Showing posts with label sketching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sketching. Show all posts

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, October 29, 2013

Why November is the best month of the year!

November is one of my favorite months because of Thanksgiving, of course, but it has some other amazing things going for it. One of them is Picture Book Idea Month (aka PiBoIdMo)!! I participated for the first time last year and I loved it!!! It's run by Tara Lazar and features lots of inspirational posts starting the last week of October. I wasn't writing at all last year when I joined, but since then I have one completed dummy, two more are in the works, and another one is brewing in my sketchbook. It's a really a low pressure thing to join. A lot of my ideas are just sparks or titles, not fleshed out stories. Don't worry about whether they're good or bad. The mere act of being open to ideas all month gets your brain working and open and receptive. Even if you don't intend to write, I guarantee it will improve your illustrations. You'll be so focused on story that your work will automatically be showing more story in it. Isn't that what children's illustration is all about? Check out Tara's blog, sign up, and start catching all of those ideas swirling around out there! There are prizes, people!

Our own Renee Kurilla will be a guest poster on the PiBoIdMo site on Tuesday, November 26th

I put all of my ideas in a cute little notebook by my bed I kept by my bed.

SkADaMo 2013 post monkey

As excited as I am about PiBoIdMo, I may be even more excited about SkADaMo started by one of my favorite illustrators, Linda Silvestri! I'm already sketching everyday, so this one's a given. I also don't beat myself up if I miss a day or two. This is supposed to be fun, not stressful!!!

Now if you're feeling really ambitious, do both, like me. Jenn Bower has a great little organizational tool for you here. She also has some great links to get you started on stories, too.

Remember to have fun! Play! Don't stress, it defeats the whole purpose. Nobody ever has to see what you're doing or not doing.

If I can keep on track I'll be posting my sketches on my personal blog.

Friday, July 12, 2013

SMA Interview Series: Illustrator / Painter, Lynne Avril

Lynne Avril grew up in Montana and got her art degree from the University of Montana. She has lived in Arizona, though, for the last 30 years. 

She has illustrated over 80 books for children, and when she's not drawing or painting, she plays bass in local Phoenix blues bands. 

She now divides her time  between Phoenix, Polson (MT) and Paris, where she spends 2 months of the year for battery-charging her creativity.


Q: What is the first thing you do when you receive a manuscript? Do you ever write as well as illustrate?

The first thing I do when I get a new manuscript is make a pot of coffee, then curl up in my big white chair, start reading, and make little sketches in the margins of the paper with the ideas that pop into my head as I read. If one or more of the characters don't come to me at that time, I go out with my sketchbook over the next few days and watch for them! 

A lot of times, I'll use friends and relatives as my characters. Amelia Bedelia's dad is my son-in-law! The main character in "Underpants Dance" was a little girl I spied in Safeway. She had all the characteristics I was looking for, and I loved her hair!  I try to get a sense of the mood of the story and what style of artwork I'm going to use to convey that mood effectively. I might use gouache, or watercolor, or pastels used with acrylic medium in a series of washes. When I read the story, I try to get a sense of the energy, the rhythm, the humor, and the palette that I am going to use. 

I have not written any books yet, I have been too busy illustrating everybody else's!

Underpants Dance,  written by Marlena Zapf / illustrated by Lynne Avril
(April 2014 - Dial Books for Young Readers)

Q: Many of your books involve a lot of action! How do you reference your drawings and keep them feeling so fresh and alive as you paint?

That is a really good question, because that is one of the things I strive for - freshness and energy. I think one thing that helps is that I start with small thumbnail sketches  - a double page spread may be a sketch only 1 1/2" x 2 1/2". Then I enlarge that sketch on my copier and finesse it. I think composition is so important and that's one way to start out with a good composition without getting involved in the details too early. 

I also like accidents and spontaneity, so I don't have things too pre-planned before I start and I just follow my gut feeling. I always lay down the color first and do the line work over the top of that - I don't believe in staying in the lines much!

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? How is it helpful for you? 

I LOVE to keep a sketchbook!  Especially when I am in Paris - there is so much to draw there - people, architecture, copies of great masters, statues, more interesting people!  Besides recording good ideas, it is just good practice for your drawing skills. 

