feminist. What I know best is what it's like to be an immigrant woman growing up in America. It has always been a part of my identity. Thus I enjoy making art that has culture, showcases female empowerment and doesn't shy away from mixing femininity and strength.

Dani: Is there anything that illustrators should keep in mind while creating their dummies or illustrations in general?

Tory: What I have learned from being a professional and from the students I have witnessed earn their success, is that if you are authentic and if you work hard, you will get your due. Draw how your inner voice wants you to draw, but be humble and know your strengths. Work to get better. Choose the subjects it wants you to choose. But research the proper editors, art directors, agents who would appreciate your point of view and style and seek them out. This means, research, work hard, try and try, and be true to yourself. Your passion will always come through to the right eyes. And it may take a whole lot of trying, years of trying, before something pays off. But life is just that, planting seeds every day, and waiting for them to grow. And one lucky day, they will.

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Touch Press Inc.:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Roberta "Magic Brush" Baird

Roberta Baird uses a big heap of magic when she creates her illustrations. I'm not sure where she finds this magic, but it's got to be in the art supply store somewhere! Roberta uses vividly bright colors and creates wonderfully fun characters in her scenes.

Books that Roberta has illustrated include: Margaret Hillert's "The Yellow Boat" and "The Runaway Pumpkin Pie Man" written by Vicky Town. I asked Roberta to join us for Smart Dummies so I could steal her magi... er so she could share a few of her secrets. So sit back and take a peak into Roberta's magical world.


Dani: How did you get started in illustration? 
Roberta: When my kids were really little, we would bring home stacks of books from our weekly library visit. While reading to them, I fell in love with the artwork and the stories, so I decided to try my hand at it. With a background in scenic design, I realized that there are many similarities between the two art forms. As an illustrator I get to set the scene and act the part of the character. I especially love the illustrations of Barbara Cooney. Her book Miss Rumphius, is my favorite children's book.

Dani: What has changed for you since you've started illustrating? 

Roberta: Well, I used to illustrate using traditional mediums such as watercolors and colored pencil. Eventually I transitioned to illustrating digitally. Most of the time I still sketch traditionally, but all of my painting is done in Photoshop.

Dani: If you could re-illustrate any book which one would you choose? 

Roberta: I don't think I would want to re-illustrate any of them. That was then. This is now. Okay, maybe I'd like to tweak all of them a little bit here and there.

Dani: What is a typical work day for you? 

Roberta: I wake up early to feed the chickens. I drop my daughter off at school. She's starting middle school, sigh. They grow up so fast! Then I start by checking my email. If I'm in the middle of a project, I get right to work on it. If not, I will do some sketching, work on designing a postcard or work on some picture book dummies that have been on the back burner.

Dani: Do you have any advice for the illustrators as they work on their dummies?

Roberta: As you put together your dummy book, make sure your visual story telling is as dynamic as your text. Read lots of picture books in the genre you are working on. Learn what works and what doesn't. Love what you're working on. If you love it, it will show in your work.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Sunshine Sweet Susanna Hill

Susanna Hill is a big bowl of sunshine. She helps the kidlit community on her blog by giving writing tips (and other fun kidlit stuff), contests, and recipes for sweets. I know I'd never be able to create if I didn't have enough sweets! Thank goodness for Susanna keeping us knee deep in fantastic recipes.

Susanna is the author of several books including:"The Road That Trucks Built" illustrated by Erica Sirotich, "When Your Elephant has the Sniffles" and "When Your Lion Needs a Bath" illustrated by Daniel Wiseman. Susanna has some wonderful critiques that she offers. Susanna is such an accomplished and professional writer, that I thought it was a good idea to have her write a post about illustration!

All right, class!

*claps hands*

Settle down!

It’s time to get to work.

This is Picture Book Art 101, and I am your Incredibly Accomplished Mixed-Media Wielding World-Renowned Professor of Illustration, Dr. Hill.

Hreh hrem.

Today, I will be teaching you to draw.

Are you ready?

Please look closely at Exhibit A, paying special attention to the use of line, form, and white space:


*gasps with laughter*

I can’t even say that with a straight face! 


