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22 February 2018

Sonja Danowski's SMON SMON

I remember books with images that haunted my imagination when I was a kid. They weren't easy images, they were deeply different and interesting, and I devoured them. Sonja Danowski's SMON SMON reminds me of that feeling. She's here today to share her amazing new work with us - enjoy!
e: What is your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
Sonja:
Pencils are my basic tool to work out the detailed composition. Luckily there is some correction possible, because even if I have a quite concrete vision of how it should look like in my mind, it is challenging to bring it to paper. In my pencil hatching I try to already set light and shadow and give the forms depth. For coloring I use mainly ink and watercolor. I work on heavy crème colored drawing paper with a smooth and matt surface. Some of my favorite colors to paint with are English red, sepia and transparent blue, which I also used for Smon Smon. For the finishing touches I also use soft colored pencil.

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Sonja:
I think already the expression “Heart Art” indicates its character, Heart Art transports more than just the plot, it opens the door to our inner world by touching our feelings. Thinking of other artists’ illustrations that I consider as magical, I cannot define a common pattern or way to achieve it; medium and style do not matter, but they have all in common that I feel somehow attracted by the artwork’s soul. It can be something like an expression in the depicted creature’s face, a combination of colors or a stunning landscape. Maybe we feel especially attracted by things that remind us of our desires and wishes or of something that happened in our own lives, or by something that is beyond our imagination by combining unusual picture elements and therefore captivates us.

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
Sonja:
My bed has always been close to the window and I like to keep the curtain at least partly open so that I can see the night sky. Viewing the darkness of the night sky with its sparkling stars lets so much space for imagination. What we connect with foreign planets has, due to the genre of science fiction, often to do with technical things like futuristic spaceship and the way through the galaxy away from or towards the earth in order to meet aliens. Instead of thinking about the encounter I like to think myself directly into the life as a creature from another world. I already loved such fictional journeys to other planets as a child. Of course the existence of the planet Gon Gon is totally unlikely, but that’s what picture books with fictive stories are for! I am not much of a scheduler. Instead of drafting a detailed concept, I just started drawing the picture world with its friendly residents that I had in mind. Honestly, my imagined world that I already visited in my childhood was even more fantastic, shining and weird than shown in my book, but the borders that are set for an artist when depicting something also open new and unpredictable possibilities. As soon as the appearance of the Smon Smon was defined, the story grew from picture to picture in a totally intuitive way and it generated a certain rhythm that I caught to create the accompanying text.

e: How do you advertise yourself?
Sonja:
  When it is about showing my work around, I am a bit shy and I am not good in advertising myself. I am really thankful for the attention and lovely feedback that sometimes just comes to me. Thank you so much for featuring Smon Smon on your wonderful blog!
e: My pleasure!

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Sonja:
As an illustrator I spend much time alone with my pictures at my drawing table. I like the quiet and freedom and the time for considering that being a creator involves, but sometimes it is so difficult to decide, which ideas are worth to follow. After having decided for a theme, I often think of all the other possible ideas that I maybe missed or oversaw and might have been much more interesting and compelling. It is so good that there is always a next project with new ideas and very likely also with new self doubts if it was exactly the right decision to concentrate on this theme.

e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Sonja:
I hope that coming to know friendly creatures like the Klons Klons and the Flon Flons will be soothing, I hope that following the Smon Smon on its way on the planet Gon Gon in the rhythm of the text will somehow lead to lightheartedness. The idea for a book about Smon Smon sometime appeared and it kept on and on, in my creative urge I worked on the pictures for several months, during the creation the Smon Smon developed kind of a life by its own; it surprised me by its weirdness and brightened my mood.

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Sonja:
I am dreaming of a picture book project where I have complete freedom about the theme and for that I can take all the time that I need, … how lucky I am to have again the chance to work on exactly such a project right now! I decided for the theme a while ago and I am in midst the process of creation.
e: I can't wait to see it!

21 February 2018

National School Walk Out Art

I have artwork available for the National School Walk Out on March 14th on Redbubble. It's my way of helping out from way over in Scotland. If I were there, I'd be walking with you.

Buy the Original on Etsy: Tiger and Mouse!

This week the original pen and ink drawing of "Tiger and Mouse" from my Marginal Creatures collection is available in my Etsy Shop. Click the image to go to my store.
Also...

to download the image as an exclusive Patron giveaway!

