My niece had to write and illustrate a short story for her Spanish class and she shared her story with me. It's about a chick who's afraid of the outside world and refuses to hatch. She also happens to live on Jupiter, though she's meant to look like a fairly normal Earth-born chick. Without second-guessing the details of this quirky tale, I decided to try illustrating her story as a quick personal project. This is the result. In retrospect, I should have made some of the illos spreads, incorporating the text. And I could have made the illos more soft-edged vignettes. Next time.
Today, I attended my first children's book critique group. I've been meaning to do this so am glad it finally happened. The group meets monthly at a local library in one of their meeting rooms and reviews and critiques illustration and pictures. The tables form a rectangle so we all face each other. First we do introductions, then we count the number of folks sharing and divide by 2 hours. Today, each person had 12 minutes. I shared my rough book dummy and read my story. Here's one of the more fleshed out drawings-in-progress:
BENEFITS OF A CRITIQUE GROUP
- Get out of your own head for a change
- Hear how others experience your work.
- Get encouragement.
- Share with other creators with similar experiences.
- Get unstuck and next steps.
- Get inspiration.
- Make new friends.
THINGS I LEARNED
- Bring several copies of your story text so folks can jot down their comments as you read.
- Bring clear images on a display board, as well as a pointer, so folks can gather round and easily see your story progress visually.
- Join several critique groups. More feedback equals more information for how to improve your work.
- Arrive 5-10 minutes early to greet everyone and build rapport. After the meeting, folks may not want to linger.
- Prepare your stuff the day before the meeting to avoid last minute craziness.
I'm looking forward to sharing revised work next month.
I redid the cover without text. Henry's also a tad bit slimmer, but not too slim. I think slightly pudgy characters are rather adorable.
I'm currently reworking the story text and dummy. I'm going to take a break on the story for now since it's still not quite right. And will begin fleshing out the book dummy sketches.
With the story, it's not poetic enough. I'd like my words to sing, to feel like unwrapping chocolates, to feel like a treat, like a Roald Dahl poem.
On March 25, 2017, I attended the Oregon workshop Wearing Two Hats, with visiting speakers Laurent Linn, art director at Simon & Schuster and author/illustrator of Draw the Line, and Jaime Temarik, author/illustrator of Alice & Lucy Will Work For Bunk Beds. Linn and Temarik both gave fabulous presentations, and there was a First Glance section where attendees could submit 5 pages from their portfolios, or the first 5 pages of their book dummy. Linn and Temarik then critiqued them in front of everybody. I submitted book dummy samples for a story I wrote titled Henry's Smile. The critique helped me see where my dummy still needs work.
Here are some other things I learned:
- Needs to be clear and as finished as possible
- Must be fully detailed sketches; clean, easy to read
- Include 3 final pieces that show the color palette for the whole book
- Show 3 different moments: quiet, action, close up or far, character consistency
- Let the editor and art director feel ownership of your work
- Book covers come last and are planned by many different departments in a publishing house
- Must be eye-catching
- Illustrate the copyright and dedication pages - establishing piece
- Label your pages
- Richness/texture is favorable in artwork
- Send best color corrected versions
- DO say in your cover letter that you are open to revising
- Include visual hints at the beginning for things to come
- Show variation in scale and perspective
- Light source should be consistent/clear
- A limited color palette is good
- If there are multiple scenes on a page, be clear so kids aren't confused by seeing the same character more than once
- Show ascending drama
- Avoid old stuff like newspapers and telephones with cords unless it's a historical story
- Make sure your character is unique, memorable and GREAT
- Make sure there is a strong child-connection to your story
- Do not duplicate content in illustrations and text
- What does your character really want? Show stages of growth
- Make sure the writing and illustrations are equally strong
- Use visual writing (zoomed versus ran)
- Consider moments in an illustration (before, during, after)
- Warm colors draw the eyes; place the focus there
- Show a variety of scenic elements
- Draw us in
- Have at least 12 solid pieces
- Note that 6-7 years of age is the top age for picture books.
- Consider doing graphic novels or middle grade books; kids will often advance prematurely to YA books.
- Artists usually have other expressive outlets (fine art, music, etc.) - feed this, too.
- Break down your goals into baby steps
- Track your progress on a regular basis; learn your work habits and pitfalls and adjust your work practice accordingly
- Do 1% of your goal each day and carry it on an index card as a reminder.
- Volunteer for SCBWI, connect with other artists, join a critique group
- A day job will enable you to worry less about money, but invest as much of your available time as you can on your goals
Being a picture book storyteller means stirring up a cauldron of emotions and childhood memories. Today a mood-monster has decided to mess with those emotions by feeding me gloomy, critical, soul-draining thoughts. When this happens, there are a few tried-and-true remedies:
- Go for a walk outside. Mood-monsters hate fresh air.
- Exercise. Mood-monsters loathe sweat.
- Meditate. Mood-monsters are extremely fidgety.
- Watch a funny video on YouTube. Mood-monsters are repelled by laughter (unless it's from an evil scientist).
- Write it out in my journal. Mood-monsters prefer stuffing down emotions and thoughts so that they get muddled and seem more horrible than they really are.
- Talk it out with a trusted person. Mood-monsters trust no one.
- Keep plugging away at my to-do list until it gets bored and decides to move on. Mood-monsters have short attention spans.