So, maybe I won’t teach you to draw… unless you happen to feel passionate about stick figures  I think I speak for the world at large when I say it’s best if I leave the drawing to the professionals!

Dani asked me to talk a little about my involvement in the kidlit community and, as I guess you can see, it is not because of my special talents as an artist 

Although I think visually, I struggle to get graphic images on paper. Instead, I write picture books, putting my words on paper and relying on illustrators to turn my thoughts into art.

I’m pretty old and I got started in this field when email was still a novelty. Online classes didn’t exist yet. Nor did online communities for writers and illustrators. The picture book writing life was a pretty solitary one, and it wasn’t as easy as it is today to find information on how to do it well

As I inched along the path of writing for children, writing, revising, getting an agent, submitting, eventually getting an offer! signing a contract! seeing my book in print! going on my first school visit, and trying, at the encouragement of my publishers, to create an online presence, I saw how very much there was to learn. I wished I’d had someone to help me, and I wanted to give other writers and illustrators whatever little help I might be able to to make their journey easier and more fun.

As a result, my blog evolved into a place for kidlit writers with features like Would You Read It (pitch practice and feedback), Short & Sweets (writing prompts), Oh, Susanna! (questions about every facet of picture books answered), and writing and illustration contests. I also wrote an online picture book writing class called Making Picture Book Magic and I do picture book manuscript critiques. I tried to think of things I find helpful and fun and incorporate them in the hope others find them helpful and fun too. Not all my ideas pan out… there have been quite a few clunkers along the way  But you don’t know unless you try, and I try to come up with ways to share information, skills, and encouragement with other kidlit folks because we can all support each other.
Dani also wanted me to talk a little about how I get inspiration and how I get past artists’ block.

I think inspiration is all around – everywhere you look, things you hear, feel, experience, places you go, topics you find fascinating – and if you’re lucky enough to live with or teach kids, you’ve got a constant source of ideas. I can almost always tap my own childhood or my children’s childhoods for story sparks. I find nature and animals very inspiring as well. Also, the process of how to do things, like build a road, or give your lion a bath  

I think you can find inspiration in anything you find interesting. If you like it, someone else is sure to also! Look for angles that allow you to use your interests in a way that kids will find appealing, engaging and relatable.

As for artist’s block, when that happens to me it’s usually because regular life is sucking down a lot of my energy, or because I’m suffering a bout of self-doubt, either of which makes it hard to be creative. But I can often get past it by just setting a timer for 5 minutes and writing ANYthing! If I’m hungry, I might write about what I want for breakfast. If I’m struggling with something in my life, I might write about how it makes me feel. Just the physical act of writing gets me going. And once I’m going, I can usually keep going. Ideas beget ideas, and what I want for breakfast can easily evolve into any number of potential stories, as can an emotion I’m experiencing. As I’ve shown you, I can’t draw  but if I could, I might use color to express how I’m feeling, or draw a picture of something that catches my eye… or what I imagine I’ll have for breakfast  

Although those things are not intended to be actual creative work, they often spark ideas or simply melt that feeling of being frozen and unable to create.

Other things that work for me are typing out the text of someone else’s picture book – it kind of gets me in the swing of things - and I’m guessing you could do the same thing as an artist by copying someone else’s illustration – or going for a walk or a run – any kind of outdoor physical exercise. Something about it allows my brain to gear up in a way that sitting at my desk staring at my blank computer screen and gnashing my teeth because I can’t think of anything to write does not

I hope everyone is feeling creative and inspired today, and I hope anyone who is interested will come on over and check out the activities at my blog and join the fun if you’re so inclined.

Thank you for having me today, Dani, and best of luck to everyone with whatever projects you’re working on!

