Thursday, February 28, 2008

This Is How We Do It

My first book with Candlewick (a quirky new picture book written by Phyllis Root) is now complete! Well, actually, a cover design is still being kicked around, but all 38 pages of interiors are done. There's gonna be printed endsheets, so that's what's with the 38. Feels good. Above's another sneak peek image from said picture book. A cast of animal characters--here a bit disheveled from a certain mishap in the latter half of the story. Anyhow, art is shipped and now comes the long inhale before the pub gets it.

In other news, one of my previous books, RIGHTY AND LEFTY has had some recent good favor. Rights were purchased to make the book into a video by Nutmeg Media. This is a first for me, so I had to ask my Scholastic editor, Jen Rees, what it all meant. Apparently, if a picture book catches the eye of one of the production companies, they'll make it into a short movie (perhaps with animation) for sale on the school/library markets. Sounds awesome!

RIGHTY AND LEFTY also garnered some more praise, this time from the Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books (BCCB). It received the next-to-highest review the pub gives, an R-starred review. For the absolute highest, they feature the best book of that issue on the cover ("The Big Picture") and give it an extra-lengthy great review. Interestingly enough, Julie's and my book, TOBY AND THE SNOWFLAKES, did get that honor back in 2004! Anyhow, here's how it all goes down for RIGHTY AND LEFTY via BCCB:

Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December 2007 (Vol. 61, No. 4).)

Righty and Lefty are, as the subtitle indicates, two feet; they "don't always get along so well, but they are stuck with each other because they are two feet on one person." An average day requires them to negotiate their different temperaments (Righty likes to be moving, Lefty likes to hang in bed) and different tastes (Righty likes every shoe, while Lefty only likes galoshes), but they also enjoy playing together (though each foot has won its share of foot races, the finish "is always close"), a ultimately they're a team ("It is no fun to be Righty without Lefty"). It's a wonderfully weird story, filled with hilarious detail and deadpan humor, that clearly draws on sibling relationships for its model ("It's always fun until someone gets hurt," intones the narration after Righty chases Lefty into a door). Cordell's easygoing line-and-watercolor illustrations, vignettes floating amid white space, avoid contrived personification, simply keeping the feet so sustainedly in focus that they gain character through sheer persistence (Lefty, by the way, is the one with the band-aid). Giggling audiences won't be able to resist responding by putting their own best feet forward.

Review Code: R* -- Recommended. A book of special distinction. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2007, Scholastic, 32p.; Reviewed from galleys, $16.99. Ages 4-7 yrs.

AND... Last I checked over at, RIGHTY AND LEFTY is on wicked sale right now. Apparently they bit off more than they could chew and ordered way too many (my guess), so they've got it on deep discount to try and unload some copies. Get it SUPER cheap here!!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Breakfast for 600

This past Saturday, Anderson's Bookshop, out of Naperville, IL, held it's annual Children's Literature Breakfast. When they first did this, 6 years back (I think it was) it started a pretty big thing, and now, it's become a HUGE thing. Julie and I have been doing this for 4 years now. They rent a great big ballroom/meeting room place (the kind you'd find at a nice hotel or banquet hall) and sell seats to interested librarians and teachers (typically) from all around Illinois to come enjoy. Each year, they've had 2-3 big name speakers speak. Past has been Rosemary Wells, Kate Dicamillo, Brian Selznick, Jack Prelutsky, etc. This year they hosted Kevin Henkes and Richard Peck. Another perk of the breakfast is they invite tons of published authors and illustrators and author/illustrators (i.e. Julie and me) from all over the state of Illinois to come and participate by having breakfast with the crowd and move from table to table to chat and promote her/his books. It's a lot of fun.

This year was freakin large. In the past, it's been, you know 200-300, maybe 400 or so people in all. This year, they had to change venues cause there was a whopping 600 attendees. That's 60 tables of 10 people each plus all the author illustrators bumping around the tables (60 plus of those). There's lots of friendly authors and illustrators based out of Illinois. So it's great to mingle up in that as well. At the book signing afterwards, we've sat beside one Scott Gustafson the last two years. He's been good company.

This is what 600 people eating breakfast looks like.

Some hip teachers and librarians reading Julie's and my books. The kind lady up front bought a copy of THE MOON IS LA LUNA!

