Thursday, April 28, 2011

2 book release celebration April 30

To all good folk in the Chicago area! I'll be appearing at one of my favorite local indie bookstores, The Book Stall, this Saturday. I'll be talking a bit about and reading from my two newest books. LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE (by author Julie Sternberg) and LEAP BACK HOME TO ME (by author, Lauren Thompson). I'll also conduct a little interactive drawing demo towards the end. I hope to see you there!

Here's the info:

Saturday, April 30
The Book Stall
811 Elm Street
Winnetka, IL 60093
(847) 446-8880

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


LEAP BACK HOME TO ME, my brand spanking new picture book by super-talent author Lauren Thompson is out today! It's a beautifully sweet story of the growing up experience that every loving parent and child contend with. It's exhilarating, and a wee bit heartbreaking, but mostly just wonderful. LEAP received two starred reviews, from Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly, and I hope you'll get a copy and like as much as they (and I) do.

Here's a link to my website, where you can click through a few sample spreads and bits of art.

Hop on over to your favorite brick and mortar bookstore or online retailer (if need be) and nab one for your favorite little froggy!

Monday, April 25, 2011


Little peek at something I just finished. (click on images for zoom)

Night (sans stars):


Friday, April 22, 2011

Beckerman talks PICKLE

Abrams creative director, Chad Beckerman, has a very nicely kept blog he calls Mishaps and Adventures. Lots of cool behind-the-scenes posting about book design and illustration. A regular theme is to show the evolution of a book cover, and today LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE gets the treatment. Head on over and see how the cover of PICKLE came to be!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My New Friend

Recently I made an addition to the studio and process. The Epson WorkForce 1100 Color Inkjet Wide Format Printer. A large format inkjet printer that, by some miracle, prints in completely, unfailingly, blackest of the black-ingly waterproof ink.

Quickly backing up, I've been daydreaming for years about owning some sort of affordable, commercial desktop printer that can print heavy paper stock with a water resistant ink. Why the heavy stock? My final art is on 140 lb. watercolor paper. Why the waterproof print? Because I'm using watercolor, yeah?

Again, quickly backing up... You might not get this by looking at my sloppy, some may say (me), "ugly beautiful" art, but I'm a control freak. If a line is too squiggly, or not squiggly enough, I'm so messed up about it. I'm not kidding. I'm not exaggerating. It's just little unfortunate details in drawings that are, maybe, only noticeable to me, but I know it's "wrong" and it is so, so wrong. However, if a final drawing is completed, there may not be time to redraw because of a less than impressive squiggle.

Now. Why the printer? Two reasons.

REASON 1: I'd always thought, if I could draw and SCAN a finished drawing (to be later printed), I could rework/retouch in photoshop to my exact liking and then I have a MASTER drawing that can be printed and painted upon. CONTROL. By the way, pen and ink is typically, for me, losing control. *shudder* And we haven't even talked about COLOR yet.

Which brings us to REASON 2: Another quirk of mine is color. It's reliably love/hate. When it's good, it's good. But it can be so bad I'm weird for days (ask my very patient wife). If I have a finished "I'm happy with it" drawing that I can print countless times, I can mess up or experiment with color as much as necessary to get to a happy place. The only waste, at this point, would be in paper and time, with color. But the drawing is ALWAYS DONE, you see?

How'd I find out about this printer? I owe a debt of gratitude to an old college pal of mine, Ben Howson, who has, for years, created prints with these digital printers. He helped me out big in finding the right printer/right price for my needs. But, I FIRST discovered this printing possibility via a cool, smart, knows-his-stuff illustrator pal o' mine, who goes by Eric Rohmann. Eric was using an Epson like this that uses these special "durabrite" inks. He told me about his inkjet printer that printed waterproof ink and I sorta found it hard to believe. Any inkjet print I'd ever seen was... you get a drop of rain on it, or put a wet finger on it, and instantly it's smeared or washed (no matter how long it'd been dry). But Eric insisted it worked. Graciously, he helped me to experiment before I went and bought a printer of mine own, and all signs continued to point to "yes, this will work."

And it did.

And here's how I use it.

As always, when creating final art, I start with an approved sketch.

And, as always, using a light box I create my final drawing (below) by working over this approved image like a tracing, but with flair. In the case of this particular book, I used a pencil and not pen/ink. Why? Because I've been wanting to, for years, use pencil as my final black line. For it's versatility and coarse texture in line. Now that I could scan a pencil drawing (gray) and make it all black in Photoshop, I was good as gold.

So... drawing is drawn, and then scanned, and then made black in Photoshop (and darkness, etc. adjusted--this took a bit of time, actually) and it's ready to print. I load in a 13" x 19" sheet of 140# Arches hot pressed watercolor paper and print the image file from my computer. Hey: several of my daughter's toys have migrated to my studio. Always helps to have a magic wand handy in the studio. And a copy of WTWTA glaring up at you from the floor.