20 February 2018

Coloring Page Tuesday - Nest Reader

     One of the most blissful things I get to do for my PhD is cosy up in my nest and read my favorite genres - MG and YA with the satisfaction of knowing I'm actually doing homework! CLICK HERE for more coloring pages, and if they add joy and value to your life, please...
Become a Patron!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Also, check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

19 February 2018

MFA vs. PhD

I finished my MFA in Illustration (with honors) at the University of Edinburgh in May. It was a wonderful two-year-long chapter of non-stop visual creativity. I drew, painted, screen-printed, relief printed, and generally made a big mess! It was fabulous and I can't remember a time in my life when I was ever as densely creative. I could be an MFA student for the rest of my life and be quite happy.
     But, now I'm doing a PhD at the University of Glasgow (photo) and I am in a completely new life chapter. This chapter is all about reading and writing. I still illustrate (and have a book coming out this fall), but my primary exercise is research. And y'know what? I love this too! I'm learning new ways of thinking and expanding my brain. If my brain can indeed only hold a finite amount of information (as Andy Rooney used to propose), then it will soon be coming out my ears!
All said, I just love being a student—researching, creating, exploring. It's something I think we could all do more of, even in an unofficial capacity.
     I've come to think of my creative time as theme-related, rather than just creating one-off, random trials. I explore my art in themes—like in my Marginal Creatures project that ended up as a book. Or in a drawing pad, in which I use the same madia—i.e. biro pen throughout one, a micro pen throughout another, soft lead in another; or exploring the same subject matter—i.e. birds, mice, fantasy designs. On the writing side, it's collecting ideas for articles, stories, academic inquiry, or a novel. On the reading side, it's all about my PhD topic, of course.
     Thinking thematically has allowed me to thoroughly explore ideas, end up with bodies of work, and achieve a sense of completion once I have that body of work (that I can either enjoy as completed or try to get published). I like this new way of creating and learning. What do you think, would that work for you?

18 February 2018

VIDEO: Derwent

If you love pencils as much as I do, you'll enjoy this peek into how Derwent Colored Pencils are made. Click the image to watch on The Kid Should See This.

17 February 2018

It's awards season!

The American Library Association recently announced this year's award-winning books in children's literature. The Caldecott winner was Matthew Cordell's Wolf in the Snow.
You can go to the ALA website to see the entire list of award-winners.

In the UK, the longlists for the CILIP Carnegie and Greenaway awards have also been announced. CLICK HERE to see that one.

CONGRATULATIONS to the winners!

15 February 2018

Carme Lemniscates' TREES

Sometimes you can feel the joy that went into the creation of a book. Such was the case in Carme Lemniscates' TREES. And it was confirmed when I watched her video tutorial (below). Her sense of PLAY is contagious! I'm thrilled she stopped by (all the way from Barcelona) to talk about her new book!
Hi Elizabeth,
Thanks for these interesting questions; a pleasure to respond to them:
e: What is your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
Carme:
Ideas arrive, as well as images. This is what first happens; but then I need to express them. Inspiration is one part of the whole thing; next step is to give “body” to this inspiration. Sometimes the feeling, when you are inspired, is as if you where at the top of a mountain and can see everything, and then suddenly, next second, you are at the bottom of that mountain and need to walk up to reach again that view. You have to create from zero what you have seen. This is creative expression, and you have to find, or even better let to arrive, the right word and the right image. At this stage I am somehow eclectic in my way of writing as well as choosing artistic techniques. I like to experiment with different mediums such as collage, painting, drawing, grattage, woodcut... and I like to let characters and stories to find their own voice and expression.
  e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Carme:
In my view, everything made with soul has the magical attraction I guess you mean by “Heart Art”. And to me this quality is not restricted to Art, in my opinion, you can find “Heart/Soul Art” in a poem or in a children’s book, but also in a speech, a meal or a conversation. When we are completely committed to what we are doing then something works there that produces, I believe, this magical attraction you talk about. I had an old teacher of Chinese calligraphy when I was very young, who always said: “When you write an “A” you have to feel, to be the “A” itself.”  
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of TREES?
Carme:
The book TREES is a direct result of my experience in Nature and with trees in particular, and the reflections I share with some children in a school workshop a few years ago. It was really a very gratifying experience!  
e: How do you advertise yourself?
Carme:
  I have a wonderful literary agent, Adriana Dominguez from Full Circle Literary, and I also have a website.
  e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Carme:
The best and more challenging part of my work is the responsibility —and also the joy— involved in creating contents for children. One day a child, somewhere in the world, will open that book. Children are the future, children are genuine, they have no preconceptions yet - we have the most extraordinary audience!
e: Is there something in particular about TREES you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Carme:
On the one hand TREES has an ecological message, the book aims to encourage love, and respect for trees and Nature in general. On the other hand, by ascribing a somehow anthropomorphic qualities to trees —they have their heads in the clouds/ their feet on the ground, help one another, are generous, and so on— the book encourages reflection about some of our own attitudes as humans.
Download some fun activities to do with the book HERE.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Carme:
Following TREES, I have just finished a new book for Candlewick Studio, BIRDS, which will be launched next year. Right now I am also working in new project in this line, again observing the natural world and learning from it. I can’t advance more about it at the moment, but just say I am working finding ways to encourage reflection, knowledge and love for the beautiful and magical world that surround us. I have also recently illustrated a wonderful story by Jennifer Adams - I AM A WARRIOR GODDESS, which will be launched this month by Sounds True.  
(Check out this wonderful tutorial Youtube video by Carme.)
Thank you so much Elizabeth to give me the opportunity to talk about my work.
e: Thank you for visiting, Carme!