Susanna is the award winning author of over a dozen books for children, including Punxsutawney Phyllis (A Book List Children's Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice), No Sword Fighting In The House (a Junior Library Guild selection), Can't Sleep Without Sheep (a Children's Book of The Month), and Not Yet, Rose (a Gold Mom's Choice Award Winner and an Itabashi Translation Award Finalist.)  Her books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, and Japanese, with one forthcoming in Chinese.  Her newest books, When Your Lion Needs A BathWhen Your Elephant Has The Sniffles, and The Road That Trucks Built will be published by Little Simon in July 2017.  When Your Llama Needs A Haircut(Little Simon) and Alphabedtime! (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Books) are forthcoming in Spring 2018 and Spring 2019 respectively, with additional titles coming in 2018 and 2019.  She lives in New York's Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs.   
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Making Picture Book Magic (online picture book writing course):

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Cathrine, Cathrine Bailey -- sorry I have "Ice, Ice Baby" stuck in my head (it's the only Vanilla Ice song I can remember). I can only blame Catherine's post for this. Catherine's latest book "Lucy Loves Sherman" illustrated by Meg Walters is out on the shelves. In her post Catherine goes into detail with some of the things you can do to promote your book. Pre-published? That's okay too. A lot of these things you can do with your own illustrations to get yourself better known before you're published!

Catherine Bailey's "Hypnosis Harry" illustrated by Sarita Rich is in stores now! Catherine's other new books include Lucy Loves Sherman illustrated by Meg Walters and "Mind Your Monsters" Illustrated by Oriol Vidal


Yup. I’m quoting Vanilla Ice. But I have a good reason. Please let me explain.

As a children’s author, I do not have much input during the illustration process. And you know what? That’s fine with me! I happily trust the artists bring my characters and scenes to life, and they always surpass my expectations.

BUT - once the book is done - I love to collaborate with the illustrator on promotion. And considering these joint efforts as the book is being designed generates fabulous marketing material, plus you’ll already have a lot of the images saved in files and ready to go!

(1) COLORING / ACTIVITY SHEETS – I have a section on my website called FREE DOWNLOADS where I have coloring sheets and activity pages for each of my books. I could not offer these if my wonderful illustrators didn’t make them for me (or at least email me some images I could paste into Word documents). The best format includes a space for the child to write their name, the book title, ISBN number, and names/websites of the author and illustrator. Also, for coloring sheets, be sure the black and white image can be easily colored by little hands with fat crayons, (ie not too much detail), and includes the main character.

(2) IMAGES FOR PPTS – Many of my author visits involve PowerPoints, and the audiences LOVES when I can show how a character or cover developed over time. To that end, keep a file of images – from black and white sketches to colored final images that you can share with the author for when they (and you!) visit schools and libraries. Other fun images to pass along are pictures of your office, yourself, and any inspirations. Plus these pictures can be used for interviews, which I’ll talk more about below.

(3) BOOKMARKS – Get ye to Overnight Prints, and design ye a bookmark! Then please oh pretty please share the design file with your author. Just like the coloring and activity sheets, they should include the book title, your names, and the ISBN number. And leave some blank space for signing on the back (not every child can afford to buy a book, so signing and giving away free bookmarks is a cool alternative!).

(4) INTERVIEWS – Here’s a fun idea – if somebody wants to interview you, propose a joint interview with your author. You can ask each other questions and generally have a blast splitting the work of making a post / article. You can generate a bank of material for these interviews if you make notes about how you got hired, your inspiration, etc. as you illustrate the book.

(5) SOCIAL MEDIA – Make sure you and your author use the same hashtags when posting about your book. Consistency is key! For example, I could have used #HypnosisHarry or #HypnosisHarryBook when promoting my second book. Also share and like each other’s posts on FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. If you mention your author in a post, include a link to their website if possible, and ask them to do the same.

(6) VIDEOS – This is my newest idea and, I’ll be blunt, I just love it! I reached out to two of my illustrators and asked them to make 1 minute videos of themselves drawing our characters. The results were SO FLIPPIN’ AMAZING! With their permission, I use the videos in PPTs, and posted them online on my YouTube channel. Plus I am working on a dedicated VIDEOS page for my website. Now I understand making a video sounds scary – especially for us introverts. But it can be as simple as having a friend hold your phone (gotta love that camera function!) over your desk while your hand sketches a character’s face. 30 seconds – and boom! – done. The best part is that your author can return the favor and record a video for you to use as well. I made one about the inspiration for my books, and have more in the works (mini tour of my office, etc.).

Thinking about these ideas and planning for them during the illustration process will make the collaboration process quick and easy.

I hope my ideas are helpful to you, and, to quote Vanilla Ice one more time, Word to ya mutha.

