Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Playing with Watercolors

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve posted here.
I thought I’d close out the year by stepping away from digital art and making watercolor painting gifts for family and friends.

Here are process shots of one of the gift watercolors:


I hope everyone has a wonderful end of the year!

- Tracy 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Leap of Faith

The amount of sketch work I have done in the past few years sits in a pile of sketchbooks next to my computer, untouched, most of it having never seen the light of day (i.e. the internet: instagram, facebook, twitter). One day, pondering all of this, I got very sad. What if all this work is for nothing?

But I took a leap of faith...and launched a Kickstarter campaign to print my favorite drawings in a book. To my shocking surprise...it's actually happening! There are just three days left in the campaign and I've got the entire book in layout, ready to go!

One added bonus I am very excited about is... the endpapers:

I really appreciate everyone's support so far, thank you! It really makes me so happy to think that people actually want to buy a book of my sketches. I mean, not only buy it, but fund it...make it happen. That blows my mind! 

There are just 3 days left to get one of my books for only $15! Here is a link to the project site if you are interested! www.kickstarter.com/projects/reneekurilla/so-many-sketchbooks

And THANK YOU (times a trillion!!)


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Studio Tour — Laura Zarrin

I've been meaning to show you around the studio for awhile, but it's usually such a mess that I don't dare pull out the camera. I managed to dig out a few photos from the last time I cleaned. I included one honest picture, so you don't think I  actually live in this pristine environment. Creativity is messy, you know.

My drawing/painting area.

My kids' Woody and some friends.

Playing with Neocolors. I love lightening bugs!


I wish it always looked like this. 

Mid deadline disaster, aka business as usual

Shelves with my collections. Yes, I keep the Santas out year round.

My studio assistant hard at work as usual.

I hope you enjoyed the tour. I need to get back to my deadlines now.

If you want to see what I do in here all day, you can visit my site.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

International Dot Day

September 15th is International Dot Day, a celebration of creativity that was inspired by Peter H. Reynold's book THE DOT.

Check out Celebridots.com, a collection of author/illustrator dots curated by teacher and creativity champion, Terry Shay. 

And lastly...go make one! Make a dot! There is art in everything.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

We're on the Let's Get Busy Podcast!

We were all interviewed on Matthew Winner's fabulous Let's Get Busy podcast!
It's out now so go over and listen to us talk about this blog, critique groups, and illustration.

If you've never heard of the Let's Get Busy podcast, you have to listen to our episode first then catch up on all of the previous episodes in the catalog. Matthew Winner interviews a diverse list of children's authors and illustrators in his podcast. I love it because it's truly like taking a university master class for children's book publishing.

If you appreciate everything that you learn from this podcast, you show your support by donating on his website ;-)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Starting From Scratch in Your Sketchbook

At the 2014 New England SCBWI conference, I taught a workshop with fellow author/illustrator, Russ Cox. Our workshop was titled "Sketchbooks are Awesome!" 

Why? Because they are. 

Both Russ and I have had rewarding career experiences through sharing our sketchbooks and we wanted to stress how important it is to draw every day...How, no matter what, you should set a little time aside for yourself. You might not always make something worth loving, or sharing, but drawing in a sketchbook is like writing in a journal. "Getting it out" is both therapeutic AND a way to become a better artist. 


We wanted to encourage fellow illustrators and writers to use their sketchbooks again and assumed that the attendees signed up because they weren't and needed help. With that information we were able to put together a (hopefully) inspirational presentation, not without humor of course:

Photo Cred: Lisa Griffin

One thing I briefly touched on with to attendees was how to get over fear of the blank page by drawing light circles. I realized the best way to explain this was to film a demo of how I do it. Because that video is filled with blabbering on, I will not blabber on any more in writing... :)

Please enjoy! Let me know what you think or what you'd like to see more of in the comments!


Monday, April 7, 2014

Where do ideas come from?

I think we all get asked where our ideas come from as if there's a store you can go to and pick them out. Sadly, this is not the case. Ideas are everywhere. They're in every interaction, random thought, daily task, dog walk, the Olympics (here), and even the news.

Tracy and I went to a conference last Saturday (we'll give you the scoop in a future post). In the frenzied preparation to get my portfolio up to speed and create a new postcard, I was mining for ideas. Remember that not really true or maybe it is true story about knitting sweaters for penguins? Even Snopes isn't sure about that one. Well that gave me a great idea! I imagined a little girl knitting sweaters for penguins. Now to write a story to go along with it (which needs to include chickens).