TREES. Copyright © 2015 by Lemniscates. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Studio/work-in-progress pics ©Lemniscates.

14 February 2018

Buy the Original on Etsy: Spanish Lady

This week the original pen and ink drawing of "The Spanish Lady" from my Marginal Creatures collection is available in my Etsy Shop. Click the image to go to my store.
Also...

to download the image as an exclusive Patron giveaway!

13 February 2018

Coloring Page Tuesday - Kissie Fish

     Happy Valentines Day! These fishies love each other all year long. Kiss! Kiss! CLICK HERE for more Valentine's Day-themed coloring pages, and if they add joy and value to your life, please...
Become a Patron!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Also, check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

12 February 2018

PhD Courses and my topic!

I haven't spoken much about my PhD research so far. I think I didn't believe it would all actually happen. I mean, I'M DOING A PHD at the UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW!!!! Gadzooks! In fact, I'm solidly into my first year taking four courses: Advanced Research Methods, Social Theory (including Feminist Theory), Children's Literature and Literacies (Cricitcal Enquiry), and Developing As A Teacher in Higher Education (DAT HE). SO INTERESTING!!!
     At any rate, my topic is starting to settle down. As in, I don't change the title every day. (HA!) It's "Gender Bias in Children's Literature Through the Lens of the Trickster."
     "Trickster," you ask?
     Here is my background, straight from my proposal:
Tricksters, a term Brinton popularized in Myths of the New World (Brinton, 1969), such as Loki (Figure 1), Hermes, Coyote, Anansi, and the Devil, are well-known, mythic characters. Yet, few females are identified as tricksters. Freya, Kitsune, and the Cailleach Mohr/Beira are examples, however, these female goddesses have mixed functions and are not as definitively identified as ‘tricksters’ as are their male counterparts.
      Further, in early interviews, Scottish storytellers and professors of Scottish Studies suggested there are no Scottish tricksters. While the Bodach and the Wild Man could be declared as Scottish tricksters, it was relayed that most tricksters in Scottish culture derive from other cultures and are not specifically Scottish. The question arises then, where are the Scottish tricksters?
      More specifically, where are the Scottish female tricksters?
      In the pursuit of identifying Scottish tricksters, especially in children’s literature, a disturbing trend reveals itself. The empowering male trickster traits of cleverness, craftiness, wit, shape-shifting, and manipulation are vilified when found in the female. She is instead called witch or witch goddess, such as the Cailleach Mohr/Beira (the Hag), Nicnevin (the Queen of the Fairies), Hecate (the leader of the Wild Hunt), or Morgan Le Fay (of Arthurian legend).
      Miranda Green confirms that, “Most of the female shape-shifters were associated in some manner with witchcraft” (Billington, 1999, p3). Catharina Raudvere agrees: “the connection between women, sexuality and witchcraft appears to be a globally observed pattern” (Billington, 1999, p47, p52). This thesis will explore this theory within children’s literature.
      A second disturbing trend is that tricksters as shape-shifters can become either sex, yet most tricksters only become women to perform certain gender-specific acts. “Even his [the trickster’s] sex is optional despite its phallic qualities: he can turn himself into a woman and bear children” (Jung, 2003, p143). As in the story of Coyote as the creator of life, the trickster does not stay in female form beyond child-birth. This function-specific role-play designates the male as all-powerful, even as life-creator, relegating the agency of women (and young female readers) to a culturally hegemonic power structure, subordinating them to the status of ‘subaltern’, a post-colonialist term initially used by Antonio Gramsci to describe those who have been written out of a societal narrative. As Gupta Spivak contends: “…the ideological construction of gender keeps the male dominant. If in the context of colonial production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow (Spivak, 1988).”
      Hence, this thesis will concentrate on this trickster lens within children’s literature. Because, as Susan Rowland says, “Trickster is both a net for symbols and a symbol himself. Such symbols are ways of detecting nature in ourselves, and are the fabric of our weaving of self into the cosmos” (Rowland, 2011, p126). If that is true, then where does that leave women in the fabric of the cosmos? Can a woman be strong in her own right, through her own cleverness and wit, a true trickster? Can this pattern of patriarchal bias be reversed or reworked by modern writers?