Catherine Bailey is the author of MIND YOUR MONSTERS, HYPNOSIS HARRY, and LUCY LOVES SHERMAN. Forthcoming books include LUCY LOVES SHERMAN’S BEACH, as well as two titles from Disney-Hyperion. When she’s not writing books or quoting cheesy rappers, she’s taking care of her family in sunny Florida.
You can learn more about her work at,
follow her blog at,
and see her videos at
She has worked with the following uber talented illustrators: Meg Walters -, Sarita Rich -, Oriol Vidal -

Smart Tip: Take a step back today and look at your drawings from a distance. It also helps to take a picture with your phone. It's amazing how many issues you'll find doing this!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Dimensionally Transcendental Jennifer Adams and a PRIZE!

Jennifer Adams is a master of making teeny weenie books. I'm sorry, teeny weenie is the professional term. You would know this type of book best as a board book. Jennifer Adams' started her career by taking full length novels and squishing them into tiny little board books. This feat would impress even the Doctor*. In Jennifer's most recent work (illustrated by Greg Pizzoli) she's managed to pack whole cities into tiny little board books. First novels, now cities -- better watch out or Jennifer will put the whole world into her books!

(*Doctor Who, and I'm very disappointed that you didn't know this reference.)

I first saw Jennifer's work at my local library. "Bride and Prejudice" illustrated by Allison Oliver is one of my favorites!  Her newer work includes "My Little Cities: London", "My Little Cities New York" and "My Little Cities San Francisco" all illustrated by Greg Pizzoli.

Look for a Prize at the end of this post!

Dani: What is the hardest part about what you do?

Jennifer: It takes a lot of patience to be a professional writer. There are very long waits between writing something and selling something, and between selling something and when you actually see the book on the shelf. You also do a lot of work that never makes it into print.

Dani: Which books (or writers) do you love the most?

Jennifer: So many great writers to choose from! Lately I've been reading a lot of middle grade novels. I'm in a book group with some of the booksellers I work with at The King's English Bookshop. Some of my current favorites are Pax, The War That Saved My Life, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, and Wolf Hollow.

Dani: How does your experience as an editor influence your work as a writer?

Jennifer: I've been really fortunate to come at writing from the publishing world. I know a lot about the publishing industry and how it works. It's helped me see trends and space in the market that make sense to publish into. It's also helped me to understand the life of my books as far as editing and design, as well as sales and publicity and marketing.

Dani: What is the submission process like for Board Books, and is it recommended for first time writers?

Jennifer: That's a good question. I think you would follow the same process as you would for picture books. In fact, a publisher might like a board book manuscript but ask you to develop it into a picture book, or vice versa. You'd need a complete manuscript for a board book, not just a concept.

Dani: Do you have any advice to those trying to illustrate a picture book dummy for Smart Dummies?

Jennifer: Keep working on your craft. Keep creating new work and taking classes. Attend workshops and symposiums and conferences. Spend time familiarizing yourself with what's being published currently, what's selling, what's winning awards. And enjoy the process.


Follow Jennifer:




Jennifer is giving one lucky winner a copy of "My Little Cities London" and "My Little Cities New York" both illustrated by Greg Pizzoli.

If you want to win these books just comment on the post below!

Smart Tip: Finish loose drawings for each of your pages/spreads. These will give you more of an idea of how your final work will look.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Melodious Maker Don Tate and a PRIZE by Arree Chung

Don Tate's work is pure music. His images flow in an amazingly melodic way (I don't know how he does it without sound). One of the best parts about Don's work is the wonderful use of perspective he uses in his illustrations. This perspective draws the viewer into the story, and who wouldn't want to live inside a book?

Don has received many awards for his writing and illustration including an Award for ALA Notable Children’s Book and an Ezra Jack Keats Book Award in 2016 for Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton. Don speaks at many fairs, festivals and conferences. He is also a founder of The Brown Bookshelf – "a blog designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers"


Dani: How did you get started in illustration?

