Monday, January 25, 2010

My Process, Part III: The Art

When the text is shaping up and I have the basic story down (or at least I think I do) I start making thumbnail sketches and laying the book out. The page goal is usually 32 pages, although since Wink has decorative end pages, it was closer to 40. But it's always an 8-count because that's how the printers work. You also want to keep in mind that some pages are for pasting down and copyright info and a title page - so I'm not doing art for everything. I think a general rule of thumb for laying out a 32-page picture book is to start the story on page 5 or so.

That's what you see above - some sketching out and crossing out. Actually, none of those lay-out designs were used, but the basic ideas were.

For example, in the first layout (and I know it's light, sorry) The Lucky Dragon touring bus has dropped Wink and Grandmother off at the Summer Moon School for Young Ninjas. That became the second spread of the new book, but I changed the layout around.

What you want is an even, well-paced story. You don't want five words on page six and thirty-five words on page seven. You want to control your story flow. This is my least favorite part of the process because there's not easy way for me to do it. I just start and try things out and scrap a lot until I get it all balanced.

Then I do a sort of teeter-totter back-and-forth fine tuning of the art (sketches) and story until I think it's pretty tight. Then I can make some nice, finished art (just 2 - 3 pieces) and sketch the rest out for a dummy book.

(Note: You only have to make a full dummy book if you're working with new people. When I bring project ideas to my current editor, I don't have to go quite this far.)

For anyone who doesn't know, a dummy book is a practice book. It's a rough draft. As you can see, I've done the cover in full color art and there are several pages inside with full color art. But the rest is sketched.

Here's a shot of a sketched layout in the dummy book and then the finished layout in the published book.

Things change, obviously. But the dummy should represent a good idea of what the book will be. Editors will look at it and see how the story flows, see if they like your style or writing and art. They'll be able to tell if this is a project they love or not. And if they love it - there's a whole team of people at the publishing house to help you develop it.

See all those extra ninjas up above? It was my editor suggestion to narrow it down to three key ninja students throughout the book. Now there's a glasses ninja, a braid ninja, and a stocky ninja. They're kinda like Wink's Pips. My editor and I also collaborated on Wink's look here. I only wanted him to be in the pink curtain outfit, my editor suggested the flowers. (I'd be at fault if I didn't say that pre-sale, my agent, Scott Treimel, also helped a great deal in the shaping of the story.)

Once you have your dummy book (I got mine bound at Kinko's) you're pretty much ready to go. This being my first main dummy book, it took several levels of completion before we sent it out. Then, when we (my agent and I) agreed it was good to go, I made four copies to show. My agent handled it from that point. (That bit is just to let you know it's a time consuming process. You also go through a decent amount of ink and if you want it to look good, you need to print on really nice paper. The cost and time adds up.)

Here's an illustration from Wink that I made for the dummy, but we ended up changing the layout. I include it here to give a more detailed look at what a typical J. C. Phillipps illustration looks like. The bulk of it is cut paper. The wall was painted with watercolors. And the posters were made of cut paper, then scanned, shrinked? shrunk? to size, then cut again for the illo. So there's a combination of techniques. (Also, check it out, Master Zutsu was once named Master Rein! Zutsu is so much better, don't you think?)

That's my process of building a story.

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Process, Part II: Writing

I am a HUGE procrastinator. Truly. Especially when I'm about to start something new. (Once I get going on something it's not hard to keep the momentum flowing, but beginning a story, illustration, sewing project, is difficult for me.) I have two ways of jump-starting myself. One way is to get up at 6:ooam and just walk straight to the computer and start. The other is to have 15 minutes left in my work time (usually before I have to pick Magoo up from school) and just try to write one or two sentences. Then I've started. I've taken the first step and I have something to revise, which is like stretching to me - a good way to warm-up. Do a little revision and then the mind takes off.

I tend to keep the revisions light during the first draft because my real goal is to finish. I aim for a word count of 700-1000, so if I finish the first draft and I have 900 words, I'm good. There's room to add, and I'll most likely trim a bunch too.

I usually go through one or two additional revisions on a story before I send it to my critique group, The LitWits. If I'm ever asked to give a tip on getting published, I tell people to join a good critique group! Having people who's opinions your respect is crucial. There have been many times when I've thought I was submitting a good piece of writing, when these lovely ladies have pointed out numerous holes or offered excellent suggestions. My writing is more creative and solid thanks to them. I am lucky to have others who offer feedback too. My husband is good about helping me find places for humor and my mother-in-law is a writer so she always gives helpful feedback.

When I'm about 4-7 drafts in, I'll start to lay the book out and do thumbnail sketches. Starting the rough art at this point helps me pace the story and eliminate the areas that are over-written.