     To sum it up, my AIM is to: analyse and identify representations of gender bias through the lens of tricksters as they impart patriarchal ideology and influence in children’s literature, and to seek out and identify female tricksters through their identical archetypal traits and story tropes. I will “recirculate a mythic notion of the feminine” (Butler, 2015, p35) in a more positive and empowering manner through the creation of a feminist trickster tale in a practice-based, young adult, literary fantasy, Two Lies and a Truth. The novel will be both a tool for analysis of ideologies, as well as a craft application of these theories; because, as Marina Warner says, “Who tells the story, who recasts the characters and changes the tone becomes very important: no story is ever the same as its source or model, the chemistry of narrator and audience changes it” (Warner, 1995, p418).

     You'll notice from the citations that I am having to do some FASCINATING reading for my topic, such as Carl Jung, Judith Butler, and Marina Warner. I'm happy to share my bibliography if asked - it's long! Meanwhile, I keep reading, researching, writing, and having a blast studying things I've wanted to study my entire life and finally have a solid reason to pursue it. LOVE!

11 February 2018

VIDEO: Why Children's Art Matters

I love this video shared by Travis Jonker at SLJ. It explains this trend towards more naive-looking art in children's books. Click the video to watch on Youtube:

10 February 2018

Hazel Dunn on color palettes

I am such a geek about color palettes and personal color palettes. I teach it to my design students and have them do exercises to find their own. So, it's lovely to find someone else as crazy about color palettes as I am - Hazel Dunn. During the PictureHooks workshop last week, she shared a collection of color palettes she put together. First, she takes an image she especially enjoys, then she breaks out the color palette from it, like this:
You can see how she breaks out the colors in alignment with where they appear in the image.

She had about 15 of these, which she bound together in a booklet. At the back of the book was a collection of the colors she chose, creating a thorough and referencable personal color palette.
For individual projects, she also did color studies, which she again collected in a little book.
In this study, she placed colors on top of each other to make sure they worked together. It's also a great way to make sure the values aren't the same and none of the colors are vibrating as a result of fighting for dominance.
More brilliant take-away ideas from this so-called beginner. I love it!

08 February 2018

Rob McClurkan's PLAYDATES RULE!

Rob McClurkan is a friend from Atlanta and I've watched his picture book career launch and flourish - so fun! So, I'm thrilled to have him here to share his latest book with you!
e: What is your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
Rob:
In many ways, I am still refining my process. For this particular book, I created a dummy book fairly quickly but realized I had jumped ahead of myself and went back and started over. When I have an idea for a story, I start by sketching out my characters. While drawing, it helps me think about who they are, their personality. My initial images are not set in stone but just give me a general idea as to how I want the characters to look. It’s then onto the thumbnails and writing. I do most of this in my sketchbook. Once I am happy with the story I go back to my computer to create digital thumbnails. I have found it particularly helpful to create a layout where you can see the book in its entirety. Once I'm pleased with the thumbnail, I start working on a dummy book.
      I digitally paint my final art in photoshop.

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Rob:
When you lose yourself in the artwork, that is when the magic starts. You aren’t overthinking, you are just laying down paint or pixels. You are in the zone. At times this happens even when I didn’t feel like working, at some point I lose myself and what comes out is special. For me, the magic starts when I don’t overthink it.


e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
Rob:
Playdates Rule! was inspired by a childhood memory. One summer day, my best neighborhood friend and I were running and jumping into a kiddie pool. I got a good running start, and the momentum I had generated propelled me straight through the swimming pool. I have always been amazed that I was able to bust a giant hole in one of those things. That’s some thick, hard plastic. That didn’t stop us, though. I’m sure we just found a tree to climb or bikes to ride. We were two good friends, and a little mishap didn’t stop us from having a blast.


e: How do you advertise yourself?
Rob:
I have an agent that keeps my work in front of potential clients, but I also use social media, some portfolio websites like the ispot and behance and direct mail postcards.
      The challenge comes in showing new work. Many times illustrators work on projects that we are not allowed to show off until the project is published, so it's important to keep working on personal art that you can show right away.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Rob:
The most challenging part is writing. Sometimes a story makes perfect sense to me, but it is not until others read it that I start to see the problems. That’s why it is so important to have critique partners.
      My favorite part is being able to create fun and engaging characters, story and art for children.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Rob:
This book is pretty straightforward it's about how excited children get when a friend comes over to play. Suddenly all the rules are thrown out the window, and it’s just about fun. When I write I am thinking about my kids and how story time right before bed was so special. I hope that my books will bring fun, laughter, and enjoyment to children and their parents.

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Rob:
I am working on a graphic novel idea as well as pitching a new picture book that I am very excited about.
      I am grateful for every project I do and in a way they are all dream projects, but I do think it would be crazy fun to be on the concept side of an animation feature when all the characters are being developed.

e: Thanks, Rob!

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