Don: I’ve been drawing forever, at least it seems like. I started illustrating professionally right out of college, when I started freelancing for the Perfection Form Company (Now Perfection Learning Corporation), in Des Moines, Iowa, where I grew up. It’s an educational publishing company that creates supplemental educational products aids such as work books, teaching guides, basal books, as well as picture books to be used in the classroom. Later I accepted a full-time job there, where I worked as a book designer, but I also became the in-house illustrator. Occasionally, I traveled with PFC to reading conferences where they exhibited. That’s where I learned about trade publishing. Eventually, I left to pursue my trade publishing dreams.

Dani: What do you think is your greatest achievement in kidlit?

Don: When I let go of fear and allowed myself to express myself through words in addition to pictures. I always say I had no interest in writing, but I don’t think that’s quite true. I had an interest in writing, but I guess I didn’t think I was smart enough, or equipped enough, or articulate enough, to write. To me, writing a book was for people who had high educational degrees, went to law school, studied English in college. None of that was me, so I stuck to painting pretty pictures. Eventually, I allowed myself to let go and write. And it was the best decision of my career. My next book, STRONG AS SANDOW: HOW EUGEN SANDOW BECAME THE STRONGEST MAN ON EARTH (Charlesbridge) publishes in two weeks, and it’s already received two starred reviews. I've now had three books publish that I've written, with three more under contract. I’ve actually received more accolades as a writer than I have as an illustrator—and I’ve been a writer for a short time.

Dani: Can you talk a bit about The Brown Bookshelf and it's importance to kidlit?

Don: The Brown Bookshelf was started by YA authors Varian Johnson and Paula Chase—Hyman, as a way to highlight other authors and illustrators writing for children. Historically, books by People of Color, have gone under the radar of the children’s literature community. Varian and Paula got tired of their books publishing and seeming to get ignored by the wider publishing community. So that’s where the Brown Bookshelf was born. They bought on me and several other authors and illustrators, where we conduct interviews, industry news, and generally cheer on African American children’s book creators. While the topic of diversity in children’s books is of utmost importance to us, we’ve chosen to focus on supporting our “own voices,” while partnering with others, when we can.

Dani: What's one thing that illustrators should do to help their work appeal to a diverse audience?

Don: Think about the world around you. What does that world look like? It’s likely diverse. It’s likely a world made up of all kinds of people. Draw that.

Dani: Is there any words of wisdom you'd like to share with the illustrators working on a dummy this month?

Don: Master the page turn. What is going to get your reader to turn the page? Ask a question to be answered on the next page. Action/reaction. Study books by Eric Rohman, Brian Floca, Dan Santat. They’re some of the best at getting a reader to turn the page.



Arree Chung is giving a copy of "Out" to one lucky winner!

To win this prize please let Don how much you liked his post, and don't forget to thank Arree for his prize!

Arree Chung is a true picture book ninja. He has created many ninja (and non-ninja) books. You too can learn to be a picture book ninja with Arree's new course: I took his summer course and it was absolutely wonderful. So much vital information for those creating picture book dummies!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Full-Time Wisdom from Yvonne Mes and a PRIZE!

I'm pretty sure that Yvonne and I met while inside a picture book. What was this picture book about? It was about well-rested moms that drank hot coffees, had lots of quiet time and lived a stress free life. I am not making this up! After we left that book titled "In My Dreams" Yvonne has gone on to be a full time author and illustrator. What does that mean? Is it even possible? Yes, and Yvonne is here to fill you in on the details!

Be sure to check the end of this post for a PRIZE!

Yvonne's books include "Meet Sidney Nolan" illustrated by Sandra Eterovic and "Oliver's Grumbles" illustrated by Giussepe Poli

Dani asked me to share a little about my experience in becoming a full-time author/illustrator.

A couple of months ago, I skipped, hopped and leaped into being a full-time author/ illustrator.

I had worked for many years as an early childhood professional and increasingly it became coupled with the frustration of never having enough creative time. Though, somehow I managed to have two picture book traditionally published.

I’d always been interested in books, but after my second son came along I fell deeply in love with picture books. Not being able to indulge wholeheartedly in this torrent affair of reading and creating stories, was anguish.

In addition, I was a perfectionist in denial, a mum to three boys, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a workmate and a volunteer. When finally there was not even a semblance of being any of these perfectly it led to an awkward and angsty existential crisis.