First sketch on Instagram

Revised sketch

Finished piece.
I used this image as my postcard which is now en route to various publishers.

If you're an editor, art director, art buyer or anyone else at a publishing house and would like to receive one, let me know!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Simply Messing About with New Paints, Pencils & Brushes!

I recently finished a new picture book project and I promised I would reward myself with a bunch of new art supplies. The perfect opportunity arose when my local art store had a HUGE 25% of EVERYTHING sale. I was waiting for just such an opportunity, being that I've been wanting to invest in some traditional media once again. A little background: when I was pregnant with my oldest (who is now 7 years old), I got rid of all of my paints.  I had visions of my toddler getting into my paints and eating the Cadmium Red. So--out they went. Ooh...bad move. Blame it on Nesting Syndrome!

My all-time favorite paints to use are M. Graham Walnut Oil paints. They are rich, buttery and don't need toxic mediums to paint with: a bottle of walnut oil will suffice. They are on the pricey side, so I sat and waited for the perfect time to purchase a set. Can't wait to dig into them!

Also on my wish list was a set of Acryla Gouache. In art school, I was not really a big fan of gouache, but lately I'd been seeing samples of this particular brand floating around the interwebs and I really love the look. These will be perfect for experimenting.

After digitally painting for such a long time, I was itching to put brush to papers/board/canvas. Experimenting with different media and colors will really push my art a bit outside of my box which will help me grow and create more exciting pieces down the road.

What medium are you itching to experiment with?



Friday, March 14, 2014

What Music Makes YOU Happy?

This is a bit of a different post for our blog, but I think anyone can argue that for most of us, music aids creativity! A few days ago, I polled Twitter to find out what songs simply make people...happy. When you're happy, you're confident, and your creativity just flows. 

I thought it would be really fun to compile everyone's song suggestions into a playlist. It turned out so awesome, I just had to share! 

There's something for everyone, enjoy!!
A special thanks to these rockin' awesome tweeters for participating:

And, as always, you can follow us on Twitter at:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Experimenting with Gouache, a not quite tutorial

I've recently started using gouache. I'm still calling it experimental even though I've used it for client work. No matter what I do, I always end up using a variety of media. It's usually some combination of paint, acrylic inks, Caran d'ache Supracolor pencils, and Photoshop or Manga Studio, with a side of collage of some sort. In other words, I use whatever works to get the job done.

In this first photo I first printed out a colorized sketch onto my Fabriano hot press watercolor paper (reddish sketch). Then I painted in the shadows with a mix of blue gouache and purple acrylic ink.

Underpainting of acrylic ink mixed with gouache.

Here I've laid in the basic colors in gouache on the figures. There's not much detail, yet.

Basic colors laid in.

Now I'm starting to define details and add more modeling to the figures with color pencil. I use Caran d'ache Supracolor pencils.

Adding details with color pencil.

I decided the yellow background wasn't working so I took this old watercolor and salt painting into Photoshop to colorize and lighten it.

Watercolor with salt painting.

Colorizing the background.

I added a vignette border to the background for the final piece. At Renee's suggestion, I also painted some glare on the ice in Photoshop.
The final piece.

I hope you find this helpful. I'm still learning to use the gouache, but I'm loving it so far.

This piece came from my sketching while watching the Olympics. If you're following me on Instagram, you'll recognize them.

Friday, February 21, 2014

My Transition from Photoshop to Manga Studio 5

Hello everyone! It's been quite a while since I posted here! For the past few months I've been knee-deep in illustrating a new picture book set to come out in the Fall.

I've had my head down illustrating pretty much every spare moment I had since September, but I've finally emerged from my art coma and want to tell you all about my experience with Manga Studio 5!

I transitioned over from Photoshop to Manga Studio with this latest project, so I got four months of serious on-the-job training with the program. I went from ZERO knowledge of the program to it becoming second nature.

I have to admit that I had tinkered around with the program for a while last summer, but gave up because I just wasn't feeling comfortable with it. Then right before I started this last project, I fiddled with Manga Studio some more. At the same time, Photoshop started becoming finicky and began feeling super clunky. I went back to Manga Studio (with some nudging from fellow SMA illustrator Tracy Bishop) and gave it another try because I was just getting too frustrated with Photoshop feeling like it was laggy and slow.

