Monday, December 2, 2013

NaNoWriMo and the Angst That Goes With It

A quote from my journal while in the midst of NaNoWriMo:

<< Why do I do this to myself? Why do I sign up for something that is so herculean that I burn out a week into it because I’m simply not used to writing the sheer amount of words required to fulfill the 50,000 word challenge? Part of it was peer pressure, that’s for sure. Part of it was that I so badly want to have this draft done because I feel like a charlatan having come up with the idea back in February, and having only written 7,500 words of it. So here I am, at around 20,000 words, feeling burnt out and uninspired (it is the week 2 slump, after all), but I still have to write 30,000 more words! And to be frank, I don’t even know if this story has that many more words to write to get finished. So, it becomes a futile exercise of putting characters in a room and having them talk about their personal thoughts and emotions – which is not very realistic, having all my characters be open books. Most people aren’t that emotionally available. Oh well. >>

Luckily after the two week blues, I was able to turn things around and get a draft in and “win” NaNoWriMo (writing 50,000 words in a month). Now that draft is going on the backburner to simmer for a few months. It’s time for me to get back to illustrating!

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Since right after the 2013 SCBWI Summer Conference, I’ve been deeply entrenched in creating a new picture book. I’ve taken two versions all the way to fully-realized dummies - because I couldn’t tell if they’d work or not until I saw them on the page. This is not a very efficient way to work, considering that, at least for this book, it took me a month of solid work to complete each of the dummies.
So is there a way to streamline my process? Is it even worth trying to do, since I’m still learning about my own process? Shouldn’t I be focusing more on the final product itself, and doing whatever it takes to get the best possible book out there? I don’t have an answer. I suppose if there was an unceasing demand for my books, then yes, I’d have to work on streamlining my process. But right now, so much of my work feels like new, untested experimental methods, and it’s only at the very last minute that things start to feel rote – and when I say very last minute, I truly mean when I’m taping the printed out dummy together, and only concerned with trying to line the pages up right against each other, and I’m no longer thinking about the art.
Even cleaning up the art in Photoshop or laying in the text feels experimental, like I’m still figuring it out and scared I’ll mess it up. I guess that’s what keeps it exciting for me.
At any rate, two months in, and I have a third version of the story (to say nothing of the countless drafts and attempts that didn’t make it past the thumbnailing stage). I’m really hoping this is the one. The goal was to have the dummy done in time to submit to agents before the holiday slowdown, but now that looks unlikely, since I have to redraw everything, do final art pieces, and refine a query letter. It’s possible, but because I was foolhardy and signed up to do NaNoWriMo for a different manuscript, and I have a revise and resubmit request from an editor for another picture book. Honestly, I’ve got my hands full. I guess that’s better than the alternative, which is not having any ideas at all. But every time a new story idea pops into my head now, I meet it with a bit of trepidation because I know how overextended I already am.
If this sounds like complaining, forgive me. And please believe me: I know how lucky I am that this is what I get to do with my life, even if I don’t yet have an established career. Or maybe that makes me even luckier, since I’m STILL able to practice at it, and not be defined by inferior work in the marketplace. I’ve heard that there’s a better opportunity for a debut author or illustrator than there is for one who is midlist (i.e. Didn’t earn out on their advance).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Responsibility of Adding More Diversity in Children's Literature

I read an interview of two children’s book agents in which they discussed diversity (or lack thereof) in children’s literature. One agent made mention of the fact that the vast majority of children’s book authors are well-educated, white women with enough of a financial cushion in their lives to be able to dedicate the time and money to pursuing an extremely financially unrewarding … well, some are looking at it as a career, others as a hobby, I suppose. Anyway, this agent was not surprised that so many books were about white middle class children, because people tend to write what they know. 
And that’s the default setting. I find it in my own writing, and even in my drawing – the kids I draw may have wider noses on the whole than the average white kid, but for the sake of color variety, I often give them blond or red hair, when the vast majority of people on this earth have dark hair. So it’s not representative. Worse yet, when I’m in “the zone” painting (and thus, not really thinking intellectually about diversity in children’s literature), I have a default go-to skin color, which is so disappointing of an impulse of mine. There I go again, mixing up a creamy peachy pink on the palette. Please. My skin isn’t that color, so why am I painting with it? I’m going to make a concerted effort to draw more diverse faces in my future sketchings. Captain Obvious here, but people of all types should be adequately represented in literature. The fact that this sentence must even be stated is a sad state of affairs indeed. /end soapbox

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pinterest: Time Vortex or Mind Expander?