Some more hip teachers and librarians reading our books.

My awesome shot of Richard Peck getting his groove on for the crowd.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hand-Lettering for the English Speaking

Some may know that my original career path was to be a rocked-out graphic designer. I loved it. I still love it. I love type and image and layout and all that in between. But, it turns out, I didn't want to make a career out of it. Straight truth, I just LOVE to draw. So here I am. But, I like to think, I still work in my own design influence in my illo and in various bits of hand-lettering. This book I'm doing now, has a good bit of the hand-lettering throughout. Turns out, in the publishing world, if you are putting hand-lettered language in your art, it must be created separately. So that it may be scanned separately, and layered into the final layout file (then printed). Reason being, when this book goes across the pond (fingers crossed!) the non-English speaking world ain't gonna get my English language hand-lettering. Another edition(s) will be printed and in the place of my original letering will be, more than likely, a comparable font. Not my preference, substituting one-of-a-kind lettering with a cookie-cut font, but it's just out of my hands. Here's what I'm talking about:

First I create the artwork (click any/all images to zoom...'scuse the pun).

Then, I create the lettering that accompanies said artwork.

Both pieces are sent to the pub and they scan them both and have them layered, type on top of image and it'll look like this on the printed page.

And there's page 28.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Hey! Final Art from Approved Sketch

I'm about halfway into the finishing of final art for a picture book I'm working on with Candlewick. I've been photo-documenting this process, specifically on one piece (chosen at random), for the purpose of this blog. This ain't rocket science, but I thought it could be interesting to play it out here.

Step One: Sketch is approved. Right on!

Step Two: I print out a laser print of said sketch at 100%. (Note: paper should be your typical, run-of-the-mill copy paper. Nothing fancy. To be sure, nothing thick. Thin is good.)

Step Three: With a graphite stick, the softer the better (I use 6B), I rub the back of the laser print, applying a nice heavy coat of graphite to the reverse side of the drawing.

Step Four: Flipping the laser-printed sketch over and with a medium-tack tape, I attach the drawing to the final surface the art will be created on. (In other words, don't use box tape or something that's made to stick well, cause when you pull off this tape you don't want any damage to your final surface.) In my case, final surface, it's hot-pressed watercolor paper.

Step Five: With a sharp pencil, I then draw over (exactly) the sketch that was approved. By drawing over this line I'm now transferring the graphite that was previously applied to the back of this paper. In other words, once finishing this step, I'll have an exact duplicate of the approved sketch, but on my final surface. Thus guaranteeing no discrepancy between sketch and final artwork.

Step Six: Next, I pull back the top sheet and remove tape carefully, revealing an exact transfer of my approved sketch on the final surface. A bit light, but dark enough to see and that's actually pretty perfect.

Step Seven: With my choice of pen, Speedball nibs B-6 and B-5 1/2 (and must be waterproof ink) I draw over the light, transferred graphite line on the watercolor paper, "inking" (as the cartoonists say) this drawing.

Step Eight: After inking, I carefully erase all graphite marks from the paper. (Not too soon. Don't wanna move an eraser over wet ink. And not too hard. Don't wanna damage the paper or the sweet, sweet lines!) Then I get on with the watercolor painting.

Step Nine: This one's finished! Have a sip of coffee. Check email. Hurry up and get to the next one.

Editor's Note: For the record, I do each of these steps in complete batches. Meaning, I print out ALL 32+ appoved sketches. Then I transfer ALL 32+ graphite-backed printouts onto watercolor paper. Then I ink ALL 32+ drawings, etc. I don't make one piece, start to finish, at a time. That would drive me nuts--and for another reason or two, of which I won't bore you with at this particular post.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Controlled Chaos

I'm in the throes of creating final art for my next picture book. The studio's a complete wreck. But I got a system and it's working. Godspeed on this thing.

