Showing posts with label Renee Kurilla. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Renee Kurilla. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Working outside the studio

As you can see from a complete lack of posts for months, we've all been pretty busy. While this is really good news for us, it also has a down side as you'll see in this post. It's led to some pretty odd working conditions. Sometimes deadlines and vacations and life clash. This is a post about how we work around that issue.

I recently agreed to take on a project while I was on vacation in my hometown of St. Louis. I ended up working in a variety of places, starting with sketching on the plane, sketching at my cousin's before the other dinner guests arrived, then painting on a road trip, and later ordering postcards from Starbucks. 

Backseat painting on a road trip

Working on a postcard at Starbucks

Recently, Renee was in Boston working on some black and white art for The Owls of Blossom Wood series (written by Catherine Coe, Scholastic UK). This photo was taken at a place called District Hall where she sometimes spends her days overhearing business-y conversations and drawing on her husband's Cintiq Companion.

And since summer around Christina's house inevitably means kids running around, she's been known to take her work station outside! Not sure how much work she's able to get done lately!

I think Tracy gets the grand prize for managing to work while on vacation. Here she is in line for a ride at Disneyland of all places!!!

Sketching for a project while in line at Disneyland!!!! 

More sketching at the Starbucks in Disneyland

More sketching at the airport

There you have it. The glamorous life of an illustrator. You're jealous right now, admit it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What I'm working on...

Here's a little peek into my process for some small commissions I recently finished! 
First, I gathered information on my subjects (I asked about favorite colors and animals). I took this information and started with really loose sketches in my sketchbook:
I tried to mimic those sketches as best I could on watercolor paper using very light pencil. I went over that with ink line and when that dried, I erased the pencil and began painting and coloring. 

The results look a little bit like this! The colors ended up looking great together:

These pieces for Kickstarter backers were all inspired by Peter H. Reynold's International Dot Day. In fact, the alligator piece on the bottom left is for him! It's his son, Henry Rocket reading a book about rockets, of course! 


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'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!

And THANK YOU (times a trillion!!)


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, 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.


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!


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:

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'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!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays!!!

We want to start off with a huge thank you to all of you who have embraced and spread the word about our little blog. It's become something so much bigger than we ever expected. Thank you and hugs!!!

As you might have noticed, we've been a bit MIA lately. It's all good. Everyone is busy illustrating. We hope to be back with a bang in the New Year. For now, here are some holiday illustrations for you.

Tracy Bishop

Laura Zarrin

Renee Kurilla

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Prickly Postcard Process

A lot of time is spent looking at what we call "final art," but so much work goes into a piece before we can call it that! The following is the process I went through to with my fall postcard mailer, starting from final!

First, I had to decide on which image to use. I had my soggy, prickly, porcupine character, but should I show him arriving at the fox hole, or walking past a squirrel family collecting acorns for winter? 

Option 1

Option 2

I almost immediately decided on the following image for the black and white postcard back.

After choosing my story (Option 1), it was all about working out the composition:

1. Adding color to my original sketch.

2. Playing with cropping and zooming.

3. Figuring out my light source and finishing the quill detail.

4. And finally adding an indoor shadow for drama! 

These are my final postcards, printed fabulously by I highly recommend them, but do pay attention for sales because they can run a bit more pricey. I decided to pay a little bit more for quality after my last postcard batch from got ruined in a rainstorm. It's really embarrassing to think that all my artwork arrived smudged with torn edges to an Editor or Art Director's desk. Never again!

Cheers and happy self promoting!

*For those of you using Overnight Prints, here's a handy Coupon Link:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Picture Book Crush: Jane, the Fox & Me

Jane, the Fox & Me / written by Fanny Britt; illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault 

They say not to judge a book by it's cover, but there was just something about this one that warranted me picking it up. As soon as I flipped it open, my heart pounded: Isabelle Arsenault's illustrations are so thoughtful, sweet, and lively that they made my eyes pop open. 

And then, when I sat down to read the story, I discovered that, in marriage with the text they are even better. 

Without spoiling too much, the story is about a young girl, who you very quickly learn has had a recent falling out with some friends. She's sort of lost in her own world and seeks solace in stories. One of the stories she is obsessed with is Jane Austen.

I remember being a kid and feeling the sting of awkward social situations. . .friends who one day just–weren't. I have to imagine that lots of kids go through emotional stress and really struggle to figure out what will make them feel whole. Many of them choose to get lost in books. I remember that, in those moments, the story you're reading becomes your own just for a little while. 

That's why the moments when Hélène lets go of her internal stress voice are my favorite in this book. 

Hélène's mom stays up all night making her a dress...
(Insert Page Flip Here) ...and she's lost in it.

