Friday, February 26, 2010

Don't Want No SHORT PEOPLE Round Here

I've learned an important lesson while making Wink 2. Drawing tiny people is easy. Cutting tiny people out of paper is difficult. Cutting many tiny people out of paper is self-inflicted punishment.

Yesterday I worked on an illustration where a hoard of fans chase Wink into the Summer Moon School for Young Ninjas. I made fifteen people who were all roughly the size of a quarter. Not fun. But I cheated a bit - ssssh - don't tell. You see, normally I cut everything out of paper; socks, shoes, hair, hair ties. But this time I painted a bunch. If you'll look at the girl in the school uniform, above, the shirt, arm, head, and hair - are actually just one piece of paper which I painted. The blue skirt is a separate piece. Then the legs, socks, shoes are one painted piece. When she is normal sized, I usually use 12 pieces to make her. Her tiny self requires only 3 pieces. And thank goodness for that - because otherwise - AHHHHH!

That said, I take great pride in the fact that I did cut the number 2 for the boy's shirt.

And it's satisfying to know that I've completed one of the more challenging spreads in the book. Phew.

Today's challenge: take a synopsis that was once 8 pages, is now 5 pages, and condense it to two pages. Yipes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Final Chop

Magoo and I have been talking about it for a couple weeks and have agreed that it's time to give karate a rest.

He started as a white belt when he was five years old.

It's nearly two years later and he's a purple belt with a star. (It's the same gi. Look how big it is on him when he's five!!)

Karate has been such a great thing for him. He's an energetic little boy and it did a lot to develop his focus and self-control. But the higher up you go, the more the sport demands of you and the hour-long sparring classes were high on effort and low on fun. Maybe he'll come back to it in a few years - but maybe this is it. Either way I'm happy he had something that made his body strong and gave him pride in himself.

Now, I think, we'll try swimming.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Background Issues

As you can see, I'm back in the swing of things.

My first illustration back on Wink! The Ninja Who Wanted To Nap, (I don't know if I've spilled the official title yet, but that's it,) is a tricky one. Do you remember those Family Circus cartoons when Mom would ask Billy to get an egg from the neighbor and he's zig-zag all around the neighborhood? It's kinda like that. Here's a sketch:

Wink is trying to outrun/ditch a group of relentless fans so he can finally go home and rest, but wherever he goes, people recognize him, and he just picks up more and more fans.

The easy part is making all the little people. The tricky part is the background. This is a busy, high energy illustration. I need a background that fits, but doesn't distract - that's not always easy to do.

At first I thought I'd do a gray road and green grass, but the greens I had didn't look right. ( I even painted one special.) Then I liked the white I was working with so I thought I'd go Eric Carle and just leave the background white - but as it started to develop I wasn't loving that as much. Then I found a blue piece of paper that I liked for the top and wondered if I could simply anchor the bottom with a strip of green grass - but I didn't love that. So then I found a muted green in my collection and tried that.

I took a variety of pics and sent them in to the art director. It's nice to get another set of eyes on a problem like this.

I'm waiting to hear back.

In the meantime, here's how a little couple of folk developed.

Any Arrested Development fans out there? Remember when Gob and Steve Holt met at the park with the statue of the little boy holding a hand? This kinda remind me of that. Steve Holt!

But see - I gave the little girl legs and hair and an adult to supervise. She's better off than Steve.
I wonder who she sees? Hmmmm.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gearing Up

It's the last day of February break. To say I'm mentally tired is an understatement. I do best when there is a decent chunk of alone/quiet time in my day. I haven't had a solid chunk of quiet since a week ago Friday. Boo-frickin-hoo, right? I know. I'm spoiled. Still - it's the greese in my wheels. It's makes me less squeaky.

Here's what we've been doing: sledding, playdates, sitting around, karaoke, making board games, watching the Olympics, and watching season 4 of The Simspons.

Here's what I've been doing whenever I get a chance: watching Season 1 of Dexter and reading The Hunger Games. Both AWESOME!

Here's what I haven't been doing: working. Well, working on Wink. I've been doing a lot of cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, bills, etc.

But starting tomorrow I need to hop back on the Wink horse in a SERIOUS way - which will be difficult because I am out of my groove. But I bought a box of cookies and some dark chocolate at Trader Joe's and Lady Gaga's ready to blast out of my iTunes. That oughta get me on the right track.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Regular readers may have noticed that I'm trying to go a little more professional with the blog these days. But in the interest of keeping things flowing and knowing that the grandparents don't care to know the secrets of children's book publishing, I won't go whole hog.

Today I'm going 70's. My friend Heather got a cool app (ap?) on her iPhone that distorts the colors in your photos like the quirky chemical developing of the 70's. It's February break here so we took our boys to the park for sledding and Heather snapped some shots.

I love this!

It's so moody! I might print it up and hang it somewhere - it's that groovy!