When I'm happy with the story in this incarnation, it can usually go to either my editor at Viking or my agent. They'll either have notes and I proceed, or they don't see a future for it and the project may die at this point. (R.I.P. Old Man Murphy and His Bathtub Boats.) Sometimes I get notes and work on a story for another 4 - 6 months before it dies a slow, agonizing death.

Sometimes a story develops and develops and develops and then you look at it and it's like, "What the heck is this even about anyway?" Sometimes it develops beyond the fun of the initial idea and ends up over-written and message-y. And sometimes my editor sees a different story emerging than the one I want to write.

But sometimes it's awesome and it gets better and better with each notes and idea I add to it.

I read a great article in this month's Writer's Digest by John Smolens that gave the stats for publishable writing. I'm going to paraphrase here but it went something like this:

For every five stories you start, you complete a rough draft of one. For every five completed rough drafts, one can be developed into a finished story. For every five stories you send out to editors, you're lucky if one is accepted for publication. So it's takes working twenty-five stories to make one story that is good enough to read.

That sounds about right.

Tomorrow - Art and The Dummy Book.

PS - Sorry I got your name wrong, Joseph. My husband corrected me and fixed it. Eek.
PPS - I did the math on the little para-quote above and it's true that it's takes 25 ideas to get one readable story, but according to that, it also takes 125 ideas to get one story published. I knew my husband would do the math so I wanted to make sure I worked through it first - but I am correct in what the article says. Of course, the point being, getting published takes a lot of work.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Process, Part I, Ideas

I was so happy to receive a question in my last post! Yippee! (If anyone else has any, feel free to lay them on me.)

Joseph asked: "Do you think you could blog about your process as a writer and artist? I'm interested to know if the story or the art comes first or if they both sort of emerge simultaneously."

I think I'm going to break this down into three sections: Ideas, Writing, Art.


Most of the time my ideas start with words. For example, Wink, the Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed, was born from something my husband said about a trick-o-treater trying to get our attention. "Look, it's the ninja who wants to be noticed." I love the poetry of Billy Collins and that inspired a story once. I'm most often inspired by humor. Sometimes I get an idea for a title, then I have to try to come up with a story that fits the title. This is a less successful process for me. A funny concept is the best bet.

Then I think about it. I think about it when I'm walking home from dropping my son off at school. I think about it when I'm folding laundry. I think about it when I'm baking cookies. I just play with the idea and different outcomes. This usually goes on for months. I won't write something down until I think I have a good shot at finishing it and that means I have to have interesting characters, a good storyline, and, hopefully, a satisfying ending. That doesn't mean it's done in my head and when I write it down it's a masterpiece. It just means I don't write it down until I have it finished enough to graduate to the next step.

Right now I have two story ideas in my head that are shaping up and getting ready to be drafted. I'm also tinkering with two stories that have already been written down. So I've got at least four work-in-progress stories that pop in and out of my mind on a daily basis. And they have to share space with new ideas, and the two projects that I am actively working on at the time: the new WInk illos. and my secret project.

Someone once compared mulling ideas to tending pots on a stove. You stir a little here, you add some salt there, you tend the masses until some dishes get tossed out and some are ready to serve. That's a good way to describe the idea process of my mind.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about writing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Grandmother's Birds

I'm working on Grandmother's sitting room today. It's similar to the sitting room in the first book, but Grandmother likes to shake things up a bit, so she's redecorated. New mats, new furniture, and new art.

Since there's so little bamboo in this book and there was sooo much of it in the last book, I decided to give Grandmother a little bamboo. And some birds. She likes birds.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More Tinies

In keeping with the tiny theme, I had to make some inch tall ninjas.

Yes, I know the stocky one only had one arm. He's standing behind Master Zutsu, so he only needs one arm. (What if he came to life and sought revenge on me b/c of his missing limb? That would be bad!)

I had to cheat on the glasses and draw them on. There was NO WAY I was cutting glasses that small!

Since I'm featuring ninjas today, I thought I'd show my own little ninja in sparring class. (Magoo's in the red gear.)

The kids have one combination: kick, punch, punch. They are supposed to stay on their toes and move around while they kick, punch, punch their opponent. And there's not supposed to be any contact, but more often than not there's a little contact because remembering all the things you're supposed to do is difficult. That said, no one's punching to hurt anyone, so the contact is mild.

Look at Magoo's nice block! (above)

And that awesome high kick! If Magoo doesn't become a bad-ass karate dude, maybe he can be a Rockette!!!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hold Me Closer Tiny Glasses

I love giving my characters glasses, but I hate cutting them out. Especially teeny, tiny ones. Don't sneeze!

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Desk, Sunday, 2:36pm

This is how my desk looks mid-illustration.

1. This is what I'm actually working on, a sliding screen door for Wink's room. I've glues a piece of rice paper on top of some brown and I'm gluing think strips on brown paper on top to make panels. I'm working on top of my green cutting board with my bottle of Elmer's white glue and gluestick front and center.