If you haven’t checked out Pinterest, part of me wants to tell you not to, in order to avoid the inevitable time suck that it will be. But the other part of me, the part of me that has benefitted greatly from having as a resource, is controlling my fingers in the moment. Yes, although if you look at my Pinterest account, you’ll see I have a ridiculous number of pins on “crafting” and “jewelry-making” boards, I also have an even larger number of pins on illustration and art boards.

And that is what keeps me coming back. Never before has it been so easy to consolidate and sort visual imagery and inspirational material. My art seems to have grown and matured at light speed ever since I’ve been able to pull up certain pieces and analyze what it is about them that makes me tick. I’ve learned, for example, that darker scenes with in-frame light sources really get my brain bubbling – Mental carbonation being a good thing, in this instance. Another unexpected benefit is being able to analyze the visual appeal of certain images when quite small on a screen and surrounded by other images. It really forces me to consider what it is in an particular image that has grabbed my attention, regardless of whether or not the image is still successful when I increase the size and look at the technique. Basically, composition, composition, composition. If you haven’t already checked out Pinterest, and you’re feeling brave, go ahead and check out my illustration inspiration board and following a couple people I’ve been following. If nothing else, Pinterest provides a satisfying brain break from my own work when I need to stop staring at it for a while.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Post-SCBWI Conference Frenergy*

*Frenergy - frenetic energy, as defined by Laurie Halse Anderson, as in the frenzied feeling we all seem to experience at the SCBWI Conference. I like to think it has a dual meaning of energy gleaned from being with friends. Because I certainly absorbed a lot of that kind of frenergy this weekend.

Ah, memories...

Pre-SCBWI Conference Karaoke Night, in which I learned I am best suited for 80s songs sung by male vocalists...

Early evenings spent hanging on the hotel patio with the Circle of Awesome (now featuring: a fire pit!)...

Acting the tap-dancing fool in a homemade tutu at Saturday's Black and White Ball (I'm the one in the captain's hat)...

 Oh yeah, and acting professional and networking and stuff.

Somehow there aren't any photos of that.

Anyway, it's back to real life after 4 days of soaking up inspiration from industry luminaries, hanging out with old and new friends, and, in general, receiving affirmation that I'm in the right place in life. That's right, the SCBWI-LA Annual Conference is over and it's back to cleaning the litter box (read: working from home).

By the way, here's a picture of a unicorn:

No, not a real-life unicorn, though that'd be magical. It's a picture of my postcards, of which I have ONE left, and I guess that's only because I had left it at home to show my husband. As pathetic as I may sound by admitting this, strangers' willingness to pick up a free piece of art is one of the most concrete ways I've been able to measure the success of my images, since we don't receive feedback from the portfolio showcase. So the fact that they were all gone by Saturday evening is quite affirming.

The even better news is, I've already received quite a few emails from people asking me to illustrate a picture book for them. *fist pump*

The not-so-good news is that they aren't editors or agents. To explain, on day one of learning about the kidlit biz, I learned that one of the hard and fast rules is that you don't illustrate a book before you get a book deal unless you're willing to do it just to get paid up front, with no expectation of further momentum. But still, FLATTERY!!

And maybe some of these people have huge platforms and are committed to putting their feet on the pavement to make sales.

And maybe while my other projects are percolating amongst industry professionals, it wouldn't hurt to get a little more practice.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I have so much writing and art of my own that I want to share with the world, (plus that old litter box needs cleaning), I should probably stay the course with my current 5-year plan by finishing my middle grade novel and querying agents with my full range of offerings.

At the end of September, it will officially be five years since I took my very first picture book class at UCLA Extension, and was advised not to query agents until I had a least four projects under my belt. Well, with four completed picture book dummies (none of which I've discussed in any depth on this blog, as I'm superstitious), a slew of other PBs in the works, a YA novel, and a in-progress MG (middle grade) novel, I'm almost at the end of what I hope is the prepublished chapter in my origin story. Heh.