And here's Magoo:

It's even slightly out of focus - I love it. It's like the cover to his folk rock album or something. Feelin' Mellow with Magoo.

I'm not an iPhone user myself. I have a cell phone for when I need to call AAA because I have a flat tire or for when I'm at the grocery store and I call home for a food item, but I WISH I had an app like this on my digital camera. OH THE FUN!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Going Out (into the Big, Bad World)

The secret project is ready to go out into the world and see: who likes it, who hates it, who hates aspects of it but likes others, and hopefully, who loves it.

I spent the weekend printing up art, going to Staples for more ink, and then printing up more art. I have two tidy stacks ready to go back to Staples to be bound and then sent to my agent in New York - but it's a holiday today so no mail. I'll have to wait until tomorrow. And then I'll get back to Wink 2 and tuck the secret project into a drawer in my mind and forget about it until I get a call.

The last time I went through this was with the first Wink. At some point, my agent sent me five rejection letters from some of the houses with comments such as: love the art, but the story is predictable; love the story but the art is static. I wonder if any of those editors ever saw Wink at Barnes & Noble and thought Wow - someone picked up that cruddy story?! or Doh! I should have picked up that cruddy story!

Wink 2 went directly to the same editor who worked on Wink 1 - so it got a little trimming up - no rejections. That's the way to go, I tell ya. (That's not to say that other stories I pitched to said editor didn't get the boot, just not Wink.)

Now I'm back to the "dating" stage - if you will. Putting my stuff out there and seeing if I get a bite. I can tell you that the secret project is completely different from Wink. Different style. Different genre. Different target age group. I've been working on it constantly since October 2008. And I love it and really, really want to work on it.

Fingers crossed for someone who loves it too. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Chicago - My Kind Of Town

Today's agenda holds a mix of sketching and tax preparation. Neither of which makes for good blogging.

But I did get some good news recently. Wink, The Ninja Who Wanted To Be Noticed was named one of Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best Books of 2009.

As Wink would say, Yahoo!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets: A Book Review

Last week a fabulous YA novel "dropped." Dirty Little Secrets by C J. Omololu (which is a fun name to say out loud) tells the story of Lucy, a high school girl who has a huge secret right behind her front door. Lucy's mom is a hoarder and their entire house (except for Lucy's room) is filled with garbage, rotten food, and mold.

Lucy wants only to be a normal girl with normal friends, but in order to be that she has to keep everyone at a distance and tell a ton of lies.

Thing are lining up for Lucy: she has an awesome best friend, her escape to college is in sight, and she's about to score a super cute boyfriend. Then, one morning she arrives home and discovers a situation so dire it's likely to blow her world apart. Lucy doesn't have much time to fix it all and embarks on a journey of reliving her challenging life with her mother.

I will say upfront, Ms. Omololu (I know her as Cynthia) is in my critique group, so I was rooting for her from the get-go. But this is a great book. I LOVED it. I especially loved the pace. It is so well balanced between the intensity of Lucy's present situation and some of the quieter memories. Without droning on and on through pages of description, the book paints a vivid picture of Lucy's house and what she has had to live with. The situation is fascinating and sad. But the heart of the story is Lucy, a smart girl who has as much love for her mother she has anger, resentment, and shame.

I picked the book up Tuesday, starting reading it, and only put it down to watch LOST. (I'm a major LOST junkie so there was no way I was missing the season premiere.) Then I picked it back up Wednesday morning and read it until completion. It's a page-turner! Four-stars. A+.
Go get it.

Cynthia keeps a great blog. Check it out at:
And here's an interview.

Congrats Cynthia!!!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Work Load

Sorry for the lack of posting. I am scrambling to get the "secret project" all gussied up and ready to go out in the world. My agent and I polished the manuscript and synopsis (OMG I should write a post on what I learned about writing a synop) over the weekend and now I have to get the art ready.

This means the end (of this process) is in sight and I'm super hyped! As a result, I am busting my hump trying to get it all ready. Plus, working on this means putting Wink 2 on the temporary back burner and I'm super hyped to get back to work on that as well.

In other news - SNOW tomorrow!!!

Friday, February 5, 2010


It had been awhile since I painted a portrait, but a friend brought her one-year-old daughter over the other day so I could meet her and a get a sense of her look and coloring for a painting. It was so nice to get back to straight-up watercolor.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another Myth of Children's Publishing

I don't want you to think I'm just blogging about misconceptions from now on, but I did come up with another one.

Myth #3 Authors/Illustrators have access to a never-ending supply of their own books.

Wouldn't that be nice!

I often have friends call and say they want to get a signed copy of my book for a nephew's (or some other child's) birthday party and can they swing by and pick one up. (Well, "often" might be a stretch but it does happen.)

The thing is I don't have a lot of copies of my book on hand and I certainly don't have an endless supply. When the book came out, the house gave me 20. That's what was written in my contract, 20 books. That's it.