When this last picture book project came along in September, I bit the bullet and decided to go for it--to try and complete a painting in Manga Studio. The cover was due first and I figured I could attempt the cover in Manga Studio and switch back over to Photoshop if things didn't pan out.

Well, let's just say I fell in love with Manga Studio and never looked back.

Here are a few of the main reasons Manga Studio is the clear winner for me:

  • The brush engine is a million times better than Photoshop's. There are way more options to finesse your brushes in terms of pressure and color blending, etc. Manga Studio also allows for creating brushes using multiple images at once which is something I have always wished that Photoshop could do.
  • The perspective guide/ruler is AMAZING. It came in handy SO MUCH. Manga Studio allows for your pencil/brush lines to snap to the perspective ruler which takes a lot of fuss out of drawing cityscapes (or anything in perspective, really).
  • The ability to create models of people in different poses and angles really helped for my latest project. I painted scenes where there were many, MANY people in them and my husband would only model for me for so long, so I had to build poses in Manga Studio (which is supremely easy to do).
  • You can set the fill bucket to close gaps in your line drawing, making laying on the first layer of color so much quicker than attempting that in Photoshop. 

Just one window of the MANY different brush options Manga Studio 5 has.

The poseable 3D models are an amazing feature. It isn't a memory hog and never slowed my computer down at all.

In all, I worked 100% in Manga Studio with this latest book project and just figured it out as I went. I have to say that my fellow Simply Messing About blogger, Tracy Bishop really, really helped me out if I found myself stuck. She's been using Manga Studio for a while and had the answer to pretty much all my questions! ;) Check out her wonderful Manga Studio tour video!

In case you're wondering, I never had to take any of my images back to Photoshop for any retouching or post-painting work. I suppose everyone paints differently, so there is a chance you might need to go back and forth for certain things, but I didn't have to. I pretty much found a solution to anything I needed to do in Manga Studio. However, if you do need to switch back and forth, Manga Studio makes it easy to export or even save your file as a Photoshop file!

If you have the opportunity to try out Manga Studio, I highly, highly recommend it. It's like Manga Studio's creators took everything illustrators and painters love from Photoshop, made them a million times better and then added more awesome stuff on top! All without having to deal with the bogged down feeling that Photoshop can bring. I must also mention that Manga Studio is a mere fraction of the cost of Photoshop. Yay!

In the weeks to come, I will be doing tutorials based on some of my favorite things about Manga Studio....keep an eye out for them! Until then, do yourself a favor and at least download a trial version of Manga Studio 5 if you can!

'Til next time!


Monday, February 10, 2014

Keep drawing, then draw some more

A few years ago, I was fresh off maternity leave…10 years of it. I thought I'd pick up my illustration career where I left off. Well, while I was 'away', the world changed. Internet? Whoa. Now I was competing against illustrators from all over the world! Quite a few with animation backgrounds who could draw like nobody's business. It was clear I'd have to step up my game. I needed to get much, much better at drawing. Gulp! Luckily, I met local illustrator, Tracy Bishop whose drawing talent is amazing. She also has a great critical eye. She got me drawing from life. She critiqued the heck out of my work (still does), and gradually, I got better. I am by no means done. I hope to always improve my skills. But I'm starting to breath easier. I beginning to really feel the flow when I draw. I don't cringe when I look at my current work. It's been a very discouraging process, but also pretty exciting.

Older drawing on the left, newer on the right. Getting there, but not quite where I want to be yet.

It's no surprise that I love drawing animals, but drawing people was not fun for me. I've made a lot of progress on this front as you can see here. There's just much more life in my animals as you can see below.

Drawing well has many benefits like getting hired for jobs, being able to handle whatever scene you'll need to create, and of course, you can't bring a story to life if you're limited in what you can draw.

What I want you to take away from this is that you must draw well, really well, to get work in the children's book world. You can't cut corners. You can't trace photos, you can't overly depend on reference. Draw everyday, even if it's bad drawings, it all helps. Carry a sketchbook everywhere. (I need to do more of this myself.) Think of the training that goes into qualifying for the Olympics or playing college or pro sports. Heck, even if you're just working on staying in shape, you have to work those muscles on a regular basis.