When you're drawing moving people or animals, you learn to make good gesture drawing and how to capture a feeling in just a few lines. You're going for the essence of what you're drawing. When you look at a person you're about to draw, you think - what is it about that person that makes him look the way he does, and then you emphasize that feature. I have drawn pictures of musicians playing in clubs for years - I have stacks and stacks of bar napkins with little portraits or figure drawings on them.

Q: A common theme on our blog is how to get "unstuck." How do you get yourself out of a creative rut?

I do it by changing styles from one book to the next. I do a lot of Amelia Bedelia books, where I use gouache paint with a black prismacolor pencil outline. So, for example, at the moment I am working on a book by another author, and I am using pastel chalk that I smear onto the paper and then cover with  acrylic matte medium. I am really enjoying it, because I created a layout for the book that has large areas of color, not a lot of small detail, and it is like a breath of fresh air. Then I enjoy going back to the gouache again!

I also look at the work of other illustrators to get inspiration and new ideas. I particularly like the work of many European illustrators that have a strong sense of whimsy and humor.

One of Lynne's oil paintings, a 3'x4' commission, "Starla"

Q: What are your favorite tools? Is there any part of your process that lends itself to using a computer?

Well, I like good old-fashioned paint and paper. I don't have anything against computer art, but I never have gotten into it. I didn't start out wanting to be an illustrator. I was a painter and still am, and going back and forth between the two has been good for both. One influences the other. My favorite tool, I think, is the toothbrush, that I use to splatter paint with. If you look closely at my work, you will see lots of little splatters, and that is done by mixing gouache paint with acrylic matte medium and flicking it onto the paper with the toothbrush.

For me, the only time I use the computer is when I scan and send my sketches or artwork. That can be really useful in another way too, because when you first scan the artwork and see it up on the computer screen, often you will see it in a different way and you see little things you want to change before you send it off.

Q: Would you mind giving us a peek at your workspace? 

I have three places I work during the year - one studio at my house in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Lynne's cactus garden in Arizona.

Another up at Flathead Lake in Polson, Montana.  My studio in Montana has a drafting table that my dad made. He was a very good artist himself, and my first and best teacher!

Lynne's studio space in Montana.

And the other is when I haul all my stuff to Paris for two months every year. I like to knit and I find that is a very good way to ease myself into starting to work. It helps make that transition into the "zone."

Lynne working in Paris while her son and grandson play on the couch!

Q: What is an unexpected thing you've learned in your career?

I've learned that everything you learn comes in handy at some point of time - it all adds up. Experience! I've learned never give up on a piece - sometimes when you say oh%$#@*, you just let go and then things really start to happen. 

Never crumple up anything. 

You might calm down and see it's really not that bad. I've learned that you can't wait for inspiration, you just sit down and start to work. Sometimes it is so hard. But if you just make the first obvious mark that needs to be made, then you will make another one, and then you'll be into the zone without even knowing it. It's the first step that's the hardest. I always go through a period of depression at the beginning of a book before I know what I'm doing. 

And sometimes toward the end, you feel like you've hit the wall. But you just keep going and boom before you know it, it's done.

Just keep this cycling Amelia Bedelia!

Q: What's the most fun thing about being an illustrator?

The most fun thing is having the flexibility to work wherever and whenever you want. To be able to travel and work at the same time. To work with incredibly talented and creative people. To have fun with kids reading and talking about the books. To live in the world of my imagination. Wow, I'm so damn lucky!

Q: Do you have any upcoming projects or news you're excited about?!

Well, I'm keeping very busy with Amelia Bedelia. I am working on an Easy Reader right now and then will do a chapter book in the fall. I have finished a book called Underpants Dance that will be out next spring. 

I am working on final art for a book by Marilyn Springer called I'm Gonna Climb the Mountain in my Patent Leather Shoes. And I'm ready to start final art on the next Ruby Valentine book. 
There will be another Cowgirl book. 

In a month, I will be hiking in the French and Italian Alps, visiting Corsica, and going back to Paris for another shot of inspiration. Life is good and I'm happy to be alive and working.

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your stories with us, Lynne! 

Find all of Lynne Avril's books on, here.
View more of her work on her website


Ok, so now you're wondering: What's the deal with this "SMA Interview Series" business?


We hope you enjoyed this change of pace, because to mix things up a bit on Simply Messing About, we have decided to open our internet doors! During the next few weeks, you can look forward to even more stories from super talented children's illustrators and publishing professionals!