I kept one for myself. Gave one to my son. Gave another one to a friend who helped me with some of the Japanese cultural aspects of the book. Then there were a few local charities who ask for a signed copy of the book to be auctioned off. And so on. 20 goes by fast.

How many books you get is written into your contract. And that's all you get.

If I go to a show and want to sell my book - those are copies that I bought myself. If I sell a neighbor a book from my house, that's a book I bought from B&N, just like you would. I recently did a reading at a local art studio and brought nine copies with me. Nine copies I bought, so that I could then sell. That's how it works.

In the beginning I would ask people to go to the bookstore and buy it, then they could swing by and I'd sign it. But now I keep a couple in the house. I figure a sale is a sale. But it is tricker for me because of taxes. I won't go into that because it's boring - but the short version is, I'm not a bookstore.

I imagine J.K Rowling gets as many Harry Potter's as she'd like. Maybe I'm wrong. But I imagine her house wants to keep her very, very happy. But I am far from J.K. Rowling and I haven't made the publishing house a pinky-toe of as much money as she has. So I will have to be happy with my 20 copies.

Believe me, I am.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Two Children's Publishing Myths

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine (let's call her Annie) contacted me. Annie has this other friend (let's call her Marge) who's written a children's book and is looking for an illustrator. I told Annie what I tell everyone who asks, "You don't need an illustrator to submit your manuscript to a publishing house." Then I added that if Marge is self-publishing she might need an illustrator, but I ask an hourly rate.

Myth #1 - You need an illustrator.
Myth #2 - Artists work for the joy of art.

Let's tackle the first one. This one comes up a lot.

Let's face it, a lot of people have ideas for children's book. A lot. And that's great. Some of them actually sit down and write out their story. (This is the group I'll be addressing this myth to, but let's come back to that.) Further still, some people read books on the craft and business of writing and publishing children's books. Then there are those who are serious, get a critique group, and put their stuff out there. From that group you get the ones who will be published.

After writing the story and before doing any research on the business, authors think they need to have illustrations to submit their story to a publishing house. MYTH! In fact, it's a horrible idea. Publishing houses have a ton of illustrators they like and have worked with. They want to play match-maker to your fabulous story and put it with an illustrator who's style matches the story's tone. Sometimes they put a well-known illustrator with a newbie writer to boost the book's fan base. But they will do it. And if you do attach an illustrator, it could cost you a contract because A.) It shows the house you did not do your homework, and B.) what if they like your story but not the illustrations? It makes them feel awkward and they might as well go with one of the other stories they have on the table.

But this is good news for writers, because it's one less thing you have to deal with!

The exception to the rule is if you're an author/illustrator. (Like me.) Then you can go ahead and do the whole shi-bang. It's awesome if you're a control freak. (Like me.)

Myth #2 - Artists work for the joy of art.

A day after my email with Annie, Marge sent me an email saying she was, indeed, self-publishing and she wondered if I would do the art in exchange for a percentage of the book sales. Short answer: no. Long answer: no freakin' way.

Let's think of it like this, shall we?
I'm a leg doctor. I have a patient who comes in and says, "Doc, if I could only run I know I'd win the Olympics and get a fabulous endorsement deal with Wheaties. So what do you say you fix my leg in exchange for a percentage of my endorsement deal." The doc isn't going to go for it. It's bad business and, quite frankly, insulting to the doctor who has professional skills and professional bills.

Marge wasn't trying to be insulting or even disrespectful. She just didn't think things through.

It takes a long time to illustrate a book. I kept track while making Wink and it took me about 100 hours to do the color illustrations. (That's not counting the dummy book or sketches or layout. Just the finished illos.) How much does an hour massage cost these days? $65 - 85? (That's kinda how I figure a fair hourly rate.) Let's rate me low and say I'd be willing to work for $60/hr for Marge. After 100 hours, that's $6000.00. How many books would Marge have to sell (and I'd only get a percentage) for me to make back $6000.00? A freakin' lot. It's not a good deal.

And how long would it take for Marge to sell those books after they are produced? A year? Two years? Three years?

So this is what she was really asking: Will you spend three-four months of your time now on a project that you may or may not be fully compensated for in maybe three years time?


Although, to be fair, I did say 'yes' once. When I was in high school I illustrated a book of poems that my English teacher, Dr. McBrayer, wrote. She was my favorite teacher. She was more like a mentor to me and I adored her. But even then, it was a lot of work. I didn't get a dime from that, but I didn't care. I did it for the experience and because she was close to me. Plus, I lived at home. I had no bills. I had no child. I had no mortgage.

Let's sum up:
Writers, you don't need your own illustrator to submit your manuscript.
And, if you're self-publishing, an artist who has no bills and a strong affection for you might illustrate your book for free. Otherwise, be prepared to pay them.

BTW- The book of poems was called, Mom, I Don't Want To Get My Hair Washed (and other poems) by Brenda J. McBrayer, Illustrated by Julie C. Phillipps.