I'm ready to come out of the gate flying!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Getting Ready for the 2013 SCBWI Summer Conference

This year, I was determined to get all my marketing materials for the conference done WAAAAAAY ahead of time so I wouldn't have to worry about paying for rush delivery and whatnot. This plan coincided nicely with a three-week nature photography roadtrip my hubby had planned in June. What was initially intended as a en plein aire painting experience for me turned into a shut-in sweatshop in which I pounded out a picture book story, sketches, and 5 finished paintings, PLUS drawings for new portfolio pieces, all done from inside a series of hotel rooms of varying quality. No distractions, since hubby was out photographing nature with his photography buddies. Here are a few of the images I'll be using for my promo materials:

I cropped these for the business card (I'll add a pic of the final product when it arrives):

That last one was inspired by this picture I took from a tiny plane we flew in Idaho:

As for the postcard, what started out like this:

Ended up like this:

I call it "Feast in the Forest," and I'm pretty happy with how the lighting turned out, as it's a skill I've been working on for quite some time.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Benefit of Proximity - Proving I'm Not A Crazy Shut-In!

            You may have noticed that in the last year, this blog has been more focused on outward activities than it was before -- it seems that staying in one's cave making art just means you'll die in an art-covered cave, alone. My desire not to die alone means I've participated in quite a few social events, including writing retreats and illustrator meet-ups with friends I've met along the way. Some pics to prove I'm not making this up:

Here I am at the afterparty for Sara Wilson Etienne's launch of HARBINGER (check out her book trailer; I am one of the crazed fire-lit silhouettes!):

A public outing to Jennifer Bosworth's launch party for STRUCK (check out her book trailer; my elbow makes an appearance in the dance scene!):

And Leigh Bardugo's launch party for SHADOW & BONE:

             In addition to book launches, there have been quite a few get-togethers. SCBWI has been an invaluable resource for me, mostly because without their events, I never would have met these great people and gotten to BASK IN THEIR GENIUS. So here are a few SCBWI semi-sponsored events.

The SCBWI-LA Halloween party in 2011:

The SCBWI-LA Christmas Party in 2011:

              And it's always fun to celebrate other people's successes!

A celebratory lunch for Ken Min's Silver Medal (APALA Honor Book, 2012)

A big ol' illustrator brunch to celebrate Eliza Wheeler making the NY Times Bestseller's List:

            Finally, it's good to get out every once in a while to blow the stink off, but it's even better when I can get some work done while I'm out there!

An Art Day with my illustrator friends: 

A Writing Retreat with my author friends: 

            Why yes, I did just force a mini-photo album onto my blog in an effort to prove to potential editors and agents that I am a sane person with reasonable social skills. What of it? ;)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My First Solo Art Show – Traveling Caravan to San Diego

            Towards the end of 2012, I entered into talks with a community music center in San Diego that had created a program for local artists to display their work to be viewed with musical accompaniment.  An author friend of mine whom I had met at a local SCBWI event about a year earlier knew the program coordinator and asked me if I wanted to be considered for a show. 
            "Uh, YES."
            So introductions were passed around and my online portfolio was sent to them and wall measurements were sent back, and after a while, the slot for my show rolled around, and my husband (who had just had a hitch installed on our car so we could tow our bikes around,) happily rented a small uHaul trailer and some moving blankets, and devised a complicated weight and leverage system with bungee cords within the trailer for my art to travel in as frictionless an environment as possible. Computer engineer hubbies are the best!

            So we made an entire weekend of it. Our friends caravanned down with us and got rooms in the same hotel, and we ate, toured, and hot tubbed together. They even helped hang the art up and went around buying snacks and drinks for the opening night party. Not even a flat tire could slow us down (Well, it did actually. A little bit, so good thing we had multiple cars!)

            The party was deemed a success. Over thirty people came down from Los Angeles for the opening, and a lot of them had never seen my fine art before. I was glad to have a chance to share with them another slice of my life. I was touched by the effort that everyone had put in to support me and my art. 