Next post: a step-by-step photo-illustrated walk-through of how I create a single piece of "ok for finals" art.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


In the past few months, as part of my new interest in young adult lit, I've been reading lots of young adult lit that's been coming out of Australia. (It helps to be married to a rockin' middle school librarian for such recommendations!) It started with Markus Zusak's Printz honor awarded book, THE BOOK THIEF (now one of my all time favorites). Tho, this was based in Nazi Germany, it was written by an Australian and I really dug his writing style, so I started reading, one by one, the entire Zusak catalogue. The next Zusak I read was FIGHTING RUBEN WOLFE and followed that up with it's companion/sequel, GETTING THE GIRL. More of that well-done Zusak style, and these are coming-of-age type fare and set in Australia. Closed out the Zusak canon with I AM THE MESSENGER, another coming-of-age type story (tho main character's bit older, but still figuring it out) but with a mystery spin and, also, set in his native Australia. I love the language, the slang, the personalities, and the surroundings. Australia just seems like such a unique and exotic place.

I should add here that I never thought too much about "Oz", particularly. I mean, I thought about it plenty, as a kid, when Croc Dundee had his go back in the 80's. I thought he was cool with the knife and the accent and the crocs and beast-taming abilities. But it was Julie who really got me to take a second look. Julie, shortly after her college graduation, lived for six months in Australia--backpacking, working, sight-seeing--and loved it. So I have a lot of reason for being so interested. She's got lots of good stuff to say.

Anyway, my next look into Australian YA lit was another Printz Honor book, SURRENDER by Sonya Hartnett. I should also add here, that it helped that I saw the acceptance speeches of both of these authors at the Printz Award ceremony in Washington D.C. last year. Helped sell me on these books. Loved SURRENDER too. A bit more abstract (though THE BOOK THIEF was strange in it's own right), so a little bit hard work at times. But, a real compelling story about a troubled young Australian teen trying to find a way out of his messed up life. Told through the eyes of two different "characters" with alternating chapters. Characters in quotes, cause it's kind of up for interpretation in terms of who's who. You know, read it.

Now, by strong recommendation from the little lady, I've started reading John Marsden's TOMORROW series. This is totally different from the previous reads. Still set in Australia, this is freakin suspense and full-tilt scare. A group of teens go on a camping trip deep in the Australian bush and when they come back, they find their country's been invaded and conquered by another people (never named). They have to decide if they want to fight to get their families back (now in captivity) or stay in hiding and let the "grown-ups" sort it out. Well, they fight. It all seems so real. It's not like an action movie (or FOX news?) where there's good guys and bad guys in war and you go in and kill 'em and everything's right and it's gonna be ok. It's brutal and twisted and so questionable and scary. These kids have to grow up and fast. I'm in the final pages of book three now (I think there's 7).

In other news, it's been snowing just about non-stop for the last week or so. We got about a foot and a half last week and getting more now (the drifts at the end of the driveway are almost as high as I am). Thankfully, I don't have to commute to work anymore, except from the bedroom to the the studio across the hall, but it's still been a pain with the constant clean-up and all. Being from South Carolina, we only got about a 2-incher snow a year, at best. This stuff is hammering.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

MAKE YOUR OWN FUN by George Drury

In addition to my illo work in children's lit, I occasionally take on other illustration jobs and small design pieces. Above is the cover to a chapbook of poems I designed and illustrated for Julie's and my friend George Drury. Since he's titled the booklet MAKE YOUR OWN FUN, I thought it'd be right to have a connect the dots of the poet himself up front (click to zoom for detail). I've collaborated with George before, designing and illustrating a poetry broadside and a bookmark. He's awesome to work with! And he digs the letterpress. In addition to being a celebrated English teach at Francis Parker School in Chicago (where he and Julie met), he's a huge talent and an amazing personality. A real wealth of knowledge and experience. He recently sent me a piece he'd written (for a publication called Strong Coffee, I think?) after seeing, by coincidence, a surprise set Dylan played at Kingston Mines in Chicago. Right on.

Monday, February 4, 2008

GET WELL SOON gets big ups!

Congratulations to my one and only, Julie Halpern! Her debut young adult novel, GET WELL SOON, was just announced as one of five winners of this year's Ken Book Awards, given out by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Her book is a semi-autobiographical tale of a teenage girl who's hospitalized for depression--but it's funny (believe it). The Ken Book Award is given to authors whose books provide a unique, uplifting, refreshing, and/or groundbreaking perspective on the topic of mental illness (previous winners include Jane Pauley, Rick Moody, and Patty Duke). It is typically reserved for more brainiac/scientific books or memoirs, and rarely is the prize given to a book for younger readers. So this is particularly special! Major congrats, little lady.