My computer is, by the way, on the other side of the room. I have a teeny bedroom/studio with little extra table or counter space to put this xtra wide printer (notice it's sitting on the floor?). As you can see, I've run a long usb cable from one end of the room to the other. Oh, and see Facebook open on the iMac? Keeps me sane during final art to see what's going on online, in little breaks here and there.

Then, here it is all printed out. OH! Let this baby dry for a bit before hitting with a brush. It is still, after all, ink, and ink needs dry time.

Next, to help prevent buckling from the watercolor (though it seems rather unavoidable... maybe I'm not doing it right...), I tape the print down with an archival masking tape to a piece of 1/8" masonite...

...and begin painting at the desk. Note the other finished pieces of art that I keep in view for color and vibe reference.

Some time later and... VIOLA! It's done. Well, it wasn't 100% done in this shot. I went back and tied up a few loose ends after, but you get the drift, man.

This printer is awesome and I can't wait to put to use again. One tiny drawback is the smallish full spread size of 13" x 19" (which is including room for bleed... I may try and experiment to see if I can somehow push the length out more...). But you cannot beat this thing for the price. And the price is unbelievable.

And there you have it. My new friend.

UPDATE! After a couple of hours of playing/troubleshooting, I figured out that this baby can print LONGER than 19". I cut my widest sheet down to 13" x 24" and just pulled a print that size! That's what I'm talkin'!!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Top Ten (February-March 2011)

Dang, it's been two months since my last "monthly" Top Ten posting. Just met a big picture book deadline, you see. I don't reckon it was missed, but here I am to update you on my ten things of choice from the last month. Heck, let's make it the last two months.

As always, no particular order:

1. THE FIGHTER. Julie and I did a sweep of all the Oscar noms, and we seemed to really enjoy this one. Don't get confused... I don't like boxing. Not even a bit. But I liked the brothers. And Christian Bale was mind-blowing. And my heart was actually pounding at one point.

2. BLOOD ORANGES. Recently, some of the best oranges came into season. Julie's and my publisher, Feiwel and Friends, sent us a nice case of crazy-juicy-sweet Honeybells, and then my personal fave, the Blood showed up again in the produce section.

3. ELLA JENKINS. This living legend folk singer/child tamer, played for a small crowd of kids and parents recently in Oak Park, IL. Julie, Romy, and I were part of that lucky audience. Just perfect. Romy and self-concious ol' me actually went up and sang with a few other parents and kids. This is how amazing Ella Jenkins is.

4. LUNCH WITH TRAVIS. Sharp, friendly, fun kidlit blogger, Travis Jonker (of the great 100 Scope Notes) was in town for a book event and he had the excellent idea that we should meet up for lunch that weekend. How cool is that? We had an awesome time talking books, work, blogs and livin'. Thanks, Trav, it was great!

5. THIS COOL PW PIECE. Those in this biz probably saw this online Publisher's Weekly article buzzed about already on Facebook or otherwise (me included). It just hit the right spot for me. A handful of heavy-hitters (agents, editors, art directors, etc) offer up nuggets of wisdom and advice regarding the world of making books for kids.

6. BEST SPRINGSTEEN? For many years, I thought Springsteen was sorta corny. Maybe it's all that saxophone. I don't know. In recent years, I've grown to appreciate. The best, to me, was what he did in the 70's. He really nails nostalgia and youth. This song, and this vid, is perhaps his finest moment. Boss.

7. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT/30 ROCK. Julie and I had, sort of, surfed around the perimeter of these two shows. We followed 30 Rock for 1-3 seasons. Then Romy came along and we quit it. Now my two latest Netflix Instant obsessions have been these two pitch-perfect comedies. I lean a bit more toward the AD, maybe because of the family dynamic (and I'm a sucker for underdogs). But both shows are quite bulletproof.

8. GHOST ADVENTURES. Julie and I stumbled upon this gem of a show on the Travel Channel. Another thing I'm a sucker for is the paranormal. I'm not crazy into it, but things that may/may not exist fascinate me. Anyhow, this is three funny dudes (and I do mean dudes) going from one haunted place to the next, locking themselves indoors, searching for undisputable proof. I'm a skeptic, so some findings are pretty iffy, but just enough will leave you scratching your head and watching for more.

9. J.J. SEMPE COVERS the NEW YORKER. How is anyone supposed to measure up when Sempé continues to bang out a flawless NY'er cover?

10. MY INCREDIBLE PRINTER. After meeting up with my illustrator crew, and talking to Eric Rohmann about this a few times, and an old college pal Ben Howson (who does a lot with digital printing), I took the plunge and bought this printer. It's a large format waterproof Epson inkjet printer. The important thing here is that it prints big and it prints waterproof. It has revolutionized my process. And it warrants a fully-explained and illustrated blog post of it's own. Coming soon...