As an adult, I don't have that feeling as often as I used to. Time is short and all the worries of bills, work, maintaining relationships, remembering birthdays, etc. . . . they catch up with you. In this particular case, though, it's easy to get lost in Isabelle's artwork. Here are some close up shots of her scratchy textures and trees:

Full of life, confident. . . vibrant.

I won't describe who the fox is, because I believe he will be something different to everyone who reads this book. It's quite genius.

You'll find me carrying this book around under my arm for the next few weeks as I refuse to put it down. :)

I'd love to hear what your book crushes are, I know you've got one! Leave a comment below!


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reworking Old Illustrations

Today, we have a combined post dedicated to the art of reworking older portfolio pieces! Laura and Renee have been hard at work trying to give a little love to some of their favorite personal illustrations and are here to share some of the thought process behind their decisions!



I'm constantly working on improving my skills and revamping my portfolio. It always has to be fresh and show improvement if I want to reach my goals. Mostly that involves creating lots of new art, but sometimes all I really need to do is to apply my current skills to illustrations I've already created.

Here's an illustration I first created in March of this year. I was happy with it at the time, but it always had a bit of a starkness to it.

I needed an illustration for the local Illustrators Day's First Look Panel later this month. I didn't have time to created something from scratch, so I decided to see if I could improve one of my existing pieces. I chose this one which I always liked, but felt was still missing something. I wanted to add more depth and drama to it, so I added snow and more trees to the background. I started with a blizzard, then ran it through some of my toughest critique friends, my SMA blog group of Tracy Bishop, Christina Forshay, and Renee Kurilla, and my friend Gina Perry. Their advice was to have fewer and larger snowflakes, to darken and redden the trees, change the border, and make the white border a softer color. (Almost all of the changes were done in Photoshop. The snow and border were ink paintings that I scanned in and manipulated in Photoshop.)

Here's what I have now. It has the drama I had hoped for and I think it's a much stronger piece. It'll be interesting to see what the panel has to say. Maybe I'll be able to improve it more.

It's so good to have people with a good eye and the ability to speak 'art' in your circle. It can be difficult, sometimes, to see one's own work clearly. It's can be hard to hear that your work's not perfect, but it gets easier with time. If you know that your critiquer wants to help you, it's easier to hear what they're saying. Trust me, it gets easier with time. I am a better artist because of their help.



This particular piece was an experiment from 2008 or so. My original goal was to paint this on canvas, so my first color study was very sloppy with globs of color and sketchy lines. The painting never came into fruition, and the color study sat in my "unfinished art" folder for years. It looked like this:

One day, I decided to revisit the piece and this is where I ended up:

Throughout the years, my style has changed quite a bit. I used to work in a vector style, as I was doing a lot of animation in Flash...but when I transitioned to Photoshop, I found that I love texture and transparency. 

That being said, for some reason, this particular image stuck with me as a piece I did not want to give up for my new portfolio. I recognized it's faults (one being no clear definition of story) and added a few tweaks. It's funny, similar to Laura's, my final piece ended up with snow as well!

I don't know how to explain why some ideas are just worth not letting go, but it's why people revisit old notebooks. A sketch you drew 10 years ago might not have even made clear sense to you then, but now it may spark your best idea ever. You don't need to give up on your older art because it's "out of date"! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Learning From Your Peers

Yesterday, in search of inspiration for a new blog post, I posed this question on Twitter:

"What is your favorite picture book cover?"

I don't know why I chose covers specifically, and I definitely didn't expect so many answers! On Twitter, you have to catch the timing just right and if the Universe aligns, replies will pour in. It just so happened that yesterday afternoon, the response was overwhelming enough to leave me feeling a little sad about my lack of children's book knowledge.

"Anything by Jan Brett" and " Anything by Trina Shart Hyman" were some replies.

There were quite a few that I recognized, but there were even more books and illustrators that I had never heard of. What a mess I was about this!

Pondering this over a good night's sleep, I came to the conclusion that my self proclaimed "lack of knowledge" (in quotes because I like to think this isn't entirely true) is long as I keep learning. I don't ever want to stop learning and I love that, because of Twitter, I can learn from my peers. 

Here are a few of the recommended covers, in no particular order:
(some of which are selections I've made based on the above suggestions of "Anything by–")

A different take on the same book...
Multiple titles by Shaun Tan were mentioned.

Another different take on the same book...

Now, I will take all of this newly gained information and make room for it up in that rusty, old memory bank of mine. Though not until after, of course, I share it with you. :) 

If you're interested in exploring more about the design of picture books, here are some great blogs and posts to follow:

And some places to merely feast your eyes:

And a big thank you to the following folks for offering up their favorite book covers:
@iamemmamusic (and your hubby!)

What are your favorite book covers? Is there a reason why?
Please share in the comments below!