2. An old copy of Entertainment Weekly that I use as a background for applying glue so it doesn't get on my work surface.

3. The white cup holds my nice black drawing pens. The gray bowl holds my erasers - and other crud I collect and don't know where to put.

4. Trader Joe's Spicy Chai Latte. Mmmmmmmm. My friend, Magda, just introduced me to this drink. It's so good!

5. The bin where I keep my X-acto knife and paper punches.

6. The bin where I keep my plastic container tops that I use to squirt glue and paint in.

7. I put stuff that is drying or on hold at the top of my desk. The "L" shaped piece is the frame for the door. Underneath it is a piece of watercolor paper I painted with blues, greens, and yellows to be the background outside a window.

8. Dirty watercolor paint water. NOT Spicy Chai Latte. I have never sipped the dirty paint water, but I have cleaned my brush in my beverage.

9. Paint palette. I'm usually painting skin tones on people so I keep my palette close.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Details

If you're familiar with my book, Wink! The Ninja Who Wanted To Be Noticed, there's a wall in front of the Summer Moon School for Young Ninjas covered with posters. Most of the posters are for the circus - that was me giving a little clue as to how things were going to work out - but I also have a poster for a noodle place, Sumo wrestling, and Kabuki theater.

The time has come for me to make more posters! And my first one is for the zoo. (above)

The art is always easy. But this time I wanted to put more kanji on them - that's trickier because it means finding a good translation site where I can read the characters. It took me awhile to find "zoo." I hope I got it right.

(That said - these will be smaller than a postage stamp so they probably won't be legible anyway. Still, I like to get it right if I can.)

Then I found a nice picture of some tea cups that inspired the Gold Treasure Tea House.

I had originally tried to write Tea House in kanji but I double-checked it and it looked wrong on a couple sites. Then I found the words "gold" and "treasure" so I thought, Hey I'll just give the place a name. (BTW - the characters down the side are from a stamp I have. I have NO IDEA what it says. I had my friend, Shirley, look at it b/c she speaks Japanese, but she couldn't decipher it so I hope it's nothing randy.)

When I was doing online research, I found a Japanese ad for Space Beer. I kid you not - Space Beer! So I thought it'd be fun to make Space Juice.

While looking for the kanji for tea house, I found the character for rickshaw. That seemed like a fun idea and even better - let's have a leopard driving the thing. I present - Leopard Rickshaw. They're super fast!

Now I have to make the new and improved circus poster featuring Wink, then I should be done with the poster art.

(My favorite is the zoo.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Working Away

My husband snapped this shot of me Sunday morning. I was nearing completion of a large chunk of the Secret Project and I was eager to get it done. So before brushing my teeth, before combing my hair, before putting on clothes - I drew.

I'd also like to note that the fact that you can see any part of my floor means that my studio is considered "clean."

My posture's not so great though - is it? See, I got this great, smallish drafting table at a tag sale this summer. And it's awesome b/c I don't have a lot of space in my studio - but it has a downside. The height is not adjustable. So I have to squish my chair down as far as it will go and I still hunch a bit. But I will work on that. I'll need to if I don't want a bad back.

My agent and I are going back and forth of this project - polishing this, should we have this? - and trying to get it ready to show to editors. I'm super excited about this one though and HOPE, HOPE, HOPE we can sell it!

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First Post of 2010

We're all back in our groove now. Magoo is back to school. Mike is back to the office. And I'm putting some hours in at the art table. But we did squeeze one more sledding day in on the last day of vacation.

Here are my cool sledding dudes. (I have permission to post this pic of Mike. I guess he's comfortable with his nose being exposed.)

We have a lovely little park a couple blocks from our house where we sled. If the snow is fluffy, you stop 40 feet from the trees. But the snow was packed down so Magoo made it all the way across the field ...

Then he hit the tree ...

Then he rolled off the sled...

Then he declared victory over the tree!

I don't know how many runs we did, but after awhile Magoo pooped out. He sat by a tree and rested while Mike and I had a few more go's.

Then we all went home.

I don't really do resolutions but I do have a few goals for 2010:
1. finish illustrations for Wink 2.
2. sell Secret Project
3. sell some new picture book project - or at least get one ready to present
4. work on home budget

Those are the big ones. The first one is going to be done by Spring so that's less of a goal and more of what I'll be working on for the next few months. And I'm already working on the budget. We're not in any dire straits, but I feel I should have a better handle on where the money is going. It also helps me to not buy a bunch of crud I don't need.

But I would like some of these - so I have to save up my Amazon g-certs.

And I won't spill the beans about the Secret Project until it's sold. It's bad luck. Unless you see me, then I'll tell you. And if you already know me, then you probably know. But it's bad luck to tell on my blog. It just is! But here's a clue.

Happy 2010!