There will be lots of inspiration, peeks into workspaces, tips on getting out of a creative rut, and more. 

It was a pleasure to chat with Lynne Avril, because not only is she extremely talented and inspirational, she's just an all around nice person. I can't think of a single person who wouldn't want to be just like her! For that reason, we are so glad to be able to share her story with you. Being an illustrator, especially for children, is all about loving life and truly "seeing" everything around you. 

Now, go forth and draw everything!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Being an Open Book

Aside from client projects, in the past few months I've been taking a break from making "finished" personal art to concentrate more on my sketchbooks. Part of the reasoning behind this was to get away from the computer and the other part was to simply just get better at drawing.

Extremely inspired by children's illustrator, Renata Liwska, I have filled 4 and a half sketchbooks in the past few months. Here they are:

I'm sure that most of you have seen Renata's sky high sketchbook stacks:

A Quiet Look - How to become a children's book illustrator in one (not so easy) step from mike kerr on Vimeo.

Seeing this video and learning how Renata works reminded me of all the work I should be doing to achieve my goals.

Another artist I've been following for many years is Pascal Campion. This video, made by a friend of his, is about his "Sketch of the Day" emails:

Inspirational Artists: Pascal Campion from Onyx Cinema, Inc. on Vimeo.

This interview is from 2 years ago and, wouldn't you know, he still makes a new sketch every day. You can sign up to receive an email from him every day with a new sketch on the main page of his website.

Both Renata and Pascal's sketches look like finished art to me, but they are so practiced. What Pascal says in this interview really hit home for me. I feel that I need to not only keep sketchbooks, I want to show them to people. Therefor, just for funsies, I decided to step even further out of my comfort zone to make an uber-amateur video. :) Enjoy!

Flipping Through Sketchbooks from Renee Kurilla on Vimeo.

Thanks so much to everyone for your continued support on our blog!


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Getting Unstuck Part 1

Some days my sketches flow from my pencil effortlessly. My pencil dances across the page like Fred and Ginger. I can’t draw fast enough to get all of the ideas out of my head and onto paper. I start to believe it will always be this way. I can go on like this for days or weeks at a time. But then comes the inevitable crash. The brakes screech and, quite suddenly and without warning, it happens. I completely forget how to draw. Nothing works. I’ve fallen flat on my face! Every line is stiff and awkward. Where just the day before I held my head high and created with ease, now there is only the dreaded Ugly Drawing, misshapen and taunting me. This tends to occur for no apparent reason. Other times it’s a result of a less than encouraging portfolio review at a conference or when I’m not getting projects and stop believing in myself for a moment.

Doing nothing is one option, but I don't think it's the best one.

We all know, or at least should know, that drawing is like working out, if you don’t keep up with a regular schedule, your skills start to atrophy. The question is, what do you do when you hit this all too frequent wall? The answer may be burn out. Getting out of the studio and into nature or an inspiring boutique or museum is a great idea, but what if it goes on for too long? I’ve been struggling with working on improving my drawing skills, especially when it comes to drawing people, for a while now. I’ve acquired some wonderful books to help me with that. I go out on a regular basis and draw from life. I have a lot of sketches of the backs of people watching volleyball from my sons’ games as a result. All of this is great, but sometimes it just doesn’t work.

Tracing of Tony Fusili's work. He is a master!
The best trick I’ve found for getting past this stuckness and improving my drawing skills at the same time is to trace the art of some of my favorite illustrators. Except for this blog post, no one ever sees these tracings. They’re purely an exercise for me. I don’t just trace the outline, I use a blue pencil and draw the action, gesture, and shapes, and then complete the sketch. It’s amazing how much you can learn from doing this. No amount of staring at the sketches replaces the actual drawing of them. Doing this keeps me using me in shape for drawing even when my brain and hand refuse to communicate. Connections are made that carry into my own drawings. This is huge! I’m telling you I have learned so darn much! I can force myself to continue to make ugly drawings, which I do, a lot, or I can give myself a bit of a break and trace something inspiring.

Tracing of LeUyen Pham's work in Vampirina Ballerina

The next time you feel stuck, go grab a picture book you love and try it! You’ll be awed and amazed, trust me.

Happy Drawing!


Book List:
Creating Characters by Tom Bancroft
Character Mentor by Tom Bancroft
Prepare to Board! By Nancy Belman
Drawn to Life I & II by Walt Stanchfield