Of course, you can’t have a crisis without some obligatory soul-searching and so, in between dirty diapers and dishes, I discovered that I didn’t feel whole without creativity in my life. It is not enough to squeeze a little bit in, here and there. Such a small amount is not enough to make me a whole person even imperfectly. And even when I gave up on the illusion of perfection, it still was not enough. I had to decide whether it was time to let go of this silly dream and embrace the reality of my responsibilities or to take a risk and feel whole again.

So here I am today, committed and brave enough to say: “My name is Yvonne, and I am a writer and illustrator of books for children.”

How is it working so far …?

Do I get paid full-time? Nope, not in the least, or at least not yet. Hopefully with time, I will be, at least a little.

Is it for everyone? No, you need to be able to deal with loss of income, loss of security, and some loss of pride. This means you have to be absolutely determined and passionate to give it a go.

It is more than my creative expression though. It is about the power of story to change children’s lives. Children’s literature is important because of the difference it can make by showing the world through another’s eyes (whether it be a person, animal, monster or teapot), by giving children the experience of empathy, of making connections, and seeing different perspectives. I believe these experiences strengthen how children see themselves and how they understand themselves within their wider communities. As authors and illustrators, we play a big part in shaping culture.

To get back to the more practical side of being a full-time author/illustrator and in the spirit of SHOW don’t TELL, here are some examples of …

What NOT to do when going the full Ninja-Warrior-Writer:

Worry about your washing, your dishes, the floors.

Wallow in guilt about the dirty house, the husband cooking more than his equal share, the kids mistaken the PC for me.

Think that friends and family and even strangers will understand your obsession, uh, I mean passion with writing and illustrating.

Say YES to everything

Say NO to everything

Think that sleep is overrated

Take your family and friends for granted

Forget to surround yourself with other creatives

Am I spending each glorious minute sprouting precious prose and edgy illustrations?
Well, no. When I left my steady job, I imagined that I would have so much free time that I over-stretched myself immediately. I became more active in my children’s school, and more involved with children’s literature organisations, engaged in self-study and I was also busy trying to create what you would call income streams. My income streams are more trickles than streams, and instead of filling a healthy lake, it is forming a small muddy puddle! But this little piggy feels this is where she is meant to be--happy as a pig in mud!

The income trickles:

Picture book critique service - ‘No Nonsense Critiques’.
Art classes for children of friends - Exploring Stories.
Assisting with the StoryArts festival, a large Children’s Literature Festival.
Selling illustrations through Etsy.
Selling short stories, and hopefully some more books.
Writing workshops for emerging and published authors.
Author workshops for children at schools and festivals.
Applying for grants and funding (stagnant water at the moment).

Most of these have been recently established, and time will tell if some or any of these will provide support for my family in the future.

But most importantly, between all this, I have even found some time for writing and illustrating.

But this is the most exhilarating and excited I have felt for a long time, if not ever. Oink!


Yvonne Mes is a children’s author and illustrator from Brisbane. She writes fiction and non-fiction in the form of picture books, junior fiction and short stories. Her stories playfully expand children’s perspectives and invite exploration of feelings.

Meet Sidney Nolan (Penguin Random House Australia), a non-fiction picture book published in 2015, is listed on the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge. Her picture book Oliver's Grumbles was released in 2015 and will be re-released with Yellow Brick Books in 2017.

Her short stories are published in The School Magazine and in anthologies.

As an illustrator, Yvonne prefers to work with a combination of linoprint, watercolour, ink and Photoshop.

As an Early Childhood Professional, Yvonne has over 20 years’ experience working with children of all ages, abilities and cultures. She has a Bachelor of Children's Services, Certificates in Professional Children's Writing and in Visual Arts.

Yvonne presents workshops for grown-ups on how to engage children with their stories, but she is most in her element when acting out stories with children during school visits. Yvonne is the coordinator of Write Links, the Brisbane children's writers and illustrators group and is an active member of SCBWI, Book Links, IBBY and is a member of the Queensland Writer’s Centre and several other professional writing bodies.

Follow Yvonne:



Yvonne is giving away a ‘No Nonsense Critique’ worth $100. This is a structural critique on a picture book text under 100

You must finish your dummy this month in order to be eligible for this prize!

In order to win this prize you must comment on this post!