            For the two months that the show ran, I would receive occasional updates from the coordinators letting me know that people had been asking a lot of questions about the art and asking for my card. It was definitely strange to be physically far away from my art. I kept worrying that something bad would happen. None of the art was damaged, thankfully, though there is a small dent in the frame of one of the smaller pieces.
            Similar to how I felt prior to my first time participating in the Venice Art Walk, I experienced some anxiety when facing the prospect of selling all my favorite pieces. But each time, I come to the conclusion that I would be willing to part with them for the right price, and I raised the price accordingly for those pieces. Supply and demand, baby.
Well, once again I found that though there is limited supply, I’m even more limited on the demand side, so I was able to bring home all my favorite originals, having sold only prints. (Still, print sales = yay!)
            Considering that the venue ended up being off the beaten path, and more of a place to bring your kid for music lessons, I’m not surprised that my fine art did not sell like hotcakes. Had I known more about the reality of the location as opposed to their pitch, I probably would have shown more of my children’s illustrations. As it was, I had created four new print pieces to fit in the hallway through which most of the children traversed. 

             We hung them low enough for the kids to see, hoping they’d ask their parents about it. The added benefit being that I could conceivably use the pieces in my illustration portfolio. Perhaps I priced them too high as well, as there was much interest, but very little than actually resolved into sales.

            That said, it was certainly flattering to have a live musician “jam” to my art for a few hours in front of my nearest and dearest. One of the best parts: the thrill of being able to put “Solo Art Show” on my CV.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Threadless Competition - onesie design

            In between work on my picture book ideas and writing projects, I enjoy illustrating one-off designs which I post on Zazzle and other custom merch sites. However, I’ve been somewhat frustrated with Zazzle, since their ranking algorithms seem to bury my items in the search results in the US. I could be completely wrong here, but it’s a working theory, since most of my orders come from abroad. This makes me think I’m missing out on the majority of possible sales. The quality of my work itself couldn’t possibly be the reason for lagging sales in the US! You see where this is going, and it’s not just a river in Egypt.
Recently, a friend got me excited about Threadless, a site where illustrators submit their work of a particular theme into a contest, and the winning choice is crowd-sourced. There was a onesie design contest (or "infant creeper" as some places call them, making me wonder if the word onesie is trademarked - hi lawyers! *waves*) by a children’s clothes retailer, and feeling somewhat inspired, I entered two pieces into the competition. 

No, this isn’t a feel-good story where I win and I’m carried on the shoulders of other illustrators through the gates of Illustrator City. I didn’t win. BUT…according to the FAQs on the Threadless website, I managed to earn a very high score on the Unicyclesaurus design, a 3.16, and I should pat myself on the shoulder for it. *pat, pat* Now where’s my book deal? HA! ;)

 I posted a few pieces on Society6, such as the above Bare Hugs print, but so far no sales. Zazzle's still bringing in consistent sales, no matter how small the amount may be. So I guess I'm back to square one. *shrugs* I'll take it as a sign that I should get back to writing and illustrating picture books.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Key Art for a Middle Grade Novel, SPIRIT'S KEY

Earlier this year, my friend, Edith Cohn, let it drop that her middle grade book, SPIRIT'S KEY, sold and she’d be debuting in Fall 2014. After much squeeing and jumping up and down, we "Prepublished" all went back to whatever we were doing to try to Make It, and I secretly harbored jealousy deep within my shriveled little heart. ;) But I couldn’t stay "mad" when she asked me to do some key art for her…very literally key art, since it’s of a key!

She's using the key logo for her website, her business cards and her promotional bookmarks, and it's exciting to see my work out there.

Another piece of art she asked me to make was an illustrated map of the island on which the story takes place. She sent me a back-of-a-napkin-type sketch and a PDF of her book, and here's what I came up with:

See the key in there? It's like a Where's Waldo poster, ha! I had a lot of fun working with Edith, so I think I'm going to try my hand at making a mock cover for her as well. I'll update here when I do. In the meantime, (though I don't think it will take me that long,) look for her book in stores next year! :)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Yoganimals: New Picture Book Idea

            Once again, I have come up with another list-based idea for a picture book. This time, it's a play on yoga positions named after animals, starting with the question of what if all those animals got into their namesake positions, like pigeon pose or crow pose? 

           It's a work in progress. What do you think?