If you go to SCBWI events (and you should be), pay for a portfolio critique. Nothing beats hearing from someone who actually hires illustrators and can tell you what you need to work on. Our local Illustrator's Day has an illustration professor who give critiques, too. He's crazy amazing at seeing the weaknesses in your work and what to do to fix it. It's painful, but much kinder than in art school. Hearing nothing but flowers and light about your work gets you nowhere. You need the truth, because that's the only way you're going to get better and someday get hired. If you want nothing but compliments, show it to your mother.

Here are some great resources for improving your drawing skills, but remember, nothing replaces the practice and observation of real life.

There's so much drawing goodness on Erika Eguia's Pinterst boards! I've started a Character Design board here.

Great drawing books:
Drawn to Life Volume I & II
Character Mentor, Tom Bancroft
Creating Characters with Personality, Tom Bancroft
Vilpu Drawing Manuals, Glenn Vilppu
How to Draw, Scott Robertson

Online classes & tutorials:
School of Visual Storytelling's How to draw everything with Jake Parker
Figure & Gesture Drawing
Sparkbook, Cedric Hohnstadt
Illustrator Alicia Padron is now offering classes.

Good luck and happy drawing!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Simply Messing About with Mediums

Over here in my head, there is always a debate over traditional vs. digital. Which is more appealing? Which is more fun to make? Which can get me more work? I switch back and forth all the time because my tastes change. My skills, however, differ in both methods. Sometimes I need them to influence each other.

Recently, I was approached to do a color sample in my sketch style and it turned my world around. It makes me ecstatic that this style may eventually be ready for publishing, but I still have a little ways to go. I wanted to show you a little bit of what my process looks like as I try to figure this out.

This sketch is what started me thinking about all of this again.

I've been drawing like crazy in sketchbooks for a little over a year now, and most often my drawings turn out looking like the one above. Recently, I started incorporating Prismacolor colored pencil and Copic marker into my usual pencil and ink brush doodles. My eyes needed to see more color and finish in the sketches I had grown to love making.

But that Alligator and Armadillo tea party got me excited, so I took it to Photoshop to color it as fast as possible. Why? Because my skills in Photoshop currently surmount my Paper skills...it's a crutch.

I liked this color, but it didn't have the same energy, so I left it as is...

In this particular case I was happy with the colors I chose, but it still wasn't working for me. I went back to the drawing board...quite literally.

That's better, but still not quite right.

But, I was missing the vibrancy and saturation. I know that it's possible to attain this with watercolor, but I haven't figured out how to get there yet. Then, I remembered the gouache set I got for Christmas and started to play again with yet, another new medium.

I started with a gouache warm up.

And this is where I landed.

My goal for what I post on the Simply Messing About blog was always to document my journey back into traditional painting...that's it. But with this particular project, I hit on an important fact, that it's ok to jump back and forth always letting digital influence traditional and vice versa. And sometimes, they work really well – together.

I added a background color to this gouache painting...digitally.

Until next time!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Manga Studio 5 Mini Tips: Color Palettes

There are two main ways that I use Manga Studio 5's color palette.

  • Tip 1 is how I save the color swatches I use in Photoshop and import them into Manga Studio 5. This allows me to go back and forth between the two programs and keep the colors consistent.
  • Tip 2 is about how I like to create new color palette files for each illustration project and save it for future use. I really like how quick and easy it is to create new palettes. It's also nice that MS5 gives you options to save it as a MS5 file or as a Photoshop swatch file.
Tip 3 is from fellow Simply Messing About contributor, Christina Forshay:

  • In her latest project, Christina made sure she named her swatches so she could use the correct color throughout her book. 

Tip 1: Import Photoshop's color swatch file: 

I frequesntly import color swatches that I use in Photoshop into MS5. This is really useful when I move my illustration files back and forth from Photoshop to Manga Studio and want to keep the colors consistent.

In Photoshop: Save your swatch that you want to use in MS5.

Save the .aco file. This is Photoshop's color swatch file extension.

Go to Manga Studio 5: Import the .aco file you just saved.

Select your .aco file.

Now you have your Photoshop color swatch in Manga Studio.

Tip 2: Create custom color palettes for each project 

I like to create new color palettes for every illustration project I have and save it in the project folders. I do this because it's easier to have the palette I use for each project accessible just in case changes are requested to an illustration weeks later.

Yes, I know that I can use the color picker but there are so many places where the colors are mixed that I want to know what original color I started with. That way I can make sure colors don't gradually shift from the first page of a book illustration to the last.

Tip 3 from Christina Forshay: Naming Color Swatches